Interactive Reality TV Could Use Video Conferencing to Let Viewers Steer the Show

reality tv controlled by video conference

Still upset that Michelle ended up as sole Survivor on Survivor: Koh Rong?

Wish there was something you could have done about it?

You know, video conferencing could have helped.

If CBS had allowed its audience a little say in the proceedings by opening up the two-way communication video conferencing delivers, it could have made things a lot more interesting that season, and perhaps even boosted the show’s falling ratings.

And it’s not enough to dismiss video conferencing as merely another way to cast a who-stays who-goes vote: in fact, the show’s appeal lies largely in the alliances and betrayals that are dependent on the competitors retaining the right to save or expel each other.

Instead, video conferencing in the hands of a brave network could deliver a way for an engaged and empowered audience to manipulate and contort the survivors through every challenge they face across the entire series. It would create a means of making it harder for Michelle to have ever reached that final tribal council, by pitting her against the wits of her viewing public.

Controlling the Twilight Zone

Major studios are already exploring the possibilities of viewer-led television.

CBS announced earlier this year that it had forged an alliance with video game developer Interlude to restore the cult classic The Twilight Zone to TV.

And Interlude has also won the attentions of movie studio MGM as part of a multi-million dollar attempt to turn the sci-fi cult hit Wargames into a drama series.

What’s most interesting about these partnerships is not so much the content, but the format.

Interlude is famed for producing interactive games that branch into dozens of alternative narratives depending on the choices of its players.

While nothing much has been revealed of either project, there is hope that Interlude’s specific talents mean both series will put control of the storylines in the hands of viewers.

And if at least one of these series is intended for network broadcast the plot decisions could pivot on either a public vote that decides what the entire viewing audience experiences next, or as a private option in which each viewer receives a personalized program based on their individual choices.

Video Conferencing as the Second Screen

The latter option is far more exciting, and opens up all kinds of new broadcasting possibilities.

Sports fans already have the ability to choose the live game they receive through their NFL, NBA or MLB provider, and they’ve become accustomed to switching between camera angles during a real-time broadcast.

Applying this ability to tap into multiple, concurrent broadcast feeds to a drama series would let each viewer branch off as they see fit while the action unfolds.

Imagine the firestorm that would create on social media, as each viewer group shouts at the others about what happens if you chose to open the door to the creepy house rather than just walk on by. And perhaps the show would later be added to an on-demand video provider so people could go back and choose differently.

Of course, packaged drama would have a limit of options due to the scripted nature of the show, and therefore tighter control of audience behaviour.

But if this philosophy were applied to real-time reality TV then anything could happen.

Video Conferencing and Reality TV

Audience participation Within the Survivor setting could become an alignment not with the reality stars but the producers.

Individuals or groups of home-viewers could be chosen each week to plot the paths of each contestant, making choices that trade off the difficulty of each challenge against the significance of the reward, or deciding how much information is revealed to the contest about either their challenge or their peers.

These groups could be selected through a show-within-the-show contest of Survivor knowledge, creativity, and pure personality evaluation.

And each home-viewer could be given a little screen time through a corner video conferencing appearance that allows them to detail their choices and let the wider audience know what’s in store as the challenges occur. The reactions of these would-be kingmakers could be entertainment enough.

Or, the video calling viewers could become a tribe of mentors for each contestant, someone they can confer with and rely upon. This televised video link-up conversation would have a lot of spice should the viewers be able to pass on information from interactions that did not include the contestant.

YouNow has already won millions of viewers thanks in part to giving them the ability to chat live online with their streaming heroes, and offer them suggestions on what to do next.

Perhaps it’s about time TV took a little lesson from its upstart broadcasting cousin?

A New Form of Video Reality

In addition to injecting a little fresh energy into the Survivor format, video conferencing could create a whole new version of reality TV.

Imagine an EdTV-style reality show where the camera follows a single person though their everyday life, as guided by an angel-on-their-shoulder viewer in touch with them through video chat.

Or, a Big Brother concept house where the walls were lined with video conferencing equipment that put the housemates in touch with the outside world by giving random viewers the chance to Skype their favourites.

There’s certainly room within The Amazing Race for audience members to act as phone-a-friends and dispense wisdom, clues, or red herrings.

And finally–would the Kardashians be gracious enough to end each episode with a little Q&A from their fans via a five-minute public video chat?

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