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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Mar 092009

Over the years I have been creating lots of confusing, busy yet at the same time, meaningful and insightful emergent media diagrams. These attempt to help the uninitiated heritage media folk, get to grips with a multiplatform, shifting-social-media-sands, transmogodified entertainment landscape…breathe.

So I have been uploading a bunch of these diagrams onto my flickr account over the past weeks, partly to make them more accessible to me too (oh the joys of the cloud) but with the creative commons tag, for all and sundry to use (attributed of course – the only way to power & fame nowadays – cackles!). Here is a short selection of the 25 or so already up, with brief descriptions – the main bunch is in a set called ‘Emergent Media’ here.

Distributed Story Online

The above diagram is intended to help storytellers simply understand a range of key places to distribute their story fragments or triggers online. I always aim to have x and y axes and here I decided to differentiate these ‘social media services’ by time vs richness. So x axis is ad hoc dip-in-out through to realtime/live and y axis is basic text through to video/games etc: It would be possible to do a quick ‘sketch’ user journey here too by adding sequential numbers to the ‘notes’ one puts in the boxes.

The Ecology of Form

The above is one of my favourite diagrams from way back in early 2006. I normally present this by saying in looking at ‘form’  lets not follow red-herrings by only looking at the content type, or distribution channel, or display – but mostly at the audience and the cross-media form. The arrows there indicate the participatory audience pushing content up to the top and it filtering down onto the three screens – mobile, informational and home (phone, pc, tv ish)

The Myth of Web 2.0 Non-Participation

This was a diagram I threw together at Bangkok airport believe it or not early in 2007  – simply looking at the influence that people have in the sharing web. It is intended to show a whole bunch of ‘indicative’ ideas about the proportional numbers who contribute to web 2.0 through to the influence each category of users have on it – I also invented in my jet-lagged haze five categories, The Creators, The Editors, The Critics, The Sharers and The Consumers. This was discussed here on this blog and heavily dugg too last year.

Media & Platform Convergence

A convergence viewpoint (and yes I know the C word is bad!) But I re-discovered this diagram and the thing that stood out for me was OMG everything seems to be pointing towards the iPhone! Yes games, information, video and telephony all combined into one device…I wonder if Apple nicked this 🙂 But thing that stood out for me was the developments in 100 years from only cinema through to a device you hold in your hand that now combines potentially everthing (to a lesser or greater degree). My original post this is on here Media Journey’s Pt 2

Shared Social Worlds Universe

A relatively recent diagram when I was trying to get my head across ‘shared worlds’. I often get asked about shared worlds being just game worlds (WoW or Second Life) but of course it extends across a whole genre of services online. I didn’t include the shared worlds of email/forums/twitter etc etc but concentrate on worlds specifically aimed at stories or games for this particular chart. The ubiquitous x and y axes here are about x – physical to digital 3D and y – Functional to Game. It is therefore easy to map ‘real life’ at bottom left as physical/functional while top right digital and game as being the traditional MMORPG.


Finally couldn’t post diagrams without a very recent one I did with the wondrous and exquisite Laurel Papworth which merges the above thinking with how to promote and reach out across the vast landscape of social media. Here is a description from the flickr photo that has already had 1600 views or so.

By Gary Hayes and Laurel Papworth – From a presentation I gave at SPAA Fringe on Saturday 25 Oct 2008 in Sydney. Concepts behind this covered in the slides embedded on…

* INVOLVE – live the social web, understand it, this cannot be faked
* CREATE – make relevant content for communities of interest
* DISCUSS – no conversation around it, then the content may as well not exist
* PROMOTE – actively, respectfully, promote the content with the networks
* MEASURE – monitor, iteratively develop and respond or be damned!

As I said there are many more on my flickr account and will be adding another 30 or so old archive ones in the next months.

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