Television is no longer the easy medium to define that once was. Today, the convergence of television with the Internet, and other digital innovations has brought a whole new understanding of what television is. The Internet can be seen to have “empowered audiences to seek control over their entertainment habits; granting them the ability to consume media on their own and often unique terms” (Angell, 2011). These processes of convergence allow for televisions intricate narratives to be dispersed across “transmedia” storyworlds, in the form of short web or mobile videos. Transmedia has allowed audiences to deeply personalize their once static user experience, and watch and read content at any desirable time. This view is shared by Henry Jenkins who argues it creates “entry points” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world.
When I’m into a particular television show I find myself on my laptop searching the show, reading about various actors and characters and watching interviews and behind the scenes footage on YouTube. YouTube in particular has allowed audiences to control their media habits. For example my brother like any typical 14 year old boy is obsessed with Family Guy. He’s constantly watching clips from the show, memorizing the lines as he goes, and sharing them on Facebook with his friends. Thanks to the shows millions of fans there are character montages of their best lines throughout the series. Viewing these in block sequences allows viewers to gain a deeper insight into characters enriching their television viewing experience.
Most of this isn’t technically transmedia though it’s just what has already been aired on television. This week we looked at transmedia, as the umbrella of extras posted on a television shows website such as games, quizzes, character bios and footage exclusive to the Internet in the form of webisodes. Webisodes may be in the form of trailers, prequels, parallel story lines, or similar narrative styles. We watched a variety of these different styles in this weeks lecture and what they all seemed to have in common was the way in which they reflected the styles of their respective shows accurately. For viewers of the shows they offer further content, and for others they offer a sneak peak into a show and ay act as bait to lure you in.
However it’s worth noting that due to strict licensing agreements many television shows and networks will not share their content on their websites to overseas networks. And with the majority of my favourite shows either British or American I am excluded from this viewing experience. I realised this just now trying to find a webisode to analyse, trying at least six of my favourite shows and being blocked from all of them. So in a sense transmedia perhaps isn’t as powerful and liberating as various academics make out. Then again maybe it’s about preventing digital piracy as mentioned by Max Dawson in this weeks reading – “By withholding full-length programming from the web in favor of brief clips, trailers, recaps, behind-the-scenes footage, and other repurposed materials, networks established web presences without incurring substantial startup costs, and without making their programming vulnerable to digital piracy” (Dawson, pp.8)
The US series of The Office ran a series of 10 webisodes titled The Accountants that were extremely popular, and readily available online. The minisodes follow the office accountants Kevin, Angela and Oscar on their search for the missing money, in the typical style of the television show. For those already watching the Office these minisodes highlight the various character personalities in the office and what they already love about them. Whilst some of the webisodes we watched in the lecture depended on a wider knowledge of the ‘world’ of the ‘key’ text, The Accounts doesn’t. I watched episode ten tonight and with no prior knowledge of the American version of the show found it extremely entertaining. The plot was made very obvious and didn’t rely on any knowledge of characters or the story world.
With today’s abundance of technology people’s viewing habits of changed. There is more on offer to watch, and people generally have less time to watch them. Webisodes are therefore appealing as their short length ensures maximum viewer attention. Perhaps The Accountants was so popular because of this. The presence of ‘flow’ throughout these webisodes, because of their chronological nature works in the shows favour. It allows viewers to watch all 10 episodes in one sitting if they wish, the equivalent of a few episodes, allowing for the expansion of the shows story world. Sometimes though short parallel story lines, like 24’s The Rookie are also effective leaving viewers with little extra insights into characters, or the style of the show to new viewers.
“As television’s convergence with digital media approaches critical mass, making digital shorts a more commonplace component of audiences’ media diets, required is an aesthetic that is as open to the artistry of the seventy-second promo as it is to that of the seventy-hour serial”. (Dawson, pp.27)