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Sep 15, 2010

Hangin’ With Mr. Bieber: Our Second MTV Video Music Awards

[by Mike]

Shawn and I are back from an epic five days in Los Angeles, our second run at the MTV Video Music Awards and our fourth live event collaboration with our good friends at MTV. The first time we visualized live Twitter traffic for the VMA's, we were tightly focused on the pre-show broadcast.

This time, MTV pulled us right into the main show!

Thanks to an invitation from Executive Producer Dave Sirulnick, our now year-long amazing working relationship with MTV's Michael Scogin, and the energetic participation of Chloe Sladden and Robin Sloan from Twitter Media HQ it was possible to drive a massive, 95 foot-wide LED screen of up-to-the-minute tweets right inside the venue, with on-air updates and voice-overs from Sway. Check out the videos for all three updates, and more from Twitter on MTV “TJ” Gabi.

The visualization itself is a response to MTV's stark, black and white art direction for this year's show. Shawn and Geraldine pulled together a new take on our particle-based visualizer for the 2010 Movie Awards, cranking up the size and animated activity of the numbers and representing tweet volume with a snowy flurry of moving blips. The piece came in three versions, one for the web-based online audience that allowed visitors to tweet right in the interface, a second for the red carpet touch screen pre-show, and a third that was piped directly to the stage at key moments in the show.

What's amazing about working this particular show is the far-reaching pop-stravaganza of it all, and the new potential for Twitter's user base to feed back into the show itself. This time, the participation of the audience expressed itself as a detailed accounting of over 2.3 million tweets for almost a hundred different artists and stars hammering out over 9,000 tweets per minute for Lady Gaga, 7,000 per minute for Cher, and almost 10,000 combined for Eminem and Rihanna.

What if next time the messages themselves work their way into the show, blasting the enthusiasm of a worldwide live audience all over the LED-and-scrim walls of the stage set? What if we expand the participation of the viewers from responding to hashtags and tweeting 190,000 times from the online visualization interface, to direct interaction with the artists on and back-stage?

Maybe this is the way television grows into a two-way medium? Robin says:

It’s got the familiar thrill of live TV, but it’s not just one-way anymore. This kind of integration pipes the conversation around a live event back into the event itself, and there’s a wonderful juxtaposition happening behind the scenes to make that happen. It’s old tools and new technology side-by-side—NTSC and HTTP co-mingling … what’s way more interesting to me is the way that live TV and real-time information actually reinforce one another. Every time something big happened in the VMAs, we saw massive, immediate spikes in related tweets.

For now, I'm happy with last decade's tired, old “beautiful but useless” being replaced with the fresh, new “helpful and flashy”, “gorgeous visualizations”.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this photo Shawn took of 3% of Twitter's hardware load and me: