Showcase #1: Transmedia Trends and Hypermediacy

Max Dawson writes that we must evaluate the perception that digital shorts reflect “the television industry’s desire to give web viewers what they want” against its prominence as “television promotion”.

One possible means of evaluating a network’s motive for engaging in transmedia activity is to go right to the content itself. Corporations are no strangers to the potential economic affordances of shifting content online, as evidenced through media analyst Charlene Li:

“The advertising dollars are there, so now the sky’s the limit”

Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin coined the term hypermediacy to describe a process whereby the utilisation of a series of mediums creates transparency in viewing a particular text (p. 31). A rise in transmedia storytelling with a focus on promotion can tend to correlate with a heightened false sense of such immediacy – the ‘storytelling’ components of the transmedia content having already been fully divulged in the author text (or traditionally broadcast television series).

24 webseries spin-off The Rookie is exemplary of the shortcomings of a promotion-motivated approach to exploiting transmedia technology. The Rookie exhibits narrational and design elements inherited from its text of origin. Themes of action, espionage and violence as well as more stylistic elements such as a real-time narrational method and use of split-screen to convey simultaneous action are almost as rudimentary in the webseries as they are in 24 (there are clear temporal ellipses in The Rookie that occur over certain edit points). Despite its 24 aesthetic, The Rookie fails to expand on any sort of hyperdiegesis that might have been hinted at in the central text’s plot and altogether avoids penetrating the television show’s major storyline, as Carlos Alberto Scolari discovers:

The Rookie [is] situated a long way from the central axis… [it] includes only some of the characters from the TV show (and not Jack Bauer, the main character).

The hypermediacy of the 24 franchise (across mediums such as video games, comics and novels) offers immediacy in that its presentation across all platforms is in some way informed by the television show. In some cases, the peripheral texts have even addressed crucial hyperdiegeses that satisfy audiences who look to such content for greater access to hidden parts of the story world. Having played through the video game 24: The Game, I learned an account of events occurring between seasons 2 and 3 of the show that resolve or expand on a number of the main story’s key arcs. For instance, a villain named Max, who briefly appeared at the end of 24‘s second season and never featured in the series again, features as a primary antagonist in the video game. It can be argued that transmedia consumers of 24 content “process representations from different media and languages and reconstruct more extensive areas of the fictional world” (Scolari, p. 597). While this can be said of transmedia consumers of the 24 video game, The Rookie barely adds to the canvas of 24‘s “fictional world” but instead appeals to our desire for time-efficient consumption of content.

In every manifestation, hypermediacy makes us aware of the medium or media and (in sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious ways) reminds us of our desire for immediacy.
– Bolter and Grusin

The Rookie appeals to 24 viewers not only by emulating the series’ narrative style but by making its key themes (action, violence, counter-terrorism, etc.) accessible in a self-contained narrative within a comparatively smaller video format. Some of the vital experiences gained from watching an 42 minute-long episode of 24 are suddenly available in a video less than an eighth of the 24 episode’s length. On one level, hypermediacy is offering immediacy through the multiple platforms that capture 24‘s narrative style, while certain mediums themselves (in this case: YouTube) extend this immediacy to an audience who are required to give up less resources than if they solely rely on the author text.

The Rookie could in part be considered a charitable effort from 24 producers catering for mobile audiences who have little time to dedicate to watching entire series’ of 24 (24 episodes of 42 minutes=1008 minutes. The duration of the first season of The Rookie is roughly a hundredth of this). However, when analysed alongside webisode series Dexter Early Cuts (a program I’ve thoroughly examined in an earlier post), The Rookie‘s presence as a promotional stunt is made more obvious. First, I’ll summarise the distinction between the ways in which these texts approach the expansion of their author texts’ narrative worlds. Scolari would categorise The Rookie as a “peripheral story” in that it has a “weak relationship to the macrostory”. On the other hand, Dexter Early Cuts presents “interstitial microstories” that “enrich the diegetic world” in its distinctness as a prequel to the first season of Dexter. Dedicating a couple of minutes more to episode duration, the writers of Dexter Early Cuts revamp the visual style of Dexter and explore hyperdiegeses referred to in the Showtime series. The viewer’s attention is focused on plot points “worthy of analysis”, allowing for “close readings” between the webseries and its author text (Dawson, p. 19). That the webseries is written by Dexter writer, Tim Schlattmann, and features the voice of Michael C. Hall shows a commitment to offering inspiring content that appeals to the consumer and demonstrates how hypermediacy can enrich a television series’ story world as opposed to offering up the type of intertextual redundancies exhibited in The Rookie.

‘Dexter Early Cuts’ strives to please where ‘The Rookie’ doesn’t by integrating its plot with the core text’s storyline.

Though we can criticise The Rookie for its shortcomings and commercially-driven design, it does render the 24 franchise accessible to a wider, more mobile and multitasking audience. The story world of 24 is made no more immediate to us by the webseries, but the rate at which we are introduced to and digest its narrational style is made rapid. Hypermedia will, to some degree, inevitably facilitate consumption of a television series’ story or style when transmedia technology is being utilised. The consumer is offered a palette of mediums that they can liberally choose from in painting their own interpretation of the core text, as Frank Rose indicates:

“How do you tell a story across a variety of different media? Deep media puts the focus on the goal: To enable members of the audience… to delve into a story at any level of depth they like, to immerse themselves in it”

– Bolter, J; Grusin, R: Remediation: Understanding New Media, ‘Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation’. MIT Press, 2001. p. 31
– Dawson, M: Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short Pp 1-12. Viewed Oct 10, 2012.
– Loads, M: ‘Transmedia Trends: Extended Narrative or Advertising in disguise?’, Lecture/Class, RMIT University, unpublished. 2012.
– Scolari, C.A: Transmedia Storytelling: Implicit Consumers, Narrative Worlds, and Branding in Contemporary Media Production. Pp 594 – 598. Viewed Oct 10, 2012.

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