The 360-degree TV experience

If you just happen to be in the US on a Monday evening for the past six months or so, you might be familiar with the term 'ordinary people doing extraordinary things,' or the even better catch phrase, 'save the cheerleader, save the world.'

Both lines come from a new hit television series called, Heroes, which tells the story of a bunch of everyday people who start to discover that they have developed 'special' abilities such as telekinesis, mind reading, flight, spontaneous regeneration and so on.

The show certainly has the right mix of conspiracies, murders, deception, politics, science and the supernatural to become a big hit, but it is what the show's producers are doing beyond the traditional boundaries of television that should be of great interest to this publication. The concept from the producer of the show, NBC, is called Heroes 360, or an entertainment environment that completely engulfs the viewer - as in 360 degrees.

Complete experience

No, I'm not talking about TV displays that surround the viewer 360 degrees. What '360' represents is the creation of an immersive environment with different types of technology that give the user a more complete experience of the show.

So far, there's a fictional online blog by Hiro Nakamura, a character from the show who's an 'average' pencil pusher from Tokyo who discovers he has the ability to manipulate the space/time continuum. There is also a fictional Web site for one of the main corporations in the show, Primatech Paper, which in itself is a front for a shadowy organization involved in tracking down the 'heroes.' Another character nicknamed 'Wireless', Hana Gitelman, has her own MySpace site and sends out emails to viewers. Her 'power'‾ The ability to access all digital information right from her head - yes no wires.

Oh, yes, Heroes 360 comes complete with components for mobile users

Here is a list of things that either allows you to interact with the show on your mobile, or uses the mobile phone as a conduit to deliver information to the user about the show and hints of where to find more information.

The phone number for the fictional corporation, Primatech, is actually in operation and allows fans to call in for additional information about the show. There are also a number of text messaging accounts set up by the show's makers that allow fans to text and then receive a respond from Primatech, or one of the characters.

Once fans are registered with any of the elements of the show, they then become part of the show's universe. They will receive texts and emails from one or more characters from the show that lead to additional elements about the show, such as supposedly 'confidential' files about different 'heroes' compiled by Primatech, or more precisely, the organization that is behind the 'fake' paper company.

In this way, the show uses today's technology to extend television far beyond the couch and into real life. More importantly, it doesn't depend on the technology as the entertainment. For example, it is not a mobile game (although one is reportedly in development), or wall paper, or screensaver or even a flashy Web site, but instead, a basic phone number, a blog, a text message.

 

The point is that this revolutionary new form of entertainment uses technology as a means to an end and not as the end  in itself. In this environment, a phone is used to make calls and email is for correspondence. It is not trying to sell more phones, or get people to subscribe to a particular service operator.

In fact, Heroes 360 doesn't provision for a service provider, or a particular brand of mobile phone. Access must be universal so all their fans can access the additional information. Heroes 360 is completely technology and service provider-agnostic - the complete opposite philosophy to the mobile operator's walled-garden concept. Now that is something for operators to think about.

Tony Chan is a Hong Kong based technology writer ([email protected])

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