Friday, December 31, 2010

The Value of Truth in Transmedia

There are many important aspects to consider when starting out creating a transmedia property. There is creating the mythology, the narrative superstructure, as deep and rich as possible. There is timing all different releases, and making sure the right things get released on the right platforms. There is securing a sound financial basis to stand on – i.e., where’s the money going to come from?

Every aspect is vital, some to the core of the story being told, some to the framework around the story that lets it find its’ audience and gives its’ creators and producers funds to work with to take the story in the direction it is supposed to go.

But since everything about a transmedia project, in my opinion, goes back to the need to engage an audience and give them the best experience possible, I’ve found truth to be the most important aspect.

”Truth” in transmedia, as I see it, is the simple fact that everything needs to fit. The things that do not fit must also fit, as non-fitting parts (carefully planned, naturally) or be re-developed or omitted. We as human beings can tell when things are not as they should be, when they are not true. We might have been conditioned to set aside our beliefs, or willingly believe in certain things, but if we just let our instincts guide us, we mostly have the gut feeling of what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s ”True” and what’s false.

”Truth” in transmedia is keeping in mind that platforms do not matter, OS or programming languages do not matter. What matters is the story and that the users experience it the way you as the creator/producer planned for it to be experienced.

”Truth” in transmedia is a fragile thing. It can be shattered by a wrongly worded tweet from a character in a series. It contains a lot of pitfalls – and I know from my own experience that you, as a developer, will fall into many of them. The trick is to recognize when you’re in a pit and quickly get your ass out of there before anyone notices. You might need help to climb out of the pit. You might experience resistance, in the form of partners, sponsors, financiers, directors. But you know what ”truth” means in your creation. Stick to that.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tools for Transmedia part three - WireWAX

I first laid my eyes on WireWAX’s technology for producing clickable videos at this years (2010) Pixel Lab in Cardiff in July. Paulina Tervo of WriteThisDown Productions had used the technology for her documentary work on the Ethiopian village of Awra Amba, adding clickable sections that nicely and seamlessly let you know more about the subject at hand, communicate with the people of the village or take you to a shop to buy goods from the village. All in all, really neat and handy.

The really funky thing, technologically wise, is that everything is embedded in the video itself, you can take the video to any site anywhere and all the clickable things are the same. It’s a stand-alone solution that seems really really nice.

Since I talked to the guys and saw the service for the first time, WireWAX has taken off a bit more. No wonder, as the service to me seems like a no-brainer. If you want to show a video online, why wouldn’t you want to engage the audience more? There are so many possibilities, especially with touch screen devices, to bring the audience deeper into your storyworld and engage and excite them.

There is certainly the artistic view to be taken into consideration; one should not tamper with a video created to convey a message or a feeling. On the other hand, if the video (as all transmedia properties should be) is developed with all the different parts, technologies and storytelling devices integrated from the beginning, in this case the WireWAX technology, then that sorts the artistic issue out. The end result is also guaranteed to be better.

As for how to use the WireWAX technology in transmedia storytelling, I can see many possibilities. The creators talk of clicking oneself on to the next video in a narrative sequence; I think that it could be used in online treasure hunts (”looking for clues”) or in deepening the understanding of the storyworld that we want the users/audience to immerse themselves into (think a segment of ”Avatar”, filmed like a scientific / documentary film, with clickable sections that launches explanatory videos narrated by Sigourney Weaver, for instance). Or something much simpler – or more advanced.

I’d have a couple of requests, as a developer – if there isn’t already, there would be nice to have the possibility to ”hide” the highlighted areas, making it more of an exploration mission to find what to click. Also, it’d be seriously funky if the clicks could launch stuff outside the window – this might be a big nono, but if it isn’t, I’d like that.

For some additional comments on the service, please read these insightsful posts. And WireWAX – congratulations!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Transmedia in 2020 AD

(The background: our third child, a baby girl, was born on the 15th of December. Now, I’ve watched my other kids, born in 2000 and 2004 respectively, take to the new media landscape as if they’ve never done anything else before (which they haven’t, come to think of it ☺ ), mastering iPhones and iPads within minutes, watching VOD as naturally as any tv series and so on. As I watch that little infant live her first days on this Earth, I start to wonder what her world will look like, when she’s of the age of our older daughter. That’s where this post comes from, playing the part of Nostradamus for a brief while. And, yeah, take it all with a pinch of salt (although I WILL take credit for anything that turns out to be accurate :) )

AP / Reuters

As the year 2020 comes to an end, the eyes and ears of the world once again turn to the Annual Transmedia Academy Awards (ATAA). This year the host city of choice was Auckland, New Zealand. In their motivation for the, in many industry people’s eyes, strange choice of venue, The Transmedia Academy had previosly stated that

”… we wish to embrace the principles of transmedia also in our arrangements, showing that the powers of transmedia storytelling can bring the farthest corners of the world together at once, even in connection with a live awards event like this. Auckland, New Zealand, is therefore a natural choice and we are thrilled to meet you all there, live or virtually in late December!”

The award categories include ”Best ARG”, where the innovative LARP / mobile gaming / online adventure ”Natives”, where people around the world take on the roles of their native ancestors in a Sid Meyers ”Civilization” type of world domination game, is the overwhelming favorite.

A new category this year is the ”Collective Creation” Award. The description for the category states that ”for a long time, ever since transmedia became a widely acknowledged term in the late ’00s, the collective effort has been taken almost for granted. Creators have counted on the audience involvement, producers have relied on input and UGC from devoted fans and so on. At the Transmedia Academy we feel it is time to acknowledge the importance of creating transmedia storytelling collectively, with other professionals as well as with the public, and have therefore included this category in the proceedings for this years awards.”

The Awards ceremony will be held on the 27th of December 2020, at 20.00 Pacific Time.

Background: Transmedia became a household term in the early 2010s. Since then, the transmedia storytelling principles have intergrated themselves into all aspects of society, from education to business, from pre-school to university, from entertainment to industry. Although there had been a number of relatively successful transmedia ventures prior to 2011, it was the multi-billion dollar generating transmedia campaign ”Spy Game” that let loose the full powers of transmedia on the general audience in late 2011. ”Spy Game” began as a graphic novel, a book trilogy and a high-profile tv series from HBO, letting the audience take part of the storyline by adding themselves as characters and participating online or via mobile phones. With a 10 million dollar global cash prize up for grabs and a program to support and promote collective efforts over national boundaries, it was the first transmedia project to generate over 200 million dollar in revenue and has up until today grossed more than 400 million. The Transmedia Academy was founded in 2012, and funded partly by donated money from the ”Spy Game” project. The Annual Transmedia Academy Awards have been held since 2012. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday hiatus....

.... with holidays fast approaching and a newborn baby girl in the house I will now take a couple of weeks off to concentrate on things that are NOT transmedia NOR cross media or any kind of media at all.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a successful 2011!

What makes a good transmedia format?

It is very encouraging to see how quickly transmedia has become a trend that not only is a buzzword or a hype, but rather a phenomenon that seems to grab peoples’ attention and imagination and spur them on to think in new ways, create new things and talk to new people.

There are still probably as many definitions of transmedia as there are people talking about transmedia. These are not necessarily differing all that much from each other, but rather in a nuance here or a nuance there. It’s all good though; we should all fear the day when we have the definite definition of what transmedia is. That’s the day when it’s time to start doing something else.

It’s not just talk either. A growing number of people are starting to venture into the field of transmedia to tell their stories. These range from major multi-million dollar ventures to small dramas or documentaries with next to no financial power behind them. Some will fail, even amongst the colossal ones, but some will succeed magnificently, even amongst the small ones – such is the way of the storytelling business.

As more and more projects are being developed, there seems to be a need to look beyond the ”what is transmedia?” or ”why transmedia?” to the much harder ”should I and this project go into transmedia?”.

From my personal point of view, I know that some of the projects I work on lend themselves nicely to transmedia development. Building the mythology, developing a canon, working on different storylines to be told via different platforms – even if it is a documentary, a music show or even a game show, it is quite possible. On the other hand, I know that some other projects – good projects, in and of themselves! – would not benefit from a transmedia treatment. They are stories that either would not be enhanced by expanding the universe they exist in, or stories that would carry a much too hefty price tag, should a transmedia development and implementation take place.

Some people in the transmedia field were kind enough to give me their opinion on the matter, and there is a pattern, at least so far. Tyler Weaver – do check out Whiz!Bam!Pow!, a project I’m looking forward to seeing more of – was of the opinion that the story was the most important feature. As he said:

- The most important thing - a good story. I just want a good story well told. If I want to welcome the characters into my home (good or bad), it's a good story that I want to revisit.

We all probably agree with this. It has to be a good story, for there to be anything to build around. It also needs to be a story that can have a mythology, a universe of its own (even if it is our own, real universe we’re talking about). If it’s a thin story, or unengaging, or linear withour the possibility of other storylines touching it, there’s just no way it would ever make a good transmedia entity. (I do, btw, love that definition of a character in a story – ”if I would want to welcome them into my home” – and will happily start using it to gauge the characters in my stories).

Sparrow Hall, of Nightworks and Two Blue Wolves fame, shared his beliefs:

- What attracts me to transmedia: the ability to inhabit the environment/vibe of a story, to see deeper into characters. What engages me with transmedia: seeing how consistent art direction and tonality is achieved over multiple mediums. Subtlety. High production value even with little to no budget. Authenticity of feeling/language. Also the multiplatform aspect needs to feel compelling/enriching, not just a device to continue.

Many things to agree with. Also, naturally, the possibility to offer many entrypoints, as well as exit points, to and from your story universe, to let the users/viewers/audience participate, either freely or via the Swiss cheese model and to, through all these actions, find new stories where you thought there were no more stories to be told.

So, to apply this on what one should do when assessing a development project; if there is a reason for there to be more than one platform involved, and the content on these platforms are unique but can be and is being developed together, that is a good sign for a transmedia property. If you can see how the audience can participate, and to what degree, and if you can see this ”spread” of the story happening even without big bucks behind it, you’re even further on the road to a transmedia winner (or at least a doable project :-)

I’ll leave the last word of this post to Stephen Dinehart, who commented on the current hype around transmedia:

- I think perhaps the best way to see through the hype is not to listen to it. Just create.

So, let’s go out there (or, stay in here for that matter) and create. I'm really looking forward to the next few years.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Transmedia - destroying or enhancing franchises?

I just read this excellent post on how a transmedia take on expanding a franchise can ruin the franchise beyond redemption. It rings absolutely true and is a danger that we all should be aware of.

From my point of view, which then would be the point of someone who has been developing formats for interactive television, cross media and transmedia since 2005, we need to make a distinction between transmediating an existing franchise and developing a transmedia property from scratch. That is what we found very quickly with the first interactive tv formats we developed, amongst them The Space Trainees, a childrens cross media language training game show set in space (Emmy-nominated this year, yay!). It started out as a show for interactive television, via set-top-box interactivity. While trying to integrate interactivity into the flow of the show, we found that we had to take several steps back to be able to integrate the interactivity in a logical way that did not disrupt the story we were trying to tell.

The same goes for any transmedia venture I can think of. As discussed in the post linked above, there is often a major danger of the ”cashing in on the success”-factor taking over. We used to call it ”slap-on interactivity”, when interactive services had been implemented in a late stage of the development and just slapped on as an extra layer on top of the show or the story. That was what it felt like as well, an extra layer that hindered you more than it enabled you. With any sort of existing franchise going into transmedia this rings true; make sure what new things you offer are integrated into the mythology, the storyworld, make sure they add to the canon of the storyworld and do not detract from it and make sure it all fits in a very logical way.

Now, the best thing is of course to start a transmedia property from scratch. In that way, as we ourselves quickly realized, you can let the different parts influence each other to create a logical and engaging whole. And I absolutely agree with the points about keeping the creative(s) in the loop - they know the story and the story world, and are the ones best equipped to see if a new addition fits storywise or not. So, just to find the proper story then, I guess!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Posting elsewhere

As I have written about earlier, I'm blogging over at ReedMIDEMs MIPBlog as well. Just did a short piece showcasing interesting transmedia projects, past, present and future. I guess I could post a copy here, but that wouldn't feel fair to them, so here's the link instead :)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Funding transmedia - a comment

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the debate in the comments on Simon Pulman’s post commenting on the presentation of the ARG Perplex City at the NYC Transmedia meetup a couple of days ago. Andrea Phillips presented the work they had been doing on the ARG, which in itself is an impressive and inspiring talk. The live stream is still up here.

Now, if you read the discussion, you can see two slightly conflicting points – the need to create great content and thus gain a loyal following that will interact, and the need to have someone stump up the money to pay for all that great content and the work you put into it. I think this is more and more the case now; back in the days a tv show could be bought straight up by a television channel, who paid what it cost to produce it. Nowadays you can’t make much of anything without a sound business plan as the foundation.

This is how it should be, I think. Yes, there should be creative freedom. Yes, there should NOT be intrusive ads that interfere with the story being told. But creating a viable business plan is as challenging creatively as creating the content itself, in many cases. It just juggles other parts of your brain, which can only be a good thing.

I also find that there is a shift going on in how people experience brands connecting to content they are attracted to. It is not about making people realize that they have to pay for great content, it’s simply about making people realize that great content can’t be made for free. The currency that your audience is paying you with for access to the great content (be it tv, ARGs, comics, webisodes, whatever) is not €€ or $$, it’s their time. This time of theirs, willingly given to you as the creator as payment for your work (strangely enough, even though their time is the only currency they can’t get more of in any way. Your content must be great!) is something that you can then sell onwards, to get the necessary funding in to make your project a financially viable one.

The trick is, of course, to do it with taste. I find for instance the writings on Propagation Planning quite interesting in this aspect, resonating well on a number of points with the workings of a transmedia producer. I also think a near-brutal honesty will work in many cases. Openly state that ”hey, we’re doing this, but we’ve only got funds up until three weeks from now. We’re working to bring in a brand, so don’t be startled if you see everyone changing to Toyotas all of a sudden, ok?”. If they like what you make – and they will, right? – then they’ll like you making more of it as well.

Users, meet Story. Story, meet Users.

Disclaimer: some of my posts are down-to-earth stuff from a developers point of view. Others, like this one, are more of the rambling-philosophically-late-at-night kind of stuff. In those cases, this acts more like a notebook to jot down thoughts I'd otherwise forget. If someone else also finds something of use, that's brilliant.

There are two levels to it. On one level the stories are made up. But they're made up for a reason, and the reason has to do with a different kind of truth. It has to do with emotional and spiritual truths. It is a way of trying to use a lie, which is the story, to approach some deeper, more spiritual sense of truth. I don't mean truth with a capital T; I just mean small kinds of truth.
-Tim O'Brien

When creating a transmedia property, no matter what kind – be it drama, be it a documentary, be it a music property or just about anything else – producers (me included) tend to think of their target group. What will they like? What will excite them? What will turn them on, engage them and make them jump into the story? We perhaps even conduct research into the target groups to glean more information on what they really really think, what they’d like and which solution they’d prefer over all other solutions.

Then we tweak our stories, our worlds, our properties, so that they fit, thus creating a transmedia property in the same way as people in the industry have been doing traditional media for decades.

What strikes me as a transmedia truth of sorts, is that we are not only talking of the Users meeting the Story. In a transmedia setting, it’s as much, or more, about the Story meeting the Users.

Now, this can be very stressful for a newly–launched, young and insecure Story. As I think we all know from school, Stories don’t reach their full size until well into the third season. Until then, they easily fall prey to larger Stories or succumb to over-hyping, low ratings or the No-Hit Syndrome that has been plaguing many of the latest herds of Story-younglings.

Attenboroughisms aside, and again as in so many of my posts relating back to what I’m working on myself, I feel many transmedia projects forget this. The Story needs to be influenced by the Users, and the Users must feel that they have influenced the Story on a fundamental level, for there to be genuine trust and commitment.

Re: the quote at the beginning – I believe that we can use the lies (or the creative stuff) that all good stories are made up of to approach our audience, our users. I believe that in a transmedia setting, the small truths Tim O’Brien talks about are all the more apparent, allowing an audience to see or sense the truths embedded in the content and engaging them more. That’s also how I view the need for a Story to be able to change after meeting the Users. The truths at the core should stay the same, but the story, the lies, around – they can change.

Some good posts that made me think of these things - Andrea Phillip's post on ARGs and dancing with audiences, and Robert Prattens slides on Transmedia audience angagement and content strategy. Good reads!