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Friday, December 7, 2012

With Game Awards Ceremony, Xbox Users to Direct the Show

It's tough to find a television show, at least of the contest or reality show variety, that is content to let viewers just watch the thing the old-fashioned way. “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Project Runway” are always begging their viewers to vote on contestants or wheedling them into tweeting about the shows with ready-made hashtags.

On Friday evening, (Dec. 7) Microsoft and Spike TV are making a push to make television even more interactive with the Video Game Awards, an annual ceremony that Xbox users will be able to shape themselves during its live broadcast.

Here's how it will work: Xbox users watching a live stream of the awards ceremony through the game console will get opportunities throughout the ceremony to participate in live polls that will be tabulated in real time, with the results available for all viewers of the show to see. They will also be asked to select, using thei r Xbox controllers, which of a series of short spoof videos are aired during the broadcast of the show.

The spoofs will feature a virtual likeness of Samuel Jackson, the actor and host of the Video Game Awards, inserted into the action of videogames like Assassin's Creed and the game version of the television show “The Walking Dead.”

The ceremony is part of a growing effort by Microsoft to turn people who watch video through its console into more active participants in television, just as they are when they play games through their Xboxes. Microsoft did something similar when it streamed the presidential debates recently, polling Xbox users on the performance of the candidates during the events.

In an interview, Mark Burnett, the executive producer of the Video Game Awards and the mastermind behind “Survivor,” “The Voice” and many other reality shows, said he believed this kind of interactivity was on the verge of changing television. “It's u nbelievable where things are going,” Mr. Burnett said. “I can't imagine how, in as short as three years, what Xbox Live is doing won't be ubiquitous.”

Casey Patterson, an executive producer of the awards ceremony and an executive vice president with the Viacom Entertainment Group, believes interactivity will have the biggest influence on reality and live television, not scripted dramas. It's a little hard to imagine the makers of “Homeland” allowing viewers to meddle with their story arcs by choosing whether, say, Abu Nazir, a terrorist on the Showtime series, gets to live or die.

Ms. Patterson said viewers had long been able to talk about shows they're passionate about through various means, whether it's on Twitter or around the water cooler at work. But devices like the Xbox are letting show creators respond in near real-time to that dialogue.

“Now we're able to talk back,” she said. “I don't think there's ever any turning back from here.â €
The Video Game Awards will be broadcast on Spike TV and Xbox Live at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Dec. 7.