Saturday, February 11, 2012

The five pillars of transmedia

Again this past week I find myself impressed by the amount of thought processing that people put into thinking about transmedia and its’ impact on all kinds of media (and other kinds of art expressions, such as theatre for instance, (which admittedly was from last year but popped up on my radar only now).

Reading through a number of posts and articles on everything from social television to transmedia in marketing, I think one thing stands out very clearly. Everyone is looking at transmedia from their own angle. This is very natural and exactly as it should be, as everyone have their own area of expertise, everyone have their own skillsets and everyone have their own projects in mind when deliberating using transmedia storytelling methods.
A classic view of transmedia. Nothing wrong with it, except for the fact that no people are involved.
Picture from

What this means, however, is that on many occasions a full-fledged transmedia project cannot be successfully developed and implemented – at least not one that would realize the full potential of transmedia storytelling – without there being people representing all these different areas of expertise present in the project. This, in turn, points to what was discussed over at Transmythology earlier, the need for translators between different possible parts and people in a transmedia project. These translators – or a very comprehensive glossary that everyone would be required to memorize – are crucial in order for everyone to understand everyone else and pull in the same direction. 

Basically it is very easy to get lost in the myriad of storytelling, technical and other possibilities and connections outlined in the picture above. We need to remember that it is actual people who will design, develop, produce, distribute and market the content that is created; these people need to gel, at least in the context of the project, or else we'll have something worth less than the sum of its' parts, instead of the other way around.

Five people we need to get to talk to and understand each other,
if a transmedia project is to be a success
The five pillars

As I see it there are five pillars that a successful transmedia project must strive to get to work together and understand each other (disclaimer: there are transmedia projects where the same person sits on two or more of these chairs, as well as projects that differ in some other way; this is based on projects I've worked on, where for instance tv has played a big part).

The creative part. 

First off, this is not to say that any other part is not creative. They are, more often than not. By creative I mean the people responsible for creating the story, the content. They build the storyworld, fill it with characters and plots and stories and plan how these can extend over different media. They write the scripts, they plan the overarching story arc, the narrative superstructure and look at possible entry points via seeded storylines on different media.
One thing that the creative people sometimes miss are the technological aspects of what they want to create. It’s comparatively easy to say ”…and then we’ll tell the story of XX via a casual game on Facebook”. I mean, there are TONS of casual games on Facebook, right? How hard can it be? In reality, it’s a little trickier – a Facebook game can cost quite a bit (try 100k€ and upwards) and you need to find someone who knows how to program it as well. And get them to GET your idea… and so on. 
It’s also often hard for a creative (I know, I count myself as one as well) to relinquish hold of their story or characters, whether it be to other people in the development or project team or in the end to the audience. But if this is what makes sense, then this is what needs to be done; we must try to keep a certain distance, while not letting go of any of the passion.

The technological / production part. 

Now, for tech people (of which I am not one, so any techies reading this and feeling hard done by, blame me) other challenges exist.  Programming is an art form – you can write beautiful code or ugly code or anything in between, that much I’ve learnt from my programmer brother – but lives by totally different constraints than the creative storytelling part. Deadlines in the programming world are often not the same as deadlines in, say, the television world. There is no ”putting forward the release date” of the programming part of a project, if the television part of it is supposed to air at a certain date and time. 
This is a minor problem though; a greater challenge for tech people can be to immerse themselves in the story to the extent that they actually try to enhance it with technical possibilities, not just make the stuff that the creative team asks for. There are a lot of possibilties with apps and web portals and HTML5 and what have you, that creatives simply do not know about. 
If the tech people can immerse themselves in the story, they will start to see possibilities that the creative people then need to be able to take in and understand, in order to work them into the story. This all takes some time and a lot of trial and error – believe me.

The financial part. 

These are very important men and women. Not only because they are the ones who will get you the funding you need to be able to do what you are setting out to do, but also because they will be very close and intimate with your project
See, money very seldom comes without any strings attached. It’s your financial people that often will broker the deals that say which strings will be attached where and why. The creators will have their say, naturally, and so will the tech people. But in the end, if there is no money, nothing gets made. That’s why it is so very important to integrate these people into the story and the story world, using transmedia storytelling methods to tell the stories to them as well to ensure they see the same project and the same content and the same stories as everyone elseOnly then can the financial people properly care for the project in talks with possible partners. 
(Or you can crowdsource on Kickstarter etc; that again brings its own challenges (unless you’re producing Double Fine and start a Kickstarter campaign, of course, then it's all cool sailings :)).

The distribution part.

The distribution people are the ones that ultimately will be in charge of making sure everyone can take part of what you’ve created. If you’re a small indie (or you've created something that doesn't need any bigger and more costly platform) you might simply distribute your story on YouTube (if that is an applicable platform), via an e-book or by some other means, depending on your content. If you’re relying on television you have your broadcasters or IPTV providers, if it’s a film then you deal with the theaters and the DVD distributors, and so on. A lot of this is technicalities; follow the set of rules for submitting content and the end result will be as projected. 
What distribution people increasingly need to pay heed to is the fact that they too are a part of the bigger story. Distribution (and this goes very much for the ”old” media, such as television) need to adapt to fit into a bigger picture; for instance, the television part of a story can no longer dictate all other parts of a transmedia project, or everything will suffer. 
Distributors need to take into consideration the instructions from the creative people about the story and the storyworld as well as the possibilities and demands the tech people might offer and have. This in turn means that the distribution people need to look beyond their core area of interest – distribution – and be prepared to take in the whole of the narrative superstructure, the mythology and the story world, to make sure the distribution models ADD to the overall experience, not DETRACT from it.  

The marketing part

I know many people scoff at marketing when it comes to transmedia. And yes, a cause can be made for transmedia marketing not being a ”true” form of transmedia, but since no global organization has established a single definite definition of transmedia yet, I guess you can call transmedia marketing ”transmedia” if you want to. In this post though I would look beyond this and focus on the role that marketing has for any transmedia project. 
As I wrote last week, there should be no ”build it and they will come”-thinking when it comes to transmedia. You have created compelling content with groundbreaking use of technology, good funding and distribution secured. You even have a set target group as intended audience. Now you need to put it in front of them, and here’s when the people at marketing come in. They are – if they are worth their salt – usually very good at getting things in front of people. The more people you can get to take note of your content (and providing your content is good enough to measure up) the more chance you have of your project turning into a breakaway success. 
What marketing people need to ponder and understand is that transmedia most often has a participatory nature. It’s not marketing in the sense of ”show them this can of soda enough times and they will buy it!”, it’s ”tell the story of the content, give them a reason to tell it – or their own connected stories – onwards and the tools to do it”. There’s quite a big difference that needs to be understood and adhered to, in order for marketing to work for a transmedia project.

The sixth part - the audience

All of this 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.


Kevin Beamer said...

The ultimate goal of these five pillars of transmedia is to please the audience or consumers. It should find ways on how to excite, and effectively communicate to the audience its products and services. The gauge of a successful transmedia can be determined whether the content has been fully relayed to the consumers and whether they fully understood and appreciate the message.

Anonymous said...

Hi Simon,

Thanks for the link to my article. I thought your post was very insightful and I do agree that my position is taken from my own frame of reference namely - marketing.



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