The Network is the Story
Iâ€™ve was in LA last week talking to various people in the entertainment business about various things, and a subject that kept coming up was how the way we create stories is changing. Most forms of big media storytelling are one-to-many, but new forms of malleable media and new opportunities to create many-to-many networks are adding value to broadcast models, and the way they tell stories.
Stories that include their audiences in the creation process become more complex, go off on tangents and create new relationships between the broadcaster and the audience. Some even extend markets and product life spans. Giving the audience space to create their own stories within the broadcast story is a great way to create mass media. Instead of creating one story with broad enough appeal for a mass audience to find it palatable, itâ€™s now possible to create a piece of mass media without much of a storyline at all, but instead, the tools the audience needs to create millions of their own, that they in turn can change and narrowcast to their peers. The audience knows what they need from narrowcast entertainment better than the broadcaster does, and they know the target audience for that entertainment (their friends and families) better than the broadcaster ever will.
Video games, currently biggest selling form of entertainment, have realized the potential of this idea more than any other type of storytelling. The battle between Master Chief and the Covenant isnâ€™t the whole story of the Halo franchise. Your YouTube video of yourself regulating ten noobs with nothing but the butt of your gun and a hand grenade, set to a techno music bed that sounds offensively bad to everyone other than you and your friends, is also a major part of the story. Thatâ€™s the reason why Halo set the record for the most single day sales of any form of media. The game about to knock Halo off the top spot is GTA IV. It will do so for the same reason â€“ GTA story lines are paper thin, the real value has always been the rich and detailed sandbox worlds of GTA and how they let you create your own stories within them.
Networks drive stories in physical spaces too, they drive our life stories. David Leonhardt recently made the point that ideas and the value of networks keep us living close together in cities when we donâ€™t necessarily have to. You might visit a major city like LA or Tokyo or London as a tourist for the linear story, to see the sights and so on, but people move to cities for the opportunities and stories they themselves can create with the networks that exist there. The quality of the relationship you are able to have with the network in a physical place makes the difference between that place feeling like a nice place to visit, and that place feeling like it could be home. New York City and Liberty City are great places to be for the same reason.
Great networks perpetually add value to all kinds of stories. From fan-fiction to remixes to making home videos at theme parks, people have been creating their own niche stories within mass entertainment properties for a long time. When mass entertainment properties encourage and add value to the networks that grow around them, they make it easier for the network to reciprocate.