Opinion: Tapping the potential of connected audiences

Opinion: Tapping the potential of connected audiences
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Have you ever caught yourself laughing at an un-funny part of a film, purely because you’re enjoying it with someone else? Had you been watching it alone, the laughs or groans may not have come so easily. 

Every time we turn on a media channel these days we have the opportunity to extend and share the experience with an audience of thousands, even millions, thanks to Twitter, Facebook or other social platforms.  These ‘back channels’ by design create symbiotic experiences that involve audience members in an ebbing and flowing shared consciousness.

It’s the power of these connections to elicit feelings and reactions, which is where it gets interesting. But where does it all stem from?  The answer lies in part in the theory of Limbic resonance. This theory dates back only as far as 2000 and goes like this; as inherently social animals we [people] look to the emotional states and cues of others around us to determine and ultimately empathise with their own emotional states.

In a nutshell, we sense how others are feeling, align our feelings to theirs, and this helps us develop our understanding and form a reaction to whatever that experience is.

But does the level of ‘group influence’ differ if you’re with a crowd at the footy or cheering from Twitter at home? There is some debate as to whether non-face-to-face interaction actually stimulates the limbic brain in the same way as live interaction, but it certainly feels like the forces that play out through Twitter and second screen apps linked to live sports events or engaging TV programs are certainly stimulating something.

So whilst today’s technology is managing to connect us digitally, the potential for tapping into shared consciousness seems far greater still.  But where will we extract this potential? It feels like it’s going to take the streams of technology and culture to combine in order to create a new entertainment experience altogether. 

An experience where feedback loops will draw on the audiences’ reactions and adapt an on-screen narrative based on these responses.

The technology that would power these experiences is not the stuff of sci-fi either.  Being able to sense an audience’s implicit emotional state is actually being worked on. Between fMRI and technologies like Kinect, scientists and designers are reaching a point where emotions are discernable without having to wait for people to share what they say they feel via their phone.   

And from a story telling point of view, creators, artists and filmmakers are already experimenting with non-linear story telling.  Think about how many YouTube videos now contain 4D elements that allow the viewer to choose their own adventure.

Based on this, it’s not that hard to imagine a sensory experience in which the audience’s collective emotional response directs the outcome of the story, reveals more about the life of an on-screen character, or even determines their romantic destiny.  Picture an immersive cinematic experience where every ‘screening’ could yield a different outcome – one that has been a reflection of the audience’s emotions and responses. 

Summing up, it feels like the future of branded communication is going to be less about gadgets and technology, and more about how connected audiences can be involved in unlocking the potential in a story. 

Andrew Reeves, communications director at Naked Communications, will be presenting the Naked TVC Tech Crunch, challenging three companies to give some of Australia's most epic TVCs a radical overhaul to make them more engaging. For more details and to get your tickets click the banner below.

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