Interactive audiences: increasing online and at live events

The promise of Web video has risen and fallen over the last few years. But Easy to Assemble, a show about a Hollywood actress who becomes a cog in a blue collar (Ikea!) wheel, has consistently received viewers of over 1.5 million per episode, a few awards, and just this week $4.4m investment [source 1="NYT" 2="08.08.10" language=":"][/source][/source] What makes the current round of interest more compelling is the realization in the industry that Web video will not supplant television viewing anytime soon, just complement it. That partly explains why the companies have stopped labeling themselves “TV on the Internet.” Next New Networks for example now defines their company as home of “web original programming”.

The web video industry isn’t officially charted, but comscore, the measurement firm, 86% of Internet users in the United States now watch at least one online video a month. Last month, YouTube announced $5 million in grants for online producers. Web video companies have also reported the first $1m dollar ad deals. Commercials in front of professionally produced entertainment videos can command $15 to $35 per thousand views, while banner ads alongside the videos can run $5 to $15 per thousand views.

This news is exciting to me: it shows an increase of audiences prepared to watch content created just for online – not for Hollywood or TV. Increasing the originality and creativity of the format and the interactive and participative elements around the viewing process can only enhance the experience and add more viewers.

Another trend that I think will also encourage audiences to watch and interact with more content online is the increase in interactive and participative live theatre that demands something of its audience. In Edinburgh this year there seem to be many more shows that involve the participation of the audience as they become part of the set (Cargo at the Mela) or promenade performance (The Life of Sancho, Sub Rosa). Going a step further are performances that demand the interactivity of the audience, such as Roadkill – a show by The Traverse that involves audience members going on a journey to an Edinburgh Tenement so that they can be immersed in the plight of Nigerian women sex-trafficked to Scotland. Forest Fringe is hosting a number of other events that rely on the active participation of their audiences, to the complete exclusion of actors. If demands are placed on the audience to interact more in the live environment, they will come to expect/demand it online.

Envirodigital client National Theatre Wales’ show The Beach also reflected the trend – live and online – live it was a piece of outdoor theatre at Prestatyn sea front at the beginning of August, one of the 12 shows of the National Theatre Wales’ inaugural year. But during July, the drama has already begun online… your friendly guides to the dramatic world are the characters: Charlie and TJ. They maintained their own Facebook profiles where you could keep an eye on their exploits – and influence the outcome.

Finally, I also believe that the inclusion of digital media within performances will also make audiences relax about the idea of experiencing culture in a digital environment. Again at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival there are shows that blur boundaries between art form and between what is live and virtual. Juliet Aster’s Regretrospective used stop-frame animation projected onto the back of the stage to depict background, subplot, memories and other characters as well as performing on stage. Similarly, Alkamie Theatre’s(No) Living Room’s live dancer interacted with the scenic world created around her by a projected virtual world that we were navigated around by a computer operator on the edge of the stage who we could see, and that was projected onto the stage and white back drop. It was bizarre feeling like we were all in a computerised game-like environment, but a set constructed of a virtual reality or film projection certainly creates less carbon emissions than traditional materials – in its construction, as well as its touring.

All Edinburgh Fringe shows mentioned can booked online.

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