The Digital Convergence of Producing and Distributing a Television Series
In today’s world it is hard to avoid the ever-changing landscape of digital convergence amongst media platforms. This essay attempts to demonstrate the digital convergence of producing and distributing a television series with the introduction of the Internet and other digital platforms, starting with an explanation of the terminology of convergence and digitisation. “Television is changing in ways that make it increasingly difficult to consider linear broadcasting in isolation from other modes of distribution to audiences, such as the Internet and mobile” (Doyle, 2010). Television has now become a multiplatform, transmedia story-telling device and television broadcasters are using these new digitised mediums to cross-promote their content. Television has become more than just a small screen experience. It has become a participative, social, fantasy world for fans and users with multiple opportunities for television broadcasters to expand their viewership. As audiences embrace the additional choice, control and opportunities for participation offered by the Internet and mobile connectivity, television broadcasters scramble to deliver new content that flows over to these new digital distribution channels. With this comes the issue of cost versus revenue in the creation of extra content for the multiplatform television arena (Doyle, 2010).
What is Convergence?
Convergence is the relationship between the existing analogue technologies, media industries, their markets, genres and target audiences with new digital distribution methods (Jenkins, 2004). “[It] is an umbrella term that refers to the new textual practices, branding and marketing strategies, industrial arrangements, technological synergies, and audience behaviours enabled and propelled by the emergence of digital media” (Kackman, 2011). Convergence has created a highly interactive, participatory environment, generating a “collective intelligence” of communities that can alter the meaning of commercial media (Kackman, 2011). With the blurring of the lines between the consumer and producer, convergence of television media has opened a new source of information and stream of media text that need to be created to support mainstream television broadcasting, impacting on the way everybody consumes the television medium.
What is Digitisation?
Digitisation refers to the mode of distribution used by television broadcasters to adapt to the convergence of television to digital platforms. “The development of digital electronic systems has profoundly changed the way information is captured, processed, stored and shared” (Borthwick, n.d). Technologies have improved over the past decades from colour television, to video tape recorder, to DVDs, BluRays and video streaming online. All these forms of distribution have altered the television industry in some way. “It is becoming much more realistic to lower production costs by sharing assets across [digital] media” (Jenkins, 2003). Digital content can be distributed over networks, through Peer to Peer (P2P) sharing services or online stores, such as iTunes, free from the costs and constraints associated with the creation and distribution of physical copies (Borthwick, n.d). With digital formats of video content, this also allows for the consumer to also become the producer. Consumers can remix digital content to retell stories with digitally available video on the Internet and repost the remixed content on free social media sites, such as Youtube, giving audiences a more participationary experience.
Effects on Producing and Distributing a Television Series
“New digital technologies, and new appropriations of existing technologies, have made transmedia exploitation by producers and distributors virtually instantaneous” (Kackman, 2011). Transmedia storytelling is enhancing the story or plot of a television series across multiple platforms. “In a world with many media options, consumers are choosing to invest deeply in a limited number of franchises rather than dip shallowly into a larger number” (Jenkins, 2003). Television producers use the multi-platform approach in creating their series and planning their storylines to overflow to other areas, such as merchandise, music soundtracks, games, books and other tangible items, along with creating extra material for DVD sales, mini webisodes (mini episodes of a television series, especially made for online consumption) and trailers for teasers on internet channels. They create fictional locations and make characters seem real by creating blogs, wiki’s etc to create a “buzz” and sense of truth to a story. Each overflowed medium does what it does best and can be self-contained enough to be consumed without having to have had experienced the others (Jenkins, 2003).
The television industry has had to adapt to the convergence of digital technology. “With growing use of the internet and of multi-media devices, and with more and more media content now available on multiple platforms, it is widely accepted that convergence has actually arrived” (Doyle, 2010). Many television broadcasters have responded to digital convergence of content by approaching the production of a television series with multi-platform strategies (Doyle, 2010). Multi-platform is the distribution of content across multiple mediums, such as social media networks, blogs, P2P, on demand video streaming through websites, and traditional methods such as scheduled broadcast television and DVD distribution. “Multi-platform distribution revolves around reuse of existing content across additional digital platforms, for example supplying linear television content online or via mobile devices. Another involves modification of existing output (e.g. re-editing) or adding additional layers of content” (Doyle, 2010). Audiences now expect the many extra features that digital convergence offers them from time-shifted channels, to on demand viewing, webisodes and online engagement with actors and creators of a television series through instant messaging services.
The digital convergence of television can be summed up with three simple words… fewer, bigger, better (Doyle, 2010). These three words echo across the television industry. Producers do not necessarily need to produce more content to fill the void of multi-platform television. “Doing less but being more cost effective because you’re able to sweat that content across so many different platforms and you’re getting longevity out of it” (Doyle, 2010). This reuse and re-versioning of their content into new digital multi-platforms yields additional consumption, even capturing the younger market for older television series aired before digital distribution became the norm. (Doyle, 2010).
With digital convergence of television distribution brings with it increasing opportunities of cross-media promotions and advertising. Cross-promotion refers to any way a media outlet promotes their own interests across other platforms whether its promotion on other television channels or other media outlets such as newspapers, which are owned by the same company. Cross-media promotions can also refer to the joint promotion of content involving two or more companies. (Hardy, 2010). There are multiple ways in which cross-promotion of broadcast television occurs. “The first is designated media advertising, that is advertising that is recognisable as such and which is usually subject to regulations governing form, content and placement. The other forms are sponsorship; cross-promotion through merchandising and licensing; product placement and brand integration; advertorials; channel/programme promotions: self-promotions and cross-promotion; editorial (or ‘in-programme’) self-promotion; editorial cross-promotion” (Hardy, 2010). Majority of cross-promotion is motivated by the need for broadcasters to retain their audience loyalty and to create identities for off-shoot channels aimed for a specific target market. (Hardy, 2010). For example Channel 9’s GEM and GO digital channels.
The creators of the cult series True Blood have adopted the idea of digital convergence in the creation of their content and building an audience following. HBO (the broadcaster that invested in this series) had invested heavily in creating transmedia storytelling content for this series through cross-media promotion, both online and offline, and social media engagement. True Blood’s transmedia storytelling stretched across HBOs websites, on demand video streaming services, fan sites, blogs, social media networks, print, guerilla marketing, mobile marketing, television commercials, viral video campaigns and merchandising. The series took the overflow of storytelling “across the various branded and co-branded elements, including that of producer, actors, visual images used across marketing, and sound, notably the music tracks used in promos and show” (Hardy, 2011).
The audience is the clear winner in the realm of digital convergence, but as content moves towards digital distribution and the demand for more content is requested from fans, broadcasters are feeling the pressure to produce extra content to support the core text of a television series. The findings in Gillian Doyle’s From Television to Multi-platform (2010) shows that broadcast television channels are “no longer confined to a linear schedule, the total universe of content properties on offer from television companies may now, theoretically at least, be used and enjoyed much more fully by audiences than ever before.” (Doyle, 2010). Audiences expect the extra services and features that digital convergence has made possible, such as on demand streaming, portable connectivity on mobile devices and instant messaging engagement with creators and actors. With television converging to digital distribution, reusing, remixing and re-versioning content has become cheaper, easier, and can reach audiences across the globe faster than traditional distribution. The audience can become more engrossed in a television series by exploring, chatting, and creating their own content for their favourite show and sharing it with others from all over the world. Television producers create a series with transmedia story-telling strategies at the forefront, and also incorporate cross-media promotion to generate a following before a series airs on broadcast television. An example of digitally converged cross-media promotion is the use of social media networks. They act as digital ‘word of mouth’ viral campaigns, making promotion of a new series easier, cheaper and more effective. The effect of digital convergence for the television industry can be summed up with three simple words. “Fewer, bigger, better.” (Doyle, 2010).
Borthwick, M. (n.d). What is Digitisation (Analogue vs Digital). Curriculum Corporation – Video Research Project Retrieved 1st July, 2012, from http://www1.curriculum.edu.au/videoresearch/digitise.htm
Doyle, G. (2010). From Television to Multi-Platform : Less from More or More for Less? Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(4), 431-450.
Hardy, J. (2010). Cross-Media Promotion: Peter Lang.
Hardy, J. (2011). Mapping commercial intertextuality: HBO’s True Blood. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 17(1), 7-17.
Jenkins, H. (2003). Transmedia Storytelling. Technology Review Retrieved 20th June, 2012, from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/401760/transmedia-storytelling/
Jenkins, H. (2004). The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(33), 33-43.
Kackman, M. (2011). Flow TV: Television in the Age of Media Convergence Taylor & Francis, 2011.