MEST1 Section B – Cross Media Study Extended A Grade Exemplar Response – Synergy

(32 Marks)

Synergy is the process by which media institutions use a range of platforms to promote, sell and distribute their products. Assess the impact of synergy in your cross-media study. Support your answer with reference to a range of examples from three media platforms.

Synergy can be defined as when two or more compatible products sell each other e.g. Facebook and Farmille/Candy Crush Saga, or a film and soundtrack but for the purposes of this response I will be analysing synergy from an institutional point of view in terms of how it works across platforms but also exploring whether the impact of synergy on audience reception and response is significant or not.

My cross media study topic is film fiction – for moving image I researched Star Trek (2009),Skyfall and A Field in England while for print I looked at Empire MagazineTotal Film andSight and Sound and for E Media – Netflix, YouTube and iTunes. Synergy was very much evident during the multi platform release of A Field in England on 5th July 2013 and relates directly to the concept of ownership – developed and financed by Film 4.0, Film4’s digital arm this low budget (£300,000) independent film was simultaneously released at PictureHouse Cinemas (The Ritzy in Brixton, London), through Film4 video on demand and through iTunes where audiences could purchase the HD version for £13-99. Ben Wheatley, the director wanted build the maximum amount of industry hype by reaching an audience traditionally it would be hard to connect with. The coordination of platforms also had the key advantage of not just selling the film, but also selling Film4, the PictureHouse Cinema chain and also iTunes to audiences.

In terms of synergy, A Field in England benefitted from association with a respected and innovative broadcast channel, a cinema chain that is well known for mixing independent, art house and some mainstream films in terms of programming and Apple’s iconic, commercially successful digital distribution platform iTunes – the film was also available on Viooz and which markets itself as the first video on demand magazine and the film is available to this day as a free stream on YouTube ensuring viral talkability. Synergy was also evident through 40% of consumers with older televisions who use their HDMi lead to connect to a console like PS3’s media server, Wii or X Box to watch films online. Thecross platform release enabled A Field in England to focus less on advertising spend, ensuring the multi platform allowed the film to become an Event Movie. Here, synergy did have an impact on audience reception ensuring A Field in England which ordinarily would have gone straight to DVD after a limited theatrical release went viral and was consumed and discussed by a broader audience. Sight and Sound, a BFI publication also associated itself with the release with their July 2013 edition having a short cover line at the bottom of the page advertising the film – this reflected their involvement, in terms of synergy of wanting to be linked with an independent film that was likely to achieve critical success but also their part funding of the project under the BFI Distribution Fund. Non-media tie ins even ensured that Welton’s Brewery made a limited edition beer that PictureHouse cinema goers could buy going into the screen with the tagline, “Open up and Let the Devil In”.

Synergy tends to me more associated with mainstream texts aimed at mass audiencesand with Star Trek (2009) this was very much the case – ownership by Paramount as one of the ‘big six’ of the oligopoly of film distributors allowed for maximum investment in production but also the ability to synergise in the promotion and marketing of their film. Using the director, JJ Abrams as one of the unique selling points, digital marketing appeared on the websites of high production value television dramas he had been associated with including Lost and Fringe. This enabled a wider male and female audience who were fans of these shows to be made aware of the up and coming film with its more emotive approach in regards to science fiction marketing – developing a wider female demographic was one of the main intentions of the campaign. Sky Sports also ran ‘super headers’ ensuring that a traditionally male science fiction audience were also targeted. Standard, above the line marketing e.g. trailers also ran alongside the synergy used in the campaign.

This synergy was further evidenced by Facebook fan kits and wallpaper downloads but crucially in print media with not just film magazine covers of Empire and Total Film devoted to the film’s release but also a Big Issue cover, GQ and Esquire magazine. Esquire ran a challenging cover showing a light bulb, identifying the edition as the ‘Genius Issue’ with ’21 Ways to Appear More Intelligent (without having pointy ears) referring to the cover image of Zachary Quinto as Spock framed centrally in medium shot. GQ chose to run with a cover showing Chris Pine who played James T. Kirk in a suit as part of its ‘Men of the Year’ issue. Synergy certainly helped in marketing the film to a broader audience (it was the 7th most successful film in terms of box office in 2009) but cynics would suggest that the amount spent on marketing and publicity placed synergy as only partly responsible for the selling of the film to a wide, non-gender specific audience.

Again, as with A Field in England non-media tie ins included a free movie toy with Burger King meals, Phones4u and Hamleys competitions and also a promo in Heat magazine which targeted a female audience. Total Film magazine ran with black and white, full close up covers of Spock and Kirk and were happy to extensively market the blockbuster film (as a mainstream film magazine that focuses themselves on the mainstream, commercially successful market of safe genre films like Star Trek as science fiction). Crucially, Total Film is published by Future Publishing who as well as releasing 150 UK magazine titles are also theofficial magazine of all the console game manufacturers. It would be commercially essential to synergise with Star Trek as a successful franchise but also as a film that had spawned a single/multi player action video game (Star Trek) that is available on X Box, PS and Windows platforms. Empire Magazine ran with less iconic covers, choosing instead to focus on the whole cast in uniform, acknowledging and promoting the fact that this is a film that is likely to be a 2009 global summer blockbuster – it is this global aspect that again references synergy with Empire as a magazine published by the large global consumer magazine and media institution, Bauer; Empire alone is published in the US, Australia, Turkey, Russia and Portugal.

Skyfall, like Star Trek has been a commercially successful film that has exploited synergy and also is now available digitally on a number of platforms including Netflix reflecting shorter non theatrical window releases (although Netflix might argue with the length of time it takes them to acquire a film). With the commercial backing of Sony (MGM/Columbia) Skyfall used a range of media to promote the 23rd Bond film to audiences but crucially the title soundtrack by Adele became iconic and evidenced synergy in terms of its own commercial success. The institution of Sony is crucial in understanding the ability to synergise with the film promoting the Adele soundtrack, promoting the DVD, promoting the computer game, Sony Phone (and many other non-media ties ins e.g. Jaguar and Coca Cola) and promoting the TV – all owned by Sony. The CD was released at the same time as the film while a new Sony TV featured Skyfall in the promotional adverts.  Even the Daily Mail used the film to launch a British Tourism promotional campaign while Empire and Total Film magazine dedicated several covers to Skyfall as a globally successful film reflecting a global brand.

While synergy is very much a key factor in my cross media study, the commercial success of all texts are not exclusively dependent on it – moving image media is still seen as the best way to sell moving image texts, e.g. trailers selling films and video games but print media is increasingly dependent on synergy and convergence while circulation continues to decline and is replaced by online variants and other new media. Empire and Total Film for example will often direct audiences through convergent links to online media and interactive social networking through Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Online film streaming sites like Netflix go from strength to strength using synergy, with their latest venture producing its own range of original feature films. There is already a Facebook sharing feature to the Netflix interface with the announcement of further institutional synergy planned for 2015 involving Disney and Marvel TV providing Netflix with live action series.

30/32: Level 4

  • Thorough understanding of how and why institutions use synergy
  • Clear range of detailed examples across three platforms
  • Well organised response, good use of media terminology
  • Confident understanding and application of media issues, ideas, theories and debates.

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