Friday, November 18, 2011

Transmedia in Television

It was with great joy I read Lisa Hsia’s (Bravo Digital Media) article over at Mashable yesterday. Entitled ”How Transmedia Storytelling Is Changing TV”, it struck directly to the core of my professional life – the merging of television with transmedia storytelling methods, meaningful multiplatform content, coherent strategies for development, production and distribution and a will to look beyond traditional models and into an inevitable crowd-participation future. Lisa was talking at Storyworld a couple of weeks ago and my guess is that we will be seeing a lot of interesting stuff from Bravo during the coming years.

Lisa brings up some examples; Bravo’s own TopChef, Syfy’s Defiance (which I must admit I haven’t gotten the chance to check out yet) and Tim Kring’s new Kiefer Sutherland-powered Touch, out next year.  She quite correctly states that the audience is already social, already on many platforms, already expecting more than a mere television show; the only thing therefore that makes sense is to fish where the fish are, and strive to create as exciting and as great (and as logical and as much ”Hey, this makes sense!”) content as possible.

It is, however, the two last paragraphs in the article that I find the most interesting.  Lisa, as Jeff Gomez did at Storyworld, talks about ”collaborative social storytelling”, where the fans can ”further the plot in a pervasive, meaningful way”.

I fully agree that this is a sort of Utopia for any developer and writer and producer of television content. Having the audience engage to such a degree that they can collaborate in a meaningful way to further a plot they are engaged in, will make the audience instant ambassadeurs for your brand or content (unless you’re hoaxing them, and then the backlash might be severe). Looking at today’s television landscape, this does not yet really exist.

The talent shows, for instance, engage people via SMS (to influence, in a minimal way, how the plot evolves) and as a storm of comments on social media (which influences the outcome not a bit). The few experiments when the audience have had the chance to impact the evolvement of a drama / fiction on television or elsewhere have either been too difficult to produce or ended up in a bad way, since the audience might decide a lot of stupid things just for laughs (or, to put it more correctly, for the LULZ). The example of Mad Men is a welcome change from that, as viewers take on the Mad Men characters on Twitter and handle them with utmost care, keeping in line with the story world and narrative superstructure of Mad Men.

What I’ve derived from this is that, as creators, we need to plan for the long haul. And when I say long haul, I mean looooooooooooong haul. I.e., do not create a television series, brand it transmedia, open up sandboxes for the audience and expect them to come over and play nice. What everyone who creates new television shows must do, is create with audience interaction always in sync with the rest of the development and built on transmedia storytelling methods. Then, when the show gets commissioned, do the first season WITHOUT any transmedia elements. Heck, do the second season too, without any transmedia elements. 

After two seasons you should have amassed data and feedback enough to a) have a firm grasp of what your audience wants to do with you and your content, b) have found any potential loopholes in your transmedia strategy. You have also seen that your series is a good one that will get a longer run, so the transmedia implementations are not produced unnecessarily. And, you’ve hopefully built a loyal fan base that knows as much about the mythology and story world as you do, and are keen to enforce the rules and keep a straight line and a tidy ship, should anyone else try to stir things up.

Basically – to go fast, you first need to go slow. Or something like that J.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One year in one book

A brief notification to let you know; I took a long hard look at this blog the other day, read some of my previous posts and sat myself down with Scrivener. A fairly considerable amount of hours later I'd chosen some 1/3 of the posts (with comments, some of them), rewritten them somewhat, divided them into different themes and written introductions to each theme.

The result is a 77-page book / PDF with thoughts, musings, comments, interviews, ramblings and links, from the past 13 months of blogging about transmedia. It's decidedly from my POV, I feel I have to say, and should be read as such.

Here's hoping it might be of use to someone else as well!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ten Advice for Transmedia Storytellers

Disclosure – the following post is based on a brilliant list about creative photography that Chase Jarvis put up in October, which in turn was inspired by a post by Guy Kawasaki entitled ”What I learned from Steve Jobs”. What I’ve done is port the ten points Chase made to the field of transmedia, as I think they are all pretty crucial points for any creative industry – not least transmedia.

Experts aren’t the answer

Well, at least not all of the time. No one will hold you by the hand and guide you to stardom, infusing you with sublime knowledge and making you a shed-hot transmedia creator. By all means, do hear the experts out; many of them have been there and done that. But there’s no need to blindly heed their advice; it’s you who’re creating your stuff, not they. One good example is the row this week over the so-called ”Transmedia Manifest”, a manifesto which IMHO would make for limited transmedia development, if it was a guide that had to be followed.

Clients cannot tell you what they need

This is true in many creative fields; none more so than transmedia. Nevermind that many clients don’t even have viable social media strategies in place yet; dumping transmedia storytelling methods in their lap and expecting them to make the correct calls all through the development and production process is to be inviting a major headache. Your clients hire you to provide them with something. Do listen to them – it’s their money and their property – but in the end, it’s you who have been hired to create kick-ass transmedia content. And if you’re good enough to have been hired, you’re probably good enough to do the job.

Don’t aim for ”better”, aim for ”different”

(here I’ll just quote Chase straight off, as his point is brilliantly made)
"It’s funny how related “better” and “different” are. If you aim for ‘better’ that usually means you’re walking in the footsteps of someone else. There will often be someone better than you, someone making those footsteps you’re following… But if you target being different–thinking in new ways, creating new things–then you are blazing your own trail. And in blazing your own trail, making your own footprints, you are far more likely to find yourself being ‘better’ without even trying. Better becomes easy because it’s really just different. You can’t stand out from the crowd by just being better. You have to be different."

Big challenges create the best work

Strive to get challenges that push you to your limits. That’s the only way to become better at what you are doing. If, for some reason, you don’t get such challenges, the only solution is to give yourself such challenges. Implement new platforms, try out new ways of telling your stories, work on character creation if that’s something you feel you are lacking in, and so on. You want to be on the edge. It's the best place to discover something new.

The aestethics matter

Chase makes his point with regards to photography, but the same goes for transmedia storytelling. You need to work on your understanding of storytelling, of platform implementation, of graphics, of producing video content, of interacting with an audience in a logical and engaging manner, of handling social media challenges, of composing music, basically everything that is needed in the development and production of transmedia content. It is crucial to know why one method or one solution is superior to another; not only to explain to clients, but to yourself and your development and production partners as well.

Strive for simplicity

I touched upon this in a previous post – the NOT of transmedia – and Scott Walker talks about the same thing in a post fromlast year regarding the ”gutter”. It’s as much about what you choose NOT to do as about what you actually DO. Just because you can do something, does not mean you actually should. Simple is beautiful.

Fail fast and learn

There is no point in trying to avoid failure at all cost. If you want to be different, if you want to be great, if you want to push your limits, you will fail from time to time. What matters is that you learn from your mistakes and are able to implement the lessons learned in the future. This goes for design and development of content as well as for business and distribution plans, and so on. If you do something and it works, do more of it. If you do something and it doesn’t work, stop doing it. Re-design. Do something else. To quote Einstein on the definition of ”insanity”: ”to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”

Know the difference between price and value

You might be tempted to go cheap to get assignments and deals in place. This might get you those assignments, but it’ll be devastating in the long run. You create valuable content, valuable strategies, and you should price yourself accordingly. Also, value comes in many forms – not least in the transmedia field. The value you create will get you the price that you deserve.

If you want to be the best, work with the best

This is simple but true. If you feel you are at the top of your game, you want to partner with people and companies who are top-notch as well. This is of extreme importance when it comes to transmedia, as partnerships are a crucial part of almost any endeavour, to get all parts developed in sync and produced and distributed accordingly. Ideally, to become better at what you are doing, you’d work with people who are better than yourself. Only people who aren’t THAT good seek to work with people less gifted than themselves; in that way they get to shine in comparison. Don’t belong to that group of people.

Create, and create more

It’s all good to sit around and contemplate different projects, ideas, terms and philosophies. But this will get you nowhere if you do not implement this in real projects that have a real, tangible output. Whenever you can create, create. Maybe it won’t be the perfect thing, but it’s the best way to learn and move to new levels of competence. Strive to get your stuff out there.

With that, I will now go create. See you on the battlefield.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The NOT of Transmedia

Late yesterday evening, as I sat writing on a transmedia mystery/horror novel I like to keep at hand as my own personal pet project – a combination of jet lag and a full moon helps no end when you want to work nights, see – I had a small revelation.

I had written a couple of pages and felt pretty good about myself, so I started looking over the mindmap of all extensions from and to the novel and from and to the story world the novel is based in (and trust me, as with all transmedia projects, these are legio) and a pattern suddenly emerged before me. It had a big fat headline as well, that pattern – a headline that said ”NOT!”.

You see, as I gazed at the arrows and the dots and the squares and the texts, I realized that transmedia is as much about what you decide NOT to use, as what you eventually end up actually USING. As was stated at the Storyworld conference – all stories can be developed in a transmedia direction; not nearly all need or deserve it.

If your project does need and deserve to have transmedia methods applied to them, it is very important to evaluate your project from the angle of ”what makes sense”. I.e., even though you’ve already registered the YouTube channel and you really want to produce them awesome webisodes and put them out there – if all your project needs is a blog, an automated e-mail response system and a novel, then that’s what your project should use.

The same goes for interaction with the audience. I know many who argue that an inherent trait of transmedia storytelling is the activating and incorporating of the audience, inviting them to take an active part in the storytelling. I would disagree, as I believe you can deliver fullfledged transmedia content without the audience doing much more than choosing what to consume on which platform. I.e., use UGC or user interaction when it makes sense, NOT when it doesn’t!

The list goes on, but I’m sure you get my point. Your transmedia project will be defined as much by what you did NOT utilize within the scope of it as by what you DID utilize.

Best of luck :)


I totally forgot to add it here: I was invited to sit in on the MIPBloggers Roundup Panel at MIPCOM 2011 - the very last session of the conference, and - IMHO - an hour of pretty open talks about the industry as a whole, "buzzwords" like transmedia, important deals and so on. Great fun! Here's the video:

Monday, November 07, 2011

Storyworld and the Real World - Five Thoughts

So, an almost overwhelming week at Storyworld in San Francisco is over, jet lag is slowly fading, the heaps of work await and it’s time to take stock of what was learned during the conference. From my POV, as a creator and developer of tv formats – multiplatform, cross media, transmedia ones – here are a couple of points:

The transmedia crowd is a fine one

I’ve been involved in enough startups of different kinds to know what it’s like; the feeling of unity, the stage that Michel Reilhac called the ”Rebel Stage” of ”Us vs Them” (that in all fairness is now giving way to the Pioneering Stage where we’ll see more acceptance of the movement, best practices being carved out, and a route set to finally enter the Business Stage). It’s a good stage to be in, no matter that everyone’s definition of ”transmedia” differs somewhat from everyone else’s. What I like the most, however, is that most people involved in transmedia readily acknowledge that we’re better off thinking about ”Us AND Them” from the outset, a realization that can take other types of movement ages to achieve. Not to mention the fact that all the people I met at Storyworld were quite brilliant in their own way and a genuine pleasure to meet and talk to.

 Non-fiction transmedia is on few radars

Most of the examples and most of the talks at the conference centered around transmedia based in fiction. Of the examples that were presented during the speed pitches at lunch on Monday and Tuesday, only Storm Surfers could be described as non-fiction – OTOH, the background story on that show was more fleshed out that most of the fictional ones. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good fiction as much as anyone, both when it comes to creating and to consuming or experiencing. Still, I would have liked some more talks on and examples of non-fiction transmedia; documentaries, television formats, non-fiction art etc. Creating transmedia formats for television, for instance, is a process that brings with it a bunch of demands not encountered when dealing with transmedia fiction; the need to be able to repeat for season upon season, the need for financial sustainability, the need to find a background story to hook the transmediated content on…. Perhaps at SWC12?

 Howzabout the audience?

I was extremely thankful to many of the people on different panels – Liz Rosenthal for instance – for insisting that we do not forget the audience at any time. I totally agree; having worked in traditional media for 10-odd years, in radio for many of them and developing 50-odd shows during those years; keeping close tabs on your audience and involving them as often as possible is very much key. Acknowledging this, I would have thought it’d be interesting to invite someone representing the audience, or someone doing audience / UX research to the conference? Again, perhaps next year we’ll see a panel of two-three avid ARG-players/ transmedia audience members paired with one or two researchers in the field, that could talk on transmedia from ”the other side”? As I stated above, the transmedia crowd is a fabulous one, but we might be a bit environmentally damaged…

The art of getting lawyered up

The collective gloom that set in during the panel on the importance of getting lawyers in would have been funny if it hadn’t been such a serious subject. Now, the panel members might have been banging their own drum – I’ll not get into that debate – but the truth is, you can’t cover all your bases while producing and distributing transmedia content without legal advice. Still, there is absolutely no need to pay thousands of dollars to an established Hollywood lawyer, unless that is exactly what you need. I would argue that anyone doing transmedia projects – or any kind of creative work – would be better off starting out with a project that is not of uttermost importance to them, i.e. not the work of their lives, the one project that they burn utterly for. With a less important project, it is possible to make all the mistakes, take note of them and make a better effort the second time around. Simon Pulman wrote a good post on this matter, from a US point-of-view, but most of the points are viable for transmedia people in other territories as well.

 Network of networks

The meetup of meetups was interesting, as there are quite a few meetups happening in the name of transmedia around the world. I know there are a lot of efforts being made at the moment to get all these in touch – which many of them already are – and create new ones where there is a void to be filled. For my own part I’d be looking to help create a Transmedia Nordic meetup, as we have quite a few practicioners, researchers and students active in the field. On another level, I’d be looking to see if a Transmedia Europe meetup could be organized, perhaps as a annual event. And, naturally, people from other territories would be more than welcome. Perhaps in the context of some other happening, such as the Pixel Market or TedxTransmedia? Let’s talk, Liz, Nicoletta, Karine and everyone else who's interested!

All other thoughts I had, regarding development, distribution, partnerships etc, are things I’ll write about a bit later as I force my mind to put them into the right context. Will keep you all posted!

Thank you all who were involved. It was an absolute pleasure to meet you all. Looking forward to next year already! And, yes, thanks Alison, for pulling all of this together! Brilliant!