Transmedia storytelling, what’s in a name?

The word transmedia has been the buzzword the past few years. But almost everybody gives a different meaning to this term. Is there any common ground? Let’s try to pin down the meaning of transmedia (storytelling). The search for a definition, the different types, designs and outcome.

First of all, let’s start with the possible difference between multimedia and crossmedia:

  • Multimedia: same content on different types of media with no interaction
  • Crossmedia: same concept on different types of media / distribution platforms. There is a degree of interaction with and participation of the public. The concept is the main thing, Communication is crossplatform.

Transmedia has its roots in ARG. An alternate reality game is an interactive networked narrative that uses the world as a platform and uses transmedia storytelling techniques to deliver a story that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions. ARG’s were used for different tv-shows (e.g. Lost), media franchises or marketing campaigns.

trans

From Mike Vogel’s thisistransmedia.com

Henry Jenkins, author of the book Convergence Culture, describes the term transmedia as follows: stories that unfold across multiple media platforms, with each medium making distinctive contributions to our understanding of the world, a more integrated approach to franchise development than models based on urtexts and ancillary products.

Henry Jenkins talking about the new media landscape:

The definition of transmedia storytelling on Wikipedia is more clear to me: it is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.

Transmedia storytelling production involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together, but are in narrative synchronization with each other.

What I have found is that transmedia stories all have similar layers and building blocks. Most of the time there is one theme that is translated to different platforms and distribution channels. The different storylines that can differ per medium, influence and strengthen each other. The communication is crossplatform. The receiver can be part of the story. Experience is the key word. There is a degree of participation and interaction of the public.

transmedia-storytelling-diagram-maya-zuckerman-500

Maya Zuckerman’s version of Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ diagram

Hille van der Kaa, a Dutch media professor, defined 7 elements for a transmedia story (non-fiction):

  • On different platforms
  • Accessible via different ‘ports’
  • Each platform will bring an extra layer to the story, but can stand on its own
  • There are links with other media
  • Uses the typical strengths of the different media
  • Is partially controlled
  • There is a degree of user participation

Other authors have more elements, some have less. But when you begin with your story, you always start with the same questions:

  • What is the story about?
  • What are the main characters?
  • What is the conflict?
  • What are the locations, time period, …?
  • Where are the plotpoints situated?
  • What is the ending?

When designing transmedia stories there are some typical questions you must answer before you start producing:

  • What will the impact be of the audience on the story?
  • Will the audience involvement be passive, active, interactive or collaborative
  • How much control will the audience and the author have on the story
  • Will the story be non-linear, parallel, sequential, …?
  • How will you deliver the story?
  • How will the story on the different platforms be consumed?

Storylines can take on different forms:

spectrum

(Chris Klug and Josiah Lebowitz)

When you combine multiple storylines and media in your project, try to pin down what the typical strengths are of that medium. Each medium has its own language. Avoid unnecessary overlap between the media and work with one common theme. And, most important, keep the user experience in mind, through every stage of your story. Involve your media consumer, make him part of the story.

We live in an associative world. Young people are not used any more to linear information which cannot be ‘managed’. They are trained to obtain information via association. Journalism must re-invent itself and create stories for this new media consumption. Transmedia storytelling is the perfect way to achieve this goal. Social amplification of your story can no longer be an after-thought in media production. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, .. are key ingredients for successful storytelling. Multimedia, Crossmedia, Transmedia, … the reality is that our definition of what transmedia really is, is still very much evolving.

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