The idea of piloting new TV programmes via social networks to help decide whether to launch them more widely was itself tested last week by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Viewers in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Slovenia used social networks to choose which TV formats they would like to see on their screens between 27 August and 3 September 2011, providing feedback and voting for their favourites among shows broadcast on TV for the first time. The idea was based on an original idea pioneered in the Netherlands in 2009 by NPO, allowing producers and creators to present new programmes so that they could be judged by TV critics and audiences. Eight programmes broadcast during this trial called TV Lab 2009 have since become regular features on NPO's Nederland 3 channel.
The EBU has been cooperating with NPO to extend this idea into the Eurovision TV Lab piloted last week by ZDF of Germany, RTVSLO in Slovenia, VRT in Belgium, as well as NPO. During the EUROVISION TV Lab week broadcasters transmitted some of the shows from the other participating countries as well as their own to their domestic audiences.
The EBU indicated that this was how future programmes might be developed, involving greater audience participation at the concept and trial stage, while still allowing broadcasters to introduce original ideas that reflect their skills and culture. Audience participation should not go so far as to allow viewers to tell broadcasters what programmes to make, but instead create a two way dialogue to encourage production of innovative content that gains positive responses. The model should equally suit high profile broadcasters and producers of niche content since in all cases social networks should be able to provide feedback from relevant viewers. At least that is the theory — in practice this model may only work for content and shows targeted at younger audience at least for now, and there is a risk that the feedback will not reflect the opinions of all viewers but only those most active Twitterers and Facebook junkies.
Apart from these caveats, the EBU should be applauded for running with this idea now, culminating in a full report of audience reactions that will be available on 12 September. Broadcasters in other European countries not participating in this Eurovision TV Lab will be studying the results with interest to determine their strategies for audience participation.