12.08.2008

Annotated Newscast

In the late 1990's, after more than ten years of playing music videos on TV and competing with MTV for the newest way to make this visualization of radio interesting, VH1 launched it's show Pop-Up Video. That year, 1996, marked the year of boredom with the music video. It was the year that the network decided, these viewers have seen the videos, they know what to expect from new ones, now they want some addition to their experience.

So the pop-up video was born. The pop-ups appeared throughout the video to supplement the reader's experience with tidbits of information about what was going on in the video. Some told behind-the-scenes stories of the video's filming, some revealed the hidden meanings behind song lyrics, some were silly facts for laugh value. All of them added to the experience of watching a music video.

Broadcast news today is in much the same position that music videos were in ten years ago. There is a seemingly never-ending supply of it. Very little of it is something we've never heard before. We have adapted to be able to perform other tasks while we "watch from across the kitchen counter (I know I keep my eyes on my fingers when I'm cooking dinner and watching the news, not the screen). Broadcast news is quickly becoming just background noise.

But what about if we take the idea of pop-up video and apply it to a nightly newscast? What if we make the visual relevant again?

In our age of celebrity newscasters (Andersoon Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Katie Couric) who wouldn't want to know anecdotes about Anderson's travels in post-Hurricane Katrina or what sort of small talk Katie made with Sarah (Palin) before the cameras turned on? In our reality-TV obsessed world, it's the more information the better.

But on a more serious level, some sort of pop-up or annotation could be used to supplement serious segments too. For example, a definition pop-up for stories on the Middle East. How many broadcast news viewers know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim? There may not be time in the newscast to remind them every day, but there is visual space. And what about a map? I'd bet there are more than a few TV viewers who aren't sure where even the staple news locations, like Guantanamo, Mumbai or the West Bank, are located. Why not have a world map to point out the location of every story in the newscast? It would be a visual reminder of where news is happening in the world.

If we move this Annotated Newscast to the web, we have even greater options. By providing links to stories from other news outlets, we could redirect viewers to explore the stories that interest them with even greater detail. We can link to opinion articles about news events reported on the broadcast. We could link to official studies and journal publications referred to in the broadcast. Remember anchormen saying, "Visit our website to...find your polling station/...write your senator/...see if your child's toys contain lead and have been recalled"? Those days would be over with a direct link that could take you straight to the relevant site. The possibilities are endless.

The web also opens up the opportunity to target different demographics with annotations with different content and in different styles. Imagine an Annotated Newscast with a target audience of sixth-graders. The annotations would remain on the screen longer to account for their slower reading pace. The background might feature brighter colors and more attention-grabbing designs (even sound effects!). The content would be adjusted for the younger audience also. The definitions would be far simpler and the facts might include something as elementary as "Barack Obama is the 44th President. George Washington was the first."

Alternatively, imagine a version of the Annotated Newscast for a well-educated professional. This would feature many more links to sophisticated news stories in publications like The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. It may also feature short five-line biographies of key players in congressional news, with facts about their party affiliation, their home state, their voting history. In addition this Annotated Newscast may feature more technical explanation for financial, environmental, or political concepts that are glossed over in broadcast news. And certainly this would include many links to expert opinions dissecting the news stories.

The Annotated Newscast shows exceptional promise to multi-outlet news conglomerates. The Tribune Company, for example, which owns multiple print and broadcast outlets throughout America could use an Annotated Newscast to refer viewers to stories posted on their other websites, thereby generating more traffic for all of the company's holdings.

And best of all, this program generates more traffic on the web without adding additional content. Rather than increasing the amount of news available to a viewer, it keeps constant the quantity of news while making it easier to navigate and, ultimately, understand.

3 comments:

H. Clay said...

I think all of it is a brilliant idea. The news needs to do a better job of informing the public. Much of it lacks any depth and is continuously repeated.

I'm afraid that your idea might be used for less mind-stimulating content. Most likely it would end up being less sophisticated and go more along the lines of its use for trivial information such as that in VH1. Because everyone knows trivial information is fun and fun equals ratings. CNN could even have little pop up ads in there too. Fun might equal ratings but ad placement equals profits!

Sydney said...

Pop-Up Video is definitely one of my favorite ways to watch music videos! This is such a good idea :D

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