The Coming Intermedia Revolution

What do you call it when Beyonce tweets back during the Video Music Awards - responding to fans who are watching the show and tweeting - in real time - about her "baby bump?"

Rick Liebling of marketing and communications company Y&R suggests (see his essential Sept. 11th, 2011 post) calling this form of interaction "intermedia."

By "intermedia" Rick Liebling means the real-time interaction between content consumers and producers - made possible by new technologies like mobile devices and Twitter.

According to Rick Liebling, "intermedia" is changing how consumers expect to interact with entertainment and brands. Instead of a producer simply broadcasting a tightly controlled message on one channel, the new technology allows for a more social form of storytelling that spans numerous channels and incorporates the audience into the storytelling - allowing the user to participate, even in ways that change the story. Rick Liebling lists a couple of current examples (e.g., "American Idol contestants are voted on via mobile phone by fans") and Rick also proposes a couple of new intermedia applications that might soon catch on (e.g., "readers posting questions or comments within an interface in Kindle editions of books and having them answered by the author via a YouTube channel).

As Rick Liebling notes, the intermedia revolution is something that some producers are already building into television programming: "Understanding how to make shows that work well for intermedia will be a new benchmark." The trick (as always) is to create programming that the user becomes invested in - no one is going to tweet about a singer's baby bump if the singer is not worthy of attention.

The concept of interactive media is not new. But social media and the way consumers are using two screens (e.g., a TV and a tablet or phone) simultaneously has led to an explosion of recent interest in intermedia applications. As Brian Stelter observed in the NY Times on Oct. 25th, 2011 Twitter has a growing team of intermedia experts who work with content producers on "the creative fabric of shows." Chloe Sladden, the leader of Twitter's TV team, is pioneering a new frontier of motion picture storytelling where "the audience help[s] change the outcomes.”

The current system of dramatic television writing doesn't allow for much audience input (although fan response to plot twists and even tweets to a character - Sam Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki - on the long-running CW series Supernatural have apparently influenced future storylines). But talk shows, game shows and reality/news programming are all experimenting with ceding a little narrative control to fans who tweet: e.g., Joan Rivers on the Oscar Red Carpet asking celebrities questions tweeted by fans.

Whether this new form of interaction will remain an experiment - suitable for only a few shows where realtime interaction is a desireable way of building engagement - or whether scripted TV as we know it is about to be reshaped by fan interaction remains to be seen.

One final question: When the audience is no longer passive, will we need to come up with a new term to describe them (e.g., "produsers," "active-users," etc.?) as some former couch potatoes choose to participate and redefine their role?

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