When people think of a single character connecting two fiction worlds, it’s usually part of a franchise universe. Like Marvel’s behemoth. I’ve recently developed a few TV show ideas that are woven together by a single character but in a way different than the classic TV “crossover.” We’re getting primed for this next step. Transmedia story extensions merely add another lane to the road, or a new track to the mix. Here’s a preview of my thinking…
First, some history: Audiences love crossovers. This is an old TV tradition, Lucy from I Love Lucy appeared on The Ann Sothern Show in character back in the 50s. There’s a lot to like with crossovers. If you’re a production company such as Jerry Bruckheimer Productions and you’ve got a bunch of shows on the air, the cross-promotion works for you just as much as it does for the network. Bruckheimer’s shows crossover all the time because he knows how to make money.
It’s really too bad about Xbox TV Studios. Nancy Tellem and XBox Television Studios seemed to be heading in the right direction:
The company is taking the unusual step of only greenlighting shows that can be combined with the interactive components to encourage users to engage across consoles, phones and tablets. By hiring a team of young Hollywood executives and pairing them with software engineers, Microsoft wants to finally crack a code that the entertainment and game industries have had trouble doing alone.
In the early days of online politics, we invented a way to unfold key points of a campaign’s narrative in different online niches — depending on which demographic we needed to clue in. For example, the 2,100,000 active bloggers in the atheism subReddit could be counted on as a receptive audience for messages warning about theocratic Governor Huckabee, and for fundraising for the secular group “Doctors Without Borders” rather than faith-based charities.
Some strategists proposed using meatpuppets – a practice like sockpuppetry, except you drop the intel in online conversation using real interns or real staff identities versus invented personas. Most politicians and political organizations feared blowback from opponents, so almost every linkdrop came from the organization’s official office accounts. Also, we usually linked to some news story that was already out there on the internet rather than a leak.
This is what I mean when I urge storytellers to think of unfurling their stories "outside the box." Only Stephen Spielberg calls it "the square." “I believe we need to get rid of the proscenium,” Spielberg said. “We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square, whether it’s a movie screen or whether it’s a computer screen. We’ve got to get rid of that and we’ve got to put the player [viewer] inside the experience. That’s the future.” (Steven Spielberg, June 2013)
Netflix’ great House of Cards has this character named Zoe Barnes who writes for a political news website called “Slugline.”
In the wake of the NSA’s PRISM wiretapping controversy, I went looking for slugline.com. Nothing. What an obvious missed transmedia opportunity!
Yes, some fans are having fun on Twitter but it doesn’t appear directed – yet.
It wouldn’t take much effort to maintain an online presence at Slugline.com. The payoffs could be great fun for the audience. In the show, there are interesting political intrigue bits mentioned in passing about the political context of that world, many of which serve to paint a fuller picture of the characters’ tense lives. Because the writing is so good, many threads are picked up in subsequent episodes, they converge and become plot points. But lots of these political tidbits don’t rise to that level. These could be used as set-ups for online payoffs which are focused via Slugline.com.
Evan Shapiro of Pivot wrote about the decline of the traditional nationwide scheduled television model, sometimes referred to as Appointment Television; when everyone watched the same revenue-generating commercials at the same time:
“While we will never return to the days when 67 million people watched All In The Family each and every week, I do think we will see a return to live viewing around shows of social significance — especially if we build access points to those shows for the viewers who most want them.”
With American TV borrowing so much from Scandinavia, England, and Israel for our best TV shows, how about we borrow from Europe’s best transmedia television phenomenon: The Spiral.
What a sensational experience.
American TV has a long history of adapting foreign TV shows. From classics like All in the Family, Cheers, The Office, to even American Idol and Survivor. Some of the smartest, most original shows are imports. In Treatment, The Killing, Homeland, Shameless and more. I don’t know if it’s Hollywood risk aversion / underestimation of American audiences, but innovative TV often comes to us from abroad.
My interest in transmedia storytelling exists at the intersection of my obsessions with participatory culture, new media, and entertainment. I believe storytellers can create deeper experiences for their audiences when they unfold a story and its world via multiple venues, and when they invite audiences to participate meaningfully in that world—especially when storytellers strategize the unfolding of the adventure on multiple media from the outset of the project.
High engagement yields high-payoffs. In politics, this would be like when you turn your orgs’ mission statement into a narrative that reads like a DIY movement. The Dean campaign was that kind of thing. Similarly, Sleep No More is my kind of theatre project. And on TV, Syfy‘s Defiance is what I want to see more of. There’s a lot more TV shows with cool transmedia integration every season. And the demand is growing.
A stat from Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future, of the Annenberg School furthers one my favorite theories about TV’s evolution. When talking about second screen usage, he notes that: 42% of TV viewers were online at the same time that they watched TV – looking at related content (a still-growing number that tripled in just a few months).
I think it’s obvious that the 42% of TV viewers who go online to see more about the TV content they’re watching do not go online to find and watch the exact same video clips that they’re watching on their TV machines. What are they looking for? And why?
So what the hell is Transmedia? It is not watching a TV show on an iPad. That’s “watching TV.”
It is not telling many stories in the same universe on one TV screen. That’s “franchising,” like the Marvel Universe movies.
Ideally, transmedia is the telling of a story on multiple platforms. By this definition, the earliest example of transmedia storytelling is with the Bible: a book, plays, music, paintings, stained-glass, sculpture, and meetups (designed to trigger every one of our five senses) all helping tell the story.
Clay Shirky wrote a great article that contained another example of how we must adapt or die:
Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn’t a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.
The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won.
If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format…
The people in the music industry weren’t stupid, of course. They had access to the same internet the rest of us did. They just couldn’t imagine—and I mean this in the most ordinarily descriptive way possible—could not imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry’s insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.
Parks & Recreation is great. And it’s also doing a lot of transmedia storytelling right.
I watch TV with a device on my lap, and when Amy Poehler’s character ran for City Council, I went looking for her campaign website because that’s literally my background: I used to do transmedia storytelling strategy in politics. I was happy to find that NBC, the production company, and/or the writers had a funny site up and running. Bravo.
The site’s full of great callbacks to jokes from previous episodes. There’s funny writing in character voices. And like any real campaign website, you can sign up for election updates, newsletters, you can take actions for the campaign, you can even buy real merch, and they invite you to follow the characters on social media. The characters have twitter accounts.
I pulled this out of the memory hole:
THANKS BUT NO THANKS
Free Publicity In ‘Crazy People’ Costs Advertisers Some Pride
April 19, 1990 | By Yardena Arar, Los Angeles Daily News.
The new Paramount comedy, “Crazy People,” starring Dudley Moore as an adman fixated on truth in advertising, is filled with fake ads for real-life goods and services-none of which paid a penny for the exposure.
Of course, the exposure isn’t exactly a real-life advertiser’s dream.
“Would the Hindenburg have paid for placement in the newsreel?” AT&T spokesman Burke Stinson asked rhetorically during a conversation about the AT&T ad in the film.
Gen Y and the early Millennials are the last group of people who will remember broadcast ubiquity and an advertisers’ ability to rent a captive audience. They’re also the last who remember the internet as a collection of websites. They’re very key to the future budgets of Film and TV because of this history and adaptability.
First, some background: the internet’s most recent evolution was described by Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson in his provocative article “The web is dead, long live the internet” as the rise of apps, offering smoothed-off portals to the mountains of data out there on the internet. Custom tools, good for no other purpose but as the app intends.
Around 2003, after Democrats were walloped in the midterms, and the established liberal advocacy organizations in D.C. proved unable to register any victories against President Bush, the Professional Left was desperate. So desperate that many Dems and lots of orgs actually hired a bunch of bloggers and technology geeks to try something new – anything new. I was one of those strategy kids. I always brought my background in theatre/film to the table, stressing the need for a coherent story with respect to “the battle of narratives” element of politics. However much I stressed story stuff like identify the bad guy, or choose conflict, our essential challenge was to figure out how to use the nascent internet to do good, and do it well, in D.C.
Mark Pesce, a media professor at the University of Sydney, lectures on his “Hyperdistribution Theory.” The theory is predicated on a few assumptions: the internet’s revolutionizing effect on content distribution has transformed how advertising must relate to content, and also how viewers react to advertisers.
Traditional advertising is increasingly losing its effectiveness. One marketing trade publication said that television advertising is only one-third as effective as it was in 1990. Only 14% of people say they trust it, and only 16% are even watching the ad. So television advertising as it has existed is not sustainable.
This was nice of them to say:
The Coolest New Website on the Internet
By Eric Klinenberg, Sep-2010
The creators of the networking site itsasickness.com are betting our obsessions will be the Internet’s next big thing. Behind the scenes at Departures’ photo shoot, the three founders—including actor Alan Cumming—discuss their own “sicknesses” and why our fixations are what make us most interesting.
“This is how we use the Internet already—we just don’t admit how wonderfully weird and funny it is,” says Barnaby Harris, referring to his new website, itsasickness.com, a portal for anyone who’s obsessed with something and wants to “geek out” about it online. “We encourage people to acknowledge their sickness,” Harris says, “and help them see that other people have it, too.”
The Times reports on the spread of branded content. A few quotations stood out for me as furthering theories:
This branded content, the term for products figuring prominently without being overtly sold, is reminiscent of “The Hire,” a series of short films by BMW that featured its cars. Produced in 2001 and 2002, the films had directors like Ang Lee and John Woo and included actors like Clive Owen and Don Cheadle.
The article is about how this website called Massify (where amateur filmmakers vie for the chance to shoot artsy commercials for products) teamed up with an Oscar winning production company Killer Films who chose the best script.
I’ve heard grumbles from many friends about facebook. Indeed, there’s something amiss about this megalithic inbox replacement social utility that I have had difficulty diagnosing until recently. I’ve found a few articles on the interwebs that I take to be clues.
First, Dunbar’s Number is a network theorem that states that individuals can sustain meaningful relationships with 148 people. Beyond that point, network salience becomes much too difficult to sustain strong ties among nodes in the network. Some neurologists and primatologists postulate that our threshold for juggling social connections is directly related to the size of our neocortex – which is bigger in women. I digress.