Monday, February 28, 2011

What Motivates a Transmedia Audience

This must be one of the things that creators of just about anything wonder about the most – will people, my intended audience, feel motivated enough to partake of what I have to offer? Will they participate like I would want them to participate? Will they stick around? Will they advocate my content to their friends? Or will they just turn their back and go do something else that they think is better?

This goes for blockbuster movies, for television series, for indie graphic novels and yes, for transmedia projects as well. To try to get to grips with this challenge, big-enough companies do target group research, polls etc, while smaller producers and creators poll their friends and family but mostly trust their gut feeling.

I struggle with this as well, naturally. I am in the quite luxurious position of having access to a laboratory and researchers focused on media and user experience, with whom we at the format development department work closely to get to know as much as possible about the experiences people derive from what we have to offer. Granted, many times the bulk of work goes to getting the testing itself focused to such a degree that it actually helps us in the development work. But as we work on it, we refine it and become better, naturally.

Something I’ll be bringing to the development work, and to the testing, is something I just saw. This very interesting video from RSA.org, featuring a talk by Dan Pink, is about what motivates people in the workplace. Do have a look, it’s (as all RSA-videos are) very good indeed. Basically what is said is that research shows that motivating people to work better with more money as the sole reward works fine as long as we’re talking only about manual labor. As soon as we go into any kind of task that would call for creative work, the people who received more money worked worse and failed more often. On the other hand, ventures like Wikipedia, Linux and Apache show that people – highly educated, motivated people at that – will work and give of their knowledge and skill, for free. So, what is the reward? Autonomy, mastery and purpose, according to Dan Pink.

We’re big on doing stuff that we want to do ourselves, not things that someone tells us to do. We’re also big on the feeling of mastering something, knowing that we know this thing and we are competent in precisely this regard. Finally, we’re big on having a purpose; of knowing that today is a step along the way towards a goal, whatever that might be – from ”making the world a better place” to ”teaching people”, for instance.

This was the workplace, mind you. I am quite convinced that this goes for a transmedia project as well, where you would want people to interact, to participate, to become a part of your story world. To put it into the categories of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, if you want the audience to immerse, engage and participate:

- You must not guide them too much, or the feeling of autonomy will be lost. It's a tricky task, to leave enough openness for everyone to find something "new", and to be able to make their own way through your story and your world, and make their own stuff there; too much and you have no control (which might be what you desire), too little and you will have obedient people following your instructions (if there are any people left for you to instruct, that is)
- You must not make mysterious content that no one will ever master, or they will never get the feeling of being competent in your story world. Instead, perhaps, leave areas where audience members can become masters; masters of what they themselves have created within the ramifications of your story, or masters at guiding other audience members in understanding the intricate fabric of the story and the world.
- Finally, you must not build a story where the participation of the audience has no meaning for anything, where their actions or lack of actions has no impact and it simply does not matter what they do or not. Neither can you build a story world that has no purpose in itself, or there will be no reason for anyone to engage in it.

I’ll take these thoughts into my development work. I’ll let you know how it plays out!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tools for Transmedia part 6 - HistoryPin

Short post due to winter holidays...

This, HistoryPin, is a service that was launched in mid-2010 (which makes it ANCIENT, no? ☺) . I saw it back then, in May, and promptly forgot about it until @storytellin tweeted about the service today. Looking at the description of the service, I think HistoryPin is a tool that could be used for quite intriguing aspects of transmedia storytelling. Say that you are building any sort of scenario, and want to build on the history of the world you’re creating – by using HistoryPin you can a) get an excellent feeling for different places and views, what it felt like, back in the days, or alternatively you can plant your own photos, allegedly from that time and age.
You could even plant clues in these pictures, clues that can lead to other content elsewhere or give deeper understanding about some scenario in one of your storytracks.
The only obstacle might be HistoryPin itself, since I have no idea whether they would agree to hosting ”fake” pictures; on the other hand, deals can surely be made, and the pictures available for a certain time only, for instance.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tools for Transmedia part 5

There are constantly opening up new services and software that could be used in a transmedia setting, and I will admit it is hard to keep up. So a big thanks to Scott Walker for pointing me in the direction of two more of these, this time focusing on enhancing geolocating possibilities, Voxora and Geoloqi.

Voxora

This is a service that on the surface is basic, yet does something no one has done before (at least to my knowledge). Voxora ties in with your Foursquare account and lets you leave a message tied to the location you are in, a voice message that you can listen to yourself and that others can listen to as well, by calling a certain number.

Now, I have not been able to try this out, so I might be missing something. I think it would be a wonderful tool for just about anyone doing transmedia stuff; this could be used, for example, to leave voice messages for people at certain locations, messages that tie in with some sort of ARG or other – could potentially be quite powerful stuff.

It could also be tied to a viewing of a movie at a cinema, for instance; at the end of Avatar, if there would’ve been a number there to call, where Jake would have told me 30 seconds more of how life on Pandora went on after the humans had left, I would’ve called that number immediately. Basically, Voxora has potential to be of very good use for transmedia content developers.

Geoloqi

This is a somewhat similar service, but handier for a developer of transmedia. Through the interface – a world map with a simple interface – you can drop Geonotes just about anywhere (like dropping a geonote on the grocery store before leaving the house, which means you won’t have to bring a shopping list). Through the website you can also drop notes for other users – just know the username of the user and you can decide where on the map you want to leave a geo note for them. This note will then pop up when they go past that place.

Now, the ways to use this service in the realms of Transmedia are numerous. The only hitch being that at the moment you would need for people to sign up, and in some way, shape or form tell you their user name on the service, for you to be able to create these geo notes for them.

On the other hand, once you have their usernames, you just have to plant clues, information, greetings, reminders or conversation out there, in their geologically logical places. If you’re shooting a documentary, you could concievably have messages ready for different places that were seen in the documentary, places of interest, and have these messages communicated to people who are dedicated followers of the subject or of the documentary itself.

These were just a couple of examples, and more Tools for Transmedia are sure to spring up. In the meantime, does anyone have any experience of using the examples above? I’d be happy to hear more.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Three Facets of Transmedia

There has been an interesting discussion going on over at the Storyworld group on LinkedIn, about transmedia; what should be constituted as transmedia and what should be filed under ”flimsy cross media marketing”, to quote, and what should be taken into consideration when transmediating content. Deriving from that, I felt the need to expand on a couple of points, regarding the three different facets of a transmedia project:

The telling of a story

Transmedia storytelling is, at its core, simply that. By spreading out over different media and by creating a greater whole, we move deeper into the realms of transmedia. What it is, is basically the art and technique of telling a story, or rather multiple stories, connected directly or indirectly inside a larger story world and/or narrative superstructure and/or mythology.

As we all know, this can be done in many ways; through characters in blogs, through exciting and engaging television drama series, through sms, Twitter, Facebook, apps… The key is create the stories and the world, and use the platforms that comes naturally to the different parts of the story

Engaging an audience

The second facet is also crucial, that of embracing the audience and bringing them into the story/stories, to sandboxes or cheese-holes or perhaps even to less structured, more open areas in the structure of the stories and the story world.

This, of course, as many have discussed, profoundly changes the notion of an audience. Your audience is your audience, but at the same time they are your co-creators, investing themselves in your story and inevitably bringing change with them. It is then up to you, the creator, to choose just how much change you want. But generally, the more people invest, the closer they will feel to your content. Best case scenario, you not only have an audience and a horde of co-creators, you also have advocates that bring your stories to people in a fashion you yourself never could.

Financing your creations

The third facet is that of building sustainable financial structures, which have to be re-developed for each case, just as the stories and the worlds are re-developed for each new project. Transmedia projects have so many variables in play, that they inevitably become different from each other – more different than, say, television series or feature films. This leads to the creators needing to re-think the financing for every project; for sure there is a measure of recycling financing models from previous transmedia projects, but there will always be new possibilities in the context of a new project. This – sustainable financial structures – can take many shapes; from brands financing the lot to crowd sourced funding via IndieGoGo or a similar service.

Win-win-win

I firmly believe that to transmediate content opens up a whole lot of new possibilities to turn a project into a win-win-win situation, where you as a content creator win since you can tell more stories to more people in more ways, and get more and better (as in more fitting with your project) money in when you can play with a number of platforms and a number of stories. The brands or financiers win since you can target their message better, and since there is room for more financiers to partake - tv, online, books, mobile - the cost is less per participant with more bang for the buck as the end result. Finally the audience wins, as you have more money to make better content and make it available on more platforms to be even easier to obtain, engage and participate with and advocate for the audience.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Phantom - a Theoretical Transmedia Case Study

Yesterday, in a post about developing existing properties towards becoming transmedia properties, I warned everyone to leave The Phantom be, ’cause he was mine to develop. A jest, naturally, but today it actually got me thinking a bit. See, today, the 17th of February, marks the 75th anniversary for the iconic comic hero, who saw the light of day on this very day in 1936. I found an old Phantom magazine from when I was a kid and had a look; lo and behold, the foundation for a solid transmedia setting is there already!

Below is what could be called a Case Study of a Theoretical Transmedia Development (or CSTTD) (happy there were two ”T”:s in that abbreviation, or this post would’ve featured in some quite different google searches) of the existing property The Phantom.

The Phantom has always, for some reason, been most popular not in it’s country of origin, USA, but rather in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. Lee Falk, who created The Phantom, rewrote a lot of the background story at the same time as the actual first strips were being publised in 1936, building an intricate setting which almost could be part of the real world as a framework for the story.

The story of the Phantom

The Phantom is, as we all know, over 400 years old. Back then an ancestor was on a ship that was overtaken by Singh-pirates. Wounded, he managed to flee, was found by the pygm├ęs (the ”bandars”) and woved never to rest until he was avenged. He created the mask and the costume, and after his death, left it all to his son, who left it to his, and so on, until today.

Do observe that we’re already talking ”distant mountains” here. Singh-pirates? Bandars? The Skull Cave? A lot of things to explore and dive deeper into.

Over the years – and the strips – the world of The Phantom grew bigger and bigger; a number of tribes appeared, a country (Bengali or Bangalla) where the Skull Cave and surroundings were situated, the Jungle Patrol overseeing justice in the wilderness, the island Eden, where all animals live in peace… strange going ons like The Little People and the slave trading nations in the north… freely mixing 18th or 19th century traditions and legends with the technologies of today, Falk and his co-creators created a rich world and a rich mythology – sometimes with different parts at odds with each other, but most often not – which would be just right for a transmedia developer.

The Phantom goes Transmedia

The Phantom has tried to revive itself – from the movie in 1996 to different features and fan clubs – but obviously not looked at their property from a transmedia angle. Some suggestions I would look at, were I to develop said property:

- What are all the different storylines that need to be collected? Can they be benchmarked against each other and either be removed from the canon of The Phantom or embraced, included and communicated to everyone associated with the brand? This goes hand in hand with….
- Re-writing the mythology, starting from the storylines that have been spared, to get as much flesh on the bones as possible and evaluating the efforts made already – how does it all fit together.
- Which of the canonical storylines are at home in the real world, i.e. which can, as a casual impulse, use for instance the Internet to perform a task. Myself, I’d like to work on the Jungle Patrol and how the Patrol was created in greater detail, opening up their web presence to today’s readers, adding twitter accounts, a continuous Help The Patrol online mystery game etc, and see what other stories can be derived from the Jungle Patrol without directly involving the Phantom.
- How can a storyline (or more than one) be translated to an ARG or suchlike, and where and how can such an ARG take place? The Phantom has bases all over the world and has been on adventures everywhere, which should lend any ARG-developing team a helping hand.

And of course, there are a multitude of stories, that have only been briefly touched upon in the magazine or the strips, enough to create a whole Phantom shadow world as a shadow of the real world.

I’ll stop here, but I think you get the point. You will be able to go transmedia with almost any project. But some are simply just already made for it. And once again – hands off The Phantom! ☺

Twain on Transmedia

Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.
- Mark Twain

Through the wonderful world of Twitter, I was pointed in the direction of a post on Mark Twain and social media from last summer. Twain had, some 120-odd years ago, written a piece on how to tell a story. It’s a good and true read, and in many ways instantly transferrable to any transmedia project being considered or developed today. In his text Twain refers to the two ways to tell a story – the humorous way and the witty way. Says Twain –

The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.
The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.

The humorous story, Twain argues, needs an artist to tell it right. The witty story, on the other hand, is a story that could be told by a machine.

This is, I feel, a kind of crossroads where transmedia is today, as more and more people are beginning to see the uses of a transmedia approach to telling a story, as producers and companies can point to increasing revenues from transmedia projects and as technical and sociological means and practices open up newer, quicker and deeper ways of telling stories over different media.

Some will be – are, already, actually – going the ”comic/witty” way of developing and creating transmedia. To, again, quote Twain:

[…] the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you--every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation-points after it, and sometimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.

I see that as a great pointer to what NOT to do with a transmedia story. There is no magic and no fun – and most of all, nothing to discover – in a story that someone is banging you over the head with, no matter how the story unfolds over different media platforms and/or turns out hundreds of different merchandize possibilities. On the other hand, as the quote on top says, an ideal transmedia story could also have ”no order to it, and the reader (user) would have to discover his own.” …which is an approach that tickles the imagination a lot more vigorously.

As Bill Wren, who wrote the post on Twain and social media, translates Twain’s musings, there are two ways to tell a story; the right way and the wrong way. It all depends on your ulterior motives:

As Twain describes it, telling stories is manipulative. However, the reason for the manipulation is what makes it a good or bad thing. Doing it to delight your audience is good; doing it to bamboozle them into doing something that profits you, is bad.

So, with the possibility of transmedia as a term being connected to a lot of not-so-beautiful projects in the near future – and with Steve Peters’ tweet from yesterday, which I believe was a reaction to the massive transmedia hype at the NY Toys Fair (which actually was mostly franchising in the traditional sense), in mind – we might be wanting to take care of the term transmedia a bit more. For me, transmedia has been - and still is - a term that tells of possibilities and excitement, not necessarily revenue streams and franchising. If too many projects labels "transmedia" are told in Twains comic/witty way, we might be looking for a new term in the not so distant future.

On the other hand, terms are terms, and should not be taken too seriously. It’s what we create, why we create it, how we create it and how we execute it that matters. However, to round off with a final quote from the great Mark Twain, I think transmedia, in all of it’s momentum forward, might want to rein in a bit and reassess:

Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation. - Mark Twain

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Developing existing properties, a Simple Solution and SXSW 2011

Some thoughts on this week in transmedia (so far)...

Developing existing properties

If there is one company that one should take example from when it comes to transmedia, it is probably Starlight Runner. Jeff Gomez and his team has worked a number of bestseller, like Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean and so on. This week the news broke that SLR will partner with UK startup Witchfactory to develop their Adore-franchise. This is a franchise already in place, based on the notion that there are fairies living in the real world, in the shadow of us normal humans. The franchise is skewed towards 5-9 year old girls and the artwork (which has already gathered a following and is generating considerable reveneue early) is just exactly right for the target group (I should know, my elder daughter is 10 years old).

In the urge to create new transmedia ventures, projects and stories, I believe this is something to take example from. There is already a multitude of possible transmedia stories there to be developed, expanded and told. Many of these have a loyal following, or at least the power of recognition amongst an audience. It does not have to be anything as iconic as Back to the Future, although it could be, now does it have to be anything as revenue-making as World of Warcraft, although it could be that as well.

The obstacles are pretty easy to identify, the biggest probably how to get the original owner of the content/franchise to agree to a transmedia development. It would obviously help to have the reputation of a company like SLR, but not many of us are in such a position. What you could do is identify the best brands or the best stores you would like to work with. Next, identify which of them seem to be the most accessible and the most progressive. Then, take a day or two to outline the blueprint for a transmedia development, including estimates of costs, and adding useful links to similar, successful, transmedia adaptations of similar content. Finally, approach. Perhaps get someone to vouch for you, or go attend the same conference as someone from that company. Even better, just drop them a tweet, a mail, a phone call, asking if they are interested in hearing more. You’d be surprised how many actually say ”yes”.

Then it’s up to you to create a good enough plan to hook the potential future partner, and then deliver. Just remember – it’s their story, so in this case THEY are the creator. Yes, you are a creative and yes, you work creatively, but you really need to identify the essence, the tone and the soul of their content, if you want to be able to develop meaningful transmedia content for them.

And yeah, hands off The Phantom, he's mine.

To hoax or not to hoax

Steve Peters had an excellent suggestion in a post yesterday. It has to do with stuff that has been discussed before, by me and others – to hoax or not to hoax people, especially in a transmedia setting.

I’m of the opinion that hoaxing most often is not the way to go. There are several reasons, but mainly it is put of respect for the user, and a feeling that if my content is good enough, I won’t need any hoaxing – the wilful suspension of disbelief will be enough. (Another side of the coin is ”telling the truth but not the whole truth, only the parts that fit into the transmedia story” which I am totally fine with – as long as the creators are aware that WHEN (not IF) someone finds out the ”whole truth”, it must not be anything that talks AGAINST the tone and feel and soul of the transmedia property. Otherwise, the backlash will be severe.)

Steve’s proposal is simple and great. Include a Fiction Tag to HTML, letting people easily find out if the site they are on is fiction or not. I support this; it would free us from gigantic logos intruding on our stories, and it would let ut NOT hoax anyone that does not want to be hoaxed, if we choose to use the tag.

I haven’t heard a simpler or better solution in, oh… several hours, I will readily admit. ☺ So, here’s hoping for an adaption!


SXSW 2011 Rookie Alert

I, along with a colleague of mine, will be attending SXSW this year for the first time. Looking at the schedules, the location of our hotel, the party listings and the amount of people attending, I would guess it will be a lot like the first time at MIPTV – a day or two spent walking around asking people where that session that started 15 minutes ago is being held, completely misunderstanding their advice, getting lost and ending up with a beer with some friendly guys from Australia.

If anyone care to give me some advice on HOW to prepare, WHAT is essential (it’s always something that’s so obvious to everyone that no one even thinks about it, like ”be at the registration office before 9.30AM otherwise you’ll NEVER get you badge”) and WHOM to listen to and meet, I’d appreciate it. Mail me at simon dot staffans at gmail dot com or leave a reply here. Thank you!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Content 360 - a transmedia opportunity

I’ve been attending the MIPs (MIPTV in the spring, MIPCOM in the autumn) for six years running now; marketing our formats, building networks and relationships and keeping up with the trends in – predominantly – the television industry.

The MIPs have always tried to keep up with the times – granted, mostly with more than just a glint of ”where’s the next revenue stream going to come from?” in the eye – and introduce new elements every year. During my years there I’ve seen focus on mobile television, User Generated Content, interactive television, 3D television etc. There have always been sidetracks to the actual MIP-fairs; once upon a time one sidetrack was called MILIA (and searches still give the name is MIPTV featuring MILIA, where MIPTV is ”World’s premier audiovisual market” and MILIA is ”World’s largest interactive content forum for TV, mobile &broadband.”

This year MIPTV includes MIPFormats the weekend before and, during the week, features the sidetrack Connected Creativity, where ReedMIDEM, the organizers, team up with GSMA, the global mobile industry association, for something they call “A global forum uniting entertainment, technology and mobile media”. Still a serious focus on revenue streams, no denying that, but at the same time the mantra “Content Is King” keeps popping up.

Opportunity for transmedia

This is where the transmedia angle enters into the picture. See, in what has become a fixed event at MIP, they’re hosting the Content 360 competition, a competition where organisations and companies from the media industry look for new content in specific categories. Content 360 usually attracts quite a lot of entries, ranging from the pretty poor to some truly groundbreaking stuff. The prizes usually are a wad of cash and the possibility to work with the company/organisation in question to develop and produce the winning concept. So, this is perhaps more a chance for new developers and smaller companies to start forging a deeper relationship with a major player, than for a big development studio to come in and sweep all the prizes.

This year I personally believe that anyone who had done their homework and are adapt at thinking transmedially will stand a good chance to be picked for the final round, perhaps even win a category. For example, read what Clare Tavernier from FremantleMedia, who sponsors one of the categories, has to say about what they’re looking for in a good entry:
We aren’t looking for TV shows with extensions. We are looking for cross-media experiences in which TV is a part of the mix.
We will also look at the commercial and brand integration potential. We want creatives to really show a capacity in coming up with brand-friendly and market-friendly ideas.

Now, even though she says “cross media”, do tell me if a true transmedia project wouldn’t fit the bill a lot better – especially when you are talking about brand integration, as I’ve touched upon before in this blog.

Then we have the things you always have to worry about – will my submitted idea be safe? Will someone rip it off immediately? Are there any guarantees? And of course, one can never be 100% on the safe side. As soon as you’ve told someone your idea, a rip off is possible. We’re chosen to go with the Format Recognition And Protection Association, FRAPA, to register our ideas with all necessary timestamps. If you have an idea or a format, it might pay in the long run to take a look at their services.

So, you’re thinking, he’s done a decent job of selling that competition to us – but will he submit something of his own, eh? Answer is – yes, but in a slightly different setup than my normal dayjob. So in a way this is pretty stupid of you, you continue, asking for more competition? Answer is again, yes, in a way. But I believe the more good transmedia projects we get up-and-running, the easier it will be for all of us to create new transmedia stuff. It’s all good, basically.

See you all in Cannes in April, right?

What’s in a name?

This blog was for a long time named “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Not that I had any preference for Mary Poppins, I just liked the word. Then, I changed the name, to “The Developer’s Log”, as I felt it better reflected the things I was writing about. And now, a U-turn, and the name is the same as it was before. The reason? There’s more to life – and to a blog – than mere work ☺. The content will, more or less, continue in the same vein as earlier.

Disclosure: I do a - non-paid - monthly guest blog post for ReedMIDEM, the company behind the MIPs.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Moving with the times

I come from a background of traditional media; newspapers, radio and television. I still feel that especially television can play an important part in a project, since it is a tried and tested way to reach people, a way that many are familiar with and can accept fairly easily (and no, I’m not talking about television as being watched on a television set, but the notion of a television show, no matter where and how you view it. The 30 minute slot, the feeling of a sitcom, the soothing tone of a well-spoken voice over, all the things that we accept as natural parts of a television show). So, naturally, I keep track of what happens in my old – but still very current – areas of the media landscape.

This year, we are witnessing the beginning of a small upheaval that just might turn into a bigger one. Over at Hulu, CEO Jason Kilar wrote passionately about the new ways of consuming television and his firm belief that the traditional television companies would have to move with the times and rethink as more and more people are abandoning traditional television. Ty Braswell wrote an excellent piece over at Venture Beat about 2011 being the make-or-break year for television. A quote from the end of his post:

2011 will be the most significant year in the history of television. We are days away from the tipping point. Industry leaders who fail to organize with their competitors will see their business evaporate. Digital natives are already becoming comfortable and savvy getting TV and movie content illegally.

2011 will be a very good year for people in the business of television if they realize that television as we know it has gone away. For the start-ups and their investors, a tremendous opportunity has been created: Whoever teaches the television industry how to monetize content and make it easy to access will become the next big thing.

Granted, that was written to a large extent from a financial and distribution angle. I do believe, however, that this will be a positive thing for transmedia storytelling. As is discussed and hoped for in the posts mentioned above, we are looking – perhaps forced to look, but still – at a significant change in the way people consume television, a change that will be for the better and in a more coherent way will touch on the viewers' way of living and consuming. This space is not yet occupied, and in my eyes it does have a decidedly transmedia-ish shape.

Using transmedia storytelling as a way to re-invent television makes absolute sense to me. That is the best and - I was going to say "easiest", but that's probably not the right word - most accommodating way to utilize the fact that many a loyal and engaged member of any show's audience has already torrented it from any number of sources weeks before it hits their territory via traditional television, and are viewing it on their laptops. In such a case, perhaps clear call to actions in the content of just that show means that "delving deeper into the story" is just seconds away. Remember, these are people who have not just switched on the television set and are watching your show because they have nothing else to do. These are active and engaged people, who have taken the effort to download YOUR show rather than anyone else's, because they like it. Don't throw that away!

I firmly believe that television as we know it will not exist for that long. Yes, there will be television sets, although the way t use them will evolve. Yes, there will be television shows, although their function might evolve as well - from being the end product to being the lunch vehicle to engage an audience into your story world. And as the term "I'm watching television" moves to whole new contextual levels, so must the content and the stories we want people to listen to.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Learning from virtual worlds

I really do like when people say or write things that I find are absolutely 100% true, and useful to boot. In an article about Branded Virtual Worlds (i.e. Habbo, or why not Hello Kitty Online, or any other franchise branching out into the virtual world) the emphasis was, naturally, on virtual worlds, but many aspects are directly transferrable to whichever kind of transmedia format one happens to be working on. The best quote:
"Transmedia storytelling shows that while users enjoy engagement and can navigate the different types of media, they do need a good story to lead them through the experience," says Elisabeth Unverricht, senior planner at agency G2. "The crucial success factor for any type of virtual world is ease of access, offering instant as well as continuously rewarding experiences through storytelling and a good mix of lean-back and lean-forward moments."

While this certainly is true for virtual worlds, this is also very true whether you are making a transmedia project around a documentary, around music or around a television drama series. Some terms could perhaps be rephrased. It is not only a story that should lead the users through the experience, it is probably several. That which should lead the users through the experience is the story world, the mythology, that has been built up around and under the story you are telling. This story world, canon, mythology… needs also be easy to access and focused on the giving of "instant but also continuosly rewarding experiences."

I feel the last point might be the hardest to realize in a transmedia setting. The plot(s) and the storyworld must be very well developed and very supportive of each other to give a good mix of lean-back and lean-forward moments. To get the users/viewers to engage to the point of leaning forward and finally participating requires clear call to actions, a good story to draw the user in and a clear, logical route for the user to take, no matter which entrypoint he or she chooses.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

On funding transmedia, part two

Yesterday I read a post by David Wilson over at Transmediator, which raised a number of legitimate concerns with regards to how everything is becoming content creation, commodifying storytelling and wrapping everything in a thick layer of ”how-can-we-make-money-out-of-this-then”. To quote:
Finance is terribly fragmented. Independent producers get money any which way they can: sales agents, brand owners, vanity angels, arms dealers… and they often have to give any equity away to get the thing made.

[…] Independent producers must now present business plans, franchise opportunities, enterprise investment schemes, marketing plans… no wonder everything has turned into ‘content creation’. We are forced to juggle lots of pieces and do this predominantly on our own and without any money in our pockets. And this is damaging to the end product, because too much time is spent fundraising and not enough on development.

As anyone who has had a great idea but no means to get adequate funding to get that idea developed and into production can testify, it’s not a good position to be in. On the other hand, there is the question of marking your idea to market; if you can’t get anyone to cough up the dough to make it, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to start with? Then we could go into the debate about how to pitch your project, how to meet the right people and so on… But that is sort of a different ballpark.

I a couple of previous posts I’ve been banging on about the need for transmedia projects to have a sound financial footing. I have a hard time believing that all the creative people into transmedia storytelling at the moment will have the energy to keep creating content if there is no financial windfalls at any point. That’s why I think – contrary to David’s post – this dilemma should be viewed as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

See, if you work together with people who can get you sponsors, who can get you funding, who can sell your project, AND you can integrate that which they bring to you into your story world, making it a natural part of the mythology you are building, you will at the same time create a stronger story world that will be more attractive for future sponsors to hook into – especially as they can compare your world with the values they themselves stand for, and see that they match. (And if they don’t match, you might want to look for another sponsor ☺ ).

No, there are no clear-cut models yet, and I do not believe there will be a one-approach-fixes-all-solution to the problem. For instance, getting modern-day companies to sponsor your medieval history drama and make them fit naturally into the story world might be a bit difficult. But get a brewery in and you might come up with a solution. Ultimately, it is down to the content you create, the story world and mythology you build. As I said, if it is truly impossible to fund, perhaps it needs a bit of re-working?

David starts his post with the legendary quote: “Build it and they will come”. Thing is, they’re already there. We just need to build it. For that, we need funding, and for that, we need to look at how we develop and produce transmedia.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Long Haul

I tweeted this question earlier today, but 140 characters is pretty short when struggling with difficult terms and even more difficult nuances. What I would love to discuss with other people in the same field is the question of formats and transmedia, especially when thinking about marketing and localization etc.

The terms

To be clear with the terms we are talking about, when I say ”format” I mean that which in it’s most traditional sense is a television format. The recipe and the know-how, the production notes and the hard- and software needed to re-make a certain show or series in another territory – that is a format. And formats is a big business nowadays; not only stuff like Big Brother or Millionaire, hundreds, if not thousands of formats are being marketed and produced, in every genre from game shows to children’s TV.

It also makes perfect sense – if a show has been successful in a certain territory, and you can buy all the knowledge and content needed to re-make your own version of that successful story, you would most often go that way, were you a commissioner or acq. executive who needed to not be in the red when the financial year draws to an end.

Now, as most people agree on, transmedia is the telling of one or several stories over two or more platforms, with the stories all being connected to a greater storyworld, the mythology of the stories and their context.

So, to the point I’d like to discuss: formats and transmedia.

Many, if not most, transmedia projects are one-offs. It is a crime novel with a Facebook connection, or perhaps something tied to a live event with people searching for clues within a certain time limit. As I’ve preached before, I firmly believe that we should also look to create transmedia projects that can run and run, of their own accord and with a sound business plan as part of the core. I.e., what I want to make is transmedia formats, that can be localized, marketed, and enjoyed in different territories, without losing out on the story, the mythology, the narrative superstructure.

Some questions

What I’d welcome some thoughts on is basically:

- Can transmedia be formatted, and still not lose out on the crucial story and storyworld?
- Are there genres that would be more suitable for transmedia formatting than others, or are we talking on a project-by-project basis?
- Any thoughts on whether a transmedia project having run in one territory would make audience engagement deteriorate in later territories due to it not being ”fresh”, or is there just a lack of localization (which in a transmedia setting probably should be called ”creative wipe”, cleaning off and drawing new content on the same blackboard)

Discussions are welcome. Will update when I know more about this.