Showcase Blog #1: Transmedia Trends

“‘Over the long-long-long-term, generationally long,’” explained the head of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for such prestige dramas as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, “‘it’s very likely that the genre—which I’ll call short-form, truly short-form of five minutes—may be the way in which people consume a lot of entertainment media, putting movies aside.”
– From Max Dawson’s article ‘Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency’

“Transmedia isn’t just a new buzzword that belongs to academics or high-priced media consultants. It’s a form of, and an approach to, storytelling that boasts a range of potential curricular applications that applies to literacy and the content areas.”
– From Peter Gutierrez’s article ‘Every Platform Tells A Story

According to Henry Jenkins in his book ‘Convergence Culture‘, transmedia is a technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, with each element making distinctive contributions to a fan’s understanding of the story world. One relatively recent example of this, although not television, is J.K. Rowling’s website Pottermore. While fans of the books have access to the films, and vice versa, this extensive website allows Harry Potter aficionados to explore Rowling’s magical world in profuse detail, from the uses of objects that were merely background items, to the backgrounds, and futures beyond the books, of various characters that may have simply been mentioned in passing.

I think we’ve all been privy to some kind of transmedia of one of our favourite TV shows. ‘The Office’ spin-off series ‘The Accountants’ for example, or even content on the website of said television programs. Simon Staffan’s blog gives a pretty good idea of some examples: HBO’s True Blood series, with a web portal providing information about the series, the characters, the music and the merchandise, and also directs you to the video blog hosted by one of the side characters of the show, the baby vampire Jessica; The Dark Knight transmedia project Why So Serious?; even Angry Birds reportedly branching out into a tv-series.

Indeed, transmedia (when done well!) extends the narrative, enriches the experience for the audience, creates more immersive narrative spaces and encourages participation from the audience (Paraphrased from Matt Load’s lecture slides transmedia_trends_week_4). Certainly, the aforementioned examples of transmedia do this: we can gain a further insight into the behind-the-scenes goings-on of our favourite accountants, and we can contribute to the conversation surrounding baby Jessica.

Max Dawson explains in his article ‘Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency’: “The first experiments with exhibiting films, videos, and television programs on the web occurred in the late 1990s, at a time when the limited capacities of computer hardware and restrictions on Internet bandwidth required would-be exhibitors to keep the sizes of digital video files to an absolute minimum. Shorter videos meant smaller files, which in turn meant faster load times, better image and sound quality, and (potentially) more pleasurable experiences for viewers.”

Even moving into a technological time where extended footage can be made readily available, this “more pleasurable experience for viewers” may be the reason why shorts have remained short. Late at night, when I know I should be sleeping but just don’t wanna, ‘reason’ wouldn’t allow myself to consent to watching another whole length movie. “Just watch one more YouTube video Zoe,” my ‘rational’ brain will say, only to blur into a YouTube vortex taking as much time, if not more, than had I just watched the full movie. This sense of time, with shorts being made into, as the name suggests, short chunks, gives the viewer if nothing else, a sense of not ‘wasting time’ watching TV. It’s only 4 minutes out of their day, and can (potentially) create as many laughs, tears or thought provoking ideas as a 42 minute full episode.

“A four minute webisode is not a waste of time, but rather a marvel of efficiency.” – Dawson

But these digital shorts are not without their problems. As Dawson describes: “The dispute over The Accountants stemmed from NBC’s equivocation on the question of whether the webisodes were web promos for The Office or an original series in their own right.” So how do we accept webisodes? As original content, just a different platform for the same product, or as advertising? In an age of my beloved Gruen Transfer, I think as consumers we are all pretty aware of the fact that advertising is everywhere. But is that all it is? And how do we think writers should be paid? It’s not completely necessary for webisodes and digital shorts, the show would still exist without it, and many happily do. But they do add a bonus to our experience of the show. When watching The Office, we can now also see our favourite accountants in the background of a scene who we maybe wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The Accountants belong in The Office world, but the webisodes can be enjoyed by the audience even if they haven’t seen The Office, or don’t particularly follow the series. Plot points aren’t given away, and prior knowledge is rarely, if ever, needed to enjoy the oddball comedy.

The major accomplishment of a short like The Accountants or The Rookie: to blend promotion and content in a way that television itself seldom can.” – Dawson.

Undeniably, as Diane Robina explains in her Comcast ‘What’s a Webisode Worth?‘: “From a brand and viewership perspective … once you get them there, you can figure out how to make money.”

Audience participation and user-generated content are huge buzz-words in PR and marketing at the moment, and transmedia also works to facilitate this. The Accountants website offers video, photos, episode guides, games, a shop, and perhaps most importantly a social section. Fans are able to join the conversation (possibly the most overused term at the moment, forgive me), Like The Office on Facebook, Follow The Office on Twitter, and post on Message Boards, as well as visit and comment on a number of blogs: SchruteSpace, There’s No Accounting for Taste, Halpert Baby Blog andCreed Thoughts.

Another favourite TV show of mine to get involved with is Ellen. Because the show is broadcast during the day, I’ll often catch up on her YouTube channel and watch the highlights and various segments. In doing this, I found out The Ellen Show posts web-only content, such as extended interviews and the goings-on during the commercial breaks. This content is often interactive: I am able to click the links through to what I want to see, for example Jeannie, one of Ellen’s writers, having different reactions to scenarios, like a make-your-own-adventure story book.

The Ellen Show
The Ellen Show

“[It is] flexibility that allows pop culture creators (think Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise) to tell cohesive, if occasionally sprawling, stories across multiple media. But whether students engage with transmedia in classrooms and libraries or at home (as creators or audience)–certain transliterate questions like these come into play: Where does the story start? Where and how is it continued? Does it need to start in a single place? Or is it possible to retell an opening “chapter” from a different character’s perspective, or go back and add a prequel? How do I know which medium comes next as I “read” the story–or does the story need to be told in a linear sequence? Can readers dip into it at different points of their own choosing? Can you expand on backstories, or tangential histories? What about adding incidents that fill in gaps in the existing narrative?” – Peter Gutierrez

What are your favourite shows and do you participate in other aspects of the show like I have mentioned above? Leave your comments below 🙂

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