Some people speculate that this is because Transmedia is still in its infancy, a fact I find debatable considering reported examples of Transmedia going back more than a decade.
So, before I go on to the gist of this post, I recap here the current debate on what constitutes Transmedia:
- ONE single story from one universe on multiple platforms. ~Steve Peters
- MANY stories from one universe on multiple platforms. ~Jeff Gomez
- Should consist of at least THREE platforms. ~Producers Guild of America
- Should require an INTERACTIVE component. ~Robert Pratten
Many in the community now eye roll at any attempt at starting a conversation on the matter. However the STAKES are incredibly high. The only way to set a professional accreditation is to come up with a definition that would allow for financial measurement and other essential things, like health insurance.
Now, full disclosure, I may not have an answer today to any of the questions that arise with this debate. However I have come to recognized some of the elements that probably will bring this debate faster to a close in the coming months. And that got me excited.
Finding a solution by identifying WHAT IS NOT:
I am passionate about case studies because I find that is the best way to learn what Transmedia is and what is not. In this way I came up a while ago with a small experiment, ’12 Polls in 12 Days’, just around the same time Steve Peters started the #antitransmedia movement . Because my experiment mirrored what Steve Peters was trying to do, I ended up doing only ‘6 Polls in 6 Days’, as further analysis of examples weren’t needed. By doing this, I came to the conclusion that there are two main causes fueling the Transmedia Definition problem:
1. There is a discrepancy in understanding the difference between Transmedia Storytelling and Multi-Platform Convergence. This often brings about the confusion that Transmedia is franchising, branding, or marketing. But just because a property expands across multiple platforms doesn’t mean that a story is told cohesively throughout. The faster people realize the difference between METHODS and STORYTELLING the faster we can move onward from the debate.
2. Transmedia Storytelling is not something you can slap onto any property. Ideally Transmedia should be considered as a way to develop a property from the ground up, and not really as an afterthought. The minute a property is ARBITRARLY put in that position without further speculation just increases the confusion on how to correctly implement multi-platforms. This further fuels the debate.
Finding a solution by identifying the chaos of WHAT IS:
In this manner I came to realize that the best way to understand Transmedia is by grasping its fragmented nature. When dealing with multiple platforms, we are essentially dealing with the act of dividing of the story in multiple PIECES. Around the same time I was brainstorming on this concept, Andrea Phillips came up with her Transmedia Fragmentation post. In her post Andrea explains how some properties allow for big fragments and other properties for small fragments, all pending on scope. But as long as both projects are ‘designed to encourage you to seek and consume multiple pieces’, both properties fall into what Transmedia is in principle.
What will settle the argument?
I think there are three things that need to happen for the debate to be settled:
- The launch of a property conceived purely as Transmedia from the ground up.
- The launch of a project strong and powerful enough to take Transmedia from an underground concept to mainstream awareness.
- The launch of a project so innovative it changes the rules of what is possible to do with Transmedia, and thus narrowing its definition.
In the past few weeks it’s been announced that 2 out of 3 of these are coming to pass:
It is still too early to tell how exactly Pottermore is Transmedia, as only screenshots of the project have been released. But there’s speculation that it will include gaming mechanics, a social media component, a venue to expand the universe not only by JK Rolling but also by user generated content… it all screams Transmedia. Details of whether or not the project will include interactive applications, a virtual reality component, and an integrated encyclopedia companion… they are all irrelevant. To me the importance of Pottermore stands in the fact that it will not only be able to take the buzzword out of Transmedia, but put Transmedia on the map in a way no other property has been able to do.
And, if you think about it, this is not the first time the Harry Potter IP has been a trend setter. At first, it changed how people published books, popularizing once again serialized fiction. Then, as the fandom grew, it change marketing views on franchising, and how a property is only as valuable as it is compelling to its audience. As the IP moved onto the movie medium, it once again set a trend of splitting the story in as many parts as the story needed in order to be told successfully. Hence the split of the final book in two movies. After years of accumulative international recognition, 7 books, 8 movies, an amusement park, and arguably the biggest fandom ever, now there is Pottermore. A project conceived to give future generations of Harry Potter fans a way to experience the property that would still allow for a sense of community in these technological changing times.
People that grew up anticipating the arrival of the new installment of the series experienced this sense of community by their own means (midnight release parties, fan site creations, conventions, etc). Because these onetime events are no longer, Pottermore allows for the new fans discovering the series to still experience this sense of community in a centralized portal. This, conveniently enough, not only allows JK Rolling an official venue in which to release content and merchandise, but also allows for metric capturing and fandom tracking. This can change the relationship between JK Rolling as the IP owner and the fandom. In a sense she is becoming a curator for the IP, allowing for the relationship with her audience to be more symbiotic and interactive. And by doing so in such an innovative and rewarding way for her fans, she’s allocating for the controversial Transmedia ‘inverted pyramid of interest’ to reverse.
If Pottermore is a sustainable success, and a clear Transmedia model, then the Transmedia definition is facing a new paradigm for similar properties with big mythos.
And then, the only thing left to wait on is the launch of a project so innovative it changes the rules of what we can consider Transmedia at that point. While we wait for this to come to pass *cough-fourthwall-cough* sit and enjoy how it all unfolds. Cause let’s face it, Transmedia is a beast that will keep changing as long as platforms keep evolving. We can attempt to define it for practical and legal reasons, as long as we are open to constant revision. But we can’t fight the notion that a Transmedia definition can’t be controlled, as all attempts will be ineffective because of its paradoxical nature. I suggest, instead, that we learn how to reel in the constant changes, which make for exciting times indeed.
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