"Media users will no longer be passive viewers but become active engagers."

So predicts Peter Stollenmayer, coordinator for NM2 - New Media for the New Millennium - a groundbreaking European Commission-funded project that aims to change the ways in which audiences interact with current media.

Backed by a budget of €7.5 million ($9.59m; £5.21m), the three-year project will develop technology enabling user-relationships with media. Relationships in which the viewer can manipulate programme storylines, plots - even the scenery, costumes and props.

Among the thirteen partners in NM2 is UK telecoms giant BT, which has seconded Dr Doug Williams to act as technical project manager. He believes it will spawn a new mass market media genre, enabling viewers to tailor content to their individual interests and tastes.

"We think this will be immensely attractive for viewers and for advertisers, but it means we have to think about the whole production process from concept to credits."

An experimental television show is being developed in Finland, in which the plot is determined by text messages from the audience. Also under development is a reworking of the BBC's ambitious drama of Mervyn Peake's gothic fantasy Gormenghast that will allow audiences to choose from a variety of edited versions.

The technology is "extremely sophisticated", says another MM2 partner, John Wyver of TV production house Illuminations.

"It's not just a matter of stringing together the romantic or action portions of a production. The tool has to know which bits fit together both visually - by observing the time-honoured rules that go into editing - and in terms of the story. Only then will the personalised version both make sense and be aesthetically pleasing."

But despite all the hype (and obvious enthusiasm) for the project, some observers wonder just how far it will get on a niggardly budget of €7.5m - barely sufficient to pay for the participants' working-lunches over the three year period.

It is possible, of course, that additional funds have been put up by NM2's thirteen partners from eight European nations:

Aristotle University (Greece)
Cambridge University (UK)
Eurescom (Germany)
Goldsmiths College (UK)
Illuminations Television (UK)
Joanneum Research (Austria)
Malmö University (Sweden)
Sony Netservices (Austria)
Telefónica (Spain)
TNO (Netherlands)
University of Art & Design (Finland)
University of Ulster (UK)

For further information on the NM2 click here.

Data sourced from mad.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff