FOE – Producing Transmedia Experiences: Stories in a Cross-Platform World

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Session 1: Producing Transmedia Experiences: Stories in a Cross-Platform World
As the production of transmedia experiences becomes more commonplace, this panel seeks to pick apart some of the tensions emerging around transmedia as creative practice. As a narrative form, what is transmedia anyway? How can we keep it from being more than a shorthand excuse for multi- or cross-platform narratives? Is it anything more than that? Need it be?

Focussing around a series of case-studies, this panel digs into questions around genre, interactivity, and franchising? Are there certain genre constraints to transmedia narratives, particular genres — science fiction, drama — better suited to become transmedia properties than others? What might a transmedia event built around a romantic comedy look like? What role does interactivity play in transmedia narratives? Can transmedia narratives be satisfying simply by distributing their narrative in lots of forms, or does an “effective” transmedia narrative require opportunities for the audience to “participate” in a more active way than simply interpreting and discussing amongst themselves? Does transmedia require room for the audience to take a narrative in their own directions?

Moderator: Jason Mittell – Middlebury College. Panelists: Brian Clark – Partner and CEO, GMD Studios; Michael Monello– Co-Founder & Creative Director, Campfire; Derek Johnson – University of North Texas; Victoria Jaye – Acting Head of Fiction & Entertainment Multiplatform Commissioning, BBC; Patricia Handschiegel – Serial Entrepeneur, Founder of Stylediary.net

  • JM: asked our panellists to add their own definition of Transmedia Storytelling (TS)
  • PH: founder of Nine; how we see it is a solution ot the fragmented market, takes that approach to it; I bring that mindset into new places
  • DJ: a definition is a cultural experience that is shared and proliferated across channels. There is a place for adaptations etc, one of the strengths is about thinking about all the different ways that it can be done.  My interest is about the media franchise, eg IP that is shared by multiple sites of production
  • VJ: we don’t use TS much we tend to use the world multi-platform. they unfold across multiple places, to encourage discovery and access. We see the lifecycle of our content expanded by this world.   Expand reach, innovate and provide a platform for new talent etc.
  • MM: founded Campfire, does things like True Blood.  I tend to shoot down all terms for what we do but not having an answer. It’s about freedom as a story teller, freedom from gatekeepers, freedom to tell stories in way that are unconstrained.
  • BC: Mike and I both come from independent media, excited by the opposite to what HJ said. TS is the result of freedom of talent, not the goal. I tend to use the goal of experience design, interested in the performance relationship as well. It’s not about designing for each box at the time, which seems to be the TV model. It’s about making narratives about of everyday consumption
  • JM: not always clear what examples people share? So I asked the panel to come along with an example to discuss.
  • BC: wants to talk about an original IP we are doing – a techno-thriller. A few years ago we created an experience where we would get people lost. we had 38 hours of character immersion. we watched it all. we did not hide cameras everywhere, but we could have. The idea of losing ocntrol, of letting the audience be part of the narrative, the active protagonists of it, reshapes the idea of all media we touch, about getting it early in process.
  • MM: HBO and true Blood. In writers strike, we met then, looked at building websites, about 20 of them. no connecting story, just sites that should exist outside the show. The HBO said we could not put up a bunch of sites, needed a story. We were tasked with the story of how the vampires had come out the coffin, how true Blood was developed. We had 2m views of the online episode for a show that had not been promoted. We created the framework, then we had ad agencies working off the framework. For Series 2, we were asked to reflect on how the world had changed, we worked with Gawker to integrate the blog into their network.  there were lots of issues, about control, (eg if on Gawker, it had to be written by Gawker etc)
  • VJ: (played showreal) – Strictly; Ashes to Ashes, Dragons Den, Online Psychic test; The Apprentice; Just a Minute remix; Being Human.  The breadth of what we are doing – amplifying our tv programmes. One example is around a soap opera. Eastenders, The forma website is high traffic, as part of the 25 anniversary, we have commissioned 13 young writers to create a new story, of 4 students who move it. A new point of view on the characters.
  • DJ: I don’t make them, I study them. Interested in the way properties are shared and co-produced. Worked with Marvel, spoke with people in a wide production network of people sharing the same world. Marvels exemplifies the breadth of production practice; it’s not just one company managing it but several. With Ironman, the studios practiced a production based licensing model, had close interaction between film and game makers.  Even though the game was badly reviewed, but it was still a cohesive story.   But animated Ironman adventures, was a different Ironman, to target a different market.   Marvel Ultimate Alliance game features Ironman, but a different version. Used the same character but little co-ordination of story.  So interested in the many different ways they are done
  • PH: The New Power Girls, based on an audience of women who are trying to be moguls. we look to create content across platform that is palatable.  We create end to end content, with all elements, with own monetisation for each piece.   A blog, (NPG daily) with TV shows, it’s not just about getting them engaged but useful for whatever platform
  • JM: so the 7 principles that Henry talked about – which are most relevant for the panel.
  • BC: Still reflecting on how many are true when not TS. a lot is still variations on reader response and implied relationship on reader/author and how that is being stretched. Especially when it feels more intimate.  For TS, I know the audience as well as the audience knows me. When Someone come sand says they like the Art of the Heist I ask their username, and have a shared experience about it. It’s about the idea of Multiplicity makes me most exciting. a work does not have to be some finished piece, its the roll between the teller and the audience
  • MM: for me, the direct interaction with the audience. the first experience was Blair Witch, it went on for 8 months before a bible was built. the story emerged in direct contact with audience and still in contact with some of them.
  • JM: can I quote your twitter….MM you wrote…performance of the creator is essential (not just fans)
  • MM: too often is see with clients, they want to lock down a world. They get nervous if audience tries to create things that feels like canon. The storyteller is in the midst of the performance.  You have to deal with what the audience brings you; there is active participation and I react to the audience and change as it goes along.  In Heist we built a story and 2 weeks after launch it was gone and we changed.
  • BC: When you point a camera at something, you are capturing the performance; it is not just documentation, The relationship is changing,
  • VJ: the catalytic power of performance is what creates the drillability, how this transforms into audience performance in response to this. Drillability chimes enormously, the hunger of fans for extra story, or proximity of talent. It’s a Hygiene factor, we have to have other sites, if we don’t then the BBC has not done it’s job
  • PH: our audience participation is in the community where the PG share online.
  • DJ: on drillability, we talk about what can the users investigate. So for the Producers, how does this impact, the ability to produce more, or licencees have the ability to drill more into a property.
  • JM: Comics are interesting, multi-authored by design. a set of stable characters, but you know there will be shifts in authorships.   Many of them focus on non-realistic genres. For genres, what opens up for the producers when talking about a non-fantastic genere – eg Eastenders. What are the limits? What pre-existing properties seem ripe for this. Or are their properties that are difficult?
  • BC: you tend to see more escapist genres at the birth of an artform. Horror and scifi, existing fanbases, this is low hanging fruit. I got stuck with The Lakehouse! there are some stories that do not provide enough universe to get it started. I want to see a comedy, I want to see the opportunities explored.
  • VJ: consistent motivations for the audience, get involved, connect, drill down, take part in action. The creative expression is different for different genres.  So Playalong, light interaction, instant gratification for Entertainment properties. Interactivity etc, I-TV. For Comedy, engagement triggers are sharing funny stuff, shortform video, It pens up the canvas and other forms – puppets, magic, animation, expands it. Drama – more conventionally in TS, for soap opera etc.  We have to be clear on where the audience is in their journeys,, we have to be clear where the fanbase is. With Eastenders is a lot more handholding.  Eve if we point to the website after each show, most EE audience are not aware of it.
  • PH: all is non-fiction. Reality shows. it is not fantasy. In the past, Bravo used it a lot as a marketing channel; so now we have to ask what the audience wants. A lot is to touch the characters.  
  • BC: so want to do a puppet show!
  • DJ: PH does the ability to play a little, share your interaction with audiences. Is it more about creating a system them a story world.
  • VJ: the desire for audience to measure and understand themselves, the web allows this. Eg Sex/gender quiz. It is about extending learning journeys through content.  More product driven approach, ef wildlife, food recipe, earth news. There is a category approach for knowledge, and still a lot of innovation.  Adam Curtis – He created a ‘kit’ to describe a journey, movies and documentary, immersive theatrical things.
  • JM: About the audience, you can know your audience, you can conceive ideas about the group…when you are talking about an emergent property, how do you concieve of the group before it starts. Is it from the client, this demo etc, or from the storyteller POV. And then there is reality, so how do you cope?
  • BC: so an ad agency would say….our aspiration customer is an 18-24 yo girl in her first job who want to be taken seriously, our real is a 45-55 men who is cheap!  But everyone has a sense of narrative. You get the client to tell the narrative, it becomes more goal orientated.   you have a concept, but it’s an internal justification to allow you to tell the story anywhere. In TS it is a highly interactive process. If it has not launched publically, it has not happened.  In most cases, the narrative is far richer if iterative. haters are a problem, dealing with them that is the real test and most frequently the rest of the audience works out a way yo deal with them
  • MM: for original projects, it always starts with the story.  Once you have the story, you can envisage the audience. For marketers, it is about trying to draw out who is the real audience and then looking at their behaviours.
  • DJ: it’s about Multiplicity, you don’t have a single audience, you can’t please all of them all the time, you have to do different things. 
  • PH: it’s the most critical element in storytelling. We have to know our category. We don’t create for brands, but we have clients, we have to keep our finger on the pulse, know what will sell, what the audiences are.
  • MM: the goal is emotional goal. it drives everything else. If you make this you can do a lot. 
  • VJ: we are clear abut having an audience agenda on commissioning. Largely it’s fans we are pitching the ideas at, those with a high level of engagement. Too many producers underestimate the appetite for the multiplatform content.  You can get producers who over-estimate it though, there is danger of too much expectations, have to get the right reasons.
  • MM: one thing I find disappointing, the gatekeepers tend to view the audience as ‘freaks’ or obsessives,
  • JM: is the primary goal to TS to motivate people who would not get involved or those who are fans anyway?
  • BC: for independents the web is a way to build an audience before you are done. you can share what you are making in the process; you can shape what you are making and loyal fanbase.
  • MM: we had about 1000 people on list a year before it…they had ALL connected with it. Those 1000 fans, called shows to talk about; called Sundance to ask for the film. they called the cinemas asking for the film.  We had a core fanbase and it grew and then we reset the topline experience to attract new people and had another layer to connect with the originals. So we had 2 levels.
  • JM: so today, can we do 2 levels etc?
  • MM: absolutely, the most difficult challenge to do
  • BC: but is this a false dichotomy.   We did some work on 39 Clues, with Scholastic,. It was designed for multi-channels, To send readers who wanted the Owl to know that they had moved if they were going to get the Owl letter inviting them to Hogwarts.. We created something to make it real – letters back to the kid
  • VJ: fan management has a bif deal. it is not something that we are skilled with. As we socialise our content, we have a relationship. Some fans are really hard core..we have had to increase management 3x on message boards as the fans are not happy with the way the show is going. this puts off new people, who just want to chat. so how do we host conversations that are worthwhile and fun, this is causing some issues. There are use cases on other platforms, some want to just catch up, others want more immersive, others want to add fictions etc
  • PH: No, the goal is to reach audience where they are at.  fragmentation is what happens..it is to reach them, lots don’t watch TV, they want different behaviours. TS is to reach peple
  • DJ: what VJ is talking about is a central tension; how to leverage TS in a way that is managed. Central vs decentralised. It’s not about shutting down, but incorporating
  • PH: fostering the community allows them to play a part int he management – they can do things to regulate.
  • JM: is it the tension between control of property and the audience.  But what’s the tension between the various producers interest.
  • MM: this a legal issue. Compromise is needed
  • BC: there’s no framework for it. If there’s a no risk attitude then it won’t work
  • MM: tension between audience and canon/created. In most cases it’s clear and most people move between OK.  But a lot of tension is between the creators/partners. I often come in via marketing. But you have partnerships, like with Gawker. So only Gawker could write content on Gawker, We had to create content for Gawker writers to write about.  It seemed Gawker were not prepared to deal with fans of the show..and there seemed to have been a lack of comms between marketing and editorial.  Content in advertising spaces – upset when advertising does not act like advertising.  It put off the fans – the story focused on Gawker and their attitude.  We shy away from it more..if media is creating content on behalf of advertisers.
  • BC: but independent is still full of lots of partners, creators, who are specialists, You need to get a whole load of people who would not necessarily work together. There is tension there as well
  • MM: on Blair Witch, we saw the need early to create a Bible, then handed it to licensors. Comic etc . When they added stories we would look at it to see if would be added to canon.
  • VJ: We are a broadcaster, moving towards being a content provider. A big shift. Many producers are less familiar, less excited,  They feel it’s about visibility. Some of the younger get it, they invest in it from the start, that is when it cuts through with the audience. They sell in as a rounded project. we have had most success when this happens. Comedians and comedy world really get it. Sometimes you have to re-engineer shows to recognise it. There are real challenges form talent as well, about signposting this stuff. So many things to balance.  It’s complex. In commissioning, we have to understand strategically what we are trying to achieve and which of the hurdles we are prepared to tackle,
  • PH: we are coming in with an end-to-end franchise, well thought out, and that is why we doing well. It is becoming more about thinking before hand, not add-on.
  • DJ: so TS, talking about bridges across different production studios. It’s not even. So with Marvel, then film is always the lead – even if it a comic book company. cultural issues of prestige and value and meanings, have shaping influencers.
  • JM: so how do you define success and failure.  When does it work and for whom
  • VJ: there are very blunt tools. we don’t have th overnight measures. We have reach metrics etc. Reach/Quality/ Impact/Value for Money. We set out things before a project. So entertainment may be focusing on Impact.  For others it is reach…a big show that does not have a lot of numbers is a failure. So Quality, recommendations is another measure. We map out in advance. so we know what we sign up for. We are now getting a sense of the numbers. Simple light, well-executed, thought through are best. nothing much has changed – performance, story telling, timing etc is the same.  It’s   of tools, be strategic about what you use.
  • BC: back to the pastiche idea. Any success you want to prove, there are metrics already. I look for metrics that our clients are already bought into and how do you use these metrics. Eg advertising ROI and marketing efficiency.
  • JM: as a storyteller, when do you feel you have done something that has worked?
  • BC: no two films have the same goal etc.  there are diferent goals. There is no one metric of success.
  • MM: do you have fans (as a storyteller)
  • DJ: so the implicit question is why is something valued. It is easier to measure commercial success. 
  • BC: it is hard to prove transmedia sometimes So what produced what, everything has a synergistic lift effect. So movie clients are amongst the most difficult, How do you show a dent with $100m movie marketing budget

(Now onto questions)

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