Arctic Air’s transmedia finale explained


When I read the media release about Arctic Air’s transmedia extravaganza finale, I had two thoughts:

  1. This media release needs to calm itself down a whole lot. (“Leading the charge in social television history and second screen experiences in North America, ARCTIC AIR has developed a transmedia storytelling event…”)
  2. Why is this THAT much more special than “there’s additional web content”?

After sitting on it for a day I decided to post anyway and let the reader decide how exciting they found this, whatever this was. And of course I made a snarky twitter comment expressing the above sentiments in 140 characters. One of CBC’s highly responsive (no sarcasm there) interactive team responded and offered to get my questions answered. So here is CBC’s Nick Mcanulty explaining the concept in slightly less hyperbolic and jargony language than that media release:

So first of all, in one sentence and without using the word transmedia, can you explain what’s unique about the Arctic Air finale?

What’s unique about the finale is that it’s 100% focused on the main story, continuing scenes and revealing more about the plot and characters at each commercial break.

What kind of content are we talking about? Video? Written? Images?

The Arctic Air finale will unfold over multiple screens with a parallel part of the story from another characters perspective taking place online. The majority of the elements are video with interactive components such as audio and branching storytelling. These segments were written as part of the finale script and were produced by the Arctic Air production as part of the episode. There will also be a web version that airs after the broadcast framed as a police interrogation that jumps into these segments as well as an epilogue to the episode that reveals and teases more for season 3.

Can you explain the ideal user experience as they watch the show and interact with this content? As in, if I choose to follow along on my iPad, what will I be doing and what will it add to my viewing of the show?

Audience members will watch the broadcast of the episode with their device (iPad, phone, laptop). Right before each commercial break, they will be prompted to go to the Arctic Air site where the scene that just ended in the broadcast will unlock and continue online. After the broadcast, viewers can go and experience a complete version that takes place after the episode that has entry points into these scenes and contains new story elements and a conclusion to the episode that wasn’t seen in the broadcast.

How do you balance having enough in the broadcast for the majority of the audience but having the second screen content compelling enough for that group of viewers?

The balance comes from working with the story department from the beginning. Instead of shoehorning something into the finale, the story team developed storyline that allowed for an exciting story to take place from multiple perspectives. Those just watching the episode will still get a satisfying experience as we’re not aiming to take anything away from the broadcast, but those that go through the online component will get a lot more insight, story and reveals.

What is the expectation — higher ratings for the broadcast, or simply more engaged with it?

Higher ratings are always good for everyone but for this we really want to offer a richer viewing experience that’s rewarding the viewer for exploring past just the broadcast.

Given the “Leading the charge in social television history and second screen experiences in North America,” how does this compare to shows doing live Q&As on social media while an episode airs, or audience-responsive episodes like Hawaii 5-0’s choose your own ending, or the X-Factor and Glee second screen experiences? What makes it so leading-edge?

The difference between this and other second screen experiences is that this is 100% story related, giving an overall 60 minute episode instead of the standard broadcast 45. Things like the Hawaii 5-0 experiment deal with one off characters with no consequence to the series (situations dealing with characters whom we’ve never seen before or again) where this focuses on characters we’ve been following for 2 seasons with real consequences. There are no Q&A’s, no stats, no info on the cast – the experience is all story from the episode.

Are you daunted by research that’s showing audiences aren’t engaging with show-specific content like this? Is it still too early to tell how audiences will adapt or is this simply niche marketing for those who do enjoy it?

It’s too early to tell – there are always going to be super fans who want to get every piece of content for a show and there will always be audience members who want nothing more than to watch the show in a completely passive manner. But there is a lot of room to explore between the two so we’re really aiming to give something truly rewarding to the audience to make it worth their time. Our aim is to expand how we tell a story this is a test for us that we’d like to explore further in the future.


6 thoughts on “Arctic Air’s transmedia finale explained”

  1. I don’t understand why anyone would want to flip back and forth between watching a tv show and visiting a website in the middle of an episode – unless maybe the episode isn’t interesting enough on its own. And even then, it’s a lot of effort to switch from tv to computer and back again when there are other shows on that don’t require internet enhancement. This “trans media” stuff turns me off completely. It just seems so…desperate and gimmicky. And the jargon makes me want to slap someone.

    1. I agree. I think/hope there will be a group of keeners who will try this for the novelty value, but I also think networks and producers get excited by the idea that more people are watching TV while using computers/smartphones and aren’t seeing the data that those people are mostly multitasking on other things or looking up specific questions like “where have I seen that actor before?”

      And one of my pet topics to brood over right now is that the Canadian TV funding model is causing more of this digital content without a proven value. I’d like to see the metrics on how many people see this content, or Motive’s webisodes, and what the ROI is for that type of content versus less gimmicky strategies. For so many shows I can’t even find information on what the next episode is, or who guest stars are, never mind have some burning need to see more of the story online while I’m watching.

      1. At least CBC promotes Arctic Air‘s companion content for a season finale. At the same time, I think the companion content will be first broadcast at 8:00 PM ET, to accommodate the Maritime viewing audience. That might reveal significant spoilers, which will then be revealed on Twitter and other social media platforms.

        Granted, this is a taped drama, and not a live event like the Canadian Screen Awards. The problem with the CSA broadcast is still there, in a different form. The companion content for Arctic Air‘s season finale has to eventually stand alone, as a webisode, but it can’t spoil the main episode in the process.

        AA‘s season finale is, in my mind, a better way to fufill the terms of the Canada Media Fund’s Convergent Stream than making a Seed Baby. A few years after the Canadian Television Fund and the Canada New Media Fund became the CMF, I can’t think of a project from the digital media side of the Convergent Stream that became as, or more, popular than the show itself.

      2. You’re right — there isn’t a proven value. Yet. Which is actually why I applaud broadcasters for taking a risk and giving this stuff a go. The TV model as we know it will not exist in 10 years. We don’t know what the future will look like and I don’t see the harm in testing out strategies for richer engagement and enhanced viewer experience.

        They aren’t shovelling ads in your face. In fact, instead of shovelling ads in your face, they’re giving you content you might actually care about on a commercial break. Their advertisers can’t be thrilled.

        Canadian content producers need to be future-focused and adaptable, or else they’ll be in an even sadder state than they are now.

  2. I believe the only “proven value” that television offers, and that audiences will ALWAYS respond to, is good story telling. I really wish that’s what Canadian content producers would focus on, rather than transmedia’s extraneous bells and whistles.

    I just want to watch well written, original shows that make me think and feel. I personally have no desire for “richer engagement” with my television, or any other electronic device, for that matter. I question why there’s so much of a push in this direction. Whatever happened to talking to your family during commercial breaks?

    Does the quality of life improve when we encourage humans to waste more and more of their limited time on earth staring at little glowing boxes? I ask this both as a viewer and as a person who makes a living writing for tv. Sometimes I really question what I do for a living.

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