In today’s multiverse where everyone will soon be accessing IPTV alongside ‘ordinary’ programmes, it seems pretty sensible to mix hardcore information with a little fun, writes John McGhie.

It’s the end of episode four and Holly has finally decided to get a life. She’s a first year student at a university somewhere in Kent but her interests in higher maths and running have not exactly led to a great social life. Even her flatmate has left and her new one is oddly possessive and things keep getting stolen. She really needs to get out more and internet dating might provide an answer. But who should she choose? The gorgeous surfer dude or the more serious geek who shares her love of chess? 

As the editor of internet channel Kent TV and the executive producer of our cutting edge new soap ‘Hollywould…’ I ought to know.  But nobody will until a week after the episode airs in November. That’s because ‘Hollywould…’ is truly interactive and the way the plot develops will be entirely up to the viewing public. For surfer, press ‘A’; geek, ‘B’: most votes determines next episode. Well, almost entirely. As the plot develops there are more choices – who’s that creeping up the stairs in episode seven? That’s why the script by Julie Wassmer, who gave up her day job writing soaps like EastEnders in TV land, had to cover all options for filming in advance.

At the start of the process back in June I blithely thought we could shoot and edit as we went along. It was one of many foolish amateur moments I had to shed under the kind tutelage of Julie and professional Margate-based director Simon Welsford. To say I was not aware of the, er, nuances of making an hour-long interactive production split into ten episodes using an untried young local cast, no lighting, untested drama camera operators and an editor fresh out of film school – all for under £20K  - might err on understatement.

But it’s definitely been worth it.

Kent TV

The online drama that is ‘Hollywould…’ is just the latest effort Kent TV has made to reach out to young people in Kent.

Kent TV, operated by Ten Alps, was set up in 2007 by Kent County Council as a two-year pilot. What visionaries in local government (not a tautology – there really are some if you look without blinkers) saw was that they needed to communicate more effectively with a citizenship that was increasingly going online to harvest their news, views and information.

The travails of local newspapers has been well documented and we have been strenuous in our desire not to add to their problems which is why we don’t do ‘news’ but instead provide a feed direct to a local newspaper site. But we do ‘do’ information which why we have over 2,000 films on our sub channels like  ‘What’s On,’ ‘How To,’  ‘History’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Creative’ in order to help Kent citizens to find out about  their local services and attractions.

That’s where ‘Hollywould…’ comes in. People like their information in different ways. For some it might be a no-frills short film about how to get planning permission. Others though, particularly young people, may be more attracted by a coating of humour or drama. We have already experimented with an online ‘Battle of the Kent Bands’ which got over  12,000 registrations and many more thousand viewers so we know there’s an appetite for a ,shall we say, less formal approach than KCC had adopted with young people previously.

When I asked KCC what kind of messaging they wanted I feared they might talk about refuse collection or noise levels at parties. Instead, the liberating answer was ‘sexual health’ and in particular Chlamydia. It made perfect sense. So now there’s a (very) light touch line in the plot about the disease. But in developing one I was keen to keep away from any overzealous experts who might turn a light touch into a drama-killing, dead hand. Instead we will link to a series of other films containing more formal information. Is this the future? Well, it’s certainly one of them.

Drama is inexorably following information online and we are pleased to be at the crest of both waves. In today’s multiverse where everyone will soon be accessing IPTV alongside ‘ordinary’  programmes on that box in the corner of the room where the TV once stood, it seems pretty sensible to mix hard core information with a little fun. It’s all part of a parcel where, thanks to the medium, the message can be subtle and different according to target.

Now that’s infotainment.

‘Hollywould…’ airs from 12noon on October 14.

John McGhie is editor of Kent TV.