Social Media and the Future of Transmedia Storytelling

I was obsessed with Iron Man and used to buy Iron Man everything: T-shirt, pencil case, poster, collector’s DVD, etc. However, prior to the release of the first Iron Man movie, I had no interest in Iron Man as a Marvel comic book character. Falling into this abyss of Iron Man worship only started when Marvel Cinematic Universe was established and produced the first movie of the Iron Man franchise. It was interesting for me to see how this particular story and character portrayed in a different medium (movie) left such big impact, whereas other previous mediums (comic books, games, etc) did not impress me at all. I could feel that approach of telling stories varied with each medium, but at that time I did not know what it exactly was. I simply thought it was just the presence and charm of Robert Downey Jr that made Iron Man the movie stood out.

This week, our class explores the layers of process behind media franchising and the doubt from my teenage years were answered. Derek Johnson, the author of Media Franchising, Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries (Postmillennial Pop) explores different aspects that go into media and culture franchising from licensing, spin-offs, global formatting practices, to co-creation and co-production.

Why is media franchising crucial to the entertainment industry in general? Shouldn’t we focus on more original creation of artistic and cinematic works rather than developing spin-offs from previous entertainment products? In fact, in December last year, Mashable accounted that franchises dominated the film industry in 2013. Thus, we have come to observe an ever-increasing dominance of franchised films and products. Derek Johnson cites a notion from Henry Jenkins to explain this tendency. He reasons: “the best example of this kind of imaginative power lies in Jenkins’ similar definitions of “transmedia storytelling,” now increasingly disseminated and circulated by industry practitioners and frequently deployed to make sense of media franchising practices.” (Johnson 72). Henry Jenkins explains this practice as:

We have entered an era of media convergence that makes the flow of content across multiple media channels almost inevitable. The move toward digital effects in film and the improved quality of video game graphics means that it is becoming much more realistic to lower production costs by sharing assets across media. Everything about the structure of the modern entertainment industry was designed with this single idea in mind-the construction and enhancement of entertainment franchises. (Jenkins)

Thus, the reason why media franchising is so crucial is because it is the result of media convergence that involves the interconnection of information and communications technologies and computer networks that allow content move faster across channels. The idea of networked sharing is also mentioned in Johnson’s argument that:

The media franchise of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has constituted and been constituted by the shared exchange of content resources across multiple industrial sites and contexts of production operating in collaborative but contested ways through networked relation to one another (Johnson, 6)

As networked and sharing among mediums play a major role in media franchising nowadays, it is also important to note the interconnected relationship between media franchising and the three C’s of media convergence: computing, communication, and content. As I was reading this book, I kept having the question of how digital technology, or more precisely, social media, has transformed the landscape of franchising. Is social media a new platform for storytelling? How does the transition from a traditional medium of storytelling such as film, or comic book, or novel interact with that in social media? Johnson also highlights the importance of “increasing industrial focus on niche groups and their social capacity for participation” (6) and that:

(…) the participatory consumers of contemporary social media too might be considered stakeholders, lacking economic claim, but developing a wide range of interests and sometimes even performing labor as part of the economic organization of franchise production (7)

This makes me think of the revival of The Muppets to prepare for the theatrical release of the franchise’ film in 2011 and the upcoming second settlement. It is interesting to see how media convergence has played a major role in making the content of the original 1955 show and characters move across mediums and more importantly, how digital marketing and social media have offered our almost-60-year-old friends a platform to develop a more modern, digital approach to storytelling.

Viral digital marketing started out 2 years before the release of the film, creating a buzz on various social media platforms to connect fans, make them spread the words and offer them a place to discuss and participate in the creation of the film (producers certainly took notes from fans’ reactions after the epic cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Other social channels also ask for fans’ participation:

Google Hangout

Twitter

Two weeks ago, to prepare for the second film of the franchise, The Muppets Most Wanted, The Muppets studio release a series of trailers featuring actual tweets from Twitters users in regards to the film. The sassy Internet tone of these tweets certainly add a whole new dimension to the movie, and it is also an approach to storytelling that would not be available without digital technology.

Thus, in this digital, networked age, I would argue that the real power of storytelling and the real key to success for any franchise, is participatory culture. The barriers between traditional mediums such as movie, games, novel, comic books are blurred, as the new “transmedia” in transmedia storytelling, to me, lies between the franchise and the Internet, or in other words, between the producers and the culture consumers. I want to use this illustration I found to end this post:

The real key to a franchise’s success is indeed to make it “out of the screen, into my world”. It is the long-term integration in the audience’s life that eventually leads to the audience’s active engagement commitment and participation with the franchise that matters. It is the same case for me and Iron Man. The franchised films’ storytelling power has forever left a tremendous impact on me, and now I am one of those people who go around and post Iron Man’s and The Avengers’ news and trailers on every social media platform available. 

Works cited:

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling.” MIT Technology Review, . http://www.technologyreview.com/news/401760/transmedia-storytelling/

Johnson, Derek . Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries (Postmillennial Pop). NYU Press, 2013.

Warren, Christina. “Mashable.” How Social Media Revived The Muppets, http://mashable.com/2011/11/20/muppets-social-campaign/ (accessed).

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