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.