May 252010

…and the truth about ARGs.

Now that transmedia is everywhere and the Producers Guild of America have turned the ‘transmedia producer’ into a bona fide (or at least recognised) professional role one thing that rears it’s cross-media head is, who and where are the best transmedia producers going to come from? I have spent a good part of the last 15 years mentoring & training traditional & non-traditional media types in multiple platform content and now question where the best producers of this multifaceted ‘new’ content will come from – academia, film, book authors, social media consultants, game designers, TV, web developers, radio, advertisers, young, old, not yet born? Read on, a ‘hypothetical’ interview follows 🙂 and this is an opinion piece I cannot put in my book or lecture about!


Firstly what is it and does it actually mean anything at all? It is fantastic that the term ‘transmedia’ is now so widespread across the industry and with the official credit (attached ironically to film primarily) but is it a bubble about to burst – is what we have come to know as ‘transmedia’ in danger of being blown out of all proportion.

Here are some of the problems:

  1. Everyone is a transmedia producer – yes you’ve made a website that is attached to a TV show, your a TP. Created a mobile game that has a line or two from the comic, you’re a TP. No one will police this – is it a truly integrated story environment, does it have clever plot links or consistent characters?. A TP is a decathlete (multi-skilled, hard to get a one word answer about what they do in a bar!), gone is nice and simple mono media, a TV producer makes TV shows, film director directs films. You can be a TP if you merge your story across two or more media areas? But more on this later in the post.
  2. Transmedia as a concept is not focused. OK I know Henry Jenkin’s original definition has been spread around the web but it is a definition that is too broad. Perhaps I should exercise my floccinaucinihilipilification and suggest that something that tries to describe everything is actually worthless? Transmedia like a black hole in the universe it tries to describe sucks in everything that has come before (cross media, 360, social media, augmented reality, pervasive gaming and so on). At the other end of this spectrum citing Matrix or Blair Witch or other brand to justify the ‘field’ as mainstream it becomes apparent that the quoted definition itself is rather vacuuous. To quote Jenkins again from an LA Times article, transmedia – “means telling a story across different platforms, each element of which may or may not stand on its own but contributes to an enriched, dynamic, more participatory and “lifelike” experience.”
  3. We are still in the hype phase. Basically anything cool and different those transmedia types (and I point the finger at myself too btw) will take ownership of. I even heard the other day someone say Transmedia is the new Social media and augmented reality even gets a look in. I am not surprised those still getting their head around the ‘story’ potential of social networks or a cute mobile game find it all rather, dis-jointed. Also the increase in experimental and experiential ‘event’ based marketing suddenly meant transmedia is now inextricably linked with brand extensions (TV, film, product) – anything that is not a linear, branded film or TV show. I think for those who live in the transmedia echo chamber this has been the case for many years.
  4. It feels rather academic. Trans-media used to be an alternative semi-academic term to ‘cross-media’ (trans, from the latin ‘crossing’) but is now used to describe everything, non-linear, interactive, extension, participatory, social, brand, play, multi-platform, pervasive and so on. The idea that stories would be told in different places goes back thousands of years but in a modern media context a rich target for study and theorizing. Along came Henry Jenkins who coined the term transmedia almost a decade after the first basic cross-media incarnation. Henry admirably self confesses as being ‘too busy lecturing and presenting about transmedia, to partake’ of the industrial flavour of transmedia “some of it is not well done yet”.
  5. It is still a teenager. It has grown up before it’s time and become a troublesome big headed teenager without any true home and turned into a dysfunctional orphan at once protectively nurtured by over possessive academics, hijacked by experimental ad agencies and hardly understood by flailing stuck-in-time broadcasters. Originally cross-media was an intellectually stimulating concept – memories of mid 90s, pioneering BBC days also my old friend Brian Seth-Hurst who is “Referred to as “the father of cross platform” Hurst coined the term in 1998 as MD of Convergent Media at Pittard Sullivan”. Earlier definitions just talked about story based ‘crossing platforms’ element but since the exponential increase in social media as a place for millions to dwell it has suddenly had the participatory/social part added and also a suggestion that it is now a more integrated form of storytelling, I suppose I should have added a level 5 to my 5 year old (but about to be removed!) wikipedia cross media definition!
  6. Danger of being hijacked – Alongside all of this we have a ‘clique’ of so-called experts who try to describe something which is so simple on one hand (stuff on multiple platforms) yet so ambiguous on the other (fragmented narrative effervescence)  – time will expose the Transmedia echo chamber I suppose.

Of course I have nothing against the term per-say in the absence of alternatives having created transmedia entities/sites like or or – all transmedia in focus – but lets start thinking about the emperors clothes. Indeed the Producers Guild definition of the TP, however bold in its intention, is still a little ambiguous about the precise elements of the role to say the least

A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms:  Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.

A Transmedia Producer credit is given to the person(s) responsible for a significant portion of a project’s long-term planning, development, production, and/or maintenance of narrative continuity across multiple platforms, and creation of original storylines for new platforms. Transmedia producers also create and implement interactive endeavors to unite the audience of the property with the canonical narrative and this element should be considered as valid qualification for credit as long as they are related directly to the narrative presentation of a project.

Transmedia Producers may originate with a project or be brought in at any time during the long-term rollout of a project in order to analyze, create or facilitate the life of that project and may be responsible for all or only part of the content of the project. Transmedia Producers may also be hired by or partner with companies or entities, which develop software and other technologies and who wish to showcase these inventions with compelling, immersive, multi-platform content.


But this post is not just about the word – there are hundreds of blog posts even now still trying to really get under the surface of what transmedia means and it is too easy to fall down the semantic rabbit hole of terminology and the endless subjective splits between academics, industry and wannabes. Perhaps something more concrete can be found in the ‘transmedia stuff’ itself. What is this stuff and who is making it?

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Oct 182005

He and other producers are convinced that the low cost of digital production and distribution will allow Internet TV to thrive even with small audiences. “We can get by with 100,000 subscribers,” Mr. Myrick said. “Networks are cancelling shows on 3 million viewers.”

I have tried to resist posting about Apples foray into the portable video space for several days but have been a little ‘distracted ;-)’ so hopefully this will balance me a little. We all know the news and I wouldn’t like to say “I told you so” but at January’s MacWorld in San Fran I was privileged to actually see a prototype of this. An ‘Apple friend’ showed me an iPod photo running video in a ‘quiet moment’ – and I thought nothing more of it, it was sold to me as a bit of a hack. Not much of a jump but made complete sense to me in the short term. A few colleagues joked in disbelief when I mentioned that the first video iPod would probably look the same as the existing range. Anyway I shall move away from the ‘gadget’ and to the revolution. This is not about gear it is about society in transformation. If we just idly glance at the mass of video portals growing on the horizon and the plethora of portable video devices there is the potential for the largest shared rush of ‘personalized’ content to personal devices we have ever seen in history. I did this diagram to give a feel for where we are even at the moment:

Digram of portals and portable video players

The demand from the video portals will eventually take eyeballs away from scheduled TV – at first they will cross-promote each other, but the convenience and portability of personal video will drive demand for the equivalent (VOD) in the home and the ability to ‘dock’ to your large lounge screen. The same way the audio iPod is replacing, for many people, the audio hifi, CD/tape player and certainly the radio. I suggest that there will come a time when your portable video player becomes the life tool for moving visual memories and films into others homes. It will be used between families and friends, for business travellers, for creative professionals – in fact we will become far less dependent on physical media as we are able even in the early days to carry the equivalent of 10-50 DVDs inside our coat pocket. OK the quality difference is significant from DVD MPEG2 running at 7Mbs+ to a little MP4 running at 878kbs! – but strangely that MP4 on a good day is almost as good as standard def TV on a bad day – especially NeverTheSameColor US TV…trust me on that one (having lived with PAL most of my life)!

Then there is the content itself. I keep hearing from many professional broadcasters that user generated content is just not TV, not up to the exacting standards that TV viewers expect (well they could wrap it up nicely at least!). Has any one told them that those viewers, and I use this word carefully (as we all need high prod values sometimes – Desperate Housewive fans!) are OFTEN more interested in genuine, real life stories from people than ‘dumbed down’, badly written, artificially constructed narrative. But there is that great middle ground also – amateur filmmakers have already taken the lead on the web – where else could they go? But even more significantly the great filmic storytellers are giving up on TV as well – a recent NY Times article “Smaller Video Producers Seek Audiences on Net” talks about recognised producers such as ‘Blair Witch’s” Dan Myrick are now skipping the TV platform altogether

Instead of watching the show on TV, viewers will have to go to Mr. Myrick’s Web site,, where a 50-minute pilot episode is available free. Future episodes will cost 99 cents, for a 30-minute film.

Video delivered over the Internet, which has been embraced by media and Internet giants like Viacom and Yahoo, is quickly shaping up as a way for smaller producers to reach an audience without having to cut deals with movie studios and the big networks that are the traditional gatekeepers of television.

As interest in video soars (there are more than a million video clips currently available online), a host of new ventures is starting to cater to the publishing and advertising needs of smaller video creators. One new start-up called Brightcove, for example, has developed a system of online video production tools that makes it easier for small operations to distribute video programs as well as charge for them.

“With ‘Blair Witch,’ the Internet was a force in helping us in the marketing department,” Mr. Myrick said. With technology from Brightcove, he said, his video company can “take a show idea, produce it in the spirit of a network series, but keep everything in-house and publish it ourselves over broadband.”

Obviously we have a little way to go (as implied in the diagram above) before we have free movement from all portals to all devices – usage rules (controlled by DRM), licensing and a hundred other hurdles need to be overcome. Then there is everything else, getting a common metadata standard running across this sea of content and device so we can actually find stuff we want – but I have been down that road a few times already…

To finish with Apple, the effective closed portal to closed device model that has worked for Apple with MP3 may I feel start to breakdown with video – users will more feel they are locked onto a device when you have to look at it to enjoy the media and with one of the smaller screens on the market. We shall see. I shall also be waiting for the 16/9 large screen iPod scheduled for Spring 2006 – whoops, did I just start a rumour 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005