July 13, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of July 13, 2007
*Opening Note: Geoffrey Long's 10 Takeaway Concepts for Transmedia Storytelling, Part II of II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Sam Ford on Utilizing the Archives and Soap Operas, Part II of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
This week concludes the series previewing the thesis work of myself and Geoffrey Long, presenting excerpts from both of our recently completed Master's theses.
Geoff's thesis, "Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company," examines these Henson properties in a way to further tease out the transmedia storytelling concepts he has written on many times. A summary of Geoff's thesis is planned for the partners this summer, as well as a full-text version available on C3's Web site. Here, Geoff presents his concluding list of 10 takeaways from his work. The first five concepts were presented last week; the final five will be presented in this week's Opening Note.
My own work looks at As the World Turns as a way to understand how the soap opera is adapting to new media technologies and audience practices. The first part of the excerpt from my thesis looked at how valuable the ATWT archives might be in a Long Tail economy and how history is one of the most important resources for these media properties, if used correctly. Those ideas are further teased out in this concluding piece.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, I was requested by the producers of The Convergence Newsletter to direct anyone interested or involved with C3's work who might be interested in work on convergence in the journalism realm to check out their site at http://www.jour.sc.edu/news/convergence/. For those of you who follow the blog, you'll know that work from The Convergence Newsletter--and the Newsplex at the University of South Carolina which produces it--has popped up in reference to C3 work from time-to-time.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
10 Takeaway Concepts for Transmedia Storytelling, Part II of II
By: Geoffrey Long
The first part of this series appeared as the opening note in last week's C3 Weekly Update. For more on these ideas, see the forthcoming summary of Long's thesis work that will be going up on the exclusive section of the C3 Web site.
6. Determine whether the story's world is open or closed; if it's closed, crack it open. Similar to the hard/soft/chewy classification schema, evaluating a world for its degree of openness to expansion can help to determine the best way to develop new extensions. A more 'open' world is easier to extend, but a closed world often requires one of at least four techniques proposed in my thesis work: ignore the closure, stylistically ignore the closure, change the rules of the closure, or celebrate the closure.
7. Utilize hermeneutic codes, negative capability, and migratory cues to strengthen intertextual bonds between extensions. Transmedia narratives often suffer from an ingrained resistance in audiences to shifting media forms; if someone starts a story in a TV show, they often want to just keep experiencing it as a TV show.
To overcome this inertia, transmedia narratives often have to employ Barthesian hermeneutic codes, negative capability, and Ruppelian migratory cues in order to motivate audiences to follow the intertextual links between extensions. Hermeneutic codes are essentially those components of a narrative that drive audiences forward by raising questions; my thesis proposes six subclasses of hermeneutic codes that can be used to spark audience imaginations: cultural, character, event, geographical, environmental, and ontological.
The ability for the human imagination to fill in these narrative gaps on their own is what poet John Keats called 'negative capability' in 1817; the ability for these gaps to function as directional pointers for intertextual connections is what Marc Ruppel called 'migratory cues' in 2005.
8. Address outstanding questions from other extensions. Storytellers use hermeneutic codes to raise questions in the minds of the audience; their desire to have these questions answered is what drives them forward through the narrative. Questions that remain unanswered in one component of a franchise are often the best starting place for another extension. Analyzing an existing text (or hypotext) for hermeneutic codes can often turn up a number of opportunities for extensions (or hypertext) to add to the audience's encyclopedia of the world.
9. Raise new questions for further expansion. As any good storyteller will confess, the secret to telling good stories is to wrap every answer with even better questions. A good transmedia extension will not only answer questions raised elsewhere in the franchise, but it will also pose a number of its own for future expansions to use. In this manner a good franchise can be extended for decades, and a world can be developed into a rich, well-rounded narrative universe.
10. Look for ways to graphically and systematically display these relationships. Experiencing a transmedia franchise requires, as Jenkins suggests, a 'hunter-gatherer' mindset. Audiences traverse multiple components across multiple media forms, collecting new knowledge that they add to their mental encyclopedias of these fictional worlds. Storytellers need to use careful notes and charts, especially when operating with multiple teams of storytellers on multiple in-franchise projects, to ensure that both continuity and tone remain consistent. Academics can use a similar analytical model to track the relationships between multiple components and keep a record of how these franchises develop.
Producers can commercialize this same model to provide audiences with improved methods for obtaining, collecting and charting components of a franchise, as well as measuring the metrics of how these components are consumed. The development of clear, easy-to-use mapping systems, coupled with clear, easy-to-understand links between extensions, may help transform transmedia entertainment from a geeky pastime into popular mainstream entertainment.
Transmedia storytelling is a rich and exciting new field for all involved -- storytellers, academics, producers, and not least of all, audiences. Whether a franchise is developed as a multibillion-dollar campaign or as an independent project by a single auteur, we are presented with an exciting opportunity to utilize literary theory to shape a new literature for the twenty-first century -- or, at the very least, to tell some truly amazing stories.
Geoffrey Long is a 2007 alumnus of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and of the consortium. He has worked extensively in web production, graphic design, and various forms of storytelling, including audio pieces available through iTunes and his work as editor-in-chief of an occasional journal of literature. He currently works as the communications director for Comparative Media Studies and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Cadillac/Damages Latest Example of FX Single-Sponsor Model. FX continues its string of having season or series premieres sponsored by a single advertiser, commercial-free, with the debut of Glenn Close's new legal drama.
Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show." Sam Ford's concept of immersive story worlds borrows from several underlying concepts, many of which were espoused by late acclaimed television head writer Doug Marland in his ten-point piece, which Ford looks back at here.
Challenges of Measuring Engagement (2 of 2). C3's Eleanor Baird concludes her look at the fallacies of the recent OMD model of engagement measurement by looking at how to measure the success of an advertisement.
Challenges of Measuring Engagement (1 of 2). C3's Eleanor Baird takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in OMD's finding that "one engaged viewer is worth eight regular viewers."
The Sharecroppers of the Digital Age: Remixing and Fair Use. Stealing a phrase from Lawrence Lessig, this post examines how fair use issues continue to crop up in relation to remixing copyrighted material and the lack of autonomy granted to quoting, as well as the lack of distinguishing between quoting and piracy.
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part Two): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford. The second part of this series looks into how to measure fan creativity, gender differences in fan study, and gaps between studies of sports fandom and media fandom.
Congress Talking Censorship, Fairness Doctrine. Two legal discussions have significant implications for the media environment, as the Fairness Doctrine and issues of FCC control of media violence pop back up on the Congressional radar.
What Are the Most Popular Video Sites? Companies Jockey for Position. With new methods of measuring the popularity of Web sites, what might this mean for companies that are competing for top billing in the online video market?
A Look at Recent Writing from Affiliated C3 Thinkers. Look at Henry Jenkins' thoughts on the interaction of C3-related thoughts with the media industry; Jason Mittell's piece on fan activities surrounding The Simpsons Movie; Grant McCracken's writing on the differences between characters and the narratives of the stars who play them; Rob Kozinets' work on experimenting with the nature of academic writing; and Ilya Vedrashko's response to The Cult of the Amateur.
New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape. As TV Guide moves further into online video content, CourtTV becomes truTV, Joost features an early look at a new VH1 show, and Bravo sells ads based on minute-by-minute commercial ratings data, the environment of the contemporary media industry continues to shift.
Nielsen/NetRatings Replaces a Simplistic Model with...Another One. NetRatings moved past the idea of the number of viewers indicating the most popular material online, but they have moved on to replace it with another problematic model, equating time spent on a page with popularity.
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford. C3's Ford and fan scholar C. Lee Harrington share a conversation about issues related to their own work on soap opera fandom, and how it has been somewhat separated to larger conversations of media fandom.
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Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/.
--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Utilizing ATWT's Archives in a Long Tail Economy, Part II of II
By: Sam Ford
A Continued Interest in History
While the few flashbacks and the random episodes from Soap City constitute the historical offerings from ATWT, discussing that history and relating it to today's show is a vibrant part of the fan discussion experience. Consequently, when writers work in logical extensions of that narrative world--such as mentioning characters who are no longer on the show who should be mentioned at certain times--the fans are excited by the reference, applaud the writers for remembering history and maintaining the continuity of the story world, and fill in newer viewers on who the character referenced indeed was.
In that case, when Emma Snyder is out of town and they explain she's visiting daughter Iva and son-in-law Jason, or when a relative from out-of-town sends their well wishes along because he or she cannot attend a funeral or wedding, fans are appreciative. Correspondingly, when that history is ignored, fans are angered, primarily for the break in continuity that Baym and others have noted.
Much fan activity is directed toward tying back-story into the contemporary product, but some posts are blatantly focusing on ATWT of yesteryear, with no ties to the current product.
For instance, on the Media Domain board in November 2005, user Oakdale Oldtimer wrote about finding a copy of a letter she sent to TPTB in 1996 complaining about a character on the show, a model named Zoe, who had primarily been put on the show because of her looks and also to add a minority character. However, most ATWT viewers could not stand Zoe, both because she had no ties to the history of the show and also because both character and actress were deemed terrible by the fan community. Oakdale Oldtimer relates that she sent a list of "The Top Ten Ways that Zoe could Be Written Out of the Show" and that she sent a cross-stitched wall hanging along with it entitled "It's the Relationships, Stupid," based on the Clinton administration economy tagline. Apparently, the head writers were fired soon thereafter and Oakdale Oldtimer received an anonymous package in the mail with the word "stupid" cut out of her wall hanging inside.
Consequently, user Mrs. Ben Harris writes, "It seems that 20 or 25 years ago they wrote more stories with corporate intigue, Lucinda was a villian with layers, people had deliciously covert affairs with secret meetings and sly glances instead of just smacking a spouse in the face with the new lover. [ ... ] Maybe it's just my selective memory, but the stories were written to appeal to an intelligent, thinking audience" (sic).
Mrs. Ben Harris' nostalgia for a former era of the show illustrates the strong desire to view content from that era and a potential way to get former ATWT viewers "back into the fold," at least in actively viewing old content, as well as giving newer fans a way to see these same characters in scenes and stories from the past, considering how many veteran actors and longtime characters ATWT features.
As the World Turns on YouTube
Yet there is a way to see quite a bit of classic As the World Turns content: YouTube. While PGP/TeleVest have been tight-lipped about their plans for releasing ATWT content in any new form, viewers have not been concerned about copyright issues enough to keep from posting the archived content and sharing it with other ATWT fans, especially since the company is doing little with the content thus far. A search for the various tags that clips from the show may be marked with retrieves thousands of clips, both excerpts from the past couple of years as well as chunks of episodes from the past, music videos in tribute to the deceased Benjamin Hendrickson or favorite characters or couples from the show, and a variety of other "classic" scenes that haven't seen official distribution in decades.
Some of the most active ATWT YouTube posters, like OakdaleHistorian, have clips that have been viewed thousands of times. The most popular views are of Luke Snyder's coming out, the tribute to Benjamin Hendrickson, old versions of the ATWT entrance, and various major plot points from the history of the show. Further, fans on the discussion forums often post links to YouTube videos that are relevant to current discussions or that they have just discovered. As Kim Bjarkman writes in "To Have and to Hold: The Video Collector's Relationship with an Ethereal Medium," "Media fandoms work toward this common end to the extent that members feel they have a 'shared culture' to defend and preserve. By treating culturally derided texts as collectibles, fans attach value where dominant society may assign none, seeking legitimacy for texts dismissed as trivial, trashy, bizarre, or altogether forgettable by mainstream audiences."
While PGP has neglected to take advantage of the long tail interest in ATWT up to this point, fans are doing all they can to fill the void themselves from their own tape archives, and PGP has not seemed to have reacted to the posting of that content from their archives.
Potential Models of Distribution
While the market for television series on DVD has exploded, soap operas will likely never be released in full-season sets, simply because there is too much content--approximately 250 episodes per year. However, providing context around the content and grouping that content in relation to characters, actors, storylines, or ties to the contemporary show might give PGP/TeleVest effective ways to market one of their most valuable resources, the show's archives. Since their deal with CBS was merely for first-run distribution only, ATWT has everything to gain from using its archive to a greater degree, and the company could distribute that content through its AOL Classic Soaps channel, video-on-demand, DVD, and a variety of other platforms.
At this point, however, while the company's attempts to explore ways to utilize its archive through products like AOL Classic Soaps indicate a willingness to experiment, PGP/TeleVest have remained strangely silent about plans to use the potentially more profitable ATWT and GL archives. In the meantime, viewers are using YouTube to distribute historical content themselves and message boards to retain a strong and longstanding interest in the history of the show.
At this point, the Classic Soaps blog occasionally brings up the show's history, and ATWT did market a scrapbook on the history of the show back in 1996, as well as the short-lived Soap City offerings, but there have been few other attempts to utilize the show's greatest strength. To remain relevant in a convergence culture, one would think that PGP must make its content archive a central component of its ongoing business model. Further, forming these new business models might help provide alternate forms of distribution for soap operas in the future, such as Passions' planned distribution through DirecTV after its NBC cancellation later this year.
The beginning of this piece served as the closing note of last week's C3 Weekly Update, looking at the depth of ATWT's content archive, as well as existing PGP ventures to take advantage of their soaps content. A summary of this thesis work will be made available to the C3 partners on the site later this summer, and the thesis is available in full at http://cms.mit.edu/research/theses/SamFord2007.pdf.
Sam Ford is currently the Project Manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium, in addition to his role as editor of the C3 Weekly Update and as the primary contributor to the C3 Weblog. He is a 2007 graduate of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and an alumnus of the Convergence Culture Consortium. He is also a weekly columnist for the Ohio County Times-News and a freelance journalist and media consultant.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (email@example.com)
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