Where’s All The Transmedia Storytelling?

by Thomas MORADPOUR on July 19, 2011 · 10 comments

I’m really excited about the launch of Defiance, a new SyFy TV show set to start very soon (I hope). Or is it Defiance, the Trion Worlds shooting MMO, set to launch equally soon on PC, PS3 and XBOX 360?

Actually, both.

First of its kind, Defiance will be a true trans-media property with a common story told through television and video gaming. Both set in a near-future post-apocalyptic earth, the show and the game will take place in different cities, but will share the same world events, and even exchange characters at certain points in time. Love it!

But what somehow amazes me is that there aren’t more such platforms, 5 years after MIT’s Henri Jenkins coined the phrase “transmedia storytelling” in his stellar book Convergence Culture.

A REFRESHER ON TRANSMEDIA STORY-TELLING

Transmedia storytelling is quite a simple idea: it’s the integration of multiple media platforms to deliver a story in a deeper way. When Star Wars gives you six movies, an animated TV show, countless books and video games all united by the same History and Universe, it’s trans-media storytelling.

The reason it’s so engrossing (no, not just the revenues), is that it lets fans dig as deep as they want into the story, and creates the kind of knowledge imbalance between them that stimulates water-cooler conversations.

Watch Titanic, and you have exactly the same amount of information as everyone else who’s seen the film. But watch The Matrix series without the Animatrix shorts or without playing the Matrix Online, and you’ve missed part of the plot. That’s where conversations can happen between the fans who know the day Morpheus died, and those who don’t (it’s May 26th 2005).

Done well, transmedia lets an audience engage superficially with your content on one outlet (and enjoy it), or dig as deep as they want into your universe to become true fans.

A GREAT CONCEPT, NOT A LOT OF EXAMPLES.

I’m puzzled at how few of these platforms have truly come to life. Sure, there’s the Star Wars example… Defiance is coming… promises that Pottermore will stretch the Harry Potter franchise beyond the conclusion of the books and films series.

But why not more? Is it really that hard to do? That long or expensive to plan? Or simply is it that the audience is not as “active” and “engaged” as the concept assumed?

PS – no, Angry Birds The Movie does not count.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=17300909 Vessela Ignatova

    Great post. Add a new book to that list, The Art of Immersion. It goes beyond multiple channels of storytelling into people-created storytelling. I’d add to your examples, the launch of the Dark Night. Great “games” around it in multiple cities in the US. Also, TV shows, like Lost, Fringe, Chuck, which have engaged people way deeper than their shows per say. Sometimes having people create the story not only to live through a manufactured path.

    • http://twitter.com/TomMoradpour Thomas Moradpour

      Cool, I will certainly add that to my reading list!
      Cheers
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/skypulsemedia Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Tom this is a very thoughtful post. I hope my friend Gunther Sonnenfeld comes to comment. But I think this is kind of like Social Media because there is not a ton of proven examples out there. And I bet many Brands possibly view this as complex. They think what they are doing is transmedia but not grasping properly what it really is, the investment needed, and until there are some case studies on it where some companies have made a bank of money they are wary. This is a great infographic which coming from me says a lot because I hate infographics because usually the info is wrong LOL But this was linked a recent blogpost of Gunthers’s.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/59897583/Is-It-Really-Transmedia

    • http://twitter.com/TomMoradpour Thomas Moradpour

      Thanks Howie! I saw his input on the Google+ comment thread… thanks for bringing him in!

      Tom

  • http://fredmcclimans.com Fred McClimans

    Hey Tom – Add me to the list of people who expect to see plenty more transmedia experiences. I remember the great crossover effect of the Matrix through the “non-movie” products (which were just as compelling, if not more in some ways, as the movies themselves). We’re seeing more of it and I expect that the future of business and marketing will definitely include a much greater transmedia storytelling, but you are right in asking the question “why not more?”. Most major sci-fi, action & kids movies &TV shows now delve into this space to some extent (another TV example is Spielberg’s Falling Skies). In the entertainment space, I think the bigger trend to watch is how/if transmedia storytelling makes its way into venues that typically don’t have the ability (or audience) to engage on different levels, such as comedies, dramas, etc.

    Great post, with a great question. – Fred

    • http://twitter.com/TomMoradpour Thomas Moradpour

      Thanks Fred! I agree and also went down the rabbit hole back in the days with The Matrix. I would do it again given a good story!
      Tom

  • http://twitter.com/smartel Sylvain Martel

    Transmedia is a real and effective concept but is too often used as a buzzword without people getting to know and get what it is exactly.

    Now, it is also a pretty complex art to master because it goes beyond the story itself (as if building the story wasn’t complicated enough) and storytellers also need to master and deeply understand how people engage and behave on/in the “other” medias they want to use before being able to write and deploy their story.

    We’ve been pushing hard toward alternate reality and transmedia here at Fidel lately (as marketing tools), and as long as brands are concerned, they almost all fear the fact that they won’t be able to reach the  freaking “media reach” they are used to and wonder how their “retail” message  (read “their offer”) will get to people. Always the same obstacles, looking at such initiatives the wrong way but hey, event if it’s a long process, one step at a time, some of them will get there.

    With game mechanics more popular than ever and mobile technologies and platforms facilitating connections of people virtual and “real”  life, there’s no way we won’t see more transmedia success stories come to life in the nest few months.

    And glad to see you back in the blogosphere Tom!
    SM

  • http://twitter.com/vpisteve Steve Peters

    Wow, where to begin?

    Transmedia storytelling existed long before the term was coined. I mean, everyone remembers Blair Witch Project, right? Following it were many Alternate Reality Games (even though *that* term hadn’t yet been coined), just off the top of my head: The Beast in 2001 (for Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence), EA’s Majestic, In Memoriam, Metacortechs (Indy, for The Matrix), Art of the Heist, Chasing the Wish, I Love Bees, Last Call Poker, Where is Benjamin Stove?, Why So Serious (The Dark Knight), Year Zero for Nine Inch Nails (transmedia storytelling from inception), and more recently, The Truth About Marika (won an Emmy), Ocular Effect, Regenesis, Perplex City, Cathy’s Book, transmedia narrative extensions for LOST, The Office, How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, Dexter, Sherlock, Jericho and more. I’ve only scratched the surface, but the list goes on and on and on….and I’ve left out far more than I’ve listed here (just check out Wikipedia for Alternate Reality Games, which are definitely forms of transmedia storytelling).

    All of these projects have one thing in common: They tell a story from beginning to end, spanning multiple platforms all linked together to form a tapestry of narrative. Transmedia Storytelling. Not merely franchising or world building. A story. Living everywhere. Some in real-time, some replayable to this day.

    There question isn’t where it all is, but when will it go mainstream? 

    While nobody knows the answer to that, every successful transmedia storytelling project brings us closer to that day. In the meantime, there are still plenty of examples of it, if you know where to look. :)

  • Freddie Winckler

    Hello Tom,

    You are so right, it’s all there and hardly utilised, or rather hardly enjoyed. I tend to think one of the issues is that we keep talking about storytelling. And a story is told in one media quite easily. Only when you think that way you don’t really care about what people will donwith your story. I prefer to think about storysharing: sharing a story people will want to, helping them do so, giving them more to dig, and making itinteractive between the media, the user and their friends.

    We’re in fact ver.y guilty in marketing to continue to tell a story, without linking the media, the story, the experience far enough.

  • Stevemccormick

    A new site http://emaileavesdropper.com can serve as the centerpiece of an immersive storytelling experience

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