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.


Robert said...

I'm going to go the other way and say that without the transmedia component in the first season it might not commissioned or there might not be a season two.

I think the trick is to provide a meaningful way for the audience to participate without giving them control over the plot which the show is mid-season. This participation can be automated with technology to a large degree so that the participation scales and is cost-effective. The audience interaction can be meaningful by offering them a role alongside the characters rather than in charge of the characters.

Then, at the end of the season, analyse the open-ended comments, the qualitative and quantitative metrics and see what the audience is telling you about how the story should evolve - favorite characters, favorite episodes etc.

In this way the audience is engaged in the short-term without affecting the plot and also in the long-term which will affect the plot.

Simon said...


I understand your point of view, and I will agree to a point. I think we're approaching (or already in) a shift in the way acquisition people view potential shows. A transmedia strategy is becoming more valuable. Still many, if not most, couldn't care less. This leaves the transmedia aspect as something to be "hidden" in the marketing budget etc (which is a thing that is Not Good).

I would concur that to be able to show interaction, engagement and loyalty - all of which can be better planned for using transmedia methods - to the broadcaster will enhance the chances of your show being recommissioned for a second season. I maintain (which might be down to me, coming from a region where television is notoriously underfunded and multiplatform even more so) that I would look to roll out part of the strategy for the first season and look to expand on that if the show is recommissioned.