Transmedia Now

Illustration by Brett Ryder

Transmedia has exploded since the advent of digital and social media. The opportunities and lessons of the Wild Wild West of social media and viral marketing preview this modern transmedia era. Social media has ushered in a mindset of engaging audiences with media and entertainment properties using additional media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.  A fully-transmedia approach expands that universe of platforms to film, TV, radio, books, publications, games, online, mobile, toys, live installations, events, and more.  

By exploring the storytelling and audience experience potential of these many media platforms through Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media, you can be transmedia.

Why Transmedia?

Embracing multiple platforms delivers huge rewards. Transmedia cuts through the morass of content and connects your audiences with deep, participatory experiences. This translates into audiences’ active engagement with and co-creation of your content. Then, they find meaning and connect personally to it. This translates into audience loyalty for and ambassadorship of your project – the Holy Grail of entertainment, marketing, and engagement.

When your fans use, love, and tell others about your media content or project, that’s a smash hit for you.


What Is Transmedia?

Transmedia is storytelling across multiple forms of media, with each element making distinctive contributions to a user’s understanding of the story universe, including where user actions affect the experience of content across multiple platforms.

-- Screen Australia

Many transmedia projects incorporate some combination of these three transmedia categories:

  • Transmedia native content – original stories or content are created across all media. The story and characters are fractured into pieces and presented on different platforms, often offering separate revenue streams (Star Wars, Harry Potter)
  • Transmedia marketing – a range of original content is created around one product with the goal to drive audience engagement around that product, but marketing elements become content channels in themselves (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games)
  • Transmedia technology platforms – multiple platforms across which producers and audiences distribute content (Apple, Comcast, Netflix)

Because of the crossover of these categories, professionals are joining the burgeoning transmedia field from many walks of life, with a huge influence from games, digital and interactive media, and marketing. This convergence has opened up new opportunities within the entertainment and media industries.

Whenever I think about how to navigate the transmedia terrain, I think about five interconnected “prongs” and related questions:  Is it good content?;  What media platforms will it use and how does that affect the project?; What technology will it use and how does that enhance or effect the experience?; What is the monetization?; and, Is it something anyone will use or care about and what is the likely user interest?  If you do not consider all five prongs and are not satisfied with all five answers, you are likely not to succeed.

-- David Gale, film and digital media producer and entrepreneur

A Brief History of Transmedia

The explosion of modern transmedia has been fast. What began in Japan in the1960s as “The Media Mix” and was first adopted by the advertising industry has blossomed into a burgeoning field of narrative and non-fiction storytelling and immersive audience experiences.

Courtesy of Azure Media; Design by Elles Gianocostas

Early 1960s – Japanese anime strategy, Media Mix becomes mainstream in marketing (dispersing content across multiple media)

1977 – George Lucas’ Star Wars premieres, establishing Star Wars universe (example of West Coast Transmedia model – various media platforms present original content)

Mid-1980s/Early 1990s – Multimedia emerges (content in multiple platforms, often embedded)

1991 – Marsha Kinder describes entertainment franchises’ model of “commercial transmedia super-systems” in her book, Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

1995 – Pokémon empire begins with Game Boy

Late 1990s – Cross-platform proliferates (using more than one medium to distribute a single piece of content)

1997 – J.K. Rowlings publishes Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (debut novel of the Harry Potter universe)

1999 – The Blair Witch Project premieres (merges boundaries of story vs. marketing, real vs. fictional worlds, film vs. Internet)

2001 – Jordan Weisman creates first Alternate Reality Game “The Beast” for Stephen Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (example of East Coast Transmedia model – audience participates in the narrative)

2003 – Henry Jenkins (then at MIT, now at USC) publishes “Transmedia Storytelling” in the MIT Technology Review (“Moving characters from books to films to videogames can make them stronger and more compelling”)

2006 – Henry Jenkins’ book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, publishes (story across media platforms creates a new participatory culture of consumers)

2007 – ITVS presents Ken Eklund’s and Jane McGonigal’s A World Without Oil (combines ARG and serious game elements for non-fiction social impact experience)

2009 – Highrise, Canada’s National Film Bureau’s multi-year, non-fiction initiative, launches (partners with MIT’s OpenDocLab in 2013)

2010 – The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announces a new producing credit, Transmedia Producer

2012 – Hank Green and Bernie Su launch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries  (online modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice)

Don't worry so much about defining terms, focus on exploring the terrain.

-- Henry Jenkins, USC

Transmedia Now and Beyond – An Interview with Henry Jenkins

-- provost professor of communications, journalism and cinematic arts at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the USC School of Cinematic Arts

© Dan Bersak

Do you have a newly-evolved definition of transmedia?

My thinking on this topic is always evolving. I would say that transmedia, by itself, simply refers to any systematic set of relationships which unfold across media platforms. As Geoffrey Long puts it, transmedia is an adjective, not a noun. So, when Marsha Kinder first wrote about it, she was writing about characters who extend across media -- such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Super Mario Brothers -- without necessarily strong links between the texts in which they appear. My earliest writing was focused on transmedia storytelling, where core parts of a story dispersed across multiple media channels, with each making a unique contribution to our experience of the whole.  

More recently, I have found myself focused on transmedia learning, transmedia branding, transmedia activism/mobilization, transmedia journalism, transmedia performance, etc. I would know argue that we should think about multiple transmedia logics, with the possibility of any given project mixing and matching these logics. So, we can picture a documentary from the National Film Board of Canada which tells a story but which places a strong emphasis on transmedia learning and mobilization. Or we can picture a Hollywood project where the media extensions are paid for through a promotional budget and thus constitute a form of branding, but also play an integral role in our experience of the story. Or a music based project, which is first and foremost about building up the performers persona across platforms but also contributes to fleshing out a storyworld.

When content is created on multiple platforms can that content both advance the story and serve as marketing? (Are they distinguishable? Does it matter?)
My answer above starts to answer this question. The reality is that most forms of transmedia storytelling have been paid one way or another through promotional budgets and so also function as mechanisms for fostering engagement and branding a particular property. There is always a tension between these goals and they wreck havoc on the categories through which the industry determines compensation and royalties, but for better or worse, they are interwoven here. In reverse, we are seeing more and more brand campaigns which seek to generate stories or at least story worlds, or which attach themselves to existing story worlds. Look at for example the Lord of the Rings themed safety video produced for Air New Zealand, the ways that Mr. Clean's "The Origin" built on popular awareness of Superman, the ways that product placement gets linked into transmedia entertainment experiences. I don't want to say they are indistinguishable, because they follow different transmedia logics and may have conflicting and contradictory motivations, but they are so intertwined at this point that it would be hard to separate them. 
Does transmedia only include fictional projects? (What about non-fiction?)
Absolutely not – we are seeing spectacular examples of transmedia journalism or transmedia documentary from all over the world at this point, not to mention transmedia learning experiences or activism. The real world already plays itself out across all available media channels. Obama is as much or more a transmedia character as Obi-Wan is. It's about how we organize the information, how we direct attention, and what kinds of activators in place that give people something to do with this information. 
What are some of the exciting advances in or executions of transmedia?
I would say the most powerful element at the moment is the globalization (or at least the transnationalization) of transmedia. I have been writing lately about the ways that transmedia assumes different shapes depending on the cultural contexts in which it operates. We can point to the differences people have identified between the West Coast "Mothership" model and the East Coast ARG model within American media, we could think about the Japanese Media Mix model, the more public service oriented models in Canada or the EU, and a more multicultural model in Brazil and other parts of Latin America. But wait until Bollywood or Nollywood get ahold of transmedia and reshape it to their local particulars. What will transmedia look like in China, Russia, or the Islamic world?
Can you offer one piece of advice for the next generation of media makers and marketers?

Don't be too hung up on definitions. There seem to be constant battles over what constitutes transmedia as opposed to multiple platforms, cross-media, multi-media, etc. and they eat up valuable energy. Right now is a time to experiment, to try new configurations of media, to explore new functions that transmedia might serve, and these are not going to fit into nice neat little packages. Don't worry so much about defining terms, focus on exploring the terrain.

More of Henry Jenkins’s Insight

There’s this theory of family resemblances that objects in a group should be categorized based on their resemblance to each other, not necessarily because they all fit the same tick boxes. And I think transmedia is like that. It’s not that all of the items in the group have the same properties as one another. Some of them are interactive and some of them aren’t. Some of them use Twitter and some of them don’t. Some of them are real time and some of them aren’t. Some of them are marketing campaigns, some of them charge admission, and yet at the end of the day they all feel the same. There’s a family resemblance there. So, I think we’ve been trying to categorize what is and isn’t transmedia from a losing proposition of having set criteria that every transmedia project would fulfill.

-- Andrea Phillips, transmedia creator

Transmedia Marketing extensively covers the exploding world of transmedia. It examines its past, present, and future and brings colorful examples of transmedia to life from all walks of entertainment and media.

Transmedia Resources