On Transmedia

Last week I participated (for a brief while, due to not-very-compatible time zones) in a Transmedia Coalition Think Tank hosted by some very capable people in the field. The purpose of the Think Tank was ”to have a frank but constructive dialog about the term “transmedia.””. When I had to drop off, we’ve only just gotten past the introductions and touched on some definitions, but I had already found myself forced to re-examine my relation with “transmedia”. I will admit, it has changed over the past months.

Transmedia has never been the easiest of terms to throw around. It’s a concept trying to embrace so many different genres and so many different practices, it’s almost guaranteed to give rise to disagreements. This is not least apparent as almost every industry field that is supposed to churn out some form of content – from marketing to dance companies and everyone in between – are proclaiming their intent to create transmedia experiences from now on.

From Mike Vogel’s thisistransmedia.com.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. I’m one of those people in one of those fields of industry who is churning out some of that content. And I’m definitely striving for transmedia experiences. And that’s the crux. I’m definitely working within transmedia (or at least according to my own definition of the term) and utilizing transmedia methods when developing and producing. I just don’t use the term all that much, as of late.

As I pointed out during the Think Tank – if I talk to TV acquisition executives and pitch some of our shows, I will have used transmedia storytelling methods to create the flow of content over different media, to make sure all the different parts are rooted in the same world and make sense, logically, to the viewer, and to come up with immersive and enticing ways for the audience to interact and engage and thereby gain a fuller experience of the content. But to the acquisition executive, I won’t mention “transmedia”; I’ll probably talk about “second screen integration” or whatever else is the buzzword du jour at the latest MIP and reflects my content the best.

If I talk to a company regarding an assignment in the field of corporate storytelling, I will have utilized transmedia methods to ensure that I’ve used all necessary media platforms to their fullest, within the limits of what’s comfortable for the company, to let different fragments of stories build on each other to make sense and tell the intended stories and to lay the groundwork for future campaigns for the same company or brand. But I will probably not talk about transmedia when I do it, but rather discuss our “social media strategies” and so on.

Talking about “transmedia” in cases such as these increases the risk of misunderstanding or simply non-understanding. And such feelings seldom beget commissioning.

In brief – or tl:dr – I still love transmedia. I love the practice, I love the promises it holds, I love the way it hones my creative work. But I talk less about it.

Edit: There is one more thing I gladly use the term “transmedia” for. That is to connect to the growing number of brilliant people around the globe that working within the term has allowed me to get in touch with. Simple as that.

8 thoughts on “On Transmedia

  1. The challenge I always face is when different media are contained in one site. For a long time, I thought some of my projects weren’t transmedia because they all “lived” in one place. But the participants each marshaled multiple kinds of media to tell their part of the story, and aggregated it in one place online. What are your thought on that? Or is more just about adapting to whatever term your audience will understand?

  2. If I understand correctly, you have – for instance – one website, where the story unfolds. The characters use audio, text and video on the site to tell their different parts of the story?

    I’ve seen the same approach being proudly talked about as “transmedia”. I’ve also seen similar approaches being dismissed as “definitely not transmedia”. For me and my own definition, I use the word “media” in the “media platform” sense. I.e., I’d like to use more than one platform to tell the story or stories, for me to call it “transmedia”.

    Adapting my choice of words when pitching for commissioning does not diminish the “transmedia-ness” of the project. I will say, I’m looking forward to the day when everything by default is as transmedia as it has to be, in order to offer the best possible experience to the audience. Guess we’ll have to find some new term to define then 🙂

    • You’re partially correct about the project. Yes — the final product did use audio, text and video. But Google Hangout, Google docs, Glossi.com, and other outside sites were used to craft those products. I guess if it’s a matter of delivery — versus production — then it would not be transmedia by most people’s definitions. Although, parts of the story did live in other places.

      But on that note, people also commented frequently that if parts of the story actually lived on other sites entirely, it would just get confusing. Which is also a complaint I’ve heard from audiences of other more “authentically” transmedia projects: the question of how to consume scattered content in an organized, meaningful fashion.

  3. PS — I get asked to speak a lot on transmedia because of my project. In those instances, I think the person is equating the term “Transmedia” with digital storytelling in general. Or as an umbrella term for “interactive cloud-based storytelling.” They don’t generally mean transmedia in the strict textbook sense. (As if there was even a standard definition across textbooks!) 🙂

  4. Thank you for putting my thoughts into words. I have been wary of using this very exciting word, transmedia, when meeting with clients, media people, and creative partners who do not necessarily identify with the term even though they produce content in different forms.

    I agree that the word is a good identification tool for awesome people in the industry. And, this is part of the vocabulary that we as practitioners will have to define and evolve in our “body of knowledge.”

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