Sky News, the leading satellite news broadcaster in the UK, assisted by brand consultants and SL builders Rivers Run Red, recently launched »an island« in the virtual world of Second Life. The launch event was tied into a broadcast from the Guardian Hay Festival, an annual literary festival held in the picturesque and distinctly bibliophilic town of Hay-on-Wye. Sky News are setting out to be the first real-world television news service to establish a permanent bridgehead in the virtual world, and thus steal a march on their opposition. Until now, UK television news and current affairs programmes have had only sporadic involvement in Second Life, most recently with the broadcast of BBC2‘s “The Money Programme” (also managed by Rivers Run Red).
I understand there were virtual queues of around 700 people trying to gain access to the launch event, which garnered a lot of good press in the blogosphere. However, as I tend to avoid such functions and their attendant lag, I did not venture into the island until much later, once the fuss had died down. To say the site is now quiet is something of an understatement. I have been back a few times, and on each occasion there have been at most 3 or 4 other visitors.
But what of the facilities? The bulk of the presence is taken up with the virtual Sky News studio. While I am not completely au fait with a news studio, this one certainly matches my mental image of one. There are interview areas, a large presentation screen (a feature of the real-world Sky News studio), and a dais for the anchorpeople. Behind the scenes there are cameras, lighting and sound rigs, desks, autocues, mixer desks and all the other paraphenalia one would expect. The effect is very impressive, in that it looks like a well-rendered visualisation of a real world environment.
And here is the nub of my concern with this build. A lot of energy has been expended in mimicking the real world, but the actual interactive content is low. I could find just one set of Web links, to the Sky News weather Web site. There is also a video headlines stream, re-purposed from the Sky News Web site. Visitors can also cycle through a number of stock news backgrounds (“knife crime”, “education” and so on) on the large presentation screen.
Outside, there are a couple of mockup sets. The first is #10, Downing Street; the second, a cordoned-off police incident tent. I have no issue with the former, but the latter is in dubious taste. Indeed, today’s headline video on the Web site features just such an incident tent, but over the spot where a young woman’s body has been found.
In terms of freebies, the key item is a Sky News TV that you can take back to your virtual home, where it will deliver the headlines, showbiz news and weather. You need to have land rights as it achieves this by setting the “media content” field to the relevant Sky News (mp4) clip. These clips could do with a refresh as they appear to be a couple of days old, and not keeping pace with the Web site.
Rivers Run Red are promising that a lot of new features will appear in the coming weeks. According to Justin Bovington, CEO and Executive Creative Director, quoted on the Ugotrade blog: “A dedicated content team will be on hand for updates — just like breaking news it need to be a 24/7 approach. Weâ€™re going recreate scenes when needed. We could in the future reproduce courts etc.”
Given the metaphorical tumbleweed blowing through the site, and the general lack of further real-world involvement since its launch, I am having serious doubts about this. It has all the hallmarks of a one-off event, rather than an ongoing commitment, as it lacks many of the features one would expect from a site that intends to be around a while. The Sky News build at present displays a low level of interactivity, little or no quirky attention-grabbers, no social areas and no greeters. OK, granted the purpose is to serve up news, so the site characteristics are not key — but without regular traffic the Sky News TV sets will not get distributed, and the Sky “news how you want it” multi-channel initiative will have little impact on Second Life.
Aleister Kronos appears by kind permission of Ambling in Second Life.