First aired as a Spark Plus podcast (11/15/11). An edited version will air on an upcoming episode of Spark.
Transmedia. It's a buzzword (coined by USC professor Henry Jenkins) we are hearing everywhere these days when it comes to television, movies, books and more. No longer can a narrative exist on a single platform: it needs to be everywhere, so consumers — whether they be readers, watchers or gamers — can interact with the story wherever they want, whenever they want, however they want.
Although it may be the thing everyone is talking about these days, it's something very few people do well. For Steve Rubel, a popular blogger and the executive vice-president of global strategy and insights at the public relations firm Edelman, understanding transmedia is the key to thriving in it. It's not simply about sharing your story across multiple platforms. It's about using what makes those platforms unique to enhance the overall experience.
"Transmedia is about making a narrative whole," he explained to Spark host Nora Young in a recent interview. It's about "how to keep a story alive across different channels, so that the narrative follows people throughout the life cycle of things they do in a given day."
It's important for a story to be able to be adapted for different mediums, Rubel argues, because it also increases the "stickiness" of the content. In today's fast and furious digital world, consumers have an increasing amount of choice when it comes to their media, both for information and entertainment purposes.
"The concern is that so much content is ephemeral. It evaporates like wet snow," Rubel explained. "We need to...make sure that the snow sticks. For the general public, they want to see that continue not just in between releases." The more platforms the story is visible on, the increased likelihood that people see, remember and interact with that story.
Hollywood may be spearheading the transmedia revolution, but Rubel urges anyone in the storytelling game to start thinking about it beyond a single platform. Books are one of the richest sources of narratives that lend themselves to multiplatform exposure. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Game of Thrones and the Millennium trilogy — all these franchises have demonstrated cohesive and comprehensive storytelling power from page to screen to games to online worlds and more.
So how can authors and publishers tap into successful transmedia storytelling? Rubel says that the first step is simply understanding your story. "It's about understanding the power of narrative and understanding protagonist, antagonist, setting, conflict," he said. "That is as old as peoplekind."
From there, understanding "the lens that you want to play in" and "how you can continue that narrative and that conversation across channels" can emerge organically as the story adapts and grows in different channels.
But every medium isn't right for every story — or for every consumer. What makes transmedia so intriguing is the ability to allow readers to decide the elements of the story they want to interact with — and what elements they want to ignore. "Everyone is going to have to make their own choices about what they let into their lives and when," Rubel explained. And that's okay. "We only have a limited dashboard."
It's like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" for the digital age.
Do you enjoy connecting with stories on different platforms? Or do you prefer that a book stay a book, a movie stay a movie, a game stay a game? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below!