Click Click Ranger: A Transmedia Experiment for Korean Television (Part One)

I am offering today's post as part of the ongoing conversation I've been having throughout the semester about transmedia storytelling practices. Below you will find the first of two installments written by HyeRyoung OK, a recently minted USC PhD, who I have met through my work with a new MacArthur Foundation Research Hub on Youth, New Media, and Public Participation. She has done some groundbreaking research on the deployment of transmedia practices in Korean television, projects which have gotten very little attention on this side of the world, but which have a lot to offer as an alternative model for how mobile technologies and public space can be deployed as part of a transmedia strategy. Click Click Ranger: A Transmedia Experiment for Korean Television

by HyeRyoung Ok

By now we all know that the mobile phone is not simply a phone anymore. Since its introduction, the mobile phone has evolved into something that constantly broadens and transforms its boundary. Indeed, it is one of the most convergent media devices available that materializes the paradigm of media convergence. In most countries where mobile technology is widely adopted, the mobile phone is rapidly becoming a new outlet for traditional media industries responding to the "visions of wireless phones becoming hand-held entertainment centers." Yet the mobile phone's entry into the existing media environment is not a natural and homogeneous process. Continuing, disrupting, and mixing existing media practices to a newer form, rather, it came to terms with conventional media in heterogeneous ways depending on the socio-culturally specific contexts.

Then, here comes the story of the mobile phone in Korea, the country recently known as "IT powerhouse" where the adventure of the mobile phone ever continues. The mobile phone in Korea is literally a focal point where technical, industrial, and cultural innovations to explore the 'newer' forms of media service converge (see my blog posts on general review of Korean IT practices). What is particularly unique about Korean mobile culture is the continuing emphasis on the potential of mobile phones as 'screen' media. It is not surprising phenomenon considering the weight of 'screen' related - all dimensions of hardware and software - industries in Korean society. I would like to illustrate how the mobile screen is positioned in the flux of these transmedia experiments across new and old media in a culturally specific way through the case of Click Click Rangers: aka Mobile Rangers, an entertainment program on channel MBC in Korea.

Click Click Rangers: aka Mobile Rangers, is an interesting case that shows how the media content is designed to be produced/consumed based on the principle of "connecting" multiple forms of screens: mobile screen, television screen, and outdoor LED screen. Click Click Ranger is one of three sections in the popular Sunday prime time entertainment show, titled !: Exclamation Mark which was broadcast from December 2004 to August 2005 on channel MBC - one of three major television networks in Korea. In Click Click Ranger, the mobile screen is used in two significant ways: mobile phone imaging for moving image production and mobile TV for moving image circulation. Although it was short-lived, this show set up a model for employing mobile phone technology thematically as well as formally into the television program format and inspired other shows in competing networks. As a prototype, Click Click Ranger raises several interesting issues on the relation between new media technology, the existing media conventions, and culture. Taking Click Click Ranger as a starting point, let's begin to explore how Korean television mediates the mobile screen as part of the larger outdoor screen culture and thus complicates the issue of 'convergence of spaces.

Click Click Ranger (aka Mobile Ranger): Capture Korea's Today

Click Click Ranger's catchphrase of "Capture Korea's today" literally and symbolically sums up the goal and the structure of the show: To report the present realities of Korea. In terms of content, Click Click Ranger presents several short video clips of anonymous do-gooders and misbehaviors on the street in a fashion similar to citizen reports. These clips are captured and sent by random citizens and "mobile rangers," a group of pre-selected young college students and volunteers (in total, 100 members). Technically, mobile rangers and anonymous participants capture videos on the street and send clips 'in real time' to the studio while the program is being pre-recorded. It is reported that ninety percent of participants use a mobile phone camera and send clips through the wireless internet on their mobile phone. Most interestingly, Click Click Ranger adopts a multi-screen format of display that tackles the paradigm of media convergence by manipulating the 'flow' of content across media (Jenkins, 2007). The clips captured by mobile phone camera and selected for showing on regular television are simultaneously broadcast on a large LED screen installed over Seoul City Hall Plaza. In fact, the program itself is shot on the rooftop of the city hall building, where two MCs run the show as if they were news reporters as is illustrated in the picture above. Hence, what the viewers on a regular television set at home actually watch are alternating shots between the outdoor screen display, the MCs, and small video clips in quick-time movie format. Later on, the program re-runs on Mobile TV, particularly on the channel BLUE of Satellite DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) service on the following Monday. Following this path, the clips of Click Click Ranger finish their journey from the street to multiple screens encompassing all hot spots ('hot screens') in the current mediascape of Korea as diagram below illustrates.


Creating the Public: Private Imaging and Public Exhibition

To the savvy viewers, who got used to all sorts of strategies to utilize the mobile phone for the television show by now, early attempt of Click Click Ranger may not look so fresh. What makes this show unique is the way in which it attempts to employ the mobile phone, an icon of personal media, in the service of constructing the 'public space' within a commercial entertainment. As a matter of fact, from the beginning, ! : Exclamation Mark has built a reputation for being a 'public value concerned entertainment' program. Previous and current sub-sections of the show have adopted 'human documentary' or 'news report' format in which show hosts visit and follow various people, with the goal of promoting the 'good civilian life and consciousness' in the fashion of a public service campaign. So far, its campaigns have been successful in generating issues in public discourse and have had real consequences in social life in Korea. Some of its famous campaigns include: "Let's read books," "Let's obey the traffic sign," "Let's eat Breakfast," "Street Lessons," "Open your Eyes (Donation/Transference of cornea for the blind)," "Asia Asia (Illegal worker's home visiting project)" and so on.

Partially, the show's strategy to foreground public good within entertainment content reflects the unique hybrid characteristic of its network, MBC: MBC is private but at the same time closer to a public broadcasting network. It runs as a private company but is in fact indirectly owned by the government (by KBS, a major public network) and under the direct control of the Commission of Television Broadcasting. This dominant discourse of the program not only circumscribes the content of the clips in Click Click Ranger but also affects its program format. Typical clips of Click Click Ranger would feature various incidents such as violation of minor civil laws, misdemeanors, or good samaritans who help weak, elderly people at the subway station and so on. In each episode, if the best citizen is chosen among the good samaritans, the show's host calls up the mobile ranger on the scene and runs to there to give the samaritan a reward-a golden badge.

(To be continued)

HyeRyoung Ok is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Humanities Research Institute, Irvine, working for the Digital Media and Learning Hub. Currently she is carrying out research for the Public Participation Research Network led by Joe Kahne. As a cultural studies scholar, HyeRyoung looks at newly emerging transmedia culture from interdisciplinary perspective, with a focus on the transition of cinematic tradition to digital media, mobile media culture, and transnational flow of cultural content, particularly in East Asian context.