The Expansion of Television Storytelling

Television has been spreading in new directions lately―popular TV shows are often the catalyst for toys, DVDs, videogames, iPhone apps, comics, websites and more. Television is no longer limited as a one-dimensional form of media, but it is rather flourishing as a multimedia platform. “Once people fall in love with a brand, they want to interact with it in all sorts of ways,” says Tony Cohen, the head of Fremantle Media. The Economist adds that “the point of the television business is no longer simply to make shows but to create branded entertainment franchises made up of many products of which television shows are merely the most important”. And media firms are certainly responding to the demand that has developed as a result of these shows and are consequently maximizing their profits through spin-offs and such: Fremantle Media recently reported that around one-third of their revenues come from spin-offs and other consumer goods.

TV shows aimed at young people, The Economist says, are increasingly inviting their audience to visit a corresponding website. The website serves as an outlet where fans can “Find out what music is playing in the background!”, “Discuss the show with other fans!”, and “See footage that did not make it into the final version!” to name a few. Because producers have seen the profitable power of branching their content, these websites are usually very dense, and well designed. Certain big-budget TV shows like “Lost” and “Heroes” have created web episodes in order to give flesh to the minor characters in the series. The “Heroes” website hosted cartoons, which eventually were compiled, printed and sold as graphic novels.

Hollywood has come to call these forms as “transmedia”. It refers to a kind of storytelling that goes beyond both a single platform and a single narrative. What this allows is the continuation of the main story on television, while adding a variety of extra content on different platforms that do not interfere with the main story but rather gives it a new-found degree of depth. It is also increasingly important in keeping viewers interested during the time when the show goes off-air.


It is not yet clear whether transmedia storytelling is profitable itself―its value is measured in audience engagement rather than advertising dollars. This is another example of how the media is being constructed around its viewers; the media is not focused on chasing direct advertising dollars anymore, but rather fueling the audience’s desire to further interact with their favorite brands. However, and perhaps inevitably, this means that the media is also constructing its audience by giving them a deeper, more immersive experience. This creates viewers that are more loyal to the show or genre that they favor; perhaps, even the music they listen to, or the games that they play have been influenced by their favorite shows.


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