The Last Hours of Laura K: The dawn of digital interactive drama

Michael Pettifer takes on the role of detective in the new BBC online drama The Last Hours of Laura K, and asks whether this experimental format represents the future of entertainment

Google calls it ‘constant connectivity’. The mobile-device generation are perpetually plugged in, tangled in social media notifications, breaking news, and easy entertainment – either unwilling or unable to break free.

There is a war going on for people’s attention and TV show producers and writers are on the front line, trying desperately to find new solutions to retain viewers’ undivided attention.

The current strategy by pioneering creators at BBC Writersroom is to take television to an online audience, making it interactive and immersive in the process. Their latest effort comes in the form of a digital murder mystery.

The Last Hours of Laura K, a groundbreaking project which took two years to make, challenges the armchair detectives of modern living rooms to solve the murder of fictional character Laura Kitchen.

Viewers are asked to trawl through 24 hours of mock CCTV footage to look for clues that identify her killer. The interactive element of this experience allows people to annotate on-screen clues, examine suspects’ social media accounts, and use their own social media accounts to discuss content.

Ed Sellek, one of the writers involved in developing The Last Hours of Laura K, is excited about the next step for this storytelling format.

“Online entertainment is this constantly mutating concept. Stories are now discussed and forged with an eye on how the internet will receive it. That was the case with Laura K. If people were going to be on the internet when they watched it anyway, why not capitalise on that?”

Speaking about the competition for attention, he doesn’t see it as his job to worry about the way viewers consumes his art – as long as they enjoy it.

“I can focus more on making something I think is cool and want to watch and play – and trusting there are more people like me out there who feel the same.”

David Glover, an effects and animations expert at Prime Focus World, believes that interactivity will play a big part in the future of online drama shows, but also says that the format will need refining.

“I think the Laura K drama is a great example of what can be achieved, although I’d like to see something a little shorter. I think it represents an early version of what will become a very popular form of entertainment.”

We are becoming an increasingly fickle audience – one that demands instant gratification. If we don't get it, alternatives are only a click away.

According to a study done by the US National Library of Medicine, the average attention span has plummeted from 12 seconds to around eight seconds since 2000.

As more and more producers recognise this change in their audience, we may well see a sharp increase in drama that encourages viewer participation. The passive consumer may soon be a thing of the past.

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