Transmedia Properties part 1- Futures of Entertainment

Transmedia Properties


Paul Levitz, Michael Lebowitz, Alex Chisholm

Moderator: Henry Jenkins

What is transmedia?

Paul: if transmedia was taking an idea and putting it across different channels – as an owner.   Aobut 1710, copyright emerged.  Mary Midnight, Christopher Smart in 1749-1752, a book and stageplay.  In US, J Fenimore Cooper, novel in 1821 and 1822 was a play.   Real start was Frankenstein, or Oz, book in 1900, play 1902, film on 1919, them many incarnations.  You have over 100 years of creative layers over each other with Oz.

Henry: Baum is a great example, original stage production had a Budweiser placements.

Alex: pushing back, look at religion, how the Romans took some of the stories from Jesus and turned them into rituals, this was transmedia.  Each generation takes it and builds on it.  Look at Wicked and Oz.

Given been around so long, so why the fuss now?

Michael: a combination of things.  The web has become all invasive, is inexpensive and a proving ground for many things.   Started in 2000 doing destination sites for films – press kit content.  Thought it was really boring so looked at what they could do to capture the spirit of the film and give value as well.  First worked on serendipity, gave different approach for Miramax, we track your path and match you up with people who had the same experience with the site and you could map people with similar behaviours.   Had to go back and create new application due to popularity.  Allowed studios to see the success.

Paul: the disappearance of old norms in advertising – a road block. You could buy the same time on the 3 networks and everyone would see your message at the same time.  You cannot do this now.  You can try…or you can break away from the 30second and do something different.  Many examples are built in combinations.  They still not sure how it works, but it is cool and they get a lot of press and people talk about it etc. etc.  if you can run the transmedia thing and no-one watches expect reporters…the reporters still spread the word.  We are in an inbetween state.

Michael – you get experimentation and  a lot of copying.” We want to make youtube but only for our brand”

Alex: last may at the upfronts, you are numb at the end as you see all this new content.  Remember seeing Heroes and going wow…they completely got it in the clip.  They talked about how it would work as a digital comic book.   Knew that was the one then.   They settled on it as a research project (and got lucky).   Heroes had a marketing team outside of typical structure; they wanted it to be a universe.  They looked at Lost etc. it fed all the thought and how it reached out.  Now it has reached a critical mass, has a tension between creators and the fans.   They are building in the downloads, all starting to work together,  as they head into the last few weeks before hiatus, they have done a great job of building audience.

Henry: superheroes are very transmedia.  What is about that genre?

Paul : it works in multimedia. Specific characters rarely become successes though (superman and batman the exceptions).  Historically it is not simultaneous transmedia but as sequential.  Superman has been different forms at different times, as has Batman.   Comics can be success as built on architecture that allows for expansive story telling.  Have open and rich environments, they have opened ended missions rather than closed quests.  For batman it mattered that he was out to eradicate evil, and that is a long term job.   Behind the curtain, it also important that these are properties that multiple creative directors can get.  For transmedia, it is important that it is all not in one persons head.  You need to find the next guy to give longevity. The essence is transferable.   If not, this destroys it for transmedia.  They had visuals that can be translated across media. The characters had pretty raw iconography. Each version is a reflections of the character. Built on strong wish fulfilment fantasies; – could I do this.  

Alex: comics move into mass at an accelerated way over last few years.  Post 9/11, the whole mythos of heroes has expanded.  There was a rise in number of shows and movies that so this, as we struggle with national identity and the battle of good vs evil.   It gives us space to deal with what is happening outside the entertainment space.

Michael: fan culture has become much more mainstream in general.   What the boom of the internet has achieved is an explosion of niches which become mainstream.   Stereotypes break down.   We open new realisations due to network of info and the new research that is possible.


Henry: what other genres that are good for transmedia?


Michael: it is really hard to do certain things.   It is difficult to achieve the scope when people on pc screen.  A lot of success with horror as it is an intimate experience. Comedy is driving force of youtube; works well in shortform, easy to watch things and laugh by yourself.   Works in small screen.   We are just scratching surface of what can be done.   You can do things diferrnetly across the media… use channels to drive different emotions.  


Henry: now we pitch worlds…to support transmedia.  Can you speak to shift about thinking of a property as a world.


Paul:   complexity is now an acceptable public virtue in story telling.  Think about how LotR was marketed as a book – they complexity had to be camouflaged.  Look at TV, Roots could have been a turning point as you go from standalones to a series….to watch multiple episodes for its cumulative value.  If you had talked about this complexity a year or two before Hill street it would not have worked.    Access to material raises the stakes.  When lots of things available, the stronger built world can crowd out the imitations.   When less there, there was room for the imitation to be successful as you could not easily get real thing.  Now you have perpetual availability of the best version.  So you need to build well to push out the other guys.    In film, we are living in a time when there is change to the experience of film going.  Can’t build things epic scale everywhere, need to do the big screen.

Alex: one of Henry’s students is doing his thesis on soaps.  Huge worlds around these.  The fan communities are committed and involved; there is a huge ecosystem.   Sports in transmedia has exploded.  Look at Madden games, look at fantasy leagues.  Everyone has one.  The world used to be you watched once a week and that was it.  Now this economy where statistics are the currency.   The world fuels a whole cascade of other contests with the fantasy.  Information is play in the fantasy sports domain.  You now have push/pull in tv and online.   Looking at making things relevant, like Olympics, how can you engage people across platforms, gaming coming in.

Michael: fantasy allows you to live in the world.   It’s a great kick to play in the world.  

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