The future of television is evolving right before our eyeballs. Canada leads G-7 nations in internet-wired computers per household, and the CRTC is actually considering naming high-speed Internet access (also known as "broadband") an Essential Service to Canadians. Canadian broadcasters are poised to blur the lines between television and the Web. Watch this.
TalkTV is a digital cable channel, born last September to Canada’s CTV network. TalkTV’s flagship program, The Chatroom, is available as both a six-hour live TV broadcast and a one-hour web-cast at TalkTV.ca. The Chatroom, hosted by a crew of dynamic young hipsters, features interactive discussions on a wide range of subjects including politics, sex, technology, sports and entertainment. Active participation by the viewing audience is encouraged — often demanded — by the show’s hosts. Viewers can add their two cents via live phone calls, email, web-based text chat and message board discussions.
"Webcasting was one of the inspirations for the show," says TalkTV’s Program Director, Joy Crysdale. "The web site is really important for interactivity and it’s a way that people who don’t have digital cable or satellite yet can at least become aware of what we’re doing on the channel."
Jennifer Hollett is The Chatroom’s youngest host, and rabid web junkie. "We’re not your regular TV station. We’re a digital TV broadcaster ‘Dot Com,’" she says. "The show isn’t really about the hosts, or the people we have working on the show, it’s about everyone." Hollett is hyped on the participatory nature of the show, often reading viewer mail from a nearby computer live on the air. "These people are watching TV at the same time they’re online. When I think of the future in terms of media, the different mediums are merging together."
www.trapezemedia.com / www.safehouselive.com
"We are a broadband production company and we are looking to explore the characteristics of broadband as a new medium," says Rebecca Scott, Creative Director for Toronto-based Trapeze Media. "We produce for broadband, which is the high speed access web for now, but we would produce for other interactive, rich media mediums such as game consoles, and iTV (if it ever ‘gets there.’) We'd like to produce content for an interactive environment in conjunction with a TV show, but producing TV isn't our specialty."
"We like to think that there is much more that can be done than just delivering TV via the net," adds Jos Yule, Technical Collaborator at Trapeze. Last Fall, Trapeze won a Gold NewMedia INVISION 2000 award for its web-based suspense-thriller SafehouseLive. SafehouseLive invites the audience to join a fictional rave-in-progress while four "live" cameras broadcast the action from four different party rooms. When a killer visits the rave, web site users have an opportunity to uncover the culprit by switching camera views.
Yule is excited about the future of internet broadcasting. "Safehouse proved to us that there is an audience that wants entertainment via the net, and that they are interested in entertainment that they can interact with. There is also critical praise for content like this. I think that with the advent of more and more cheap 'internet appliances' and the growth of broadband (and eventually, wireless) net access, that will be content delivered to all these devices, and there will be a place for interactive entertainment."
"Sex will happen!" promises a beaming Mathieu Chantelois. Chantelois is one of eight young people living in a downtown Toronto loft under the scrutiny of both TV and web cameras around the clock. "We all think that TV is a great medium, that the internet is maybe the future," he continues. "We hope we can be part of it and that’s the reason why we accepted this project." The eight Lofters are responsible for hosting three hours of live web broadcast each day inside the Loft in addition to the 24-hour squirming under the eyes of roving TV cameras and web-cams. Daily highlights from U8TV.com will be featured on U8TV: The Lofters, a televised show carried on the Life Network.
"Viewer interaction is really a big part of U8TV," explains Lili Shalev, co-founder and President of TVFORREAL.COM and U8TV. "There’s email, there are the chats, there are phone-ins during the shows, we’re getting viewers to actually participate in shows."
"We want to keep as much connection between us and the viewers as possible," adds Lofter Arisa Cox, "so that’s why they can email us directly and we can email back. Every day there’s a part of the show where we get to sit on camera with our computers and talk about the emails we’ve been getting, talk about what’s been on the message boards, talk about what sort of questions and concerns people have. We want to keep it as real as possible, but in order to do that we really need to be in contact with the people we want to reach."
Connecting with an audience is every broadcaster’s goal, and in Canada, we have the most connected audience in the world. With high-speed internet access right around the corner, we have the opportunity to join media moguls, production companies, and technologists in defining the future of broadcasting. All the rest of the world can do is watch.
Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, Feb. 2001 edition. James Keast, editor.