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Although the online video experience would appear to be this mythical, multilateral, interactive video utopia, the reality is, in fact, quite different. Because while it’s certainly possible for a network of collaborative video artists to work together, online, to piece together a long-term video mosaic of participatory brilliance, the reality has often been more of an ad hoc, trivial mess of mediocrity.
There have, however, been some notable successes. One particularly good strategy has been to connect an online series with a dynamic social network. Ze Frank‘s The ORG and Epic-FU‘s The Mix, both religiously updated by the fanatically involved, have used interactivity to successfully build a fan base and create high-quality, collaborative content. Witness, as well, the growth of interactive fictional dramas. The format allows for the viewers to influence the storyline, but the actors, writers, and directors are able to smooth the story out, making it accessible beyond those who contributed.
Below are four other interactive series that have piqued my interest, either with their success in implementing an interactive model or the promise of bringing something new to the space.
iChannel — I really can’t say enough great things about iChannel. Now in its second season, the Kafkaesque video series follows a hapless and helpless “I” as his life is videoblogged against his will. The interactive aspect can be found in the comments he receives from real viewers via in-show text messages. And with the start of the second season, the iChannel team has launched an even more interactive forum, in which members can recommend characters, plot twists — even soundtracks.
Satacracy 88 — Winner of the first Emmy for Outstanding Broadband Program- Drama, Satacracy 88 is part of ItsAllInYourHands.com’s growing network of interactive properties. Now in its second season, Satacracy 88 is a frenetic and beautifully executed conspiracy story involving teleportation, pharmacopoeia, and a league of deadly, and sexy, assassins. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger, allowing the audience to vote on which of two options the story should follow. However, like I’ve said before, the story’s scattered and non-causal momentum seems to render the audience’s decision totally irrelevant.
A quirky Mary and Rhoda, The Mimi & Flo Show is the ongoing, multilayered story of two friends finding their way in New York City. Like Satacracy 88, each episode asks the viewer to pick between one of two actions, except here the actions revolve around ethical dilemmas, like taking the blame for a fart. The show’s lead actresses are emotive and charismatic but the show’s structure, and the presentation of that structure, are what make it work — the site allows viewers to jump in at any point and follow any one of the story’s many arcs. The show has an active blog and MySpace page but unlike iChannel, the storyline itself doesn’t come from the viewers.
The Whoa Show — Orange County, Calif.-based The Whoa Show is looking to make active participation the core of their creative model. Founder David Hissami told us that their first show, First in Action (screenshot above), set to launch Jan. 1, is “about active involvement and participation.” Each First in Action video ends with the viewer/creator giving a direction, like “Kiss your mother,” and the first viewer to upload a video of themselves performing that direction gets to give the next direction. The Whoa Show already has plans for two more shows, and hopes to build a network around highly interactive media properties. The obvious pitfall here is that First in Action relies upon the fastest viewers — not the best — which will surely result in a smattering of quality.
The Gap Year — Bebo has teamed up with independent TV producer Endemol UK to create an interactive, globe-trotting journey documented through Bebo’s social network and entitled The Gap Year. Scheduled to start filming in 2008, the series is now looking for applicants. The audience will be encouraged to comment and upload their own thoughts on the ongoing travelogue, and each week, Beboers will get to vote in polls that will directly influence the direction of the digital drifters. Since Bebo’s bread and butter is social interaction, I’m hopeful that the series is true to its Beboian roots.
iChannel’s and Mimi & Flo’s creativity and execution bode well for the interactivity of online video, while Satacracy 88’s success means that there is indeed an appetite for it. But The Gap Year and First in Action are in danger of falling prey to the lowest common denominator as they rely upon the masses. Still, as TV struggles, we’ll see if Internet artists can step up to the plate and really show us what the medium can do. Watching TV shows online is great and all, but online video should be so much more than simply TV online.
Please post your thoughts and favorite interactive video series here on our interactive blog.