Transmedia Storytelling isn’t a new idea. If you haven’t heard of it you are probably familiar with it. Think about TV shows like Lost, 24, Madmen, Heros, or a movie Like Tron Legacy or Toy Story 3. All of these shows and movies used transmedia storytelling to extend the overall brand reach of the product by using multiple stories that are set in a single universe but told across a variety of media outlets. These overlapping outlet points complement each other to form an overarching narrative.
To help illustrate what transmedia storytelling is, I knocked out a little animated film in After Effects showing some of the touch points.
There is so much potential for transmedia storytelling, but like so many things that are trending or catching a lot of buzz in the marketplace, transmedia storytelling is often misunderstood and not used to its full potential.
Recently in Fast Company, Henry Jenkins authored a great article about the seven myths surrounding transmedia storytelling. The original article can be found here. Below is my shortened version of his original article.
Myth 1: Transmedia Storytelling refers to any strategy involving more than one media platform.
The entertainment industry has long developed licensed products, reproducing the same stories across multiple channels (for example, novelizations). Increasingly, broadcast content is also available on-line. And many films are adopted from books (or now, comic books). None of these necessarily constitute transmedia storytelling. In transmedia, elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms, each making their own unique contribution to the whole. Each medium does what it does best–comics might provide back-story, games might allow you to explore the world, and the television series offers unfolding episodes.
Myth 2: Transmedia is basically a new promotional strategy.
Yes, many early transmedia experiments were funded through marketing budgets. Transmedia has been closely linked to the industry’s new focus on “audience engagement” and sometimes uses “viral” (or “spreadable”) media strategies. But, the best transmedia is driven by a creative impulse. Transmedia allows gifted storytellers to expand their canvas and share more of their vision with their most dedicated fans.
Myth 3: Transmedia means games.
The rise of alternate reality games coupled with mass media properties is part of what’s generating excitement here. Transmedia properties combine cultural attractors (which draw together a highly invested audience) and cultural activators (which gives that audience something to do). Games are a good way to give your fans something to do, but they are by no means the only model out there.
Myth 4: Transmedia is for geeks.
So far, most of transmedia has been designed for early adapters–folks at home with digital applications, with disposable time and income, and especially the 18-27 year old males who have disappeared from the Nielsen Ratings. So far, much transmedia content has targeted children through cartoons or geeks through science fiction, horror, and fantasy franchises. But, there are plenty of signs that transmedia experiences may appeal more broadly. For example, some believe transmedia strategies may be key to the survival of soap operas.
Myth 5: Transmedia requires a large budget.
Fans now expect transmedia content around blockbuster films and cult television series, but there are also many successes with using transmedia to build audience awareness around low-budget and independent media productions–from The Blair Witch Project to District 9 to Paranormal Activity. It’s about developing the appropriate mix of media for the genre, the audience, and the budget of a particular production.
Myth 6: Everything should go transmedia.
Many stories are told perfectly well within a single medium, and the audience leaves satisfied, ready for something else. Transmedia represents a strategy for telling stories where there is a particularly diverse set of characters, where the world is richly realized, and where there is a strong back-story or mythology that can extend beyond the specific episodes being depicted in the film or television series. Transmedia represents a creative opportunity, but it should never be a mandate for all entertainment.
Myth 7: Transmedia is “so ten minutes ago.”
The first generation series to push transmedia, (Lost, Heroes, Ghost Whisperer, and 24) ended last season, and some of the attempts to replace them–from Flash Forward to The Event–failed. But many of the big hits–including Glee, True Blood, and The Walking Dead–model new transmedia strategies to attract and sustain audience engagement. Transmedia storytelling is still about the stories and if the stories do not capture the imagination, no amount of transmedia extension can repair the damage. But, we will see innovative new approaches because transmedia as a strategy responds to a media environment that rewards being everywhere your audience might be and giving your fans a chance to drill deeper into the stories they love.