In recent years we have been witnessing deep-reaching and accelerated mutations of the audiovisual medium. The emergence of new agents within this ecosystem has brought with it a radical change of paradigm, which has decisively affected the traditional media. Some have tried to adapt to the new times with more or less success, others continue to cling to the idea of maintaining conventions that are starting to be placed in doubt. With the certainty that we have obligatorily left behind one model and while waiting for the consolidation of the bases upon which a new model will be established, we are living in an era of changes and revolutions. Despite the uncertainty of the present time, in our understanding, some characteristics of what this new audiovisual environment could become can already be glimpsed.
Audiovisual language impregnates everything
Never in history have images in motion had such importance in our lives. Today, audiovisual language no longer belongs exclusively to cinema and television. One of the central ideas of Global Screen is precisely that screens have appropriated all of our everyday spaces: cinema, television, computers, smartphones, digital tablets, surveillance screens, etc. Audiovisual language is much more present in all spheres of life, and, therefore, it is increasingly familiar to us.
This means that it is increasingly simple to read and understand images. This greater audiovisual education also allows us to interpret more complex texts. Furthermore, there is an increasingly frequent use of audiovisual language to explain, transmit, divulge or communicate. Proof of this is the growth in the number of instruction manuals of all kinds that we can find in audiovisual formats. It is frequent, therefore, to find ourselves in situations where a video takes the place of a text to provide us with information.
And at the same time that audiovisual language makes itself more present in all spheres, its influence on other languages is also growing. If traditionally cinema and television have been fuelled by literature, theatre and comics, among others, now an inverse transfer is becoming clear. The printed press, novels, and stage arts are incorporating traits characteristic of audiovisual language, and, on occasions, they even integrate audiovisual pieces into their discourse.
The new logic of production
One of the reasons for this penetration of the audiovisual into private life is related with the democratisation of creation and dissemination media. It is increasingly easy to have access to image recording and editing technologies, which previously were in the hands of a privileged minority. Cheaper costs, greater usability and portability of these devices have a direct effect on the logic of production.
Digital technology has a key role in this change. Digital video has made possible an important reduction in the production costs of recording devices, and, consequently, has favoured their use by a larger social sector.
Moreover, the automation of mechanisms has also been key in the simplification of these tools. Technology is at the service of the user. It is no longer necessary to be an expert in order to use a camera. With a simple mobile telephone or compact camera we can record in a simple and fast way, without having to concern ourselves with optics, lighting, depth of field, etc. In the same way, the editing programme has also become more user-friendly and accessible. It is also important to highlight the integration of these tools into mobile devices, which has enabled the recording of images anytime, anywhere.
This has meant that people without prior knowledge of audiovisual language have dared to record and edit their own pieces. Without entering the discussion on the quality of such pieces, what is undeniable is that never, in history, had so many people created so many audiovisual works. That, at the same time, leads to greater freedom from the classical norms and the creation of new languages, the product of experimentation.
A consequence of this democratisation of technology affects the logic of appropriation. The quantity of audiovisual material on the web is enormous and technical simplicity makes it common between creators to integrate this material into their own works. But much of this material is protected by copyright. In reaction to this conflict there are different voices that range from the iron defence of original copyright authors to those defending the legitimacy of appropriating the works of third parties.
But perhaps the most determining factor has been the change in the distribution model. This increase in audiovisual production would not have had the same echo without the new possibilities for broadcasting offered by the Internet. Audiovisual platforms online, with YouTube as a paradigm, have allowed dissemination of videos on a worldwide level. The impact of these works has been so great that they now form part of mass culture. Also undeniable is their influence on the traditional media. The frequent appearance of images from the social networks on television news programmes or the influence of the amateur aesthetic in film are some examples of the importance of these new productions.
However, we also have to take into account that this has not produced the disappearance of the traditional distribution channels. These continue to dominate the greater part of the audiovisual business on a worldwide level, as, for the moment, they continue to be the only ones with a clear, established and profitable business model.
As we have seen, we are able to read increasingly complex audiovisual texts. That, in addition to the appearance of new media causes the appearance of transmedia narratives. Henry Jenkins describes this concept as a “a narrative story – narrative world – so great, that it does not fit into a single platform and it expands, it needs to expand, across different platforms and formats – both self-referential – constructing a narrative that is all-enveloping, immersive, integrated and participatory”.
The basic idea of these narratives is that the story is developed across different media, but the tale is not translated for each one of them but rather each platform explains a different part of this great narrative world. Thus then, what we see on the television screen is not the same as what we can see on the mobile, even though it is found within the same narrative universe.
One of the best-known examples of this phenomenon is the American series 24. Based on a television drama of 24 episodes, the narrative world has expanded through books, chapters for mobile devices, videogames, and web platforms.
If the Internet has favoured one thing it has been the coming together of people with shared interests, who have established networks to share knowledge between them. It may be that this is the most novel trait of such narratives: the fact that the audience has ceased to play a passive role in order to take on an active one. In blogs and social networks, users not only talk and exchange information on their favourite books, series and films. Debates, analysis and dissertations are established on these narratives, in some cases of great depth. And they even expand these narrative worlds with new tales that develop and grow even more the stories proposed by the original text. Even though fan fiction is nothing new, it is also true that the Internet and new audiovisual technologies are allowing it greater development and impact.
A new ecosystem
It is difficult to find one’s way around this new mutating ecosystem, and this makes it necessary to map out new cartographies. The complexity of the issue and its fast-changing nature force us to all be alert to events that happen around us. To facilitate as far as possible this task the third phase of Global Screen proposes a collaborative archive to reflect on the changes being experienced by the audiovisual medium. We believe that this is a good way for us all to create together a collection of useful and quality resources that will allow us to reflect on these transformations.