In my teens in the 80s, I remember reading a book of futurist essays, one of which talked about how much more interactive traditional media was going to become in the next decade. The example the author talked about was a 3D projection of the TV show "M*A*S*H" which the user could participate in as a character in the show. As a TV junkie, I remember how excited I got about this, wishing that I could walk into my favorite episodes of "Robotech" or "Knight Rider."
Twenty years later, the interactive 3D projection TV has not arrived yet (nor has the hoverboard and "meal-in-a.jpgll".) But the combined technologies of 3D virtual worlds and streaming online video might get us closer to this ideal. Second Life is playing host to a number of virtual film showings that reveal the potential of these digital spaces for supporting new forms of audience-video interaction. More on this after the jump…
Films have been migrating in increasing numbers to the SL grid, including the twisted sci-fi drama "Scanner Darkly", the new horror flick "Altered", and even independent productions like "Four-Eyed Monster" and "To the Hills" (the last link is a teleport SLURL.)
What’s interesting about this phenomenon, if it continues to grow, is how it represents a shift in the film viewing experience.
Basically the only two forms of video content viewing prior to the internet were in a movie theater or at home on television.
The advantage of the movie theater is that it is projected on a huge screen with surround sound and feels like being at an "event." The disadvantage being that you had to physically get to the theater during the particular viewing time of the movie you wanted to watch. And you had to put up with the various social disorders of the people around you (particularly if you live in New York.)
Television, by contrast, has the advantage of being in the comfort of your own home, with whomever you wish. If you have the film on DVD or tape or TIVO, you can watch it at your leisure, watch it again, go back to favorite bits, etc. The disadvantage being that film watching becomes a mostly individual activity and you lose the excitement and interaction of seeing a film with a mass of other human beings at the same time.
So the challenge is: how do you create a video viewing experience that allows for desired social interaction (chatting with other fans, sharing impressions of the films, "mass" viewing effects) while minimizing the negative social aspects (cell phones, talking during the movie, folks giving away the ending, etc.). Neither the internet, YouTube or video iPods have not really addressed this dilemma. You are still for the most part watching a video alone on your laptop or video player, even if you can comment or rate it later. Much of the social interaction comes from talking with people about the video at work or school or at home afterwards.
But watching a video in Second Life is akin to viewing it with a crowd of other people while watching it alone. You get a lot of the perks of being in an audience of movie-goers without the same kinds of downsides.
When I was watching the Machinima videos during the Machinima Festival a month ago, there was definitely that feeling of excitement and anticipation you get when you are sitting in a packed movie-house waiting for the latest summer blockbuster to begin. People were hollering, throwing stuff, literally jumping out of their seats. It was a hoot and a half.
People can "chat" during the movie in Second Life — and they always do. You can choose to attend to it, block people you don’t want to pay attention to, or just block everyone and watch the video without interruption. Often, it becomes like MST3K meets Web2.0.
Even cooler, in Second Life you often get to interact directly with the filmmakers in-person / in-avatar. Last night I was hanging out with Eduardo Sanchez, the director of "Altered," in the Motorati sim after a showing of his new movie. That almost never happens in the real world, but is easily done in Second Life.
For the big studios this is not really a big deal. The money they could make through these in-world events is pennies compared to other media streams.
But for small, independent filmmakers this is really quite a boon. At fairly low cost and investment of time, a filmmaker could host a small screening of her film, perhaps a pre-final cut, for a virtual audience and ask for feedback and impressions before releasing the final version to theaters. A carefully chosen group of fifty avatars (the size limit on most sims) watching a film sounds like the perfect number of test screeners to me. Advertise and get the video stream repeated on other sims and that number could grow easily to the hundreds and hundreds of in-world viewers. Get those people telling their real world neighbors and co-workers about the film, and you’ve got some pretty good buzz for not much effort.
Perhaps everyone but me in Second Life has realized this. Certainly Philip Linden, the god of SL and former VP of Real media, has dreamt of this. But it strikes me as tremendously exciting.