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Guest

Transmedia Storytelling for Content Creators

By: Guest | August 29, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Jason Konopinski.

In its simplest form, transmedia is a storytelling technique that ties multiple platforms together to tell a common story.

It represents a process where elements of fiction are dispersed across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience, with each medium making a unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.

A single story may present some elements through a television series or a motion picture with additional narrative threads explored in other media: Comic books, video games, or a collection of micro-sites, Twitter feeds, and online content.

Participatory Entertainment and Media

Fans can engage in a selection of these story elements or follow all of them to fully immerse themselves in the world of the story based entirely on level of interest. While the origin of transmedia is greatly debated, the simple fact is that a holistic understanding of storytelling and building a brand franchise has existed for decades.

Marsha Kinder, a film scholar and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, first coined the term in her 1993 book, Playing with Power in Movies, Television and Video Games. She argues:

Transmedia intertextuality works to position consumers as powerful players while disavowing commercial manipulation.

Heroes on NBC is often cited as a great pop-culture example of transmedia in practice.

Mimicking the aesthetic style and storytelling conventions of American comic books (using multi-episode story arcs that build upon a larger, more encompassing arc), the series used digital technologies to deepen the audience experience and carry the story through various mediums, ultimately making the characters more compelling and memorable.

  • A digital web series, Heroes 360 Experience, was created to explore the Heroes universe and build the show’s mythology. Other official Heroes media included print publications, action figures, tie-in and interactive websites, and a mobile game.
  • NBC Digital Entertainment released a series of online content in 2008, including more original web content, wireless iTV interactivity, graphic novels available for mobile viewing, and webisodes.
  • In a promotion called Create Your Hero (sponsored by Sprint), fans were called on to vote on personality and physical attributes for the creation of a new hero character for an original, live-action series that ran on NBC.com.

The result: A brand franchise that tells a much richer story than the primary text upon which the brand was built.

The Matrix is another example of good transmedia; action in the film is explained in the graphic novel or video games. There are moments where a character exits one of those media and, in the next instant, appears in another. By experiencing all the material, the consumer knows what is going on in every moment.

There is an important distinction to be made between a participatory entertainment and media culture (in which social media plays a critical part) and Web 2.0.

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is a concept (and eventual business model) built around information sharing, user-generated content, and implied collaboration and connectivity. Transmedia is really about how narrative is developed and how stories are told and not the tools or platforms themselves.

For marketers, transmedia offer insights into how narrative can be expanded beyond simple entertainment and, perhaps more importantly, how fans and audiences engage not only with content but with process.

Digital technologies and communications platforms offer opportunities for brands to incorporate multiple story arcs into the larger narrative of corporate culture, mission, and organizational history.

What This Means for Content Creators

At a personal level, transmedia is expressed through our collective participation in the social web. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and our owned blog properties present unique narratives about who we are, what excites us, and where our passions lie.

The digital legacies we’re building by accumulating tweets, status updates, and blog comments tell a story and are fed by our social media outposts. The adoption of social technologies is driven by the compulsion to seek out those who share common ideas and beliefs.

By understanding how technology enables discovery, analysis, and information sharing, we are empowered to build communities of passionate and engaged advocates around brand narratives.

Jason Konopinski is the head pen monkey and content strategist for hire at JMK Media & Communications in Hanover, Pa. An advocate of social good and strong storytelling, Jason works with small-to-medium sized corporate and agency clients to produce rock-solid audience responsive content. He is currently seeking new full-time opportunities as a copywriter and digital content creator in the agency world. Follow him on Twitter at jasonkonopinksi.

8 comments
Steve Birkett
Steve Birkett

Great concept and some interesting examples, thanks Jason. It's extremely challenging to balance content that supplements the primary experience for those who want to seek it out, yet not have those who choose not to participate miss out on something important. Keeping the whole moving in the same direction is tough but well worth it if it offers fans an enhanced experience. Looking forward to seeing how others embrace the concept.

belllindsay
belllindsay

Great post Jason - love the idea of 'collective participation'.

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

I think if X-Files were a current tv series, they'd be a great candidate for this. Thanks for the post Jason. A nice explanation of transmedia storytelling. It seems like a great way to think about our personal footprint in social media. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

You already know I don't watch TV, but I really love how "traditional" media are expanding their presence online to bring people further into the stories. Mad Men does a great job with this, too. I think it's difficult, though, for most people (once they go to work) to understand how to do this with their content. One of my favorite things to ask people is how much they love spam and marketing speak. When no one raises their hands, I say, "Then why do every one of you do it when you get behind your desk?" It's changing a mindset..in a big way.

somanoid
somanoid

 @barrettrossie I agree and what's quite interesting thing to look out for is the new series, Frank Spotnitz the showrunner of the X-Files is developing right now in London called "Hunted" apparently it will have also incoporate transmedia storytelling and knowing his style and approach to building characters and storyworlds, this could be quite exciting.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

 @ginidietrich All of the AMC titles do this exceedingly well. They've realized that this really isn't a battle for the first screen, but an opportunity to use the second and third screens as a means to telling a richer story. Transmedia isn't necessarily new, but it does all entertainment franchises to continue the story arc across multiple platforms, and in the case of Heroes, there's big participation from fans in shaping their own experience. 

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