Digital Media & Culture: Collaborative Essay Collection 2018/Convergence/Research Question 1:/JJ.AMBS
How can the concept of Media Convergence be discussed in relation to Marvel?
The Marvel Company is one of the most famous publishing companies for comic books. But since it was founded officially in 1986 it has become bigger and more powerful, spanning multiple different media. It first started with comic books by Martin Goodman in 1939 under the name Timely Publications. Over the years the Marvel Company has grown and branched out, acquiring other Companies for their specific goals like the Marvel Studios for movies or television series. Today Marvel is owned by Disney, and has been since 2009. But the Marvel characters and comic stories have been adapted in different media since it gained its famous status in the 20th Century. Now their properties are available in movies, novels, video and roleplaying games, in TV shows and a lot more. Marvel has also sold some characters and movie licenses to other production companies. There are thousands of characters in the Marvel Universe and hundreds of storylines. While it is such a successful company and works in all different aspects of media, Marvel might give us an opportunity to explain the theory of media convergence through case study to further our understanding of convergence theory in practice.
To explain the phenomena of media convergence, we will stick to the definition provided by Henry Jenkins and will include definitions provided by some other authors. Henry Jenkins defines media convergence as “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences…” (H. Jenkins, 2006). Furthermore, to Jenkins we will use different key points for media convergence by Max Dawson.
Comics, Games & Co.
Before Marvel became the renowned company it is today, it had a much humbler beginning as a comic book publisher. Comic books have become a much more niche area of media and don’t have the audience to create a sustainable company on their own. From this Marvel converged its content across multiple media platforms from films, television and computer games creating an audience and interest much bigger than previously - 'Something like twenty times the number of people went to see the Spider-Man movie its opening day than had read a Spider-Man comic the previous year.' Comic books continue to be something Marvel produce and will always be known for, and for many of the dedicated fans are Marvels greatest work. Marvel have branched out too many other areas of interactive media which allow a more immersive experience for the fans. As Henry Jenkins talks about in Convergence Culture convergence involves the ‘migratory behaviour of media audiences’ as they will go wherever the media industries want them to if it leads to the kind of entertainment experience that they are looking for. One such area that this has occurred is in the creation of Marvel branded theme parks and rides. Across the globe there are many theme park rides that boast a connection to the lucrative brand – from the USA to Dubai, Marvel characters are present. Theme parks can be seen as a version of media convergence as it is ‘a place to provide new interpretations and promotions of the same media text, utilizing different senses in order to provoke interest.’ Marvel fans are able to get an up close and personal experience from these rides – getting unrestricted access to the characters that they have come to see - allowing a new type of involvement between the Marvel Universe and its audience. Disney have utilised the fact fans will go wherever to get a more entertaining experience within the franchise they love so have built, and are in the works of building more, Marvel themed attractions across their parks worldwide. Both the company benefits as they are bringing in more visitors, and in turn more money, and the fans get a new way to become part of the universe that is not only as an observer, but as a participant. This creation of a new medium for the franchise is an integral part of Convergence according to Henry Jenkins. Video games are another area of convergence that Marvel have used to expand their universe and gain more fan involvement with pretty much all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters featuring. This is yet another way in which fans get a more immersive entertainment experience as they are able to play as their favourite characters and control the storyline throughout the games. Also through the video games the Marvel universe can be expanded ever more as more information and character development can be included, allowing the fans even more access to the world and the characters within it. Video games are a staple of media convergence as it allows old media to mesh with new media. It gives franchises more space to expand their brand while also including. Through ventures into theme parks, video games and of course their beginning in comic books, Marvel has used convergence to its power to expand its universe vastly in all areas of Media.
The Marvel cinematic universe play a huge role in the commercial franchise it is today. However, it was not always this way. Marvel studios had initially tried to branch out from their original comics to other media platforms. Yet it was incredibly unsuccessful and they were on the brink of filing bankruptcy in 1996 (Tyson, 2017, 74). Later in 2009, Disney Studios purchased Marvel studios for four billion. Through property licencing, the characters birthed from the original comics were aimed to be used and spread across various different media platforms. Such as; movies, animation, made for tv films, tv shows, etc. This is an extremely effective way for Marvel to build their revenue off the comic characters by making spin offs, sequels, and serial narratives that appeal to a wider audience demographic and fans.
The interactions between fan and comic book publisher demonstrate that there was a desire for the franchise to expand into other media outlets. (Yockey, 2017, 1) The success of the movies is due to the success of the comics and fan base since it had already previously built an identifiable brand. This is the perfect example of how media convergence is an interplay between new and old media, rather than the common assumption that new media is taking over. (Dal Zotto, 4) Since the success of the films “mirrors the extended continuity of the comic books and that has proven to be tremendously successful globally.” (Yockey, 2017, 2)
The cultural power of the Marvel brand provide a strong backbone for the films leased. Marvel movies provide guest appearances of the former editor-in-chief and producer of the Marvel Comics Stan Lee evokes a sense of familiarity and audience participation. The expectation of Stan Lee’s cameo satisfies consumer desires. Due to the fan engagement Marvel depends on for their success, fans also play a role in choosing the movie stars for you make a better character. (Yockey, 2017, 3) Fans use social media platforms to voice their opinions on current Marvel movie discussions. This allows Fans to mediate who they would like to play the next character in the next films, such as; choosing Samuel L. Jackson to play Nick Fury, and not missing an opportunity to point out when characters like Captain America, deviate too much from the original comics. “The knowing viewer’s recognition of this reference to the real world sympathetically aligns him or her with the Marvel studios in an affectively saturated exchange.” (Yockey, 2017. 8) There is a certain satisfaction in viewing a film that lies true to the original comics which also confirms the fans certain authority they have over the movie production as they play a strong role in determining the success of the converging medias within the Marvel franchise. Furthermore, Marvel movies always end with their infamous end sequence which is a prelude to the upcoming films after the closing credits which contributes largely to the fan base satisfaction and the incentive to watch the upcoming releases.
Television & Streaming
Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has branched out from the Cinematic Universe into many other avenues of entertainment, including serial television shows. With the rise in popularity of streamable media, Marvel has created a multitude of products specifically created for Netflix, known as ‘Netflix Originals’. Marvel’s Netflix Originals are an extended arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), connected to the MCU but only briefly mentioning the events of movies such as The Avengers (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
The Netflix Originals are much less reliant on other properties owned by Marvel and tend to be much darker in both tone and content. For example, in season two of Netflix’s Daredevil the primary antagonist, The Punisher, a character who commits acts of extreme violence to further his ideals, has now been given his own series in which he is the protagonist. This style of production is extremely risky for Marvel, but as it is an established comic book character being produced for a streaming site, the studio took the risk and greenlit the show. This example highlights Marvel’s understanding of their audience and the difference in maturity of people who consume media through streaming sites such as Netflix compared to those who only watch the cinematic movie universe. Netflix is also creating its own mini-universe within the MCU, in a serialised form, with the release of the miniseries Marvel’s Defenders in 2017. Similar to The Avengers, Marvel’s Defenders was a culmination of four separate series’: Jessica Jones (2015), Daredevil (2015), Luke Cage (2016) and Iron Fist (2017). Henry Jenkins’ definition of convergence mentions the flow of content across multiple media platforms and the co-operation between multiple media industries, which has been vital for Marvel’s creation of the enormous extended cinematic universe, with the references to the greater MCU peppered throughout the series’. Marvel as a company is highly aware of “the migratory behavior [sic] of media audiences who would go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they wanted” (Jenkins, 2006) and has adapted to this with the creation of their Netflix shows, as well as the production of serialised televised shows such as ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which is now in its 5th consecutive season, Inhumans (2017) which was the first series to debut in IMAX screens, and Agent Carter (2015-2016) which is set in the 1940’s shortly after World War II and was cancelled after only two seasons. Marvel also has several series’ in production on Freeform and Hulu. This broad variety of platforms that Marvel has produced shows for highlights the convergence of new and old media, with modern streaming sites collaborating with television networks to create a consistent extended universe within their cinematic universe. On top of their live-action television productions, Disney-owned Marvel has also created a number of animated shows for their channel, Disney XD, catering towards their younger preteen audiences. Embed Trailer - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PerIAuv27SQ Modern audiences have drastically changed their viewing habits, and a large amount of content is now accessed via the internet. In order to keep up with the rapidly evolving way in which audiences consume new media, television studios have adapted their productions for digital platforms. Dawson, of Northwestern University, discussed this digitalisation of content and how studios are producing “digital shorts” , accessible via YouTube and mobile devices, as additional content alongside their established shows. Dawson explains this new way of producing and consuming as an “aesthetic of efficiency” (Dawson, n.d.), with streamlined content that is designed to be easy to access and consume online. For example, Marvel has produced a number of what they call “webisodes” for the series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which are available on the ABC app on mobile devices, on YouTube and on both ABC and Marvels websites. These “webisodes” are five-minute-long digital episode that are consumed as additional, between-seasons content. They have even produced a mockumentary style short, “Team Thor”, which is not considered canon as part of the MCU. This short was promotional material for Thor: Ragnarok (2017), was directed by Taika Waititi and followed the adventures of Thor during the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016). Marvel has an incredible understanding of their audience and has created multiple different ways of consuming their content. However, the sheer number of different ways in which to access said content could be detrimental to their core audience, and they would be forced to buy subscriptions to several different streaming sites and television services in order to consume everything that Marvel create. At the risk of potentially alienating those loyal fans, Marvel has branched out their television productions in an attempt to draw in a new audience, and in the process shown an effective use of media convergence.
Whilst the canonical convergence of Marvel properties bolsters the storytelling of each product significantly, what is more important is that the products profits are bolstered. This is where fandom comes in. Simultaneously the company has made the event of a film release both an utterly insignificant drop in the ocean as well as a monumental event requiring the whole world’s rapt attention. This is in a large part thanks to the fandom Marvel embraces, engineers and cultivates; as Henry Jenkins notes, the circulation of any piece of media content depends heavily on consumers’ active participation.
In turn, this connects with the thesis put forth by three academics from the University of Nottingham. Their thought is that Marvel aim to create both a canonical universe for their comics, films and games as well as a real-life universe of products, fandom and celebrity: one that their fans can ultimately lose themselves in. This is why Marvel carefully curates the image of not only their characters but the stars who play those characters (Robert Downey Jr is now synonymous with Tony Stark). Alex Brundige of University of West Ontario explores executive reasoning further; studio heads 12 years ago would’ve imagine Bryan Singer’s X-Men series as the highest peak of commercially viable superhero films. Yet, as stated by Marvel Studios’ Kevin Fiege, it was the “one two punch” of Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Favraeu’s Iron Man that truly signaled to Marvel and eventually DC how successfully comics can be sold and integrated to the mainstream. Marvel is of course the most adept at this, creating products that dominate the box office and are seemingly impenetrable to critics. Their aim of 360 degree integration had become complete; Marvel, and in turn Disney, are everywhere. By default, everybody is a Marvel fan. The very fact that someone prefers DC’s films has become a point of interest, even an oddity.
Henry Jenkins states that convergence is both a signifier and sometimes catalyst of cultural, social or technological change. The media convergence that Marvel and now its parent company Disney are creating is a sign of the media landscape to come, even if they won’t be part of it. The human drive to achieve maximum accessibility means more and more people will go to the same company for their media. This is why Marvel aims to create a fandom of 7 billion, where their media options are so accessible and easy to watch that most people at the cinema will end up seeing a Marvel film. Yet as Jenkins notes, the circulation of any piece of media content depends heavily on consumers’ active participation. This can illustrate Marvel’s direction, as they saw the opportunity to change the media landscape vastly in their favour but knew this would rely on consumer satisfaction. The fandom’s demands are in constant tandem with Marvel’s creative process and business model; after Marvel was 100% sure they would make a healthy profit off Black Panther it became the largest film event of the year. Comic sales of Black Panther increased significantly in both the run-up to and aftermath of the film’s release, showing the natural convergence of Marvel’s various properties when one is elevated in the fandom. Marvel aims to utilise its fandom to be seen not as a company but a fixture, a cultural touchstone, a default. This is the number one reason they have utilized convergence, to place their business in the position of a public fixture. When a character is featured on drink cups, comics, video games, TV, film and the sides of buses it is no longer a character; it is a signifier. It’s a sign that signals to the human brain conditioned by Disney Marvel that this is a film you should watch, a game you should play, a cereal you should eat. Marvel is that episode of The Simpsons where they try to fill FOX’s whole TV lineup with spinoff shows, except it is real and it’s working to perfection. Which is apt, since Disney just bought FOX. If convergence is anything, it’s circular.
As we mentioned before about in all the different parts of the Marvel company, we basically can conclude that Marvel is a good example of media convergence. Not just because of it many various parts in the business but also how Marvel make them all work together and converge with the comics, characters and stories. We could say that Marvel totally follows the basics of Henry Jenkins restrictions for media convergence. Marvel converged it comics and stories across a various media platforms and connects them all somehow. These specific ways of the media convergence allows the fans and audience to experience an immersive experience through an immersive entertainment.
Marvel seems to have a great understanding of their audience, not just how they will spend their money or keep them for new movies and marketing, but also what the audience wants to see or experience, sometime by adjusting the story of a movie or creating a new series in with they create a whole new content. They definitely create products out of the box and stand up to the concurrence though. To put it all together it is understandable why Marvel is such a successful company and we might consider Marvel as good example of how the media convergence works. With its different media platforms and the various connections between them, Marvel totally follows Henry Jenkins expression of media convergence.
Comics, Games & Co
Comics and convergence part 1 August 17, 2006 http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2006/08/comics_and_convergence.html
Convergence culture: where Old and New media collide, Henry Jenkins, 2006, NYU Press
Immersion, authenticity and the theme park as social space: Experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Abby Waysdorf, Stijn Reijnders International Journal of Cultural Studies Vol 21, Issue 2, pp. 173 – 188 First Published November 9, 2016 https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877916674751
Wils, Tyson. Marvel and the Storytelling Industry: Characters in an age of media convergence. 2017
yockey, Matt, et al. “Make Ours Marvel: Media Convergences and a Comics Universe” University of Texas Press (20 Jun. 2017)
Television & Streaming
Max Dawson, Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short, Northwest University, (n.d), <http://s1.downloadmienphi.net/file/downloadfile4/270/1393921.pdf> [accessed 26th March 2018]