We left off establishing the new reality of the entertainment industry. There is no longer a traditional network model. Digital has completely disintermediated traditional narrative structures forever. The audience is the new “channel” for the content we create. And finally the responsibility of enabling these types of transmedia environments has become a huge task placed upon producers. Transmedia worlds aren’t just created overnight or an add-on once a narrative structure has been completed. It has to start from the ground-up.
Transmedia is the bright and shiny opportunity to take advantage of in this disintermediated world. Transmedia gives us the mindset to begin to create a connected creative platform through digital, social and mobile instead of silo-ing content and producing a one-off narrative that might never see the light of day again.
Sometimes I feel like the industry gets way too hung up on “buzzwords”. But when I hear transmedia I don’t go into definition mode and label something as transmedia or not. And for those who put off the word transmedia, I sort of question whether or not you have an imagination. Because if you had an imagination this transmedia “thing” would literally be getting you off right now due to the endless possibilities of extending your content.
Let’s establish a few things about transmedia (and if you’re looking for a textbook definition go and Google it). To me, transmedia is about being in this creative and strategic mindset. There is no science to transmedia. It’s all about a way of rethinking the way we “tell” stories and absorb the audience into a place they don’t want to leave because any which way they turn they have the ability to take part in a new chapter and contribute to the narrative:
- It’s creating a storyworld, not a storyline
- Think multi-platform, not cross-platform (we’re not trying to tell the same story across a number of different devices…in gaming that’s called porting)
- Blurring the story’s boundaries of what’s online/offline through digital
- Enabling a participatory experience that is rewarding, challenging and requires the viewer to think not just click
- Audience driven narrative (creative that can adapt, evolve and change in real-time)
- New ways to distribute stories (which also means multiple starting points for an audience member to begin the story and a different experience as a result)
So let’s go down the rabbit hole shall we?
Coke Zero’s A Step from Zero provides us with the basis for how we can begin to build out a transmedia story. The creative base includes three components: the story’s cultural truth, game mechanics and narrative design.
Having a cultural truth embodied within your story is going to give you the ability to create tension amongst the audience who wants to believe in your story and become a fan. What types of feelings will the story create with your audience? In what way will the audience have to overcome the tension the story creates? Understanding your audience’s acceptance of the creative is crucial and will determine their investment level.
Now when I say game mechanics do not start thinking gamification or that you need the aid of a game developer. Game mechanics represent the overall mood and feeling of a game and the level of interaction you grant your audience. Thinking about game mechanics give the audience the ability to “play”. And when we get them to play we’re creating experiences that can be told as stories. Game mechanics give us a toolbox of game elements we can use to form narrative challenges and provide a meaningful use of the audience’s time.
Narrative Design. Transmedia is a blend of narrative types. There might be a need for a linear main storyline but in a non-linear world. Writing stories requires strategies far greater than what we’re used to in the typical writer’s room. And at what point do the stories interlink and intertwine? What types of mythologies come out of this as a result and tie back to the cultural truth your story stands for?
When we step back and look at the base components of this transmedia trifecta we see the same constant unfold. The story. And the variables surrounding our story are the digital means in which we can build the storyworld and encapsulate the viewer.
Though we won’t deep-dive into all aspects of our variables, the point is for you see all the different ways in which we can build a participatory world surrounding our stories for our audience. And from a brand perspective this isn’t too far off from the way in which marketing is developed. The only difference is a brand message is much different than a story. For a brand to succeed in this space there must be an original story. A brand message at the center is merely a marketing campaign.
Transmedia tells us there are no longer boundaries to storytelling. Disruptive innovation has provided us with a new set of creative tools. The living room is everywhere and we can participate with our favorite stories whenever we like. The only thing holding us back is the limitations of our imaginations because digital is making the wildest of imaginations a reality. Story is your constant. Digital is your variable. And Transmedia is pretty much here to stay.