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Webisodes and Transmedia!

August 28, 2011

My inner nerd was satisfied in the last lecture with many references to Star Trek and Doctor Who, but I won’t spend the whole post going on about these two awesome franchises. The main focus of the lecture was the phenomena that is the ‘webisode’ and the concept of ‘transmedia’. Matt Loads took us through these ideas in the lecture.

I’m familiar with webisodes, having watched a few of them before (mostly the web series ‘The Nurses’ from the TV show Offspring). Matt showed us the definition of ‘webisode’ in the Miriam Webster Dictionary, which is: An episode especially of a TV show that may or may not have been telecast but can be viewed on a website. 

Pretty straightforward definition. Matt also added that it can have either a direct or indirect relationship with the TV medium, and takes its cues from that form. The term itself was first coined by Stan Lee (I was surprised, but anyway…) Matt also took us through the number of ways that webisodes can be used in storytelling (this relates to Transmedia, but I’ll get to that soon). I’ll go through those methods first. According to Matt, they can be used as trailers; prequels, linking segments or cut scenes; parallel storylines; similar narrative styles (similar narrative to an existing TV show but no other relation) or they may be original content. They can also be used for advertising or promotional purposes.

Now, I’m not so certain about trailers as webisodes – I’d cast trailers as a separate medium, but the others I can easily understand. The Nurses (the webisodes related to the TV show Offspring) I’d say are examples of parallel storylines. We get to see the conversations between the nurses at the hospital where Nina works at around the same time the main events in the show are occurring. They’re not necessary to the main narrative, but they enrich the experience for those die hard fans of the show.

This is what I’d call an example of a linking segment or cut scene. It’s part of The Hollowmen, features three of the main cast from the show (Rob Sitch, David James and Stephen Hall) and was released and made specifically for the web. It was made as part of an ABC bid for more funding I believe, and very cleverly done.

Again, it’s not necessary to the main narrative of the TV show, and is shot in exactly the same style and form.

Original content is out there too. I’m helping out  on a shoot soon for the web series Tales from the Table, which takes cues from fantasy/comedy shows. I even think certain video blogs, such as this one from the youtube channel Charlie is So Cool Like, could even count as web series. Or is that taking it too far?

But now I can talk about Transmedia. This term was coined by Henry Jenkins at Confessions of an ACA Fan. Christine Huang describes it as ‘that which moves across multiple channels of communication.’ (citation – she also quotes heavily from Jenkins). In her article ‘Four tips for embracing the new methods of storytelling’ she says that each part of the ‘must serve to support the larger narrative without becoming an essential element of its unfolding.’ That is exactly what transmedia does – it spreads the narrative across different platforms – TV, radio, books, webisodes, merchandise, even fanfiction – without one part becoming necessary to the understanding of the other. That’s where Doctor Who came into the lecture – the TV series is the main platform for the narrative, and is considered canon (what is considered as ‘part of the universe of the story world’ is the best way I can explain it) but any novels and audio books serve to enrich the fans experience. The examples of webisodes that I’ve shown above enrich the experience of the narrative worlds of those shows for the viewers. They add to the enjoyment. That’s something else Huang states ‘Build a world, not a story’. Doctor Who and Star Trek, some of the best examples of what transmedia can do with all their TV series, spin-offs, movies (in the case of Star Trek), books, merchandise and video games have built an entire universe for their characters to live in and explore, and fans to enjoy.

Matt pointed out that Transmedia is a marketing buzzword nowadays, and its easy to understand why – fans go nuts over this kind of stuff. I’ve been to a shop in Elizabeth St that sells books, DVD’s and merchandise for all different kinds of shows like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Family Guy, the Simpsons, True Blood etc. etc (also it sells comic books and manga – but I go there for the sci-fi, if you didn’t already guess) and this shop does pretty good business as you could well imagine. Transmedia becomes a great commercial opportunity if used properly.

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