Looking at mine and others’ re-caps of the recent conferences, it occurred to me that a LOT of ground had been covered – almost too much to make sense of, at least through simple reading. In order to make things a bit easier, I’m going to summarize the main trends and themes that were not only a) repeatedly mentioned at the recent conferences, but are also b) extremely crucial for transmedia, and for this point in time.
The story is the most important part of your project, whether it’s transmedia or not. If you want to have an audience in today’s over-saturated entertainment market, you have to touch people’s hearts and minds. This can only happen through an honest and meaningful narrative, one that has intrinsic value for its audiences in the form of real experiences and emotional gratification. Your audiences will drop you immediately if they feel that your story is no longer (or at all) meeting these standards.
In order to deliver consistent value and story depth, you must always be aware of the core essence of your narrative – or your brand, if you use transmedia strategies for branding. You have to know the universe you create (and its characters!) inside out, and have a perfect understanding of the bottom-line, or greater mythology behind it (e.g. Harry Potter’s theme of love being the ultimate form of magic, a power stronger than anything else in the world including death). If you deviate from this core essence, audience will again call you out on it, and very likely desert you.
This is particularly important when it comes to the integration of brands into a transmedia story. Partnerships between brands and entertainment content can be a win-win situation, but only if the right brand is used for the right story, i.e. their underlying values and philosophies align. If they mismatch, the story experience will be disrupted, which in turn will once again alienate audiences.
Finally, transmedia narratives require a very careful narrative design that a) is not disruptive even if spread out across different platforms, and b) uses the different platforms in a way that meets target audiences on the channels they already inhabit, and then leads them onto to other media from there.
You have to know your target audience inside out. Keep in mind that they may NOT be your peers, or your investors. Get to know the communities your target audience members already inhabit, and use these to leverage your project. Know which media they spend their day on, how much time they spend each day doing what, how they approach technology, how they connect to the people around them (on- and offline), what they look for in stories – which genres, themes, characters – and what their spending habits are. Based on this knowledge you can not only create a more effective transmedia strategy, but you can also develop an appropriate revenue model.
Understand the different types of consumers or users that make up your audience (influencers/enthusiasts; actives; casual) and in what proportions. Then again, use this knowledge and purposely work with the enthusiasts, who will often be very willing torch-bearers for you, and to develop adequate pricing and revenue models.
The more your audience is invested in your story, financially and emotionally, the less like they are to abandon your storyworld. It is of crucial importance that you actively work to create ties between your audience, your story, and yourself. Help them to get invested, be it through participation, interactivity, and mere consumption. And find ways to reward them for sticking with you – long-term planning is crucial in transmedia storytelling.
Lastly, listen to your audience. The age of broadcasting is over; instead, audiences can and will now offer instant feedback, whether you like it or not. Use this as a resource, and react to what your audience is saying/commenting/criticizing/praising. Or even better, actively seek the dialogue with your audience.
Participation/Sharing/The Illusion of Control
Content creators have lost control long ago. The internet is for sharing and in such an environment, obscurity is far worse than piracy. What’s more, audiences now expect to participate in their media experiences, both through interactivity and participation. As a result, content creators must develop co-creation models that allow the audience to get involved in different ways.
Also, one of the key benefits of audience participation through user generated content such as fan fiction is that it helps ‘feed the beast’, i.e. the remainder of your audience. We live in an age of instant gratification, and no matter how much content you produce, your audience will always want more. Crowdsourcing your content creation, whether it is official or unofficial, can help you significantly to bridge distribution gaps and keep audience fervor going over long periods of time.
There are a few practical problems for transmedia storytelling that remain challenges. For example, licensing laws and practices fail to keep up with the demands of transmedia and remain stuck in their old models based on one or very few media per project. Currently there is no measure against this – except for strong nerves and making sure you’re well-informed.
In order to develop and sustain your project, there are a variety of business models that you can use, as well as a variety of revenue models. Once again being well-informed is key so that you can assess which models would work best for you. Crowdfunding seems to be a particularly popular means of raising money for independent projects at the moment, as it grants great artistic freedom and is a great way to build a ‘fan base’ (or at least interested consumers) before the project even launches.
One major problem that remains in all transmedia projects is that of communication between the different creative and production departments. In transmedia it is crucial that all of them are always on the same page, and that they have an understanding of what the other departments are trying to accomplish, so that the finished transmedia project offers the audience a wholesome and integrated experience. As a result, it is important that all departments communicate with each other frequently right from the beginning.
Lastly, there is no universal measure of success for transmedia projects. Every creator and producer must assess the desired goals of his/her project on a case to case basis, and then measure the success of the project against that – be it financial return, simple visibility, or moving people into taking certain action. What is important, however, is to understand that a certain number of Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter followers don’t automatically translate into actual popularity, least of all a fan base. It is extremely hard to measure audience engagement and investment in your story, and it must be understood that an actual relationship with your story goes beyond a Facebook like.
I hope this summary helps you to understand the most crucial trends and factors to keep in mind when developing a transmedia project. And if you have been to the recent conferences yourself, do let me know if there is anything that I have forgotten or that you think should be with the above points!