Interactive and Personalised, but Slow Progress

The blurring boundaries between video producers and consumers, and between professionals and amateurs, combined with the ubiquity of digital cameras, networks, and video editing, uploading and streaming software and services, are creating opportunities to turn video into interactive and personalised experiences, although progress has been much slower than expected.

For over 10 years, new start-ups have developed and launched services that promised to allow producers to make their content interactive by enabling their viewers to click on objects in the video to connect to related articles, videos and real-time data.  They can also include questions to collect audience feedback.  In fact, technologically, it is relatively easy to recognise a specific object in a video, tag it and track it through the video regardless where it appears.  As a recognised object, the technology can then make it clickable like a link in a webpage, allowing the users to learn more about it or even make a purchase through e-Commerce.  However, despite being technologically feasible, such a scenario has so far failed to materialise.  Today, much of the consumption of online video is very similar to watching TV via the internet.  Even live streaming is rather limited compared with the consumption of recorded videos.

In professional TV, there have been many experiments to explore multi-narrative, non-linear storytelling, where audience voting or interaction determines what happens next.  This is mainly happening in reality TV through audience voting (such as which celebrity stays and which one leaves the show), but multi-narrative dramas are still very rare, and the demand for such programmes is uncertain.  Some new business start-ups are experimenting with the idea of collecting and archiving the main film/TV programme with additional video and other footage related to the making of the programme to allow viewers to interact with the digital archives, based on personal interest and interaction.  Others are creating platforms to allow the audience to choose their own camera angle when watching a live or recorded concert.  Some organisations are trying to combine the best elements of schedules, streaming and social media in one platform but with limited commercial success.  The Wall Street Journal started creating interactive videos using Touchcast in 2015 to enable viewers to control the story, by allowing them access to detailed information about the stories that interest them directly from the news bulletin.[1]  It is still too early to tell whether demand for such services will grow rapidly.

Despite the availability of relevant technologies to make videos more interactive, the personalised interactive experience in which viewers can engage with objects in the video by clicking on them has not happened at any measurable scale.  Instead, the focus of recent discussions on the future of video revolve around generating revenues from advertising or charging viewers for content.  Venting his frustration, Jason Thibeault argued that ‘[w]e have turned online video into the new television business and pushed aside the vision for interactive experiences in favour of figuring out how to replicate the same revenue that we generate from the television business today.’[2]



Nevertheless, online video can evolve constantly through extensive live streaming, frequently edited iterations and mass mash-ups.  The rapid development in collaborative editing, live commentary and video archive libraries will make videos more interactive, enabling the creation of a unique and personalised experience for each viewing.  One particularly significant development is the launch by YouTube of a multi-angle feature in February 2015, named Choose Your View, which allows video creators to upload videos from different camera angles from the same performance, and letting viewers choose their view and how they want to experience the video during a live or recorded performance.  It will be interesting to see whether and how this feature will take off in the near future.  If successful, interactive video will give more control to the audience and enable people to enjoy a more personalised viewing experience.  More importantly, interactive video can help break down the boundaries between video and the rest of the internet, creating seamless integration between them.  This could change the way we experience video, from the linear and static, to something more responsive, malleable, interactive and personalised.  It will create a range of new business opportunities to develop new technologies and services to support interactive and personalised consumption of video.

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