What is Transmedia?

Source: Pixabay

Frankfurt, Germany (Weltexpress). There is much unnecessary debate about the real meaning of Transmedia and how to use it. Here we explore why that is and whether we should just accept that it exists and allow it to expand our experience of the ‘stories’ that are part of our lives.

In much the same way as we are surrounded by our own culture without taking much notice of it, we are also surrounded by Transmedia and its manifestations – the difference is, we don’t question or try to unpick the meaning of culture, and we do question what Transmedia is and, especially, how to go about “doing” it.

Let’s look at culture for a moment. No-one thinks twice about opening a book (literary culture) and reading a story then picking up a weekend newspaper (popular culture) and seeing what the critics thought of the story. A few months later, they might go and watch the movie (cinema culture), emerging loud in praise of how closely the film stuck to the author’s original depiction of the characters and their moral dilemmas and issues (social culture). They may then go off and order a burger-to-go (fast-food culture) or find a nice cosy little restaurant and have a plate of pasta and a glass of primitivo (culinary culture). Over the meal, they may decide to go and see the latest exhibition of graphic novel art at the museum they have passed on the way (fine-art culture). The work being exhibited was generated by amongst others, the artists who helped create the Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game they are currently playing (internet gaming culture). In the car on the way to work the next morning they may hear on the radio (audio culture) that the actor playing the leading role has died in a car-crash. The minute they get to work, they get their smartphone out (instant digital communications culture) and look up the news report online (online digital culture). They log in to their Facebook account (social media culture) and see all the comments, adding to them. They’ve been following the actor on Twitter (more socmed culture) so they log in there too, and read the tweets and retweets, adding their own condolences to the flurry of verbal agonizing going round the world.
So what is that all about? It is the world in which we find ourselves today – a multi-level, multi-connected telling of a story that is our own lives. We are all attached to a different selection of these options – the ones that appeal to and engage us as individuals most. Our proclivities and orientations may define who we are as characters, but they do not limit us. We can choose to eat at a burger chain or upscale Italian restaurant depending on our means, not on the availability of choice.

Let’s return to Transmedia. Basically, it involves all of the above and then some, with the main difference being in terms of entity. The cultural channels mentioned here are managed and produced by specialists in their field. Each channel is its own entity, defining its audience and “feeding” them with the kind of product that they believe to be the most engaging, generally benchmarking horizontally with the competition for the comparisons that will define their business strategy. Today’s new, overarching entity is entitled Transmedia. The pressure is on for professionals of all stripes to connect everything up into a brand-new Transmedia experience. To engage audiences above and beyond the reach of a single medium, to effectively tell one story a thousand different ways. Or at least, as many ways as are deemed to be necessary to transport the desired message. No-one feels they have control over their communication with audiences any more.

It is interesting to draw a parallel between Transmedia and film: when people started making movies over a hundred years ago, the process was at first treated as a type of carnival attraction – similar to the prevailing attitude towards games when they first made their appearance a few short decades ago. Then, with the development of an artistic, filmic language, the making of movies became an arcane activity, the preserve of just a handful of specialists. No-one questioned whether they could actually do what they did or how good they were – they were just pi8oneers, exploring territory they were themselves creating as they went along.

Transmedia is now going through a similar birth, though unlike film, it will never be permitted the luxury of gradual ‘organic’ development. After all, this is the 21st century, and Transmedia’s every move is subject to the hot-house scrutiny of a fast-moving society whose driving force is instant gratification.
To quote some professional proponents of Transmedia who have sprung up fearlessly from a variety of media backgrounds, Transmedia is “the vanguard process of conveying messages, themes or storylines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multiple media platforms and brand extension that creates intense audience loyalty and long-term engagement, enriches the value of creative content and generates multiple revenue streams.” (Jeff Gomez, 2013).

Henry Jenkins calls Transmedia “the art of world-making” as it creates a community around a common interest. He goes on to say that “Consumers must assume the role of hunters and gatherers, chasing down bits of the story across media channels, comparing notes with each other via online discussion groups, and collaborating to ensure that everyone who invests time and effort will come away with a richer entertainment experience”. Indeed in a classic entertainment environment, this is undoubtedly true.

But Jeff Gomez’s Transmedia storytelling is quite happily taking on the added responsibility of being a commercial vehicle, where its magnanimous reach is intended to convey information about a product or service in such a way that audiences across all or maybe only a selection of these media will fork out cash from their pockets.

And then there is the fast-growing field of training and education. How much deeper and more intense can a learning experience be made when students are surrounded by the material they need to learn regardless of where they look. Various aspects of what they must learn are presented at every turn – blogspot, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest on their smartphone, classroom whiteboard, live action Alternate Reality Game, specially-developed Serious Game, eBook etc. – to encourage students to engage in continuous intellectual exchange with the subject, thereby creating the essential “stickiness” that is the holy grail for those who need to put information into other people’s heads and make sure it stays there.

Activism, geopolitical implementations, corporate communications and brand narratives – you name it, and it will be a natural field for Transmedia techniques in only a few years.

In the Transmedia world, efforts are currently being made – especially by groups such as the global Transmedia Alliance, based in Paris – to define a taxonomy for Transmedia and how it can most effectively be applied or carried out. It is certainly a monumental task, classifying the overall aims and achievements of Transmedia storytelling, the activities and responsibilities of those involved in producing such a narrative array, and the means by which they can reasonably ensure that all media are employed in their natural sense to convey aspects of the core narrative in an appropriate way without distorting either the medium or the story itself. But it is designed to help define how to assemble teams of experts who are able to collaborate naturally with one another to help drive a Transmedia story forwards, rather than throwing together a disparate group of doubtless highly qualified professionals in their own respective fields, but who may well feel that unnecessary constraints are placed on their own creativity by the need to drive the whole.

Back to film-making as we consider what many decades have taught film makers and anyone who is involved in the process, either before or afterwards. They are all well aware of the fact that the really important thing is to have a good story, however obscure, and the telling of that story requires the summoning and unleashing of a series of artistic and technical talents: from screenwriting through direction, production, lighting, photography, SFX, acting, to post-production and so on and so on – the list is endless, which is one of the reasons why Transmedia seems so endlessly mystifying as this range of expertise and talents now spans an entire spectrum of creative areas, each of which has its own complex production process.

Academia calls Transmedia “interdisciplinary”, “multimedia” and “cross-media” are also employed to indicate manifold methods of storytelling. But ultimately it seems to me we should transcend the nomenclature and get on with the business of opening borders, crossing boundaries, creating interfaces and finding the joy that must be the essence of any truly well-told story if it is to inspire and enthuse the reader / player/ audience / consumer / listener /experience, or however else you want to describe the people for whom all this effort is being made.

Because it is being made for them, isn’t it?

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