This post proposes a new approach to understanding how interactivity changes traditional models of TV production.

It can be summarised simply: programmes as platforms.

A platform is a space into which consumers are invited, where their contributions are solicited and facilitated, and in which collaborative creations can be undertaken for the mutual benefit of the platform owner and the consumer-contributors.

The most prominent interactive media successes of recent years have been internet-powered platforms. Among them are Twitter and Facebook, which have amassed 200m and 1.1bn MAU (monthly active users) respectively (Etherington 2012, Olanoff 2013; MAU = people who have logged into the service 1+ times in the past 30 days).

Both Twitter and Facebook deal with consumer contributions in the same way. Consumers input information, and that information is given context and meaning by the framework that the platform owner has created.

For example, if a consumer types an update into Facebook on what they have been doing today – such as ‘I’ve been writing my article!’ – that input means little in isolation. But Facebook’s platform connects consumers who know one another – so the update is seen only by the consumer’s friends. The update is submitted for display on each friend’s Facebook homepage, but Facebook has an algorithm that gives a single update a different level of prominence for different friends – so it will be more prominent on the home page of friends with whom the consumer regularly interacts, and may not appear at all on more distant friends’ homepages. If a friend sees and chooses to comment on the update, the update gains greater prominence on the homepages of the consumer’s friends – so more interesting or amusing updates will gain greater prominence over time.

The contribution from the consumer is simple – just like a contribution to an interactive TV show. It is the way the contribution is handled by the platform that turns it into something useful, interesting, or entertaining – again, just like an interactive TV show.

TV executives seeking to understand the effects of interactivity should therefore think about interactive programmes as platforms, not as slightly modified versions of traditional shows.

In this context, ‘interactive programmes’ becomes a more suitable term than ‘interactive shows’. ‘Shows’ is historically connected with theatrical performances – pre-arranged, pre-packaged, and closed to consumer contributions; ‘programmes’ refers to computing, and so is more closely linked with web platforms.

The similarities are evident in the language used to describe web platforms. Cohen (2008) offers an analysis of web 2.0 sites such as Twitter and Facebook that could just as easily be applied to interactive TV shows:

Web 2.0 has [adjusted] consumers’ role in the production process. In [previous] models, the role of consumers has been… to consume, or to watch and read the product. Web 2.0 consumers, however, have become producers who fulfil a critical role.

There is also a connection in the language used to describe open innovation and open-source creation, both of which are usually facilitated by web platforms. Open innovation and open-source creation are discussed by Boudreau and Lakhani (2011). They believe that one critical ingredient in the success of the projects they cover is a high level of skill in channelling external contributions, and describe open innovation in terms that neatly fit the creation of interactive TV programmes (p.56):

[It] is necessarily about carefully designing a set of mechanisms to govern, shape, direct, and even constrain external innovators; it is not about blindly giving up control and hoping for the best.

Web platforms are therefore suggested as an excellent example for those seeking to understand interactive TV shows – a much better example, in fact, than traditional TV shows.

Programmes as platforms.


This is an adapted excerpt from an article I co-authored with Dr. Kris Erickson, now of Glasgow University.


Etherington, D., 18 December 2012. Twitter Passes 200M Monthly Active Users, A 42% Increase Over 9 Months. TechCrunch. [Accessed 4 May 2013]

Olanoff, D., 1 May 2013. Facebook’s Monthly Active Users Up 23% to 1.11B; Daily Users Up 26% To 665M; Mobile MAUs Up 54% To 751M. TechCrunch. Available from: [Accessed 4 May 2013]

Cohen, N.S. (2008). The valorization of surveillance: towards a political economy of Facebook. Democratique Communiqué, 22(1):5-22.

Boudreau, K. and Lakhani, K. (2009). How to Manage Outside Innovation: Competitive Markets or Collaborative Communities? MIT Sloan Management Review vol. 50 (4) pp. 69-75. Available from: [Accessed 7 September 2013]

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