Ten things European public service broadcasters are doing on the web
"These are not the Oscars - this is the Prix Europa," according to festival organiser Susanne Hoffmann, talking at Saturday's prize-giving ceremony in Berlin.
But when it comes to public service broadcasters (psbs) in Europe, it's as good as it gets. Producers of TV, radio and online get together for up to one week to present and discuss programmes and projects, and choose who deserves the gongs.
This year I was invited to coordinate the entries in the online category and host discussions on the 27 projects in the running. Here are ten thoughts - based on this year's festival - on the direction European psbs are taking online:
1. Web docs are hot - programme support sites are not
While several web documentaries were nominated, special sites supporting radio or TV programmes - once crucial to the category - have dwindled. At the BBC, this tallies with the current focus on the development of web products over special projects. The idea is that these can then be rolled out across a variety of often automated sites, such as the programme support sites.
2. Social media is integrated - but not very creatively
In the past, psbs have developed tools that integrated social media APIs and taken these to the Prix Europa. These have been varied: from Flickr radio and a web doc that used Twitter extensively to the registration process of the Slovenian psb that allowed people four years ago to log in using a variety of social media profiles. This year social media was used straightforwardly to provide comment, cover live events and seed content for augmented reality games. No blue-sky thinking.
3. Apps are on the up
Apps for iPhones and iPads made a healthy appearance among nominated entries. The difficult question is where to draw the line between the need to provide mobile services and the pledge to be widely accessible and impartial to brands. Like sites before them using online video, Flash technology or social media, these apps tasted of the future but came with scores of editorial issues and complications. A Swedish app that uses cognitive behavioural therapy models to "make teens happier" resolved some issues by having an online version too.
4. Fiction is experimenting with augmented reality online
Two German psbs entered ambitious augmented reality dramas (Dina Foxx and Alpha 0.7) where audiences were encouraged to mine seeded information online. The possibilities for this sort of entertainment are endless: although audience figures weren't huge, the projects were produced as experimental trials. Watch this space.
5. Drawing children and teens into news is tricky: but we're trying
Entries from the UK and Sweden enticed children to engage - and even create - news content. The Minitz project from Germany was in the top five. It cleverly uses child-friendly avatars to read news reports produced by the team - and ones they upload themselves. A great example of how a small budget can go a long way.
6. Data visualisation is something we all want to do - but don't
Despite numerous discussions about the importance of data visualisation, only one (the Dutch iPad app on the financial crisis produced anything of note. And while drama projects eagerly asked users to mine planted data and crowdsource information, journalism and documentaries steered clear. Providing a platform for crowdsourced information is, of course, tricky for psbs where verification is key. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Norwegian NRK comes up with something. This year it entered an extensive investigative project on Hell's Angels and it's currently investing in original online investigations.
7. Some psbs only see the web as a promotional tool
Some web producers at the conference told me that their bosses do not appreciate their successes, and instead accuse them of "taking people away from TV". The web is not always seen as a different platform, with its own possibilities and demographics. Other psbs seem to expect the impossible from their online producers - our Czech colleagues, who entered a wonderful children's site, were told a few years ago to "do what the BBC does", when they were only a team of two.
8. Online archives are the norm... for most
Italy's RAI is digitising its national radio archive and has launched three digital radio stations as part of the project. Two of these give the newly digitised historical content a platform, while the other attempts to claw back young listeners from private radio through social media. A project involving the regional archives is yet to begin. Digitising archives and putting them online is nothing new - but it's historically invaluable.
9. Cultural differences: let them swear!
Both Switzerland and Finland showcased entries that integrate unfiltered tweets from the public - if you use the term 'Langstrasse', for example, your tweet will automatically appear in this slick production. I told the jury that this use of Twitter streams stung a major broadsheet which was experimenting with streams in 2009. Users quickly realised their tweets were appearing on the homepage and they thought it funny to swear and swear. But no-one from the Netherlands or Scandinavian countries seemed to care for my anecdote. They're either much more liberal than the Brits and Germans or their audience is much more mature!
10. Content is prized above innovation
And the winner is... a French web doc that campaigns for people living in poor housing. It uses wonderful portrait photography and audio interviews (this portrait uses one still for over three minutes - a first). But when it comes to innovation it's little more than an audio slideshow. Second on the podium, the German memorial to Nazi victims in Munich, Memory Loops. Again, content is king: new and old interviews, some translated into English and really worth listening to, are put to originally composed music and dotted across a map of the city. Both projects could be described as "radio 2.0", to quote a jury member. Innovation was prized, with the Dutch iPad app on the financial crisis coming third.
Pushing for innovation is vital to remaining a relevant provider of content - so I'm glad that an innovative project by psb standards made it onto the podium. But the top-two winning entries show that we are now confident enough in the world of online to award prizes on the basis of production values: the internet is the natural home of a huge amount of varied content - not just a space for innovation.
Silvia Costeloe is a user-generated content and social media journalist at BBC News.