- Transmedia Television: Audiences, New Media, and Daily Life by Elizabeth Evans
Transmedia has been a major keyword in media studies ever since Henry Jenkins’s 2006 book Convergence Culture: When Old and New Media Collide. Jenkins defined the transmedia franchise as an entertainment property planned from the outset to exist on multiple platforms (e.g., television, film, gaming, web, mobile). Such a structure offers “additive comprehension” because the content available on a platform enriches one’s understanding of the content offered on another platform.1 In this model, the ideal transmedia franchise is tightly integrated and preplanned as a multiplatform story, an ideal that many television brand extensions fail to meet when they lack coordination and connectivity among platforms. Transmedia Television undertakes an analysis of viewers’ expectations of this content and their assessment of its shortcomings.2 Elizabeth Evans differentiates her well-researched and lucid study through her core focus on audience response, specifically the extent to which British viewers of the mid-2000s were willing to integrate transmedia gaming, mobile television, and downloaded episodes into their everyday engagement with television content. [End Page 167]
In the 2000s viewers found new ways to share, access, and engage with television episodes. To accommodate and manage these new audience behaviors and expectations, television channels had to develop their own new media delivery platforms and forms of content, such as Flash games and mobile phone shorts. Instead of analyzing these developments from the points of view of content providers, as other scholars have done, Evans solicited viewers’ reactions. Hers is a fresh perspective that adds much to the field’s investigation of how transmedia texts are constituted through new modes of content production, content distribution, audience engagement strategies, and audience reception behaviors. At its core, the book focuses less on the changes themselves than on how audiences navigate them.
The book’s findings are based on three audience studies. Using a combination of interviews, viewing diaries, and focus groups, the series-specific case studies ran for a month in 2005 and for six months in 2006, respectively. The third case study of general attitudes toward the Internet and mobile phones as content delivery platforms is based on focus groups and interviews from fall 2006 and winter 2007. This empirical research led Evans to conclude that viewer engagement with transmedia content is entwined with preconceived notions of what pleasures and rewards following television onto web, mobile, and gaming platforms should afford.
The book begins with a clarification of the word transmedia and its potential meanings. First, Evans explores the familiar terrain of transmedia storytelling. It is a testament to her command of her subject matter that she offers a clear and readable synthesis of some of the previous scholarship. Evans then distinguishes her approach through her emphasis on transmedia distribution. She separates the creation of a multiplatform narrative from its distribution, and from the attempts by distributors to engage television audiences through the multiple access points that can be offered on web and mobile platforms, defining transmedia engagement as “the ability to watch broadcast episodes on a variety of platforms.”3 While it would have been useful for Evans to differentiate this usage from the common association of transmedia with the ways viewers are invited to contribute content to a larger series text, or the ways in which fans actively engage with texts, she does reference Jenkins’s case studies of active audiences willing to spend time “chasing down bits of the story across channels, comparing notes with each other via online discussion groups,” and creating original contributions.4 The respondents in Evans’s study are loyal viewers of episodes, but they do not seem to be these hunters, aggregators, and curators of information gathered from and then shared across the web. By foregrounding this difference, Evans would have emphasized her distinctive focus on everyday viewers who begin as skeptical of new-media reception practices and then gradually adopt them as part of their everyday engagement with television content.
Evans transitions to her case studies in the second part after skillfully...