Will.i.am: TV Networks Should Integrate More Interactive Elements Into Shows

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The music star tells a London conference about his "American Idol" for tech and science geniuses, why he texts on "The Voice" U.K. and says programmers lack original ideas.

LONDON - Music star will.i.am said here Friday that traditional TV networks need more original content ideas and must integrate interactive elements into their shows much more, hinting that he has some ideas that he could pursue.

"You guys need to be on it yesterday," he said in a video conference Q&A from LA at a Royal Television Society conference entitled "When Worlds Collide" when asked how long networks have to innovate further in the digital age.

Speaking in a pre-taped interview that was shown at the conference, he said too much entertainment content these days is based on the recycling of established content franchises: "We don't even have newness," he said. "They are trying to monetize yesterday."

What should broadcasters do? "Tomorrow is about how you impact culture," will.i.am said. "You have to be the enabler." He suggested that networks should in the future, for example, provide characters' on-screen phone calls and text messages directly to viewers who could supply their cell numbers and the like to be more involved in and touched by storylines.

He suggested character's on-screen calls could trigger a viewer's phone to ring. When the viewer picks up, an actor's spoken message would be played. Similarly, a TV character could be shown sending a text message - and that message could appear on viewers' phones right then and there.

Will.i.am even seemed to pitch himself as a potential partner for TV networks, saying such new approaches require innovators - and he pointed at himself at that point.

"I have my ideas for more audience interaction" on TV, he said. But he said that he didn't share all his ideas with BBC1's The Voice U.K., on which he has a role, because he would rather make some of the bigger ideas a reality in his own project.

Will.i.am also explained why he has at times been seen tweeting on The Voice U.K., which some have criticized as making him look like he isn't paying attention. But the star said he feels shows that drive viewers to Twitter need to actually show on-air talent using Twitter to prove that they are really engaging in social media.

The star was also asked about his new X Factor-style show for science and technology stars. He said he talked to Simon Cowell about it in recent days and said the show wants to create real jobs, but he didn't share more details on the show and Cowell's possible role beyond that of a sounding board. A rep for the star recently told THR that the idea is still in an early development stage.

In another session at the TV conference, ITV group commercial director Simon Daglish was asked if Downton Abbey could get an app one day.

"I can't see us at this point wanting to have an app for Downton Abbey," he said. "It's a lean-back experience."

He also argued that for the foreseeable future "we will do apps for specific shows" rather than the network, even though his team has previously discussed possibly creating one ITV app for all the broadcaster's shows.

On the same panel, Nick Hall, director of operations, digital media at Endemol, on another panel about the rise of apps said the TV show producer's app for its hit show The Million Dollar Pound Drop in the U.K. has reached a peak of 189,000 unique players, although on average it draws 100,000 players, or 6.5 percent of viewers per episode.

Meanwhile, TV writer and producer Steven Moffat, the co-creator of Sherlock and Doctor Who writer, spoke on a panel about the importance of the video games business in the TV world.

Asked if he would ever consider writing a game, Moffat said "I was thinking about it," but he does not feel he would have the necessary skills. "I could not write it," he said.

Asked about his experience with a Doctor Who game and whether the games and TV show experiences should merge more, Moffat said: "They are very different experiences" that are equally good and fun. He also quipped: "My kids will do both [play games and watch TV], which obviously doesn't please me."

 Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai