Conservationists Embrace Social Media
Television is increasingly embracing new media to reach new audiences and add interesting applications. New Media Knowledge talks to the people behind a new online conservation series that aims to raise wider awareness of the plight of endangered species.
Last month free Web TV platform Babelgum announced it had teamed up with Off The Fence Productions and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to launch Extinction Sucks, a show which follows two conservationists as they look for ways to raise funds to save individual animals and endangered species.
Extinction Sucks is a six-part series anchored by Australian conservationists Aleisha Caruso and Ashleigh Young and features podcasts, background material and interactive communities made available through social networking portals.
NMK spoke to Ellen Windemuth, Off the Fence Productions’ CEO and Executive Producer of Extinction Sucks, and series producer, Deborah Kidd.
What was the inspiration for Extinction Sucks?
Conservationist Aleisha Caruso set up Extinction Sucks a few years ago, as a way of raising awareness of the many animals that face an imminent threat of extinction. She has raised money and taken equipment to various groups around the world. We worked with her on this series to bring the concept to a global audience, allowing viewers everywhere to get involved.
What sort of interactive features can we expect to see?
There are currently two dedicated Extinction Sucks online presences - at MySpace and Facebook. These will be expanded to contain blogs from location, behind the scenes action, news on the projects and more. These will be linked to the Babelgum Extinction Sucks site, as well as a specific Extinction Sucks website. In addition to this, there will also be links on the WWF Panda site. All of these will be encouraging the audience to get out and get involved, to send in their own projects, to swap ideas and to organise fund-raisers.
How long will the programme run and where are you going location-wise?
Each ‘webisode’ is 25 minutes long and follows Aleisha and fellow conservationist Ash [Ashleigh Young] as they travel to far flung places to highlight the plight of an iconic species native to that country. Some of these include traveling to India to see the wild elephants of the Nilgiris region, seeing 15 Asiatic black bears released into their new enclosure in the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, and helping to save the last of the Maui Dolphins off the coasts of New Zealand.
Is this form of 'social media TV' a first for you?
We have been active online for a number of years on a variety of platforms, running several online channels and producing online content to complement [Babelgum’s] TV shows. Social media is an integral part of creating viewer communities around content, and we have been working closely with Babelgum in this field.
Who will benefit from your interactive sections? Who have you teamed up with?
The series as a whole is being made with the support of the WWF, which endorses Babelgum’s Nature and Conservation portal. Extinction Sucks sees Aleisha and Ash work closely with groups dedicated to the survival of each species we highlight. These charities and non-governmental organisations benefit specifically within the programme as Aleisha and Ash raise funds to bring each group a vital piece of equipment to aid their work.
When the programmes are being aired each group will be ‘name-checked’ and a link will be given to their own websites. This will enable the audience to learn more about them, their work and any fund-raising that will benefit them.
What techniques are you using to take viewers from merely 'watching' to interacting with the show?
The series aims to take the conservative out of conservation, and give viewers much more of an experience. Ultimately the goal is to encourage viewers to not only care about the plight of these species, but to get involved in any way they can with helping ensure their survival. This is done through showing how easy and enjoyable it is to organise fund-raising events to buy vital equipment for these groups – equipment that may not cost an enormous amount of money, but that can make a very real difference to these animals. The social media aspects of Extinction Sucks will encourage the creation of community through the sharing of ideas and stories, the pooling of knowledge and the incentive to get together.
Is TV in its current format 'redundant'? Is interactive TV such as Extinction Sucks the only way forward or is interactive online TV just for a limited set of shows?
Information and entertainment are consumed in a variety of ways. Traditional television programming is certainly not redundant - as viewing figures demonstrate. Off the Fence Productions is an integrated content company we use a variety of platforms to reach our audiences. Using additional interactive and online content to compliment traditional programming gives us new and exciting ways to get innovative ideas made and placed in the global market.
Extinction Sucks launches on Babelgum in February 2009.