Published on June 8th, 2007 | by Rahel Bailie2
Confessions of a Coronation Street addict
I don’t know how it happened, but sometime last year, I got addicted to the British soap opera, Coronation Street. It may have started during a particularly stressful period when, on a Sunday morning, I just needed to stare at the television – Coronation Street airs from 7:30 till 10 AM on the Canadian Broadcasting System – or perhaps it was stumbling across a show with “real” looking actors and plausible plot lines that drew me in. Whatever the case, it turns out I’m in good company. Everywhere I go, closet Coronation Street fans out themsleves to me: the take-out food chain executive, the math prof, the retired businessman, the marketing communications manager – the list goes on.
It turns out that Coronation Street – Corrie, as it’s affectionately known in Canada – has been running for 40-some years, and is broadcast in countries all around the world. The Canadian broadcasting schedule is about nine months behind the British schedule, which means that every so often, when a friend calls home to a British relative, they are ready to report back the latest plot line twists. If I were interested, I could read ahead on my own, by visiting one of the Corrie sites, where loyal fans faithfully document the daily plot twists in case we miss an episode or two.
I suppose I could keep up with the latest by visiting the www.itv.com site, but it’s not of much use to viewers outside of Britain, as the video clips are blocked and the plot line is months ahead of us in Canada – the “catch-up” features only goes back a week or so. Also, the site assumes that I can keep track of the complex web of relationships built up during a show with a lifetime almost as long as mine. For example, the recent death of a character surfaced a number of children, and for the life of me, I couldn’t keep track of who the mothers were, despite patient explanations from several die-hard viewers. I even tried visiting www.corrie.net to track down the information, but using that site was downright painful, and I never did find what I was looking for.
Would it surprise anyone, then, given my professional obsession with content management, that my mind drifted to ways to solve the Coronation Street relationship and plot line puzzle, content management style?
First: a mark-up language. We’d have to invent Soap Opera XML, to accommodate the specific tags needed for tracking characters, relationships, plot intersections, and so on. Or maybe it exists already?
Next: a character map, and I’m not talking keyboards. Each actor would have a standard description, which would be linked to the other characters in two ways – by relationship and by interaction. The description page could contain information as individual as the character, but a standard feature would be supplemental links to all the important relationships in the show.
Relationships would be displayed as family trees: wife 1, wife 2, wife 3, the various progeny, the mistresses, the siblings, and so on. This would help fans look up characters involved in specific scenes, such as the “drove his family into the canal” scene, much-discussed on the recent Audience with Coronation Street prime time special. (Try finding reference to that without some form of sorting mechanism!) With a proper metadata strategy, this could be implemented with relative ease.
Dates: Tagging by broadcast date by country could let me indicate my country and then display the episodes with the date it was shown in my local region, saving me the mental calculation of figuring out “if it’s Christmas on The Street, it must be just after Valentine’s Day here … or is that the other way round?”
Map: A Coronation Street map is a must, as no matter how long I watch the show, I can’t get a sense of the layout of The Street. The map, which I envision as a 360-degree tour, much like the hotel-room views that go around an entire room, would link to the characters who live, and have lived, at a particular address on The Street. The characters would also link back to the addresses. Getting a sense of the layout of Coronation Street would become an enhanced experience.
Episodes: Another critical feature to any Corrie fan would be an episode interaction map. This would allow newcomers to refer back to well-remembered episodes and see which characters were involved. Interactions would be by episode, and the characters involved in an interaction would be indexed by scene. Maybe I could finally learn what “Save the Red Rec” is actually about, or learn about “when Hayley was Harry” and came out to Roy as a transsexual. This feature could include text, photos, video, Flash files…the media that could shown is limited only by one’s imagination. Well, that and copyright laws.
Finally: the back end. There would need to be an extremely easy input mechanism that would make it easy for fans to input and index information. Of course, all of the updates are currently done by Coronation Street enthusiasts on a volunteer basis. They don’t have any obligation to put up with poor interfaces and confusing instructions. Fans would also need to have access to social networks where they can commiserate over plot line intricacies, take weekly polls, or simply chat amongst themselves. And for fans on a time-delay broadcast schedule, separate mailing lists so they’re not subjected to plot spoilers.
Having member sign-up would create an “insider” feeling, particularly when it means getting access to quirky little Corrie facts. Fans could help build such a quirky facts base, such as noticing that when a character is about to leave The Street for the final time, they always exit left, onto Rosamund Street, or that the telephone in 11 Coronation Street is always red, or that 7 Coronation Street has newer brick, as it was rebuilt later than the rest of the Street.
Building such an information-rich site may sound like a lot of work, but I would argue that this should be considered a soap opera’s contribution to their relationship with their viewers. In the spirit of the ClueTrain Manifesto and Naked Conversations, creating an authentic relationship with customers is critical. Treating fans well builds that relationship and, eventually, loyalty. That is far too important to be left to rogue fan sites, where contests ending in 2005 are still featured on the site’s home page, and deceptive pop-up ads still rule the day. Content management may not be the end goal, but it can certainly contribute the means to get to the end: a great user experience. When I talk about the sweet spot where user experience, content development, and content management intersect, this is exactly what I’m talking about.