Before this week’s lecture on ‘webisodes’ I thought that a webisode was simply a TV style short video series that was posted on the Internet because nobody else wanted to fund it. Boy was I wrong! I’ve been wasting all evening watching Breaking Bad webisodes on Youtube and have been avoiding writing this post.
Anyway on to the serious side of webisodes, let’s begin with Max Dawson’s article Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short. This article did a fantastic job of explaining the intricacies of the webisode and the importance TV creators put on these cheeky little videos. The theories of webisodes being born from the inability to load large files onto the internet without losing quality, thus resulting in smaller uploads is a fantastic example of how many online media accidents have become ingredients in our online media diet, my favourite example of online mistake is the creation of the word ‘blog’ which was a typo which originally meant to say web-log but turned into ‘we blog’. Dawson covers very thoroughly in this article the history of the webisode, the creative and economic challenges and the effect this type of media creation may have on our media consumption. The one issue I have with this article however is the rather technologically deterministic theories quoted and given prominence in the article, take for example this quote from page 2 of the paper:
“the future of television—or at least, one of the futures of television: freestanding, not time-sensitive, short enough to engage and enjoy comfortably.” “‘Over the long-long-long-term, generationally long,’” explained the head of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for such prestige dramas as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, “‘it’s very likely that the genre—which I’ll call short-form, truly short-form of five minutes—may be the way in which people consume a lot of entertainment media, putting movies aside.”
This debate is pretty shallow, I believe at least in its assumption that just because there are smaller, faster to watch videos out there one of the most culturally heralded art forms and popular versions of story telling, the film will be overrun by short videos. Though people may watch a lot more short media than they did say five or 10 years ago, can we honestly believe that we’ll prefer to watch a short video that will distract us for a few minutes over a feature length film that takes a viewer on a arguably more rewarding journey? How can people bond over five minute videos, dissect great themes and arguments presented in films? Grow to love characters through their development as people? I fond this hard to believe, especially seeing that a large proportion of the most popular, critically acclaimed and discussed TV programs of today are the long running thematically heavy TV ‘novelizations’ such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones?
Speaking of Breaking Bad I wanted to focus on the webisode mini series which focuses on Saul Goodman, the slimy yet likeable lawyer of breaking Bad protagonist (or antagonist depending on what you’re up to) Walter White. This episode I’ve chosen is pretty interesting as it is one of a series of ‘Better Call Saul’ advertisements which follow the same formula as the ones in the Breaking Bad series you can watch the wwebisode I’m talking about here.
These webisodes are in one way directly linked to the narrative of the TV program itself as the development of the character, the humor and its context have been built within the Breaking Bad series. However on the opposite side of the argument I think I can safely say that had you not watched Breaking Bad you could still find this faux advertisements very funny, mainly due to their kitsch style (of which Saul is the master). Somebody watching these webisodes may get some level of pleasure out of their viewing, yet it could never be as deep as the pleasure a loyal Breaking Bad viewer would receive, there are a number of references to the original text, such as the reference to the fictional Mexican run takeaway restaurant in the series (which Walt and Saul have connections with…no spoilers). What I believe these series of videos to be are ‘easter eggs’ for Breaking Bad fans, foe example they’re located on the fully functioning site http://www.bettercallsaul.com/ which is featured on the program. This transmedia site gives the viewer a deeper connection to the program as its ‘realness’ and interactivity is freely accessible to us. It also helps maintain viewer loyalty and TV promotion as one viewer could stumble upon this site by accident watch the webisodes and then pass it on to another fan, keeping the fandom alive- the fact that I’m writing about it right now is a perfect example.
I think that webisode and transmedia interactivity are very important in maintaining viewer excitement and loyalty (especially if a programs is between seasons), however I believe that the possibility for webisodes is greatly depending on a number of factors including what sort of program the TV show is. I argue that more ‘serious’ or period TV programs will have less to gain from transmedia as the way in which we place these programs culturally affects the way we view their story- I had trouble finding webisodes for Game Of thrones because (I believe) that their webisodes may be less relevant/ the audience has less to gain than humorous videos from Saul Goodman. It’s all about realness and if John Snow was doing a video blog from the Wall I very much doubt the audience would appreciate it. What I guess I’m trying to say is that the development, acceptance and success of webisodes depend on a lot of different factors and popular show + internet doesn’t necessarily = transmedia effectiveness