A Shift Across the Narrative Continuum (Part 1)

28Nov08

5 years ago when I was in grad school, my media theory professor proclaimed that “years from now you’re going to remember me as the old lady yakking on about something called convergence”. I was intrigued. Then and there I decided to work this into my career somehow. Although I wasn’t quite sure how as this very process of convergence – the merging of television, internet, and radio – was and still is unfolding before our eyes.

This merging of mediums distinctly affects how we receive media from both a technological standpoint and an experiential one. Given the growing advantage of communicating easily and directly between viewers via mobile technology and the internet, the experience is no longer passive.

The other afternoon as I waited in line to pick up dry cleaning (mine, not someone else’s thankyouverymuch) I caught a few scenes of an old episode of Married with Children. The show seemed so dated and not just because of Marcy D’arcy’s wacky hairdos. The script plodded along and lacked the jumpy camera shots, asides, and irreverent dialogue that we’ve come to expect from reality shows and newer sitcoms like 30 Rock and Arrested Development that seamlessly weave multiple characters, story-lines and alternate visual scenes.

Narrative has evolved past traditional mis-en-scene on a studio set with scripted dialogue. With the advancement of technology it allows not only backchannel conversation about a show but also sets a stage for supplemental original content and conversation (there are also tremendous marketing opportunities here of which I’ll touch upon in another post).

The second season of AMC’S Mad Men that just wrapped a few weeks ago incorporated the micro-blogging tool Twitter to further the viewing experience by allowing a viewer – or simply the curious – to engage in direct dialogue with each of the main characters. Twitter updates from the so-called characters (called “brand-ambassadors”) provide bonuses like tiny updates throughout the day like what the character may be doing on a given day and what his or her thoughts are on relationships with the other characters. You can even send direct messages to your favorite character and receive a message back.

This season I followed Don Draper, Betty Draper, Peggy Olson, Roger Sterling, and Ken Cosgrove. One evening I fell asleep watching an episode and awoke to notice that Betty Draper was following me on Twitter. If that’s not spooky enough, I Twittered about the experience and almost immediately received a response from Betty: “I hoped it’d be a nice surprise, I didn’t mean to scare you, I’m sorry.”

In Australia a show called OZ Girl is slated to launch January 12th, becoming Australia’s “first social web show”. The show streams online only and encourages fans to participate by interacting directly with the main character on Facebook, Twitter, and email.

By paving the way for this non-linear narrative between television and the internet, a stronger bond is created between the viewer and the brand.

The viewer becomes an empowered fan with the ability to learn more about the characters identity, participate in dialog surrounding last night’s episode on chat rooms, buy music heard on the show, leave comments, stream b-rolls or supplementary content, and share media with friends.

For the content creator this provides almost instantaneous feedback. It also allows direct marketing opportunities, more of which I’ll touch on in a later post. As a viewer, the show becomes increasingly integrated into my lifestyle. I can watch and participate how, when, and where I want to – and this seems to be where we’re headed.

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