An ambitious European project aims to create production tools for the media industry that will allow the easy production of non-linear media genres.

The 7.5 million euro project, New Media for a New Millennium (NM2), plans to allow ‘atomic’ elements of original content to be combined in different ways that are personalised and targeted for individual interest.

Dr. Doug Williams from BT Exact, which provides research, development and consulting services for BT, said: “The three-year project has an ambitious aim: to identify a new mass market media genre. The new media genre will allow stories to be adapted, on the fly, for an individual viewer. We think this will be immensely attractive for viewers and for advertisers, but it means we have to think about the whole production process from concept to credits.”

“Media productions in digital formats will soon become user driven,” said Peter Stollenmayer from Eurescom, the European Institute for Research and Strategic Studies in Telecommunications. “This new experience is interactive, personalised and based on developing new ideas about non-linear narratives. Viewers will be able to interact directly with the medium and influence what they see and hear according to their personal tastes and wishes. Media users will no longer be passive viewers but become active engagers.”

While the concept of ‘non-linear narrative’ may seem contradictory, it could have applications from interactive advertising to drama documentaries.

John Wyver, from the independent television production company Illuminations, acknowledged: “The software tool that we produce will be extremely sophisticated. It’s not just a matter of stringing together the romantic or action portions of a production. The tool has to know which bits fit together both visually, by observing the time-honoured rules that go into editing, and in terms of the story. Only then will the personalised version both make sense and be aesthetically pleasing.”

The project will deliver seven new media productions using the same media tools, exploring a range of non-linear narrative forms for different content genres as diverse as documentary, drama and news reporting.

These productions will be mentored by major broadcasters who will assess the new media genres and consider whether the concepts they embody are suitable for mainstream adoption by national broadcasters and distributors.

Partly financed by the European Commission, the project involves 13 partners from eight European countries.