Transmedia Storytelling: Pretty Little Liars

Henry Jenkins describes transmedia storytelling as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience”. Each of these elements make their own individual contribution to the unfolding storyline, which increases the details of the fictitious world and extends the drama beyond the original plot line. One great example of transmedia storytelling is one of ABC’s top rated series Pretty Little Liars (PLL). The shows continuously high ratings are due to the networks extensive use of social media to promote the series and create buzz before the episodes even air.

In the middle of season three, the ABC network released an interactive “suspect tracker“. Accessed via the PLL official site, it allowed fans to cast their vote on which of the 12 suspected characters committed the ‘ultimate betrayal’ in that season. Users actually voted via twitter, tweeting a hash tag such as #LucasIsGuilty, which generated more social buzz around the show when retweeted or seen by followers.

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The network delved deeper into transmedia storytelling with the release of “pretty dirty secrets”. An eight part web show which aired during the mid season break and each episode was allegedly watched by 200,000-600,000 fans. The web show has its own Facebook page with 11,990 likes and a tumblr sites as well.

Twitter is another platform used by the ABC to promote the show, with the official account having 1.2 million followers and multiple unofficial pretty little liars accounts. With the return of “Pretty Little Liars” in January 2013, a Twitter-based scavenger hunt was launched, taking place in real-time while the midseason premiere aired. Mona, one of the characters of the series, tweeted clues to followers of her official fictional Twitter account during the broadcast. Fans had the chance to unlock a secret video containing never before seen footage by decoding the hidden message within her tweets. According to Bluefin Labs, the mid season premiere of Pretty Little Liars “accounted for over 52% of all Twitter activity peaking at nearly 39,000 tweets per minute and achieving a new record of around 1.4 million mentions on Twitter”

While it has many benefits, there are some criticisms of transmedia storytelling. Fans are able to delve deeper into the world of their favourite book, movie etc. and sometimes have the opportunity to participate in things such as scavenger hunts. But are all these mediums official? Now that we are evolving into a prosumer based society, there’s no guarantee that all these spinoffs from the original have actually been authorised by the franchise. This is something that is not really a problem for the consumer, but more for the producers of original content because someone else may be making money off something that they could have done or should have been in control of.

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