An overview of Production, Content, and Distribution channels in Second Life
An overview of Production, Content, and Distribution channels in Second Life
A quick glossary:
SL - Second Life, a virtual world that we are currently exploring to expand CCTV into the virtual realm
RL - This means "Real Life" and refers to actions that happen outside of the SL environment (sort of what it sounds like)
"In-world" - Believe it or not, this mean IN the Second Life world (not in our world)
CCTV - Cambridge Community Television
VCMC - CCTV's Virtual Community Media Center
SLURL: An internet address (url) that will teleport you to a place in SL. You must have SL installed to use this feature.
Got all that? ;)
The Cambridge Community Television Station is looking to capitalize on the emergence of virtual worlds as a new platform for education, production, and distribution. To better understand how other media centers are using Second Life, I investigated the models employed by SL's most popular media outlets. The companies I explored each have a different approach to production, content, and distribution. Understanding these various models may give us insight on how to best approach launching the Virtual CMC.
There are several different types of production processes for the video in SL. There are 'shows' that are shot live-to-tape (with real people) and then aired in SL. The news bureau Reuters is an excellent example of this. They regularly post into SL footage that has actually been shot and edited for their website, which is very efficient of them. Some shows are captured in SL, which means that there are avatars (the digital body that users control) who are on 'camera,' typically recorded for later playback. For instance, Metaverse TV's MBC1 News captures-to-tape on a very traditional looking news set. Because it is just intended for playback, their production schedule is entirely at their control (unlike our news broadcasts, which are typically live). The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) actually even does shows with a live (well, full of avatars) audience, and has several large studio spaces built out for this purpose. There is also footage that is filmed in multiple 'on site' locations in SL, akin to movie locations, for larger edited projects. Filming on this scale is called "machinima," which refers to the production being filmed entirely within the game interface, but implies a greater sophistication than studio shows done in-world. Finally, Second Life hosts real life production-intensive live (real-world) events, from concerts, to lectures, to semester-long courses, that are streamed into Second Life. In this case, all of the production is happening outside in real life, and SL offers a surrogate screen that allows for an audience to sit (virtually) together, as opposed to individual viewers via webcast. This great flexibility in production methods has a very positive impact on the content being produced.
The variety of content available is more vast than that of a cable television lineup, nearly as vast as the internet itself. Just as in RL there is a causal relationship between a show's content and it's production/distribution. Live-to-tape shows with human actors are often produced for another other purpose and then loaded into Second Life in an archival manner. For instance, most of the content on the Reuters island is unrelated to Second Life. It is a handy place to view Reuters videos if you are already in SL, but is very much a duplicate of what is available on its website. Other common live-actor productions are short films that are using Second Life more as a distribution platform than production, or even inspiration. The concerts that take advantage of the medium have found no limit to genre, and educational lectures span the islands, with some islands set aside specifically for this purpose. All of this RL footage isn't to diminish the extraordinary amount of SL-related content to be found, however.
Avatars star in all sorts of formats across a spectrum of genres. Certainly machinima, modeled so closely to traditional film, offers dramas, comedies (lots of political satires), and music videos, ranging from mere seconds to 'full length', all shot in Second Life. Very popular are SL business news shows that are very focused on, well, business prospects and personalities in Second Life. One of the most popular is SLCN.tv's "Real Biz," which is formatted like typical business show, complete with segments. Overall the show does seem slightly more promotional with guest avatars who are there to promote their recent business ventures and share their experiences and insights. There is also a very standard nightly news format (complete with a nearly cliche news desk and very "anchorly" avatars). There are classes about building and living in Second Life. Perhaps my favorite are the late shows, (SLCN.tv and Australian Broadcasting Corp) which are 'shot' in front of a live studio audience of avatars. Just as in RL, you can be present for the live taping (err, capture), or watch it at another time.
Of course, the content really only matters once it has an audience, which means the distribution channels within SL are very important. There are three main distribution methods from within Second Life. The first is streaming media, video watched on a type of movie screen. In that model, there is generally a large screen with a seating area for users to seat their avatars. Streaming media is controlled by a single administrator who is responsible for hitting 'play' on footage, or beginning rolling (much like a director) if the event being streamed is live. The result is a synchronous event with all avatars within proximity are hearing the same thing at the same time. Streaming is helpful in classroom settings, where you would like the conversation chat to be in sync with what everyone is seeing. For obvious reasons this is particularly important when broadcasting live events, and is the only technical means to deliver live events at this time.
Although it uses similar screen/seating arrangements, there is another type of distribution that differs from streaming in one key manner: individual avatars have control over the media that is played. This is an asynchronous experience that has some advantages over streaming media. In this set up, much like a DVR, the avatar can play/stop/rewind/fast forward, or just 'pause' for a bathroom break. Multiple avatars can occupy the same space, be looking at the 'same' movie screen, but what they will see playing on the screen would be different. As an example, let's suppose Viewer A sits down in a room in front of the big screen and hits play. Five minutes later, Viewer B enters the same room. When Viewer B's avatar is 'looking' at the big screen, it will appear blank, even though Viewer A is seeing a movie. When Viewer B selects play, the movie will start from the beginning. If Viewers A and B were both sitting in a computer lab, their computer screens would look different, each one showing the movie from the point when it was started, Viewer B's would be five minutes behind. This method of distribution is particularly advantageous making archiving footage available to users.
The third and final method of distribution is through television sets. Instead of offering a screen that your avatar must visit, some stations offer a free televisions that are linked specifically to the shows and channels they broadcast. The technology is exactly the same as the asynchronous experience described above, but since your avatar has the television in her inventory, she can literally watch the media anywhere she wants by simply recalling it from her inventory. If an avatar rents space she is welcome to put the screen down on her lot to watch it (and even put down a chair from her inventory at the same time for viewing 'comfort'). Alternatively she can go to one of many 'sandboxes,' areas in Second Life where you do not need ownership to build or temporarily put stuff down from your inventory.
Having explored many many different islands and websites dedicated to media distribution in Second Life, I feel that I have found a significant model in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's island. The island is 'resource rich' offering television studios, educational videos, live event spaces, screening areas, and is designed to reflect the 'feel' of Sydney. It seems to offer the greatest breath of the production, content, and distribution models above that I've seen in any one place. But that wasn't what really shows its potential.
The highlight of the ABC Island is Dreamland Cove. The cove shows short-form docu-style machinima that tell indigenous stories. It is truly using SL at it's finest potential, using the medium to capture and preserve stories from the past so that they are archived in a way that makes them accessible to everyone with access to Second Life. This particular element has captured my attention enough that it will receive it's own blog post, detailing the many ways we can learn from the model the ABC Island employs. In short, it is an inspiring island that may help us understand - in real terms, the kind of powerful media production that may be possible for CCTV members in this new, virtual world.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
Dreamland Cove: http://slurl.com/secondlife/ABC%20Island/128/128/0
Belgacom (mostly self-promotional):
Virtual Live (SL event streaming)
DBC Radio TV
HBC Monsuke Studio