A new form of interactive television is being tested this Christmas which claims to hand control of the shows' narrative to the viewers.
The concept, based on technology developed by BT and a variety of broadcasting and content companies, lets the viewer structure news bulletins, documentaries and even dramas to suit their preferences, initially using text messages, though eventually through remote controls.
Dubbed "shape-shifted TV", the format will debut on Finnish television just after Christmas with a romantic drama called Accidental Lovers. Viewers will be able to influence the outcome of a love affair between two characters by texting the show. The programme will be broadcast four times showing 10versions of a love affair based on viewer feedback.
Doug Williams, the project director at BT, said the technology is much more sophisticated than previous efforts at viewer interaction such as voting on reality television shows. The technology uses word recognition to understand what the viewer wants and can automatically edit the show so that the narrative makes sense.
The concept will make television shows more interactive, reflecting the more flexible structure of internet content. The concept also allows content producers to utilise footage that is cut out of the final edit as various versions of show will be generated by different users.
"Broadcast models do not apply when you deliver the content over the wire as the media producer can address an audience of one and personalise the content," Mr Williams said.
He said content producers should create "story worlds" viewers can explore, rather than linear narratives which presents media companies with an opportunity to address the changing tastes of the viewer. Mr Williams said the format suits documentaries and news programmes where viewers can stipulate the type of subjects they are interested in but can also be used for drama. "It will probably never create a classic film but it will create a compelling experience that is relevant to the viewer," he said.
BT has led the shape-shifted project as a result of its research into interactive television content. Earlier this month, the telecoms group launched its BT Vision television service that is delivered via the broadband line.