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Engaging diverse audiences across multiple platforms

How do media industries combine different media to engage diverse audiences?
I think the way in which media industries use platforms to engage audiences very much depends, actually, in terms of the context, or rather the project, or rather the entertainment that the thing that’s actually being extended across different platforms. I think it’s a mistake to imply that there’s almost a one-size-fits-all model to how you would actually do this, you know? So I know almost a naive way of thinking about transmedia were to say, well, a film is incredibly immersive because it’s cinematic, therefore it should house certain types of content, or a comic book is very good for telling the precursor of a story, or a web is the more interactive part, so it should contain something else.
I think that thinking about particular affordances of a platform in terms of what it can really do, or what it can’t do, is really, really useful. But ultimately, I think it depends on the themes of the project, the aims of the project, the audience of the project, and, of course, which– which platforms are actually going to engage that particular audience, and what’s going to fit in terms of the nature of that project. So for example, if we were to take a very popular example, so something like Harry Potter, for example, kind of big huge– big huge global franchise.
Looking at the way that platforms have been used more recently, I think it’s actually quite interesting because there seems to have been a shift away from digital, actually. So rather than thinking transmedia has to– has to be digital, I think what– at least, my sense– what the strategy seems to have been there is acknowledging that the audience for Harry Potter has grown up. So those who read the books 15 years ago when they were children, have inevitably grown up. You can see the scale, actually, in terms of the films become slightly more mature, and they become slightly darker, and the themes become a little bit more grown up, which of course reflects the way that the characters are growing up.
If you continue along this scale, and you look at things like The Fantastic Beasts franchise, and a lot of the transmedia platforms and extensions around Harry Potter now, they’re very physical, actually. So there’s been a big push towards things like studio tours in London, or theme park attractions. There’s been a move away from more web-based exercises like Pottermore. And instead, of course, things like The Cursed Child, a Broadway– a theatre show, of course, very, very physical. And all of this is transmedia, of course. Each one has a function in terms of extending the story. There’s something very specific, I think, about what theatre can do as a platform, or what a studio tour can do as a platform.
But I do think it’s very interesting that, actually, that the physicality of it reflects actually the more– the way that the audiences are growing up. Going to a theatre play, you would associate potentially with an older audience, so it’s a way of catering for that particular kind of audience. And that, I think, has been incredibly successful. So I suppose that the first point there is– is mirroring or matching the themes, and the tone, and the idea, and the aims of the fiction, or the entertainment, or the project of the transmedia, and thinking, actually, which platform is going to engage a particular audience the strongest? If that happens to be digital, maybe a younger audience, that makes sense.
If it’s an older audience, then I think equally, physical platforms, and maybe a combination of the two seems to work very, very well based on– based on the case by case specifics. I think the other– the other point– a different point to make in terms of the digital is, I think, particularly kind of in the US and UK, again, thinking quite big transmedia examples, there’s been this really interesting strategy to use very online or digital centric transmedia platforms to actually reinforce old media. So rather than almost naively thinking that actually what’s going on here is a drive away from old media towards new media, so television towards web, for example.
I think actually what a lot of transmedia does is it uses the online, uses the digital, as a way of actually reinforcing and holding onto the value of the old media. So an example– I think there’s a number of examples, things like Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, for example. So if you look at actually what– what constitutes that transmedia package, it’s things like apps, things like story syncs, for example, where audiences– they watch an episode of The Walking Dead, and they kind of– they have post quizzes, and they ask you to put your opinion on whether a character made the right choice, thematically, or morally, for example.
And actually what a lot of these platforms do is they are contingent on you as an audience watching an episode of television live, watching it actually as it’s being broadcast. And the nature of things like these apps, they actually encourage you, or they demand you to actually watch them live. If you go to the outside 24 hours after the– television episode, you can’t engage with the discussion. All of a sudden, it’s died, or you’ve heard spoilers, and all of a sudden, that transmedia extension doesn’t become relevant. So this, I think, taps into kind of discussions around second screening, and people kind of using multiple devices whilst they’re engaging with– particularly, with entertainment.
But I just think it’s a very interesting point, that actually, really what a lot of transmedia is doing is not so much encouraging audiences to migrate, or to move from old media to new media, or to completely prioritise the shift towards the digital, which might make sense, you would think, would be logical, by the fact that digital is more interconnect, it’s more transmedial. Actually, I think the strategy seems to be much more around, how can we bring the old media and the new media together? So there actually– there’s a harmony, there’s an equality between these different media.
I think that’s a very useful way of thinking about transmedia, because old media continues to have real relevance as a platform in terms of what television can do, what radio can do, what print can do, actually is very specific. And it’s very unique. And a lot of those values can’t actually be carried over into the digital, or if they can, not quite as well. So I think thinking of transmedia as something that holds onto different platforms, whether it’s old, whether it’s new, whether it’s film, whether it’s web, and acknowledging that there is a value in equality between using those two things simultaneously.
I think that very much seems to be a driving strategy of actually what a lot of big transmedia companies and corporations are doing in terms of holding onto their audiences right now.

Watch this video, where Matthew Freeman, from the University of Bath Spa, answers the question: “How do media industries combine different media to engage diverse audiences?”

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