April 13, 2006
New Mobile Service will Further Storylines

World Wrestling Entertainment has started their own Mobile Alerts service that will send fans regular text messages of late-breaking news from the company, as well as polls and trivia. The news portion of WWE Mobile Alerts blends both legitimate updates--wrestlers who are suspended, hired, or fired, for instance--with the capability to use the service as a way to extend the storytelling world.

WWE is uniquely situated by being able to combine what many sports franchises are already doing in the realm of sports reporting--sending game score updates, for instance--with the WWE's fictional world because wrestling is one version of television entertainment that predicates on being a part of the "real world" in a way most other fiction shows don't.

The service costs $3.99 a month. We'll see in the next few months how many fans decide to plunk down the modest fee to be on the cutting edge of the WWE's storylines. If they get a hardcore fan base developed around Mobile Alerts, it could become an essential part of the storytelling device, similar to how the company is using its Web-only video programming to supplement the televised shows.

Does anybody know of similar instances where a "news reporting" mobile service is employed develop a fictional storyworld on a regular basis?


On April 25, 2006 at 10:24 PM, Kath Lowney said:

This is interesting -- but they will still have the "catch up" problem; that is -- the need to have repetitive messages/moments in the storyline for those who do not receive the Mobile Alerts. In fact, this might just create more fans who need repetitive story points -- something they already do (as do soap operas).

Does anyone think that cultural messages can reach a saturation point though -- where the need to "catch up" fans in fact loses others/more fans, who want a more straightforward story to be told?

On April 27, 2006 at 11:44 AM, Sam Ford said:

You've got a good point about saturation--it's been a particular issue in soap operas, where redundancy is always in issue. In soaps, they have shied away from redundancy to a degree, but they have one built-in way to have redundancy to catch people--the fact that the power of soaps come not in what happens but in how various people react to what happens.

So that is the way soap plots can be reiterated without anyone getting tired of it--becuase the act of retelling is often what people are watching for. Jen had a wreck. What will her dad Hal say when he finds out? Or her mother Barbara? Or her boyfriend? Will he blame himself? Who is going to tell him, and so on.

As for the mobile service, I agree that there's a thin line to walk--the four bucks a month or so seems to be rewarding the value of knowing something before everyone else does, finding out that Randy Orton is suspended even though it isn't ever mentioned on television. In that way, it doesn't serve as a plot point to the main television plot but can be a space for WWE to create another layer of meaning. Here, WWE is trying to create itself as an authority similar to Dave Meltzer, but they have the ability to not only tell true stories--which Dave tries to do--but also use these to create another drama, not the drama of the front stage but the drama of what happens behind-the-scenes.

That all being said, I do think redundancy is a real danger. People have quit watching various soap operas over the years because nothing ever happens and the redundancy is blatant instead of artful--excessive use of flashbacks, for instance. It can be a real problem and is something WWE needs to be very careful about. They should look toward how the best soaps have been able to integrate these catch-up devices without alienating fans, who will turn off when they get segments like "WWE REWIND" or other recap-package types of segments.

On April 27, 2006 at 10:00 PM, Kath Lowney said:

Interesting about redundancy -- GH fans right now are begging FOR flashbacks. With the recent hirings of actors from the 1980s, fans on several of the main GH websites are saying they want to see flashbacks -- in part to, I believe, relive those 'glory days' of the soap opera but also to interweave time/space dimensions - and of course to also catch up new viewers.

So I think that redundancy - especially when requested by viewers/fans -- pulls them, in a way, into the Goffmanesque back stage decisions that are normally left to producers/writers. This layering of statuses for viewers builds a sense of ownership - no?

On April 27, 2006 at 10:57 PM, Sam Ford said:

I was thinking more about flashbacks in the showing you what happened again yesterday a million times. I tried watching DAYS for a while but just couldn't stomach it, in part due to the fact that half of the next day's episode seemed to be direct flashbacks to the day before, so that they were only really producing half a show everyday since they were using flashbacks so heavily.

But as for marketing the archive, my latest blog post actually brings your point up...the need to mine the archives for meaningful content. I think that's a really important point and a market that needs to be tapped more effectively. Even if soaps total numbers are down, it is an active audience ready to consume more. When a character returns, why not market a DVD on the Web site that just includes archival clips of that character's history on the show, especially if it's the original portrayer returning. Older viewers can reminisce and also strengthen their memory about the character's past...new viewers can learn what they've missed in the show's history...Everyone wins, in that the produceres have another way to make money on the same number of fans, while the fans are happy by getting more relevant content.