Feb 14 2012
As transmedia storytelling becomes more common it is being rolled out across a variety of industries and in many different applications.
The transmedia approach emerged over the past decade in the entertainment industry. The Matrix franchise was one of the early transmedia narrative successes. The use of transmedia narratives is now moving from the industry’s innovators and into the mainstream.
An increasing number of television programs have been using transmedia techniques to extend their storylines. For example,
- Covert Affairs, a television series on the USA Network cable channel, uses video clips, games, texts, and tweets to extend the secret world of its main characters, who play CIA agents. The program used a “tweetcast” to involve audience members in a secret mission involving one of the main characters. While set in the same “world” as the TV program, the storyline for the tweetcast mission was completely separate from the episodes that appeared on television.
- Burn Notice, another action-adventure spy show on USA Network, uses a similar combination of videos, games, and electronic messaging to pull viewers more deeply into the TV series. Its transmedia approach also includes a graphic novel in which weekly chapters are available online or for download to mobile devices.
- The Floating City (www.floatingcity.com) is a transmedia game that players to access a world envisioned by musician and five-time Grammy award winner Thomas Dolby via the Web, social media, smart phones, and other devices like the iPad. The game integrates character, places, and objects named in Dolby’s music since the beginning of his career. Players explore a fictional Google map, form tribes, and trade relics, and try to unravel the mystery of the Floating City—all while earning merchandise, credits for music downloads for songs from Dolby’s new album, and concert tickets for his tour
- MTV’s Valemont and Savage County series blended TV, web video, social media platforms, an iPhone app and a newspaper-like website that reported on the stories as if they were real.
Marketing and branding
Transmedia narratives are being used in marketing and branding as a way to engage consumers in new ways, enhance user experiences, and to strengthen customer loyalty.
To do this, organizations are incorporate their brand into a storyline that is social, co-created with consumers, delivered across multiple platforms, is dynamic, and changes to fit the user’s engagement level. More and more examples are beginning to emerge.
- Coca-Cola has been exploring the theme of happiness and building a transmedia narrative connecting its brand to this theme for several years. This started in 2007 with a series of commercials “depicting a storyworld centered around the idea that happiness is what we create for ourselves in our everyday lives.” It has continued to explore the “metastory” of happiness more recently with mobile apps, games, blogs, online music videos, podcast, etc.—with each telling tis own version of Coca-Cola’s “Open Happiness” narrative
- Starbucks used a transmedia in a alternate reality game in early 2011 as a promotional strategy. SRCH by Starbucks featured singer Lady Gaga in a game that had participants search for clues in video clips, songs, tweets, and on mobile devices. Successful participants had the opportunity to win Starbucks gift cards and other prizes
- While relatively little of the “official” Harry Potter content produced until 2011 would be considered transmedia, the announcement of Pottermore in June 2011 is likely to change that. Pottermore is an extension of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe and will feature a website that provides an interactive online reading experience. It will also feature unpublished content the by Rowling and will enable users to purchase Harry Potter digital audio and ebooks.
Transmedia narratives are being looked at by innovators in education. They hope the transmedia approach will become a powerful new tool for teaching, due to the level of engagement and depth of experiences they offer.
- In July 2011 an alternate reality game called RevQuest: Sign of the Rhinocerous was released by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to attract visitors. For the price of an admission ticket, players could use cellphones and text messaging to complete a fictional spy mission set in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. Playing the game involves exploring secret hiding places, meeting mysterious characters, unlocking clues, and deciphering codes to solve a mystery that could change the course of the American Revolution. RevQuest spans the line between education and entertainment. It uses the physical environment of historic Williamsburg and historical facts in a storyline designed to educate visitors about the sacrifices made by individuals during the American Revolution.
- Inanimate Alice (http://inanimatealice.com/) is a transmedia project designed to be easily assimilated into learning environments. It uses images, sounds, text, and user interactions combined with a collaborative environment to help students develop their literary, cinematic, and artistic skills
- The New York Public Library developed NYC Haunts, which uses mobile location-based alternative reality gaming techniques to teach young people about the neighborhoods they live in. The game’s key character is a detective who awakens in the NYC Public Library with no memory. Players uncover clues that will help the solve the game’s mystery. Play move back and forth between physical, online, and mobile environments (iPad, smartphones).
While transmedia narratives can be used in entertainment, marketing, and educatation, they are also beginning to be put to use promoting ideas and encourage activism.
Collapsus, a transmedia project released in 2011, used a combination of animation, interactive fiction, and documentary film to raise awareness of the implications of peak oil and potential future energy supply shocks. The project integrates video blogging, interactive maps, fictional news casts, live action footage, and animation to draw participants into a world in which they must access and analyze information about global energy production and consumption and the implications on lives of individual characters in the story. [xiv]
Transmedia narrative techniques are also used in Animism: The Gods’ Lake. [xv] The project, developed by Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, looks at environmentalism, capitalism, and spirituality through the eyes of characters drawn from Canada’s aboriginal peoples. The project uses high quality animation, a “blog” by a fictional professor of anthropology, and companion websites that extend the projects’ storyline (e.g., Iron Clad Properties which portrays a fictional company in the story world and The Gods Lake Post website which is a newspaper in the story world).
- The mass media model that emerged in the 19th century and dominated throughout the 20th century has changed, and the media marketplace of the future will be much more chaotic and freewheeling. Transmedia narratives will play an increasingly large role in this environment, and organizations will need to become more adept at developing and managing non-linear and participatory “stories” about their brands, products, and organizations.
- While traditional content developers are struggling, the challenge is a revenue problem, not an audience problem . If all information platforms – books, movies, newspapers, the web, and mobile devices, for example – are included, the audience is larger than ever.
- Publishing companies, studios, and other traditional content providers will have to accept that they no longer have a monopoly on content creation. This will mean finding new ways in which to collaborate with their audience, including reorienting themselves towards serving the audience rather than advertisers. There will increasingly need to be greater cooperation and cross-training across industry specialty as well. As film producer Guillermo del Toro noted, “I want to learn animation, I want to learn video games, I want to learn every… I want to learn book publishing and I want to learn TV. Why? Because, as a storyteller, I’m convinced that in the next five to ten years, we’re going to need to know all of that.” As the novelty of alternate reality games and transmedia narratives wears off, it will become increasingly important for projects to focus on the participants’ overall experiences.
- Creativity is the key to success with transmedia project. The formulaic is giving way to the innovative, as producers, including a new crop of digital natives, compete to engage fans in their stories over time and space with new approaches and on new devices. It is becoming increasingly important for brands to create some sort of “metastory” and connecting their brand to it, as is seen with the Coca-Cola “Open Happiness” narrative
- Subtlety may be a key to branding success when using transmedia narratives. Instead of explicit messages, transmedia narratives allow subtle connections to communicate key ideas and values. For example, Coca-Cola, which uses websites, music videos, and other media, barely mentions its products directly in the “Open Happiness” narratives.
- Growing use of smart phones and tablets like the iPad is expected to drive increased sales of mobile games. Mobile games alone are expected to be a $13 billion market by 2014. By 2013, technological advances in mobile devices are expected to give them capabilities that will surprass today’s game consoles, making mobile devices even more attractive gaming systems.
- The arrival of next-generation web browsers optimized for the new HTML-5 standard will allow quicker, easier development of more sophisticated web-based applications that incorporate text, images, audio, and video that play on a variety of platforms.