Dr Elizabeth Evans
Elizabeth Evans is Assistant Professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham. She is the author of Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media and Daily Life (2011) and has published articles in numerous edited collections and journals including Media, Culture and Society, The International Journal of Communication Studies and Convergence. Her research explores the relationship between narrative and technology with a particular interest in audience attitudes and behaviours. Her current project interrogates how ‘engagement’ is defined, managed and valued by transmedia audiences and practitioners.
Abstract: Engagement That’s Worth It: Transmedia Engagement as Economic and Discursive Commodity
Transmedia strategies of storytelling, distribution and marketing, where content is spread over multiple media forms and technologies, have become a key characteristic of television’s embracing of digital technologies. Broadcasters are increasingly presenting digital devices as the ‘future’ of their industry and as more ‘valuable’ than traditional linear television. This has manifested in radical ways through strategies such as the BBC’s transform of youth-oriented channel BBC Three into an online only space, or how fellow UK broadcasters Channel 4 and ITV have increasingly presented their core business as a transmedia portfolio of interconnected services. It has also emerged in more mundane ways with the integration of social media and controlled participatory spaces into promotional content. Whilst many of these changes have been integrated into television culture relatively easily, others have been the source of debate and controversy over the value of both digital technologies and traditional forms of linear television. At the centre of these industrial changes has been a prioritising of audience ‘engagement’ and the ‘engaged’ viewer. What this ‘engaged’ viewer is actually doing, however, remains ill-defined, with the term functioning as a loose indicator of ‘successful’ content. In turn, the value of transmedia ‘engagement’ equally remains only loosely defined whilst simultaneously positioned as the new goal for television broadcasters.
Although some scholars have examined the notion of ‘engagement’ this is often focused on aspects of audience measurement (Napoli, 2011) or through a specific prism of participatory culture (Jenkins, Ford and Green, 2013). This paper will instead explore how audience ‘engagement’, and especially the ‘value’ of that engagement, is understood and leveraged by transmedia practitioners. Using interviews with transmedia producers, writers, marketers and strategists in the UK, US, Canada and Denmark, it will explore how transmedia ‘engagement’ is understood and used as both an economic and a discursive commodity. In particular, it will focus on how differences in the value of engagement for practitioners are shaped and contextualised by their broader industrial context, and the differences between public service and commercially-oriented media. How do the experiences of audiences feature within the production process of transmedia or digital content? How do public service ideals manifest within not only broadcaster-level strategies but also the ways in which individual practitioners value (or de-value) their audiences’ experiences? What changes occur in how ‘engagement’ is understood and valued when shifting between public service and commercial contexts? In exploring these questions this paper will address how ‘engagement’ is reconfigured to allow transmedia practitioners to position themselves, and the emergent technologies they work with, as both commercial viable and artistically challenging.