Monday, October 29, 2012

Digging Deeper: Complicating Television

Digging Deeper: Complicating Television

It has not been since recently that I have started watching more television shows. Though mostly online, which is part of the reason I think television has grown and is becoming more complex. Part of the reason television narratives have become more complex is due to “the new technologies of home recording, DVDs, and online participation.” This has helped the media industry prosper into a new era of television.  Websites such as Hulu and Netflix have become popular because they have made it easier for people to watch television online. For example, it is easy to stream a show and don’t have to worry about not watching an episode out of order. Television “has shifted more toward viewer control” and must become more complex to keep up with the demand of viewers. In the past year I have watched television shows like Entourage, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and currently started The Walking Dead. These shows as well as the ones used as examples in Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television “ask us to trust in the payoff that we will eventual arrive at a moment of complex but coherent comprehension, not the ambiguity and questioned causality typical of many art films.” The content on television has become engaging and entertaining for the viewers. Nowadays because it is easy to access, viewers want to watch television that they can relate to or even watch a great story unfold.
 I think part of the reason I have started watching more television is because “many narratively complex programs are among the medium’s biggest hits, suggesting that the market for complexity may be more valued on television than in film.” Before I had no time to watch television or films. Now I can make time for television because services like Netflix offer stream television on demand. When it comes to television word of mouth is important because if your friends with somebody that you know your fairly similar with and they recommend a tv show, you usually take their advice and watch it. In my opinion the raise of TV on DVD has also increased a larger viewer base for television shows. As it gives viewers total control of when and where they want to watch an episode. I would only invest on buying the TV series on DVD if I thought it was worth it to watch the TV series again.
I was introduced to the fan resource Lostpedia by my chemistry teacher senior year. He was a “Lost” nut. He loved the show, he cried when the series ended and told us he was going to get a tattoo of something “Lost” related. Complete nut, but I guess he’s not the only one as similarly, “Birmingham-Southern College's January term has a class called "Lost: My Religion," which plays off the cult-hit TV series "Lost," that went off the air in 2010.” This made me realize that shows like “Lost” really do engage the viewers, as the producers put in small details in their complex narrative. This makes viewers go back and watch these scenes again and absorb them into the television series. Sites like Lostpedia break the show/episodes apart and give you the smallest details and how they are correlated.  As television shows with a complex narrative grow in popularity, this makes viewers want more and more shows that are alike. The viewer has a choice from different television series genres that gives the “audiences pleasure not only in the diegetic twists but also in the exceptional storytelling techniques.” I believe television has become more complex starting from the 90’s forward and will only increase in complexity of narrative in the years to come.

Sources: Mittel, Jason; Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Complicating Television With Narrative Complexity

     This Digging Deeper Opportunity really hit home with me because Mittell (2006) reviewed my favorite kinds of films/television. In this article, however, he focuses on the television aspect. The term he uses is narrative complexity (NC) and he defines it as "a redefinition of episodic forms under the influence of serial narration"(p. 32). More or less NC refers to the story-telling of a television series, but in more artistic ways, ways that captivate the viewer and makes him or her think, become aware, and invested in what he or she is watching. What comes to my mind are psychological thrillers like Shutter Island, however there aren't many television series that take that route. Some series that he mentions are The X-Files, Alias, Buffy, Angel, Seinfeld, and Lost among others.
     Mittell (2006) discusses how NC is not exactly a new subject as it is evident in other media such as novels, comic books, video games, and as I've mentioned, films. But, the concept is relatively new to television and he reveals several ways that NC has emerged in that medium: key transformations in the media industries, technologies, and audience behaviors. I believe that these are institutional shifts that contribute to NC growth in contemporary American television and that all three rely on each other in order to be successful.

Transformations in Media Industries
     Here, Mittell (2006) discusses the creative ability of writers and producers that isn't typically found in film as well as other types of television. Writers and producers use this ability to produce shows that don't fit to the typical mold of television such as conventional sitcoms, soaps, and reality television. They don't really fit the mold because these kinds of shows are a mesh of different styles. They incorporate different ways of telling a story even within a show's own series. Story arcs continue across episodes and even seasons. Climaxes are revealed in the beginning and the events leading up to it make up the show. Mittell (2006) refers to all of this as "narrative pyrotechnics." I think that this shift in creative control between media industries (film and television in this example) hits perfectly on our class discussion last week of the creativity-business spectrum. Mittell (2006) mentions that most of the creators of these shows came from film and are now more free to exercise their creative process. Therefore, these writers and producers would fall on that spectrum of wanting to be creative, but wanting to be successful in what they do ("success" being subjective). So, with television networks allowing for more creativity and risk with their creators (shows like Louie and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), the more NC is allowed to flourish.

     Mittell (2006) discusses that technologies have allowed for the growth of NC because technology, more or less, affects the third shift of audience behaviors. First of all, being able to watch films or television series at anytime by owning a copy of said entertainment allows for better viewer engagement and "rewatchability." The visual upgrade of switching from VHS to DVD is a plus as well. Then other forms of digitization has led to this shift as well, mostly things that stem from the internet such as blogs, online role-playing sites, fan websites, etc. He also mentions the incorporation of video games and the creative influence they've had on the creators. Video games are also able to further submerge the viewer if the game is based off a series or film. In short, technology has put television series in the hands of the audience, allowing them to engage with the media in a more personal way.
     To go a little further, some options that Mittel didn't discuss are resources like Netflix and Hulu. Like DVDs, they allow the viewer to watch films and television series at their convenience. They've even taken TV on DVD to another level because one doesn't have to own 4 to 6 discs of a season for every season if it is offered through these resources. The kicker about them is that they are more portable as they can be viewed on nearly any smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This is true as well for other online resources such as fan sites. For instance, Lostpedia is a wiki for fans of lost to share theories and other information about the show Lost. So, not only does the site allow fans to immerse themselves in the show with other fans, but they can do so nearly anywhere at anytime.
     All this to say that technologies allow for NC growth because it allows the viewer to experience the series in deeper ways. The creators know this and I would argue they will utilize technology in their creative process, thus allowing for further growth of NC.

Audience Behaviors
     As I've mentioned, these three shifts rely on each other, but I would argue that this shift is the most important. Mittell (2006) says that "the innovations comprising narrative complexity have stuck because they have been actively embraced by viewers" (p. 32). He also discusses that there are several series that didn't gain a large enough audience to keep the show on the air, but there was enough of a loyal fan base to warrant DVD sales and even a film based off the story line (Serenity and Firefly). The technological advances wouldn't be successful without fans to use them and the creators aren't going to create without the audience in mind. This is summed up in Mittell's (2006) term: "operational aesthetic." Basically, technologies like fan sites allow viewers to delve deeper into the story and the creators create these narrative pyrotechnics I mentioned to draw fans to the show. The idea is that the fans will then desire to dig deeper in other ways using these technologies. In the end, how the audience behaves towards the series is what will determine its success, thus limiting or stimulating NC growth.

In sum, NC appears to be rapidly gaining popularity in television, even if viewers are unaware of why they are so immersed in the shows they watch. The key to this popularity is the relationship between the industry, technology, and the audience. Mittell (2006) describes how NC is story-telling comprised of works building off one another, and that is exactly how these institutional shifts work. You can't have one without the other.

Source: Mittel, J. (2006). Narrativ complexity in contemporary american television. The Velvet Light Trap, 58, 29-40.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Death to Movies?

Movie theaters were once a booming industry before the invention of TV and video games but what about now in 2012? Well according to business insider it’s not, summer ticket sales dropped nearly 20 million from 545 last year to 526 million summer 2012. But it's not just this year that summer ticket sales have felt a slump, they've been on the decline for the past decade.

Now let’s consider what could possibly be affecting these ticket sales. Could it be that now sine everything is coming out in 3D or I MAX, are ticket prices just too high for people, so they choose more important things to spend their money on. In this down economy you have to consider people don’t want to spend nine dollars a ticket to go watch a movie. Think about a family, multiply that by three for a small family and that’s 27 dollars and that’s not even counting snacks. The point I’m getting at is that they are starting to charge way too much for ticket prices and even the snacks in the theater. From my point of view I’m not going to go waist almost 10 dollars for maybe 2 hours of entertainment, when I could watch Netflix or do something more constructive with that 10 dollars like buy food or even gas.

Another thing that could be affecting the sales is the boom of cable TV and premium cable channels. You can sit at home and be comfortable and not deal with all the extra spending and the crowds. Netflix could also be affecting the movie theater with the convenience of being online and on video game consoles. Another thing that could be affecting ticket sales is renting from red box, just like the guy in the CBS video. CBS said they are losing young men as viewers of movies, it’s because they don’t want to spend their money on that, when they have the entertainment like all of the items listed above and video games.

But now I must look at the opposite side now while ticket sales are down thanks to the increase in ticket prices movie industry is still bringing in huge amounts of money. The prices of tickets have off setted the unwillingness of most to go to the movie theater so even with ticket sales decreasing movies are not losing profits.

Some of the proposed ideas to increase ticket sales are good most are just down right ridiculous. Some movie theaters have cracked down on texters and people talking on the phone to bring back the 30 to 40 year old crowd. Tim League, CEO and founder of the Texas chain, credits a take-charge approach: His theaters threw out more than 100 moviegoers for talking on cellphones or texting because they distracted other viewers.  But I have little faith that this will increase ticket sales all that much more and think about the people he kicked out they probably aren’t too happy either. Others have said to adjust the concession prices like in the CBS video but unlike that one girls opinion no one wants to spend four dollars for a box of candy are you kidding me. If you really want to get people to come, lower concession prices, then people might consider actually coming because it actually would make it more affordable.

One idea that I have that would probably help out movie theaters would be is to drop ticket prices maybe if you did that you would actually get the younger important demographic to come. Most of us do not want to spend that much money because we are in college and already in debt. Maybe if they thought about that they would make the smart business move and drop the prices.

Now to the final issue of the balancing of creative and commercial practices in the CBS video, yes a good movie will draw a crowd no matter what, is it really balanced when you consider the ridiculous prices and inconvenience of a movie theater. While yes the creative practice side of it is great you can see that with movies like Marvel's The Avengers $623,279,547 gross and Batman “The Dark Night Rises” $446,792,585 gross, the commercial side is still a bit unbalanced because of a down economy. Even though with the down economy ticket prices continue to rise and may even start to raise more for 2D movies. So my take on this whole scenario think about the commercial side more at least until the economy is back then maybe you might get my money but not likely.

Movie Theaters: A Roller Coaster Ride of Ups and Downs

It seems that at this day in age movie theaters are feeling the aches and pains of decreased attendance, ticket sales, and therefore, lost revenue. The CBS Sunday Morning segment “The End of Movie Theaters?”, really paints us a broad picture on all of the possible reasons for this slippery slope, of which every theater is dealing with.

One seemingly major downer for the Theater companies is the current condition of the American economy. There are plenty of people who are being very cautious of their spending, and expensive movie tickets just don’t seem to be the smartest way in getting the best value in cinematic entertainment. In fact, it is very hard to believe that a large amount of the population would pay up to 11 dollars for a movie ticket when renting a movie is considerably healthier for your wallet. A Red Box machine costs only 1 dollar per rental and can be found on every corner with various different choices.

During the “Pre-TV” days, movies were the only real available option when it came to enjoying theatrical entertainment. CBS told us that around 60% of Americans went to the theater EVERY WEEK! If you compare those numbers today the difference is drastically less satisfying. One demographic that has truly lost touch with the theater experience are the desired “eyeballs” of the young male audience. It appears that multi-media is often the culprit for the recent distractions from the world of cinema. Video games, Netflix, YouTube, and sites like Facebook, are all things that have substituted such expensive entertainment.

Looking at sites like Netflix and Hulu, one thing becomes clear. People are simply replacing the expensive trip to the movies with the more comfortable, cheaper feel of “in-home entertainment”. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a great movie in a lazy boy as opposed to the cold and crowded theater? You would think that movie theaters would pick up on this idea and try to incorporate this style of comfort. Well it turns out that indeed some have!

Some theatres have experimented with the home theater mood by bringing recliners, gourmet food, and even waitresses into the mix. Not a bad strategy to try to incorporate the people who like to be pampered into the theater. Peter Jackson’s new film “The Hobbit” has incorporated a new type of cutting-edge audio system to bring to the cinematic universe.  Peter stated that he intends “to make movies that allow the audience to participate in the events onscreen, rather than just watch them unfold. Wonderful technology is now available to support this goal: high frame rates, 3D, and now the stunning Dolby Atmos system,”. This new production could be the start of a new reform in theatrical experience, and therefore bring in greater audiences to awe.

Many individuals believe that in order to restore the decreased attendance in the sticky seats, production studios must create more blockbusters in hopes of packaging just about every demographic all into the same theater. Films like ‘Avatar’ did exactly that. Women, men, and children were all rushing to the multiplex at the same time to generate the production a price range of just over 300 million dollars. In 2011, there were astonishingly only 2 major blockbusters.

The more we observe these modern day problems of the struggling projectors, the more we seem to find alternate and creative solutions for bringing in the dough. However, in my opinion there is only one real solution that has proven successful throughout the history of the lens. Quality content and entertaining productions seem to be the best way to please the masses. It isn’t perfectly clear what the master plan is for these troubled theaters. However, I believe that somewhere there lies a mixture of these proposed solutions that just might do the trick.