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Conclusion: Overflow and Audience:

Conclusion: Overflow and Audience

"Well, we could let viewers access the news show in progress during the week on a web site. Give them bits of raw footage and wire copy and real e-mails and story lists and draft scripts, as if they're hooking directly into our intranet…" "Multiplatform it," Featherstone says, winking not quite meaninglessly. Then he chants, pumping one arm, "Convergence, convergence, convergence."
Kurt Andersen, Turn of the Century, London: Headline (1999) pp.62-63

Convergence and overflow

This final chapter explores recent developments in the relationship which contemporary media texts offer their audiences. Although I offer a brief survey of the trend towards convergence and "overflow", my main focus here is a case study: the BBC2 series Attachments, which first aired on British television from September to November 2000, and its dedicated website Seethru.co.uk.

Attachments is a drama series about a fledgling dotcom company, run by married couple Mike and Luce, and the problems the team has in setting up and maintaining a lifestyle and music site called Seethru. Viewers of the early episodes who typed in the Seethru URL they glimpsed during the show were often surprised to discover that the site actually existed, a simulacrum of the on-screen dotcom with no hint that Mike and Luce might be fictional characters. Designed to mirror the events of the TV programme, Seethru enabled viewers to enter the world of Attachments, read the articles discussed in that week's episodes, mail and get response from the show's protagonists, watch unseen material from the programme on "webcams", and follow up MP3 or internet links recommended by the fictional team. A Guardian interview with BBC2 controller Jane Root gave a sense of the producers' intentions:

The seethru site will go live when the first episode goes out, with the standards waxing and waning after that according to the fortunes of the fictional web business. So at the outset users will log on to the amateurish site that Mike has been running from his bedroom. The internet offering will get a more professional feel when funding is secured in the drama, but the quality will also deteriorate again at times of crisis during the series.

Root stresses that Attachments is intended to work as a stand-alone TV show, with the viewing audience still the primary focus. But it has also been created to appeal to "v-users" - people who experience the drama through their PC screens. Anything that provokes rows or controversy in the drama will disappear from the seethru site at the exact same moment as it is fictionally deleted, according to Root.

What was on offer here was an immersive, participatory experience that went far beyond watching the TV programme for forty-five minutes a week. In theory, the Attachments fan could log onto Seethru several times a day to find out more about the characters and take their advice on various aspects of web culture; although the site content was only updated weekly, the topics of discussion on the message boards were constantly evolving and changing, and the site visitors who contributed - most of them Attachments viewers - quickly formed into a small web community.

Seethru is, as I shall discuss, in some ways unique, but in other ways it is symptomatic of a recent trend. In an earlier article, I used the term "overflow" to describe this tendency for media producers to construct a lifestyle experience around a core text, using the internet to extend audience engagement and encourage a two-way interaction.

In watching, or experiencing, or engaging, or living with Attachments as I do, I am witness to more than just the sometimes bizarre melange of television flow which dazed Raymond Williams in the 1970s ; indeed, I am not just a bewildered observer, but am becoming part of the broader text. Attachments has deliberately "overflowed" the bounds of television and let itself, through its simulacrum of a website, merge into the vast diversity of the internet.

The same is true, to a certain extent, of other websites built around recent television series. The British version of the game show Big Brother, which originally ran during Summer 2000, encouraged viewers to visit its site for updates in between the evening television screenings. Visitors to bigbrother.terra.com could email the contestants, catch up on news about their activities, view their audition tapes and, crucially, watch live streaming video from the house. The site webcams had a significant advantage over the TV programme itself in that they showed uncensored footage of events as they occurred, albeit on a small monitor window with muddy sound. On the day that Nick Bateman was evicted for cheating, the site was able to carry the story hours before it reached the TV show; an unprecedented example of a dedicated internet site shifting its status from spin-off and back-up reference to the primary text, with the TV programme relegated to second place as a catch-up service.

Big Brother asked audiences to vote participants out of the house by telephone or online; later in the year, Channel 5's Jailbreak took the process further by inviting its audience to email the contestants with advice on how to escape from the show's prison setting, with a share in their reward on offer. The British version of Survivor, broadcast in May 2001, offered a members' only internet service with exclusive footage, and introduced "Survivor SMS", a feature whereby viewers could request news, gossip and quizzes from the show sent straight to their Vodafone mobile, at a cost to the user of up to £1.65 per message. Big Brother 2 took its interactive services to a new level with instant updates on SMS, PDA and email, and two new cameras in addition to the now-standard webcam streaming. The first, a "fan cam", follows a chosen participant for a day according to a collective vote among site visitors, and the second, the "pan cam", can be controlled in real time from the site, with the facility to zoom in or pull out of the action.

This invitation to incorporate a media text into your daily life - to become part of a TV programme's key decisions, to watch it potentially twenty-four hours a day, and receive urgent updates if you happen to be away from the computer - is in some ways peculiar to the "reality TV" genre. However, a very similar dynamic exists around the WB network's teen dramas, as I investigated in the paper referred to above. The dedicated sites attached to Dawson's Creek, in particular, offer the visitor insight into the characters and ongoing narrative that goes beyond the information available to viewers of the show. The "Summer Diaries" feature lets a Dawson's Creek fan read her favourite characters' personal journal, while Capeside.net presents a detailed simulation of the show's fictional setting, complete with fake banner ads and college magazine articles written by Dawson and his friends.

While my research indicated that many viewers still treated the sites as a secondary resource, this dynamic could change with the introduction of features that provide vital clues to characters' motivation and behaviour. A more recent addition to the site allows visitors to explore a mocked-up version of the characters' desktops, letting them root through Dawson's deleted mail file and discover secret correspondence that never came to light on the TV show; another gives the visitor access to scribbled notes, supposedly written by the characters and passed under the table during their college classes. The page's slogan reads: "Think you know everything that's going on in Capeside High? Think again."

Certainly, the producers' intention, as expressed through the official sites, seems to be to create a multi-media "Dawson's Creek Experience", encouraging viewers to seek out the music and clothes favoured by the characters and to participate in their lives on a daily basis through online questionnaires and interactive simulations. A culture is being constructed where "regular" teenage viewers, not just committed fans, use Dawson's Creek and its website as the basis for everyday shopping decisions. The respondents in my own research produced no fan culture of their own, but many of them bought singles by artists they had heard on the show or were inspired by the female characters to buy a particular style of hat or shirt at American Eagle or J.Crew.

Finally, this kind of active engagement, drawing on the internet not just as an online reference source but as an extension of the primary text, extends also to recent cinema. The Blair Witch Project site, like Seethru, treated its source text as authentic rather than admitting the fiction, and offered its visitors documentary evidence such as journals and police reports about the filmmakers' disappearance. Memento's online presence, in keeping with the film's themes of amnesiac detection, took some ingenuity even to find: the site was called otnemem.com, and contained half-hidden links to a series of news clippings which cast further light on mysteries unresolved by the film's conclusion.

Online promotion for Steven Spielberg's AI has been even more oblique; filmgoers intrigued by the crediting of a "sentient machine therapist" called Jeanine Salla at the end of the second cinema trailer had to type her name into Google and trace her footprints across the web, from her fictional university to sites campaigning for AI rights. Digging about these pages and hitting some links, tells the surfer that an Evan Chan has been murdered with humans and AIs suspected […] Then it gets clever. Going to the Sentient Property Crime Bureau's Most Wanted Page you can find hidden text in the page by viewing the source code, which looks like hacker talk. For example: "Gosting the SPCB filz, it seemz th? R looking 4 a robot in conekshun w/the deth uv a therml enji neer cald Evan Chan. Whi the hot prsoot? -The robots a 1st ordr pees uv Belladerma as, a ? $ sex slav."

Rather than simply watching the film on its release, the user is invited to investigate the diegetic world and enter into a form of competition with the producers to discover information that the primary text omits or conceals. The interaction is more similar to playing a PC adventure game than visiting a promotional site.

The contemporary phenomenon of overflow, then, transforms the audience relationship with the text from a limited, largely one-way engagement based around a proscribed time slot and single medium into a far more fluid, flexible affair which crosses media platforms - internet, mobile phone, stereo system, shopping mall - in a process of convergence. I use the latter term in the sense suggested by Henry Jenkins, as a drawing-together of media forms; Jenkins employs the terms "cultural convergence" for a ground-up, tactical creativity across different media, and "media convergence" for a top-down "structured interactivity" which implies a pattern of marketing strategies.

The examples above would all conform to his second category, and as such could be seen to have regressive implications: rather than grassroots fan communities which produce their own artwork and stories, often with "resistant" interpretations of the text, what we see here are communities who follow the trail laid out by the media producers, from website to merchandise to multiplex. These sophisticated websites encourage an active response, but unlike the kind of fan response which has been around for decades, producing secondary texts on its own terms, this relationship is entirely shaped from "above". The fact that the official Dawson's Creek homepage includes links to a list of fan sites could in turn be seen as a cynical process of incorporation whereby potentially radical, home-made material is drawn safely into the corporate fence; Lucasfilm have attempted much the same strategy by offering fans starwars.com web pages where the content is regulated and slash fiction prohibited.

The remainder of this chapter will discuss the ways in which Seethru, while sharing many of the characteristics of this trend for media overflow, evolved to a point where - partly through necessity due to a lack of funding, partly as the site's content writers voluntarily joined the fan community - the boundaries between producer and visitor, media convergence and cultural convergence, were increasingly blurred.

Seethru and Attachments: dependence

While Attachments was being screened on BBC2, from 26 September 2000 to 28 November 2000, Seethru served as a particularly involved example of an "overflow" site. Attachments' features writer Soph was castigated for an article called "Hell Is Other People Shagging"; the article appeared on Seethru when the episode ended. Zoe, the series' teenage runner, was shown having two disastrous dates and writing an opinion piece about them; three days later, a message appeared from Zoe on the discussion board asking visitors "have you ever had sex with someone you didn't want to have sex with?" and directing them to her polemic. Episode 6, "Burn Rate", ended with Mike about to film a piece to camera protesting about the site's new sponsorship deal: Attachments cut his speech short, but Seethru showed it in its entirety as a video clip. In the following episode, site designer Jake decided to make a regular feature out of his father's embarrassing mail correspondence; it soon appeared on Seethru as "Shit: My Dad's Online".

The relationship between Attachments and Seethru was, therefore, running as planned: the "real" site would mirror the on-screen site, allowing viewers of the series to extend their engagement with Attachments by reading the fictional characters' articles at their leisure and exploring background details which the show skimmed over, such as Jake's preference - expressed on the team's "bio" page - for Peter the Great over Peter's Friends. The site also allowed a degree of interaction through email; contacting the team would usually earn a reply in character, as I found when I mailed "Reece" with a correction to his "Are You A Geek?" quiz.

From: "Reece Seethru" reece@seethru.co.uk
To: will_brooker@hotmail.com
Subject: geek
It Soph who did the Geek quiz actually. We'll change it. I've be ordered to give you 2 god points. Less of the dogboy cracks


As such, Seethru was similar to Capeside.net: a very clever simulation which supported and in some cases enlarged on the television series, encouraging viewers to immerse themselves in the show's diegesis, participate with it to some extent and return to it repeatedly throughout the week. However, the scope of the Seethru "experience" was already seeping beyond the site itself, meshing with the wider culture of the internet through its links to Tourette's Syndrome Barbie, to Flash versions of Nintendo games, to Airwolf versus Mr T, to news sites, comedy sites, weird sites and geek sites.

Unlike the majority of online supplements to TV series or films, Attachments/Seethru was deliberately opening itself up and becoming part of the internet as a whole, rather than presenting a closed, inclusive world on its own terms, a theme-park simulation with no link to the web beyond. The Blair Witch Project site did not offer generic links to the Resident Evil games or Swamp Thing comics; Dawson and his friends on Capeside.net do not contribute to the site's bulletin boards, intentionally sparking off discussion with no relation to the show itself. Seethru, however, was not a site about Attachments but the site within Attachments: it was a lifestyle fanzine largely directed at a young, net-literate audience, and it consistently asked for their input. It was arguably only because of this wider scope and the construction of a two-way relationship between producers and audience that the site could meaningfully be sustained after the series ended, with no promise of a sequel.

Seethru and Attachments: independence

By late November, when Attachments finished, Seethru already had a relationship with its audience that transcended the programme. More importantly, its visitors had established a relationship with each other. The discussion boards had flourished into a core community of familiar "regulars" - "Rick J", "Annerobinson", "Kitty" - and a surrounding cast of more infrequent posters. While the discussion during September and October had often returned to Attachments, criticising the show's lack of "realism" from a programming perspective and referring events back to the viewers' own experience, the forum became progressively more independent until mentions of the series were rare.

Late September and early October on the "Life" board, for instance, saw a thread about Luce - "She's probably the brains of the outfit, but is definitely the beauty - don't you think?" - a complaint about not being able to read Soph's rant on the Queen Mother , a discussion about whether the show's resident geek, Brandon, would plausibly code in the nude , requests for a synopsis of a missed episode and an essay picking apart the programme's stereotypes. In the first ten days of October, twelve threads out of a total of twenty-six were either about Attachments in terms of characters and plot, or the Seethru site with reference to Attachments. Most threads were relatively short, with no more than ten replies to the original post: many had no replies. In the first ten days of November, ten threads out of a total fifty-six referred to Attachments. The length of the average thread increased, with many posts getting twenty or thirty replies and one running to eighty-one. In the first ten days of December, three out of a total seventy-four posts mentioned Attachments or referred to Seethru in terms of the characters. Apart from those begun by one contributor, "g money", every post developed into a fairly lengthy discussion.

By this stage the discussion forum had clearly undergone a shift. Its main reference point and common ground had originally been Attachments, but over the series run, regular contributors had become established as online personae with their own strong personalities - in a sense, becoming larger-than-life "characters" just like Soph and Reece - and the topics of discussion had broadened immeasurably to take in favourite food, political beliefs, film quotes, career advice, sexual deviance and corny jokes. By the start of December, several members of the group had met in "real life" at London pub gatherings. The regular forum contributors had arranged a boycott of the boards when Seethru closed down its "Sex and Relationship" discussion for fear of censorship; they spent five days on another site's message boards, then returned, having made their protest . Many contributors at this stage had joined either during the series run, or following its conclusion; while many of the original posters had typed in the URL as an experiment after watching the show, others came to the site through chance, from search engines or other links. By opening itself up to the wider discourse of the web, Seethru had enabled visitors to stumble across it and accept it as a "zine and filter" in its own right, with no obvious connection to a BBC2 series.

The site was still active, with regular updates and new content, in the first months of 2001. Articles were credited to Soph and Luce, weblog finds to Reece and Brandon, even though the series had ended weeks before. Attachments had now become entirely secondary to the Seethru forum community - most people knew the site's origins, but they were no longer important to the activity on the discussion boards. As one regular recalled:

When I first started posting - I had no idea why you were all going on about some dodgy BBC Virtua-soap... Still, if there is a new series - I suppose I'll have to start watching it…

Indeed, any overt mention of the show or its relationship to Seethru was generally regarded by the community as gauche, and a ritual was tacitly established whereby regulars would pretend they had no idea that the site's team were fictional, as in this exchange.

Who watched the first series of Attachments? Who liked? Anyone know when it's back?

Posts: 1485
Was Attachments that dating gameshow on Channel 5?

Posts: 66
NO! Its the drama serise about a company that creates a website called "seethru" its what this whole site is based on

Posts: 1485
Are you sure? It could have been E4 and not Channel 5.

Posts: 999
Phil, April Fools was a week ago.

The forum community, then, had evolved well beyond the "structured interactivity" originally offered by Seethru, in common with other dedicated sites. Visitors had begun by following the patterns established by the producers - watch the show, then read the article or watch Mike's webcam rant - but their discussions had rapidly moved beyond the show's characters and narrative to the point where the primary text became almost irrelevant. Contributors to the boards had met up and formed both real life and online friendships based not on a shared fandom for the BBC2 series, but their own broader discussions on the forum. A community had grown and clustered around the core of top-down media convergence originally offered by the series and its tie-in site; transforming it, for the regular visitors at least, into a far more organic, fluid, user-created experience. Seethru had transcended Attachments. Yet Seethru, as a self-sufficient site based around the Attachment characters, was still at the heart of the forum community. When Soph, Mike or Luce made occasional appearances on the boards they were treated with affectionate respect, with regular contributors choosing to entertain a consensual illusion that the characters were as real as themselves:

I agree with not advertising at first, then when people discover it by accident it makes their day. But now we're talking economics, and they should advertise IMO. It IS a great site with great features. Maybe they could offer email addresses, get the hits up a bit.

Aww, thanks Tav. That's sweet! We're still very much going strong, and in the planning stages of an extremely skill revamp. We are also examining new marketing strategies (not my area though - I'm strictly about content). Like the email idea too - keep 'em coming. God points, etc...

Lets hope seethru make it... But if I was analysing seethru as a potential investor I would wonder just where the money comes from...Or, Soph, are you a lot of independently wealthy trustafarians who do it for love ?

Hi - Glad to see you're all worried about Seethru's anonymity. We're not unconcerned ourselves and it is something we're working very hard to change - though we don't really have to budget or size of team for a massive splurge (your Sales and Marketing Manager announcing she's pregnant about three seconds after joining doesn't help with your longterm planning.) Look out for some top new content coming soon. Oh and please don't call Soph a trustafarian - she has rather a 'thing' about them.

As this thread shows - it was titled "RIP Seethru?" - the forum contributors had a vested interest in keeping Seethru afloat, even if the TV show itself had been left far behind, and the prospect of a new series was not always welcomed . When the site's creators posted a message on the boards that Seethru was in serious financial difficulty, the relationship between the visitors and the production team shifted subtly into a new phase.

Seethru and Attachments: interdependence

Although Seethru stubbornly maintained the pretence that it was run by Mike and Luce, the site was actually established by World Productions, the company behind Attachments. The site, like the series, was commissioned by the BBC, although World Productions' relationship with the Corporation was apparently rocky from the outset. According to one member of the World website team , the BBC was always wary of the idea to run Seethru parallel to the series, and frequently clashed with the site editors over its content. Seethru was, after all, meant to be an irreverent, alternative online zine, which did not sit easily with the BBC's self-image; on one occasion Director-General Greg Dyke made a personal visit to the World Production offices to protest about the Seethru rant that mocked media coverage of the Queen Mother. Eventually, the BBC simply withdrew its funding, leaving Seethru to fend for itself until the start of the next series in Autumn 2001. This decision translated to Seethru's parallel universe as an announcement by Soph on April 19, 2001.

It is with great regret that we must announce that Seethru's large corporate backer has decided to withdraw all funding from this website - effective immediately. […] Basically they never liked the site and nothing would make them happier than to see it bite dust. We have managed to drum up some personal investment to keep us running and we are scouting around for other deals, but it looks like we will be running at 'pilot light' status - at least until the autumn when, apparently, a TV program about our trials and tribulations will be broadcast. […] But to keep us going, we would like to ask you to help us.
We would like to open up various strands (ticklist, rants, etc) on the website for visitor contributions. We'll be posting submission guidelines and a contributors' section within the week. We know we should've done this earlier but we're crap. Also, it would be helpful if you could recommend good threads from the forums to link to from the homepage. If you have any ideas how we can further reinforce the site, please add below or email. In exchange, we will soon (fingers fucking crossed) be able to offer God Points for all contributions, plus we may well invite you to a special party at our office, where you can meet us in person and have tart alcoholic drinks. We're not particularily happy about this, but we do relish a good fight.
The Seethru Team

It was a bizarre instance of life imitating art. Just as the characters on Attachments had won corporate backing, had their content censored or compromised, then lost their funding, so World Productions found itself stranded by the Corporation which had grudgingly supported it for months. The difference was that the "real life" Seethru could appeal to its audience for help, inviting them to become writers and editors.

The boundaries between "producer" and "visitor" had in fact been blurred far earlier, although most forum contributors remained unaware of it. World Productions had employed freelancers and part-time writers since September. Some of these, like Charlie Brooker, were already established names. Others had been recruited because the World team, trawling the web, had discovered their sites and decided that the style and tone matched Seethru. One freelancer, who produced Seethru's guide to Amsterdam, was already a regular viewer of Attachments when he realised the World team had been exploring his site:

I was watching the show, and was quite surprised to see the URL of See Thru pop up on my web stats, I went over to the site, and that was it, I was hooked…

I contacted 'Mike' to ask where he found the site, and we got talking (t'was at this point I found out who was really behind See Thru)…After a while I was offered some freelance work by the site editor and the rest is history…

Another, known online as Amp, was given a three day a week contract from September to April based on her fanzine ampnet.co.uk: "They saw site, dug it, hired me. Working on idea of 'internet filter' - bringing in the funniest/skillest writers off the web and putting all in one place."

The fact that both of these content producers were recruited because of their own non-profit fan sites clearly begins to erode the distinction between media convergence and cultural convergence in this case. While the former term implies a canny, corporate strategy intended to guide consumers on a path of multi-platform purchase, Seethru was at least partly made up of fanzine editors, creators of internet "folk" culture. Moreover, not only did the two writers discussed above form part of Attachments' audience, they also joined the forum message boards. "I assure you - I was not paid to hang out on the boards, though I do have an interest in communities", AMP told me. "I just got sucked in. I was mocked by my co-workers for my addiction." Come April, then, these two "producers" - who had also been both viewers of Attachments and regular contributors to the forum - were in the same position as the other "visitors".

While some forum members were sceptical about Soph's announcement, wondering if the "pilot light" status was simply a ploy to retain Seethru's continuity with the forthcoming second series, most responded eagerly to the request. It should be noted that a significant proportion of forum contributors were involved in new media, many of them as programmers - hence the complaints and debates about Attachments' "realism" during the series run. The relationship between World Productions and the board contributors, then, was very different to that which would normally exist between film directors and cinema audiences, or even TV producers and viewers at home. In contrast to the conventional hierarchy whereby the production team has technical skills beyond most of the audience, many of these visitors were on an equal level to the people behind Seethru in terms of programming competence and experience.

Seethru is, in June 2001, still ticking over on its pilot light. The site features are rotated rather than added to; the Amsterdam guide and Amp's feature "Jamie Oliver Is My Bitch" are still on the front page, alongside a spoof advertisement for a breathaliser modem, credited to the forum contributor Vtini. The weblog, one of the few site features which is updated daily, offers a catalogue of weird news, Flash showcases and political satire: approximately half of the finds are attributed to Reece, Soph and Brandon, and the remainder to board regulars such as Vikram, Pink, Amp, Timewaster and Street66. The front page highlights and links to active threads from the message boards, which have now become, by default, the site's most dynamic section.

It would be over-optimistic to celebrate Seethru, in its current state, as a joint production between World and its visitors-turned-producers and producers-turned-visitors. As usual, we should be careful to make a distinction between active contributors - the regular board members who, while often maintaining an ambivalent attitude towards Attachments, are undeniably fans of Seethru as a site - and the non-active visitors, who in this case, as so often, constitute a silent majority. In early May 2001, Soph posted up details of Seethru's traffic, indicating which parts of the site received the most hits.

The drugs homepage is in fact the 4th most visited page on the site (after the homepage, random URL & zine home) and the whole section generates over 35% of page impressions. […] I'm afraid Seethru talk did not factor in the leaderboard, except for the following threads: 54. IMPORTANT: Seethru's future - seethru http://www.seethru.co.uk/ubb/ Forum9/HTML/000019.html 77. Top ten crap songs of all time - seethru http://www.seethru.co.uk/ubb/ Forum3/HTML/000022.html 79. Do we really want cannabis legalised anyway - seethru http://www.seethru.co.uk/ubb/ Forum4/HTML/000015.html Although we respect your opinions, forum regulars, the majority of people who visit Seethru do not use the boards.

The Seethru forum community, then, effectively parallels the "powerless elite" of fandom: vocal, creative, but in the minority and likely to be overruled or ignored when it comes to production decisions about their favoured text. Despite the fact that forum regulars include at least two former Seethru writers, that they continue to offer material to both the features pages and the weblog, and that the message boards are currently the only constantly-updated part of the site, if World Productions decided to take Seethru down another route in order to attract a wider market, the forum would have no say in the matter.

However, Seethru does offer an unusual and in some ways inspiring example of the ways in which this new form, the dedicated "overflow" website, can evolve organically in relation to its audience. This case study shows that what began as an inventive but in many ways conventional instance of media convergence - essentially a promotional spin-off like Capeside.net and the Big Brother site - challenged assumptions from the start through its recruiting of fanzine editors and developed independently of its original primary text until the distinctions between producers and audience were partially, although not entirely, eroded. The case of Seethru suggests that media and cultural convergence, "structured interactivity" and online "folk" artefacts, may overlap. It suggests a pattern which other dedicated sites may follow if they acquire a life beyond their primary text and continue to develop their own narratives and characters long after the TV series or film has reached closure.

More broadly, it demonstrates that the term "television audience", even the term "audience" as a whole, may need to be freshly examined. The individuals who watched Attachments on a Tuesday evening, went online to debate its flaws, emailed its characters, watched clips which were never shown on TV and wandered off onto other sites following the fictional team's links and recommendations, constitute a very different type of television audience from the ones we would have encountered in research ten, even five years ago.

Five years from now, this fluid, participatory engagement with the online intertexts around a television series may well be the norm, rather than the exception; we could easily see a simulation of the Sun Hill police intranet running parallel to The Bill, or be able to receive SMS messages from EastEnders characters keeping us up with gossip or even just fashion and music advice. The phenomenon is unlikely to be confined to television and film; readers could be invited into the online world of a novel or music fans into a virtual construction of a band's dressing room, just as internet users were drawn into the cinematic diegesis of AI.

The experience of being part of an audience will change, and will perhaps, in its shift towards greater participation, become similar in some ways to what we are used to thinking of as fandom: a pattern of engagement characterised by detection, discussion, interaction and community. While some critics may regard this development warily, seeing the dedicated sites as offering a join-the-dots path towards further consumption and a paint-by-numbers limiting of genuine creativity, the example of Seethru suggests that the overflow of a media text onto the internet can in fact make for a more egalitarian relationship between producers and their audiences.

Reproduced from:
THE AUDIENCE STUDIES READER, London: Routledge (2002).
By Will Brooker and Deborah Jermyn (eds.)
ISBN: 0415254353 With kind permission of the author.
Buy the book at Amazon

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