transmedia – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Real” Transmedia: Cultures and Communities of Cross-Platform Media in Colombia Wed, 27 Jan 2016 14:30:56 +0000 Antenna image1Post by Matthew Freeman, Bath Spa University

This post continues the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media. Today’s contributor, Matthew Freeman, completed his PhD in the department in 2015.

The media industries readily produce fictional stories across multiple media, telling the tales of the Avengers across comics, film and television, inviting audiences to participate in the reinvigorated intergalactic Star Wars universe across cinema, novels, the Web, video games, and so on. This transmedia storytelling phenomenon is of course a common go-to strategy in Hollywood’s fiction factory of brand-oriented franchise-making, tied up with commercial notions of digital marketing, merchandising, sequels, “cash nexuses,” and so forth. But what is becoming increasingly apparent is that transmedia is so much more than media franchising. In an age where the distribution of media across multiple platforms is increasingly accessible, transmedia has emerged as a global strategy for targeting fragmentary audiences – be it in business, media or education. And yet while scholarship continues to dwell on transmedia’s commercial, Antenna image3global industry formations, far smaller communities and far less commercial cultures around the world now make new and very different uses of transmedia, entirely re-thinking transmedia by applying it to non-fictional cultural projects as a socio-political strategy for informing and unifying local communities. There has been little attempt to track, analyze or understand such a socio-political idea of transmedia: Henry Jenkins famously theorized transmedia within a digital and industrial context,[1] but what does it mean to examine transmedia from a cultural perspective?

In one sense, examining transmedia from a cultural perspective first means acknowledging the innate multiplicity of transmedia’s potential. James Hay and Nick Couldry, hinting at this very idea, argue that the oft-cited model of transmedia – that is, the one seemingly based on convergences in the name of commerce – is far from the only model, especially when positioned globally: “international differences are obscured by the generality of the term ‘convergence culture’, and it can be helpful to consider convergence ‘cultures’ in the plural.”[2]

And so in another sense, examining transmedia from a cultural perspective also means establishing a whole new cultural-specificity model or approach to understandings of transmedia, taking into account the politics, peoples, ideologies, social values, cultural trends, histories, leisure and heritage of individual countries and their smaller communities. Taking a cultural approach to analyzing transmedia surely means mapping the many faces of transmedia in many different countries. For instance, while in the US and UK transmedia has evolved into an established marketing and brand-development practice,[3] Image1emerging research across Europe paints a different picture of transmedia. In Europe, transmedia can occupy the role of a promotion tool for independent filmmakers, or that of a site of construction for social reality games, or even serve as a means of political activism.[4] In countries such as Spain, meanwhile, entire curricula are being developed around the potential application of transmedia as a tool for educational and literacy enhancement for students seeking global citizenship skills (Gomez 2013; Scolari 2013).

Hence one thing starts to become very clear: when conceived of or utilized as a cultural practice – rather than a commercially-minded industrial one – transmedia is suddenly no longer about storytelling, at least not in a fictional sense. Instead, it is about something more, something more real – that is to say, something more political, more social and more ideologically profound.

Allow me to offer some examples. Towards the end of last year I was invited to consult and to teach in the School of Sciences and Humanities at EAFIT University in Colombia. Antenna image2The invite was for the launch of a new MA in Transmedia Communication, the very first of its kind in Latin America. After consulting on the content of the MA program throughout the autumn, I then flew out to teach in Colombia, delivering a week’s worth of lectures about the different models, strategies and techniques of transmedia storytelling – focusing primarily on UK and US contexts. The aim here was to try and lay out the core characteristics and tendencies of many transmedia stories so students could then apply particular ideas when developing their own transmedia projects. What struck me about the whole experience was just how irrelevant some – though thankfully not all – of my own ingrained ideas about what transmedia actually is were to a Colombian audience. For them, transmedia is not – or rather should not be – a commercial practice of promotion, fiction, world building, franchising and the like. Instead, it is a political system that is nothing short of pivotal to developing social change in local communities; for them, transmedia is about reconstructing memories.

Though documentary has for many decades played a vital role in Latin America’s media ecology, independent producers and universities are the key drivers in the country’s current transmedia trend. While at EAFIT University, a number of innovative transmedia projects caught my eye – all of which aimed to fulfill this promise of developing social change and reconstructing local memories. One project, now currently underway, aims to create non-official narratives of the Colombian armed conflict from the victims’ point of view. By using different media platforms such as games, maps, web series, books and museums, the Medellín victims will be able to communicate their thoughts about the Colombian armed conflict to local and national public spheres. Image2Another project, this one a graduate student’s, uses transmedia as a tool to gather and articulate the emotional fallout of the people from Medellín who have been displaced from their homes. The aim is therefore to document the citizens of Medellín, and Colombia, and show what it is like to be displaced in one’s own city, reconstructing an entire generation of historical memories concerning victims of internal displacement via the use of non-official stories and the representation of these stories across platforms.

In other words, in the context of Colombian culture, transmedia is not just a tool for social change – it is a blessing born out of a long history of cultural tradition that can help Colombians reconstruct the country after more than 50 years of armed conflict. As one of the students enrolled on EAFIT’s MA in Transmedia Communication asserts, “I strongly believe that transmedia in Colombia can contribute to creating processes of memory, recognition and solidarity for the victims of the Colombian armed conflict. I think that using and developing transmedia with local communities can be the clue to starting real processes of reconciliation in the country.”

The emphasis, again, is on using transmedia for something real. And so it seems particularly important to continue more fully interrogating non-fictional transmedia cultures – in the plural. Susan Kerrigan and J.T. Velikovsky begin to interrogate non-fictional transmedia storytelling through the framework of reality television formats, [5] just as Paul Grainge and Catherine Johnson (2015) consider the BBC’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympic Games through the lens of transmedia. And yet it is still far from clear in academic circles what it might mean to fully conceptualize a “real transmedia,” as it were. As my and William Proctor’s Transmedia Earth Network will aim to address, perhaps it is now time to move beyond emphases on industry and technology and instead to more fully embrace how cultural specificity (politics, heritage, social traditions, peoples, leisure and more) Image3informs “real” transmedia stories with real cultural impacts and powerful resolutions for communities around the world. How do the unique politics, heritages and social traditions specific to a given country inform alternative models of transmedia? In Colombia at least, transmedia is now used to reshape its cultures and its communities – and in the words of one Colombian student, this is because, in Colombia, “transmedia is still a field of experimentation; it is new, it is unknown and we are the ones defining it and making it important for all branches of our knowledge.”

Free from the shackles of its Western understandings, then, Colombia’s notion of what transmedia actually is raises important questions about the future of transmedia, both as a phenomenon and as a focus of academic enquiry. How else is transmedia being interpreted by other cultures? And how else might it begin to reshape cultural communities and to tell their real stories of political and social traditions around the world? Only time will tell…


[1] See Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).

[2] James Hay and Nick Couldry “Rethinking Convergence/Culture,” Cultural Studies 25.4 (2011): 473-486.

[3] See for example Jonathan Gray, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: New York University Press, 2010) and Paul Grainge and Catherine Johnson, Promotional Screen Industries (London: Routledge, 2015).

[4] See Carlos Scolari, Paolo Bertetti and Matthew Freeman Transmedia Archaeology: Storytelling in the Borderlines of Science Fiction, Comics and Pulp Magazines (Basingstoke: Palgrave Pivot, 2014).

[5] See Susan Kerrigan and J. T. Velikovsky, “Examining Documentary Transmedia Narratives Through The Living History of Fort Scratchley Project,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies (online 2015, DOI: 10.1177/1354856514567053).


Annedroids Appisodes and the Potential of Interactive Kids TV Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:00:12 +0000 annedroidsappisodes_zps4aa8835c 2As Meagan Rothschild noted in a recent Antenna post, the growth and diversity of screen media for children suggests the need to look beyond the issue of screen time to how media can lead to different kinds of inactivity and interaction. While Rothschild’s example largely points to the activity of children inspired by but away from screen media, I would like to consider how shifts in media consumption that have seen children consuming media (including video) on internet enabled and mobile devices like phones and tablets have fostered burgeoning changes in media with the potential to alter the way we think of interactivity, media, and its potential for education.

In particular, I am interested in the growth of “Appisodes”: versions of television episodes with embedded games and interactive components that allow viewer/players to interact directly with the narrative, often through mini-games or other interactive components that punctuate the episode and are required to move the story forward. Introduced with minimal fanfare, Appisodes (which I have referred to as “Merged Screen” experiences) have recently been made available through outlets like the Itunes store or Amazon. The first few appisode apps released had a number of factors in common. Disney Jr. Appisodes, (which I have written about elsewhere), Dora the Explorer Appisodes, and VeggieTale Appisodes were all extensions of broadcast television animated series targeted at pre-schoolers. However, the most recent addition, Annedroid Appisodes produced by Amazon, breaks from this formula and points to some of the broader potential—and limitations—in this new format for children’s media.

Unknown-1 2Annedroids is a part of Amazon’s effort to compete with Netflix and Hulu through Amazon Prime and the creation of original programing. Annedroids is a half-hour live action series targeted at elementary school-aged children, and follows the exploits of a young girl Anne who designs, builds, and programs large, complex, and personality-filled robots and conducts scientific experiments and solves problems with the help of her two friends Nick and Shania. Made with a combination of live-action and CGI techniques, the series incorporates a large number of scientific concepts, using the robots and CGI elements to depict dangerous and dramatic scientific experiments while still using child actors that are relatable, realistic, and differ dramatically from the glitter and glam of many Disney stars. In addition to these science-centered storylines, the main character is a young girl who has an extensive knowledge of science and a penchant for building, coding, and engineering, presenting a strong role-model for young girls.

Annedroids, therefore, seems like the perfect fit for conversion into the appisode format. The series’ focus provides the opportunity for simple coding-based mini-games or games and activities that teach scientific principles. Given the older target audience of Anendroids, one might imagine that there would be a higher level of educational content in their Appisodes. However, in practice Annedroids Appisodes only show hints of this potential. Of the first two episodes released, each included only three interactive elements/games, only one of which (in each episode) had a clear educational component. Both of these games are based around the idea of completing increasingly complex circuits. Some other games included minor educational components (like the inclusion of weather data or different kinds of animal footprints), but most were based around simple movements—chasing or running from something—or finding the right spot where something was hidden.

By looking at Annedroids Appisodes, a number of challenges, limitations, and potentialities of the form can be seen. While interactive elements can be easily incorporated into a series like Dora the Explorer or Doc McStuffins because they are animated, converting live-action content into animated games in a way that appears seamless and preserves consistent quality is much harder. This is a challenge that must be resolved in order to make Appisodes a realistic option for a broader variety of content. How to incorporate interactive content in a way that authentically adds value and to the episode and is fun and engaging is another challenge, one that the distinctions between the Annedroids Appisodes and previous iterations places further into context.

Unknown 2Amazon’s stake in selling not only their content but their platforms to consumers makes their children’s content a strong site for considering the potential of appisodes for both creative-storytelling (lauded by Annedroids creator J.J. Johnson) and interactivity. With initiatives like Kindle Free Time, part of Amazon’s pitch to families is its ability to curate media content so children only have access to “age-appropriate” media and can be limited in terms of time spent on non-educational content. While series have only just begun exploring how children’s established media habits—including repetitive viewing and viewing on mobile devices—and access to new devices can allow for new forms of storytelling/media interaction, the themes and limited interactive elements of Annedroid Appisodes is an important case study in considering the limits places on such efforts.

Media is a significant part of many children’s lives, and how to encourage children to interact with this media in creative, playful, and even educational way represents an important avenue for parents and scholars to consider. Appisodes represent the possibility of incorporating the kinds of interactive learning studied and promoted in other media such as video games into children’s consumption of television content. For distributors like Amazon who are presenting their platform as a better alternative for many parents, explicitly activating the educational content potential of Appisodes can help to differentiate them and garner positive attention as the educational content of Annedroids itself has done. As a scholar and an aunt of two young girls, considering how a platform that is only beginning to take shape might be developed in a way that increases the play, interactivity, and educational potential of media presents an important opportunity to look at the growth of new media as an opportunity to develop the best aspects of media designed for children, not as a threat to children it is sometimes framed. As a fledgling format, Appisodes may have not reached this potential, but as the format grows parents, educators, and children’s media scholars will have the opportunity to explore what it does well, what it struggles with, and how we can advocate for the value of merging video and interactive content in children’s media’s future.


On Kale, Transmedia, and Winning GISHWHES Fri, 23 May 2014 13:00:01 +0000 Saturday_Viking_boat_25_smallerHave you ever had a life experience you never expected? One that makes you step back and ask: how did I get here? That was me, for basically the whole weekend of the winning team’s reward trip for GISHWHES: the Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. A few choice moments: rising up into the air in a sea plane with half of my teammates, or sitting around a waterside bonfire with our team plus Misha Collins and the other organizers of GISHWHES — these are now cherished memories that in part I can’t quite believe happened, and yet that I’m having a tough time coming back down from. It was made even better that I was there with a strange mix: my five month old son, my BFF, and a group of teammates who had never before met in person but who together had created innumerable strange things (like team uniforms made from kale) in the name of the scavenger hunt that brought us together.GISHWHES Item 137

GISHWHES is a dada-istic experience of creative mayhem coordinated by actor/genius Misha Collins and his very talented/visionary collaborators, including the mysterious Miss Jean Louis Alexander, who communicates to gishwhesian participants primarily in poetic email missives. You may know Collins as the actor who plays the angel Castiel in the CW series, Supernatural, or you may know him as his satiric Twitter persona, @mishacollins. I discovered Collins through Supernatural, and have followed his various online projects avidly (his twitter, the charity Random Acts, the web series Divine and Cooking Fast and Fresh With West, even Stonehenge Apocalypse), but it was with GISHWHES that I felt most clearly the invitation to participate and create.

I’ve participated in GISHWHES for all three years, for the last two with my now-winning team, Vatican Cameos. The team that wins GISHWHES each year is rewarded with a weekend trip and visit with Misha Collins. For the first year (in 2011), this meant eating pasta with Misha in Rome; the second winning team (2012) spent the night with Misha in a haunted castle; for our year/team (2013), we went to Vancouver, rode on a Viking boat, and flew on a sea plane to an island retreat where we held a séance/bonfire and conjured up some local car salesmen.

Long before I could have fathomed I might be on a GISHWHES winning team, I wrote that GISHWHES models the potential for “transmedia creative authorship” that “finds its engine in the collective coordination and agency of all involved.” I’ve also written about the sense of the intimate collective created by thoughtfully designed transmedia projects — a sense of community facilitated by interaction across coordinated yet open-ended digital fronts. GISHWHES sees the intimate collective and raises it an inappropriate public, in which individuals, families, and team members shed all sense of shame and go out and create silly, provocative, and/or insane public art, later to be shared across online networks. GISHWHES takes the fannish/digital ethos of playful creativity and experimentation and, importantly, awareness of community and our place in it and responsibility to it and enacts it in the world, resulting in images like the ones that pepper this post.

GISHWES Item 20 Although GISHWHES is rooted in embodied as well as digital engagement, I wasn’t prepared for what it felt like to be united with my team and with the GISHWHES creators in person as we were taken on an extravagant and crazy journey through Vancouver. My past work has almost always at least indirectly argued that the relationships we build online can be substantive and nuanced, and every bit as “real” as in person relationships. I almost felt this belief challenged by the experience of meeting my full team and the GISHWHES crew in person. But if we were just a bunch of strangers who hadn’t had this past digital history, meeting together wouldn’t have had the power it did.GISHWHES Item 23

I’ve also always held that as scholars and fans, we congregate around the star “text” rather than the person, and I’ve stayed away from interviewing the figures I study. I’ve written an entire essay on Misha Collins, and at the time it would have felt anathema to me to consider interviewing him; that would have been for a different methodology, a different project. (Since then, I’d already begun to chip away at this assertion in my experience with a press pass at LeakyCon and the access that it gave to producers and actors of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.) I found this assumption of mine, too, challenged fundamentally by my experience in Vancouver. Misha seemed excited to talk to me about the thought processes behind his Twitter persona and his various transmedia endeavors, and I found myself very much wanting to have that conversation, to integrate his perspective on star texts and branding and the power of limits in digital creativity, to see how what he had to say, or better yet, our dialogue, would change the picture I had created.

Our experience of winning GISHWHES was a rare one and one that very few will be lucky enough to have. But it drove home to me something that I think is at the heart of GISHWHES as a whole and a reason for its growing success: GISHWHES unites our virtual and real worlds, our online and in person social networks, and overturns our assumptions about both. Now I feel the loss of seeing my team in person but look forward to the digital and embodied mayhem we will create this August, when we gish again.


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Embracing Fan Creativity in Transmedia Storytelling (LeakyCon Portland) Tue, 13 Aug 2013 13:00:51 +0000 LeakyConPortland Multipost TagThis is the final part of a seven-part series about the 4th LeakyCon convention held in Portland Oregon June 27-30, 2013.

In my previous post, I talked about the way in which stars/special guests at LeakyCon aligned themselves with fans and expressed their appreciation of fan creativity. We can see this shared position informing the various forms of storytelling and creative performance highlighted at LeakyCon, from the many group sing alongs and the collective singing of thousands of Starkids attendees, to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries (hereafter LBD) spin off Welcome to Sanditon (herafter Sanditon). Continuing an approach that LBD experimented with, Welcome to Sanditon (a web series adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel) invites viewers to become not just players but actors and writers, creating their own characters, subplots, and videos. In Sanditon, Gigi Darcy (Allison Paige, reprising/continuing her role from LBD) brings the Domino vlogging application (first introduced in LBD as an enterprise of Darcy’s company, Pemberley Digital) to the fictional town of Sanditon, where she encourages its residents to vlog about their experiences and perspectives as town members.

[Web Series Welcome to Sanditon’s first episode includes an invitation for viewers to become part of the storyworld.]

Viewers can use the Domino “application” (a portal accessible through the series’ central web site) to upload their own vlog entries, in which they create backstories and plotlines for themselves within the larger Sanditon universe. By uploading to the site or tagging posts with the hashtag #sanditon, viewers’ vlogs become available for others to see. In turn, official episodes of Sanditon have regularly included a selection of viewer-created content. At the LBD press interview, Paige described the dynamic of audience contribution to Sanditon as follows:

Not everybody gets to be on a television set, or movie, or web series, but these people will send me thank you’s saying “I get to be part of something, I get to be an actor, I get to tell my story and you guys gave me a place to do that.” … And they’re so creative in the things that they come up with — the places and the businesses… It’s just amazing to see these people’s thoughts and now they have a place to do that and they get to be an actor, and they get to be an artist, whether they’re writing or creating, they get to be artists right along with us, and that’s just like, awesome to watch.

I especially appreciate Paige’s comments here, because she recognizes the privileges of access and attention afforded professional productions. Of course, fans create and coordinate and publish on their own already, and I don’t think that Paige meant to suggest otherwise. But the thing about both LBD and Sanditon is that they acknowledge the vibrancy and richness of fan production. Rather than attempting to rein in all that unpredictability, these web series become hybrid productions, to different degrees, integrating fan creativity in substantive ways while still progressing a particular, defined story and set of performances.

In our discussions of transmedia storytelling over the past few years, we’ve seen a tension between transmedia creators wanting to both invite fan interactivity and to protect their official artistic control. Both LBD and Sanditon strive instead to develop artistic visions within innovative ecosystems that allow fan creativity, in all of its diversity, to flourish. Bernie Su, co-producer of the LBD and executive producer of Sanditon, described his current reaction to the project this way:

As an artist, you see that, you create this thing and you inspire [fans] to do this art and play in the world, and it’s pretty intoxicating. At the same time, also as a storyteller, it’s hard, I know it scatters the audience a bit, so I’m not going to say it’s all great. It’s just really neat to see them play in the space. So going into Welcome to Sanditon when Jay (Bushman) and Margaret (Dunlap) were plotting everything, they wanted to really experiment with what we started already [in LBD] , and they were like “we’re going to bring them all into the text and have them become–as Allison said– actors in this world, players in this world, and see if we can enhance the story that way.” And you know, to be honest, I think it’s a little polarizing, we’re getting pros and cons, I think a lot of the fans just really want to see what happens, and some of the others are just really embracing this whole fictional world that they can be part of, kind of like an MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game), and for me personally I’d say I’m still a little… I don’t know if this is really effective, but it’s really fun.

Bernie Su’s ambivalence here captures well the challenges faced by media creators seeking to integrate the energy and creativity of fan communities into their storytelling. And while part of me (the part that is always ready to proselytize the amazing creative value of fan production) wishes that he were less ambivalent, I find real resonance in his description of tensions of creating work in a digital sphere that is simultaneously multi-niche and mainstream, balancing fans who come in ready and eager to produce with those who want to immerse themselves in a beautifully told story. I do hope that Su will continue to chase the fun and intoxication of encouraging fan creativity, and that others will follow in his footsteps with similar projects, because I believe that the rewards in such hybrid creative works are worth the risks.

Indeed, LeakyCon’s value to me lies in its participants’ willingness to forgo boundaries and to explore what new connections happen as a result of creative mergers and blendings. As a scholar and a fan interested in bridging the perceived divides between professionalized academic and popular media literacy as well as between production and theory/history/studies, it was invaluable to see this ethos of creative synthesis in action. To me, LeakyCon offers a model for a certain braveness, a willingness to create and to experiment with new ways of making meaning (and making change!) in our contemporary popular and vernacular culture. That’s something I hope to take away from LeakyCon and to carry into my own work moving forward.

For more on LeakyCon 2013, read:

– Part one (“Where the Fangirls Are“)
– Part two (“On Wearing Two Badges“)
– Part three (“Fans and Stars and Starkids“)
– Part four (“From LGBT to GSM: Gender and Sexual Identity among LeakyCon’s Queer Youth“)
– Part five (“Inspiring Fans at LeakyCon Portland“)
– Part six (“Redefining the Performance of Masculinity“)


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One World, Two Ways In (For Some): Syfy’s Defiance Wed, 20 Feb 2013 16:37:07 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 6.39.58 PMWhen Syfy president Dave Howe introduced Defiance’s at the TCA Press Tour in January, he referred to the project as “a groundbreaking transmedia event that unites high quality scripted television and online gaming in an unprecedented way. In short, Defiance is one world, but with two ways in.” While my previous post on Defiance considered the ways in which the respective futures of the video game and the television series could follow different paths, here I want to focus on who Syfy and developer Trion Worlds expect to travel through the respective entrances to the world in question.

While Henry Jenkins and others have rightfully observed the potential for innovative storytelling and expanded audience engagement through convergent media practices, transmedia storytelling also functions as a solution to a problem. Howe positions Defiance as the result after Syfy “imagined the future of entertainment as technology evolves across new digital screens and platforms,” but fails to acknowledge that this was not simply the result of innovative thinking but rather data suggesting Syfy and channels like it were losing viewers to other forms of media, including video games. The commercial imperatives behind convergence may not appear in public relations copy, but cross-platform projects like Defiance are about reaching certain audiences productive to Syfy’s long-term programming and branding goals in a convergent media environment

To be clear, this does not necessarily devalue the creative potential of Defiance as a transmedia storytelling experience (this DICE keynote features some intriguing production culture details), but I choose to foreground commercial imperatives due to incongruence between the audiences these projects seek to draw. While Howe is correct that there are two entrances into this world, those entrances are functioning within two industries where audience targeting works differently, and the gaming doorway is considerably narrower—and more male-oriented—than the television one.

BenzDefianceIn the case of Syfy, Defiance is positioned within a broader tradition of science fiction on the channel, including Battlestar Galactica and Farscape. One could look to the frontier setting and the presence of a brothel as evidence of the series appealing to male audiences, but Defiance mirrors Galactica’s focus on women in power (Julie Benz’s Amanda Rosewater is the town’s mayor) and follows NBC’s Revolution into the realm of young, tough female characters (Stephanie Leonidas’ Irisa). While the series contains elements we could deconstruct as being aimed toward male audiences, it ultimately seeks a balanced approach designed to maximize viewership within fans of science fiction programming (already a niche that is dangerous to narrow further, as demonstrated by Syfy’s efforts to extend their brand away from high science fiction toward lighter genre fare).

However, when I asked a Trion Worlds developer about the target audience for the video game, his answer was simpler: “Shooter fans.” The game’s claim to notoriety is not simply its transmedia relationship with the television series, but also its combination of Massively Multiplayer Online gameplay and third-person shooter mechanics similar to series like Gears of War. In this, the game seeks to merge the MMO model with what stands as the largest gaming audience on home game consoles, the audience that has made series like Gears of War or Call of Duty so successful. This is also an audience that is almost exclusively imagined as male by those within the gaming industry.

DefianceScreenshotOf course, female gamers are among those who have made the shooter genre so successful—I spoke with one female critic who identified as a shooter fan as we discussed playing Defiance at TCA—but they are not the audience being sold to when a company like Trion Worlds develops a game like Defiance. Although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that women make up a large percentage—up to 60%—of those who play video games, industry logic suggests that gameplay takes place within more casual gaming spaces, which could include web browsers, mobile devices devices, or home consoles like the Wii which came to be known for their cross-gender and cross-generational appeal. While Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are considered a space where women make up a substantial portion of active players, Trion’s decision to focus on third-person shooting pushes Defiance’s demographics toward an imagined collection of male core gamers age 18-34 considered more likely to own the consoles or gaming hardware necessary to take part in this experience, a demographic often referred to as the “lost boys.”

Trion’s development choice creates an imbalance between the two entrances Bell refers to: while fans of the game can easily transition their attention to a television series (something they could even watch on their game console or PC), the choice to emphasize core gamer mechanics rather than a more accessible gameplay style limits the likelihood of viewers—both female and male—with only casual gaming experience accessing the complete Defiance experience.[1] While Defiance the television series may seek to expand its focus beyond a primarily male audience, Defiance as a broader—yet narrower—transmedia initiative highlights the gendered reality of convergent media practices tied to the video game industry’s male-dominated logics.

Trion and Syfy’s decision to focus on hardcore gamers does not preclude female gamers from experiencing Defiance as a transmedia narrative, but their adherence to game industry logics—most likely to manage financial risk in a big-budget console video game space—shapes their imagined user as a “lost boy” Syfy seeks to find. Although the show could enable Syfy to embrace this young male demographic—which sister channel G4 recently gave up on—should the game be successful, it also confines the transmedia narrative to a gendered understanding of convergence that imagines gaming as a lure for male viewers rather than a creative extension for all viewers.


[1] The Trion developers overseeing Syfy’s TCA event admitted the difficulty setting was set very high on the demo made available (which had been made for a gaming industry event months earlier), to the point where more casual players—including several Syfy executives and stars—who tried it were often frustrated by a lack of progress.


Production Mythology, Release Reality: Syfy’s Defiance Mon, 21 Jan 2013 15:00:36 +0000 Defiance unique, the first of two parts explores how this mythology also breeds uncertainty as the franchise's April debut nears.]]> While Syfy’s science fiction series Defiance has a narrative mythology rivaling that of its generic predecessors, it also has a production mythology. Framed as a five-year journey for Syfy and developer Trion Games, the series and its companion video game—a massively-multiplayer online shooter releasing on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC two weeks in advance of the series’ April 15th premiere—represent a huge investment into transmedia storytelling for a channel that has sought new ways to merge its science fiction genesis with business models they believe could draw a larger audience. While showrunner Kevin Murphy was on stage at this month’s Syfy presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to discuss his plans for the series, Syfy programming executive Mark Stern was also there to reflect on a process that he has overseen across both media.

As with narrative mythologies, however, production mythologies are works-in-progress: much as long-term storytelling goals are vague early in a show’s life, the future of any kind of production strategy is incredibly uncertain. This is particularly true in the case of such a unique production culture, one where the precarity of television production—driven by a flawed Nielsen ratings system—is merged with a video game industry where costs are steadily rising as competition only grows fiercer. While Defiance’s development as an instantaneous transmedia franchise is a novel case of convergent media practices, its success or failure will have to contend with distinct challenges facing the series within and between its two industrial contexts. In this post, I want to specifically focus on how the expectations placed on both television serials and big-budget video games at the time of their debut intersect with those challenges, before moving onto how the perceived audiences for these different media threaten Syfy’s synergistic business strategy in a future post.

From a storytelling perspective, Defiance the game will serve as a prequel to Defiance, taking place in San Francisco rather than St. Louis and giving those who play the game the opportunity to interact with two of the show’s characters as they seek out an object that plays a role in the television narrative. According to one of the game’s creative leads (who I spoke with at press tour), players will have the opportunity to play through an initial story arc with a beginning, middle, and end in addition to smaller side missions and “events” scattered throughout the online world; players will then have the opportunity to follow that story onto the television series, their collective actions seeming to have an influence on the series’ storytelling. During the series, more content will be released to reflect story developments on the show, providing a constant link between the two narratives.

Of course, Murphy acknowledged during the series’ TCA panel that this interactivity would be an illusion, as production realities would prohibit any gameplay from adjusting story arcs in season one. However, it’s also illusory because the game and the series cannot be fully integrated given that not everyone who watches the series may want to play the game, or vice versa. It’s preferred for users to enjoy the two narratives simultaneously, but neither narrative can be designed in ways that require this, a common concern with transmedia properties that are also expected to stand alone as independent media products within distinct markets.

Defiance has more value when it’s experienced as a cross-media narrative, but that’s not necessarily how critics or journalists will evaluate the franchise. When Syfy presents Defiance to reporters and critics who cover television, the game is a novel idea that adds value to the production. However, based on the rather small number of journalists and critics I observed taking advantage of the demo stations made available during a Syfy-sponsored cocktail event during Press Tour, it is unclear how many of those who cover the Syfy series in advance of its premiere will have played the game to get the “full” effect (or who would even have access to the hardware necessary to do so). Meanwhile, the game has been covered for almost two years by video game journalists without any access to the television show, which may in fact be in the title’s best interest. Licensed games have a poor reputation, and although Defiance is more ambitious than your average licensed title the association is still considered a red flag of sorts. Video game journalists aren’t primarily interested in exploring the television series, focusing instead on whether the game alone is worth the investment of “typical” video gamers.

I will explore what “typical” means in part two, but this pre-release separation of the two properties raises a key question for me: how does this operate as a business model once the show and game are released? Are successful Nielsen ratings enough to prop up low sales of the game? Is a high Metacritic rating for the game enough to justify financial investment in the game’s future if the television show’s ratings are lagging?

While you don’t quite “cancel” a video game like you do a TV show, the promise of ongoing content is not necessarily a guarantee. While Trion has planned out new content to be released throughout the show’s first season, they have revealed no details on how users will get this content (including whether or not they’ll have to pay for it), or whether the game itself will come with a monthly fee typical for PC MMOs (and how such a fee would carry over in some way to the console versions). If the economics of the game don’t work out, there’s no promise a second round of content would arrive during a second season, or between seasons; if the game performs poorly on a particular console, meanwhile, it’s possible development could be focused on a single platform moving forward, leaving a section of gamers out of the story.

This uncertainty is not abnormal within the television or video game industries, but the interconnected nature of this venture only adds to its complexity, making their appeal to certain audiences an important discussion, albeit one for another post.


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Transmedia For the One Percent That Matters? Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:00:02 +0000 Screen Shot of Byzantium Security WebsiteOn Friday, conspiracy drama Hunted premiered on Cinemax. The plot of Hunted unfolds in the world of Byzantium, a private security firm which promotes itself by declaring that “we are not for everyone, just for the 1% that matters.” This phrase also plays a key role in Campfire NYC’s elaborate transmedia campaign for Hunted. The phrase evokes associations with the media strategy put forth by Occupy Wall Street—an association that seems anything but accidental. While the Occupy movement uses the 1% metaphor to critique social inequality, the Hunted transmedia campaign finds multiple ways to integrate the metaphor into the system of commercial television.

Veteran transmedia storytellers Campfire previously designed campaigns for programs such as Game of Thrones and Bag of Bones. In those campaigns, as in the current one for Hunted, Campfire relies on a multi-pronged strategy to spread word of mouth about the program and increase brand awareness of the channel on which the program airs. As such, the campaigns combine an interactive web-based component, a physical object sent to opinion leaders, and, in the case of Game of Thrones and Hunted, targeted, local events. All elements of the campaign synch to provide potential viewers with an immersive experience of the program’s characters and storyworld.

The specific elements that comprise the Hunted campaign have been analyzed by multiple media outlets such as ARG Net, Huffington Post, and by Myles McNutt, so I will highlight only a few relevant features. The online component at consists of personality tests that supposedly decide if the participant is fit to work for Byzantium Security. As one might expect, it doesn’t matter how one responds to these tests—in the end, all participants are deemed to be part of the 1% that qualifies for employment at Byzantium (nevertheless, it is worth playing through all tests to get to the very last, the baffling outcome of which leads one to ask “but how did they do that?”). I found it interesting that the online component asks viewers to join Byzantium when the company is marked as an antagonist in the series itself, but as I previously explained regarding The Hunger Games, this strategy invites viewers into the diegesis while simultaneously not revealing too much in advance to the program’s premiere.

The physical component of the Hunted campaign takes the form of a wooden puzzle that has a secret compartment for a password-protected flash drive. After solving the fragmented anagram burned into the wood, one has access to exclusive materials. Campfire’s goal of sending out the puzzles to the lucky few—or shall we say, the lucky 1% of television viewers privileged enough to receive mail from Campfire—is also to spread the word about Hunted (full disclosure: I received one of those puzzles, too, and am presumably doing my part by writing this post). After all, as Campfire’s Creative Director Steve Coulson told me, an important goal of this transmedia campaign is to generate word-of-mouth buzz that connects a quality drama like Hunted with Cinemax. The dual goal of the Hunted transmedia campaign is thus not only to recruit new viewers for Cinemax, but also the elevate viewers’ opinion of Cinemax’s brand (Campfire created a campaign with similar goals for A&E and its Stephen King mini-series Bag of Bones).

Byzantium ad

Photo Credit: Armando Gallardo

So far, all of this is fairly standard in the world of transmedia storytelling. However, the last component of the Hunted campaign stands out. As part of a localized event, posters promoting Byzantium Security appeared in the area around Wall Street in time for the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. In contrast to the online component, which is easily identified as promotional material for Hunted because of its copyright disclaimer, the ads did not have any overt link to the program. Indeed, many people mistook the posters for real ads advertising security for the 1%.

The above photo circulated widely on Twitter and blogs following the OWS anniversary. The revelation that the Byzantium ads were “just” for a TV program didn’t necessarily improve opinions about the ad (see, for example, the reactions on OWS’s Facebook page). One could say that this reaction was a win for Campfire nevertheless since Hunted and Cinemax became part of a passionate conversation. However, seeing the ads either as marketing triumph or terrible co-option of activist language is too simple, especially because the program itself raises the question of what it means to work for a company that protects the 1%.  For me, ambivalence might be a better term for describing this mash-up of activist language and television promotion. While the ads might not promote a security firm for the 1%, they promote a program that targets those who can and will spend the additional monthly fee for Cinemax; a group we might imagine as the “1%” of television viewers. While the actual number of subscribers is larger than one percent, the discourse of quality television depicts viewers of premium cable drama as the elite among TV viewers (as suggested by Michael Z. Newman and Elena Levine in Legitimating Television).

There is also the question of commercial television’s role in contributing to a conversation about the issues addressed by OWS, like global finance. Is television depoliticized, as Alternet’s Sarah Jaffe observes, or is TV another venue in which this conversation happens? The first episode suggests that Hunted will follow the usual approach of commercial television and present the conflicts surrounding Byzantium in a personalized way, namely as a conflict between main character Sam Hunter and Byzantium, her employers, rather than offering a systemic critique of Byzantium as cog in the machine of global finance. Despite this personalization, it seems too easy to divorce a program like Hunted from the larger discourse surrounding OWS. Perhaps the ultimate achievement of the Byzantium ads is that it forces us to look more closely at how both the commercialized rhetoric of transmedia and the activist rhetoric of OWS engage in a conversation about the 1%.


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Creating a Spark: Official and Fan-Produced Transmedia for The Hunger Games Fri, 11 May 2012 15:58:03 +0000 The Hunger Games (THG) has become one of Hollywood’s biggest success stories of the year. Since the film is based on a successful young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, the cinematic adaptation could count on a built-in audience. In order to mobilize the existing fan base and court new fans, Lionsgate’s marketing department rolled out a campaign that incorporated transmedia storytelling elements. The centerpiece of the campaign is an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) that allows fans to become citizens of Panem. Accessible through the “Citizen Information Terminal,” a website that aggregates content from Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Youtube, the ARG mixes diegetic information (such as trends in Capitol fashion) with extradiegetic material (e.g. a link to Fandango, accompanied by a note declaring that “attendance [of the film] is mandatory”).

Transmedia storytelling has become a familiar element of film and television promotion, especially for media properties incorporating fantasy and scifi elements (currently, transmedia campaigns are underway for Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises). While many fans readily engage with official promotional material, they also create their own media. Transmedia produced for THG shows how multifaceted and sometimes conflicting interests among fans and marketing departments arise out of shared media platforms and a shared storyworld.

With the widespread use of Twitter and Tumblr, official and fan-produced transmedia increasingly share the same media spaces. Both fans and those who address fans through marketing use these spaces because they make sharing media easy. Indeed, sharing images and videos via reblogging is perhaps Tumblr’s core functionality and defining characteristic. Via reblogging and retweeting, fans spread news about the latest part of a marketing campaign faster and wider than a print ad, poster, or traditional preview could. Most importantly, reblogging turns officially produced transmedia into a personalized message: fans feel they receive an update about THG from a fellow fan, not from a studio’s marketing department. Or at least this is the perception that marketing departments try to create.

It is important to recognize that both Lionsgate’s marketing department and fans face constraints when producing transmedia for THG. Official transmedia’s main purpose is twofold: create interest in THG and persuade as many people as possible to purchase a ticket to see the film. In order to create this investment, official transmedia has to offer material about the world of THG that appears new and exciting to fans; at the same time, this material cannot give away too many details about the film itself. This is particularly crucial for a book adaptation because many fans are familiar with the story and are most interested in seeing how this story has been translated to the screen. In addition, official transmedia cannot stray too far from “canon.” It has to remain faithful to the story moviegoers will see. Working within these constraints leads to transmedia elements that focus on exploring places and settings rather than on expanding plot or characterizations.

Capital Couture announces the winner of its stylist contest. Fans reblog and respond.

Two core elements of THG transmedia campaign, namely the Capitol Couture Tumblr and the related virtual tour of the Capitol, focus on the culture of Panem’s premiere city. Both are perfect examples of official transmedia that provide new insights about the world of THG without spoiling the film or diverging from Collins’ canon. While the Capitol is an important location in THG‘s storyworld, neither the film nor the novel spend much time there. Offering a deeper insight into the city expands fans’ understanding of Panem without giving too much away. At the same time, a campaign that centers on the people and culture responsible for the terror of the Hunger Games is also a risky strategy. Fans might not have been willing to engage with this aspect of the book(s) and film. But the Capitol also appears as a decadent and alluring place in Collins’ universe, which makes it an interesting place to see even if one disagrees with its ideology.

Additionally, I would argue, fans can easily find the more sympathetic people and places of THG in fan-produced transmedia. Free from the constraints of avoiding spoilers and adhering to canon, most fanfiction and fanart delve into the lives of central characters, envisioning moments before, during, and after canon events. Fan creations spread across the same platforms as official transmedia: a new interpretation of a character might emerge in a tweet, turn into a story posted on a blog, and generate accompanying fanart on Tumblr.

Screenshot of the original Panem October ARG

Of course fans also face constraints: their creations are not officially sanctioned and often exist in a legal gray area, and they don’t usually have access to the resources that fuel official transmedia such as the Capitol tour. Frequently, these divergent sets of constraints in official and fan-produced transmedia enable new and largely complementary perspectives on the world of THG. This co-existence is less harmonious when fan productions appear too “official,” as was the case with Panem October, a fan-authored ARG that also revolved around a “citizens of Panem” theme. An early iteration, launched in spring 2011, was shut down by Lionsgate. The second version appeared simultaneously with the official ARG last fall. Thanks to fannish word-of-mouth, participation in Panem October grew to 50,000. Despite its popularity, the creator announced last December that he was abandoning the ARG to pursue other projects. It is unclear whether or not increasing pressure by Lionsgate motivated this decision.

Screenshot of Panem October, version two, on the left, and the official ARG on the right.

It is tempting to draw parallels between Panem October and THG trilogy’s overall story (a temptation the pursuit of which I leave to someone else). Regardless, it seems apparent to me that fan enthusiasm is most welcome when it stays within officially endorsed boundaries—as participation in the official THG ARG—and is tolerated as long as its focus does not encroach on commercially significant territory.


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Is It a Camel? Is It a Turban? No, It’s The 99! Marketing Islamic Superheroes as Global Cultural Commodities Mon, 30 Apr 2012 18:27:40 +0000 DISCLAIMER: This post is part of a larger project analyzing the global circulation of brands created in the “developing world.” The expanded essay delves into the paradoxical manner in which these brands are marketed and positioned for global consumers. In the excerpt below, I try to identify a couple of key tensions that emerge in trying to reposition Islam as a global brand.

At the 2010 TED Global conference, an annual event that brings together innovators and entrepreneurs in the fields of technology, entertainment and design, Dr. Naif al-Mutawa gave a 20-minute presentation on The 99, his global superhero franchise inspired by Islamic archetypes. Published first as a comic book by al-Mutawa’s Kuwaiti-based Teshkeel Media Group beginning in 2006, by 2010 The 99 was well on its way to becoming a global cross-media brand designed to reach Muslims around world through theme parks, social media, merchandizing and a television series co-produced with Endemol Entertainment.

Toward the end of his talk, al-Mutawa explained his motivations and aspirations for the project while expressing frustration with a popular trend amongst some Muslim families to dress their children up as suicide bombers as a form of protest, which he linked to the absence of positive contemporary Islamic heroes for kids to emulate. Choking up slightly, al-Mutawa argued that by linking enough positive things to the Koran, Muslim children would begin to take pride in a different set of representations and embrace the shared universal values that Islam already advocates, like kindness and generosity, rather than being taught to revere its more fanatical and fringe elements. Or, as al-Mutawa explained, “an entire generation of young Muslims is growing up believing that Islam is a bad thing. They are put in a situation to defend the indefensible. My thinking was, how can I expand the boundaries of what Islam is, talk about stuff that all human beings share together, and not allow people to sabotage and hijack Islam.”

To prove his point, al-Mutawa juxtaposed two photos: one of a young girl dressed up in a white robe, a green headband bearing Hamas’ Shahada emblem, and a mock bomb belt holding a Koran in one hand and gesturing to the sky with the other. The other was photo-shopped image of the same little girl, with her headband now branded with The 99 logo and her bomb belt replaced by a t-shirt featuring a selection of The 99 superheroes. Tellingly, she is still depicted holding the Koran – as opposed to a copy of The 99 comic book – while gesturing skyward.

In al-Mutawa’s vision, The 99 is a transformative brand that normalizes Muslim youth by inaugurating them into the realm of consumer capitalism. As such, it is part of an effort to repair and redefine Islam’s reputation through branding and marketing, but also through the marketization of Islam. Or, to quote Al-Mutawa, “someone had tarnished the name of Islam, and I wanted to go in and help rebrand it.” While The 99 are marketed as new role models for children to emulate, al-Mutawa is repeatedly positioned as the ultimate prototype for the new Muslim superhero, whose entrepreneurial powers inspire new forms of investment in Islamic identity.

In some ways, al-Mutawa’s approach to repackaging and repositioning Islam for Muslims seems very much in the spirit of development paradigms that the West has been promoting for decades. He seems to be a cross between a modern-day version of Daniel Lerner’s (1958) “grocer,” enthralled with consumer capitalism and eager to spread the gospel of Western entrepreneurialism, and a proponent of Everett Rogers and Arvind Singhal’s (1999) entertainment-education thesis, which argues that modernity is best taught through popular rather than didactic means. Indeed, al-Mutawa is a self-professed social entrepreneur who wants to build a better world through capitalism. He has gone on record that he believes “Entrepreneurship is based in the United States… in Kuwait, education is free and food is subsidized. The State takes care of the population, but by doing that they don’t force the population to take care of itself. That becomes the biggest impediment to entrepreneurship.” His efforts to rebrand Islam through The 99 have earned him numerous awards and recognitions, including the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Marketplace of Ideas Award and the 2009 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Award. President Obama gave al-Mutawa and The 99 a special shout out at the 2011 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington DC for their super heroic work promoting tolerance. Meanwhile, Forbes Magazine recognized The 99 as one of the top twenty hot trends of 2010.

With such positive credentialing, one would think that al-Mutawa’s efforts to build The 99 into a global cross-media franchise would be welcomed as evidence that Western values are being positively inculcated in the Middle East. Yet, attempts to bring The 99 animated TV series to US audiences have been met with accusations that al-Mutawa is attempting to indoctrinate non-Muslims into Shari’a law. In 2010, The Hub acquired the US rights to The 99 animated series, which offered the brand potential access to 60 million households. Almost immediately, conservative organizations began a campaign to have the series removed, accusing it of foisting “sinister Muslim values” on non-Muslim children in an attempt to “Islamify youth.” One critic asked, “Will children learn about democracy, modernity, tolerance, Enlightenment, women’s and gay rights from these ‘Islamic’ figures?” while ignoring how US cartoons rarely offer children much insight into these issues either. Ultimately, al-Mutawa’s efforts to rebrand Islam by emphasizing the positive and pro-Western attributes of the religion were dismissed as forms of “Dawah proselytizing” by critics who insisted that The 99 should have been critical of Islam, rather than celebrating its archetypes. According to this logic, the only good Muslims are the self-hating kind. The pressure critics placed on the Hub was sufficient to cause the cable network to indefinitely postpone the series’ debut.

American resistance to The 99 reveals both the limits of consumer capitalism as a great equalizer and some of the incompatibilities of brand marketing with correcting misconceptions about Islam.


Q: What makes a successful multiplatform production? Sun, 26 Dec 2010 07:00:13 +0000

I am currently working on a 2 year project on multiplatform television. Multiplatform might be understood as 2-screen TV experiences or asynchronous programme extensions onto digital media platforms through to voting on celebrity/reality TV shows. The project is based on interviews with industry insiders – from senior execs to below-the-line workers – and is interested in the relationship between multiplatform television, independent digital media and television companies and public service broadcasting. One of the things we’ve been asking producers is how they assess the success of their multiplatform productions. In a post-ratings world and one in which overnight figures are less important, this produces some interesting answers.

By far the most interesting example of success has been in response to Channel 4’s Seven Days, a multiplatform docu-soap production. Set in London’s Notting Hill the format promised to be a new kind of interactive documentary, filming ‘ordinary people’ in their everyday lives and then editing together a one-hour episode each week, as well as releasing clips online, establishing a Twitter feed and a ‘chat nav’ site that allowed viewers to interact with each other and the people filmed for Seven Days. Billed as the ‘next Big Brother’ and supported by a massive marketing campaign, the series inevitably failed to live up to the hype with a small viewership – just 1 million on launch night – dwindling away across the course of the series.

Despite this, Seven Days has been cited as a ‘success’ by many of our interviewees and more broadly in the UK trade press. Paradoxically this is because the amount of users it attracted to the associated online offerings were so big as to crash the C4 servers. Trade magazine New Media Age reported approvingly of the “overwhelming response” to the show, whilst its TV counterpart, Broadcast, described it as “unprecedented” demand.

The failure to build digital infrastructure to support the community of users – which was presumably something far smaller than the 1million watching the broadcast text – has consistently been highlighted as a success. As Matt Locke, acting head of cross platform at C4 argued:

The spike in traffic we saw in the middle of Seven Days was something new – it was an audience realising that they could become part of the conversation, part of the story, part of the lives of the people they were seeing on television.

Despite the problems relating to technology, Seven Days was seen to produce new forms of interactivity. Editor of trade publication Broadcast, Lisa Campbell, enthused that “As far as social experimentation goes, it makes Big Brother look more like Watch With Mother.” This is because of the series’ relationship between social media platforms and programme:

The ‘chatnav’ social media element of the project makes for a fascinating, often surreal watch. So, for example, you’re on a laptop reading comments while watching the show, watching a character on the show on their laptop responding to those comments (still with me?).

Similar comments were made by Matt Locke, series producer Stephen Lambert and others who pointed to both the format’s innovation and the quality of interaction produced in the Seven Days user community: a tech-savvy demographic, highly engaged with the show and its characters – one prominent example included a viewer facebooking a character for a date which, of course, appeared in the following episode.

Digital media and the fragmentation of the broadcast audience by multichannel, multiplatform television has placed the role of ratings in established business models into question. The hype surrounding the failure of Seven Days suggests that new ways of measuring the audience might include attempts to assess the quality of interaction – rather than numbers. Most of our interviewees have commented on such metrics being a key barrier to multiplatform taking off. Whilst many have argued there needs to be a successful TV programme to fuel a multiplatform success, Seven Days suggests how metrics might move beyond page impressions and ratings, and be seen literally in the text: as viewers shape the unfolding narrative and are rewarded for their multiplatform investment in the series.

In this landscape, a failed TV programme, with less than a million viewers, might be a success if it produces measurably engaging forms of interactivity. As one report in Broadcast commented:

The show, we were told, attracted ten times as many web comments as C4’s next most discussed programme … an interesting signal that multiplatform activity is becoming an important currency in the broadcaster’s ratings metrics … I guarantee this will be purposefully aped by other producers.

Our current research, however, suggests that TV remains the dominant in multiplatform productions. If Seven Days is re-commissioned it might suggest new ways of thinking about multiplatform production in the UK. Give its failure to succeed on TV, this remains a big ‘if’ …


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