This summer, VRT Innovation experimented with a physical test setup in order to tell stories that closely relate to the lives of every citizen in an innovative and efficient way. At the studio of Radio 2 in Antwerp, you can find screens with new and local stories, based on images sent by local residents. To make this happen, VRT Innovation and Radio 2 work together with Digitopia, Research[x]Design(KU Leuven), the imec City of Things team, SMIT (an imec research group at the VUB), IDLab (an imec research group at the UGent),The Beacon, and the city of Antwerp. As of August, passers-by and residents are also able to interact with the screens by giving their opinion on local themes and thus help shape the stories on the screens. In addition to the aim of bringing media closer to every Flemish person, the technology used also offers value to the media makers themselves by searching, processing and distributing visual material in an efficient and innovative way.
Local stories closer to every Fleming
The test setup is part of Essence, an imec.icon research project funded by imec and Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen and coordinated by VRT Innovation. Within this project, new storytelling formats are explored for the local media channels of a smart city. This research is in line with VRT's ambition to reach every citizen and strengthen the local media ecosystem. Even in the current conditions with the coronavirus, the test setup offers a way to connect people, despite the physical distance, by bringing stories from the neighbourhood. This way, VRT Innovation is trying to find out whether this will actually make it possible to give a voice to citizens who may not receive enough attention today. The team is also investigating whether these new formats are sufficiently appealing and accessible, and how we can bring more complex data-driven stories into a fleeting context in a clear way.
For Radio 2, it is important to join the search for new platforms to disseminate our regional content. Within this collaboration, we were able to link the test setup of VRT Innovation to our hub in the middle of the city and test how we could strengthen listener interaction.
Topical issues as well as opinions of local residents
The course of the test follows closely the content of broadcasts by Radio 2 in Antwerp. Radio makers can make a request to listeners via the app and then receive various responses in the form of videos, photos or messages. With these replies, they can create stories for the screens. In addition to the daily current topics of Radio 2, they also experiment with stories based on data of passers-by and inhabitants. This way, local residents can give their opinion by voting on certain subjects, such as the measures taken against the coronavirus. This vote then determines which story is shown on the screens. Under the current circumstances, the voting itself takes place by pressing foot pedals that represent the various choices.
We also explore the possibilities of integrating (real-time) sensor data into the stories. This way, the project team wants to make this often complex data, which is increasingly part of the smart city, more comprehensible to a broad audience.
Essence is a good example of how different partners within a smart city project come together, with research institutes on the one hand and industrial partners on the other hand. Within the project we are trying to investigate very concretely how we can make the translation to citizens. For example, storytelling in the public space proves to be a very rewarding tool to tell complex subject matter and technological stories in a very manageable way, and to make them concrete and tangible.
Technology developed by VRT Innovation
With the underlying technology used in the test, renamed 'Storymaker', media makers can easily search, tag and prepare large amounts of unprecedented imagery, such as user-generated content for editing or online distribution. For this purpose, Storymaker can collect input from various channels, such as a radio app or a website form. This technology, developed by VRT Innovation as part of the Essence project, is already being used by VRT NWS, één and Klara.
It's nice to see how the Storymaker concept has evolved into a product that can offer real added value to the media maker. We are constantly learning about their workflow and further refining the prototype.