Monday, June 21, 2010

An Overview of Transmedia

In this series of three blog posts, I started with The Rise of the "Creative Thing," (i.e., a conceptual project that can involve music, theater, graphic arts, textiles, food ... whatever).

I ended the next post, Collaborating on "Creative Things," with a discussion of music and theater.

As an extension of that I want to discuss transmedia, a concept currently trendy in some circles, particularly in film, video, and games. While music hasn't been a significant part of transmedia so far, I feel this grander form of cross-media is at least worth a mention. There are whole sites devoted to transmedia, so I'm not going to duplicate what they do. This post merely serves as an introduction.

Let's start with the Wikipedia explanation.
In Transmedia storytelling, content becomes invasive and permeates fully the audience's lifestyle. A transmedia project develops storytelling across multiple forms of media in order to have different "entry points" in the story; entry-points with a unique and independent lifespan but with a definite role in the big narrative scheme.
According to Wikipedia, Marsha Kinder first coined the word in 1991 and then Henry Jenkins popularized it in his 2003 Technology Review article and 2006 book Convergence Culture. Here's his definition:
Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. "Transmedia Storytelling 101," Confessions of an Aca/Fan, 3/22/07.
He goes on to talk about synergy, complex fictional worlds, different media for different audiences, the need for each media contribution to stand alone, collective intelligence, and more. If you want to understand transmedia, his article is a good place to start. Then you can move on to these, where he covers the topic in even more depth:

  • Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two Actually. Five More on Friday)
  • The Remaining Four Principles of Transmedia Storytelling

  • And here's a visual of Jenkin's seven transmedia principles.

    Jenkins isn't the only person defining transmedia. To some, it's basically what Disney as been doing for decades (i.e., creating characters and incorporating them in everything from film, TV, books, products, theme parks). To others, it must involve significant audience participation. Gary Hayes writes a great piece on why it's hard to know what transmedia represents.
    Transmedia like a black hole in the universe it tries to describe sucks in everything that has come before (cross media, 360, social media, augmented reality, pervasive gaming and so on). "What makes the perfect Transmedia Producer?...," Personalize Media, 5/25/10.
    Here are a variety of attempts to explain transmedia.

    According to Behnami Karbassi, there are three types of transmedia.
    We've whittled it down to a three-fold explanation:

    1) franchise transmedia: extending a story world across media

    2) marketing transmedia: stories that support another brand or transmedia

    3) native transmedia: stories intended to weave across media from their inception

    The holy grail for us is, of course, native transmedia, but both funders and audiences have to change their thinking before it is widely created and accepted.

    The key element that is shared across any definition is story (and the world that this story creates). Applying this essential narrative base to the right media for the right audience is our formula for creating compelling transmedia. "Behnam Karbassi - Transmedia world-building," Boing Boing, 6/16/10.
    Christy Dena says there are four approaches:
  • Transmedia Concept: designed to be transmedia at the concept stage
  • Transmedia Project: multiple media platforms make up one transmedia project
  • Transmedia Transformation: changing an existing mono-media property into transmedia
  • Transmedia (Franchise): Multiple mono-medium projects
  • "YSA Creating a You Suck At Transmedia Website," You Suck at Transmedia, 6/16/10.
    She has also put together a helpful list of various subsets of "cross-media" to help everyone sort out what is what.

    One of the better articles on how transmedia is different than cross-media comes from Brooke Thompson.
    What differentiates the two, and also fully separates them from multiple media, is the degree of interdependence in their relationships. In cross-media, the various platforms in use may be closely related and one piece may rely upon another for meaning, but that dependence is not returned. In transmedia, the platforms are strongly linked. While one piece may be digestible by itself, it is meant to be viewed as a part of a larger whole and, as such, the meaning changes for both it and the other pieces if they are left unseen or viewed individually. "Towards a definition of transmedia…," GiantMice, 4/16/10.
    Thompson's diagrams are quite helpful. And here are other articles illustrating transmedia via diagrams:
  • Types of Transmedia
  • WTF is Transmedia?
  • Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?
  • TranSocialMedia Story Telling Workshop Sheet
  • TranSocialMedia Play, Experience & Alternate Reality Design

  • Another useful resource is this video, What is Transmedia?

    Transmedia projects are complex, which Jenkins acknowledges:
    Because transmedia storytelling requires a high degree of coordination across the different media sectors, it has so far worked best either in independent projects where the same artist shapes the story across all of the media involved or in projects where strong collaboration (or co-creation) is encouraged across the different divisions of the same company. "Transmedia Storytelling 101," Confessions of an Aca/Fan, 3/22/07.
    To give you some idea of the level of planning that goes into transmedia projects, here are these articles by Robert Pratten.
  • Moving Filmmakers to a Transmedia Business Model
  • A 5-stage Development Process for Transmedia Projects
  • Transmedia: 5-Steps to Selecting the Right Platforms
  • Transmedia Documentation
  • Transmedia Workflow
  • Transmedia Storytelling: Getting Started (ADDED 7/13/10)

  • Given the level of complexity, it's not surprising that transmedia projects can be expensive to pull off, which would seem to suggest that many can only be accomplished by big organizations with deep pockets. Notes Maureen McHugh:
    Making a transmedia project, like making a movie, can be expensive. We often do video and audio recordings. Streaming requires bandwidth. Websites have to be designed. Email and phone calls to thousands are expensive. Creating events and experiences in cities is also expensive. A project can easily run to the low seven figures. That’s a million dollars. Chump change in the movie industry, but not something you find lying around in the couch cushions. To raise that kind of money we need to reach a pretty large audience, but making transmedia narrative dependent on puzzles eliminates a vast percentage—probably the majority of that audience. "A New Frontier in Storytelling," MimeFeed, 4/28/10.
    Here are some specific transmedia projects:
  • Groundbreaking Transmedia Project Built Around the Audience' Social Activities
  • Developing a Transmedia Project
  • Jurassic Park Slope Production Blog
  • Transmedia Narrative Ecosystems & Experience Cultivation

  • For on-going transmedia coverage, here are some websites:
  • Culture Hacker
  • You Suck at Transmedia
  • Transmedia Storyteller

  • And another resource:
    Transmedia Narratives DDB

    Here's a huge list:
    Transmedia Resources (ADDED 12/9/10)

    Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter

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