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Is the medium really the message? Or should we think more about matching the message to the medium?

(At the end of an old article we recently posted to our Keyframes channel about creating graphics for the NBC AstroVision sign in Time Square, we mused about the ways networks are trying to take advantage of new media to connect better with their audiences and create more brand loyalty. Even thought it was originally written ten years ago, it still resonates today. I thought I would drag it out here for your weekend musing, in case you missed it over in CMG Keyframes.)

One of the original attractions of “multimedia” was the ability to provide additional details and background information about a subject without forcing interruptions in the linear unraveling of the central narrative (as I do here with my frequent parenthetical asides). Examples of this include allowing the user to click on hot words or photos in a CD-ROM application (do any of you still remember those?) or on a web page to take you to another page with tangential content, or attempts to present multiple media streams at once – such as text, photos, and sound – to give a wider gestalt to the story.

So where does established, linear, big media – i.e. broadcast television – fit into this picture? Although the economics are different, many of the same goals applied, even ten years ago: You have a linear central story (the program), but other details you could provide…even something as simple as outtakes from filming the program, or background on the stars. Fan magazines, newsgroups, web sites, and even TV Guide help fill this roll. NBC, in their own way, started doing the same back in the late 90s. For example, their “NBC2000” group was one of the first to put the alternate screen boxes at the end of television shows, sometimes containing outtakes or promos of other programs. With their AstroVision sign, they went further.

Initially, NBC tried “repurposing” their existing TV promos onto the sign. However, as many multimedia producers also found out back then, you can’t always take a message from one medium to another and expect it to hold up. In this case, the lack of sound, as well as the differences in attention span between someone at home and someone in Times Square (or Epcot Center, or sporting events, where they also play these promos), rendered the original promos less effective than they were on TV. In response, NBC started designing alternate content for the sign – such as trivia puzzles, word games, and factoids about their stars. Each one is then followed by a few seconds of the program the star appears in, along with the name of the show, television network, and night it plays. It ain’t exactly a hot link, but it does give you the pointer you need to follow up on a thread you might have found interesting. And if you’re already a fan, it gives you some additional background information to widen your experience of the show.

It wasn’t the “grand convergence” many preached about back in the 90s (or even today), but neither was it a bad idea – especially for the time. I know it is still popular to say the medium is the message, but perhaps some of us would be better served by focusing more on the message, and then figuring out how to use the mediums at our disposal to better disseminate it.

The content contained in our books, videos, blogs, and articles for other sites are all copyright Crish Design, except where otherwise attributed.


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Chris & Trish Meyer founded Crish Design (formerly known as CyberMotion) in the very earliest days of the desktop motion graphics industry. Their design and animation work has appeared on shows and promos for CBS,…

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