What is New Media?
Lev Manovich explains new media using an anecdote about German engineer Konrad Zuse; Zuse created the first working digital computer and in doing so used a discarded 35mm film reel and punched holes in it to create binary code. In this way the artistic and emotional elements of the film were wiped out in order to reduce the media to what it once was, a simply way of delivering information. Manovich calls this a, “technological remake of the Oedipal complex, a son murders his father”, as the new technology which is descended from the old media destroys its predecessor’s value (Manovich 2001). However, when the technology was further developed a convergence came between computers and media to create digital media, also known as New Media.
New Media was originally just the old media turned digital, printed books turned into text documents, film reels translated to digital movie files, works of art uploaded as JPEGs, however as technology developed and continues to develop further we have seen and are still seeing new forms of media that would not be possible in the form of old media (although they may have certain parallels). For example, the creation of video games, a form of media of which there was no true equivalent in the old media. Also, even more prominently the invention of the internet, and specifically the popularisation of web content has fundamentally changed society and the way people live across the world, creating a sense of global community that never existed prior.
These emerging new media formats are also increasingly more popular and influential than traditional old media formats; according to 2009 statistics Americans had access to one billion webpages and sixty-five thousand iPhone apps compared to ten thousand radio stations, five thousand magazines and around two hundred cable networks (XPLANE 2009). Today consumers aged 13-24 watch two and a half times the amount of online video through free video sharing services like Youtube and on demand services like Netflix than they do watching conventional television (Spangler 2016).
What is Transmedia?
Transmedia is the use of multiple media platforms to create an immersive, multi-platform storytelling experience. The concept of transmedia is not derived from new media, it existed before it, however new media formats have popularised the technique. For example, George Lucas pioneered the idea of transmedia storytelling with the Star Wars franchise, which has spawned books, TV shows, video games and countless toys, but in terms of transmedia storytelling the focus is primarily on the Star Wars “extended universe” books, which immerse fans of the films in the story further by giving them a wider sense of the world of the story than the length of a film allows (Caranicas 2009).
This storytelling technique has been popularised in the modern day with major media corporations due the rise in popularity of franchise series’, particularly shared-universe franchises, this shift largely caused by the immense popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. In expanding their shared universe Marvel themselves have heavily employed transmedia storytelling; branching off from their feature films Marvel has created short films, cable TV series’, digital on demand TV series’, web-series’ and tie-in comics. These multiple platforms help to create an expansive and immersive world, particularly as they allow the world to be explored with different levels of maturity (the Netflix series Daredevil is notably more graphic than any of the feature films for example) and each expansion enhances the popularity of the franchise as a whole, further drawing in and immersing audiences.
The use of transmedia storytelling to immerse audiences is a powerful tool to market a product and create huge amounts of interest. In the months leading up to the release of The Dark Knight an alternate reality game campaign was launched by 42 Entertainment which drew in 10 million players acting as the Joker’s henchmen, taking orders and interacting with “The Joker” using all different forms of media to create an immersive experience; web pages, interactive games, mobile phones, print, email, real world events, video and unique collectibles (Experience Freak 2009).
This campaign organised to players to invade public spaces in full Joker makeup and to campaign for a fake politician to “take back Gotham”, creating a global community of players as well as making the campaign incredibly visible and attention grabbing. This campaign made The Dark Knight the film with the most advance pre-sale tickets ever and the biggest opening weekend ever as well as the top grossing movie of the year, demonstrating the power of transmedia storytelling.
Independent Content Creators
New Media and the popularisation of the internet has led to exciting opportunities for independent content creators as in traditional media there has always been gatekeepers who control what content is shown; newspapers have editors for example who would have to approve any article before it went to print, and the same is still true for most traditional forms of media. However, within New Media there are channels, primarily the internet, where anyone can self-publish and distribute content at low/no cost and potentially reach wide audiences (Nime N.D.), although while there are not gatekeepers approving your content before it can be posted to Youtube or social media, etc, content can be censored based on policies and guidelines.
These new distribution methods have caused discussion in the independent film community advocating for the rejection of traditional distribution and production methods -which primarily consists of showing films at film festivals like Cannes and Sundance in the hope of being picked up for a theatrical release- as overall the money spent by the independent film community in producing and distributing film using these traditional methods far outweighs the profits. Ted Hope suggests that the “truly free filmmaker” should embrace both New Media platforms and transmedia storytelling techniques, using New Media platforms to create, own and distribute content independently, and to experiment with and refine transmedia storytelling techniques to define to the modern audience what cohesive, cross-platform immersive experiences can be and to create a greater demand for independent, transmedia stories (Hope 2008).
Andrew Sheller is a Media Production student at Coventry University. You can see more content from Andrew at their Facebook page through this link.
MANOVICH, L. (2001). The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.
XPLANE (2009) Did You Know 4.0. Available at: https://youtu.be/6ILQrUrEWe8 (Accessed: 1 March 2017).
Experience Freak (2009) Get Serious: Transmedia Branding. Available at: https://vimeo.com/6303664
Spangler, T., (2016) ‘Younger Viewers Watch 2.5 Times More Internet Video Than TV (Study)’ Variety [online] 29 March [online] available at http://variety.com/2016/digital/news/millennial-gen-z-youtube-netflix-video-social-tv-study-1201740829/
Caranicas, P., (2009) ‘Transmedia storytelling is future of biz’ Variety [online] 26 June, available from http://variety.com/2009/film/features/transmedia-storytelling-is-future-of-biz-1118005442/
Nime, N., (N.D.) ‘Interview with Christy Dena, Cross-Media Specialist’ Power To The Pixel [online] available from http://www.powertothepixel.com/interview-with-christy-dena-cross-media-specialist/
Hope, T., (2008) ‘FIRST PERSON | Ted Hope: How The New Truly Free Filmmaking Community Will Rise From Indie’s Ashes’. Indiewire [online] 29 September. available from http://www.indiewire.com/2008/09/first-person-ted-hope-how-the-new-truly-free-filmmaking-community-will-rise-from-indies-ashes-71687/