Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012? Bring it on!

A year draws to an end and another one beckons around the corner, luring us in (as if we had a choice!) with promises of unexplored territories, tears and laughter, friends and foes and a full 366 days of shaping our own lives.

Most of what my 2011 has been about – at least in a professional sense – is possible to read in the publication ”One Year In Transmedia” that was made available for free download yesterday. I won’t go into history further, except to way a genuinely heartfelt Thank You, to everyone I’ve met, talked to, Skyped with, had drinks with, tweeted with, chatted with, blog post commentated with… The tribe that is the transmedia tribe is a trible overflowing with creativity, kindness, curiosity and quite a huge appetite for learning. I’m very happy to call myself a member of this tribe.

Looking forward to 2012 I read and watched a great post on a series of interviews with radio personality Ira Glass. The advice is simple, yet profound.
"You will be fierce. You will be a warrior...and you will make things that aren't as good as you know in your heart you want them to be… and you'll just make one after another..." 
Do listen to the series, it’s great stuff.

This is the advice I will take to heart for 2012. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, not compared to the perfectionsts I know, but I have a hard time not working a little bit more… and a little bit more… and a little bit more… before I even contemplate releasing something. With transmedia projects, this becomes multiplied, as there are more variables to take into consideration, more strands of a story and a story world to work into perfection, more technical possibilities to explore and evaluate…

So this is what I’ll try to do in 2012. Release more often. Fail more often, correct more often. Take feedback more often, evolve more often.

Here’s to a great 2012. Hope to meet you all there, at some point.

Friday, December 30, 2011

One Year in Transmedia, second edition

This is the second edition of the curation of this blog that I published a little over a month ago. I felt it was pretty incomplete without the voices of some of the other people in the field as well, so I decided to ask some questions of some people I felt were the right people to answer these questions. The result is here - the second edition, free for download under a Creative Commons license (just click the pic below to go to the Cloud App download).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Transmedia in Television

It was with great joy I read Lisa Hsia’s (Bravo Digital Media) article over at Mashable yesterday. Entitled ”How Transmedia Storytelling Is Changing TV”, it struck directly to the core of my professional life – the merging of television with transmedia storytelling methods, meaningful multiplatform content, coherent strategies for development, production and distribution and a will to look beyond traditional models and into an inevitable crowd-participation future. Lisa was talking at Storyworld a couple of weeks ago and my guess is that we will be seeing a lot of interesting stuff from Bravo during the coming years.

Lisa brings up some examples; Bravo’s own TopChef, Syfy’s Defiance (which I must admit I haven’t gotten the chance to check out yet) and Tim Kring’s new Kiefer Sutherland-powered Touch, out next year.  She quite correctly states that the audience is already social, already on many platforms, already expecting more than a mere television show; the only thing therefore that makes sense is to fish where the fish are, and strive to create as exciting and as great (and as logical and as much ”Hey, this makes sense!”) content as possible.

It is, however, the two last paragraphs in the article that I find the most interesting.  Lisa, as Jeff Gomez did at Storyworld, talks about ”collaborative social storytelling”, where the fans can ”further the plot in a pervasive, meaningful way”.

I fully agree that this is a sort of Utopia for any developer and writer and producer of television content. Having the audience engage to such a degree that they can collaborate in a meaningful way to further a plot they are engaged in, will make the audience instant ambassadeurs for your brand or content (unless you’re hoaxing them, and then the backlash might be severe). Looking at today’s television landscape, this does not yet really exist.

The talent shows, for instance, engage people via SMS (to influence, in a minimal way, how the plot evolves) and as a storm of comments on social media (which influences the outcome not a bit). The few experiments when the audience have had the chance to impact the evolvement of a drama / fiction on television or elsewhere have either been too difficult to produce or ended up in a bad way, since the audience might decide a lot of stupid things just for laughs (or, to put it more correctly, for the LULZ). The example of Mad Men is a welcome change from that, as viewers take on the Mad Men characters on Twitter and handle them with utmost care, keeping in line with the story world and narrative superstructure of Mad Men.

What I’ve derived from this is that, as creators, we need to plan for the long haul. And when I say long haul, I mean looooooooooooong haul. I.e., do not create a television series, brand it transmedia, open up sandboxes for the audience and expect them to come over and play nice. What everyone who creates new television shows must do, is create with audience interaction always in sync with the rest of the development and built on transmedia storytelling methods. Then, when the show gets commissioned, do the first season WITHOUT any transmedia elements. Heck, do the second season too, without any transmedia elements. 

After two seasons you should have amassed data and feedback enough to a) have a firm grasp of what your audience wants to do with you and your content, b) have found any potential loopholes in your transmedia strategy. You have also seen that your series is a good one that will get a longer run, so the transmedia implementations are not produced unnecessarily. And, you’ve hopefully built a loyal fan base that knows as much about the mythology and story world as you do, and are keen to enforce the rules and keep a straight line and a tidy ship, should anyone else try to stir things up.

Basically – to go fast, you first need to go slow. Or something like that J.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One year in one book

A brief notification to let you know; I took a long hard look at this blog the other day, read some of my previous posts and sat myself down with Scrivener. A fairly considerable amount of hours later I'd chosen some 1/3 of the posts (with comments, some of them), rewritten them somewhat, divided them into different themes and written introductions to each theme.

The result is a 77-page book / PDF with thoughts, musings, comments, interviews, ramblings and links, from the past 13 months of blogging about transmedia. It's decidedly from my POV, I feel I have to say, and should be read as such.

Here's hoping it might be of use to someone else as well!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten Advice for Transmedia Storytellers

Disclosure – the following post is based on a brilliant list about creative photography that Chase Jarvis put up in October, which in turn was inspired by a post by Guy Kawasaki entitled ”What I learned from Steve Jobs”. What I’ve done is port the ten points Chase made to the field of transmedia, as I think they are all pretty crucial points for any creative industry – not least transmedia.

Experts aren’t the answer

Well, at least not all of the time. No one will hold you by the hand and guide you to stardom, infusing you with sublime knowledge and making you a shed-hot transmedia creator. By all means, do hear the experts out; many of them have been there and done that. But there’s no need to blindly heed their advice; it’s you who’re creating your stuff, not they. One good example is the row this week over the so-called ”Transmedia Manifest”, a manifesto which IMHO would make for limited transmedia development, if it was a guide that had to be followed.

Clients cannot tell you what they need

This is true in many creative fields; none more so than transmedia. Nevermind that many clients don’t even have viable social media strategies in place yet; dumping transmedia storytelling methods in their lap and expecting them to make the correct calls all through the development and production process is to be inviting a major headache. Your clients hire you to provide them with something. Do listen to them – it’s their money and their property – but in the end, it’s you who have been hired to create kick-ass transmedia content. And if you’re good enough to have been hired, you’re probably good enough to do the job.

Don’t aim for ”better”, aim for ”different”

(here I’ll just quote Chase straight off, as his point is brilliantly made)
"It’s funny how related “better” and “different” are. If you aim for ‘better’ that usually means you’re walking in the footsteps of someone else. There will often be someone better than you, someone making those footsteps you’re following… But if you target being different–thinking in new ways, creating new things–then you are blazing your own trail. And in blazing your own trail, making your own footprints, you are far more likely to find yourself being ‘better’ without even trying. Better becomes easy because it’s really just different. You can’t stand out from the crowd by just being better. You have to be different."

Big challenges create the best work

Strive to get challenges that push you to your limits. That’s the only way to become better at what you are doing. If, for some reason, you don’t get such challenges, the only solution is to give yourself such challenges. Implement new platforms, try out new ways of telling your stories, work on character creation if that’s something you feel you are lacking in, and so on. You want to be on the edge. It's the best place to discover something new.

The aestethics matter

Chase makes his point with regards to photography, but the same goes for transmedia storytelling. You need to work on your understanding of storytelling, of platform implementation, of graphics, of producing video content, of interacting with an audience in a logical and engaging manner, of handling social media challenges, of composing music, basically everything that is needed in the development and production of transmedia content. It is crucial to know why one method or one solution is superior to another; not only to explain to clients, but to yourself and your development and production partners as well.

Strive for simplicity

I touched upon this in a previous post – the NOT of transmedia – and Scott Walker talks about the same thing in a post fromlast year regarding the ”gutter”. It’s as much about what you choose NOT to do as about what you actually DO. Just because you can do something, does not mean you actually should. Simple is beautiful.

Fail fast and learn

There is no point in trying to avoid failure at all cost. If you want to be different, if you want to be great, if you want to push your limits, you will fail from time to time. What matters is that you learn from your mistakes and are able to implement the lessons learned in the future. This goes for design and development of content as well as for business and distribution plans, and so on. If you do something and it works, do more of it. If you do something and it doesn’t work, stop doing it. Re-design. Do something else. To quote Einstein on the definition of ”insanity”: ”to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”

Know the difference between price and value

You might be tempted to go cheap to get assignments and deals in place. This might get you those assignments, but it’ll be devastating in the long run. You create valuable content, valuable strategies, and you should price yourself accordingly. Also, value comes in many forms – not least in the transmedia field. The value you create will get you the price that you deserve.

If you want to be the best, work with the best

This is simple but true. If you feel you are at the top of your game, you want to partner with people and companies who are top-notch as well. This is of extreme importance when it comes to transmedia, as partnerships are a crucial part of almost any endeavour, to get all parts developed in sync and produced and distributed accordingly. Ideally, to become better at what you are doing, you’d work with people who are better than yourself. Only people who aren’t THAT good seek to work with people less gifted than themselves; in that way they get to shine in comparison. Don’t belong to that group of people.

Create, and create more

It’s all good to sit around and contemplate different projects, ideas, terms and philosophies. But this will get you nowhere if you do not implement this in real projects that have a real, tangible output. Whenever you can create, create. Maybe it won’t be the perfect thing, but it’s the best way to learn and move to new levels of competence. Strive to get your stuff out there.

With that, I will now go create. See you on the battlefield.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The NOT of Transmedia

Late yesterday evening, as I sat writing on a transmedia mystery/horror novel I like to keep at hand as my own personal pet project – a combination of jet lag and a full moon helps no end when you want to work nights, see – I had a small revelation.

I had written a couple of pages and felt pretty good about myself, so I started looking over the mindmap of all extensions from and to the novel and from and to the story world the novel is based in (and trust me, as with all transmedia projects, these are legio) and a pattern suddenly emerged before me. It had a big fat headline as well, that pattern – a headline that said ”NOT!”.

You see, as I gazed at the arrows and the dots and the squares and the texts, I realized that transmedia is as much about what you decide NOT to use, as what you eventually end up actually USING. As was stated at the Storyworld conference – all stories can be developed in a transmedia direction; not nearly all need or deserve it.

If your project does need and deserve to have transmedia methods applied to them, it is very important to evaluate your project from the angle of ”what makes sense”. I.e., even though you’ve already registered the YouTube channel and you really want to produce them awesome webisodes and put them out there – if all your project needs is a blog, an automated e-mail response system and a novel, then that’s what your project should use.

The same goes for interaction with the audience. I know many who argue that an inherent trait of transmedia storytelling is the activating and incorporating of the audience, inviting them to take an active part in the storytelling. I would disagree, as I believe you can deliver fullfledged transmedia content without the audience doing much more than choosing what to consume on which platform. I.e., use UGC or user interaction when it makes sense, NOT when it doesn’t!

The list goes on, but I’m sure you get my point. Your transmedia project will be defined as much by what you did NOT utilize within the scope of it as by what you DID utilize.

Best of luck :)


I totally forgot to add it here: I was invited to sit in on the MIPBloggers Roundup Panel at MIPCOM 2011 - the very last session of the conference, and - IMHO - an hour of pretty open talks about the industry as a whole, "buzzwords" like transmedia, important deals and so on. Great fun! Here's the video:

Monday, November 07, 2011

Storyworld and the Real World - Five Thoughts

So, an almost overwhelming week at Storyworld in San Francisco is over, jet lag is slowly fading, the heaps of work await and it’s time to take stock of what was learned during the conference. From my POV, as a creator and developer of tv formats – multiplatform, cross media, transmedia ones – here are a couple of points:

The transmedia crowd is a fine one

I’ve been involved in enough startups of different kinds to know what it’s like; the feeling of unity, the stage that Michel Reilhac called the ”Rebel Stage” of ”Us vs Them” (that in all fairness is now giving way to the Pioneering Stage where we’ll see more acceptance of the movement, best practices being carved out, and a route set to finally enter the Business Stage). It’s a good stage to be in, no matter that everyone’s definition of ”transmedia” differs somewhat from everyone else’s. What I like the most, however, is that most people involved in transmedia readily acknowledge that we’re better off thinking about ”Us AND Them” from the outset, a realization that can take other types of movement ages to achieve. Not to mention the fact that all the people I met at Storyworld were quite brilliant in their own way and a genuine pleasure to meet and talk to.

 Non-fiction transmedia is on few radars

Most of the examples and most of the talks at the conference centered around transmedia based in fiction. Of the examples that were presented during the speed pitches at lunch on Monday and Tuesday, only Storm Surfers could be described as non-fiction – OTOH, the background story on that show was more fleshed out that most of the fictional ones. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good fiction as much as anyone, both when it comes to creating and to consuming or experiencing. Still, I would have liked some more talks on and examples of non-fiction transmedia; documentaries, television formats, non-fiction art etc. Creating transmedia formats for television, for instance, is a process that brings with it a bunch of demands not encountered when dealing with transmedia fiction; the need to be able to repeat for season upon season, the need for financial sustainability, the need to find a background story to hook the transmediated content on…. Perhaps at SWC12?

 Howzabout the audience?

I was extremely thankful to many of the people on different panels – Liz Rosenthal for instance – for insisting that we do not forget the audience at any time. I totally agree; having worked in traditional media for 10-odd years, in radio for many of them and developing 50-odd shows during those years; keeping close tabs on your audience and involving them as often as possible is very much key. Acknowledging this, I would have thought it’d be interesting to invite someone representing the audience, or someone doing audience / UX research to the conference? Again, perhaps next year we’ll see a panel of two-three avid ARG-players/ transmedia audience members paired with one or two researchers in the field, that could talk on transmedia from ”the other side”? As I stated above, the transmedia crowd is a fabulous one, but we might be a bit environmentally damaged…

The art of getting lawyered up

The collective gloom that set in during the panel on the importance of getting lawyers in would have been funny if it hadn’t been such a serious subject. Now, the panel members might have been banging their own drum – I’ll not get into that debate – but the truth is, you can’t cover all your bases while producing and distributing transmedia content without legal advice. Still, there is absolutely no need to pay thousands of dollars to an established Hollywood lawyer, unless that is exactly what you need. I would argue that anyone doing transmedia projects – or any kind of creative work – would be better off starting out with a project that is not of uttermost importance to them, i.e. not the work of their lives, the one project that they burn utterly for. With a less important project, it is possible to make all the mistakes, take note of them and make a better effort the second time around. Simon Pulman wrote a good post on this matter, from a US point-of-view, but most of the points are viable for transmedia people in other territories as well.

 Network of networks

The meetup of meetups was interesting, as there are quite a few meetups happening in the name of transmedia around the world. I know there are a lot of efforts being made at the moment to get all these in touch – which many of them already are – and create new ones where there is a void to be filled. For my own part I’d be looking to help create a Transmedia Nordic meetup, as we have quite a few practicioners, researchers and students active in the field. On another level, I’d be looking to see if a Transmedia Europe meetup could be organized, perhaps as a annual event. And, naturally, people from other territories would be more than welcome. Perhaps in the context of some other happening, such as the Pixel Market or TedxTransmedia? Let’s talk, Liz, Nicoletta, Karine and everyone else who's interested!

All other thoughts I had, regarding development, distribution, partnerships etc, are things I’ll write about a bit later as I force my mind to put them into the right context. Will keep you all posted!

Thank you all who were involved. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you all. Looking forward to next year already! And, yes, thanks Alison, for pulling all of this together! Brilliant!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guest post: Transmedia - Lessons learned

The following is a guest post by Lucas J.W. Johnson from Silverstring Media in Vancouver. It's about trying to launch a project, realizing when to pull the plug, and using the experience to try anew. It resonates with me and some of the stuff I've worked on over the years; key is to fail, and fail often - and learn from your mistakes. With that, I'll leave the floor to Lucas:

Azrael's Stop

Back in January, I decided I wanted to start a transmedia project, something that I could get out there and start building a following. By then the call to “stop talking and start doing” had already begun, and I was eager to do it. And I wanted something that would be easy to start up and easy to maintain while I worked on other projects. In February, the beginning of Azrael’s Stop was released on the world.

A few months later, I found that the project just wasn’t where I wanted it to be. It didn’t have much of a following, I’d found a lot of problems with how I’d set it up, and I was starting to feel like I was producing sub-par content just to have content. So I pulled the plug and Azrael’s Stop went on hiatus.

I knew that I wanted to bring it back, though. Once I figured out how to fix all the problems -- which might either involve a previously nonexistent budget, or a lot of work. But slowly I’ve been building up those resources and preparing for a return -- a return which is now happening, next week, on November 1st.

The process has been an interesting one, and I think makes for a good case study in planning and execution for transmedia or digital media properties.

The Plan

The original plan for Azrael’s Stop hinged on a few key ideas. I wanted it to be something I could (1) start quickly and (2) upkeep easily, with (3) little budget but (4) the potential to make money.

(1) and (2) led me to the idea of Twitter fiction. Daily self-contained stories that fit within a tweet. Each would be about the same characters over time so they built up a world, but would be self-contained enough that you could theoretically jump in any time. I could write 140 characters a day, and do it for free. Twitter would also make it easy to share, easy to measure followers, and free to use. I also felt it was important that I wasn’t asking a lot of my audience -- I wasn’t asking them to give me hours of their time, just about 20 words of reading a day. I also wasn’t asking for money up front.

This stream of fiction would then be augmented by occasional bonus content. This might be a full short story, or a piece of in-world music, or maybe a video or little game. These would add to the story but not be necessary to it, but would provide deeper engagement for those who wanted it. And I would sell them for, say, 99 cents a pop -- to pay for their production, and ideally make a little money.

It’s the typical indie transmedia business plan -- free first level to bring in an audience, with deeper engagement at a price. The theory was all there.

I came up with a cool story -- the setting is a bar called Azrael’s Stop, where people are mystically led when they’re ready to die. The bartender is a 17-year-old kid who’s seen a lot of death and is struggling to deal with it. the story is about him and the people who come to the Stop.

I figured I was set.

The Result

The promise of using social media as a way to distribute or promote content is the potential for it to go viral and reach a large audience, and that was something I was subconsciously counting on. Because for any of my plans to really work, I needed an audience -- the common statistic for freemium business models is that 1-20% of your audience will be willing to pay for things. To quote Jayne from Firefly, ten percent of nothing is, let me do the math here, nothing into nothing, carry the nothing...

I was counting on the adage “build it and they will come.” And frankly, that’s just not true. They still have to hear about it, and my first mistake was assuming that my available networks -- Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth -- would be enough to get the seed audience to let it take off. But beyond talking about it a bit, I did no real marketing or publicizing.

Mistake number two, as Dr. Christy Dena points out in her video “7 Things”, is that your peers are not necessarily your audience. They’re all working on their own stuff, and while they might offer an RT here or there, they’re less likely to be your huge fans -- the huge fans that will pay for content and spread your project far and wide.

But even were I to find some audience and get some eyes -- and I did, to some extent; I had about 50 followers on Twitter when I pulled the plug, which isn’t nobody (how many were bots? don’t know) -- there were underlying structural problems that actively worked against audience expansion and retention.

The first was a problem with the premise -- if I’m only providing tiny pieces of content so you don’t have to spend a lot of time with my project, then you’re not spending a lot of time with my project. You might read a piece in the fleeting stream of tweets and immediately forget about it. Even if you wanted more, there was precious little to engage you.

Pieces of fiction that short have other limitations -- no room to describe people, for instance. So it was very hard to visualize the storyworld.

Twitter itself became a barrier to entry -- individual tweets could get lost in the stream easily, and as much as we digital types might love it, a whole lot of people still don’t use it or understand it. “You just have to go to the profile page and scroll down!” fell on deaf ears. After two months, I finally added Facebook to deliver the same content, something I should have done from the start, but it never garnered that much interest either. It was too hard to figure out what was going on; it was too hard to care.

I made other mistakes. In an attempt to harvest an email list of fans, I made it so you’d have to sign up to access the archives on my blog, which was just creating a barrier to entry for people to check out the story. I tried running a contest to engage the audience and attract more fans, but that still requires an audience to start (I promised the top 10 entries a prize; I got five entries -- which, interestingly, hit the 10% of my followers rule). I gave away a song as the prize, which meant that the only people who might have been willing to pay for it already had it (“It’s creative commons, people will share and remix and it will spread!”). And by month four, I felt I was being too rushed, just trying to keep up with content no one was reading and monthly bonus content no one was paying for. The project was getting away from me. So I pulled the plug.

The Redo

But I wasn’t giving up. I needed time, I needed to figure a lot out and do a lot of work, but I knew I wanted to bring Azrael’s Stop back. But first I had to fix it.

Step 1: Twitter wasn’t good enough. I needed a dedicated blog/website with an RSS feed, and without the slightly-too-constraining 140 character limit; somewhere people could land and consume content and find out more. I also wanted to be as many places as possible -- to not be losing audience just because they’re not on Twitter. So I got a website designer to collaborate with and put up; the content will also be available daily on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and monthly archives on a host of other sites like Wattpad and Scribd.

Step 2: I also needed enough content from the start to draw people in, something that would set up the world and story before being restricted to microfiction. So I wrote an introductory story, a prologue that introduced the characters and setting and hopefully make you care for them. I also collaborated with a couple of artists to have some more artwork associated with the project, to help bring it to life for the audience.

Step 3: Plan. Edit. Raise the quality of the project. Keeping it as something I could do quickly and easily must not stand in the way of quality.

Planning out the entirety of the rest of the project also allows me to know what’s coming when something might require extra production time. And it lets me say that the project will come to an end after one year -- I’m not asking my audience for some unspecified time commitment. And if it’s successful, I can still do spin-offs or future “seasons”. (The storyworld is certainly rich enough for it, as I’m planning to use it for future projects anyway.)

Step 4: Make it as easy as possible for the audience. Any time you put a tiny barrier in, you lose audience. The website will feature a little teaser video, an explanation of what the project is, and a breakdown of where to start -- either full archives where you can easily get all the available content, or a quick summary of the story so far so you can just jump right in if you want instead. I’m trying to make all information and content as easy to find and access as possible.

I’m also removing the paywall completely -- even the bonus content will be available to everyone for free. What does this mean for the business plan, though? Well, I’m a little less concerned about making money than experimenting with the form and finding an audience. But at the end of the project, I will create and (probably self-)publish a collection of all the content (with a bit extra), which I will then sell. An e-book, and album, and maybe some more stuff I have up my sleeve.

Step 5: Market. Get the project out there more. Get it in front of people. Talk it up in guest posts. ^_^

* * *

You can’t count on social media to do your work for you. You can’t rush into something and assume it will work.

Look at it from an audience perspective. Imagine all of your possible audience members. Build it for them.

Make a quality product, and spread it widely.

And always keep re-evaluating the project. Fix it if it’s broken. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back here in four months, with new lessons learned.

Azrael’s Stop will re-launch on November 1st at

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Disciplines merging in transmedia

One of the most interesting and at the same time most challenging aspects of transmedia is getting everything to gel flawlessly. It was pretty hard back in the days of interactive television (try telling an MHP programmer that the interactive set-top-box-game he was programming would need to a) look like the rest of the graphics on the show and feel like a natural part of the show, b) be confined to a certain part of the screen abd a certain size to accommodate for video feed on rest of the screen and c) take the show into consideration, not just work on its’ own…phew!) and it’s still a pretty daunting proposition.

It’s extremely important to identify which platforms make sense to use when developing a transmedia project. This in and of itself will give you some minor headaches. Why not use all of them? You really should build an app, or should you? It is a process that needs to be done, and done thoroughly. Will you be launcing and ARG of some kind? Will you have live events? Are you looking at drama webisodes, or do you need television or newspapers or even billboards to cut through to your audience? How about social media, e-mail and so on? The better you know your story (and your target audience!), the better you can choose platforms. The better and quicker you choose platforms, the easier you will have to find the right people to partner with, another crucial part of any transmedia project.

In a post called The Transmedia Manifest the so called High Flyers group, appointed by the Frankfurt Book Fair, took a look at how stories will be taught in the future. It’s a good manifest, encompassing most of the features that make transmedia methods so effective to use in a disrupted media landscape. The 11th thesis of the manifest reads:

Collaborative work
The story-universe is developed in collaboration by a versatile and interdisciplinary team, whose range of skills can meet the demands of experience-based storytelling.

In my book, all the other points of the manifest are dependant on this one. There will be no intriguing multiplatform story, if you can’t get the right people in to produce, program and create for the different platforms. There will be no ”taking advantage of the strenghts of a medium” if you or someone else your team does not fully understand and master the different media that are to be used.

Nick DeMartino wrote an interesting article the other day, looking at transmedia through the goggles of classic media scolar Marshall McLuhan. His pronouncement that ”the medium is the message” is one that media students all around the world have been indoctrinated with for decades, and in many a way it’s still an apt description of where we are today. That makes it even more crucial to create partnerships around the development of a transmedia project, to fully understand the media involved and thereby be able to convey the message, the story.

To wrap up this short post, I’ll readily acknowledge that things are not as bad as they were some 5-6 years ago, when my role as a creator and producer to a large extent meant acting as a translator between writers/directors and programmers. Today most writers and directors (at least those who have been working with multiplatform content development) understand the importance of knowing the possibilities and limitations of other media platforms outside their own main field of interest. Vice versa, most programmers can look at examples and best practices from previous campaigns and see how the tech and the software can bring about a much more engaging and immersive experience if integrated with the story from the beginning, taking into account all the demands and the possibilities the story and the mythology brings with them to the table.

And to finally conclude; if I could wish for one little thing, it’d be something like the collaborative film community at Wreckamovie, only for transmedia projects. Anyone?

Friday, October 07, 2011

MIPCOM 2011 roundup

Packing my bags, ready to leave MIPCOM behind for yet another year. Cannes surprised us all with a weather more like mid-July than early October, although as I look out to sea now, some sort of autumn storm is churning up waves and whipping the palms around quite mercilessly.

I don’t know if it was the weather or something else, but this market lacked a lot of the doom and gloom that had been prevalent at most of the MIPs since 2008. Back then we were heading into the unknown of a recession and everyone had their wallets in a tight grip; this year people were a lot more upbeat, seeing possibilities and doling out money in a steady flow. Which is a bit strange, as we’re heading into yet another recession… but on the other hand, TV viewing figures are up, brands are obviously spending, it wasn’t as bad as feared last time around, so psychologically speaking it makes sense, I guess.

To highlight some of the stuff over the week I managed to catch over the week – and we had so many meetings over the week that I missed most of the sessions, (un?)fortunately – the most obvious one is that the term ’2nd screen’ is exciting to most people. It is quite possible that the fact that people are on a mobile device of some sort – be it smartphone, tablet or laptop – while watching tv, is a fact that has finally penetrated the mind of most people in the business. Perhaps they’ve watched their own kids while they watch tv? The only thing I know is, ’2nd screen’ was the buzzword of MIPCOM 2011.

To this I might add that our lab did studies on interactivity during a tv show – we did the first interactive quiz show in Finland, with set top box interactivity and Javabased interactivity for smartphones, back in 2004 – studies that clearly showed that people felt more engaged with a tv show if they were interactive via a set top box. They felt more personal, but also more detached, if they did the exact same interaction on a smartphone. That says something for connected TVs, I guess, but at the same time you need to factor in the value of having a personal experience in a group, like a family.

I saw some funky stuff being presented by Ex Machina, the people behind PlayToTV, for interaction via iPhone / iPad etc. They use HTML5 which helps it run on anything (and I think HTML5 is going to change the game plan for many companies over the next year or so. Imagine creating something that doesn’t need to be ported to 1000 different devices, something that just works, the way you intended it? Nice.). I spoke to a company from Wales, Little Lamb, who are doing tv shows paired with watermarked iPad apps for 3-5 year olds, for them to interact with a tv show on iPads together with their parents. It’s all going more and more 2nd screen, more and more interactive…. And let’s not forget ’social’!

The talks at MIP showed that more and more people ’get it’; where ’it’ is the fact that most of our audiences have already moved into a very social space. We – and most importantly our content, what we’re offering – need to find out logical and natural place in the same social space. Not intruding, as you wouldn’t like someone bursting into your house while your there with your friends, promoting some tv series that’ll premiere in a week. Just being there might be enough, so that the step to engage or interact is as short as possible for any possible member of the audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to create word-of-mouth for your stuff; it’s only a matter of doing in the right way. Here, again, honesty is key. Tell what you can tell. Be open with what you can not tell. And have a plan for how to harness the audience you do engage.

Got to run to the airport now, try to fly home in the storm that’s apparently racking the whole of Europe. Until MIP in the spring, or somewhere else!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Some thoughts on crowdfunding

Last Thursday I attended the webinar ”Transmedia Outsold or Sold Out”, hosted by the people behind the Storyworld Conference. Informative, thought provoking and all around a well spent hour (check out hashtag #swc11 for tweets from the session, or go here to take part of the recorded session (needs e-mail to access)).

There were other people listening to the webinar as well, amongst them Tom Liljeholm from my neighbouring country Sweden. Tom has been involved in The Truth About Marika, in Conspiracy for Good and is now working with new transmedia project The Karada (which btw sounds absolutely fab). Tom asked me if I was going to Storyworld or not. I replied that I’d love to go, but funds weƤre not readily available. Tom had the same problem – a burning urge to be at the conference this year where Transmedia would be in utter focus, and that would attract an amazing host of people connected to this form of storytelling, but a serious lack of funds to support such a trip.

I mean, we can bicker on about the definition of transmedia (and I agree that it, for several reasons, public funding one of them, would be good to have a definition to cover all bases) but at this conference chances are some pretty awesome things are going to happen. Not only at the conferences, but at breakfast, at 2.30AM at the Smuggler’s Cove, or somewhere else ☺. Naturally, we want to be there.

The idea sprung within a couple of minutes. ”How about a crowdfunding campaign?” ”…. Well…. Yeah! What is there to lose? Some of our time, perhaps, but who needs sleep anyway? Mead and mushrooms will take us through the next couple of weeks no problem!”

And so the campaign ”Get Tom And Simon To Storyworld” (or ”Where the Wild Vikings Roam” or ”Trip To Transmedia” or a number of other titles) was born.

It’s now on it’s 5th day, and already it’s exceeding expectations. We chose IndieGoGo for no particular reasons (aside that Kickstarter is still closed to non-US ppl). We could have gone with Sposume, or perhaps InvestIn, but IndieGoGo was recommended to us so IndieGoGo it was. We set a goal of 2700$, which is what the actual flights would cost just about, and set it to run for 2 weeks so as not to leave it too late before the actual conference.

Some reflections on the process so far: when crowdfunding, really really think about your perks. What do you want to offer people in return for their support? For us, the Transmedia Viking t-shirt has been the absolute favourite. Perhaps we should’ve gone for the set of underwear as well? Ah, next time ☺.

Also, be prepared to be a bit of a pain in the ass for your social contacts. You WILL be asking for endorsements, for RT:s, for blog posts about your campaign, for just about anything that will give you more exposure. Most people are surprisingly OK with all of this, perhaps because they’ve tried crowdfunding themselves. I will readily say that I for one will always RT the crowdfunding efforts of contacts in the future, and look hard at funding them to some extent as well. It’s a small effort for one person, but it can mean the world for a certain project.

I am looking forward to the next 13 days and hoping for some serious traction and some more funding. I’m already amazed though, as right now we’re at slightly more than 18% funded, so only 82% still to go. Wish us luck!

Our progress so far - actually a little bit to the west of the Faroe Islands right now!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The transmedia format

I recently stumbled (again) upon this good post by Jason from The Connected Set on why television is an integral part of a transmedia format. Coming from a television background much as Jason, I guess it is no surprise that I agree with him on most of his points.

Television is still very much a powerful player with it comes to getting viewers and audiences engaged in your content. That engagement in turn will generate traction for other parts of your transmedia property – or the other way around, as, for instance, HBO’s Game of Thrones showed this last spring. I wrote a piece for MIPBlog at around the same time, wondering if there was going to exist such a thing as a transmedia format. I wrote at the time:
”The one thing that will be sure to stem the rise of the transmedia format at this year’s MIPFormats and MIPTV is simply the fact that very few formats are transmedia at this point. As more and more projects are initiated, more and more tools are made available and more and more success stories unearthed, however, expect this to change, as transmedia simply offers so many logical and compelling ways to engage consumers more fully into your content.”
Since then I have become more and more acutely aware of the need that transmedia can have of television. TV still boasts impressive revenue. TV has tried and tested (and admittedly sometimes a bit outdated) business models. TV knows (again, a bit outdatedly) how to calculate success. TV has a broad reach.

Now, show me the transmedia project that would say no to impressive revenue stemming from tried and tested business models, with calculateable success founded on a broad reach.

So, as much as television needs to be looking in the direction of transmedia to be able to offer an audience the multiplatform approach many take for granted today (”if this show doesn’t invite me to do something on a 2nd screen (that ties logically and seamlessly into the show itself or the world the show depicts) I’ll just use that 2nd screen to bitch about it on Twitter. Or play Empires & Allies on Facebook”) transmedia needs to be looking at television as an integral part of many transmedia projects. And not as an add-on either, like a reversal of the state of affairs when tv shows should have interactivity at all cost, leading to slap-on, underdeveloped and seriously underwhelming interactive content being published regularly. Nope; just as much as multiplatform or transmedia content need to be developed at the same time as a television show, so must a television show be developed at the same time as the multiplatform and transmedia content.

On that note, see you all at MIPCOM perhaps? :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Transmedia - 13 months and counting

Greatly inspired by Laura Flemings post "My Year In Transmedia" I realized it’s been over a year since my eyes were opened to transmedia storytelling as a way of developing and distributing stories. Since then I’ve happily embraced transmedia (as I define it (a definition that can be found at the end of this post, so as not to distract from the rest of the post)) in almost every project I’ve been working on. Looking back, I thought it’d be nice to do a wrap-up of sorts.


Briefly about where I come from – I’ve worked in media since the late 80s, when I as a teenager started out in radio. Since then I’ve worked for newspapers, television and for over seven years as a radio show host, editor and producer. I’ve lost count of how many shows I’ve developed over the years, but 50 might be a fairly correct number. I’ve always preferred the immediate and quick nature of radio (not to mention the instant feedback and the interaction with the audience) compared to the more cumbersome nature of television, or the ”telling people what happened yesterday” nature of newspapers (although I love writing).

In 2005 I transferred to my current position as a format developer, originally for interactive television formats (an AFDESI Award nominated quiz show with set-top-box interactivity and live Java-powered mobile phone interactivity tied to the broadcast stream one of the first efforts) but quickly moved on to cross media formats (where our children’s language training game show ”The Space Trainees” was nominated for a Digital iEmmy in 2010). So, that’s where I was in 2010, when I applied for, and got accepted to, the Pixel Lab in Cardiff.

Transmedia – the first contact

I’d blogged some stuff about transmedia (or T-Media as I, for some reason, had called it at the time) but had never really gotten my mind around the concept in a way that made sense to me. The week in Cardiff changed all that. For the first time I understood how powerful a concerted effort over several media can be when trying to tell a story and engage an audience. While there were many brilliant tutors and experts attending – Steve Peters, Michel Reilhac, Christy Dena and so on – I remain deeply indebted to Jeff Gomez. His one hour long presentation, telling about ”the notion of distant mountains”, of mythologies, narrative superstructures and canon is what made my mind click into the right places, all at once.

Jeff's presentation (minus some "secret" slides)

I came back from Cardiff, mind ablaze with ideas and an urge to convey said ideas and concepts to my colleagues, to get everyone on the same page and develop what we’d been working on so far. Easier said than done, I can report in hindsight, but since then, as I said, I’ve integrated the transmedia mindset into almost all projects I’ve been involved in.

Transmedia everywhere

As I see it, almost every aspect of a professional life can be aided by approaching it from a transmedia point of view. Even such a thing as your company’s profile will benefit; traditionally, you are very much supposed to think about what your company is and what it represents, what are your key strengths and what are your strategies. But how to tell the story (or stories) of your company, that’s something that’s often neglected. By transmediating this process – by creating and documenting the mythology of your company, the stories of your personnel and your products, ny carefully thinking about the consumer’s entry points into your company, you can create a coherent whole, that everyone in your company can communicate to anyone outside of your company in the same way, keeping everything intact and keeping the image of your brand within the desired frames.

Building this kind of mythology can also help in unexpected ways when it comes to future strategies (”how does this future possibility fit into our mythology?”) and even product development (”what’s the story of the new product we are about to create?”). For instance, look at Apple’s three year old promotional videos for the first aluminium cased MacBooks – they ooze this kind of storytelling. Now, apply this over different media, using the exact media most applicable for the story you want to tell… you’re there.

Example: The story of the MacBook.

Thinking, developing and blogging

I had been blogging on and off for several years, but in October of last year I felt an urge to start documenting the aha!-moments and the thoughts arising from the development work I was doing. My first post was one aptly called ”Musings on transmedia development”, which I still think fits the bill 100%. Since then I’ve blogged from conferences and s eminars, from fair trades and academical get-togethers; always with transmedia at the forefront.

Funny thing was, whereever I looked, I could see transmedia possibilites. Jeff had talked about using transmedia to create a symphony of stories and narratives; in a post called ”Creating A Transmedia Symphony” I playfully took some online advice on how to create a musical symphony and put all the advice into a transmedia context. It actually worked a treat!

As always, there is a sizeable gap between thinking, talking and writing about something and actually doing and producing something. I was in the fortunate position of being able to do both, as we were working on transmedia development all through the last year, while I was also working on a project of my own (still under development ☺ ), and most of the conclusions I’ve come to, I been conveying via my blog, which at the same time functioned (and still do) as my development notebook, to which I can go back and check on previous thoughts and mirror them on current development issues.

The Network of Transmedia

As with many niche professions, transmedia people are still fairly few and far between. The power of social media and most predominantly Twitter has made it possible to discuss with and learn from some extremely brilliant minds in the field of transmedia. I’ve been most fortunate to be able to travel from Finland to meet some of these people in person, be it at the MIPs or at the Pixel Lab, at SXSW (where the discussion on the term ”transmedia” really took off (and one I won’t be trying to solve in this post thank you very much ☺)) and MPBS. There’s no point in me dropping names here; suffice to say that the network of transmedia professionals is a most generous and caring (not to mention funny, witty, intelligent and creative) bunch of people, one that makes it a joy to browse through the #transmedia Twitter feed every morning. It is also most encouraging to see how many transmedia projects are in development, getting funded on Kickstarter, getting the backing of major broadcasters, brands and studios…

The future

In the past few days I’ve received some notions that transmedia might be vaning. There are conference people debating on whether to include a panel on transmedia or not, there’s industry people fed up with the buzzword. More than a year on from my ”transmedia awakening”, I’m not the least worried. As I see it, the buzzword ”transmedia” might ultimately become redundant, as people (especially people who are supposed to pay for all of it) become fed up with a term that can span basically anything. The buzzword might disappear, but the practice of creating, developing and producing transmedia content, that's a practice that will just become more and more vital, interesting and necessary.

Transmedia: the art and practice of telling stories on multiple platforms. connected via a common story world and mythology, offering different entry points into the same and deepening an audience's engagement and immersion via interactivity and compelling content. This can be one story with different aspects spread over different media, or multiple stories, set in the same world or with the same characters involved. Simple as that.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Transmedia and multiplatform business

I am currently attending the Multiplatform Business School in Ronda, Spain, a five day workshop on, well, how to do business in an age of multiplatform content. It’s been some highly instructive five days, with something like 9-10 projects participants brought to the workshop being constructively criticized and developed further in a timely fashion. An NDA prevents me from going into these projects in any greater detail, but there could quite possibly be some really interesting projects appearing from this group in the coming year.

I usually keep my transmedia goggles as necessary, which it was, for the most part, this week. Looking at transmedia from the business angle is, for me, one of the most interesting ones. As I see it, unless you either have got the backing of a) a governmental fund for an educational transmedia project or one that helps the society in some way or b) a chunk of money from the marketing budget of a film or a tv series or a brand, you will want to be able to create something that can generate revenue in the future, revenue enough for you to be able to keep your transmedia project going, develop it further and/or have money to make the next project you want to do.

It’s basically just like any other business; you wouldn’t be manufacturing shoes unless you were pretty sure you can sell them for a profit. Likewise, I don’t think it makes sense to develop and produce an elaborate transmedia project unless you can see it generating enough revenue for it to be worth it for you (artistic efforts aside, as I can see that happening to an extent).

The five days here in Ronda have given me some thoughts on precisely this matter, some of which I though it prudent to share here (and perhaps initiate a discussion that will let everyone learn more regarding this area):

- Partnerships are important. I could probably rephrase that – partnerships are crucial (unless you’re a mega-huge company, which precious few of us are). When you’ve developed your transmedia idea or project to a level where you can clearly see how it would play out, and once you have material to show and a selling pitch and feel comfortable enough to talk about your project with possible partners, make a real effort to identify the right ones. You might want to partner with a marketing or media agency to find the right brands to work with, you might want to partner with a production company to gain more muscle behind your project, you might want to hook up with an app developer to create the app that is crucial for your project… the possibilities are many. You can find these through Google, through industry contacts and so on; the crucial thing would be to pinpoint WHAT you need and WHOM you’d want to partner with to do it (yeah, and IN WHAT ORDER). Basically: all the areas that you feel you do not master, consider a partner (and take these in the right order; you’re in a more advantageous position when you deal with a brand, for instance, if you have a strong distribution partner lined up already).

- The fragmented media world is a familiar concept for everyone. The challenges are many; how to stand out from the crowd and get noticed, how to keep the audience engaged and immersed, how to communicate in a way that does not clash with the tone and feel of the other parts of the project and so on. But to this comes the challenge on how to make money off of all of this. Getting sponsors in is a way (but make sure your value proposition is an attractive one when dealing with them or you won’t hook them), while other possible ways include app purchases, extra types of content accessible in exchange for FB credits… Something as simple as a Paypal button or perhaps even a Kickstarter campaign for some certain aspect of the project could also be effective. But still, all of these need to serve the needs of your story and your mythology, not just your wallet; consider carefully what will be the right solution for you.

- ”Transmedia” as a term is still – unsurprisingly – something that people, also the ones in the industry, have widely different views on. On every aspect for that matter – what it is, why it is, how it should be done, what the advantages are… So, my advice would be – do, by all means, name your project a transmedia one, but make sure your pitch and presentation is clear and without glitches. It’s just so much easier for buyers to say ”No” than ”Yes”, and ”transmedia” is a term that possibly can make people feel unsure about what they’re actually being pitched.

There was a helluva lot of other stuff as well – the importance of emotion in your project, the impact of mobile… Which I’ll be happy to write about a bit later.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The ”Why” of Transmedia

I’m thrilled to see a great many transmedia projects springing up all around the world, in different settings; from marketing campaigns for blockbusters and tv series to crowdsourced international mystery-stories, from web based crime fiction projects to socially engaged documentaries – the powers of transmedia storytelling are being grasped and acted upon my a steadily increasing number of practitioners. The like-button is firmly pressed for my part.

One thing I myself have found to be of great importance to keep in mind when developing stories and content for a transmedia project is the simple question ”why”? It might sound naive, but believe me, it can at times be a hard question to answer, at least in a way that would satisfy yourself, let alone anyone you would like to invest in your project.

A simple ”because I (or we) can” just does not cut it. That’s a sure-fire way of developing something that doesn’t fit together in the seamless and logical way that’s crucial for any transmedia project. There are just too many pitfalls along the way; there is no need to go digging them yourself.

”Because it’s cool” or "because it's what everyone is doing nowadays" are hardly better reasons. Yes, it will be cool, providing you get it right. Chances are you won’t, and it will not, therefore, be particularly cool. Yes, many others are doing it. This does not mean that you, necessarily, should be doing it as well.

If it’s a transmedia marketing campaign for a release of some kind, that makes it infinitely easier. It’s ”to raise awareness of this particular property” or ”to make people engage in the content and get more viewers in through word-of-mouth”. In this sense you know what you’re aiming for and your results are possible to observe, analyze and draw conclusions from.

Another reason, especially if we are talking about a transmedia campaign connected to an existing property (the new Pottermore instalment might be an example) can be ”to extend the storyworld and offer more content to an engaged audience”. This is a reason that probably could be adapted to most transmedia projects, and in that sense needs more clarification – is it ”to offer alternative or complementary stories set in the original storyworld”? Or is it ”to give the audience a playing field, a sandbox, intended for user generated content”? Is it something else?

It can also be ”to explain the background and the history of the main property in the story” or ”to expand on the mythology through new stories” or even ”to act as a behind-the-scenes view of the main property” (especially in the case of transmedia documentaries).

Whatever reason you have for developing transmedia content (and the answers to the ”why?” above are probably as many and as diverse as the number of transmedia projects in existence), ”Why?” remains a good question to ask, at any point of the development, production and execution phase.

PS. It was swiftly pointed out to me that one - perhaps one of the most central - reason for transmedia would be "to generate revenue" and in the long run "to increase the value of the IP". I will concur, although I will add that at the moment I think most of the transmedia projects we are seeing are pretty happy just to break even. Thanks Simon Pulman for pointing it out. DS

Friday, June 03, 2011

Transmedia, Time and Context

I’ve been totally bogged down with work the past few weeks. Sat in front of Final Cut Pro for most of the time, alternating with meetings and social media strategy planning... I can now confidently say that you can NEVER be too prepared to launch a new project. You can also NEVER be too ready to adapt to things that happen around you, that will influence the story you’re trying to tell. We’re up now, though, here, with the first installment. Working on the rest as we speak.

This in turn has led to me not being able to keep up with all the excellent posts on Twitter, all the new projects and seminars and meetups etc springing up all over the world. Will now try to make amends, not guaranteeing anything though!

Still, a couple of posts got my mind working overtime these past couple of days. Andrea Phillips wrote an excellent post on Time and Transmedia, highlighting the challenges facing anyone working in different time periods within a story, in a real world where viewers can start experiencing that story from just about any point possible. In the comments, Scott Walker pointed me to a post of his that I’d missed last year, on the challenges and possibilities of collaborative transmedia storytelling. Many good points, and with so many people moving into the field of transmedia from numerous different angles, these posts are simply required reading.

My point of view on these matters come from the field of creating a transmedia experience from scratch, without any previous brand or franchise to fall back on. It is an experience that is unfolding in real time, which at the same time will live and prosper drawing on the power of the long tail. In this context, context is, as we have found, crucial. There will be many people entering the story from many different angles, and the story might have unfolded to just about any point. As I see it, there are some points that need to be taken into consideration:

- The foundation needs to be solid. In order to attain this, you must have a grasp of the time line of the project, and a general notion of the story archs and the schedules involved. At the same time, you cannot lock everything into place (at least not with a project like ours, that is expected to run and run) or you will be stifled.

- The foundation needs to be communicated clearly and without any discrepancies. This goes for communicating outside the team producing the content as well as within the team. In this matter, the task of simplifying is crucial. Test and try and test again; if the story world and the basis for the stories you are about to create and tell people is blurry, press the ”sharpen” button immediately. This is not to say that everything needs to be told from the start – quite the contrary – but everyone involved, be it a viewer, a user, a programmer, a writer… everyone needs to see the same thing when they look at your story world and your story.

- Once this is achieved, you need to drop the reins, but give some clear options on how to interact, how to create within your world etc. This goes when it comes to letting an audience interact and create, but also when it comes to not locking down people on the project, but instead give them the right tools and the motivation to, themselves, create and interact within your project. It is nigh impossible to put all this on one person’s shoulders – much better (and much more true!) to give key people the mandate to interact with each other and with the audience, within the context of your story and story world. You’d be amazed at what springs up.

- Finally – don’t panic! With most projects you’ll be involved in that are of a more documentary type – like ours – there will be humans involved. Everyone will also know that there are humans involved. Everyone also knows that humans make mistakes. Mistakes can even be beneficial, as long as you handle them in a way that makes sense within the context of your story and your story world. In a life-affirming, warm story and world, you laugh it off and the audience laughs with you. In a dark and brooding and violent story arc, you behead someone on the team with a vicious snarl towards the audience, and the audience winces in terror but nods knowingly (and this is purely fictional then, of course. If you really behead someone on your team and refers to this post in your defense, I will not be held responsible).

All in all, there are soooo many aspects to think about. I won’t even go into the challenges of interacting with different brands and companies, all with their own strategies, or interacting with collaborators, also with their own strategies, as such instances are merely on a case-by-case basis. I will, however, report on findings along the way. And, yeah – comments are open.