You may already have come across the term ‘platform potency’ in the ‘Transmedia Defined‘ section of this website. Platform potency is a pretty big concept so I’d like to explain the term in a little more detail.
Platform potency is a media platform’s ability to convey a certain narrative (or part thereof) to audiences in the most effective way possible. Platform potency is determined by each platform’s defining characteristics, mostly format (e.g. length, voice, narrative structure) and audience reach (e.g. mass vs. niche).
So, put simply, platform potency is how well a single medium can tell a particular aspect of a story. Because it is determined by format and reach, however, platform potency is not only a stylistic aspect of transmedia storytelling, but also an economic one.
“Most effective” in stylistic platform potency is mostly concerned with meaningfulness: Can a particular platform communicate what I want it to communicate? For example, will a TV show help audiences understand a certain character’s thoughts and motivations which I want to focus on, or will I have to resort to a book or graphic novel to communicate these forcefully? Similarly, how important of an element is this character’s thoughts and motivation in the overall story universe? Is it an essential element both mainstream and hard-core fan audiences need to know about to make sense of the overall narrative? If it is an integral element, a platform’s stylistic potency is also influenced by how many consumers it can reach. In the case of The Matrix for example, the third movie could not be understood by a large part of mainstream audiences, due to the fact that certain information required to make sense of the happenings on screen had only been communicated through media platforms with a smaller reach such as the Animatrix series and The Matrix comics. As a result, the third installments of The Matrix movie series was also far less successful than its predecessors.
“Most effective” in economic platform potency, on the other hand, is determined by a platform’s return on investment, which in turn is defined by transmedia revenue models and audience reach. How much does it cost to produce content for a certain platform? And how much money will the platform generate in return? In what ways can the platform earn revenues, and how many consumers will seek out the content on each platform? At the end of the day, transmedia story worlds need to be profitable to survive in the long run. Identifying and exploiting economic platform potencies is a crucial step towards any transmedia narrative’s long-term success.
Usually, stylistic platform potency should be determined before economic platform potency. In this case, however, I will start by explaining economic platform potency as it is easier to understand for many people.
Economic Platform Potency
Naturally, the initial investment required to produce and distribute entertainment content via different media platforms needs to be recovered, and better yet, multiplied. Simon Pulman offers a great overview of the three most feasible revenue streams in a transmedia business model (free content/marketing related, a la carte/pay as you go, and subscription based), and I encourage you to read about these revenue models in greater detail right on his blog. For now, I am just going to focus on each revenue model’s effect on platform potency.
A) Free content/marketing-related
Needless to say, not charging consumers at all for a platform’s entertainment content has an inherently negative impact on that platform’s economic potency. Creating content requires a certain amount of investment which of course will turn into losses if it comes without a price tag on it.
Offering free content or ‘gimmicks’ is a common marketing tactic. While it can be argued that offering free content on one platform can drive traffic to another, paid platform, it is a risky investment to make. Any marketer can tell you that if the product does not impress, all marketing dollars spent on it are for nothing – particularly in an age of social media where word-of-mouth travels at lightning speed. Given the cutthroat competition in the entertainment industry, where audience attention needs to be pried away from competing products, it is vital to make a positive first impression – and to continue the great work. ‘Free’ content can only have low production values by nature, and as a result, can even have a double negative effect on a platform’s financial viability: by not generating money in the first place, and by deterring prospective consumers who are put off by the platform’s low quality product(s).
Does marketing have to entirely give up on their beloved freebies then? Certainly not. But to maximize platform potency, the freebies must take a different form, such as vouchers to receive the first installment or first few minutes/pages of a platform’s content without charge to draw the consumer in and to encourage him/her to pay to follow the remainder of the story.
The only possible solutions to keeping a platform’s content ‘free’ of direct payments without compromising it’s economic potency, then, are product placements and ad-supported models. However, particularly the former might not generate enough revenue to offset production costs, while the latter only lends itself to certain media formats (e.g. TV shows, webisodes, webportals, magazines).
B) A la carte/pay as you go
Pay-as-you-go approaches have both advantages and disadvantages for a platform’s economic potency. On the one hand, the possibility of (high) returns on investment allows for higher productions costs, and therefore higher quality products. Pay-as-you-go approaches also do not force consumers to make a long-term commitment to a transmedia universe with a lump sum of money (as it is the case in the subscription model), but allows them to pick and chose the content they pursue, and how much of it. This is particularly useful for transmedia narratives that are just starting out and need to give consumers time to get to know the world created for them.
The pay-as-you-go model is also a relatively quick indicator of a platform’s performance. In case sales on a particular platform fall short of expectations, attempts can be made to alter its content according to what the audience would like to see.
At the same time, however, pay-as-you-go models continue to bear a certain financial risk. For example, if the content of a driving platform (such as a movie for example) fails to appeal to consumers it could endanger the entire transmedia enterprise by deterring audiences to seek out the continuations of the narrative on other platforms – where the transmedia enterprise would then incur further losses. While established transmedia narratives, such as Star Wars for example, can be able to pull through the losses on one platform, it is particularly new transmedia stories just entering the market that need to take into account how the economic failure of one platform will affect their overall enterprise.
Thus, for new transmedia projects, the pay-as-you-go model has a great economic platform potency because it allows consumers to test the waters of a transmedia narrative at a low financial risk. At the same time, however, pay-as-you-go requires careful business planning in order to avoid a failure of the entire transmedia enterprise should one platform underperform.
C) Subscription based
The subscription-based revenue model is probably the best choice for transmedia narratives that have firmly established themselves on the basis of time and fan following. In the subscription-based model, consumers make a financial commitment on a regular basis (e.g. monthly or annually) and receive access to a storyworld’s content on different media platforms. The key advantage of this revenue model is that it automatically generates income for all media platforms involved in the subscription deal, even if some platforms may be less popular than others. As a result, financing for the overall franchise is a lot stabler with a subscription-based model than with pay-as-you-go revenues, as both revenues and losses can be redistributed as needed to ensure the survival of the franchise in question. The individual platforms are also not as dependent on their individual traffic any more which adds significantly to their long-term survival.
At the same time, however, and particularly in the case of emerging transmedia narratives, consumers can be reluctant to buy into a storyworld with a long-term payment. Investing time and comprehensive payments into only one franchise requires great trust from the consumers’ side – and offer a great opportunity for brand equity to kick in. If an emerging transmedia franchise has the possibility to advertise with the names of successful creators or producers the subscription model can still work, on the basis of the creators/producers’ reputation. If the franchise cannot be associated with famous names, however, pay-as-you-go is very likely to be the safest model to start out with.
A Final Warning
Regardless of how well-planned and executed a franchise’s economic platform potencies are, they can quickly turn negative if the availability of the different platforms isn’t communicated clearly to audiences. I myself have experienced it several times that I wasn’t aware where I could go to ‘get more’ of a certain narrative – even though transmedia storytelling is my passion. We only have 24 hours in a day, and an over-supply of entertainment products to sift through at all times. So don’t be afraid to explicitly tell your audiences where they can go to find more of your content. If they go see the movie, give them a flyer (or better yet, a coupon) directing them to your webportal or web series. If they are on your website, highlight that the background story can be found in the franchise’s graphic novels. In the graphic novels, indicate that the great adventures of your core characters can be followed on TV starting next month. And so on. This is nothing new; it is plain old cross-platform marketing. If your consumers don’t know where to look, they can’t find you.
This is what constitutes economic platform potency, then. To learn about stylistic platform potency, please click here.