Layered Video: Web video’s next big thing?

Guy Gunaratne and I have known each other for a few years, and were first acquainted in the lead up to a film he went on to produce and show around the world, The Truth That Wasn’t There.

Having subsequently set up his own production company CODOC with a few others, Guy’s most recent venture is into interactive web video, and his idea is one I believe can change the way we interact with video content online, and for the better. The best demonstration of what Guy calls layered video (LV) is to take a look at how it works on Safari on the Mac.

Currently, Guy’s LV player works in Safari and on the iPhone / iPad. It’s still very much a proof of concept. However, what hooks you is Guy’s vision for layered video, which is much more disruptive. I caught up with Guy over Skype for half an hour to talk through what he sees as the potential on the web for creative storytelling through layered video, and the technical underpinnings of his LV player.

We begin by talking about how Guy came up with the idea of layered video, and why interactive storytelling (adding depth to limited length of short-form web video) is important. Around 4.30 I ask Guy why he feels confident layered video will actually add meaning to the story told by the web video is it embedded in and anchored to, especially given the attention deficit over the consumption of web video in particular. I also ask whether by adding more stimuli for information, limited attention on the short form video is further fractured.

Around 9.50 Guy actually talks about The Truth That Wasn’t There as being part of the reason the LV player came about, since so many of the stories from a complex context like post-war Sri Lanka couldn’t be adequately captured in the documentary CODOC produced, leading to an interest in telling a deeper, richer story that was linked to the main video.

Given the subject of CODOC’s upcoming documentary and the clip used to demonstrate the capabilities and potential of the LV player, I ask Guy (around 11.30) what the fundamental differences are between what he sees as the storytelling possible through layered video and 2012’2 web video phenomenon, Kony 2012.

Around 16.20, I flag up the potential of LV in light of statements made by the BBC’s new head George Entwistle, who has specifically noted that the organisation needs to find better ways of telling stories in the digital age and economy. Guy’s LV player was obviously the kind of disruptive and creative technology he had in mind, given it’s potential to be incorporated into web video workflows to create interactive content much more than just linear video commentary. I ask Guy what he thinks about Entwistle’s comments and how he thinks LV can fit into the BBC’s vision.

At around 20 minutes into our conversation I get into the technical details of the LV player, focussing on what Guy calls the potential for semantic mapping of content. Guy’s answer goes into the rapid evolution of HTML5 video in just the past couple of years, and how content developed for layered video is in fact founded on, and extensible using HTML5. Guy comes up with a number of truly interesting example about how layered video can be created, used and indeed, even translated in real time on the web, using nothing more than simple web services and the browser.

Around 21:00 we talk about LV player’s impact on the semantic web, and whether what he is in fact proposing through layered video is the platform for interactive content that we may take for granted a few years hence. Guy also looks at layered video from the perspective of a storyteller, and says that his primary interest is to create engaging stories for a generation of digital natives.

Around 23:00 we talk about the LV players integration with social media, and how this can evolve to more complex interactions and real time audience engagement in the future, beyond what’s possible today with just Twitter and Facebook integration. Again, Guy talks about the potential of using HTML5 based video to share video, and segments of video, including metadata, through social networks, creating as it were a buzz not just around the video as a whole but key segments in and around it.

Around 26:00 I note that LV player at present works best (or at all) on just Safari and iOS, and ask Guy what plans he had for a truly platform and device agnostic player, and interactive storytelling platform. A follow up question around 26:48 is how layered video will embrace low bandwidth high latency connections, which are more the norm than the exception outside of urban areas, wherever one is in the world.

Around 29:20 we ned by Guy talking about the steps he intends to take in the development of the player in particular, and on layered video in general.

I’ve seen ideas for interactive storytelling on the web, but for the most part, they’ve been anchored to proprietary technologies or complex platforms. Guy’s idea is web standards based, open and extensible. His vision for an interactive experience when watching web video is truly disruptive to the industry – there is no tool at present to do what Guy has set out to do, in the manner he proposes to do it. What’s more interesting than the technology he uses is his emphasis on storytelling and how it is the story, and not the platform, that is important. Form can help consumption of and engagement with content, but it can never, I believe, supplant it – you need a compelling story to begin with, and layered video can help tell it more creatively than before.

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