"The feedback was awful," Dailey recalls. "People were turning away in droves, saying it was too much information on-screen. They had three crawls going. The design aspect was dizzying."
Here, viewers customize. They can take away, add, or, if they like, watch a linear newscast, with just the anchor. "On CNN, we gave them no choice," Dailey says. "With this, the viewer is saying, 'I want this' or 'I don't want that.'?"
What the students are doing, says George-Palilonis, a Ball State journalism grad, is "taking the strengths of a newspaper, which are depth of coverage and breadth of coverage, and, with an expertise in those areas, doing what broadcast isn't able to cover in a one-minute package. And I think it really strengthens broadcast and the ability to tell a well-rounded story."
She continues: "It doesn't change the fact that all you have is minutes, but what it does is uses a new interface and adds an interactive component that gives you more in the frame of that 30-minute newscast. If you want to keep watching after the news is off, you can, because that footage lives."
Exactly how Ball State's bold foray into the future of television is being played out off campus is hard to tell. More than a year ago, the instructors presented the findings of their first interactive class to the Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in Las Vegas to mostly amused, curious attendees. The trade magazine Television Week published a story for a media-and-technology special report under the headline "Future of TV News Taking Shape as Viewership Drops," as though the concept was a kind of cute phenomenon.
The problem is, it's tough to take interactivity seriously when the technology infrastructure is not in place to make it doable now. In order for interactivity to work, you need to have software that people can develop and distribute to a mass audience. The people who control that software, and the hardware, are your individual cable operators and satellite companies - and they are all on different systems.
Plus, not knowing what this seismic shift to interactive television means is unnerving to some. With TV and the Internet blending more each year, this marriage will mean major changes for companies that distribute content, for advertisers trying to reach consumers, and for viewers.
"As we go across multiple platforms, it's not a broadcast network or a cable network anymore; it's a network of people," says Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media for Disney-ABC Television Group. "What we're seeing is sort of an increased amount of social connectivity - maybe based around shows, maybe based around brands that have now become what I call participatory entertainment."