The media around us that we beam it into our eyeballs and earholes tends to come in a handful of familiar and discrete flavors—audio/video like television and movies, print media like books and comics, and interactive like video games. Over the last several years (and even earlier to a smaller extent) there've been individuals and companies interested in trying to break down the boundaries between these medium and create something new and unexpected in the spaces between. What results are called transmedia stories.
Actually, they are called alternate reality games, chaotic fiction, cross media entertainment, and a host of other more or less inclusive terms, none of which seem to be entirely agreed-upon.
What do all those terms mean?
Well, nobody's quite sure about that either. Imagine you pick up a book at the store or library, in that book is a story, but in the story a web address is given, or maybe phone numbers. If you decide to follow up on those they lead you to new aspects of the story that are not included in the book. The pieces don't matter so much as the interconnectedness. Maybe it's a fictional YouTube video that mentions a fictional blog that you can go find. Maybe it's a television show that mentions the characters Twitter handle. In some instances the interconnectedness may extend to locations or events in the real world that are built or orchestrated to reflect a fictional world.
We like the transmedia for several reasons. It's new, it's frequently innovative, it's story-driven, and it’s broad, and un-standardized enough that it's a bit of a Wild West frontier. This is part of the storytelling world where the rules are not yet set in stone. That said, there are three fairly common forms of transmedia stories. What separates them is not so much how the stories are told, but how they are funded, and as we all know, whoever pays the bills, gets the final say.
Grassroots: These are stories started and maintained by individuals or groups paying out of their own pocket. They will often rely heavily on publicly available websites like YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn rather than setting up dedicated, proprietary websites. The good thing is that the creators have complete creative control (within the confines of their significantly limited budgets). The bad thing is that these are by far the most likely to fade out, implode, or otherwise disappear without a trace.
Viral Marketing: This is the branch of transmedia storytelling where there is some real money to be made. Most blockbuster genre movies have an associated campaign (The Avengers, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises), and plenty of big corporations have tried it over the years as well (Audi, General Motors, Microsoft), not to mention a spectrum of television shows, music albums, and various other products. In these instances, there is often enough money to engage the audience in fairly elaborate and immersive ways, but the story is, by necessity, in service of something else. As good as these campaigns can get, they are still ultimately advertisements, and as such are judged by how much buzz and interest they can generate for a particular product.
Pay to Play: This third route is the most direct; the idea here being that the transmedia story is a product in and of itself and can be sold to consumers directly. In most instances, this means that the consumer will buy a traditional product and that product will have connections to a larger transmedia story. (Consider the example of the book that we used earlier.) The creator gets control, and there's some budget to play with, but this is the only model where the consumer actually has to shell out some money to get access to the experience.
In the Tuesdays to come we’ll be taking a look at a variety of Transmedia stories. There are some cool ones we’re looking forward to sharing with you, but maybe there are others that you would like us to take a closer look at. What Transmedia stories have you heard about? Which ones do you like, dislike, or want to know more about?
Tell us what you'd like to see us cover in the comments section!