This paper is a case study of transmedia storytelling through the reality brand, Big Brother Africa. Created by Underdog productions (a subsidiary of Transmedia entertainment – a large South African media group), the brand (mainly) appeals to young people (Routledge 1). In South Africa, the creators of the Big Brother brand did so using a ground-up approach. Indeed, as opposed to designing the product to fit in only one media platform, the creators enabled the brand to work on multiple platforms.
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This approach is part of a larger philosophy pursued by Underdog, which assumes the holistic advantages of creating the product, as opposed to different components of the same brand (Routledge 1). This way, Big Brother Africa does not depend on the available media platforms; instead, the media platforms depend on the brand. This transmedia approach led Routledge to say, Big Brother Africa “… is a property that has been created specifically to be exploited across several media in a cohesive and integrated manner” (1).
This paper shows the transmedia elements associated with the brand – Big Brother Africa. In line with this strategy, this paper underscores how different audiences engage with one another using transmedia storytelling options. Similarly, this paper explains how expanding the narrative over a variety of platforms would extend the brand. This analysis is important not only in comprehending how Big Brother has become popular among young people in Africa, but also around the world.
Transmedia Elements used to tell the Story of the Brand
By replicating the format of other Big Brother brands, in other parts of the world, Big Brother Africa drew a lot of attention in Africa. The larger Big Brother franchise works by putting different contestants in one house and watching their interactions through strategically placed cameras. Using this technology, viewers can stream (live) what is going on in the Big Brother house. Endemol is the official company that manages different interactive platforms in Big Brother Africa because it closely monitors SMSs, online chats and all incoming and outgoing emails (Routledge 2).
The purpose of managing these interactive platforms, in real time, is to give the show a new twist that would keep the audience engaged (Routledge 2). These interactive platforms are essential for the proper functioning of the Big Brother Africa brand because without them, it would be difficult to maintain the brand’s popularity. In line with this advantage, Routledge says, “There is a strategy that aims to create an audience loop that pushes people from TV to telephony, to iTV to the Internet, and back to TV” (3).
Big Brother Africa has several transmedia elements, including “websites, webcams, interactive television, telephony (through interactive voice response), and short message services (SMS)” (Routledge 2). Different media platforms serve different purposes. For example, the SMS platform allows fans to vote for their favorite contestants during eviction shows. Viewers can also use the same platform to send their views about live television shows.
Usually, their messages scroll at the bottom of the television screen when live television shows happen. Websites and webcams are useful for viewing what is going on in the big brother house. Usually, these messages are about events that happen in the house (Routledge 3). For example, when one issue dominates the interactive platform, other viewers comment on it. This interaction creates an interactive dialogue as the television show airs.
How the Transmedia Elements Create Engagement
Unlike other types of media engagement, transmedia communication is inclusive (Miller 150). The engagement could happen in different ways. For example, by redirecting the show’s performance, according to the audience’s feedback, viewers would believe that the content developers respect their views. They also develop an attachment in this regard. Using this logic, Rutledge says, “The audience becomes actively involved, elevated social and creative collaborators.
They become stakeholders in the transmedia experience alongside the brand or cause” (2). The unfolding story design allows viewers to engage with one another within the interactive platform. This way, the brand incorporates the views of all interested parties. Their contributions add to the content development processes. By breaking down traditional barriers to communication, transmedia communication also breaks down the barrier between storytelling and reality (Miller 150-153). It does so by bringing out the Big Brother Africa narrative in the real world by screening live events on online portals (Rutledge 4). Through this expansive engagement strategy, the audience develops an attachment with the brand and becomes a stakeholder in its development.
Based on the above dynamics, transmedia communication supports collective intelligence gathering. Similarly, it enhances viewers’ involvement. These advantages emerge because traditional media platforms often create inherent communication gaps between content developers and their intended audience (Philips 7). Transmedia communications help to fill this gap. This is why the structure of Big Brother Africa differs from traditional television shows. Moreover, it is difficult to contextualize the brand as a television show, because it uses other media platforms to reach its audience, besides television. These advantages are real because the brand merges different aesthetic and logistical elements of entertainment production.
How Expanding Narrative over different Platforms extends the Brand
Traditionally, mainstream media monopolized the market and made it difficult for new content providers to gain access to the market. However, transmedia communications has made it possible for content providers and brand developers to maintain a crossover market (Philips 7). For example, this multivariate platform has made it easy to sell the Big Brother franchise in not only South Africa, but the rest of the world as well. Media consolidation and synergy are at the heart of this transformation because new media brands, such as Big Brother Africa thrive on them (Routledge 3).
Indeed, the brand has expanded its outreach because it attracts different audience segments through different entry points, such as web broadcasts, television shows, emails, and SMSs. The brand is also able to barrage its contents through other media platforms, such as magazines. However, instead of using its content for promotional purposes, the brand’s developers use a “hunting and gathering” strategy where they prefer to use different media platforms to distribute their contents (Routledge 3).
This way, the ancillary content has not only expanded its outreach, but also enriched its contents. Recent market research, which shows that many viewers have trouble dismissing contents that would improve their entertainment experience, supports this strategy (Philips 7). Using the information gathered in this section of the paper, the Big Brother Brand could easily expand its outreach through the horizontal integration strategy that thrives on transmedia stories. Nonetheless, based on the fragmented nature of the audience, content developers are not the only competing parties because media outlets also compete in similar fashion. For example, mainstream media houses, such as NBC and ABC would have to compete with YouTube and similar online platforms.
In the context of the Big Brother Africa brand, different audiences may be willing to experiment with different media platforms because of unique reasons (say, they get to interact with their favorite contestants through this platform). For example, in the gaming world, a lost fan would most likely shy away from participating in an alternate reality game. However, they would be willing to participate in playing a game that promises to solve some of the problems they have experienced when playing a previous game. This strategy means that transmedia communication uses a cross platform franchise to draw out the different audiences from their accustomed viewing habits (ASMEDIA 7). Comprehensively, if each media platform offers a fresh experience to its viewers, there would be increased satisfaction for the viewers within each platform.
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The only challenge experienced by the brand creators of Big Brother Africa is coordination problems across different sectors (ASMEDIA 7). Concisely, instead of different transmedia segments working together to create one story, they often limit the extent that each sector could add to the brand’s portfolio (ASMEDIA 7). These constraints make it difficult to explore the market potential for all transmedia segments. This problem is endemic because research shows that, in many transmedia storytelling platforms, different media usually compete aggressively, as opposed to collaborating. To enjoy the benefits of transmedia communication, content developers should avoid these challenges.
This paper shows that expanding the Big Brother narrative across different platforms would increase the brand’s outreach. Nonetheless, Transmedia storytelling has helped to fragment different audiences and allowed the brand to penetrate further than it would have done if it relied on mainstream media platforms only. This paper shows that the Big Brother Africa brand uses different media platforms, including “websites, webcams, interactive television, telephony (through interactive voice response), and short message services (SMS) to interact with its audience” (Routledge 2). These platforms help to shape and enrich the brand. In fact, it would be difficult for the brand to survive without them. The same is true for the larger Big Brother Franchise.
By catering to fragmented audiences, it is also possible for transmedia stories to expand their outreach and appeal to people who have different viewing preferences. For example, those who have an internet access and prefer to watch episodes of Big Brother could easily do so using the online platform. Alternatively, those who prefer to watch the show’s highlights could prefer to do so by watching it on television. Some of the show’s loyalists would be willing to use multiple media platforms to watch the show.
Advertisers are the main beneficiaries here because through the multifaceted strategy, they could reach multiple audiences. Other transmedia examples, such as the superhero merchandise, also benefit from this multifaceted strategy because content developers could advertise their materials through the Incredible Hulk Online (among other platforms). Content developers in the sports industry could also benefit from the same multifaceted strategy by advertising on Friday Night Lights and similar platforms. Therefore, instead of paying huge sums of money to gain access to mainstream media, advertisers could use transmedia streams to gain access to small interest communities. These contributions of transmedia storytelling show that it was central to the brand development process of Big Brother Africa.
ASMEDIA. Advantages and Challenges in the Business of Transmedia Storytelling. 2015. Web.
Miller, Carolyn. Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment, London, UK: Elsevier Inc., 2008. Print.
Philips, Andrea. A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences across Multiple Platforms, London, UK: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, 2012. Print.
Routledge. An actor’s perspective of transmedia storytelling. December. 2014. Web.
Rutledge, Pamela. Transmedia Storytelling. 2015. Web.