Paul Shannon on the Telecom One New Zealand Challenge

For 30 hours over the millennium, Television New Zealand and Telecom will join in a startlingly ambitious live broadcast that aims to capture the lives of 3.8 million New Zealanders. Russell Brown talks to Paul Shannon about the web side of the project

For 30 hours over the millennium, Television New Zealand and Telecom will join in a startlingly ambitious live broadcast that aims to capture the lives of 3.8 million New Zealanders. The Telecom One New Zealand Challenge is, however, not only a TV show. A Website, www.onechallenge.xtra.co.nz, created by a team at TVNZ and hosted by Xtra is already laying the ground for the project. On the night it will be as live as the broadcast, complementing the TV coverage. But the site also has a more ephemeral mission - serving as a repository for millennium messages and dreams and even as a place to virtually "touch" four touchstones representing the boundaries of the nation. Project manager Paul Shannon, a longtime producer at Xtra, who came to TVNZ for the project, talks to Russell Brown about the promise and practicality of a Web project that is more than a little different. What stage was this project at when you arrived from Xtra a couple of months ago When I arrived we had a basic Website that had been agreed upon that could handle a few events and the messages - that was it. Was it always conceived as a joint venture between TVNZ and Xtra? Xtra's role is to provide the hosting for the site. We also have a server in Canada and we'll have another one in New Zealand soon, so we've got plenty of capacity around the New Year, when we expect it to go ballistic. How many people working on it? Five. And it's quite separate from TVNZ New Media? It's a dedicated team - and we needed to have that, because New Media is so news-focused. I've had the luxury of having a crew of people that can work on this all the time and that's all they're doing. Point taken - this project seems more ideas-based and ephemeral than what TVNZ's done up till now. Well, when you think about the millennium and it's about all these things: what's going to happen? Are we going to go through a big period of change? Some people are saying there's going to be 100 years of peace! There's the millennium madness playing into it all. We've got a new government now - what effect is that going to have? Where's the country going in the 21st century and how do we come to grips with all that's gone before us? There's a lot to grasp. The lifting of mood with the election result must have helped you. A certain tension has been dispelled from the nation and it's as if people can finally look forward to the millennium festivities. It feels like that, doesn't it? I feel lighter! A lot of people do. I think even Jenny Shipley feels lighter. People can just get on with doing what they're supposed to be doing, regardless of who the government is. So were you excited about the millennium before you took on this job? It's funny, I started becoming really interested in the millennium a while ago. I started snooping on the Talk 2000 list, just listening to it, last year. They're these guys, they're a funny bunch … they see the Year 2000 as this big point in time where everything's going to change. It's quite Christian-based. There are some key people in it, like Ted Daniels from the Millennium Institute - that's a big site if you're interested in the whole millennium frenzy. Another guy on the list, Jay Gary, wrote a book called The Star of 2000. It's one of those events where you do wonder about where you're going to be. I was actually planning to be in Wanaka - but obviously that's not going to happen! Maybe afterwards … So you'll have all your five people working on the night? What will you all be doing? We'll have a camera in the control room, so people can actually log on and see what's happening, how the broadcast is being put to air. We're going to be highlighting key events. We'll have the first sunlight shots up for the world to see - and a few assorted covert activities that I cannot discuss at this time … So what's the interplay of your site going to be with the TV broadcast? I'd like people to be sitting on the Web looking for where the presenters are going to be - we'll be able to tell them that - and then flocking along to the OB vans. I want it to truly support the show, and to add to it. Will you expect the punters to have the computer set up the lounge at home? They can do what they want. In the lead-up we'll show them what's going on behind the scenes, and also collect their wishes for the millennium. On the night, I hope people can see a use for the Website alongside the television broadcast. In the next couple of weeks, it'll become clearer what that is exactly. But even at this stage because it's such a colossal monster - a 30 hour live show is just huge. They're still planning the backbone of the show, and that won't be in place right up till the final moments, because magic things will happen somewhere and the schedule might get blown out of the water. How do you accommodate and coordinate all that? That's part of our job too; to say, well this is cool and it's happening here and we'll go with that and we'll come back later to what we were doing. We'll be very much live. Are there things here that you've never done and TVNZ's never done? As a Website, this is something TVNZ's never done. New Media is news-based, apart from the TV2 site, I guess. It's diversifying now into more lifestyle and features and this kind of goes alongside it. I've got journalists here to write stories and we're looking for them - what people are doing for the millennium, why they're doing it, why it's interesting and why you should know about it. Can you talk about some of the specific elements? The events guide is huge - it's probably the largest Web database on millennium events in New Zealand. We can tell you what's going on in Otorohanga, and give you all the contact details. We have features focused on the millennium that change out daily. Our millennium news kicks in fully this week. But people's messages are really the key to the whole site - it's creating the backbone of the legacy we're going to leave. It's going to be time-capsuled and stored for a certain period of years - we're not sure yet how long that will be. The key thing is if you want to put 3.8 million people on television, then a satisfactory goal for messages is every Internet user. That's what our goal is. I've been working really hard on that. The Touchstones and the Dreambank are both pretty interesting ideas. The Touchstones is a nice way of giving it a cultural significance, the gathering of these stones and bringing them together in the capital. The guy that's doing it, Jed has described it as life-changing. He's seeing kids flock to these stones and just go crazy over them. It tours till about December 23, then the stones get split and half stays in Wellington and the other half goes back to their point of origin - being the Chathams, Westland and Bluff. Dreambank is a place where you can share a dream. It's like our messages thing, but it's just got that extra emotional quality. It's aligned with the Touchstones, which we thought was a nice fit. People can go and put in a dream that they've had - be it a goal or whatever - and they can even change it at any time if they want. What does Gary McCormick have to do with all this? Gary's the guide to the site. Gary's become techno-savvy. If you're on the site and you want to find out anything or you're not sure what's going on just click on Gary and he'll tell you the key things to do with the site. So what are you going to do afterwards? I'm going to have a holiday.

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