Letting audiences make structural choices in films

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Editors determine structure. From individual frames, shots and sequences up to scenes and acts. At the higher levels they work out what order to tell stories and with how much detail to go into.

When we tell stories, it is common to divide them up into parts – ‘atoms’ – which we think are the smallest indivisible parts of the tale.

In the case of news stories and documentaries, these atoms are made up of video, text, images and sound. For news organisations, the same atom is likely to be used in multiple stories. When making items for broadcast, the same atoms are used time after time as news stories evolve.

As part of their ‘Elastic News’ project, BBC R&D have been testing ideas that allow audiences to determine levels of detail and even the order that news stories are told. One model was a mobile app…

…that uses chapterised videos and text captions as the core experience while allowing users to insert additional video chapters into the main timeline where they want to know more. This creates a custom user journey of the news story.

Visit the post to read more and see a video simulation of the models they tested. 

Overall, our top-level recommendations from this user testing were:

  • continue to use a mixture of content (video, text, audio, etc)
  • provide 3 levels of depth - overview, richer content, links to full story
  • card-based, using text and images work well as a quick overview of the story- video might be more appropriate for deeper content
  • text over videos is confusing - users aren’t sure if it’s relevant to the specific scene where it appears or if it is subtitles or captions

The next iteration of our project will be taking the best features from both prototypes and recommendations from the user testing. The next prototype will also address data structure challenges as we collaborate with BBC News Labs.

Not only ‘Elastic News’ - elastic documentaries, features, TV…

In this case the BBC were testing younger people’s interaction with news items on mobile phones.

Perhaps some of these ideas could be applied to longer stories: documentaries, feature films, TV series. They could also apply to new forms such as websites, games and VR stories.

This requires editors and their tools to be able to work with story atoms as well as whole stories. 

This research seems to be about seeing audiences as individual news ‘users.’ Once we have a model for individual audience members being able to ‘choose their own adventure’ it’ll be time to work on how to make shared experiences possible… Maybe a teacher/pupils model would be a place to start.