08.46, Tuesday 9 Dec 2003

Was talking to Dan Hill at the office [the other day]. Apparently a good chunk of tv now, 50% in the early evening, is backgrounded -- people never used to have to tv on in the background, but now they just let it sit there.

We'd just been talking about, also, Group Listening and how that'd be really good for digital tv. It's slow chat. People would listen to the radio through their tv all the time, and listen to the same shows as their friend - with their friends, effectively - and send messages to them. But it wouldn't be fully immersive like a chat, it could be backgroundable like radio itself. You'd pop across the road to the shops, or vacuum the front room, and still carry on a slow conversation with people listening to the radio with you.

So: backgroundable EastEnders. What could we do with the medium (and these new expectations)? There's so much broadcast capacity now, instead of being half an hour you could have daily four hour episodes instead.

But the episodes would be more ambient. You'd see somebody's entire washing-up, or walking through the park, or going to work. Like the Big Brother live stream, said Dan. Viewers would phone each other up when something dramatic was about to happen (or happening). More than that, no need for flashbacks: you'd hear about events you missed because the on-screen gossip itself would be broadcast, even if the gossip wasn't part of the story, rather than just hinted at. It would be there to get you involved, so you go and gossip about it with your friends, and so on.

So, like Big Brother. This is true, but there's more than that.

There's a literary device where environmental features foreshadow/accompany the narrative. So it rains on someone when they've just been dumped, or there's a roll of thunder just before something dramatic happens. It's cliched now, but you could do it in a subtle way. A better way.

Ambient EastEnders is plotted, it's known in advance; this is unlike Big Brother. You could have effects like seeing somebody washing-up and the sun goes in outside just before somebody comes back who has lost their job. Or a person is walking to the pub (at which there's going to be a fight) and there's a mattress dumped on the pavement, fresh grafitti and so on -- it's all a bit grubbier.

These would be flags to get your attention. After all the slow drama, the gossip you don't need to really pay attention to, a half dozen cars stall in succession at the car lot, so you ring your friends and tell them to tune in because the car saleman's marriage is about to come to an unexpected halt in fifteen minutes.

It's building the runes in, making sure the animal entrials signify the next half hour of narrative.