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.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Transmedia and response

A brief post to highlight what I feel is an important thing to take into consideration in transmedia projects.

For once I’ve found the time to read something a little bit longer than blog posts and tweets, so I’ve been reading up on communication, on pitching, and am thoroughly waiting for Andrea’s book on producing transmedia.

I felt the need to share one sentence that I found in one of the books I’m delving into, as I feel it resonates pretty intensely with a couple of projects I’m working on at the moment. The quote comes from Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who co-created an effective definition of communication: "The meaning of communication lies in the response it gets."

Too often, especially if caught up in production/distribution, do I find myself occupied with developing what is going to be put out there next, too busy with planning next moves and new updates and next series and further installments. Too seldom to I take the time to actually analyze responses, ask further questions, show interest and engagement back, interacting with and involving the audience.

My point is that this is crucial. And it needs to be the creative(s), the director(s), the producer(s) who are doing this. It’s not enough to hire someone to be “community manager” and be the voice of the production or the project or the brand. The people creating more content need to be in touch with the responses, analyze these, draw the right conclusions and amend coming content in accordance with the results of the conclusions. This, whether they like it or not.

I for one will do better from now on!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Transmedia tools – Conducttr Mobile and Weavr

It’s been a while – a year or more – since I last wrote something about possible tools to use for transmedia storytelling. In the meanwhile, so many new opportunities, products and tools have come up. What prompted me to write this post was two tools that are out there now and that represent quite different spectras of the transmedia field; both could be very useful for a given project, and I’d love to try them both out within the scope of a project. Basically, everything and anything that makes it easier for me to get my stories to the desired audience in a logical and engaging and compelling and immersive way, I’m all for it, and these two services might just fit the bill.

First there is Conducttr Mobile, launched at the Transmedia Living Lab in Madrid the other day by Rob Pratten. Now, Conducttr has been around for a while as a tool for automating the telling of a narrative over several platforms – online, text messages and so on. This seems like the very logical next step, to take it out from the laptop or tablet and into the world of mobile.

A three-part ecosystem, where the audience takes part of a mobile app which lets them take part of different ”Worlds”, each belonging to a separate story or story world, the designers of the narrative get a ”cloud-based network intelligence” and the developers get an API to play around with. All in all I think it’s a service that would be interesting to explore; many times costs, time and an inability to code oneself put stumbling blocks in the way when trying to create the experience truest to one’s own vision. Conducttr Mobile just might be the solution to many of those occurences. I hope to be able to get back with a review at some point; just need to find a proper project to use it in!

The second service I thought I’d mention is one called Weavrs. If Conducttr Mobile is about a controlled experience in the hand of any and all consumers, Weavr is about setting things in motion and letting go. It’s described as a ”character / animation / curatorship platform”, where anyone can create a Weavr, which forms from the social web, blog, comment, check in and chat. It can be given a Twitter account and interact with the rest of the world. A number of Weavrs can be set up to act in the virtual world; by being given some intial interests, Weavrs learn from their social web and learn new emotions, growing to reflect the world around them.

Sounds spacey? Yes it does. But I think that’s why I like it; the idea of creating a story (perhaps distributing part of it via Conducttr Mobile J ) and creating the characters – one or more – as Weavrs with carefully selected initial interests and characteristics, and then letting them lead their own lives in the virtual world… now that’s interesting. Who knows what new stories or story archs might arise from their interaction with each other and with real people?

One of several add-ons currently being produced is called MiniMonoMyth, something that is describes as ” dynamically generated narratives. Resulting in unique timelines of digital experiences; stories woven from the fabric of the web into the daily lives of your Weavrs.” Again, this is a service I would really like to try out; can it actually deliver the experience I’m hoping it can? Looking forward to finding out.

Now, these are two examples, and I’m sure there are quite a few others. Let me know in the comments what I’ve missed! 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nordic Game and Nordic Transmedia Meetup

Yves Bordeleau from Cyanide and Asta Wellejus from Die Asta
Experience talking about the upcoming Game of Thrones game.

It’s Friday mid-day and the transmedia track at the game conference Nordic Game has about half a day left; right now I’m listening to a presentation of the game version of Game of Thrones (pictured above, sorry about the quality :).

Now, Nordic Game is a game conference. 1600 people, most of them coders, gamers and other industry people; lots of game showcases and a lot of talks on how to create and co-create and finance and market games and game content.

On the transmedia track, talks have been slightly different. The Nordic Transmedia Meetup day on Wednesday 23rd drew a crowd of 70+ producers from the Nordic countries. The theme was financing, with some sidetracks into unconference territory as well. Some key take-aways, especially from investor Doug Richards, was the importance of actually understand what need your project or product is addressing. It’s basically always useful to do a NABC (Needs/Approach/Benefits/Competition) analysis of any given project.  Another take away from Doug’s feedback to people pitching their projects to him was that one should never reveal too much about one’s company or product, especially when talking to potential investors. If no one knows your metrics and what you’re worth, you could be worth anything!

In the open discussions many different issues were treated by the participants; from the art of collaborating with music in a transmedia setting via how to create a framework engine for the pre-production of transmedia projects to an idea of a Kickstarter-like online service for selling content.

Randy Pitchford from Gearbox in the US – they’ve made games like Borderlands and Halo spin-offs – talked about how to manage the image of a company. He stressed the importance of letting the employed invest in the company, to encourage them to think about image and profit. There is, he observed, a need to really invest in the people at the company as well; as you spend a lot of time on yourselves, this investment permeates the image of the company.

Andrea Phillips gave a great presentation on ”Why Games need Transmedia”, highlighting the fact that games are about experiencing flow. By breaking up the frame of a game, it is possible to let the story flow over to other media. This would also, she argued, be the most natural thing. When a player sits at his or her computer or console he or she wants to game, not watch cut-scenes for minutes. There is also a real and tangible need to know the Context and the Backstory, in order to be able to create and develop it all into a coherent whole.

@jonatchoo on designing - "Don't Expect Anything Original from an Echo"

Jonathan Jacques-BelletĂȘte from Square Enix / Eidos talked about designing, issues and solutions that can be applied to a number of other areas aside of game development. Key take away would be the advice to use Originality mixed with Familiarity when designing just about anything – originality will make the brain log your content in more ways with more new connections, so that it can be retrieved easier, while familiarity will add a feeling of comfort, security and even nostalgia.

All in all the Nordic Game conference and the Nordic Transmedia Meetup was and is a success, in getting people from different industries get together and discuss the issues and opportunities gaming and transmedia can offer across the board. My only regret is that I've not yet been able to clone myself to attend more presentations, talk to more people and network even more. The next step in the Nordic Transmedia saga will hopefully be a Nordic Transmedia Finland meetup in Oulu at the Nordic Panorama festival in September. Details will be posted later!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Transmedia and the Audience

The Audience. Your task? To get them to turn around, pay attention and invest in your content!
In a post in February I talked about what I saw as the ”Five pillars of transmedia”, the different types of people that need to work together to successfully develop, produce and launch a transmedia project. There was a sixth pillar as well, which was the Audience. This is what I wrote back then:
All of this |the five pillars written about earlier in the post] leads to one thing; the need to create a transmedia experience that will engage, excite, enable and enrich an audience. This, while all the people representing the five pillars above need to communicate fully and thoroughly with each other, communication which may or may not include the use of translators and glossaries to assist with the understanding. 
What it all boils down to is that everyone must strive to understand everyone else and open one's eyes to the possibilities and challenges that will arise. Or, rather, open one eye to possibilities and challenges, as the other eye needs to stay constantly fixed on the audience, ready to adapt, respond, re-develop and communicate. The audience is the foundation that all these pillars need to be grounded on, else we’ll just have a heap of rabble in the end. More on them in another post.

I’ve been having a number of discussions lately on this subject, transmedia and the audience. Here then, a brief post looking at some of the issues:

Experiences from an earlier life

I have a solid background in traditional media, newspapers, tv and a lot of radio. I still think I could do a three hour radio show without breaking a sweat (although my music selection might be a bit dated). When doing radio, the target audience becomes extremely important. I used to close my eyes and imagine the persons I was addressing my next speak to; listening to it afterwards, the voice changes, the wording changes, the whole persona changes – which is something that cuts through the static and reaches people.

The same goes for transmedia project, only here it’s not enough just to close your eyes and imagine an audience. Having done that, you need to research that audience, find out what they do, what they like, how they behave, how they connect, how they share, how they play and who they really are. This is, in parts, gruelsome work, especially in the beginning. But the more data you have, the more knowledge you have, the more you have to build on for future projects, and the more knowledge you have about what knowledge is actually necessary to focus on. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the need to target your audience.

The inactive audience

This is a mistake I still do, when I get too caught up in the whirlwind of creativity. Fact is that the major part of your project’s audience, be it on TV or online or wherever, will choose not to be interactive. So, when planning and developing and producing anything, you need to make sure this large part of the audience are offered a full experience even without interactivity. That is, you need to make a great show or a great project, that simply becomes EVEN GREATER if someone chooses to interact with it. I’ve seen quite a few pitches go haywire on this point, as the show might be good, but no one on the creative team could answer the question ”what do the people who don’t have an iPad do then?”. Think of everyone in the audience.

The active audience

That said, you will (hopefully) have an eager crowd participating and being active and interactive. In which way this happens is of course dependent on your project and what you have developed.  One thing I’ve learned (and heard in discussions with a number of other creators) is that you can never create too for too much interaction. If you’re aiming for an ARG or for interaction with characters or for exploration of the greater narrative, the audience – if your content is compelling and engaging enough – will always be quicker than you anticipated. As you’d ideally like to have an audience hungry for more, you need to create more in order to not have a sated (or even worse, frustrated) audience at some point. This in turn takes its toll on resources and manpower; one solution is to design for audience co-creation in a more open environment, but this needs to be incorporated from the very beginning of the development process. Or the project will be limited in scope and time, which ultimately will make it more of a one-off. Choices, choices… but as a rule, use transmedia storytelling methods to always create more than you think you have to.    

Harnessing in the long run

In the same vein, think about what to actually do with your audience. Be they silent spectators or active participants, they have still invested either time or effort or both in what you have created. Providing the experience was a positive one you’ll have a more or less devoted audience to engage with. Many projects, for practical, financial or other reasons, think of their project in the scope of what is at hand, nothing more. I’d argue that it pays off to think a bit further, from the outset. Yes, it is harder to think of your project as a two- or three-step rocket. Yes, it is very much difficult enough to create ONE good project and get it financed and produced. But at the same time, not doing so will mean you’ll have to play catch-up at the point when you HAVE an audience, and that audience is clamoring for more. 

Also, think about what else you’d like to use your audience for; perhaps you’d like to do research on a very specific target group? Perhaps you’d like to engage them in a charity or get exposure for a start-up or something else? If this is something you want to do, you need to plan for it from the beginning, so that it in some way sits naturally in the narrative and the story world; having the main character support UNICEF at some point will make it possible for you to champion UNICEF’s cause to your audience, for instance. Bottom line, think ahead (there are always painkillers for the inevitable headaches).

Respect without groveling

Finally, I think this is a point well worth remembering. The audience deserves our respect. This would in my book involve not hoaxing them, not stepping outside given ramifications, not exploiting them, not treating them like commodity. ”Do unto others” is a phrase that comes to mind. That said, there is no need to grovel; you have created something, of which you have all the right in the world to be proud. If someone else starts giving you a hard time over it, just give them a friendly reminder that they can go do something else with their time. Haters gonna hate, no matter what; don’t let it get to you. Sensible and constructive critizism on the other hand, THAT is something you should let get to you J.

Good resources

I’ll finish by stating, as a disclaimer, that the views above are from my limited point of view. There are many others with insights greater than mine, who discuss the importance of the audience, who explore the interaction with audiences in their work and who are great people to keep tabs on in this regard. Lance Weiler comes naturally to mind, as do Nuno Bernardo and Gary P Hayes.  I will post a follow-up with more resources later on.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Closed or open participation in transmedia?

We hosted our bi-monthly MindClub in Vasa, Finland, the other day, and had the great pleasure of welcoming Christy Dena as our main speaker. Something in particular stuck to my mind from the chat with Christy and other participants afterwards, and that’s what this brief post is about.

See, transmedia is many times (and in my opinion most often should be) inclusive of the audience and encouraging audience participation in one way or another (just googling ”audience participation in transmedia” yields 80k+ hits, for instance). But then, opinions start to differ, especially regarding the level and the way and the openness of the participation.

Now, any participation must, naturally, make sense within the scope of the project and as a part of the story world. If this is a given, however, we come to the question of the nature of the participation.

Dirty Work, on the Rides engine
Will it be a closed participation, where the audience is given a set number of choices or alternatives to play around with, a participation that is 100% in the hands of the creators? The bonus is of course that the audience will experience more or less exactly what the creators have intended, the story arch will continue as planned and there will be no deviations, no trouble ahead, and the next instalment that follows will continue along a logical path and not confuse any member of the audience. The drawback is that it might be less engaging, as people do not invest anything of themselves in the content, and that the creators miss out on a potential huge mass of creativity by not encouraging the audience to create anything within the ramifications of the story world. The very interesting Rides engine by 4th Wall Studios could be considered to fall into this category.

Will it be a closed participation which gives the appearance of an open participation? This is most commonly referred to as ”sandboxes” or perhaps Jeff Gomez’ ”Swiss Cheese Model”, where certain ares, places or gaps in the narrative and/or the story world have been set aside for the audience to create stuff themselves. The bonus is a more engaged audience, a creative output within the context of the story world and the narrative superstructure and possibilities to spread the ”gospel” of the story world through eager audience members sharing their creations with their friends, becoming evangelists in the process. The drawback is an added need to create more in order to accommodate these sandboxes or cheese holes; they need to have logical places in the narrative superstructure. Another drawback is an added need for more manpower in order to moderate contributions and creations – a need that, with time, can be handed out to credible and realiable members of the audience, but in the beginning probably must be in the hands of the production team.

Or, will it be an open participation that also gives the appearance of an open participation? This then would go somewhere in the direction of the Shared Storyworlds propagated for by Scott Walker, for instance. I.e., the story world is created, a narrative superstructure is in place, and the audience is given more or less free reins within these parameters, to create, collaborate, share and design. Bonuses include a vastly increased mass of creativity around the content, the possibilities for new and unexpected (and brilliant) stories and facets to emerge and basically work power for free. Drawbacks include the need to be able to let go of the control of the content; either you don’t control it, and it’s open participation, or you try to control it, and it’s not. Can’t have it both ways. Moderation might still be implemented though.

Now, there is no way to say which of these is the right choice. Many I’ve spoken to would never go along with a totally open participation, which I understand perfectly. If I would propagate for any one model, it would be for an overarching strategy, planned for the very beginning, which gradually opens up the story more and more for participants. What starts off as a series of novels that no one can influence grows into an online experience with sandboxes for people to create their own characters and their own villages/cities/areas, which evolves into a shared story world where stories are told from all corners, within the parameters of the story world.

I’d join! J

UPDATE: Rob Pratten of Transmedia Storyteller and Conducttr wrote a post on his/their view of participation. This "layered participation", blending the ones defined above by offering one content "as is" to be consumed, while opening up the surrounding story world for participants to explore and add to, is definitely a very good way to go if it fits the context of the content on offer (and I'd imagine it'd do that for almost any kind of content, from fiction to documentaries and onwards). 
Layered participation could be seen as a well working blend of the types of participation outlined above, all according to the wants of the creators, the needs of the audience and the context of the content. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Five transmedia projects – May 2012 edition

It feels a bit like that good ol’ ketchup effect, when you squeeze and squeeze and mutter and squeeze some more and then, with a mighty BRRFPRPRRRTTT you’ve got half the content of the bottle all over your plate. It’s a bit like the transmedia scene right now, where people have been chipping away at projects left and right and now releasing them. It’s a great feeling and something I’ve been waiting for for quite some time; we’re rapidly moving in the direction where everyone can look beyond the ”oh it’s a new transmedia project!” effect and instead focus on the content, the context and the delivery.

Below is a list of five projects I’ll be keeping an eye on this month, as they all look inspiring in their own way. These are all quite subjective, from my point of view, naturally:

Dark Knight Rises. Well, it has something to live up to, as ”Why So Serious?” still functions as a kind of a blueprint of what can be done with transmedia when looking to raise awareness and market an upcoming blockbuster. Still, this one seems not to be willing to loom in the shadow of aforementioned ancestor, but is instead developing legs of its’ own quite rapidly. Let’s see when all those graffitis around the world have been decoded… J

Try Life. This is an interactive drama that I find interesting; granted, so far it’s ”just” a ”choose the storyline” drama, but it’s well produced and the creators are promising ”a lot more to come”. The series itself is in the educational vein, helping teenagers to tackle consequences of sex, drugs and violence, under the british National Curriculum. As an example of how to use new storytelling techniques for something else than pure entertainment and marketing, it’s looking quite neat. Also, 100k+ likes on Facebook must mean someone’s interested!

Alt-Minds is Orange’s new venture and is branded ”The Very First Total Fiction”. The teaser trailer is looking slick, and I had a chat with Stephane Adamiak from Orange at MIPCube; they’re drawing on some good experiences of earlier projects and are going to have Alt-Minds play out as a paranormal thriller on social media, apps and web TV. Will be interesting to follow.

Rides: Dirty Works. So, here it is, finally – the follow up to teaser ”Home: A Ghost Story”, the first series that shows what you can do with 4th Wall Studios’ Rides-engine. It’s a well written script and good actors; overall a good story. And yes, the Rides solutions do give that bit extra to the experience, once you get used to it – even if you just experience it online. I thought I detected some glitch in the logic of the script when taking part of some of the extra content, but that might’ve been just me. Looking forward to the next episode!

Endworlds popped up on my radar a couple of months ago; it’s initially a three-part online publication with strong online presence, live treasure hunts around the globe and a lot of FB and Twitter followers. I think it looks like an innovative way of telling stories, meshing marketing with user contribution with storytelling with good strategies, and will be following how it evolves.

All in all, exciting times. Looking forward to see what other new projects will see the light of day!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trust in Transmedia

See what I did here? :)
I’ve read a couple of articles over the past few days that has got me thinking (in part because it looks like we’re getting the go-ahead on a couple of projects that I’ve been itching to dig into for some time now, and this subject will be very much amongst the ones on top of the ”solve-this”-list).

I think we all agree that simply aiming for Likes and followers and views gets us nowhere as far as telling stories go. It’s what we do with these Likers and followers and viewers that matter. And in that context, trust is a major factor  (there’s a good post up from February touching on the subject here).

So, how can I as a creator achieve the level of trust that will not only make people want to watch and take part of my new content, but also advocate the content onwards to their friends and acquaintances? And as, for instance, participation and co-creation – User Contributed Content – implies that people have a great deal of trust in me as a creator and provider to a) offer them the experience they assume that they will get and b) take care of whatever it is that they have created, in the best way possible, that trust needs to be earned.

If we look at the word itself, it does give some hints of how to achieve this. Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Looking at those words, there are some routes we can look at.

First off “Reliability”. The audience should look at our project, then look at us and go “yeah, I can rely on those to provide me with what they promise”. This is either down to us as creators and the reputation we’ve built for ourselves, or the quality of the brand we’re working with, be it the IP or the backing production company or something else that people feel they can rely on.

Secondly, “Truth”. This is so very important, to not be seen lying or withholding the truth from the audience. This is not to say that ALL of the truths need to be spoken about or revealed, but we need to be able to explain WHY we’re not revealing those truths and have a good reason to back the decision up. And not, never, hoax. Not if we want the audience’s trust.

Thirdly, “Ability”. This has a lot to do with how we present our content, our project. A well executed trailer or pre-ARG or support from respected people in the industry or in the target group the project aims to reach can help. It’s the belief that what’s promised will be delivered, and that, if anything, it won’t stumble on the people involved not having the required skill sets to complete what they’ve set out to do. A good reputation doesn’t hurt either.

Fourthly, “Strength”. The audience of today could care less about which studio is producing which movie. But the audience is also increasingly savvy when it comes to media consumption, savvy enough to realize that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re a small company without any backers, content- or funding-wise, don’t promise the world to the audience. Be honest; refer to “Truth” above. On the other hand, if you are backed by HBO, use that to your advantage! People want to invest in winners, and the stronger the partners of a project, the more likely it’ll end up on the winner’s side in the end.

So, trust. Hard to get, easy to lose. Build on your reliability, your truth, your ability and your strength. And when you've gained someone's trust, be sure to take every precaution to not betray that trust in any way. Best of luck to everyone J

Monday, April 23, 2012

Transmedia – does anyone care?

I’ve had a blog post sitting on my computer, half-written, for quite some time. The essence of the post was that there are only about 200 people around the world that actually care if your project is a ”true transmedia project” or not, the 6.999.999.800 others either don’t care or will never hear of your stuff.

Brian Clark beat me to it though, and in a much more profound and challenging way, in his follow up to last years debate-post over on Facebook; this time, the title is ”Transmedia is a lie”, and it, and the comments, are well worth a read.

I feel the need to write something here on the subject as well; I, contrary to Brian (I think?) still believe there is a use for the term ”transmedia”.  Granted, there has not been a definite definition over the past 12 months, and granted, there has been a severe dilution of the term (if I could get 10 cents for every new ”transmedia producer” I met at MIPTV this year, that was a ”cross media producer” only 6 months earlier, I’d have…. about 50 cents). As a term for working together with other professionals in the field, it has therefore probably outlived it’s purpose – much better to take a longer route and explain the concept thoroughly, including platforms, interaction, plot (if applicable) and so on. Other professionals will see where they can slot in quite easily, while not being confused by differing definitions of the ”transmedia” term.

Also for pitching purposes the term has become next to redundant; what you’re selling is the story. Everything else only serves to confuse. This goes for upwards of 75% of the commissioners, producers and buyers I pitch to. This in turn is quite healthy for you, even though it means harder work: you need to a) make the story good enough to stand on it’s own legs and be sellable, while b) you need to have the transmediated parts lined up so you can answer any questions about them should they arise and preferrably c) have a next-to fool-proof financing plan for these ”extra” parts.

Now, the discussion over at Brian’s note is quite existential at times. It’s a ”what is this and why do we do it and really there is no such thing as transmedia and NO YOU SHUT UP and….”. I.e., it’s all great fun, and something of a necessity. I believe people will float in and out of the term ”transmedia”, while still continuing to create and tell stories interconnected over multiple platforms, under different headings. Nothing wrong with that.

I will, however, continue to use the term transmedia. For this I have two reasons:

It keeps my mind straight when developing and producing content. I have my own definition of what transmedia should be and what I aspire to, and keeping this in mind really helps me brainstorm, create and refine content. 

For anyone entering into this which perhaps is transmedia and perhaps isn’t transmedia, it can be a confusing world. I’d like people to come into it the way I did – with a solid background in storytelling and media, then getting your mind blown away by extremely inspiring people and projects, then gradually starting to pick up on nuances and relevant discussions, implementing the methods into my own work, experiencing what works and what doesn’t, stretch my mind and my imagination and get better at coming up with engaging and doable stuff. This is something I would not have done without a term – ”transmedia” – to hang everything on, to keep my mind focused. Only by embracing a term can we truly understand the critizism of it (wow, that sounded profound :P)

Rant over. Now off to evaluate some transmedia projects….