The scheme that gave residents of Shoreditch links to local CCTV cameras through their TV sets had better viewing figures than Channel 4's Big Brother, according to an internal report by the local authority's rejuvenation body.
The Register has learned how residents took to the Shoreditch Digital Bridge scheme in order to scan for and report anti-social behaviour. Yet the over-arching aim of the project was to bridge the digital divide and improve take-up of online public services by giving TV-internet access to people in poor areas.
According to preliminary results of the Shoreditch pilot - due to be published in January - linking people's living-room television sets to local CCTV cameras had attracted viewing figures with an "equivalent reach of prime time, week-day broadcast programming".
Official stats showed that a higher percentage of people tuned in to look through their local CCTV cameras (about 27 per cent of those with access) than watched Channel4's hit snoop show, Big Brother (about 24 per cent).
Atul Hatwal, project manager at the Shoreditch Trust, said the CCTV hook-up was the main reason why people wanted to get the Digital Bridge internet access through their televisions.
"In focus groups, the biggest thing they said to us was it made them safer, because if you are in a public space you know someone's watching."
The Information Commissioner had ordered the homesnoop CCTV be handicapped by low resolution to prevent the watchers from identifying the people they were watching.
"You couldn't recognise specifics, but you could see if there was trouble happening or if someone was roaming about. It made people feel safer," said Hatwal.
Indeed, residents were bothered by the restriction and not at all worried what implications the scheme might have for civil liberties or community.
"Not a single resident came back and raised [CCTV] as an issue," he said. "It was the defining thing that made people say, 'Oh yes, I want that', and they wanted to see more detail [in the CCTV images]."
Even more popular than the CCTV, however, was a fly on the wall documentary serial produced for the scheme. Called Blues and Twos, it followed local Bobbies around on the beat and pulled in 37 per cent of viewers. The internal report noted how these viewing figures were, comparatively, almost as good as Eastenders.
Digital Bridge also brought about a 600 per cent rise in reports of graffiti. And a 200 per cent increase in reports of vandalism.
The report said: "Focus group feedback indicates the CCTV is helping address fear of crime and... generating major new community vigilance resource."
Though they may not have signed up for access to the wider internet, the scheme is reported to have got a "majority" of residents into the habit of using the internet on a daily basis.
The Shoreditch pilot was closed in June, but phase two of the scheme is being announced in January and the model is being promoted to councils nationwide. ®