A Future for Transmedia

In an article over at GamaSutra the other day the author, Leigh Alexander, asked the very legitimate question ”where’s this glorious transmedia future?”, referring to his view that the gaming industry is leading the social media revolution, and televison and film are slow to catch up.

The 2012 Super Bowl had 17,5 million social
media imprints on one day. That’s a lot.
He has a point. (On the other hand, looking at the 17,2 million social media imprints the Grammys generated during one day, and the 17,5 million the Superbowl generated a week earlier, television does make an impact in the social sphere (although not harnessed to any greater degree, more’s the shame))Transmedia is not ”there” yet, wherever we envisage ”there” to be. We have experimental projects, we have big-budget marketing campaigns, we have art projects, we have crowdfunded projects and any mix between these. Very few of these will have a significant impact on other transmedia projects, as all new projects need to be handled from the ground up as unique challenges.

To the man (or woman) on the street, the term ”transmedia” means nothing. What means something is great stories. What means something is funny and/or interesting and/or exciting and/or engaging interaction with characters as well as peers around content and connected to content. What means something is the feeling that ”I matter in this context”, that someone is listening, that something is created for me, that I can participate if I choose to and I’m welcome to. What means something is to achieve that willful suspension of disbelief, with regards to the story being told as well as to the different media it’s told on. What means something is have different pieces of the content puzzle available on different platforms that I have easy access to. What means something is to have the feeling of discovery and the tools to share this discovery with my friends.

All this can be ”transmedia”, and the development, design, production and distribution (and marketing) of all this is made easier and better by using transmedia storytelling methods. Still, ”transmedia” in itself will mean nothing to the people taking part of the story. I will never sell something to a broad audience with the “transmedia” tag only – perhaps to acquisition people or sponsors, but never an audience – I can only do that with great content.

Lucas JW Johnson had a post yesterday over at Silverstring Media where he talked about transmedia not being a ”thing” itself, but rather could be viewed as an aspiring artform. Or, as Lucas put it: Transmedia is a way of thought, a way of conceptualizing storytelling and experience in a way that is not limited to a single form or medium, and at its best takes full advantage of that tack.”

What we have is a situation where we’re still looking at people in silos looking at each other, expecting something to happen. It won’t, not by just looking. Every project is a different one, and I’m increasingly starting to believe that any “best practices” that we will come up with, with regards to transmedia, will be pretty broad in shape. Definite definitions of best practices will be as rare as definite definitions of transmedia itself.

On the other hand, I’m increasingly of the opinion that this is nothing essential. As little as the term “transmedia” means to the man on the street, as little will it mean to all of us creating it in the future. Dennis Crow writes in the comments to the GamaSutra article that  If a brand new IP could have a movie to tell the story, a game to immerse the player into the world, and a TV show to produce additional episodic content, then it truly could connect with a huge audience in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

This is where we will end up. It’s just – as always – taking a bit longer than everyone hoped for.
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