Anthony E. Zuiker, creator of the CSI franchise, wants to build a bridge between Hollywood and Silicon Valley to make television into an immersive experience. A quick recap of his address at NewTeeVee Live today follows:
We are in the golden age of television as of right now. There are so many amazing shows. Every network has two or three monster hits. So how come the numbers are depressed? How is it we can take the medium forward and tell stories in a way that gives us an immersive experience?
The fact that we have to sit at a specific time and find something to watch — its a problem. Try to find a more immersive experience that’s not just that one hour at the one time slot. CBS has empowered me to take chances in television and dabble in different devices to create this paradigm of cross-platform storytelling. My first effort was with the Suicide Girls, so I had them come on the show of CSI: New York. I couldn’t use the term SuicideGirls.com because they show nudity and CBS wouldn’t allow that, but the traffic to their site went up 80 percent, proving that people watch TV while on their laptops.
Then I tried using CSIQ where people were offered a quiz show in the middle of the show, and they paid $1 to enter to win a prize. In the first week we got 30,000 people who paid their dollar and by week four we had 165,000 people. But taking time out of the broadcast wasn’t as lucrative as the advertising model.
Then, we tried something in Second Life because CBS bought a small stake in Electric Sheep. We invited viewers to a CSI virtual world in Second Life. We had 40,000 viewers visit the site after that episode and 4,000 over the next few days. The problem was, when you got there, there wasn’t too much to do. So now we’re thinking about cross-platform storytelling. Once the television show stops, someone could log in to CSI.com or CBS.com and then watch little webisodes, and then maybe get more of the mystery on the mobile phone.
But television cannot be reduced to an ancillary broadcast device. We need to drive people from one platform to another. The problem with CSI right now, it’s a show that isn’t designed for Silicon Valley or other devices. We launched the show when it had no multi-device type of world. So right now the goal is to create new shows having all these devices in my brain, and create that from scratch. Advertisers are looking to put their money somewhere. It’s hard to ask someone to be at this place at this time, so we need to adapt.
But maybe not on the web. My problem with watching television on the web is that when you sink $4 million into the show, then it’s hard to watch it on a tiny device. For web narratives you should shoot it for the web. What’s hard is, How do you take the brand and still have the respect of the community? If I’m too hardcore web, I’m not commercial enough. If I’m too corporate-slick, I lose the respect of the Silicon Valley community.
But whatever we do, it should all drive you back to the main device of the household — the TV.
Some other things I’m trying is building that bridge between TV and the web and publishing. I am a horrible, horrible reader, so I felt like, How do I take the YouTube generation and bridge it to the publishing world? Create a book with web chapters in between each physical chapter to give people an experience beyond the book. The future of the one-off is over. It all has to work together. We’ll launch those books in the Fall of 2009. On the iPhone, you could read and then flick to the web video.
So what is the future of TV? I feel that YouTube is the future of television in disguise. I believe a lot of TV networks will some day go on-demand. I would love to customize what I want to watch on any device. I believe that the TV should learn what you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and customize it to your needs. So the bridge between Hollywood and Silicon Valley needs to be very strong.