How New Media is Changing TV: A New Kind of Storytelling [Part 3]

By Neil Glassman Comment

This guest post is the last in a series of three authored by Lauren Maynard, Director of Research for Room 214, where she leads the agency’s business intelligence practice. Part one looked at shifts in consumer behavior, while part two examined changes in engagement and content delivery.

Follow Maynard’s conversation on Twitter and the Room 214 blog, Capture the Conversation.

Today I’d like to talk about storytelling, an ancient form of communication that is now highly relevant to the convergence of television and new media. I’m specifically referring to transmedia storytelling.

Transmedia is a fairly new term that refers to the act of telling a story on multiple disparate media platforms, often simultaneously. An example of this? A show might be narrated from the point of view of one character, but there might be blogs and Twitter handles from the point of view of other characters.

This concept is central to our understanding of TV. Today, many networks and shows are at odds with the web, as the nature of free and shared content removes the networks’ ability to make advertising dollars. The theory of transmedia storytelling allows us to understand how a network can support an individual show through TV, print, web, and social platforms in a way that drives additional viewership, as well as profit.

In a wonderful talk at MIT’s Future of Entertainment conference, USC Professor Henry Jenkins outlined seven individual characteristics that allow a story to catch hold in this transmedia environment. Proper utilization of characteristics can drive additional, meaningful, user engagement.

  • Drillability – The ability for a story to create “fanatic fandom”, allowing fans to dig deeper and deeper into a story on their own time and through their own efforts
  • Multiplicity – A storyline doesn’t need to be continuous anymore. It can branch out on multiple platforms, with variations in plot and characters proceeding forward and not relating to each other. Example: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as it relates to Pride and Prejudice
  • Immersion/Extractability – At times, we desire to be pulled into the fiction of a plotline, and at times we pull the fiction of the plotline into our own world. Good plots allow viewers to take advantage of this.
  • World Building – Potential for complexity in relationships that force us to chart the geography/relationship of things.
  • Seriality – The story can be told in chunks. You now see strategies in pre-show buildup as part of an overall serial structure. This also allows for a situation where the story in our head can be slightly different than the actual plot.
  • Subjectivity – We can access the viewpoints of different characters through blogs, Twitter handles, and Facebook posts from individual characters or actors.
  • Performance – We take this content, build on it, and play it out in our own life.

To better understand how these seven principles can be put into practice, let’s look at some examples from the past year of television:

Influencer Communities

The Discovery Channel and USA have developed unique influencer communities focused on engaging those most passionate about their network/show. These communities allow for individuals to develop expertise, complete tasks, get points, and gain recognition.

Concepts Used

  • Drillability – You can spend hours completing tasks and gaining points, all of which drive deeper engagement with the network
  • Seriality – The community allows you to unlock additional information about shows, information which you would not know from regular viewing
  • Subjectivity – In these communities, you can read stories and posts from the point of view of different characters

Plot Expansion

AMC manages over 90 Twitter handles related to Mad Men, and used their agency Brand Fiction Factory to take 17 of those handles and enact an entire plot line that was eluded to in-episode, but never actually filmed.

Concepts Used

  • Multiplicity – This Twittersode uncovers a whole story that branches off from, and doesn’t relate back to, the actual plot of the show
  • Immersion – Fans who watched this Twittersode unfold were able to live Tweet and become a part of the concert experience
  • Subjectivity – Again, you experience the plot from the point of view of different characters

What Does This Mean?

Over the past three days, I have discussed how consumers watch TV in many different ways, on multiple different technology platforms, and sometimes on multiple platforms at once. I’ve also taken a look at how networks and advertisers are trying to work with these changes.

The key takeaway is this: Consumers expect TV to be different now. What we call TV only slightly resembles the TV of 1950, and it won’t be long before the current cable-provider model for entertainment delivery becomes irrelevant. As a network, it is of the utmost importance to respond to this consumer expectation, engaging through social platforms and delivering additional show content in unusually and creative way to drive success for shows.

This post uses information taken from a comprehensive study conducted jointly by Room 214 and Crimson Hexagon. Download the full study here.

Room 214 is a social media agency that helps companies connect to the people that matter most, creating value through social experiences that integrate intelligence, social network and mobile technologies.

Crimson Hexagon provides real-time social media monitoring and analysis to brands, agencies, media firms and their partners. The Crimson Hexagon ForSight platform is powered by patent-pending technology developed at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.