From theory to practice: the challenge of planning Transmedia

Keith_Arem_Ascend
Keith Arem's graphic novel Ascend, for which a game is currently in development

it's now been over two years since Faris bought transmedia planning to our attention in his post of the same name on TIGS.  the theory has been well expounded in the period since then; with

I'm sure that the idea of TP has cropped up in most media, comms and ad agencies by now…  it certainly has in Mediation's.  but we've yet to see – as far as I can make out – a significant campaign emerge based on TP principles.  the same is actually true of the entertainment industry; in an interview with Games TM magazine(edition 75), Henry Jenkins – the Godfather of TP – concedes that truly persuasive examples have yet to arrive.

they're doing better than us though.  transmedia planning should be everywhere by now.  the theory is familiar and is not only relatively unchallenged, but is offers the very solution to some of the biggest marketing challenges of the moment.  of its many advantages, the primary benefit has to be the extent to which it pays back on the time taken to consume it.  Jenkins goes on to observe that "regardless of the commercial motives behind it, transmedia entertainment done well also provides rewards for fans".

so why is getting the theory working in practice so difficult?  here's some starters for ten…

firstly, the financial investment required.  the reason the best examples of TM largely remain in the entertainment arena (the Matrix, Cloverfield, Heroes, Lost etc) because it takes a significant chunk of investment to develop and then create the content often required.  the commercial models for Fox or Paramount are set up to do this, the commercial models for marketeers often aren't.

but this is a bit of a cop out.  for the cost of making three 30 second ads you can certainly afford to make an episodic drama for online distribution.  and no it doesn't matter if it's not going to go on broadcast TV because those people who consume AV content online are exactly those people most likely to 'get' transmedia narratives…  this means of course that the media budgeting has to evolve just as much as the production pot.

no, the real issues in making TP happen lie much closer to home than 'we don't have the budget' territory.  they are twofold, the first of which is we're bound to the conventions of the media spaces we use.  in the Games TM article mentioned above, .  he observes that:

"if a project requires a 30-minute budget introduction, games can do that, but the medium could just as easily offer six high-budget five-hour episodes to revolutionise the story.  film and television are still limited by rigid series structures and minimum lengths".

advertisers on those channels are bound by those same conventions; conventions we as an industry – planners, buyers and media-owners (and indeed Ofcom) alike need to start challenging.  it's the limitations of the spot model that in many cases is preventing transmedia's breakthrough into broadcast channels; and as long as transmedia only exists online, it's unlikely to capture the imagination of marketeers or the budgets of FDs.

but the final barrier to making TM happen in brand comms is the closet to home of all.  Jenkins notes that TM experiences can "be a source of … frustration [for consumers] if it's inconsistent, undermines the coherence of the work, or promises insights it never delivers".  Arem's solution is simple: "have a good team of like-minded individuals around you … my philosophy for all of our projects is to have a core team to supervise all creative and technical aspects of the production.  the main focus of that team is to keep the story and assets consistent, and integrate them with the entire franchise".

I think you know where I'm going with this.  agency structures are lucky if they can do this internally let alone with other agencies, resulting in the presention of a joined up and unified transmedia solution to a client.  not only might different creative agencies have to work to one vision, but that vision has to be molded by the space planned by its media agency, and of course vice versa.

the reality is that as long as the conversation with a client only gets as far as "how big is the pack shot?", both agencies and clients will be bound to a dynamic that not only acts as a barrier to transmedia planning, but actively works against it emerging into the mainstream where it so surely deserves to belong.

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