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October 1, 2006

Springfield Burns Another GL Cross-Media Experiment, but with Transmedia Storytelling Potential

Make this the third post about the soap opera Guiding Light in the past week, but the show and its parent company--Procter & Gamble Productions--continues to do some intriguing work regarding cross-platform release and transmedia content of the show's story. Previously, I've written about the soap's crossover with Marvel Comics and the Washington Post piece examining the process of transferring a day's GL episode into podcast form.

In that Post story, there was also mention of an interesting transmedia project that the GL folks have invested in, a Web site called Springfield Burns. As with many other current transmedia experiments, it hints at how great an idea like this could be, more than anything else, but lacks enough significant detail and time invested into it to truly reach its potential.

The premise of the site is that it is written by an anonymous member of the town of Springfield, where the show is set, and is used as a place to dish about various famous figures in the area. The Web site is worked into the television show, as characters are angered about things that are written about them and loved ones on this site, etc.

Of course, there is not nearly enough narrative flow between the site and the show for this to draw major attention, as is the case with many current transmedia enterprises, and the site does not have enough new activity to become a daily must-read for viewers or anything of the sort. But it does provide another interesting instance of a company sticking its toes in transmedia waters and getting viewers more prepared to look for this type of content.

The site includes a merchandise section and links to a variety of local Springfield Web sites. None of these are much to look at, but that reflects what most real small-town restaurants and organizations have for Web sites, so I find that pretty realistic. And, knowing some of the landmark places from the show, it's fascinating to flip around and actually look at artifacts from the fictional world.

There are a couple of things that would make the site more authentic, such as having some of these sites not exist as subaddresses for this address but rather at standalone URLs, and that wouldn't be that expensive to pull off. And it would also seem more realistic if there were several places depicted that viewers hadn't seen on the show, since GL can only show so much of life in Springfield.

But this site provides the skeleton of transmedia storytelling, much as Oakdale Confidential did earlier this indication that fans and viewers alike are amenable to this type of information, once it becomes monetized and once more and more viewers gain broadband Internet access and interest in pursuing the story outside of the daily one-hour show.

The key to monetizing it may be to solicit real advertisements for the site, even developing local ties for some of them. What about a local IHOP or Home Depot or Best Buy running a banner ad? There are a variety of ways to make this exist in the fictional realm of Springfield while also making it a profitable enterprise to expand the reach of its narrative. The site currently features ads from Oil of Olay and Cover Girl, but neither are particularly worked into the site in any way or make any acknowledgment of the Springfield market and, of course, are not the type of ads you would expect to find on a local site like that, anyway, especially without any particular reference to a Springfield area mall or something of the sort. Both Olay and Cover Girl are Procter & Gamble brands.

This would require, for soaps, deeper thinking about the structure of the town and a true organization of what Springfield or Oakdale or Genoa City really looks like, culling the collective memory of fans and writers to think of the various landmarks and where they would be in relations to each other, etc. But investing more energy in a project like this also creates another site to increase the fans' immersion in the narrative in meaningful ways.

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