The creators of the great sitcom Community did something brilliant on a recent episode. Allegedly it was just an episode like every other -- plot A and plot B that at the end had a meeting point. However, the sharp-sighted viewer got an added value: an entire plot line, completely independent, that took place silently out of focus at the background. It was only a sweet gimmick but also another step in the fascinating process of Multiplexing Content where more than one layer of content is being transmitted at the same period of time, planned to be revealed in second and third watch only.
The Content Multiplexing process is an important key in maximising the IP and content brand. It's just the beginning of it but using it smartly can generate huge revenues.
Let me explain. The audience at the première of the Lumieres brothers' Arrival of a Train had no expectations. Then they watched the miracle on the screen. The innovation was so dramatic that on the following morning, the papers weren't full of critics complaining about the lame plot or the locomotive's unconvincing acting. They just loved it.
Soon after, however, the novelty wore off - the audience demanded, and got, better plots, convincing acting, maybe some special effects or attractive nudity. The creator's energy was then aimed at increasing the effectiveness of a one-time event. In those pre-TV and pre-VCR days, most of the audience treated movies as a unique one-time experience.
Then TV got into the home and soon enough brought along another important invention: the re-run. People started getting used to the idea that a show is something that can be consumed more than once. The process got another boost when VCRs became part of the living room. Still -- a real change in content didn't really take place. Anyone watching the content a second time was doing that either in order to reconstruct the joy of the first one, to share it with someone -- or because he was a Trekkie and had nothing better to do on Saturday night.
Now, however, in the multi-screened era in which we live, change is happening in front of our very eyes - and you need to watch more than once to see it. Slowly, a new kind of content is evolving: TV shows and movies that intentionally overload the screen with more text and sub text than the human mind can absorb on the first go. This content is designed so that viewers go back, watching it again.
The best example might be animated comedies such as Futurama or Family Guy. The screen explodes with verbal jokes, twists in the plot and visual bonanzas that can only be fully digested in the third or fourth viewing. But this is not limited to comedies alone - shows like Glee provide viewers with catchy musical numbers that give value to additional viewing. Even clearer evidence can be found in science fiction series which the viewers watch them out over and over to compete who spots more "homages" that the creators planted. "Easter eggs" in DVD menus are another similar example.
It's important to distinguish between that trend and the experience of watching Friends or Seinfeld for the fifth time. When you watch these shows you get the same effective content you got the first time around. Yet it's very rare to find another sub-text layer that you didn't spot before. It is more nostalgic watching, similar to a child watching the same Bob the Builder episode over and over.
With time, and sooner than some of you may think - it won't be just an abstract observation but a clear reality. We will watch a crime drama with plot layer A and B at the front - while in the background a silent layer C, D, or E will take place. Maybe one will only take place with sounds, only be revealed after the third viewing. In prime time dramas, the frame will be designed with such complexity and detail it will resemble a museum exhibit - and just like in a beautiful painting, we would come again and again to watch it.
When that day comes - we will sit in front of the screen and watch for the thousandth time a beloved series. Behind tens of jokes, complicated plot-lines and hundreds of special effects and irresistible music we'll notice for the first time somewhere on the far end of the frame the famous Lumieres' train arriving to the station and think - "oh, wow, how come I've never noticed that before?"
This piece also appeared on the official MIP blog
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