When TIME Magazine put “you” as its “Person of the Year” it wasn’t kidding around. They weren’t referring to your ego, your fantastic self or any general contribution you make to society, but your domination and control of the information marketplace. “User-generated” content is all the rage. “We” aren’t just the people of this year; we are the people of the decade. We users weren’t born; we were shaped out of the struggles of those who came before us. We have been forced to improvise, adapt and overcome a too-slow mainstream media. We must have our information and create it too.
TIME is mainly referring to the world online. You know, the one that keeps us sitting for too long during the day, wastes the precious time we have left on this earth and, in general, doesn’t particularly better society. Mostly, what happens online is disposable entertainment – a substitute, if you will, for what TV used to be to us.
TV execs are busy trying to find ways to bring all of that user-generated content back home to the tube because if the television industry collapses, well, let’s not even go there, shall we?
User-generated content sprang up in different places. What is reality-TV, after all, than user-generated? Doesn’t America get to decide who becomes the next American Idol?
PBS has decided it’s time to get in the game. The network put three science series online and will allow viewers to decide which one will eventually move on to a television debut.
Apple iTunes is in on it, and on January 1 will be offering free video podcasts of the three possible shows. Wired Science is a production of our own local PBS station, KCET; Science Investigators comes out of WBGH Boston and Lion TV (from the people who brought you The History Detectives); and the Twin Cities Public Television will give us 22nd Century, a co-production of Boston Science Communications, Inc. and Towers Productions.
Participants will need to be involved enough to want to get in on the action. Once they are involved it becomes harder to walk away, up to and including whenever said science show finally airs. Voilà, built-in audience.
The PBS television broadcasts begin January 3, with online votes determining which series will have a 10-week run next fall. They are hoping for a variety of age groups being interested enough in science to vote for a winner.
The whole experiment will be interactive. Viewers of the site will be called back via their mailing list to come and see whatever new segment is there. Those watching, talking about and most affected by those shows will have a say in what show ultimately gets picked. But, the network cautions, this is not to take the place of the network executive so much as it is taking advantage of the new way entertainment relates to us, the TIME cover story of the year.
The truth is, television and print news must keep up with the online news media machine or go the way of the dinosaur. As it is, the Internet is vastly more interesting, informative and entertaining than television or even sometimes the movies Hollywood releases every year.
No one is going to complain if their kids are online too much or watching too much television if that television is all about science. It’s a win-win situation. How long before our favorite fictional shows open it up to audience participation? Imagine if we were all able to call in the way we wanted Friends to end, for instance? What if we could get enough people involved to save a show that not enough people were watching? Perhaps we could control the way our favorite chef makes their holiday turkey. The possibilities are endless. For now, though, we’ll have to make do with the beginnings of it all.