Emerging Dynamics in Audiences’ Consumption of Trans-Media Products: The Cases of Mad Men and Game of Thrones As a Comparative Study between Italy and New Zealand
Posted: 26 Feb 2018
Date Written: February 24, 2018
Television as a traditional medium has been changing for a number of years due to the growing proliferation of platforms through which multiple forms of media are deeply interconnected. In this multi-modal environment rich in on-demand content, audiences align with and take advantage of the options created for them by media companies. They operate as active users by processing various media texts at the same time and exercising control over their viewing schedules, and by integrating media content into their lives according to new patterns of consumption.
The objective of this analysis is to investigate this new form of agency possessed by audiences with reference to two television texts: Mad Men (AMC, 2007-2015) and Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-present). The two selected American TV shows are typical products of the “convergence era” (Jenkins 208), which is characterized by trans-media storytelling as a strategy employed by media conglomerates with the aim being to generate emotional investment in, and ongoing engagement with, media texts.
The research is structured as a comparative study between two countries: Italy and New Zealand. Comparative research has been applied by scholars as a valid way to investigate audience practices. However, there is still a dearth of international, cross-cultural comparisons. In selecting and comparing two nations that are different from the dominant media market of production (the US), my study aims to explore the specificities of audiences’ behaviors and habits in relation to the culture and society to which they belong.
To gather data for my analysis, I employed both online surveys and focus groups. The surveys were aimed to gather information from a large sample about fan consumption practices as well as to identify potential participants for the focus group sessions. The research findings have revealed that fans’ different forms of involvement with the shows are affected by the textual attributes of the narratives. Mad Men is a series that induces fans to engage in reflexive practices which lead them back to the text and away from additional material, while Game of Thrones pushes fans to exceed the boundaries of the television text in their engagement with transmedia options. Indeed, Game of Thrones fans engage in external practices for which the text serves as a ‘trait d’union’, a shared passion that becomes a vehicle for social interaction. The correlation between the shows’ narratives and the nature of fans’ engagement sheds light on the effectiveness of the multi- and trans-media extensions; in this sense, I argue that some TV shows are more suitable for being transformed in media franchises than others. The study also revealed that fans have a clear preference for additional material created by and reflecting the passion of other fans, rather than the product of media corporate strategies. This aspect is significant since it underlines the relevance that grassroots initiatives have today in the circuit of media production and distribution. Furthermore, fans’ attitudes towards transmedia content are embedded in their distinct cultural beliefs. For instance, New Zealand fans were less critical of the network of media extensions than Italian fans, who reacted negatively to what they believe to be an American emphasis on consumption.
Keywords: Trans-media Storytelling, Media Convergence, Audience Practices, Cross-cultural Research, Game of Thrones, Mad Men
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