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Transmedia – A New Approach to IP Development

A brief introduction to Transmedia, and how to develop a product using this new approach.

One of the projects I have been working on is a pure Transmedia product. It is planned as a TV series, comic books, games, etc. Being in charge of the games division, one of the things that I have been studying a lot is how to effectively develop and design videogame concepts in a transmedia environment. For me one of the most important things is that the games (or the comic books) will not be a tie-in of the TV series. The concepts for all the components are being developed at the same time and each one of them are ramifications of the IP. This allows that the games and the comic books can have totally different story arcs than the ones developed for the TV series and vice versa.

Transmedia is a hot word nowadays but a lot of people still struggle to find out exactly what it is. One very good article at Fast Company debunks seven myths about transmedia storytelling.

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 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.

Now that we break down the biggest myths surrounding transmedia, let’s go more into detail regarding what transmedia in fact is and how it can be used for solid IP development. Transmedia storytelling is nothing more than providing a coordinated entertainment experience. This is achieved by having several elements from the IP dispersed across multiple delivery channels like TV, games, comic books, social networks, etc. One of the main challenges in transmedia development is crafting a believable story universe that persists across multiple media without tricking or endangering the viewers/players. One golden rule is that a transmedia narrative has several original storylines for several different platforms, all connected and interlocked.

Let’s say one hypothetical transmedia project started being developed as a feature film, with all the other transmedia components being developed in parallel. When the movie is released, rather than simply watch it, viewers can experience the world in videogames, interact with the characters on websites, follow leads and development insights on Twitter, and participate in several experiences in various platforms.

Transmedia is a paradigm shift not only for developers but also for publishers. When publishers have an IP released as a transmedia project they stop thinking about “what are my PlayStation 3 sales?” and start to think about “how big is my worldwide audience?”.

The transmedia trend is already reconfiguring the media industry affecting how stories are made. The impact is being so big that the Producers Guild of America ratified a new credit: transmedia producer. Instrumental in pushing the credit was Jeff Gomez, a former videogame producer that left his job at Acclaim to start his own transmedia production company, Starlight Runner.

Right now I’m working in the design document for a videogame part of a transmedia project. Later that document will be incorporated in one key component of a project of this kind: The transmedia bible. The transmedia bible includes all the rules of the fictional world we are creating, as also character and cultural details. More than only a written document, the transmedia bible sets the rules so that every product developed for the IP stays true to the original IP and plays well together.

Storytellers who embrace transmedia possibilities will define pop culture, and create new ways of telling a story. They will leverage each media platform and develop something unique.

This are indeed exciting times…

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