Lost as TV3

Curator's Note

Unpacking this thirty second commercial provides numerous insights into Lost as the epitome of what television studies scholars have dubbed TV3, a period of technological convergence, new business models and audience fragmentation. ‘Lost is coming to ABC in 2008’ – the multi-channel universe makes a nonsense of the old network season scheduling model. But without the traditional network premiere week how to a) keep viewers interested and b) let them know when the new ‘season’ starts. One answer is to produce trans-media texts like mobisodes that keep viewers involved in the story and and that provide the network an opportunity to promo the new ‘season.’ ‘Right now it’s on Verizon wireless v-cast’ – how will the technological convergence that permits mobisodes, ARGs, downloads and so forth affect Hollywood’s business models and revenue streams? This is, of course, the issue at the heart of the writers’ strike. ‘Exclusive video episodes that fill in the blanks between your favourite shows’ – what’s the narrative relationship between the episodes and the multiple texts of a trans-media story? The Lost producers have adopted the fan fiction model of fitting in the ‘missing pieces’ in the established narrative timeline. ‘New scenes, new clues, a new chance to get into the mystery of Lost’ – how does TV3’s characteristic narrative complexity attract or repel audiences? It seems unlikely that these mobisodes will be watched by any but the keenest Lost fans and even more unlikely that they will attract new viewers to the show.


I was particularly struck in looking at the mobisode by the promise of being able to 'get into the mystery of Lost' which seems like a spurious promise. The entire scructure of the promo is aimed at the knowing fan as it builds upon the excitement and drama of the season 3 finale and the promise of finding out the hidden secrets of the show. I can't imagine someone who has never seen Lost being enticed by this commercial into watching the show. As you rightly say, the issue is not attracting new viewers but rather keeping established viewers. In TV III, maintaining viewing figures within a multi-channel landscape means being seen to offer more value and in the case of Lost, this value is defined in terms of 'answers' to the series' many questions - 'filling in the blanks' as they say in the promo. Whether they actually offer added value is the question?

I think it's also important to note how the mobisodes themselves blazed a trail for the terms of the writers' contract - unlike most other shows, the Lost producers forced ABC to treat these shorts as 'content' not 'promotion,' ensuring both residual payments and on-screen writer/director credits. Now that the strike seems almost over, it will be interesting to see how much these shorts serve as a template for crediting and paying creators for expanding narrative forms.

One of the most distinctive things about Lost, and what makes it representative for me of 2000s TV drama, is that it's intended to be immediately screengrabbed, freezeframed, closely analysed and shared online. I don't see how you could do that with a postage-size clip on your mobile phone. How are you meant to study close details of an individual shot -- as fans have been doing with every episode since Lost began -- with a screen that size? I think I might just be too old for this TV3 thing.

I'm going to out myself as quasi-obsessive here: I find it particularly interesting that while the advertisement is ostensibly for the "Missing Pieces" clips, so far as I can tell, little or none of the footage in this ad is FROM the mobisodes themselves, and instead is taken in rapid-fire fragments from the first two episodes of the show's fourth season. This provides an interesting subtext of support for Roberta's claim that this advertisement is part of a dialogue involving how to keep audiences engaged until a show returns. (It also raises an interesting legal/contract/labor question: is the lack of mobisode footage in the on-air promo the result of an exclusivity agreement with Verizon? Indicative of the fact that content prepared for new media platforms such as web and mobile can't be re-broadcast onto television without additional financial negotiations? I'd be curious to know more.) And as a final note (for this post), I especially like the not-so-subtle use of Ben's insistent claim near the end of the ad: "I have information that you NEED!" After all, isn't that the lynchpin of Lost's entire transmedia strategy? If you want all of the information -- and as Roberta suggested, only fans who are already invested will -- you have to track down and consume ALL of the transmedia components of Lost.

I think that these mobisodes are to keep current viewers aware that the show has not gone away for good. They also serve as a constant reminder that "we" (the viewers) are in the middle of a highly energetic, scary, and unresloved plot of escape!!! Are these rescuers good guys or bad guys!? Who is getting off the island!? I think these mobisodes serve more as a reminder that there is a lot more to come and a plea to the viewers not to give up on them (for not having any new episodes). Hang on, check out our website (although you wont learn anything too grand from the website, you have to tune in for the "big" stuff), we are coming back, so please please don't forget us on ABC. We will entertian you again. I strongly agree with Stacey Abbott's response that this particular ad is really aimed at the knowing fan and the conclusion to season three. If it truely were intended to reach new fans the promo would have featured ways to get to know the characters, why/how they got there, not to mention the promo of the first 2 seasons! Instead it adds a new twist to the typical Gulligan's Islands' theme of "Are they ever going to get rescued?" to "Who gets rescued?"

Just as an addendum tying together the intersecting industrial and creative issues in the Missing Pieces: they were originally slated for mid-season in season 2, and imagined as raw footage from a camera that Hurley found on the island. They kept getting delayed due to conflicts between the creative team & studio/network/sponsors over compensation & union issues, and the producers wanting to be sure that any paratexts contributed to the core story, not just played in the margins with new characters. By the time they got contracts to do it with union talent, the concept had evolved as easter eggs for hardcore fans, not a new opening for viewers to discover the show. See the Lostpedia article for more details.

Roberta quotes the narrator as talking of “exclusive video episodes”, but isn’t he really saying “exclusive mini-episodes”? If so, what exactly does it mean to produce a “mini-episode” of an episodic TV series? And is a mini-episode of Lost in any way different from a miniature version of any other US TV show? I agree with Ivan that this mobisode is highly suggestive of Lost’s “entire transmedia strategy”, but it is worth thinking more about what this strategy may actually be. It strikes me that from the very beginning Lost has tried to do two things at once. On the one hand, it has taken full advantage of its status as a wilfully incoherent text for the multi-media era. On the other hand, it has taken advantage of its status as a narrative mystery promising answers and closure. This implementation of a dual-strategy has across the first three seasons raised expectations that complement and balance each other out: i.e. the pleasure of immersion in an endlessly unravelling multi-media universe is tempered with the promise that some kind of logic and master plan underpins it all. It is in this sense that this particular ‘mini’ or small-scale episode of Lost continues in the same vein as every ‘normal scale’ episode produced to date. It suggests incoherence while promising eventual narrative coherence. Jason informs us that the commercial is “not a new opening for viewers to discover the show”. However, this mobisode may still be read – rhetorically at least – as not just for the fans. Any television narrative will end at some point, and in order to find out how and why it does eventually end, individual viewers may “come in” at any point along the way – this is what Lost promised from its very first episode, and what it will presumably want to promise for the remainder of its days. I would be interested to learn more about who is being targeted in this way (US viewers?) and who it is who actually uses the technology (which I assume must be deficient in terms of sound as well as the image). Whatever the answers to those two questions, though, this commercial demonstrates yet again that in the case of Lost classic narrative expectations drive the desire to submit to unfathomable mystery.

I forgot to mention in my initial post that contributors to the current Lost week on In Media Res are also all contributors to my forthcoming edited book, Reading Lost (IB Tauris) which will be available in the autumn (I hope). I'm given a chance at viral marketing and I blow it! Talk about not being suited to the internet age!

With regard to Ben's declaration that he has information we need, Season 4 Episode 2 makes it pretty clear that he (playfully) speaks for the creators/the show in that scene, with Locke's gang standing around him as audience. He's the enigma code. He tells them he has answers. Don't walk away or you'll never find out. Don't turn me off because I'm just about to tell you something. OK, says Locke, the Lost fan on the verge of snapping. What's the monster, then? What's the black smoke? Ben stalls on that one and Locke's about to shut him off -- but just in time, Ben/Lost releases another little burst of information, enough teaser to keep himself alive, the show afloat and the viewers hanging on...

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