The Changing Role of the Medium / Transmedia Really is a Misconception

It certainly isn’t news to any of us that the media are changing, and very rapidly at that. The Internet allows us to access any type of medium and any type of content – be it legally or illegally – at any point in time; our media devices are merging into one, so that we no longer have to literally put down our book in order to start a computer game; and to top it all off, the tools of media creation and production not only become increasingly easy to use, but also a lot more affordable. It goes without saying that all of these trends greatly benefit transmedia storytelling; looking at them a bit more closely, however, we can see that these trends also have far wider implications when it comes to our understanding of media as a whole, and to our overall approach towards storytelling.

In this post, I’d like to outline these wider implications to give you an idea of why transmedia storytelling is actually a misconception. Don’t worry, though, this doesn’t mean I’m giving up this blog or my enthusiasm for transmedia storytelling just yet.

 

A medium no longer stands on its own

Second screens! Movie websites! Prequel webisodes! Wikias! Help the detective solve the riddle online! I love bees! The Old Republic! Knights of the Old Republic! Graphic novels! And so on. Media over media now help us tell our stories, engage our audiences, and reap the (economic) results. What many producers still fail to see, however, is that with the integration of other media, the ‘original’ medium ceases to stand on its own. It now exists in direct relation to the added media, and the quality and type of content offered on one medium directly impacts the appeal of the content on the other medium as well.

Whether you’re only trying to get hold of your TV audience on second screens, or whether you’re building a gigantic transmedia franchise, each medium and each platform involved must have a purpose in the overall story you’re telling. If the quality, tone, or content of the media you’re using differs too much, it will interrupt your audience’s overall entertainment experience. And there is no escaping from such multi-media aspects for your content either. A website is a standard requirement for any entertainment property nowadays, and increasingly, audiences will demand even more content from producers.

 

Storytelling has freed itself from the medium

In the past, how a story was told and consumed was greatly dependent on the media available. This still holds true, of course, but with a minor difference: We now have all (currently known) media available to tell a story, we have easy ways to distribute each medium, and users don’t need many different devices to access different types of media. As a result, storytelling has freed itself from the media. Want to convey a character’s inner thoughts and feelings? Use text/a book. Want to really show off that awesome final fight scene? Use a movie. Want to show your users what your storyworld is like? Use a computer game. For the first time in history, the narration is fitted to the narrative, not the other way around.

 

The entire notion of what constitutes a “medium” might soon be overcome

For hundreds of years, our understanding of individual media has been defined by the devices that delivered them. Whether it was a book, a movie, a radio show, a TV program, or a computer game – the device framed narration, distribution, accessibility, and formats. All of these characteristics are breaking down, however. A book might now consist of text, video, pictures, and audio parts. TV shows – although often still constricted to traditional formats due to traditional advertising structures – experiment with the integration of social media and online communities directly on screen. Web producers suddenly find that their audience does watch for more than five minutes, and that they also play games tied into a web series. Thus, there is again a shift from “what the medium is” to “what a media feature can do”. Whether it is a ‘TV show”, a “radio program,” or a “graphic novel” doesn’t matter anymore; instead, the question is what types of narrative devices are involved – audio, visual, text, interactivity, everything at once? “The medium” as such is ceasing to exist. Now, it’s all about the combination of different media parts to create the best entertainment experience possible.

 

Transmedia is really a misconception, then …

There have been endless debates about what the exact definition of “transmedia” is. Does every platform have to add something new to the story? Does a t-shirt count as a transmedia extension? Is the same plot with more detail on a few scenes in a different medium transmedia?

It really doesn’t matter. Looking at the way the media are currently evolving, everything and nothing is going to be transmedia. As traditional notions of “the medium” break down, it really is all about the story, and how different media features can be used as narrative devices. Transmedia is a misconception because very soon, it will be the standard of how stories are told. There will be no uni-media/single-media to define what transmedia is not. Every story, every type of content, every entertainment experience will involve different “media.” From the very beginning, starting with the earliest books consisting of texts and pictures, authors have put different types of media to use as narrative devices. It is the natural course of art and creativity. Right now, we’re at a point where we can finally live this creativity to the fullest because we are no longer constricted by the limits of individual media. How many “media” (or rather, their features) we’ll be using exactly to tell our stories is irrelevant. It is the story and the experience that counts. Technically, the notion of transmedia has existed for a long time now, and it will continue to exist. It is not a new concept, and there is no right and wrong transmedia. It’s just that we now have the possibilities to really pursue it, and to tell stories the way we’ve always wanted to. 

 

… but we need it to put a name to this thing

The reason why transmedia has such a wide appeal at the moment is because it puts a name to this change in media and storytelling we’re experiencing. Calling this change “transmedia” allows us to think about its different aspects – guiding audiences, using media features as narrative devices, finding future business models, etc. – so that we can start to wrap our heads around what we’re seeing and experiencing. The transmedia scene has been doing great so far in developing future ways to tell a story, so even if the concept itself may not actually be the novelty many praise it to be, the term “transmedia” itself will continue to be the best rallying point for anyone thinking ahead of the stories we are seeing now.

11 comments

  1. Transmedia is three things.

    a)all media platforms work together.
    b)user has creative control(I know you are skeptical of this, but this could work)
    c)user receives revenue for their contributions

    I’ll be transferring to a research university in 3 semesters, and I’ll write a paper on my research and prove my thoughts. Because you’re absolutely right the past projects, what some media professionals are doing and saying is just confusing consumers on what Transmedia is.

    I think media professionals desperate ambitions/or need to be a “Transmedia Pioneer” is destroying the quality/meaning of Transmedia. Transmedia needs time to be developed. Just like Social Networking or E-Commerce had many years of development before it took off.

    Tyre.

    1. Hi Tyre,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure about points b) and c), but I’m sure we’ll see whether they are right quite soon.
      Why wait 3 semesters for your research, though? Looking at how quickly the media and audiences are changing at the moment it may be wise to start working on your paper as soon as possible.

      Best,
      Christine

  2. Hello,

    Points b and points c needs to be testing out by a resourceful media company. What the consumer says about it will determine if a market does exist. i think for point c this maybe one of the missing things to transmedia. we all know and have agreed that transmedia is connecting all media platforms. but is it just the story that travels and connects? i disagree. the customers face and rewards should travel to. so a player who spends 30+ hours playing club penguin and has received a lot of points in that game should have the ability to use those points in a retail store and receive discounted merchandise. but ultimately a wise resourceful media company would run tests, and if it doesn’t work then they should try another variaiton of the sharing revenue option.

    basically, the whole industry would need to come together, and brainstorm. This is a must, in order, to be on the same page with transmedia.

    why I need to wait for 3 semesters.
    I attend a community college in Atlanta, and the college does not offer research credit, pay, resources, faculty support for undergraduate research.

    In order for me to write a thorough paper and create a sophisticated prototype, I’ll need funding to hire engineers, designers, consultants. Also, I’ll need the funds to spend on consumer testing. I need to see if a “Transmedia” market does in fact exist.

    Just because media professionals want it. how do we know if the customer want it?

    i am quite cautious with following Henry Ford and Steve Job’s advice.

    “A customer doesn’t know what they want until you show them” – Jobs

    “If I would of asked what people wanted they would have said a faster horse” Steve Jobs

    Louis Mayer, Sam Goldwyn(Film), David Sarnoff(TV, Radio) and Christiansen (Toys,Lego) those guys did a brilliant job with marketing each separate platform to the consumer, and so far how to consume a media product is hardwired in a consumers brain. And, Transmedia is a shift in how the customer thinks about media. They’ll need to buy in the idea that media is now a unfied system, and it benefits you in this and that way.

    This would be challenging, but I believe it needs to happen….

  3. Hey Christine,

    One more thought. Just to support my two points. Point b. user has creative control.

    Marsha Kinder’s novel Playing with power in movies, television and novels, video games. She says

    “Transmedia intertexutality works to position consumers as powerful players while disavowing commercial manipulation”

    Do you think one or two ways for a consumer to become a powerful player in a media franchise is:

    A) Creative Control. Creatively contributing to the media.
    B) Receiving rewards or cash for their contribution.

    Let me know your thoughts when you have time.

    Tyre.

  4. Why am I waiting to start writing my paper in 3 semesters.

    Because I attend a community college, and my college does not have any undergrad research programs available that offers support such as funding, research credit, and a faculty mentor who will be needed to supervise my project. In addition,

    I will need funding to write a thorough thesis and also for me to build a sophisticated prototype and this prototype will require designers, engineers, and a few market tests. I need to have evidence from the general public that a viable Transmedia market Transmedia could exist.

  5. Hi Tyre,

    Actually, I don’t think that it’s the transmedia professionals who want to bring about transmedia. On the contrary, users have always tried to expand content across different platforms, with their own contributions (fan art, fan fiction, fanzines, etc.) and with their willingness to buy into merchandise, theme parks, sequels, etc. The only difference so far was that media used to be strictly one-way – books, radio, TV, movies, etc. – and competition was relatively limited due to the high cost of entry into the media market. Now that new media are two-directional, and that technologies of production become cheaper and cheaper, the playing field is leveling rapidly on a global scale. Scheduled programming is being replaced by on-demand, and the users’ position of power is increasing. And they do not hesitate to demand. Just look at the levels of piracy in every media sector, the great appeal of streaming services, and users’ willingness to switch to a different medium/different form of content instantly should they no longer be excited by what they read/watch/play. They’re even using screens whilst using other screens!

    So for users, it is normal to move from one medium to another, to follow the content (if they care enough about it), and to demand more and more. Media companies, on the other hand, have trouble keeping up with this trend, for many different reasons. Conglomeration has caused many media companies to become increasingly inflexible in responding to their audiences. Then there are many established legal frameworks and business models that are averse to transmedia trends, and of course the simple lack of education amongst media professionals; writing multi-platform content is entirely different from writing for one type of medium.

    I do agree that there will inevitably have to be some form of reward system. One form of reward is already the knowledge gained when immersing oneself in a story world. On top of that, there may be cash rewards, or something similar, if only born out of the need to track one’s audience through user activity profiles. I still doubt that there will be any major revenue-sharing however. While there will be increasing levels of interactivity and participation, it is impossible to offer every single user the chance to participate in the creation of the story world, and a share of the revenue on top of that. There may be “sandbox” scenarios like Scott Walker designed them for parts of a story world, but no 100% equal contribution. At least not for intellectual property owned by a major media company.

    As for your project – I don’t think there is a need to test whether a “transmedia” market exists. Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Avengers – the market is most definitely there. All I can say from my experience is that as soon as you want to research something, start. So much information is available online nowadays, or through interlibrary (e-)loans, and as a student, you get discounts on articles for most publications. Plus, there are so many research methodologies, and so many different ways to approach a research question, that you can always find one that matches your resources. If you do decide to start a project of this size, and in a subject matter that you are genuinely interested in, the benefits will outweigh the costs. You really don’t even need a supervisor – that is the joy of research and peer-reviews! 🙂

    It’s all up to you, of course. You know what’s best for yourself and for your project, and if you’d prefer to wait, by all means, do so. All I’m trying to say is that research isn’t about university credit; it’s simply trying to find out what you want to know. Plus, you’ll be in a much better bargaining position later when you approach media businesses for collaboration if you can show them that you’ve done the preliminary research, and that you therefore really do know what you’re talking about.

  6. Greetings,

    I agree to everything you have said. I fully support your thoughts around Fandom. I have a complete understanding and awareness with Fan Fiction, Remix Culture, Transformative Works, Derivative Works, Time-shifting devices.

    My statement.

    “I Think media professionals desperate ambitions/or need to be a “Transmedia Pioneer” is destroying the quality/meaning of Transmedia”

    I was referring to some media professionals who were creating ambiguous definitions and solutions of Transmedia.

    In addition, 24-36 months ago there was an unfortunate debate on the definition and solution of Transmedia.

    Furthermore, I just want to see one solid definition and solution of Transmedia. I am uninterested in myself being titled a guru or pioneer. I am anticipating and I have a tremendous amount of support to the media professionals who band together, make breakthroughs, revolutions, and at last get Transmedia to work commercially.

    Therefore, I am ready to serve other media professionals and please the consumers.

    I agree, a major revenue share with a consumer will be a major problem legally and economically, however, a Reward system, will be the way to go and if the reward system is able to connect and be in used for all media, i.e. a physical book. This could have the potential to make shopping for books in a retail store fun again. Ideally, a fun interactive reward system would have tremendous profit rising results for a book store and a publisher.

    I agree again there will have to be limitations to who could participate in the creation of the story world. And, in my opinion, this will be an easy one to implement. I will put blocks on the less engaged user. For example, if a user only logged in to my MMORPG once a month, then I wouldn’t give him or her control. So depending on how the MMORPG will be designed, it could be level based and once a user reaches to level 17 he or she.

    I also, need to read more on Scott Walker’s Sand Box scenario. I admire, praise, and I like his breakthrough invention so far… would you be willing to introduce me to him? I’d like to have the opportunity to speak with him via Skype. An intimate conversation with him on his “Shared Storyworld System” will benefit me, and help me with my research paper.

    Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter, I’m sorry, but they’re franchises from very large businesses with a large overhead, advertising, and just many, many years of being inside of a consumer daily life. I am very optimistic, and I have thought big but I need to acquire the resources, support, and partnerships first. On my own project, the market tests will pull in data and analytics this will help me when I approach media corps for collaboration.

    Your advice on starting my research today, well the truth is before I had posted a comment on your blog, the research had begun and I don’t expect for it to end. I was mainly referring to writing and publishing the paper. I’ll try my best to write it before 3 semesters. Time is the major issue. I have to work a day job to support myself, and I have to study, and homework –the usual and appropriate things that college undergraduate do!

    It was nice talking to you!

    Are you still in college, USC right?

  7. contuinting my thoughts.
    ….once a user reaches to level 17 he or she will have exclusive participation access that other users won’t have.

    Tyre.

  8. Hi Christine,

    Thanks.

    Okay I will.

    You’re so lucky to be finish with college…lol good for you.. Well, good luck with your job.

    I look forward to speaking with you again.

    Thanks,

    Tyre.

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