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Comics Are the Kaleidoscopic Point: Burn Notice

The recent announcement that USA Network is teaming with DC Comics to bring a new series of comics revealing what happen between season four and five of the hit series Burn Notice shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

One of the highest rated shows on basic cable, the partnership makes sense for both sides. While Burn Notice is big hit for basic cable, it still relatively unknown compared to broadcast television. As the Saturday Night Live skit about Burn Notice demonstrates, most of the U.S. viewing audience hasn't seen the show. This fact highlights one of the key realities about modern media. The media landscape is splintered, with small groups of viewers dedicated to shows that most other Americans may have heard about vaguely, but haven't seen. For all the mad love for MAD MEN, the show averages little more than two million viewers per episode. In comparison, the lowest rated broadcast show can easily triple that number.

Basic cable's advantage is the ability to bring a very definable audience to advertisers. By and large, USA Network knows its audience and by extension advertisers know where their money is going. Comics are in the same boat. The challenge for both is to grow the audience. The comic as transmedia outlet for a television show like Burn Notice give the show and the comic publisher a shot to attract new audience.

The Burn Notice comic, A New Day allows the show’s creative team to extend the mythology to fans in a form that might not otherwise experience. For comic fans, they will be offered the chance to learn about the show through the comic. The comics, which is viewable online and through mobile devices offers readers the chance to play interactive games along with providing story background that enriches the viewing experience for established fans while introducing the show to new viewers.

The hope for both companies is that fans from each media will transfer over to the other platform. If it works, Burn Notice and DC Comics get more fans. For the audience, the benefit is greater experiential depth. The collapse of the boundaries between media products combined with greater interactive through digital content give creators the opportunity to produce a rich and engaging story that fans can immerse themselves in whenever they want.

At the same time, the digital transformation in comics is on display and comic fans should take notice. Our natural reaction is to be dismissive of A New Day, yet we can see the advantages of the digital comic format clearly. Available as a download for mobile device or readable online, the comic has links to games and additional content to bring the reader back to the comic over and over again. The digital comic can keep the reader engaged and move them from one product (another comic, animation, television, movie or whatever) to the next easily. I can't help but wonder what will happen when creator owned comics start fully utilizing the digital format. For all the questions about digital products (privacy, ownership, and accessibility are all still questions), the new technology opens the door to creative expression that an independent creator can and will exploit.

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