Media Perspective: The rules of fiction are being rewritten by unlikely authors

Online content can capture the imagination. Yet it soon becomes clear to anyone who has seen only five minutes of Channel 4's excellent teen comedy The Inbetweeners that, in one area at least - access to pornography - technology has killed the romanticism of teenage discovery.

Those summer evenings when a group of us would stumble across a pile of well-thumbed "adult" magazines in the woods are sadly long gone. Other than this development, though, there's not a great deal to lament about the internet content revolution.

The latest to jump on the content bandwagon is AOL's recently appointed chief executive, Tim Armstrong, who this week argued that the portal needs to up its game in the content space. "The one underinvested place on the inter-net from a technology and structured data perspective is content," he said.

AOL is busy striking deals to create online brands and interactive entertainment in areas as diverse as finance, cookery and the environment. What's clear in this renewed obsession with con-tent is that a new orthodoxy is emerging and that it doesn't necessarily centre on TV - at least not in the traditional sense. As the Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy director, Guillermo del Toro, tells this month's Wired magazine: "In the next ten years, we're going to see all the forms of entertainment - film, television, video, games and print - melding into a single-platform 'story engine'."

Del Toro thinks that it won't necessarily be the traditional TV or film content producers that drive this but the video games world: "The Model T of this new platform is the PlayStation 3. The moment you connect creative output with a public story engine, a narrative can continue over a period of months or years. It's going to rewrite the rules of fiction."

And this clearly has implications for advertisers. Offering the potential to go beyond linear ad breaks and even targeted advertising through a Sky+ box to a realm of targeted narratives weaving advertising and editorial together. There are early examples with the likes of VidZone on PS3 (a free online version of Spotify with music videos) available through the PlayStation store on the PS3 browser. VidZone is pretty basic right now in terms of its utility to advertisers; like Spotify, it interrupts the music stream occasionally with an ad and also places banner ads around content, but this will evolve and the service pretty much negates the need for much that is offered by linear music television.

At the level del Toro describes, online content available on console browsers could become bewilderingly complex and open new avenues to creatives and media planners. Based on this alone, the future could be more exciting than an adolescent stroll in the woods.

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