Law in the Internet Society
-- PaigePavone - 14 Oct 2014

Why We Should Be Wary of Transmedia and Multiplatform Storytelling

Transmedia or multiplatform storytelling is an entertainment structure in which one story unfolds via several different technologies – internet, television, tablet apps, smartphone apps, etc. Transmedia stories differ from stories told completely through one medium (e.g., television) with supplemental content on other platforms (e.g., website). Transmedia storytelling only allows audiences to access the full story by visiting multiple platforms – watching the television program alone, for example, would be insufficient. Particularly among children’s entertainment, transmedia storytelling is becoming a popular choice for producers – endangering already tenuous concepts of quality content and privacy.

Complete Attention Capture

In our world of incessant attention-snatching stimuli, producers transmedia entertainment intend for it to dominate the audience’s attention at every level. We can understand this as vertical and horizontal capture – attention-stealing both over time, and within one moment.

Vertical Capture

Over time, transmedia storytelling captures audience attention because there is never a moment when the audience is physically removed from the story. When the audience is in front of the television, the story appears; when the audience is commuting with tablets on their laps, the story appears; and so on. Story content is so abundant that it fills all these platforms, and due to the essence of transmedia storytelling, the audience must access the story on all these platforms as the content is created. Wherever the audience looks, the story is present.

Horizontal Capture

In one moment, too, transmedia storytelling can dominate audience attention. Producers specifically create simultaneous content. Thus, even passive forms of entertainment are paired with either more passive forms of entertainment or misleadingly active forms of entertainment, yielding such saturated passive activities that there is no room for audience reflection or audience identity.

Benefits to Producers

The Manufactured Obsession and the Demise of Quality

Because audiences of transmedia storytelling consistently consume content, they are effectively on a binge. Binging relies on the momentum of consumption – the binge comes to a halt if the binger stops and reflects on the harm and illogic of the binging behavior. (“Binge watching” is even a trending term – when content is dumped on audiences with the expectation to consume it all at once.) Transmedia storytelling does not allow the audience to stop and reconsider its incessant consumption, allowing the producer to manufacture an obsession – and the object of the obsession need not be of high quality since the obsession is a product of form and not of content. There is no need to wait for a stellar franchise like Harry Potter or Star Wars to come around when producers can artificially induce obsessions through overstimulation of cheap, low-quality content.

Harm to Consumers

No Opportunity to Look Inward

With the socially acceptable culture of incessant and multiplatform consumption, consumers never have an opportunity to look inward. Both eyes and hands engage with the content on television sets and tablets, and the consumer has no opportunity to intelligently evaluate the behavior.

Bundled Entertainment

Since each piece of technology consumers own contain the story, nothing is sacred – every device is an entertainment center. Increasingly, then, spare moments in which we seek entertainment – previously understood as the reality of boredom – become opportunities to seek transmedia stories – whether or not it is an appropriate time to access such entertainment.

Eradication of Public and Private, Reality and Fiction

With the incessant ability to access characters and stories on every platform, the line between reality and fiction blurs. As this line blurs, so does the line between the private and public spheres. The blurring of this line is particularly dangerous because it increases consumer comfort level with the eradication of privacy. As consumers continue to welcome fiction/the public sphere into their most private moments (unaware that this is a result of manipulation and not a real choice), they will lose sense of the meaning of a private moment.

Complete Tracking

One of the most unnerving aspects of transmedia storytelling is its ability to track audiences at a highly sophisticated level. Unlike a television set that at most has a Nilsson box that logs which audiences tune in, stories that cross digital platforms know can log when you are home, when you are at work, when you are in transit, etc. With data collection, producers can know your exact patterns of consumption and exploit that to ensure audiences consume even more.

The Particular Vulnerability of Children

Another big fear of transmedia storytelling is its effect on children. Because of the ease and frequency with which children interact with technology, particularly smartphones and tablets, producers often employ transmedia storytelling for young audiences. Thus, all the concerns transmedia storytelling pose for adults, disproportionately affect children. And if children grow up consuming content through transmedia storytelling, there will be no reverting to single platform media, and this will be the new standard in entertainment.

What to do

Legally, the most effective tool against the dangers of transmedia storytelling would be privacy laws that would prevents tracking of consumers. However, transmedia storytelling is most dangerous culturally – in its ability to strip away reflection from passive entertainment and to make binging on low-quality content the norm. Warding off these trends (which are already underway) require much public education and the pendulum to reverse its swing.

This is merchandising tie-ins, like fast food restaurant toy premiums promoting stupid Hollywood mass-market children's movies in which princesses get married and boys blow things up. The danger of low-quality culture is not a risk to be managed, but a certainty dependent on the idea of "quality" culture, which requires a certain social standpoint to manage in the first place. In the meantime, we tend towards a free market point of view even when considerations about the freedom of speech don't add even more weight to the argument. So what justifies all the huffing and puffing? A reader who believes that capitalism is bad for popular culture will not be moved in a new way by this argument, and one who does not won't be moved at all. Who are you really addressing, and with what idea of your own?


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r3 - 26 Oct 2014 - 21:38:27 - EbenMoglen
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