Feb 13 2012
A series of technological, economic, and consumer trends are driving the development of transmedia projects as a new form of marketing, entertaining, and educating. Understanding what these drivers of change are and how they impact the emerging transmedia field is key to figuring out how to navigate a turbulent future.
Technological changes are helping facilitate the development and distribution of transmedia narrative projects. At the same time, the integrated approach used by transmedia narratives is appealing to developers for creative and economic reasons as well.
The range of digital devices and platforms that can facilitate transmedia narratives is growing rapidly. As computing and communications devices become increasingly mobile—and at the same time interconnected—transmedia narratives will become more common for both creators and consumers of digital media.
Consider these emerging examples:
- Alternate Reality Games. Alternate reality games (ARGs) are considered by many to be a form of transmedia project. ARGs rely on participants to both search for and share information. Typically, elements of the narrative are scattered across a variety of media, requiring players to reassemble information in order to understand the story. Information might also be place in settings in the physical world.
- New devices. The movement of digital content from DVDs and PCs to a variety of devices ( smart phones, e-book readers, tablets) is already well underway. While ealy transmedia projects have been displayed on a variety of media (i.e. film, video, desktop or laptop computers, or paper), the introduction of more powerful mobile devices like the iPad will make heighten the transmedia experience by allowing users to do everything from watch movies to read books and magazines, play games, use location-based services, and interact with others via social media with a single device. The big transition for users will be moving from passively watching or reading content to fully interacting with it on these devices.
- Augmented reality (AR). AR is a technology that overlays digital data and imagery on the a person’s view of the world in real time. It is already being rolled out in a widevariety of consumer goods and services—including toys, advertising campaigns, and mobile phone apps—and will play an important role in the future of transmedia narratives. For example, an augmented reality app for Android smart phones is being developed to extend the storyline of a tranmedia narrative called HiM (short for Hope is Missing), a mystery story first developed online in 2007 as a blog. A feature film is also in development.
- Cloud computing. Transmedia narratives may also be a “killer app” for cloud computing, which would make it much easier for users to seamlessly consume content across devices. The seamless connection of information across devices has recently become a key selling for companies like Apple, which began promoting its iCloud service in early 2011.
Traditional models for content development and distribution are also changing. The top-down approach in which content providers—movie studios and book publishers, for example—create a product for mass distribution through a limited set of channels such as movie theaters or bookstores is no longer viable or in sync with consumers’ media consumption habits and values. Consider these changes to the industry:
- In North America, the number of paid subscribers for daily newspapers fell 11% between 2005 and 2009; in Europe the decline was 8% during the same period.
- The publishing industry, which is facing everything from the bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain to pressure from e-books, is scrambling to find new business models.
- Virtually all Hollywood studios are suffering from declining revenues from home videos and are looking for new revenue streams from rapidly evolving digital media. At the same time, as the cost of blockbuster movie production rises, it is getting more difficult for movies to break even from ticket sales alone, putting more pressure on other revenue streams such as video games, merchandising, etc.
- The Internet has upended traditional business models, undermining advertising revenues, making news and information a commodity, and blurring the lines between traditional sources of news and information.
With the newspaper, book publishing, and film industries in turmoil, the scramble is on to find alternative ways to connect with readers and viewers. Big names in film, television, and games are placing substantial bets on transmedia projects, with both traditional and new studios receiving investments to produce made-for-transmedia content.
Jeff Gomez, president and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, notes that transmedia storytelling is a “philosophy of communication and brand extension that broadens the lifecycle of creative content”. He sees clear potential benefits to transmedia storytelling, including:
- More intense customer loyalty
- Long-term engagement by consumers
- Consumer desire to share the experience of the narrative
- Extension of the lifespan of a property beyond normal retail windows
- Substantially increased revenue
Changing Consumer Expectations
Changes in technology—particularly the Internet and social networking—have resulted in consumers seeking a more participatory and social experience when consuming information and media/entertainment content. These new preferences are bumping up against traditional approaches to media delivery.
For example, a recent survey found that only 3% of European consumer said they accessed pay-per-view digitial TV programming, while only 14% said they might do so in the future.
In place of the old top-down, mass media approach consumer are increasingly:
- Looking for content interaction. Increasingly, people are interacting with the content they are using through blogs, forums, e-mail, instant messaging, and tweets. In addition to commenting on information, consumers are republishing content they find interesting, repurposing it, or publishing entirely new content online and these behaviors are mainstreaming.
- Using social networks to find and consume content. The use of social networking systems is blurring the definition of content and changing how people find content. Facebook, for example, is one of the top five sites for viewing videos in North America and Europe. Social networks are increasingly being used to find and sharing of content, changing the dynamics of content distribution.
- Media stacking. Consumers are increasingly “media stacking,” i.e., using more than one media device at a time. By some estimates, 50% of young consumers watch TV while also using another device. This behavior allows themn to interact with content in multiple ways, such engage in conversations about what they are watching in real-time as the show unfolds, on Facebook or Twitter. By one estimate, 22% of Americans are watching television while also online with Facebook or Twitter.