Virtual World Television

Television is in a period of flux.

There are those who wonder how it can survive as online and mobile technologies take us to alternate screens, away from the television set.  There are also those who see potential for television to become more than it is now because of these technologies.

In this period of flux, the television industry has been trying to adjust to the new technologies and the new audience practices that arise with them.  One such audience practice is heightened audience activity, to the point of increased involvement in production, leading scholars to term segments of the new media audience as prosumers or produsers.  In reaction to the challenges to its position in people’s everyday lives and as a social and cultural cornerstone, television has employed a number of tactics to maintain its dominance.  Television industries have been working to increase their interactive capabilities through marketing strategies and the deployment of “social TV” to address this new media audience.

However, there is one technology and one audience practice traditional television has not yet addressed, and it may be a technology and practice that allows for the type of interactivity always dreamt of for traditional television.  Because of this, such technology and practice could either indicate a direction away from traditional television, or the pathway to its future.

Virtual world television is the practice of using a virtual world technology for the purposes of producing, distributing, exhibiting and consuming content analogous to traditional television programming.  Virtual worlds are digital spaces that are persistently populated by people through their avatars; these spaces can become places for a variety of human activity, depending on the purpose of the world and the extent to which the world is designed for and by user-generated content.  In the virtual world Second Life, which is generated through the actions of its users, numerous individuals and groups have utilized the social medium’s design capabilities to produce video content that resembles the serial and episodic productions of traditional television.

The project reported in this blog — virtualworldtelevision.wordpress.com — focuses on these producers and their experiences of and thoughts about virtual world television.  Interacting with the producers helped us to understand the nature of this phenomenon, and how it relates both to traditional television and the Internet paradigm shift that is Web 2.0.  The interviews with the producers are used to describe virtual world television, as well as to make comparisons of their products and practices to traditional television.  This descriptive and comparative analysis leads us to understand how the producers are actually challenging traditional television with their use of this technology.  They are not challenging the products and practices, as those typically resemble and remediate that which we find in traditional television.  What is challenged is the notion that they can only be “audience to television”; the capabilities of the virtual world Second Life have afforded their move to become “producers of television”.  In doing so, they are producing television programming that utilizes the structures of Second Life to produce television that demonstrates more interactivity than has been seen in traditional television.

As discussed above, television is in a period of flux.  It has undergone such periods before, and largely through adopting new technologies and practices it has managed to remain dominant.  In this blog we are arguing that traditional television could learn from the products and practices of virtual world television how to create a more interactive experience that includes people in the production process of television and thereby more fully melding with the principles of Web 2.0.  Such adoption does not need to be of the virtual world Second Life, but there needs to be recognition of the extent to which people want to be actively involved in television beyond simply being consumers of it.

Writings on this project can be found at these links for this blog:

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