December 20, 2006
Finnish Television Event Offers Users Chance to Choose Ending During Show by Text Message

While viewers of Days of Our Lives have the chance to name the baby of a prominent character and WWE invites fans to votes on stipulations and participants of matches on its pay-per-view wrestling event Cyber Sunday, Finnish television fictional event Accidental Lovers from the BT Group is offering an interesting new way for users to text message in order to affect the outcome of storylines on the show.

According to a story from David Meyer at CNET, viewers will be able to text during the show, which will allow them to affect how the program ends in real time. "In an evolution of today's interactive TV, SMS messages texted in by the audience will--in real time--cause the characters to either fall in love or break up." Some of the texted comments will also appear on screen during the show.

The eventual plan is apparently to allow various versions of the same story, with viewers choosing their preferred trajectory of the story and then watching the scenes that correspond from their choices. Of course, this is a static form of interaction and demonstrates the limited choice involved, since the footage is pre-recorded in the first place. It demonstrates the difficulty of interaction in this type of programming vis-a-vis reality TV or even pro wrestling, which airs Cyber Sunday live.

In all three cases, choice is severely limited by the few options offered by the show but does involve some degree of audience impact on where things go. Certainly, at this point, it's interesting far more as an experiment than it is as an endpoint for where interactive TV should go.

Many people will likely have a problem with what one of the creatives behind projects like this calls in the story "personalized television," a decentralized narrative that can go several different directions based on what people want to see. For some, that idea kills authorial intent too completely and makes it interesting as an activity but not as a piece of narrative art.

"The end form of this kind of media would pose challenges for the traditional media production work flow," Meyer quotes his source at BT as saying, "pointing out that it took 150 years after Gutenberg invented the printing press before the form of the English novel emerged."

And, for a much scarier idea of how to use text messaging for interesting new forms of interactivity and collaboration, see this TechDirt article Joshua Green sent to me detailing a plan for drivers to text message each other by license plate, so you can tell each other what you really think while on the road.