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Virtual Worlds Conf: CSI's Zuiker On Convergence, Online Worlds

At the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo in San Jose today, CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker gave an intriguing keynote speech discussing how the popular U.S. TV show is intending to integrate online worlds into its storyline, and commenting on entertainmen
[UPDATE: More Virtual Worlds Conference write-ups are available at sister site WorldsInMotion.biz, which is covering the online worlds conference in depth.] At the Virtual Worlds Conference and Expo in San Jose today, CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker gave an intriguing keynote speech discussing how the popular U.S. TV show is intending to integrate online worlds into its storyline. Zuiker discussed why an upcoming episode of the show will feature Linden Labs' Second Life, pointing out how he sees the future of entertainment as increasingly spanning web-based and offline spaces simultaneously. Starting out his talk, Zuiker told of a childhood in Vegas as the son of a twenty-one dealer, who himself worked as a casino employee until he got the idea for CSI, a franchise which encompasses multiple cities and, Zuiker says, has come to be worth $6 billion. The power of television helped Zuiker to support his parents' retirement, and it's a power that continues growing in the current generation, as he explained how music videos and regular communication have been replaced by user-customized content, digital music and social networking sites like Facebook. Now, Zuiker says he's looking to a new future -- stating that connected online and mobile experiences are the future of TV. "The future will be a web-native program, not television," he says, foreseeing mobile alerts for a show's narrative as part of a participatory experience. Further illustrating the strength of the relationship between TV and Web, Zuiker recalled a time that the models of softcore pin-up site SuicideGirls were on CSI, and the show mentioned the Web address specifically. Despite resistance from NBC, Zuiker went ahead with the reference, and found that visits to the SuicideGirls site increased 50 percent during the airing of the show. "What that told me was that while people are watching television, they were also online at the same time," Zuiker said. He then had the idea to use the mobile platform to create an interactive experience around the show. It's called CSI Q, and a question asked partway through the CSI show -- like the crime motive, or who the killer is -- can be answered via cell phone for a dollar. At first, there would be about 40,000 respondents. Then, Zuiker made the question easier, and saw that the number of respondents rose to about 75,000. "People want to be right for their dollar," he observed. Now, Zuiker's team is partnering with virtual architecture company and conference lead sponsor Electric Sheep to welcome CSI viewers who may not understand virtual worlds. He announced that on Wednesday, October 24th, a CSI:NY episode will feature actor Gary Sinise's character chasing a killer in Second Life, leading up to a cliffhanger ending with an online conclusion. Zuiker also noted that Second Life is suffering a backlash because of what users and investors expect to see in exchange for the large amount of money being invested in virtual items, storefronts and branding opportunities. He proposed that rewarding the users for interacting with product placement can add value to the experience both for users and for brand identities. He concluded with a plea to investors to continue consider virtual worlds, stating that combining televison, online, and mobile entertainment is the way of the future. [Gamasutra will have further coverage from the Virtual Worlds Conference in the near future, thanks to its sister site WorldsInMotion.biz.]

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