Transmedia – different fields, different uses

Fort McMoney, a good example of the value transmedia storytelling methods add to a documentary project.

When I pitch projects to possible buyers, possible customers or possible collaborators, I frequently refrain from using the term ”transmedia”. I’ve found that it often interferes with discussions, moving it into a debate around definitions or general practices, rather than letting the talking focus on the project at hand. That, or it is (still) met with slightly blank stares and a need to start from the very beginning, again taking time away from the current project and the momentum of the pitch.

Instead, while the project might decidedly be in the transmedia vein, I tend to focus on what the client and their audience will get out of it, using the strategies and the storytelling methods derived from using transmedia methods. In this, different fields have different uses for the same methods – different needs, simply put.

The media industry where I spend quite a lot of my time (some in radio, some in publishing, a lot in television) need this kind of approach to development, production and distribution to:

  • Reach the audience in new ways and engage them in new ways. The rapid and inevitable changes in audience behaviour has led to an urgent need to go where the audience is, not wait for them to come to you. And creating engaging content and focusing on namely audience engagement is the next logical step – since everyone has the potential to be a producer of content in their own right, engaging them in a meaningful way with what you’re creating just makes sense.
  • Add new revenue possibilities is another crucial matter for everyone involved in the media business; finding new ways to let people pay for content, or finding new ways to get someone else to pay for the content that draws in the audience. A lot of this has to do with:
  • The new value system, where the old ratings system no longer holds sway the way it used to. Now the talk is of measuring engagement and loyalty, not simply the act of passively receiving a message.

Documentary producers are another breed, that also fit into the media industry above but expressing some special needs that often get overlooked by the main parts of media. These include:

  • The possibility to show more approaches to a subject, more sides of a story. There’s no need to limit oneself to a 58 minute documentary on TV, when the different strands of a complex story can be evolved on through other means – as in for instance this winter’s fabulous Fort McMoney.
  • Tell more engaging stories and show ways to immediately influence and interact. A documentary filmmaker with an agenda now has the possibility to directly harness that initial surge of emotions that a well-wrought documentary gives rise to in people. Clear call-to-actions, clear routes to take and easy-to-understand tools to accomplish certain tasks – voting, signing, condemning, cheering – all can affect the real world in major ways.

The world of advertising on the other hand does care less about changing the world for the better. Utilizing transmedia storytelling methods can still yield advantages that a more traditional approach would not, such as:

  • Offering more thorough experiences to the audience. This might be seen as a gimmick, and it often can be. Still, a great ad campaign is often founded on a great story, or a great idea that could give rise to a great story, and this has the potential to draw the audience in. And while they are ”in”, you really need to harness that attention. Because…
  • You want to be the ones people are talking about, and not the ones people are NOT talking about. Offering immersive experiences in a thrilling story setting – that’s a pretty sure-fire way to be the ones on everyone else’s radar.

Finally, the brands are slowly realizing the special worth a transmedia approach can bring to the table. Perhaps not all brands, and perhaps not with the exact terminology, but the result of utilizing transmedia storytelling in a brand context is that brands:

  • Build the brands, the history and the values in a more coherent way, while building a foundation that can give rise to new stories within the value world and tone and feel of the brand
  • Get the opportunity to focus on longer story archs, longer campaigns and the long tail of consumer interaction, all within the same brand infused story world.


As with everything, these are general points and the different fields often influence each other, especially when more than one field is active within a project. On the other hand, I’ve found these points useful to keep in mind when talking to different possible collaborators and customers – perhaps they’ll be of use to you as well.


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) or follow him on @simon.staffans.

5 thoughts on “Transmedia – different fields, different uses

  1. The rise of the dr@m@teur, the digitally revved up amateur, is transforming the power dynamic not only between creative producer and consumer/audience but also between advertisers and audiences. We, who were once-upon-a-time known as ‘the audience’ are now using social mobile technologies to reclaim our capacity to interact with our story tellers. #backtothefuture as it was once ‘around the cave’ or in The Globe. That we could have another, more explanatory term, than “audience”!

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