What is Transmedia Storytelling?
Transmedia storytelling is telling a story across multiple forms of media and preferably with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration. In a transmedia context, the “story unfolds across multiple media platforms with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole” (Jenkins, 2006). In this lesson, we will examine the elements of transmedia and survey a range of case examples to help you design your own transmedia narratives.
In transmedia storytelling, engagement with each successive piece of media heightens the audience’s understanding, enjoyment and affection for the story. To do this successfully, the embodiment of the story in each piece of media needs to be satisfying in its own right while enjoyment from all the media should be greater than the sum of the parts.
“In the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best—so that a story might be introduced in a film, expanded through television, novels, and comics; its world might be explored through gameplay or experienced as an amusement park attraction.”
Henry Jenkins (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (pp. 95-96).
Watch Cinderella 2.0 below which provides an insightful introduction into transmedia storytelling and design. Watch how the creators take a classic fairytale and reimagine it as a transmedia narrative.
❗️ Pay attention because this is what you’ll be doing for your final CIU 210 assignment.
Why Tell Stories Using Multiple Media?
The following is an excerpt from Transmedia Storyteller
“Telling stories across multiple media – transmedia storytelling – allows content that’s right-sized, right-timed and right-placed to form a larger, cohesive and rewarding experience.
★ Technology and free markets have allowed unprecedented levels of customization, personalization and responsiveness such that a policy of “one size fits all” is no longer expected or acceptable.
★ We tell stories to entertain, to persuade and to explain.
★ Our minds do not like random facts or objects and so they create their own stories to make sense of otherwise discrete, isolated events and items.
★ We naturally and often subconsciously connect the dots and dots connected in a stimulating way we call great stories.
★ Great stories win hearts and minds.
★ We tell stories across multiple media because no single media satisfies our curiosity or our lifestyle.
★ We are surrounded by an unprecedented ocean of content, products and leisure opportunities. The people we wish to tell our stories to have the technology to navigate the ocean and can choose to sail on by or stop and listen.”
The next illustration shows the “Franchise Transmedia” project. It’s a series of single-platform deliverables – a book, a movie, a game. In many ways, the platforms are independent except that they often cover different narrative spaces: prequel, sequel, flashback which may dictate a release order or schedule. In any case, there’s no apparent audience interactivity between the platforms.
Portmanteau Transmedia project, by contrast, might look like an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) which will often cover a single narrative space across multiple platforms – each alone insufficient to carry the complete story but like jigsaw puzzle pieces they must be assembled to complete the picture.
Designing a Transmedia Storyworld
Designing a transmedia experience then is a matter of asking the following:
• What is the story I want to tell?
• How will I deliver the story?
• What kind of audience participation do I want or need?
• How will audience participation affect the story over time?
• How much is based in the real world vs a fictional world?
• At one end of the spectrum, there might be an entirely fictional world, tightly controlled by the author with no audience interaction and at the other you could have an experience based around real-world places and events in which the audience is free to completely change how the story evolves and is experienced.
Examples of Transmedia Storytelling
Explore the transmedia stories below and pay attention to the elements you find appealing and effective. Ask yourself how you might be able to utilize elements of these transmedia story worlds in your own retellings.
Year Zero is an album by Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor. The alternate reality game prefigured and overlapped the release of the album and involved players around the world delving into a dystopian future set in 2022. Players analysed websites detailing environmental and social issues of the time; deciphered clues embedded on T-shirts, discovered unreleased tracks in USB sticks left in restrooms; rang phone numbers; created art for resistance; and some even attended a secret resistance meeting, which turned out to be a private concert with Nine Inch Nails, before they were thrown out by (fake) SWAT Police.
“Concept albums of years past tended to wrap characters and themes around a given slate of music to create an easily digestible, ready to consume product… but we exploded that paradigm with the release of Year Zero, an ideology that couldn’t be contained within traditional parameters. Thumb drives showed up in the real world, websites and phone numbers announced the coming of a new audio revolution, and 3 million participants propagated that central message. This was Trent Reznor’s vision fully realized, and it all led to an exclusive, underground Nine Inch Nails concert for his ravenously engaged fans. Wake up and join the resistance.”
Click here to watch a short video by 42 Entertainment (the media strategists behind Year Zero) detailing the conception and orchestration of the transmedia events surrounding the release of the album.
Rescue Diana Foxx
A suspenseful interactive crime story about Dina Foxx. When arrested for murder, she claims her world has been manipulated by a digital doppelganger. Rescue Dina Foxx! is an innovative transmedia event telling an exciting story about our threatened digital privacy in a fantastic new and entertaining way. It was created in 2011 by teamWorx, UFA Lab and German broadcaster ZDF.
Biophilia is the 7th studio album by Björk, but to call Biophilia an album is really a misnomer: It’s a quintessential example of a work of transmedia, telling a story across multiple platforms. There’s the audio version of Biophilia and the multimedia app. It is also an educational workshop, museum installation and performance series.
Biophilia began as a science film with Björk’s longtime video maker, Michel Gondry ( director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). When that iteration ran into roadblocks, Björk started developing the songs as not just sonic recordings but also as visualized compositions.
Animated short film, Final Flight of Osiris character Jue is dispatched from the ship Osiris to warn Zion about the machines drilling to Zion. She drops a package into a mailbox. The package is the prologue for the video game Enter the Matrix – with Niobe and Ghost retrieving the package left in the short film. At the beginning of Matrix Reloaded, Morpheus receives a message from Niobe and Ghost, via the package.
Brainstorming Your Own Transmedia Retelling
YOUR FINAL ASSESSMENT TASK
As a group (assigned by your tutor), you will propose a contemporary transmedia adaptation of a
story (given by your tutor). You don’t need to create the transmedia story, simply conceptualise the model of engagement with the story world and the transmedia elements you will use to retell your story to your audience. The assignment is to be presented as a pitch to the class and your tutors. Your pitch will be a 10-minute group presentation (using PowerPoint or any media support you choose).
Your target audience:
– males and females in their mid-twenties (for many of you, just think about a group of your peers).
Your transmedia project must include the following:
– a digital medium,
– a live event,
– a tangible medium (print, billboard, newspaper, CD/DVD, book, magazine, clothing, or object of some kind)
In delivering your pitch you need to provide:
– a brief summary of the original story,
– a synopsis of your contemporary retelling,
– an outline of the transmedia you will employ,
– a description of the entire experience from the perspective of two potential users/audience
members (from when they discover the project to the end of it).
What kind of media and performative devices can you use in your transmedia stories?
📢 HAVE YOUR SAY
Here’s a list of potential media sites for your transmedia project which CIU 210 students brainstormed last trimester.
Add to this list by posting additional suggestions in the comments box via Campus Online.
Radio (podcasts / stories / news bulletins)
Print media (zines, pamphlet drop, street press, newspapers)
Visual art installations (fixed or mobile)
Escape the room events
Workshops (education / leisure/ instructional)
Festival events (Street theatre, dance, crafts)
Advertising (billboards, stickers, posters)
Social media (Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest, Soundcloud, Twitter)
Games (computer, mobile, board games, sports games, contests/competition, giveaways)
Augmented reality apps
Product mispricing (i.e. labels)
Protests / parade
Culture jamming techniques (pocket/shop dropping, billboard liberation, subvertising)
Remixing / parody
Blackout poetry / slam poetry
Digital Chinese whispers
Tangible objects such as trading cards, figurines, food and drink items, clothing, beauty products
Geocaching, QR codes, barcodes,
Augmented reality apps
Further Resources to help you design your own transmedia stories…
Transmedia Storytelling: The Complete Guide | State of Digital
Every day in our Feedly or Twitter or Facebook or G+ appears a post about how to create relevant content for our website, content that will help us to put our Brand in front of our audience, capturing its attention and generating social engagement and, from a purely SEO point of view, tons of links.
📚 READING TASK
Jenkins, H. (2006). Searching for the origami unicorn: The Matrix and transmedia storytelling. In Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide (pp. 93-130) New York: NYC Press.
📌 VERY PINTERESTING
Be sure to make use of the resources on the SAE Media and Cultural Studies Pinterest board. Here you will find links to texts, images, audio, video and other media that help you make more sense of the subject.