CSI:NY & Second Life: “biggest cross-platform stunt in TV history”

For his keynote at the Virtual Worlds Conference recently the creator and executive producer of the three CSIs, Anthony Zuiker, announced that there will be a specially written episode of CSI:NY which will include a search for a killer in the online virtual world Second Life (SL). However, beyond featuring SL in the TV plot, audiences will be able to help solve the crime by going into SL and visiting a specially created CSI lab . Virtual Worlds News reports:

In the fifth episode of the upcoming season, TV Guide reports that a murderer will escape into Second Life and not return until spring. Users can help solve the murder in the meantime.

“The campaign will be something like, ‘Your first life begins at 10 o’clock. But your Second Life begins this weekend.’ You’ll be able to go and download and get in the site and play in the [‘CSI’] lab.”

The Sheep are working to build a virtual lab where users can recreate the experiments and tests from the show. There will also be contests through a Zuiker Blog, allowing users to view a dead body and formulate an opinion on what happened. Zuiker will then rank the responses.

Zuiker has also described he location as an ongoing mystery lab: “What I’m creating is this multimedia, virtual crime lab that will actually take place and be live and active that same weekend for the next year. You’ll now be able to actually solve one crime per month, like a real investigator.” [source]

A writer for CSI: NY, Peter Lenkov, elaborates:

“Nina [Tassler], the CBS executive has been talking about this for a while… [Episode five] is basically a forensic investigation into Second Life, an online social network, a metaverse where you go on, you create an avatar and cruise different worlds. Part of our investigation is going in there. Mac Taylor has to create an avatar and go and hunt down a killer who is using somebody’s avatar to commit a murder. It’s a little bit of a CSI: New York sci-fi internet pursuit with a big action sequence at the end of the episode. It’s fun; it actually has a big moment for Mac and Adam because Adam sort of becomes this big expert in the world of Second Life. He’s done it before, so he sort of guides Mac into the how or the where of it all. I think it’s going to be a fun episode. It’s very different,” he revealed. [source]

Zuiker is also quoted saying “It’s going to be the biggest cross-platform stunt in TV history.”

Hmmm. I never like hearing ‘biggest’ and ‘first’ claims, the former because you don’t know that until after the event and the latter because the claims are 99% of the time incorrect. For instance, here is an example of a ‘cross-platform’ stunt that I have referred to many times in my talks and essays: In the late 1990s the Homicide TV show extended to the web. When the TV detectives clocked off for the day, the ‘second shift’ of detectives took over on the web. Then in Feb 1999 a case (webcast killing) was investigated by the online detectives, was followed up by the TV detectives and then concluded the following week on the online detectives. The website included forensic evidence that the audience/users/interactors could work with to help solve the case. As we can see from this pivotal example, their are other cross-platform stunts. The problem with the ‘world first’ and ‘biggest ever’ rhetoric is that it is supported by an intricate eco-system: the press want such claims to make their articles more appealing to readers and viewers, and audiences are attracted by them. Just describing a project isn’t enough it seems, it has to have some contemporary and original gloss in order to be interesting. Or so it seems.

Another quote I found interesting was this one by journalist Ellen Gray:

Ideas for cross-platform stunting usually originate with marketing guys, not writers, but that’s a line the relentlessly energetic Zuiker’s never appeared to notice. [source]

It never ceases to amaze me how people bundle together cross-platform approaches and marketing. Given, there are good reasons for it: they are usually motivated and implemented by people other than the writers and ‘cross-platform’ and ‘multi-channel’ etc approaches have been used by marketers for a while. One of reasons why a cross-platform approach has been driven by marketers is that there has been a dearth of writers who think multi-platform. It has been something that has been added on afterwards or has been implemented using a marketing logic. But this is changing as there are a new generation of writers emerging. But using multiple media platforms is not intrinsically marketing.

And another quote of Zuiker from TVGuide:

The future of television in my opinion really is television, mobile, gaming and Internet. If I can incorporate all four of them with the television show as a center conduit, what will happen is that you’ll have the younger generation teaching their parents how to do this. CSI: NY will be a wild child in doing that this season. [source] 

OK, yes, I agree in part. But I’d say that a future of television is to use multiple media platforms and artforms (not just TV, mobile, gaming & the Internet). As for central conduit, I’m not so sure. I think Zuiker means that the TV will be the primary media channel. But TV is not a good aggregator, and so the hub that links all the components should be bundled together on a website. And as for the younger generation teaching their parents. Sure, I like the idea of facilitating cross-generational interaction, but please don’t bundle together mobiles, gaming and the Internet with ‘youth’. Indeed, Second Life has an older demographic than some other virtual worlds.

In summary, I’m sick of the rhetoric around cross-platform projects in mass entertainment but very pleased to see writers involved in many integrated cross-platform events.

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