July 6, 2007

Weekend of July 06, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Geoffrey Long's 10 Takeaway Concepts for Transmedia Storytelling, Part I of II

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Sam Ford on Utilizing the Archives and Soap Operas, Part I of II

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

This week launches two new content series, both to preview the thesis work completed by two C3 alum, myself and Geoffrey Long.

Geoff's thesis was entitled "Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company," and he uses Henson properties as a way to further tease out the transmedia storytelling concepts he has presented at various points over the past two years in his work for C3 and elsewhere. The first of this two part series, which appears as this week's Opening Note, comes from the conclusion of his thesis, where he presents 10 takeaways from his study. A summary of Geoff's thesis will be made available to C3 partners this summer, and a full-text version of the thesis will be available online.

My thesis used Procter & Gamble/TeleVest/CBS soap opera As the World Turns as a case study of how one of television's oldest and most unique genres is adapting to new audience practices and media technologies. Here, I present portions of a chapter on how ATWT is and should be taking advantage of their archives, tying into my recent white paper on how WWE capitalized on fan archiving and related activities and impulses. These excerpts will be concluded as the closing note in next week's Weekly Update.

Speaking of the recent white paper, entitled "Fandemonium," a physical copy was recently sent to each of the partners, and an electronic version of the white paper is available in the partners-only section of the C3 Web site. We look forward to any feedback you might have on the research and the potential discussion and work that we hope it will be a catalyst for.

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 samford@mit.edu.

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

10 Takeaway Concepts for Transmedia Storytelling, Part I of II

By: Geoffrey Long

"Well," he said, "we've gone far. We could have gone further still, but we have gone far. It's only the beginning of what it could be. But that's something, anyway."
- James Lord, A Giacometti Portrait

As transmedia storytelling comes into its own, what are the key ideas that storytellers, academics and producers alike should keep in mind? I aim to cover a lot of ground and flesh out these concepts in greater detail through my thesis, but here I provide ten takeaway concepts to both give some idea of the themes explored my thesis and to assist in future explorations of transmedia storytelling.

1. A good transmedia extension should make a distinct and valuable contribution to the franchise as a whole. In its purest form, a transmedia franchise engages in transfiction, wherein the first chapter is told in one media type, then leads straight into a second chapter in a second media type, which then cliffhangers straight into a third chapter in a third media type.

More common is a 'looser', often more practical notion of transmedia, where each extension can stand on its own as an individual narrative. While the bonds between these extensions may not be as immediate as in transfiction, each one nevertheless enriches the audience's experience with the rest of the franchise. For example, The World of the Dark Crystal fleshes out the back-story behind The Dark Crystal, and Enter the Matrix fills in some of the narrative gaps left open by The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

2. Extensions of a transmedia story should stay in canon. Being optional is bad. If we consider the story of a transmedia narrative to be the sum total of all the components in the franchise, then an extension's value is often directly proportionate to how well it adds to the story - the encyclopedia of the world - that audiences are building in their heads. Stories told outside of canon can be highly entertaining (as in the DC Elseworlds comics or fan fiction), but since they're not a part of the same narrative universe, their content is apocryphal at best and confusing at worst.

3. A transmedia story is often the story of a world. A truly successful transmedia narrative often spans multiple casts of characters, as evidenced by Star Wars, Star Trek and even The Matrix. The primary characters of Enter the Matrix are secondary characters from the trilogy of films; nevertheless, the story told in the game has a significant and lasting impact upon the development of their world.

Similarly, the majority of the animated Star Wars: Clone Wars series takes place before Luke Skywalker is ever born, but it still enriches our experience of the original trilogy by telling us more about the history of that world. The story of the original Star Wars trilogy may be Luke's, but the story of the Star Wars franchise as a whole is the epic history of the Jedi, the Old Republic, the Empire, the Alliance... n other words, the story of their world. A good transmedia author will make his world a primary character in his story.

4. Extensions of a transmedia story should maintain the tone of the world. Just as the world is the real primary character of a large transmedia franchise, a break in the tone of the world from one extension to the other is just as disruptive as a break in the tone of a character.

An audience's suspension of disbelief is strained if a hero is portrayed as cheerful and giddy in chapter one but sullen and moody in chapter two with no explanation for the change. Inexplicably changing the tone of the world from optimistic to pessimistic or from horrific to slapstick from one extension to another will be just as problematic, if not more so.

5. It is important to consider when the decision was made to transmediate a story. When evaluating a transmedia franchise, it's important to consider when the transmediation began. If a story wasn't intended to spawn other stories, then it might have been written as a 'closed' world and later extensions may feel artificial.

Academics may want to differentiate between hard, soft, and chewy transmedia franchises in order to more accurately evaluate their implementation. Storytellers and producers working on transmedia franchises may want to keep this distinction in mind when either beginning a new project or joining an existing one to determine the difficulty of adding further extensions.

For more on these concepts, see the forthcoming summary of Geoff's thesis and the full-text version of his work. The remaining five takeaways from Geoff's work will be presented as the Opening Note in next week's Weekly Update.

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 -----------

The West Side, Urban Westerns, and Independent Distribution. This independently produced 12-part series is running through a Web site, as the latest example of a serialized story told through video and distributed online. Will an urban western succeed as an Internet serial?

Digital Cinema and HD DVDs Expected to Experience Significant Growth by 2011. PricewaterhouseCoopers' new study focuses on the expected huge growth in digital cinema and the implications for video rental, theater distribution, and a variety of other factors.

AOL Video/AOL News Relaunches Emphasize AOL's Continuing Emphasis on Content. As AOL continues to move more solidly into video content distribution, the company remodels its video site and AOL News, to mixed reviews.

NBCU Folding Its Online Syndication Network into New Site with News Corp. As the company prepares for the launch of its co-created "new site," NBCU looks to move its existing relationships into the new project.

Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks. The issues related to gated content written about on the C3 blog several times are compared to the benefits of walled gardens, particularly in using Facebook as an example, that Steve Bryant wrote of recently.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI. The conclusion of this six-part series examines what the Tom Hughes character, and the soap genre in general, can tell us about long-term engagement with a text and the difficulties with understanding the subtleties and engagement many viewers have with a soap opera narrative for those without the complicated background that these characters and texts bring along with them.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI. The fifth part of this series looks at the longest duration any actor has played the Hughes role on ATWT and what Scott Holmes' portrayal of the character has brought to the role over the last 20 years.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI. The fourth part of this series looks at the phenomenon known as the Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome and the early trajectory of the Tom Hughes character.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI. This post looks at the uniqueness of the soap opera text and the Tom Hughes character on ATWT in particular, with 13 actors playing the part since childhood.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI. This post looks at As the World Turns and what sets both the show's history and the contemporary product apart as a particularly important text in television history.

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI. In preparation for Sam Ford's upcoming gender and fan studies guest posts on Henry Jenkins' blog with Lee Harrington regarding their soap opera research, he shares here the draft of an essay presented at this year's Popular Culture Association conference on some unique aspects of soap opera texts.

What Do People Do with Their Technology? Looking at a recent study by Jan Chipchase, this post emphasizes the importance in realizing the ways in which technologies are adopted in the everyday lives of their users and what this means for those interested in media industry research.

--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------

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 I of II

By: Sam Ford

The strongest attribute of the ATWT narrative is its longevity, and the transgenerational nature of the As The World Turns fan base. Since ATWT has been on the air for more than 51 years now, the show has legions of former viewers from previous generations that may not be as interested in the contemporary product but might watch the shows from their past if they could be reached and marketed to and especially if material could be packaged and contextualized in meaningful ways, rather than just airing every episode from the archive in its entirety.

The potential value in this archive leads to a logical business model which directly integrates the available content from more than 50 years on the air. This piece looks at how PGP is currently utilizing its vast soap opera archive, how viewers hang on to that history, and ways in which viewers adapt to a lack of "classic" ATWT content from PGP. In an environment in which new media technologies allow a variety of new distribution opportunities for archived content, ATWT's massive content archive presents new possibilities for ancillary revenue streams.

Making Sense of the Content Mountain

ATWT aired for 30 minutes per day from 1956 until the mid-1970s, when it switched to one hour per day. In that case, the show has aired more content in a year than most primetime shows air in an entire series run. If all of that content were archived and available for use, the show would have a tremendous wealth of footage to draw from. Of course, that archive does not completely exist. For many years, the shows aired live every day, and footage from the early years of ATWT is likely scarce. Few know exactly what does exist in the archive, however, because PGP has done little to publicly utilize that available footage, other than occasional flashback clips that have aired on the show in video montages or anniversary episodes.

However, if even a fraction of that content had been archived, and assuming that content from the past 25 years has been archived without interruption, the show has a wealth of footage available. While ratings today are lower than in previous decades, much of the footage available in that archive aired with higher ratings than the show airing today.

The proliferation of television viewing choices, the rise of women in the workforce, and the O.J. Simpson trial have all contributed to these changes, but the fact remains that most soap operas may have more prodigal children who could potentially be part of a market for this archive content than current viewers. Further, since there is no syndication and no off-season, many of these popular episodes only aired once, never to be seen again, unless a viewer happened to archive the episode and add it to his/her tape collection.

The only utilization of the ATWT tape library aside from international syndication and flashbacks within the text of the show was a short-term deal with the Web site Soap City, where episodes could be viewed on a pay-per-download basis, supplemented by occasional "classic" shows. ATWT episodes were available on SoapCity for a couple of years, starting in 2003.

While several shows have signed distribution deals with Disney-owned cable channel SOAPnet to air classic episodes or time shift episodes to show the day's daytime shows in primetime, ATWT has never appeared on SOAPnet. Meanwhile, the cable channel supplements its time-shifting of popular soap operas with airing some classic soap opera content. Currently, though, more of their lineup is currently devoted to "primetime soaps" such as Dallas, The O.C., and Beverly Hills 90210, as well as original series such as General Hospital: Night Shift.

The fan community surrounding SOAPnet consistently debates the balance between incorporating original and primetime shows with the soap operas that the original SOAPnet lineup were built around and particularly whether these primetime shows are really "soap operas." SOAPnet is interested in drawing a substantial 18-49 female audience, and shows like AW may be a little too "long tail" to be a long-term staple for a fairly popular linear cable narrative, especially since the airing of these classic soaps were primarily shows that have since been cancelled, rather than classic episodes of soap opera franchises still in operation.

P&G Classic Soaps Channel

One product that has been made available through Procter & Gamble is the P&G Classic Soaps Channel launched through AOL and available through the AOL Video player. The channel capitalizes on the wealth of content P&G has in its archives from shows that are no longer on the air, such as Search for Tomorrow, Another World, The Edge of Night, and Texas, a spin-off of Another World. While former fans--or contemporary fans looking back to the old content--may be well served with the Classic Soaps offerings, the show offers little for fans of ATWT and Guiding Light.

The only content featured on P&G Classic Soaps of great interest to fans of these shows is behind-the-scenes footage, promotional trailers, and other products aimed at the contemporary product, which make no use of the archive. The network also features an original digital exclusive story called Released, presented by Dawn, which tells the story of a mother-and-daughter team saving birds caught in a deadly oil spill.

On the other hand, PGP has launched a corresponding PGP Classic Soaps Blog which makes much better use of looking at the show's history, including content-related posts sharing pictures and stories from intriguing moments from the past and occasionally tying them into current storylines, as well as features from outside the fictional world such as catching up with former ATWT and GL actors. The posts are written by an anonymous PGP employee, most of them to announce news or update fans on the current whereabouts of former PGP actors.

The blog does not contain a significant amount of conversation, although there are occasionally comments posted by fans. PGP Classic Soaps has developed some brand awareness among soap fans. With enough episodes being digitized and improved for distribution from cancelled series like Another World (AW aired on SOAPnet, as one of the only P&G shows the cable network carried, but the show has recently been eliminated from the schedule), one would think the company is preparing its ATWT archive for these distribution channels as well, but fans are not quite sure why the content is not being made available elsewhere.

The conclusion to this piece will be presented in the Closing Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update, 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 (samford@mit.edu)

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