This article explains and evaluates the impact of digital technology on fan and audience behaviour. It will focus on the effects upon general audiences as well as those on more dedicated fan-bases, in particular, those who attend conventions such as ‘Comic-con’ as well as more specialised conventions hosted by ‘Rogue Events’.
With the continual development of the World Wide Web, new technologies in web design and interactivity have begun to come to fruition in the last 20 years. The term ‘Web 2.0’ describes the gradual emergence of interactive online platforms or information that, instead of just being received by the average user, can also be given. The epitome of these 2.0 websites includes – but are not limited to – the social networks Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. The comments sections can be viewed as the most fundamental tool for giving a revolutionary new voice to the audience member.
If that person belongs to a mainstream audience, movies, and their trailers become more than something to simply be viewed in a private, traditional theatre or TV environment, as they once were. Dedicated YouTube channels and promotional Facebook posts force movie trailer advertising in the direct path of their potential customers and turn them into a shared entity. Most importantly, however, modern day technologies mean that comments sections are open to anyone and allow reactions to come free and loud from audiences.
Unfortunately, this opportunity brings with it some negative effects for the general movie audience member. Going on YouTube to watch a movie trailer before release is usually free from any incidents and allows users to discuss how they feel in anticipation of the release. However, if viewing after release, a trailer such as one for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) it can be all too easy to find a ‘spoiler’ comment such as ‘Batman pardoned supermans life because their mommies are named the same. AWESOME FILM!!!’ It can often be difficult to determine a person’s true intent when reading YouTube comments and often the anonymity and lack of face to face communication can cause people to be viciously attacked for simply expressing their opinions.
If however, the viewer is more than just a general audience member and is perhaps an explicit fan of a particular franchise, Web 2.0 and social media can tend to provide an arguably more positive level of interaction. In the modern consumerist society, fan ‘hype’ and continual appreciation outside of movie release time slots is arguably just as important as it is during the releases. Comic-Con has been the staple meeting point for the movie ‘nerd’ for several decades, but in recent years, the experience has become very different.
The company Funko is a testament to current movie merchandising success, appearing at Comic-Cons across the world as well as in high-street stores such as HMV. Their ‘Pop Vinyl’ series of figures of Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, Pulp fiction, as well as Disney classics to name just a few has become extremely popular acquired one of the largest collections of licenses to date. This vast collectorship has become the perfect medium for social media to create communities, with Facebook hosting various unofficial fan-generated collector pages.The online accessibility means that these experiences no longer become fleeting but can extend past the scheduled events accessible any time a fan may choose.
Another example of strong fan community are the regular attendees of the UK based Rogue Events conventions. Rogue Events, who specialize in hosting TV show specific conventions, has no doubt benefited from the interactive website technologies that emerged with Web 2.0. Several official and unofficial Rogue Events groups exist within Facebook, as well as update accounts on Twitter, to either assist attendees looking for information on the running of future events, allow staff members to communicate with each other quickly and effectively, or to simply allow fans to share their adoration for actors and characters between each other. Often these groups have proven an unexpected support for fans who may be struggling with personal issues and have a medium to bond over. Not dissimilar to Comic-Cons, fans of particular movie and TV franchises have the ability to witness that other people share their passions and interests, on chat rooms and social media comments sections before attending an actual event. A confidence is built up in people who, only a few decades back, often may have felt ashamed and isolated. The term ‘nerd’ has become, in recent years, a proud symbol or term of endearment and this support system has made the fan experience far more enjoyable for many.
It is fair to speculate that social media will have no doubt had a role to play in influencing the emergence of new Rogue Events conventions. Where Asylum – a convention for the CW TV showSupernatural – has been a staple, conventions such as ‘Storybrooke’, ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Die Zombie Die’ have only been announced within the last year, with Prophecy and Die Zombie Die set to debut in June 2016 and January 2017. The TV shows they revolve around are not particularly new, with The Walking Dead having been released in 2010 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997 and ending 2003. Therefore, despite the opportunity to do these conventions having been around for some years, the fact that their announcement was a recent addition would suggest that popular demand played a significant role in seeing these conventions become a reality. The main resource for displaying such a collective interest would no doubt be a platform such as the Rogue Events Facebook or Twitter pages. A similar pattern may be seen with new Comic-Con locations being announced across the UK in recent years, including Blackpool, Leicester, and Worcester.
Arguably the effect of Web 2.0 and social media has been largely positive. Hateful attitudes tend to usually be passively broken down. Those who ‘troll’ or target people negatively tend not to form strong communities as opposed to the fan communities who passively divert the negativity. The convention circuit has become fuller. Rather than fans and audiences feeling that their time to shine has been selective, they have 365 days a year to use a platform accessible at all hours of the day that gives a communal voice to audiences when conventions and physical chances to meet are not available. Arguably then, Web 2.0 and social media has allowed film franchises to continue to give audiences positive experience, long after the end of its release.