Monday, September 03, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Time to create transmedia

On Wednesday the research company Latitude released a pretty interesting study called The Future Of Storytelling. I highly recommend it as essential reading, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the second and last instalment in the study series.

There are a lot of good points in the study, and in my mind they all clearly point to one thing. ”Transmedia” might have been a buzzword for a while. It probably still is, in the minds of many. But the term is of infinitely lesser importance; of greater importane is the fact that the audience – anyone we wish to target with our content – is already inherently geared towards transmedia.

For us as content creators it can only mean one thing. Kicking and screaming, or willingly and eagerly, we will move into the world of content transcending media platforms, or story worlds and neverending narratives, of co-creation with users and co-distribution with others, of using technology to weave stories to evoke feelings and induce experiences. There is no turning back, and we do ourselves a severe disservice if we do not acknowledge this with open eyes and strive to make the very best we can of this fact.

At the same time, my ”old-media-developer-and-producer”-character raises its head and highlights the fact that while all of this is very nice, someone also need to pay for everything. Just developing the mythologies and / or story worlds needed comes with a cost. As does producing for different platforms, as does distributing content to different platforms. Will we just end up doing a helluva lot more work and paying a helluva lot more money for the same return?

I may be naive and I may be overoptimistic, but I am convinced that financially viable models will appear, more and more frequently. Crowdfunding is one way to go, working with sponsors another. My firm belief is that – just as with Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other ventures no one had envisaged five years ago – we will see new financing models come to the fore that will make us all go ”oh, ok! Yeah, that’ll work! How come I didn’t think about that?!?”

In the meantime what we can all do is create. Create, create, create, and then create some more. Create magical worlds and stunning characters, create enchanting narrative arcs and riveting interactive possibilities. Create more and better (and why not harder, faster and stronger while we’re at it J ). Exciting times indeed!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Transmedia - the ketchup effect

One pretty neat transmedia franchise.

Transmedia, as we all know, originated some 20 years ago. As a practice it has existed way longer, depending on how you define it, with the Bible being quoted as one of the first instances of transmedia in practice.

For several years a lot of talented people around the world have been working on transmedia projects, producing transmedia projects, promoting transmedia practices and lobbying for transmedia as a way of thinking, creatively as well as financially and from a marketing perspective. Right now, I have the feeling that the long-awaited ”ketchup-effect” has finally arrived.

I hear of a new exciting transmedia project almost every other day, ranging in scope from the fairly small, like the ARG ”Miracle Mile Paradox” to the fairly big, like the Avengers-rumours about interconnected tv-series and films, from the areas of theatre to the areas of gaming – transmedia, world building, narrative superstructures and mythologies are all of a sudden found everywhere. Simply brilliant to witness. And I think I can see one shift happening already, one that only six months ago seemed like an impossibility, but now not only looks probably but even quite inevitable – the lessening of the importance of the term ”transmedia”.

There are quite a few people tired of the term, which has become readily apparent in discussions over the past couple of years. I know myself that I hesitate to use the term in certain discussions; at the Pixel Lab, for instance, there was no problem using the term, but talking to possible sponsors or buyers I prefer to explain the actual setup of the transmedia project rather than branding it ”transmedia” from the outset.

But now I believe the shift is happening. ”Transmedia” is rapidly becoming a term as common as ”television” or ”media”, and is starting to represent the notion of ”something more than just a movie, a book or a tv-series” in the minds of people. The fact that this ”something more” can be just about anything in scope and size is of lesser importance. And it is increasingly being taken for granted; just as the mantra has been that the audience wants to access their media anywhere, anytime, now they want to access the continuation of their stories, anywhere and anytime.

It’s a bit like going to a concert. Everyone knows that the band goes off stage, the crowd shouts for a bit and then it’s time for the encore. The same thing is happening with the audience with regards to media now, except they don’t have to shout – when the book or the movie is finished, it’s time to explore the encores.

Exciting times we’re living in, especially for the ones creating those encores! J

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Pixel Lab 2012 half-time report

I’m currently attending the 2012 edition of the Pixel Lab, one of the foremost professional workshops / seminars in the field of multiplatform / transmedia in the world, IMO. 36 producers are attending from all over Europe (and some from even further away), backed up by a host of tutors, experts and Power to the Pixel people.

The days are long and totally jam-packed with information, inspiration and great discussions. As I reflected over breakfast just now; it’s very rare and extremely nice to be able to sit down with anyone in attendance and NOT have to go through the initial 10-15 minutes of trying to explain exactly what it is you do. These are all professionals, and whereas some might come from the ad sector, some from film, some from gaming and some from distribution or television, the mere fact that they have applied for the Pixel Lab means that they have an urge to explore the future of multiplatform and transmedia to a greater degree. This in itself makes for good connections, no matter whom you talk to.

Quite a nice venue, Resort Schwielowsee
Now, there are things I can’t write about, as we’re working on actual projects as well in out group work (must add that Sean Coleman is a very good mentor for hte group. Also slightly addicted to post-it notes) and I am under obligation not to share the details of these. But many things can be written about, such as the presentations of experts and tutors. I’m slightly pressed for time right now, so will just briefly mention the people we’ve had the pleasure of learning from up until now. A more in-depth studie will be available later in the week.

If you’re so inclined, I’m Storyfying each day of the Lab – here’s Day One and Day Two – with tweets, links, quotes etc.

Lance Weiler, enigmatic as ever, kicked things off on Monday with a great introduction to what the week basically will be about. In the talk – Igniting the Imagination of many – he pointed out the theory of information foraging as something for producers and storyteller to study, something I completely agree with. Another key point was the need to prototype a lot of stuff fairly quickly, fail fast and learn fast and not be afraid to try things out. I can relate – coming from a television background I feel my projects often swell out into too large things that are unnecessary cumbersome to produce and get financed.

Adam Sigel on the other hand talked about strategy development, again something that makes perfect sense – designing a plan of action, in order to achieve a particular goal. He touched on many other good points – the need to develop user personas in order to understand them better, the need to explore the themes of your story as they are the ones that will carry over to different platforms, rather than your characters, and so on. A lot of good stuff.

Stephen Stokes from Manning Gottlieb OMD spoke about the changing brand landscape, where brands increasingly are re-appraising values, becoming more authentic and generous, recognising the need to earn attention; they essentially need to DO more and adopt modern storytelling techniques. Key is also to focus on actually understanding the audience; for instance, ”always leaving them wanting more” just doesn’t cut it anymore. This was the first time I’d heard Stephen, and I’d say that he gave a very good impression, talking about a facet of the development processes and the industry that other speakers merely touched on.

On Tuesday morning Nuno Bernardo took to the stage to talk about business models for transmedia and/or multiplatform. Nuno is a great example to follow when it comes to simply getting your content out there, building an audience and getting things commissioned and financed. One way that seems to work pretty nicely is getting R&D funding in to do, not a story world, but Specs. To produce, not a pilot but a Prototype. To do, not distribution but Dissemination, and so on. The major bonus is that you will have an IP of sorts at the end of the process, and probably an audience and a community to use as leverage in negotiations with broadcasters.

Paul Tyler, another new acquaintance for me and a good presenter to boot, came in from Handling Ideas in Denmark to talk about gaining insights about the audience, starting off with the very true assertion that content developers are more focused on delivering content to platforms rather than users. He also pointed out that the most important action a content creator can take is to ask the right questions. This in order to understand existing needs and provide a solution. His take on brainstorming was also quite neat, called Reversed brainstorming; think evil, how can you make the experience worse. Then take the suggestions and turn the around.

Tom Putzki started Wednesday off with a sessions on the games industry. It’s a pretty big one for sure, worth billions and billions… 40 billion € worldwide to be more precise (which I was under the impression was a bit more, but perhaps not).

Martin Ericsson from Bardo talked about gaming from another angle, that of a Live Action Roleplayer. ”Games are not fun because they are games, they are fun because they are well designed”. He also pointed out that we can look at a lot of different sources to find inspiration regarding transmedia projects we develop; if you want to learn about sharing and social networks, look at for instance Dragon Age II on FB. If you want to learn about the process of leveling up, look at computer-based roleplaying games, and so on. Interesting talk!

Finally I'd just like to say that even though I'm attending without a project of my own, it's immensely interesting to listen to experts like Inga von Staden, Lance Weiler and others evaluate the projects on the table. Very interesting stuff. I’ll update with a more thorough write-up as soon as I get the chance. Until then.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Brands and transmedia

I was interviewed by Stefania from Italian magazine Subvertising last week. It was an interesting interview, that really made me think through my stance on brands and transmedia – the how, the why, and the why nots.

One point I feel the need to elaborate a little bit on is how I think brands and companies easily can benefit from applying transmedia storytelling methods for their products as well as for their brands and companies. Stefanie asked me if I saw a likeness between transmedia on the one hand and brand engagement on the other hand. My answer was:
Certainly. That’s why I believe that brands can have so much use of transmedia storytelling methods; there is no need to go all out and throw iPad apps paired with graphic novels at people in order to market a cookie brand, but the cookie brand could make enormous use of the way transmedia projects are developed – building the story world the brand wants to exist in, planning narrative superstructures that fit the image of the brand and its products, developing entry points for the audience, things to collaborate on and share as well as a reason to do so and the tools to do so, and to share their creations with their friends… all in all, transmedia storytelling has a lot to offer brands.

To clarify the brief answer above, here are five points I believe matter for brands and companies when thinking about applying transmedia storytelling methods to their marketing and image building:

1. Building and strengthening foundations

One core trait of transmedia storytelling is the art of creating more. The art of either finding out a lot of background stuff that is not readily apparent, or creating new background stuff if needs be. A good example is the case of Avatar, where the team from Starlightrunner spent a lot of time interviewing all the creators, from James Cameron onwards, about life on Pandora, linguistics, flora and fauna etc. With this as a tome, a bible to refer to, creating new additional material becomes easier.

Looking at a brand, the same principles apply, whether you’re a 100 year old Fortune 500 company or a startup fresh out of Y Combinator. By researching the background of the company, the key people from its’ history and the key current people there, milestones in the history, accidents and events and successes, dreams and hopes and thrills and bellyaches, the foundation (or ”story world” as it would be called in a transmedia setting) becomes that much stronger and can therefore support an increasingly greater number of stories, campaigns and intiatives.

The likeness of the story tunnel is a good one, told by Jeff Gomez; if your story is a tunnel leading from point A to point B, the walls of the tunnel are the story world. Whereever there are inconsistencies or something missing from the story world, cracks appear in the walls, spoiling the experience of your story. The solution is to build your story world, your foundations, solid enough not to let anything unwanted to shine through.

2. Finding new entry points and new routes of communication

When that foundation, that story world, is in place, there will be a deep well to turn to. This is a well filled with possibilities; dip your creative bucket in, haul it up and examine all the possible story lines, entry points and interactive elements you’ve just unearthed. Choose the ones that will fit your purposes the best this time and pour the remaining ones back into the well; they’ll be there the next time you need new inspirational material.

Examples are difficult to tell, as there will be at least as many different possibilities / story worlds, as there are companies. But, for instance, imagine a 70 year old brand, unearthing in the process of working on the foundation, that the grandson of the company’s co-founder has a charity running in Latin America. This would one way of engaging customers in a way that connects logically with the brand and achieves a lot of goodwill. Or perhaps there is an amateur theatre company working out of the brand’s original headquarters, where a co-operation would be natural, or just about anything else you can think of. New entry points for the audience and the customers, new routes of communication to the audience, to the customers (and routes that do not feel like ”advertising”, but as natural parts of the company / brand).

3. Get closer to the audience / consumers

Now, this is what I would like to do as a brand; identify my target audience and become a natural part of their everyday life. Granted, this is easier said than done.

On our transmedia panel at Cross Video Days last week, one of the topics we talked about was the subject of approaching and building an audience. Starting from scratch is always an uphill struggle, unless you have some form of inroad; great, well known creative talent, big marketing budget etc. Another way is to approach an already existing community; a Facebook group, a discussion forum, a club or an organization of some kind, that correlates with your project and your content. Finding these can be hard, and approaching them can be even harder; just dropping a link or do a ”hey! Look at what we’ve done!” smacks of shameless self promotion and is likely to achieve derision rather than appreciation.

But, having developed the project and the content according to transmedia storytelling principles, you have a greater chance of finding inroads into the community that will feel logical and compelling. This is helped by the fact that researching such communities and becoming a natural part of them should be one of the top priorities of your project during the development phase.

4. Creating spokespersons within the company

At times, I have had a hard time explaining exactly what my company does. I guess the same goes for a lot of other people, more so for the ones working in bigger companies. Many also struggle to find any reason to communicate about the company they work for themselves.

By utilizing transmedia storytelling methods in the context of a company, or a brand for that matter in cases when these two are not synonomous, anyone working in that company or with that brand will have a number of avenues to go down when it comes to acting as advocates for the company they’re representing.

A good slogan or a good tagline is good, yes. But often it doesn’t tell very much about the company or the brand. What passes for ”About” pages on the web sites of many companies also make for pretty unimpressive reading. The gems that are unearthed when applying transmedia storytelling methods on the other hand, are stories. Stories that reflect the desired image of the company, stories that are coherent and sync with each other – stories that any employee can relate onwards, thereby strengthening the power and image of the company or brand. Furthermore, such stories will help employees arrive at the same view point when it comes to looking at the company. The question of ”Who do I work for and what do we do?” becomes easier to answer if you can relate to the number of stories that form the mythology of the company or the brand.

5. Planning for the long haul

Many ad campaigns or brand awareness-raising campaigns have a beginning, a middle and an end. Some have a second campaign planned to build on the first one. Some might be connected to some other form of IP (movies, TV series, book etc) and thereby gain a form of longevity. Many, however, have not and are not.

When applying transmedia storytelling methods in the context of a company or a brand, this should be one of the great advantages. By researching thoroughly, creating more, laying the foundation, build the mythology and document it in a tome or bible, not only is it possible to achieve the things mentioned in the points above, it is also possible to create longer-lasting campaigns that follow each other in a logical way, each offering new unique insights and inroads to the brand. By creating a story arch that spans over several instances – with an added flexibility to adapt according to feedback and input from the audience – it is possible to discard the one-offs and create meaningful, long running stories that support the desired image of the brand (one case could be made for the way the Avengers brand has been handled, see Jeff Gomez’ case study here).

This post became way longer than I had anticipated, sorry for that. If there are any comments anyone would like to add, please feel free to do so. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Interview in Subvertising

The people over at Italian advertisement/Subvertising were kind enough to interview me a bit, talking about brands and transmedia and great campaigns. Klick the picture below to get to the pdf of the magazine!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cross Video Days Wrapup

First of all I should say – as you do with substitute football players given 10-15 minutes of playing time at the end of a game – ”he featured too short a time to be properly rated”. As I flew in Tuesday afternoon and out again directly after our ”How to create successful transmedia projects”-session on Wednesday morning, I saw a lot less of the conference than I ideally would have.

That said, my impression was of a well-run conference with good speakers, interesting topics and a very easy-going feeling to it all. Even the buyers who were present were quite relaxed.

The only sessions I managed to take part of fully were the one I was on myself and the showcase of ten transmedia projects on Tuesday evening. I was quite intrigued by the varying shapes transmedia is taking nowadays, from the early-stage interactive television project ”Jurors” by Italian G-Com to the ambitious ”209 Days” by The Workshop Production from Australia. My personal favourites were probably the documentary venture about Philip K Dick and the interesting project "Generation Tahrir", both of which, in my mind, had captured the essence of transmedia storytelling; creating more, thinking multiplatform and engaging the audience on a number of levels. You can judge for yourselves, as all the participating projects are featured on the Cross Video Days website.

Our session was the second one on Wednesday, following an interesting presentation from Eurodata, which put transmedia and cross media into perspective by looking at cross mediated tv shows of the past few months.

To evaluate our panel is a bit hard as I was on it myself, but I think we all in all managed quite well to cover a lot of ground regarding transmedia storytelling and it’s principles and challenges. The session was live streamed and should be up on the Cross Video Days website as well. We – me, Rob Pratten, Ian Ginn, Raymond Van Der Kaaij and Boris Razon, moderated by Laurent Guerin– touched on everything from great examples of successful transmedia projects (my point being that you need to clearly define what the criteria for success will be for any given project, so that funders and producers and distributors and sponsors are all on the same page when it comes to evaluating the success or lack thereof when it comes to a transmedia project) to production challenges, the art of creating a buzz and mistakes we’ve made ourselves in transmedia (from ”creating too much content” to ”not budget properly for community management” to ”underestimating the audience and trying to keep up after the fact”).

All in all, it was a great experience. As our panel talked about and as the pitched projects clearly showed, there is no shortcut when it comes to creating great transmedia projects. You just have to keep on keeping on, get better all the time, gather a trusted bunch of collaborators with the necessary skill sets and go do it.