- Layering EngagementThe Temporal Dynamics of Transmedia Television
The last fifteen years have seen dramatic changes in the UK within both the television industry and televisual storytelling techniques. Rapid technological changes have not only increased the variety of screen devices but have also changed the boundaries of the industry itself, as the Internet opened up distribution avenues and alternatives for viewer attention in the form of social media. The traditional pillars of the UK television industry—the major broadcasters and content providers such as the bbc and itv—have responded to these changes by expanding their focus beyond the television set and onto newer, more portable screen devices. This shift has had consequences both for the kinds of narratives emerging from television and the experiences that such narratives craft for their audiences. Increasingly, techniques of transmedia storytelling (see Jenkins 2006) are becoming “quite routine” (Grainge and Johnson 2015: 124) rather [End Page 111] than exceptional, a core part of television programming’s standard repertoire of narrative techniques.
However, such changes to storytelling techniques only emerge from concrete industrial strategies. As Karoline Andrea Ihlebæk, Trine Syvertsen, and Espen Ytreberg argue, “tv’s transformations do not just happen to it, by virtue for instance of technological developments, but are actively made by those who want to stay in charge and also conquer new digital territories” (2014: 483–84). Examining these strategies and unpacking how transmedia television narratives operate reveals the shifting power relations within the mainstream media industries and the position of narrative within these relations. As Phillip Napoli argues in his examination of the changing construction of audiences in the US media industries, “the process of audience evolution is being driven in large part by technological changes that are fundamentally reconfiguring the dynamic between media audiences and content providers” (2013: 122). The development of transmedia narrative strategies speaks to the industry’s desire to regain control in this changeable media landscape and demonstrates the intersection between narrative and the industrial and technological context from which it emerges (see A. Smith 2013).
This article will examine the relationship between industry strategy and transmedia storytelling techniques through the prism of contemporary UK television, in particular a case study of itv’s The X Factor (2003–) and its transmedia expansion. The focus will be on narrative extensions that are designed for mobile screen devices such as tablets and smartphones and that appear as small, focused software apps. The portability of such devices, and so the ease with which viewers can use them while also watching television, has given rise to behavior known as “second screening” or “simultaneous media use” (see Hassoun 2014). Ethan Tussey has argued that by expanding television narratives onto such devices, television producers and broadcasters are able to direct such behavior toward a “digital extension of [their] media property” (2014: 207–8). This article will build on Tussey’s work to consider the specific strategies employed in the industry’s management of secondscreen behavior, and in particular the way narrative, design, and timing are brought together to layer different viewer roles onto a single [End Page 112] broadcast moment. Central to the UK television industry’s co-optation of these behaviors is the adoption and adaptation of television’s temporal dynamics. By considering how television studies can look to its own past and reappropriate foundational models to understand these strategies, this article will examine how the changes to television’s narratives exist in a context of both change and continuity.
The X Factor’s second-screen app emerges from a longer history of transmedia expansion in UK television. The first phase of transmedia television in the UK came via experiments in the early 2000s, primarily by the bbc, in extending television texts via content-rich websites or games that could be played through their (by then well established) online portal (bbc.co.uk). Such experiments, through flagship programs such as Spooks (2002–10) and Doctor Who (1963–), offered a space not only for narrative expansions and experiments but also for technical development by testing the capacity of the relatively new broadband infrastructure. Exploiting the temporality of linear television storytelling, in particular the gaps between episodes of serial...