BBC on Cross-Media Design

The latest iTV newsletter: Tracey Swedlow’s Interactive TV Today has an interview with Andy Wilson, Head of BBC Intertactive TV Training, part of the BBC New Media Courses. The course discussed, Interactive TV, is described on their website:

This course gives an overview of the digital multi-channel environment, the platforms and technologies being used and the range of interactive programmes and services currently available. The day will be a mix of discussion, viewing and creative exercises.

The interview gave me some insights into how the BBC is approaching cross-media design. They give participants an overview of the different types of platforms available, ‘the technology, the number of users–the quirks of the various systems’. They discuss the various strengths and weaknesses of each platform. Then they discuss the various categories of iTV:

For example, we explain the BBC’s definitions of 24/7 and enhanced TV, and we give them examples of each–for example, a multistream service and a play-along quiz.

It should be noted that just about every company or producer is coming up with its own terms to describe different types of cross-media content. Xenophile Media, for instance, have introduced the term ‘Extendable Reality’ to describe the linking between serial television drama and Alternate Reality Gaming. It is understandable that companies would do this — I do this too — since we’re trying to differentiate between types or to explain the concept in the name. I don’t know how audiences fair though. How many know what interactive TV is and isn’t? The next stage of the course covers ‘remote controls’:

The delegates, as a group, decide upon how a navigational structure should work, how people entering a service should move around that service: what buttons they should press to perform certain functions. This is a cross-platform exercise.

But then we give them a range of remote controls for different platforms, and they have to work out which keys do what. The exercise is about understanding how the functionality of the remote is linked through to actions on the screen. This introduces the design principles for cross-platform environments, specifically when you’re talking about remotes, as you’re going to have to write different instructions for each platform, since they have different keys. If you’re going to select something on one platform, you might have to press the button that says “select.” On another platform, you might have to press the button that says “OK.” And on a third one, you might have to press a button that hasn’t even got a name. This part of the course helps the delegates to understand that they need to think about all the boxes and remote controls that are available to viewers at home, as the piece of equipment that they might have at home will be different to their neighbors’, and the numbers and flavors of set-top boxes and remotes are growing everyday.

This is good. The intricacies of material navigation is essential knowledge to have. But what about the step before the actualisation of navigation: preparing the user to act? What about making the navigation diegetic (part of the storyworld)? How interaction is plausible in the storyworld? I also think that planning the points-of-entry for the audience (which medium or mode and when) and the various paths they can take is an essential part of effective cross-media design. I guess at this stage alot of this is intuitive for the designers, or not considered at all. Either way, these considerations need to be publicised.

They then give an overview of the different programs one uses in the design of these works (eg: Photoshop). I went to a talk about Game Design for Education recently and one of the speakers said that most of the game design work is in Excel. I think that shocked some of the keen young gamers in the room!

The next stage is building ‘service maps’:

[W]e do a brainstorm about enhancing a service, and explain how we build
service maps.

[itvt]: What are service maps?

Wilson: They’re a bit like a navigation map for a Web site. At the BBC we build service maps in order to understand how a service will work. We give the delegates some regular, linear television programs, we give them outlines of the programs and let them watch a short example of them, and ask them to come up with enhancements to those programs, based around various constraints. This session really helps to “concrete in” the topics that have been covered during the day. That would usually be the last exercise of the day.

I guess this approach is a good step for those practitioners coming from a mono-media perspective, but it perpetuates the idea that other platforms augment. Augmenting, or elaborating, is one of many cross-platform relations. It is the most basic, after remediation or content.

And here is the summary:

We teach people to design cross-platform and to learn to understand the constraints of the systems they’re designing for–to think about how they can design
something that can work across multiple types of middleware. It’s about thinking intelligently but creatively across as many platforms as you’re going to be operating on, rather than concentrating on a specific platform. Obviously, we give attendees a lot of detailed information about specific platforms–on what their respective palettes are and on what types of graphics work best on them. But, ultimately, we try to focus on getting them to think about designing the best service for a television brand, and not to get bogged down in just learning about a particular platform.

Interesting and helpful approach by BBC to teaching iTV. But this, like every workshop, seminar and conference I’ve studied remotely or attended is grossly wanting. The details of cross-media design just aren’t really being discussed. It is difficult to impart knowledge about an area that requires a paradigm shift in a short period of time, but more could be offered. Why isn’t it? Is it because people don’t know? [Most of them don’t!] Is it because they don’t want to share their treasured knowledge? [I’d be surprised if so.] Is it because the people training are not necessarily the best practitioners? [Possible.] Is it because the best practitioners are not necessarily the best teachers? [Possible.] Is it because the people sent to give talks are not the people who really made the decisions? [Sometimes.] Is it because no one person contains all the knowledge about how cross-media projects work? [Yes.]

P.S. I’ve just finished the orientation of a multi-platform ‘jam’ with industry professionals. Rather than give talks about methods, this approach is to facilitate a think-tank competition. I’ll give a report soon on this.

Swedlow, T. (2005) [itvt] Issue 6.04 – Feature: Murdoch, Miliband Launch Volunteering App, Interview: BBC ITV Training-Andy Wilson, 27th May, 2005.

Lemke on Board with ‘inter-media world franchises’

I’ve just discovered that Jay Lemke, a semiotician, has cast his eye on transmedia. Very cool. He terms this area ‘inter-media world franchises’ and looks to the usual suspects: Harry Potter, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, America’s Army, Disney, Manga, Star Trek and so on.

My aim here is first to identify the phenomenon of the distributed franchise as a new kind of inter-medium with significant ideological potential. Second, to argue that some of its features, such as immersive alternative worlds and identification through online fan or player communities, as well as its ability to continue to re-present itself to us in many guises, in many sites, and across extended periods of time, may make it a more powerful medium for shaping peopleÂ’s views of what is natural in the social world than prior media. And finally, to ask what extensions of CDA, conceptually and in terms of research practices, will be needed to enable us to assess the affordances, effects, and dangers of this new inter-medium and its messages.

I want to argue that the ability of the franchises to extend the experience of engagement with their worlds across space and time is a key feature for their potential ideological influence.

Lemke provides a curious distinction though, with the separation of franchises according to game genres.

It is important at this point to distinguish among the various genres of computer games in relation to gameworld franchises. To some extent these genres are blurring today as hybrids attempt to maximize appeal to players, but there are certain principles at work in the genre divisions that are relevant to this analysis.

Lemke mentions some genres: RPGs, FSPs, sports-playing games. I think it is not so helpful to categorise franchises according to genres, but Lemke’s argument is about the ideological function of franchises. Lemke then traces a line between games and globalisation, discussing how games are sold as ‘cultural products’:

I am making these loose connections to the globalization of capitalist-commercial culture because of the familiar argument that the increasing scale of commercial production and the drive to maximize profits in global markets favors the creation of more culturally uniform markets. To sell LOTR or Final Fantasy in global-scale markets, you need the power to create demand for what are essentially cultural products (in the sense that desire for these products arises mainly from the need to define and express culturally-significant identities).

Lemke makes the interesting point that the ‘virtual-world franchises are also engaged in this project of re-creating stratified global market-cultures’.

Some big, exciting quotes for the cross-media researchers out there:

there is a new global cultural order in the making

I believe that the most interesting new phenomena in terms of how ideological effects are carried by semiotic media arise in the new inter-media world-franchises, and this is where I am focusing my own efforts to develop research techniques and theoretical conceptualizations to more effectively analyze inter-discursivity across products, media, and markets.

Not only do we not have adequate models of semiotic effects and inter-discursivity for each of these media individually, but many of the discursive and ideological effects of interest in inter-media franchises depend on inter-relations among presentations in coordinated, multiple semiotic media.

Lemke also makes some interesting comments on how these works will be approached. I found this interesting because I am currently working on a taxonomy of polymorphic narratives.

Accordingly, the precise subdivisions of the market for, say, films and those for videogames or fantasy novels may well not be the same. In fact, part of my thesis here is that through the work of the franchises capital is trying to make them become the same. What I expect will be seen in an empirical analysis is the construction, in franchise products and across franchise products, of various imposed principles for categorization, such as those defined in BernsteinÂ’s more abstract view of classification systems (Bernstein, 1981), playing upon and seeking to reinforce those which are already naturalized from the prior history of Western capitalist cultures. In all these cases, I expect to see an interplay between efforts to homogenize the market by conflating categories or principles of classification and efforts to maintain or reformulate the differentiation and hierarchization of the market/culture.

To end, Lemke proposes some ideas for extending Critical Discourse Analysis. The first is a ‘cross-media analysis of inter-discursivity, which builds on HallidayÂ’s meta-functional principles for language and on my interpretation of BakhtinÂ’s notion of heteroglossia’:

[W]e need to ask which groups of people identify with which media artifacts and qualities (types of music, types of art, types of videogames; visual styles, musical styles, gameplay styles), and then discover what principles are at work for differentiating and hierarchizing these groups that can be discerned from the affordances of the media artifacts themselves.

The approach he outlines is dubbed ‘a “multiplicative model” of multi-media meaning effects (Lemke, 1998), because it assumes that meaning effects are not simply additive, but “multiply” insofar as the meaning potential, or set of possible meanings from each component multiplies that from each other component, creating in principle a vast combinatorial space of meaning possibilities.’
The second strategy is to ‘look for instances of cross-modal subversion of consistent meaning effects’. In other words, how ‘no two semiotic resource systems are capable of producing exactly the same meaning potential in a text or artifact’.

The third and final strategy is that of ‘”traversal” analysis’. This approach analyses how meanings are gathered across ‘institutions’ and how contradictions are discovered.

The ideal approach is to combine multi-site ethnography with critical discourse analysis of the texts and media encountered by subjects in the course of their life-traversals (this would of course need to include interviews to assess subjectsÂ’ interpretations of each text/product and also across sites and texts). This approach is however quite difficult in practice because of the need to coordinate two levels of data collection and two levels of analysis: one on the timescale of short encounters with media, and the other on the timescale of lived days and weeks, many orders of magnitude greater.

He he he. There are some of us that are working on making this happen!
Lemke ends with this:

I hope that this sketch of phenomena, issues, and strategies for research goes some way toward formulating a research agenda for the extension of the project of critical discourse analysis to an important class of new media and potential new sites of ideological effects.

Come on down researchers! The more the merrier! I’ve added Lemke to my Researcher Page on my Polymorphic Narrative site.

Lemke, J. (2004) ‘Critical Analysis across Media: Games, Franchises, and the New Cultural Order’ presented at First International Conference on Critical Discourse Analysis, Valencia, published by Jay Lemke’s Personal Webpage [Online] Available at: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jaylemke/papers/Franchises/Valencia-CDA-Franchises.htm

Found more Lost Sites

I’ve mentioned the number website that is an extension of the TV series Lost, but there are a whole lot more that have been put out by the producers of the show. This series has been screened in many countries:

Australia – Channel 7
Austria – Pilot premiered October 6, 2004 on pay channel Premiere
Canada – A special two-hour premiere (Pilots Parts 1 and 2 back-to-back) aired on Saturday, October 2 at 8 p.m. ET, 2004 on CTV.
France – a lot of interest shown from this country (4 french websites about “Lost”). So expected showing sometime.
Germany – Pilot premiered October 6, 2004 on pay channel Premiere
Hong Kong – AXN ASIA TV
New Zealand – Pilot aired on 2nd Feb, 2005 on TV2
Phillippines – AXN ASIA TV
South Korea – expected showing on some TV channel here since Jin & Sun are both Korean and speak Korean in the pilot.
Thailand – AXN ASIA TV
U.K. – Pilot airs 2005? on Channel 4
US – Part 1 of pilot aired Sept 22nd, 2004 on ABC
[Source: Lost Survivors]

Recently the Oceanic Airlines website delivered what is called ‘Easter Eggs’ — surprises hidden in the webpages. You’ll notice there is some text behind sections of the front webpage. You can reveal the hidden text by checking the code or scrolling over the page. There is also a hidden image in the same area that is a picture of a page of the TV show script. The scene description gives details about the monster. On the seating chart page there is also a nifty thing to do: key in the numbers (4, 8,15,16,23,42) and you’ll get a viewing of the trailer for the next season. Once you view that you’ll be rewarded with another surprise: another site.

There is also a primary site, Lost Links, that has links to just about anything to do with the show — in-game and not. My favourite sites are those that provide access to items that bring me closer to the storyworld — for example, close ups of the maps used by the characters in the show. The discussion forums, of which there are many, are not that interesting for me. I want to figure out stuff myself and I find them full of spoilers.