Interactive media - The new user experience
A silent revolution is under way, which will fundamentally change how we experience content through digital media. The next generation of interactive media will converge different ICT technologies into something completely new, providing a ubiquitous and personalised media experience based on new forms of human-machine interaction. Thus, interactive media have the potential of revolutionising entertainment, learning, and many other areas of life.
Three phases of interactive media
The first phase of interactive media was the analogue age, when interactivity was achieved through analogue media like pop-up books and telephones. The second phase was the digital era, which began in the 1980s with the spreading of personal computers and the Internet. The media experience of the digital era offered access to digital content, like videos and music, as well as to gaming from several devices, like PCs and game consoles. Interactivity was mainly limited to communication with other people and to human-machine interaction with rudimentary personalisation.
This will change in the emerging third generation of interactive media. Not only will users have access to digital content and gaming partners anywhere, anytime, and through any device. The digital content and the game settings will also be adapted to their personal tastes and to their current context. On top of this, users will be able to interact with media in a way, which allows them to get exactly the content they need when they need it, and to send an instantaneous response through the feedback channel which will, in turn, alter the content they see and hear.
From user to engager
The opportunities for this new level of personalised and ubiquitous interaction through digital media are vast, only limited by imagination and bandwidth. Application areas where the next generation of interactive media could add value include entertainment, gaming, eHealth, eLearning, eWork, and news. In the areas of entertainment and news, EU project NM2 (New Media for the New Millennium) has demonstrated how personalised interaction through media could work: some NM2 productions allow users to create their personal documentary online from existing footage. One example for this type of personalised interaction is NM2's "Interactive Village" production (see article in this cover theme). Passive users, who today only have the choice to select among some given, static content, will soon be able to adapt content to their personal preferences, thus becoming active engagers. This is in line with the ever more active role of media users through Web 2.0 applications and user-generated content.
Convergence of content and technologies
The next generation of interactive media is characterised by convergence on both the content level and the technological level. Regarding content, the boundaries between gaming, film, learning content, news and advertising will blur, giving way to some new, interactive forms of media content. The controversial online game "Second Life" already provides an idea of what this convergence could mean in practice. In Europe, France Telecom's GOA gaming platform demonstrates another way of content convergence (see article in this cover theme).
In addition, a convergence of delivery channels for interactive media is emerging. The same media content, may it be sports, news, or movies, can now be viewed on a TV set as well as on the Internet or a mobile device (Mobile TV). Thus, also the boundaries between broadcasting and the Internet blur, posing a disruptive challenge to the broadcasting sector as we know it. One of the innovative broadcasters in Europe, who are ready to meet the challenge, is Finnish broadcaster YLE. In January 2007, YLE broadcasted in cooperation with EU project NM2 the world's first shape-shifted romantic comedy, "Accidental Lovers"; viewers were able to affect the romantic relationship between two disparate lovers via SMS text messages (see interview with Mika Tuomola, the director of “Accidental Lovers”, about interactive TV in this cover theme).
Interactive TV is only one of the many interactive media areas, which offer very promising business opportunities. In 2005, The European Technology Platform on "Networked and Electronic Media" (NEM) estimated a volume of 600 billion euro for the networked and electronic media market.
NEM actively promotes the vision of a media future, in which everyone "will be able to generate, manipulate, use, and enjoy any kind of electronic media content - wherever they are" (NEM Strategic Research Agenda). Besides audiovisual services, like telephony and television, electronic media content, according to the NEM vision, also includes "a wide range of interactive services across all realms of information, education and entertainment".
Interactive media services and applications could have a large share in this emerging networked and electronic media market. The challenge for Europe will be to turn the technologies researched and developed in European projects into successful innovations on the market.
This cover theme of "Eurescom mess@ge" presents some examples of interactive media that could have a tremendous business impact.
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