With the creation and development of the internet over the past few decades, the way that people interact with media has changed significantly. Much of this is to do with delivery, by which I don’t mean ordering your Tesco’s shopping online, but rather more specifically I refer to the fact that no longer must the family unit cram into a living area and watch whatever television executives decide you might like to watch. That still happens to an extent, but the choice of channels has broadened and most homes now have more than one television so that individual members can watch various shows, independent of the rest of the family.
So how has the internet affected this? Well, the internet has become such a persistent part of our lives that we no longer need to wait for a rerun of our favourite show; instead, we simply hop online and watch it, or in some cases, it’s even possible to watch shows from an entirely different country before they’ve been exported to our television networks. In other words, television as a medium for being educated, entertained and enamoured must compete with the internet. This type of competition extents to most forms of media including, literature and writing, films, journalism, comics and pictures. Why go out and buy Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when it’s far cheaper to find it on the internet? Why go to the cinema and watch The King’s Speech when you could just watch it online for free? Why buy comic books, newspapers, and magazines or actually visit museums, when it is all accessible via a internet connection, a computer and a browser?
The answer to those questions is because it’s illegal, although it depends on your country and your government’s policies. Yet it still happens, and it can’t really just be policed or ignored. A shop might sell bread, but if a man is poor and hungry enough, he will still steal bread, even if he might be caught and punished. For most people with jobs, they probably have the expendable cash to afford to go see a movie and have a busy enough life to wait for that well hyped television show to finally come to a network near them. That doesn’t apply to everyone though, and especially with the recession tightening around the pockets of everyone in the world, now more than ever are people likely to use the internet to access what they want, rather than shelling out of pocket, even with criminal risk.
To counteract this, a lot of networks have begun working with the internet, rather than competing against it. For instance, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all offer online, on demand streaming of their shows and have made efforts to acquire strong U.S. shows faster (although RTE still airs them earlier)in order to keep people on the right side of the law. Some shows however, have also begun to use the internet to supplement the viewer’s experience, such as Lost. During the season breaks of Lost, certain websites were created and filled with special features, or games, that when found showed videos or teased forthcoming events and themes. In this way, the internet was used to maintain interest in the show until the next season. However, Lost already had a fairly divided fan base that either thought it was the best thing ever, or that the lack of answers or thorough explanations ruined the show, and this use of the internet probably only heightened that. Casual fans of the show probably didn’t use these features, or didn’t even know about them and so probably ended up feeling out the loop when time travel had already totally been teased by bunny displacement video.
Another show that recently employed this technique is Misfits, a Channel 4 show about a bunch of disreputable teens who acquire superpowers and proceed to do nothing productive with them, in much the same way they’d probably squander £10 if you gave it to them. Between seasons 2 and 3, Channel 4 have posted a short video on the Channel 4 website revealing Nathan’s new power (although quite frankly he was an idiot for giving up immortality) and the reason that he won’t return in season 3. It’s possible that season 3 will begin with a lot of people unaware that Nathan has left, and confused about why Woody from This is England is suddenly doing community service with them. Channel 4 are making the effort to extensively advertise the online extra though, both on the site and on television, so generally I think most people will find out about it and using the internet to explain the matter was probably a better idea than glossing over it with a line or two in the new season.
So far though, I’ve probably painted the internet in a somewhat negative light; as a vehicle for criminals to steal from television networks, while the networks pander to an internet fan base by throwing them the occasional video supplement. Obviously this isn’t the case. The internet is a medium in its own right for original works such as writing, reviews and comics. This very blog is an example of that, but just a quick google search will bring up a large number of web comics, some of which are adaptations of existing works by fans, such as 8-Bit Theater as a re-imaging of the Final Fantasy plot, and others are original ideas, for example, John Allison’s Bad Machinery. The nature of the internet allows a lot of diverse ideas to find an accepting audience. Although not all of it is necessarily good, if constructive criticism is offered and the creator is willing to listen, anything can be improved. That said, sometimes it is simply a matter of taste.
Few forms of internet media really achieve the same acclaim or size of audience that one might find on the television or on the cinema screen. Perhaps, like games, the internet has yet to be really considered an art form, but a few shows are aiming to do just that. During the 2007-2008 Writers Strike, Joss Whedon took advantage of the internet to create Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It isn’t massive by any means, but it has gain a cult following, and is set to be continued sometime in the near future. So already some big names are becoming involved in helping the internet to be viewed as a powerful medium in its own right, rather the back alley for all the people who couldn’t make it, or just aren’t talented enough. Yet, it’s probably the lesser known people that are actually making the biggest waves.
Wayside Creations have taken internet fan adaptation to another level with their new Fallout Nuka Break series, a continuation of their fan film, in much the same way This is England ’86 is a continuation of the 2006 film. Just by watching the short video, it becomes clear that this wasn’t shot in some guy’s backyard with a handheld camera and some badly made costumes. This is a very professional product with high production values, and you can access it completely for free, and legally, on Youtube. That by itself is pretty amazing, but other shows are demonstrating that even with a handheld camera, good storytelling is as much to do with atmosphere and setting as it is to do with actors and productive values. For example, the video horror blog: Marble Hornets. Unlike a lot of horror films that actually get made in the cinema and think that terror relies only on blood and gore being sprayed about because two young adults were stupid enough to have sex exactly where a serial killer is known to jump out of the bushes and say boo, Marble Hornets actually understands that fear isn’t generated by the presence of blood, screaming or a knife wielding maniac. I touched on this idea a while back, but to elaborate, Marble Hornets utilises the use of the hand-held camera, perhaps drawing from influences such as the Blair Witch Project, or REC, but also uses a lot of silent mundane sequences followed by video distortion and tricks to create an atmosphere of something otherworldly happening in a normal setting. The main antagonist too is much more effective than the usual slasher villain, partly due to the tall, disproportionate figure, and in part also because he waits, and you come to him. There are masked helpers, but I think it seems to be implied that they’re people he has already abducted or infected. Either way, it’s a very effective little web series.
In the future, perhaps all television shows will use internet based videos and blogs, or social networking sites to draw and maintain an audience, or perhaps it will break off completely. When television came along, film eventually had to counter by becoming bigger and creating a ‘cinema experience’ to avoid becoming obsolete to a box which could beam the stories you loved right into your living room. Now, many forms of media face a similar threat from the internet. Do they join together so that the experience of interacting with a certain medium to become a combination of old and new media, or do they crave their own niche? Film and reward people who come to the cinema instead of streaming a film online, or play up the ‘cinema experience’ further, while perhaps Television can focus on the fact that they can provide 45 minute shows, or their generally higher production values to woo an audience back to their TV set.
I don’t think this will be settled any time soon, and the internet, along with games, will take some time to develop. There’s still a lot of potential to be realised. As you read this, think about what is actually at your finger tips. It’s a computer connected to other computers across the world. You essentially have the world at your fingertips; the power to collaborate with anyone around the world and use that power to create something great. Some great things have already been done, but there’s a lot more to come. Personally, I’m looking forward to everything it brings.