Posts Tagged ‘Serialized Storytelling’

Not but yesterday I reblogged a post from Newsarama about how the modern age of instant discussion could affect the way a serialized comic book might be perceived. How basically a whole lot of people did a whole lot of shouting about something they thought ‘might’ happen. I said this could easily be applied to tv shows.

Today comes another article I’ll be reblogging below, this one from Entertainment Weekly, that directly addresses the idea of serialized storytelling and its place in the instant/streaming television media market place. The crux of the argument is this: What is better, binge watching a tv show all at once or having to watch an episode each week?

It’s a hard question to answer. Many people are thankful for binge watching being readily available via dvds and services like Netflix. I myself didn’t watch the tv show Psych from the beginning and binge watched the first two seasons and am now addicted to it. So yes, there is a definite plus here. But as the article points out, once you binge, you’re done, that’s it. Unless you’re waiting for a new season, you have nothing to come back to, nothing to anticipate.

You’ve essentially watched a Mini-Series with a cliff-hanger ending.

Netflix likens watching tv shows episode by episode to getting a book chapter by chapter. I don’t think this is accurate. Watching a well made tv show is like getting the individual books of a series. Each book is self-contained and has a story that is entertaining/satisfying in its own right. Would the recent successful book series of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter been nearly as successful if they all came out at once and didn’t have fans shouting “you have to read this” and getting more people hooked and increasing numbers buying the next book?

But again, we’re in a time of instant gratification. Will there come a moment were a week is just too long to know what’s going to happen next? And if that time comes, will it be the ushering of a new gilded age or a veritable entertainment apocalypse?

Netflix touts binge viewing: Is waiting better?

Arrested-Development

We’ve all done it. The marathon. Those Lost weekends. The red-eyed nights watching episode after episode of 24 and Rome. We start acting like Breaking Bad meth-heads at 3 a.m. just one more hit show and then we’ll go to sleep.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wants to feed our guilty-pleasure viewing habit. He’s previously declared that “Netflix’s brand for TV shows is really about binge viewing.” In his latest earnings report to investors, he touted the revolutionary wisdom of his company’s ongoing plan to release entire seasons of original TV shows all at once. “Imagine if books were always released one chapter per week, and were only briefly available to read at 8pm on Thursday,” he wrote. “And then someone flipped a switch, suddenly allowing people to enjoy an entire book, all at their own pace. That is the change we are bringing about. That is the future of television.”

On Friday, Netflix debuts the first 13 episodes of its new series House of Cards, which stars Kevin Spacey as a Machiavellian politician. Hastings predicted the event “will be a defining moment in the development of Internet TV” due to the company’s innovative delivery plan — here’s our show, clear your weekend.

If any single series marks a light-switch moment for the release of full TV seasons, it will probably be when Netflix unveils the eagerly anticipated fourth season of Arrested Development in May rather than Cards. But let’s take a look at his overall point. Most of the major recent technological entertainment evolutions are about more, better, faster, everywhere. So why should the way we watch TV seasons be any different?

Some analysts say there are distinctions that make Netflix’s model unwise. After all, even street corner dealers know the value of customers coming back week after week.

Variety’s new media guru Andrew Wallenstein wrote a deep-dive on this issue, criticizing the strategy from a business perspective.

“Allowing consumers to consume at their own speed contradicts [Netflix’s] financial imperative to keep them on the service paying the seductively cheap flat monthly fee of $8 for as many months as possible,” he wrote. “Yes, the binge opportunity makes Netflix all the more addictive. But compelling the viewer to pace their programming consumption will generate more revenue.”

Wallenstein also points out that the model ignores all the media buzz-building and word-of-mouth benefits generated by having a show parsed out for 13 or 22 weeks of the year.

“For Cards, ardent bingers will make for pretty passionate brand advocates in the days, maybe weeks, after they’ve gobbled up the first season, but will they be talking it up at the watercooler for months the way a series like Homeland is as the buzz of its 13 episodes gets dispersed across a broader time span? No matter how high-tech Netflix fancies itself, it’s old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendations from fans that are the most effective ambassadors for a brand.”

While over at Fast Company, writer Austin Carr knocked the Netflix model from a more humanistic perspective.

“Stringing viewers along has its benefits,” he wrote. “And to say the web has killed our patience to wait for serialized content to be rolled out is to say human beings no longer have an appetite for the building of excitement, anticipation, and suspense … Yes, it’s annoying having to wait for new seasons of Game of Thrones or Mad Men. But when they premiere, isn’t there something enjoyable about the campfire moments the shows create?”

I think Wallenstein and Carr are both correct, yet ultimately it won’t much matter. Making customers wait for episodes might be better business for Netflix. And waiting for episodes might be more emotionally satisfying for viewers. But that’s like telling kids to save their Halloween candy and make it last for weeks. Once a more, better, faster, everywhere system is invented, it’s difficult to stop its spread and adoption. If technology permits us to watch full TV seasons over days or weeks instead of months, we’ll do it.

Think of it this way: One study showed that — like Carr’s point on a micro level — having to sit through commercials instead of skipping them actually increases our enjoyment of a TV program. “The phenomenon we think is at work here is adaptation,” the researcher said. “The easiest example of adaptation is a massage chair. The longer a massage goes on, the more you get used to it. You adapt. But if it stops briefly, then starts again, it re-triggers that initial enjoyment.”

TV viewing, he says, is the same way. “It’s more enjoyable when it’s interrupted.”

So who wants to give up their DVR?

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There is a great article below I’m rebloging from Newsarama about the recent uphevel in the comic book world over something that ‘might’ happen.

You see, the point of a serialized anything is to get you to come back each week, month, or whenever to buy the next issue or watch the next episode. This is why things like cliff-hangers were invented, not to mention teasers, solitations, trailers, etc. This can often be very fullfilling as you have something new to look forward to each week both in whatever the plot of that week’s issue/episode is and whatever you might learn about the over-reaching arc.

It’s natural to speculate on how things will play out: who might live/die, who might hook up, who is the killer, that kind of thing. However, in the modern age of instant feedback and instant gratification, that speculation is not left to languish over the week in a person’s own thoughts or a message board, instead, a million conversations take place instantly all feeding together like a hydra monster of sorts. When this happens, well, read the article below for a nice case study which can easily be applied to television as well:

Op/Ed: Super Serial – Monthly Storytelling Gets the Shaft

By Lucas Siegel, Newsarama Site Editor posted: 30 January 2013 02:55 pm  ET

It was the kiss heard round the world.

Doctor Octopus, who had recently taken over Spider-Man’s body, kissed Mary Jane Watson (unaware of the switch) passionately in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #700, telling her he intended to renew their relationship. Before the kiss itself, he expressed how he was plotting to be with her, and she at one point tore open his shirt (revealing the Spider-Man costume). The villain pretending to be a hero looked at her lasciviously and clearly desired to have a romantic relationship with her…

And that, coupled with Superior Spider-Man #2‘s cover of the pair kissing again (or more accurately, Ock/Spidey stealing a kiss from the redhead), set off an internet firestorm, led by many respected commentators who one would assume know comics. People who have contributed to the industry through reports, criticism, and intelligent discussion started a fierce argument based, in the end, seemingly entirely on assumption and speculation.

MILD SPOILERS FOR SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #2 AHEAD

And now, with Superior Spider-Man #2 out and on the shelves, it all ends with Otto (again, somewhat gross and lasciviously) accessing Peter’s memories about his time with MJ. With great memories come great feelings, and now legitimately caring for her, decides to break things off entirely. Aside from that first big kiss in ASM #700 that set off the internet, all Otto wound up getting was a few pecks on the cheek.

 Now, the conversation about rape and how it’s portrayed/the subject is handled in comics and indeed all media is an extremely important (and sensitive) one, but not the subject of this article. We won’t be covering that today, and indeed, Steve Wacker didn’t discuss it at the time because it doesn’t actually happen in either of these comics. As Wacker said himself on Twitter when this first came up, “It’s an important topic, but I think it’s diminished by this kind of craziness.” Indeed, the only problem with how people approached the issues raised by ASM #700 and the subsequent covers is that they went after writer Dan Slott and editor Stephen Wacker simply because of potential. It seems to imply an ignorance of the serial nature of comic book storytelling, or at least a refusal to acknowledge it.

In two days of Twitter conversation about the subject, Wacker consistently tried to roll with any questions, and merely argued that readers should continue reading. His only direct comments about the issue itself were that the scene in ASM did not depict sex (true), and that people needed to read the first few issues of Superior to know how the story would play out. In other words, he did his exact job as editor of a serialized story — he told people to read it serially, as it came out, and didn’t spoil what his writer had, at that point, already written.

The ASM kiss

What this really speaks to is the nature of serialization in the internet age. With feedback and conversation truly instantaneous via Twitter and other social networks, solicitations showing covers and teasing at storylines three months ahead of time, and a constant need for immediate gratification, it seems that comic book readers may be losing the ability to simply enjoy serial fiction. Rather than thinking about what actually happens in the pages of a just-read book, readers have been trained — partially by themselves and peers in the internet indignation machine, partially by the culture of previews and interviews (of which we acknowledge our role in) — to always be thinking several months ahead in the future.

But covers have traditionally been misleading. Quick moments and cliffhangers and provocative covers — these are not only intended but necessary parts of a serial. Covers have nearly always had misleading elements, from announcing the death or retirement of a character to a misleading moment of passion between an unlikely pair. The whole point is to have a reader say “wait – what?” and have an intense desire to see what happens next. About a year and a half ago, another Marvel Comics cover showed a surprising kiss. Was Cyclops cheating on Emma Frost (who he had cheated with — mentally — on Jean Grey, of course)? Why would Storm be in his embrace and not with, you know, her husband at the time? Of course, it wound up being a misleading cover, showing an alternate reality. Indeed, scenes of romance and death are a traditional method of teasing readers to try to bring more eyes to the next issue. Again, it’s merely the definition of serialization.

 What people were angry about at first was the mere suggested possibility of more than a kiss, then the anger turned more towards Wacker and Slott’s unwillingness to accept their argument, or, in their own defense to tell readers how the story would play out a month in advance of the issues where the resolution took place. And that’s just not how serial storytelling is supposed to go.

So what’s the solution? Should solicitations not go out over the internet? That seems impossible at this stage, and fans have clear and easy access to the monthly Previews catalogue, anyway. Should creators and editors stay off of social networks and not interact with fans? Again, both impossible and frankly a bit silly. The positive examples of interaction are often overshadowed by the extreme fringe negatives with attacks and death threats, but the positeves tend to actually be more frequent and outweigh the negatives, with fans getting a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the media they so enjoy.

No, the only real solution is for fans themselves to take a step back into the days when serial adventures were taken one at a time. Just because there can be an instant reaction doesn’t mean there has to be one.

At the very least, the tone of the far-too frequent internet indignation machine should be measured against both what we know and what we just think we know.

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