It was a wonderful kind of day for Arthur fans on Tuesday, when the show’s producers hosted a live online event to engage more kids and make the 24-year-old show’s extensive back catalogue relevant again. During the event, US pubcaster GBH (formerly WGBH) had audiences make their own episode of Arthur in real time by voting on what would happen next in the story, splicing clips together to make it happen.
The event was an experiment in looking for new ways to engage kids and family audiences, says Tory Starr, GBH’s director of digital and social content innovation. But it also opened up opportunities to bring back the show’s older content.
“This was a unique opportunity to connect people with someone directly behind the scenes who can react to their thoughts about the brand, and can give context about the content all in real time,” says Starr. “It’s also a template for a different way to remix and bring back content we don’t use often, but which still has relevant things to say to kids decades later.”
The all-ages event included an hour-long segment titled Choose Your Own Arthventure, which was hosted live on Tuesday by Arthur associate producer Deborah Frank (pictured, above). It was part of a five hour-long livestream featuring the pubcasters’ other shows that was simulcast on GBH’s Twitch, YouTube and Facebook channels. In the Arthur portion, audiences could choose in real time from different existing clips that were made throughout Arthur’s 246-episode run to build a new episode.
Audiences got to choose what happens to Arthur and his family when Arthur goes missing. From deciding where characters would go next, to who would tell a story first, viewers voted through comments on what they wanted to see happen.
Beyond giving the audience a chance to choose what would happen, GBH made sure many of the selectable clips featured the core elements of the Arthur brand—including celebrity guests, music and fantasy dream sequences, as well as a heartfelt ending, says Frank. The pubcaster needed to do this to ensure it would still deliver the educational experience fans expect from an Arthur episode, she explains.
GBH worked with interactive content platform Hovercast to bring the comments from YouTube, Facebook and Twitch together in one place, so it could connect with all of its different audiences at the same time.
There’s been a small push towards live interactivity recently, with Disney Channel spearheading the format through live comedy special Just Roll With It: You Decide LIVE!. The event let viewers across the US watch and join the studio audience to determine the show’s plot in real time.
But unlike TV specials, Frank was able to create more of a one-on-one connection with viewers because she could react instantly to individual comments and votes, which is essential for future iterations of the format, she says.
“We can connect with fans in a new way through this format, but also in a way that looks clean and professional,” adds Starr.