I’m a huge fan of “stealing” my television from the internet, its convenient, it’s add free, and I can stop/pause/rewind to watch again later, make TV snacks and pretend to do my homework. In saying that, I’ve never seen one of these so called webisodes in my life, which Max Dawson’s article encouraged me to believe were enjoyably efficient, and everything the youtube generation looks for in their viewing pleasure in a neat little package. This is a lie.
After some investigating I discovered several of the shows I like and am familiar with have their own little web spin off’s, there’s Jersey Sox for when I’m feeling trashy, Fang in there bro (which lost me after 15 seconds) and Skins minisodes. Great, it’s like Cadbury fun size chocolate bars, cheaper to produce, easy to digest, and none of the guilt that comes with the full size product.
With several small flaws for the television community, mostly centred around the legal ramifications of transposing television content to digital media, and shamelessly exploiting their script writers, it has one massive flaw for me: I am not entertained!
According to an industry journalist these digital shorts represent one of the prominent futures in our viewing experience, we can catch extra glimpses of our favourite characters, buy the Grey’s anatomy starter pack off iTunes and catch up on seven seasons worth of plot points in under five minutes, that promise to be “a marvel of efficiency” not a waste of our time.
I had my reservations, but I sat down with an open mind to watch little tanned sock puppets, and Nick buy drugs for some kind of anal recreational debauchery anyway. Jersey Sox was vaguely amusing in an only half watching kind of way, but Skins, well, I don’t really know what to say. Thanks a bunch, that’s eight minutes of my life I can never get back.
Dawson tells me that “clips from Saturday Night Live and Family Guy consistently rank amongst the most watched videos, in many cases outperforming full length episodes of the same programs” (‘Televisions Aesthetic of efficiency’ pg 3) on the commercial content aggregation website Hulu.
After my foray into the world of webisodes I can honestly say I have no idea why that is, and I doubt it has anything thing to do with the legality of pilfering a full length episode, we the youtube generation don’t have a digital conscience.
What we do enjoy however are transmedia trends, an app to go with a game that goes with a film that goes with a book etc. and webisodes are involved in creating the same kind of hyperdiegesis, extending the story world of the actual program into “a vast and detailed narrative space ,” (pg 2 Lecture Notes Matt Hills). Transmedia can potentially offer the audience more information about their favourite characters, and in the case of the skins webisode an insight into an avererage day in the skins world. In short, for the fan who feels an emotional attachment to the characters or is just overly obsessed with the program it can enrich their viewing experience by providing more material to fuel their interaction with the program.
What it does not seem to do however is extend the actual story contained within the program, nor assert or resolve anything within it’s 8 minutes. It’s a completely different format to the original program, a tease in that it looks and sounds the same, but provides non of the satisfaction of plot, forcing the audience to tune in later for some real satisfaction.
It looks like a marketing ploy designed to encourage more people to watch the show, and Diane Robina from Camcast holds much the same opinion on the subject, stating in her article ‘What’s a webisode worth?’, “From a brand perspective…once you get them there you can figure out how to make money”. Kate Taylor from The Globe and Mail says in her article ‘In the expanding TV universe, webisodes look for a foothold’, that “the way to win an audience-and a share of ad revenues from sites such as YouTube-is to move some of the values of TV drama onto the we, using fully realized scripts and well-known actors to cut through the noise” what she fails to mention however is that most webisodes don’t function like that.
Material from the actual program is recycled and cut for these digital shorts in such quantities as to qualify it ‘promotional purposes’. It effectively equates to networks not being required to pay their writers anything for use of their material in the webisode, and if these small slices of television are in fact the future of the medium then it’s a bleak one for the people who crafted the dialogue, character, and story world of the shows we have come to love, not to mention obviously lacking some of the important qualities of TV drama we have come to associate with specific programs.
Maybe I’m just getting old and dull, hankering for the days of the VHS versus this aesthetic of efficiency, but if I’m watching something that claims to be a mini episode of one of my favourite shows, I expect a little more value for my time. Skins delivered what I can only describe as a brief snippet of what was clearly designed to be a component of a much larger narrative sequence, it offered no new insights into the characters (we already know you like drugs kids) and no conventional story construct to speak of, leaving me feeling unsatisfied and mystified over this webisode phenomenon, and able to conclude only that it was designed as an incentive to watch the full length program when it airs on TV, and create another source of revenue as a platform for advertising.
I’m sure these snippets of television have their place, but so far as I can tell it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy by a dying industry to jump on the latest trend before their ship sinks. Maybe I’m just being belligerent and narrow, but if I’m going to tune in to a Skins minisode I need a little somethin’ somethin’ for my time, and frankly if a drug deal by some quirky teenagers and a scummy looking hermit with a lollipop stuck to his shirt is all that they deliver, I’d rather go down to Footscray and watch a deal go down there, get some seriously good dumplings while I’m at it.
Dawson, Max, ‘Television Aesthetics of efficiency’, Viewed 11th October 2012, http://bgock.com/maxdawson/research_files/Ch_10_Dawson_Revised_DUKE.pdf
Lecture notes, Week 4, ‘Transmedia Trends
Taylor, Kate, 2012, ‘in the expanding tv universe, webisodes look for a foothold’ The Globe and Mail, march 9th 2012 http://m.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/in-the-expanding-tv-universe-webisodes-look-for-a-foothold/article552580/?service=mobile