Why be on TV when you can be IN TV?

A deal announced at the MIPTV/MILIA audiovisual and digital entertainment trade show this week looks to merge the online ‘virtual world’ concept with television:

A new virtual world for telly addicts will also be coming onto Internet screens worldwide soon following a deal announced here last week between reality TV giant Endemol and interactive gaming leader Electronic Arts.

Inspired by the runaway success of virtual online worlds, Second Life and South Korea’s Cyworld, the new offering — dubbed Virtual Me — will enable users “to become a star in the virtual world and even take part in their favourite TV shows like Big Brother,” Endemol top exec Peter Bazalgette said.

Endemol’s Virtual Me will let fans create their own personal cyber-clone, or avatar, which can take part in a web-based virtual Big Brother as well as other hit shows like Fear Factor that will launch shortly on the Internet. (link)

There’s a terrific DVD called Avatars Offline in which Janet Murray, an expert in online narrative, argues that Star Wars becoming a multiplayer online game would be the big breakthrough in gaming because the ability to interact with fictional characters in a fictional gamespace one already knew would attract many who wouldn’t want to play Everquest. This DVD was pre-World of Warcraft, which has turned out to be wildly more popular than Star Wars, despite no grounding in well known story worlds.

Cyworld and Second Life are very different stories and it seems a little odd to collapse them. The former is powers of magnitude more popular than the latter — ask a Korean teenager or twentysomething how many people they know on Cyworld, and then ask an American how many they know on Second Life, there’s no comparison between their scale and no reason to think either phenomenon would generalize easily to large audiences running around in virtual Big Brothers.

So forgive me if I think that this initiative sounds a little more like hype rather than something that is ultimately going to get bazillions of people playing in-show. But it’s creative thinking and it’s good to see industries figuring out how to push boundaries of giving fans new ways to engage media and one another. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

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