You can’t get more niche than medieval baroque flute music, but in the virtual world, almost every interest has an audience. So it’s no shocker that Claus Nehmzow, GM of international at the London office of Method, a brand experience agency, once stumbled upon a Second Life event – complete with live performances and a Q&A – devoted specifically to that obscure genre of music.
In the virtual world, there’s power in numbers – even small numbers. ‘Maybe you don’t get 100,000 people, you get 30,’ says Nehmzow, ‘but you get the right 30 and you get them engaged.’ In his role, Nehmzow helps companies integrate virtual worlds into their interactive branding and communications strategies. His focus on immersive experiences means he’s an authority on Second Life, something he calls a ‘Petri dish’ for experiments in virtual interactivity.
Online screenings are one such experiment, and are driven by the type of engagement and interactivity users don’t get in standard Web experiences. Of particular note for non-fiction producers, Nehmzow points to Sundance Channel Island in Second Life, a doc-friendly virtual screening room and lounge that started in late 2006. In an environment like this, users can relocate their avatars, leaving the theater to head to the lounge for a post-screening discussion. Users are impressed by the ability to migrate as a group on this platform, says Nehmzow.
The downside is that not everyone is familiar with virtual environments or, as Nehmzow says, ‘they have the wrong perception – they think the virtual world is just for geeks, or it’s weird, or it’s full of porn.’ There’s also a learning curve for those from the generation that didn’t grow up with a joystick fused to their hand. ‘You use the cursor keys to move your avatar in three dimensions and interact with the world,’ says Nehmzow. ‘It’s a new set of navigation skills that are different from just using the Web.’ But with film fans willing to pick up these skills, the possibilities to reach new audiences in places like interactive screening rooms are virtually endless.