Taking The First Steps in Transmedia

First, a full disclaimer. I’m writing this post not so much for you, dear reader, as I’m doing it for myself. Let me explain.

As I’m increasingly working with people who have no or little experience of transmedia (or even cross media or any of the theories or practices behind multiplatform storytelling), I find myself explaining what it is, what it is not, why it is a Good Thing and what some examples would be… over and over again.

I don’t mind this, since the people asking are most often either paying me or genuinely interested. But often I’ve been thinking that if I could just point people to a resource that told them exactly what I wanted to tell them, and have them read up on that before our meeting or workshop, we’d save soooo much time.

This is that. View this as an introduction to transmedia storytelling, from my very personal point of view – that of a content creator and producer, storyteller, writer, consultant and whatever other name I can come up with.

BACKGROUND

Transmedia – or Now Media as I’ve come to call it from time to time – storytelling is the art of telling a story or multiple stories across different media platforms, in such a way that the stories are not merely copies of each other but differ. The stories support each other over the different platforms and base themselves in a common story world. Together, they offer the user/viewer/audience a greater, better and more engaging experience.

That’s my take on it at least. For another, look here, for yet another, read up on this. Or you could check this out.

If you Google ”transmedia”, you’ll be sure to find a number of other definitions. And quite a few debates as well (look no further than here or here) about what it all means and why, and should we even care, and what should we call it.

It really doesn’t matter what we call it. I’m firmly of the belief that the term will be gone in the not-too-distant future, as everything becomes just ”media”. But until then, using the term works for me, to keep my head straight when working on projects. And it is also useful for people starting out, to have something to base their research and their first trials on. And, yeah, it is useful when it comes to getting paid for what you do. If you are a transmedia designer, that’s a title and a job – and the better you can define what that it, the better you can ask for proper pay.

It’s never been this easy (or, well, ”easy” :) ) to connect a global audience over a number of platforms via tools that are virtually free and accessible to everyone. I for one think this unique turn of events deserve an own term, at least for the time being.

EXAMPLES

There are so many examples out there. What you should watch and what you should do research into all depends on what you really want to do. Here are a couple of examples (and many more can be found under the ”RESOURCES” subtitle below)

Why So Serious? is an example you’ll encounter many a time when talking about transmedia. It’s one of the earlier examples of transmedia storytelling as marketing, drawing on Hollywood stardust and funds. It’s enticing as well – showing how you can credibly use different platforms to engage an audience in a great narrative, leading up to a climax.

 

Guidestones is another example, a bit more recent (they’re currently, late 2014, working on season two) of how to engage an audience over multiple platforms and lead them on a virtual scavenger hunt for more content.

 

Lizzie Bennet Diaries is yet another example, this time about how to create a massive amount of content and use the possibilities of YouTube series and other social media to monetize content in a way that makes it profitable.

 

From less of a fiction angle and more of a documentary one, here’s Fort McMoney, an interesting take on how to create an interactive story telling about an issue from a number of angles. The video is from a panel talk on the documentary from the MIPDOC conference:

 

There are also, of course, a lot of different ways to use transmedia storytelling for other purposes. Here’s a lengthy video from MIT talking about using transmedia for social change.

I know myself, from personal experience, that using transmedia storytelling methods when planning content and media strategies for companies works fabulously. It helps you think outside the box and see possibilities (as well as challenges), good points for call-to-action and interactivity and where and how it would pay off to engage an audience in co-creation or co-production. Want to know more about what I’ve/we’ve done, hit me up – contacts are under the ”About” page.

PEOPLE

There are a great number of people to listen to, to read up on, to follow, to take example from… but you could start with these five and work your way from there.

Jeff Gomez from Startlightrunner Entertainment, because he’s an evangelist of the art, who works with the biggest names in the business and travels around the world to spread the word on transmedia.

Christy Dena, one of the few to hold a PhD in transmedia, for her intelligent take on the issues of the field and her interesting projects (and the fact that she, too, travels the world and gets in touch with a lot of interesting stuff).

Rob Pratten from Transmedia Storyteller, since their Conducttr solution is one of the few engines out there that anyone can use to produce and distribute their transmedia project. No surprise to hear that Rob also spends a fair amount of time in planes going across the globe.

Lina Srivastava, since she’s the one that opened my eyes to transmedia activism and transmedia for good. She has a very good grip on that area and is a good person to follow for the latest insights.

Fiona Milburn, since she’s the foremost curator of all things transmedia. Very little escapes her, and she’s constantly sharing her findings and knowledge with the world.

RESOURCES

Want to delve further into transmedia? Good. Read this book, and this, and this. And visit this web page, this, this and also this.

That should be enough to get a start. Looking forward to talking to you!

Three advice on pitching

I’ve been pitching things for over a decade – from ready-made shows to interactive concepts, from television formats to transmedia projects. I’ve pitched to all kinds of people; investors, buyers, jurys, collaborators, colleagues… you name it.

Lately I’ve been asked to hold some pitching workshops for PhD students and researchers at the university I’m affiliated to (the Abo Akademi University here in Finland), looking at the task from a storytelling perspective. While preparing the workshops, I had reason to revisit some things I’d written and read about pitching, and pitching transmedia projects in particular. My post is from 2010, while the second link, leading to Nuno Bernardo’s book on how to pitch transmedia projects, is from earlier this year.

Reading both of them, and mentoring these PhD students and researchers with their project pitches brought back some realizations:

- Your pitch is probably the least stable part of your project. Your pitch is the window into your project, the window that most people will see your project through. It’ll be affected by a multitude of things – how your project is evolving and what new turns and twists it may take, what kind of an audience it is that you are pitching to, and not least how the world around you is changing by the minute. As it’s always a great thing to be able to hook your pitch to something current (along the lines of ”I just read this morning that… ” and showing how your project deals with that issue or adresses part of that challenge) that means that your pitch needs to move with the times as well.

- The story always comes first. Be it your own personal story into the issue and the project, or the story of the project itself, or the story that is at the heart of your show or your transmedia tale or whatever it is that you’re pitching, the story always comes first. With every pitch, you’re asking the people you’re pitching to use their imagination to follow you on a journey. The more compelling and interesting and engaging and immersive you can make your story, the better they will be able to do so. Make them feel that sense of wonder and discovery that you yourself can feel when you’re watching a great movie or reading a great book, and they’ll follow you to whatever conclusion you want as a result of the pitch. And – to be noted – people don’t listen to ideas, people listen to people. Rehearse your pitch a lot, just to be able to make it feel genuinely authentic and passionate, so that your audience can connect with you. If you’re not passionate about your project, why on earth should they be?

- You know your project’s every detail – but that doesn’t mean they should go in the pitch. Overpitching has been a flaw of mine from time to time. I believe I’ve even lost a couple of sales through that particular flaw – being so excited about how excited a possible sponsor or buyer has been that I’ve elaborated on points not truly clear yet, or confusing, and thereby having the counterpart pulling back. Since then I’ve learned that all those details that make up the nuts and bolts of a project, those are details that are great to keep in mind to be pulled forth when needed, but not things that should be included in the main pitch. One good advice with those details, is that always have them connected to a minor story as well, hooked to perhaps a colleague or a user case or suchlike (i.e. ”yeah, that’s what my colleague has been working on, and after a weekend of laboring, she’s solved it like this…”) . Basically – know all the facts and have them at the ready, but let them be carried by stories as well. And yes, this goes doubly for transmedia projects, where the details are many and the chances of going awry in the pitch even more so.

Happy and successful pitching, everyone. I’ll go prepare some of my own now ☺

MIPJunior, MIPCOM and Transmedia Living Lab – a travel log

I’ve spent some time traveling around Europe the past couple of weeks, attending first the bustling MIPJunior and MIPCOM on the Croisette in Cannes, then swiftly flying over to Madrid to speak at Fundacion Telefonica’s event Transmedia Living Lab.

The MIPs were as overwhelming as always, especially trying to cram a full week’s worth of meetings into one day. MIPJunior – filled with new animated Star Wars series, the new launch of the Thunderbirds franchise and a host of other content – was especially interesting this time around. I am consulting – in a transmedia capacity – on an animation property which was pitched at MIPJunior this year. It is a world I am not 100% familiar with, which made it very interesting to take part of. The dance is pretty much the same as when pitching “regular” TV shows, but the music is a bit varied and some of the steps are ones I’ve never seen before :).

Also, at MIPJunior, cross media approaches are the norm, quite naturally. I saw very few properties that didn’t take (or try to take) into consideration how the target audience mix media platforms fluently and spend a lot more time online than on television.

At MIPCOM, I felt a slight twang of despair; in between meetings, I found the time to attend part of the Fresh TV Around The World session, where 26 of the hottest new TV properties globally are presented. I hope it doesn’t reflect an exodus of talent from TV to online or other places, but some of the shows on display were dross, to say the least. Celebrity Pole Dancing? First Kiss (a total rip-off of the ”first kiss” viral video from last year? Or Keep Your Dog Alive, a show where the final prize is a cloned version of your recently deceased dog?

I dunno, but I felt a bit jaded. On the other hand, online is making waves in Cannes as well. If what Maker Studios’ Ynon Kreiz said is correct – that media agencies are advising their clients to put up to 25% of their TV ad budget on online instead – the TV industry now, more than ever, must evolve or perish. There are many trying to do just that – evolve – but it might get messy before the dust clears. One thing is certain – it won’t be dull!

Over in Madrid, Fundacion Telefonica hosted their Transmedia Living Lab again. I was happy to meet up with people like Christy Dena, David Varela and Rob Pratten, as well as Montecarlo and Eva Snijder and Fernando Carrion. All in all it was a great experience, even if I only spent a day there. It feels like transmedia is taking small steps forward, but on a very broad front, encompassing nearly all fields where stories are being told. At the same time, there are still quite a few minds bogged down in the ditch labeled ”What is transmedia, really?”.

I don’t think we’ll ever get the definite answer to that. What I think will happen is that all media will converge more and more, and storytelling with it – so much, so that a ”transmedia” thinking will be a natural part of all forms of content creation.

For a thorough walk-through of the ongoings at MIP, please take a look at their blog here. And for Montecarlo’s thorough documentation of the Transmedia Living Lab, look no further than here.

Cross media the Adriatic way

Yup, that's just about how nice it looks. Korcula, Sept 2014.

Yup, that’s just about how nice it looks. Korcula, Sept 2014.

I just spent the best part of eleven days in Croatia, four of which were dedicated to the Korcula Cross Media Lab, an initiative created to connect audiovisual people and people in the tourism industry with each other and with experts on everything from transmedia storytelling to SEO to TV production to augmented reality.

It’s a great initiative, with a very worthy focus. The territory goes by the slogan ”The Mediterranean as it used to be”, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Coming from Finland, a sparsely populated land with a helluva lot of forest and lakes, I felt at home in the not-very-exploited mountains and hills of the Croatian Adriatic coast. It’s an area that would be well worth an influx of tourists of that rare quality-conscious kind – and stories, told in the right manner on the right platforms with the right strategies connected, could assist in making that happen.

That there is talent is evident, in everything from impossibly beautiful time lapses courtesy of Mario Romulic to the bright red felt caps of the Macmalic´ from the island of Cres.

There is an abundance of stories to be told from the region, from the first settlements in the area well B.C. to today’s swan dive into the interconnected media world. The challenge is to reach traction with an audience of sufficient magnitude to give cause for sustainable content creation and innovation in the long run.

There were a host of interesting speakers and presenters present over the course of the four days. People and companies were pitching innovations in the field of tourism and cross media, with notable winners of the lab’s competition being Zagreb-based design company Babushke. Mladen Vukmir talked about more than just the promised field of copyright protection, voicing concern over the sustainability of the world as a whole, with the antiquated notions of the current state of ”copyright” being one symptom of a mindset in need of changing.

Gamification on location, visual storytelling, getting TV PR involved… the subjects were varied and covered a lot of ground. My own talks were on storytelling, audience engagement and cross-, trans- and social media – all set to the backdrop of the stunning island of Korcula and the surrounding regions.

I’d really like to see a continuation of the lab. Not least because I feel the area and the creatives there have a lot of potential and a lot of stories that would deserve a greater audience. I would like to see a deeper collaboration with other, similar regions around Europe, in a Learning and Doing setup that would seek to maximize the use of gleaned knowledge and best practices from all participants.

Finally, the masterminds behind the conference deserve a thank you, on this post also – Helena Bulaja, Pati Keilwerth and Milan Miletic. Great effort!

PS If you would like to support an interesting project, take a look here at Tiny Fables from Das Wilde Dutzed (participants and speakers at the Lab). Give them a like and help them win the Virenscheluderpreis! DS

Combining for cross media – the Filmteractive Festival

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 14.16.41Last year I attendend the Filmteractive Festival in Poland for the first time. It was an energetic event with a certain evangilizing feel to it. As cross media and transmedia is not yet as widespread in Eastern Europe as in other parts of the world, Filmteractive felt like it had an important role to play in the dissemination of examples, best practices and possibilities within the fields.

This year the fourth Filmteractive Festival (24-25 September) is a combination of three different parts, the business oriented Conference, the Market for selling and buying innovative AV content and the Festival for digital video art.

I caught up with Adipat Virdi, transmedia producer and head of the Expert Panel at Filmteractive, tasked with judging the participants in the competition for the EVIO Award, to hear how this year’s festival is shaping up.

How did you come to be involved with the Filmteractive Festival?

Having known Olgierd Cygan (Filmteractive Festival founder) for a few years, there was a synergy in terms of our interests in multiplatform thinking for media and creative industries. We started talking about possibilities of introducing an innovative set of tools to allow individuals and companies to create more effective audience engagement through narrative-driven strategies. He then asked me to come and speak about my work and take a place on the Judging panel for the Filmteractive Market last year. This year I have been asked to come back as the Head of the Expert Panel to judge over 70 projects for the EVIO award.

What can you tell me about the selected finalists?

The finalists this year are even more interesting, creative and innovative than last year. In keeping with last year, however, they all have three things in common:

- They have all thought through their projects audience first and have given particular focus to the thematic drivers that hold the project together. Most of the other projects, albeit technically proficient and showing great production value and potential, have just missed the mark in telling us what they are about and how they give us, the consumer, an entertaining and worthwhile experience.

- The pitch documents are clear and have been thought through in terms of how the platforms fit together as well as having a professional-looking appearance and clarity.

- The finalists all have the x-factor in giving us a new and unique take on the world in the way they have built their storyworlds. That uniqueness is key to getting traction with an audience and in the market.

Looking at the state of the cross media field in Central and Eastern Europe today, how do you find that it compares to the rest of the world – based on what you’ve seen as the head of the jury?

One could look at the bigger picture and say that there is an increasing interest and awareness of cross media thinking and application throughout the world. They would be right. In my opinion, however, there is a stark difference between C & E Europe and the rest of the world and that is in the way that this thinking is applied.

In most of the key markets around the world, there is a distinctive industry focus whereby cross media thinking is being applied as ‘augmented marketing’ in very corporate settings and with a view to create more portals of engagement for a central IP. From my experience the difference in C & E Europe is that cross media is used more creatively as a storytelling device and as a tool for thinking through narrative in a more expansive and user-centric way. I guess that there is more awareness of content consumers as content creators.

Lastly – why should I come to Poland for the Filmteractive Festival?

Filmteractive is fast becoming THE event that focuses on Cross Media talent, projects and potential around the world. The unique blend of a conference, market and festival all in one gives it an edge as well as allowing more people to get involved, learn and experience the vast possibilities that are emerging. The EVIO award is the icing on the cake as a prestigious acceptance of the amazing projects that people are involved with. It’s inspirational.

Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon.staffans.

Five golden principles of audience engagement

golden_tick-1So, what I would like is to continuously create content that resonates deeply with the intended target audience. The would be an audience that takes what I’ve created or helped create to heart, that engages in the way they’re intended to engage and that teaches the creators a thing or ten about their own creation during the course of the interaction.

This would also be an audience that goes beoynd being merely an audience, morphing into a collaborative-producer state, freely creating within the boundaries of the original creation.

I have an inkling that this is something quite a few other people – producers and creators – would be happy with as well.

Thing is, though… it’s a very, very, difficult thing to get right. That, on the other hand, needn’t be too bad, as the FFF-principle (Fail Fast Forward) is quickly becoming one of the most important skills to master when producing content today.

Here, then, are five points I believe are crucial when it comes to engaging an audience in a meaningful way, turning a traditional producer-audience situation into a mutually beneficial co-creative entity:

  • Know your audience. This is such a no-brainer that I’m actually a bit reluctant to include it. But at the same time, it’s one of the things many still get wrong, and it’s such a crucial part of the process that everyone need to take it to heart. Don’t go for a huge audience – find the niche that you’ll cater to, what they do and how they react. Try stuff out and draw the right conclusions!
  • Celebrate others and promote others. You might think you and your content is at the heart of the project you’re working on. Think again. Without an audience, we’re all pretty meaningless. Make sure you celebrate all the people choosing the engage in your content. Promote others, so that they in turn will be positively promoting you.
  • If you give a promise, keep it. Deliver the quality your audience has been promised, and continue deliver at the same standard that they have been accustomed to. Don’t let standards slide.
  • Work on your timing. There are so many tools out there right now that can help you figure out when to publish stuff, when you will resonate the best with the audience you’re trying to reach… plan your strategies well, but be prepared to change them if your analysis of how your project is playing out indicates that a change would be necessary.
  • Be yourself. Chances are – especially if this is a small project – that you’re leading wih yourself first. Don’t try to be something you’re not – that’ll only get in the way of meaningful communication . And that’s what you’re aiming for – communication of different kinds, that is meaningful for you as well as for your counterpart.

Good luck!! :)

Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon.staffans.

Possibly impossible – the challenging art of looking past what is possible to what is probable

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 16.16.05

Cross media, transmedia, multiplatform storytelling, deep media… the terms are legion and intertwining, as I’m sure most readers of this blog know already. At the heart of all of them lies an urge to tell compelling stories over more than one media, in ways that engages and immerses the audience and utilize the strengths of each media platform, making them support each other and offer the audience a more fulfilling experience.

While that’s the core of the practices, that’s also where most people coming into the field as creators and producers get lost. For creative, nimble minds, the promises of transmedia storytelling are enticing. In our mind’s eye, we can see just how the different parts will line up, how the different media will build on each other and how the audience will experience something earth-shattering and fulfilling, that encourages them to participate, to share onwards and to agree to loyally follow the story to its conclusion.

The problem is that this seldom plays out the way we’ve envisioned it.

If we make a short film, we can most often make it just the way we want to make it – budget and other circumstances allowing, of course. If we create a transmedia experience meant for audience interaction, however, the variables multiply exponentially. We can’t be sure that the audience travels the route you want them to travel, we can’t be sure they experience what we want them to experience in the way we want them to experience it and we certainly can’t be sure that they interact the way we intend for them to interact.

What to do? Well:

  1. Prepare for fluidity. Rigid is a thing of the past; that which doesn’t bend will be quite likely to break instead. For traditional producers of, for instance, television, fluidity is the nemesis that guarantees that your final product is like nothing you’ve planned for. For the YouTube stars of today, fluidity is key. If something craps up with my video, shoot a new, or use the fail to move forward in a new direction. Everything can be turned into momentum. When quality of content is no longer measured in composition or traditional skill but in engagement and immediacy, that’s when fluidity comes into play.

    Of course – the ones that manage to combine the two, the craft and skill of a great photographer or artist with the urgency and – yes – fluidity of content production online… that’s a golden ticket, right there.

  1. Put down our waypoints, our goal posts, but have a crew ready to move them the second we see our project going down a new route. Again the goal should be stated and clear to everyone involved. But the audience is no longer passive – far from it – and unforseen circumstances can hijack our project into new directions. If we find ourselves on an unfamiliar path, evaluate our goals and mould them to fit the new direction.
  1. Allow our metrics to reflect the complexity of our project. Ratings are far from the only metric that counts. Neither are views on YouTube. How do our sentiments spread? How engaged are the viewers of our content? How lively is the hashtag? For how long does our message resonate? What kind of spin-offs are initiated? How will it carry over to the next thing?

    It’s a complex world to analyze, but doable. Metrics should also incorporate some of the fluidity talked about above; if the project changes direction, so must the metrics. What counts is the impression we make – no matter what kind of impression it is.

 

Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon.staffans.