Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, October 21, 2005

Participatory TV: Webcam Connected Opinion-Makers Premier On Independent Television Channel

I am just out of a live participatory television program, a pioneering and successful experiment by Italian independent and alternative grassroots satellite + online TV station

During the live TV show which went live between 9 and midnight last night, the show hosts showcased video news shorts edited by different contributors, while interviewing individuals in the studio, open for anyone to visit and sit-in during any of the live programming.

But the most interesting thing was that for the first time Nessuno.TV pioneered the intervention of home-based individuals connected to the show via webcam.

I was myself kindly invited to join the show which focused on Italian pop star Adriano Celentano and his new political/musical television show just launched on state-wide public funded RAI television.

So while I had the opportunity to briefly voice my own humble opinion on the topic, I was totally thrilled by the bridging of traditional television as I used to know it, with the new revolutionary paradigm of a true participatory channel.

The show went live on the Web as well as on traditional satellite TV (in Italy, Channel 890 of the Sky menu). I was therefore able to see myself on the big tube in front of me, while viewing on my own laptop screen the production assistant giving me indications on when to intervene and the real-time video feed of the actual program.

Wow. That was truly something. Thanks for showing this is not part of a dream world anymore.

Interesting things I noticed include the unexpected realization that the Internet, web-based version of this TV show was the actual master and that the TV feed going to the satellite and back to people's homes is now only one of the many possible delivery lines now available.

As a matter of fact, on my laptop I could view and hear the audio of the live show, with at least 15-20 seconds in advance of what went on, on the actual TV screen.

The quality of the video webcam feeds coming from home-based opinion makers like me was rather good but it varied a great deal depending on the quality of the webcam and amount of bandwidth available to the individual home-based reporter.

You should consider a 256Kbps upstream bandwidth to be the very minimum needed to provide a good quality image at a reasonably smooth frame rate.

Interaction with the live host may also present some little problems as the issues of delay mentioned above make it impossible for you to listen and respond to the live feed of your TV set. Home-based TV participants need therefore to interact with the audio coming off their backstage connection, which nonetheless may be rich of distracting voices and noises provides true synch with what is going on in the studio.

Alessia, one of the production assistant of, popped up on my access interface to the show and kept me informed as to what was going to happen and when I should have gotten ready for my intervention.


Participatory TV as I saw it first-hand last night has much potential indeed. But it also runs high risks of being a bad photocopy of the boring, highly commercialized television content programming that has pervaded western life on this planet for the last 50 years.

Unless the paradigm of participatory television is taken further, by giving more space and opportunities to focused, theme-oriented grassroots contributions and hosting of TV shows, the "participatory" factor may often appear to be only a glowing marketing buzzword consisting only in having tv studios open to street audiences and a few webcam opinion-makers being given a handful of seconds to share their opinion before the next commercial break.

Participatory tv, thanks for breaking new important ground on this front, but it begs understanding and through awareness that the big revolution may be achieved only when:

  • Is the television that goes to the streets and not vice-versa
  • Real-time is the future of television. The emergent open Internet Television paradigm, IPTV and the growing number of new video-based services mark clearly paint a future of video consumption that is highly dictated by on-demand use patterns. Unless independent television stations understand that one of their key strengths is all about having an extra eye where I, the viewer, can't have it now, nothing much will be different from the TV we already know too well. In the near future I will be able to always access any type of video content that has already been broadcast at my preferred time. Why would I then watch a TV station unless it can connect me now to an event or happening that is taking place in this very moment, but which I could not attend?
  • Focus is the name of the game. Radio has taught this to us a long time ago, and satellite and cable TV have long pioneered the importance of theme-based programming and station specialization. Conceiving television today as a medium through which different programs go on systematically at predetermined times is just plainly anachronistic. Like for radio, blogs and successful magazines today, strong focus is what new audiences are looking for. How could I ever remember that this show goes on this day at that time, and this other great one airs only on Tuesdays at 7pm. Are you really joking?
  • Street reporters. This is what I want to see the most. But I want true investigative reporting, street chronicling, documentarist analysis of hot issues or altogether funny approaches to reporting and bring outside realities within my TV screen. And I want to see them "live". From highly trafficked street crossings, to the Parliament, to the entrance of hospital or to the exit gate of the stadium, street reporters have a huge amount of great, true stories to capture and bring back 24 hours a day. Give them space.

What else would you think should differentiate true, grassroots participatory television from traditional commercial prime-time television as we know it today?

Readers' Comments    
2005-10-22 13:16:37


As a current " TV street reporter" making the transition into the digital storytelling world I applaud your enthusiasm for the growth of video on the web. However I did want to comment on one aspect of your observations. Your premise is that the current legacy media companies have fallen short in providing the public with worth while investigative reporting. I agree. But that kind of quality in-depth reporting costs money. My question who is going to pay for that kind of work in the future in the digital world? I've just begun to begin creating unique video content for the web. Unlike blogging, producing video is much more labor intensive. Just reading about the set-up for the forum you participated in demonstrates how time consuming -- and costly setting video is. I'm curios to read about economic models street and investigative reporters will be dealing with in the future.

posted by Robin Good on Friday, October 21 2005, updated on Tuesday, February 26 2008

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