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Paul Bradshaw's Media Column

NEW TV TIMES

02-11-2006

Forget the idea of TV doling out dumb entertainment to pacify the masses. Now, says our media columnist Paul Bradshaw, the masses are preparing to talkback.

American technology journalist Dan Gillmor once said that journalism in the new media age is about the change from a lecture to a conversation.

Now two stories from across the Atlantic suggest that the television industry may be waking up to the same changes.

In the red corner, Turner Broadcasting has announced that it will debut a “broadband comedy network that will meld features of TV networks like Comedy Central with social networking sites like MySpace”.

While over in the blue corner Yahoo! plans to create a television show based around ‘viral content', or user-submitted videos.

Previously used to a ‘we broadcast, you watch' mentality, it seems that broadcasters are now starting to think about the audience as more than just passive sponges soaking up what they're told.

For years now audiences have been turning away from print and television in favour of games and news-on-demand online, as well as also actively creating their own blogs, videos and music.

Now the spread of interactive TV, broadband penetration and social networks - not to mention a migration of advertising money - has brought this reality home to television executives.

So whereas Yahoo!'s idea may on the surface sound like a hyped-up version of You've Been Framed, read further and you find a key element: rather than a simple cash payment, the overall winner will have their show produced by Yahoo Studios (that's right: “Yahoo Studios”) and a $50,000 signing bonus.

That literally is treating the ‘audience as producer'.

Turner's move into ‘broadband broadcasting', meanwhile, demonstrates a realisation that, if you really want to engage with your viewer, you need to allow them to talk back.

So what happens next? Looking at how journalism has developed we might expect television to produce less original content, and take on a role that is more about filtering, commissioning, and editing what its audience creates - not only in terms of programming but advertising too.

This doesn't mean the end of quality programming - just that the ability to make quality programming - and, for that matter, awful programming - will no longer stop at the door of the big broadcasters. Equally important: that door is starting to open.

So think Pop Idol meets YouTube meets Cannes Film Festival. Think Big Brother meets MySpace meets The World's Funniest Animals. Think television will never be the same again.

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