This came to my attention today via Simon Staffans. It’s a list of featured insights from a recent study by Google titled “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior”. The major take-away from the piece is that broadcast media — in particular television networks — should integrate multiple media use, with an emphasis on screen media, into their delivery strategies in response to consumer trends. In short, consumers from the study typically engage with multiple screens and this should be reflected in content delivery strategies. For those working in the transmedia industry there is nothing particlarly alarming, or surprising about these insights. They reflect a shift in the entertainment industry whereby consumers now expect entertainment experiences that reflect those already afforded to them by a converging technologies sector. Whilst these insights are significant and their relevance to multi-platform storytelling should not be underestimated, there is risk in applying a “one size fits all” approach to transmedia which needs to be articulated.
Storytelling is a business — true — but first, it is an art. Each expression should be carefully crafted so as to impart or evoke a particular feeling, a sentiment or a rumination. As a critical component of human culture stories should inform and reflect our experiences. Stories are personal and so are their expression. A good transmedia storyteller should be able to identify the relationship between story and discourse and be able to identify the right expression/s for their telling. One size does not fit all. The rush to digital expansion reflects an ease of access to media content which may or may not be indicative of a storytelling solution. In fact, storytelling has never presented a problem, except as a business model. That being said, there are many examples of good transmedia practice which do not rely exclusively on digital expansion or screen-dominated experiences. They demonstrate best expression whilst serving a business imperative to retain a large audience, and for this reason they are note-worthy.
For example, whenever I think transmedia storyworld, I can’t not think of Disney. In my mind, Disney is one of the first major entertainment conglomerates to systematically use a transmedia approach to their storytelling logic. Disney theme parks are designed precisely to immerse you in a storyworld. For the vibrant, and often fantastical narratives associated with the Disney brand this method of story expansion is perfect. Furthermore, the child-oriented nature of most Disney films invites a playful form of engagement. Theme parks are perfect for encouraging this kind of experience. In fact, Disney theme parks are built on a principle of immersion. Not only can you be told the story, but you can experience the story — feel it, smell it, taste it and hear it. The most obvious example is Pirates of The Caribbean, an immersive theme park ride that became a family-adventure Hollywood hit. Now audiences can enjoy the story whose world they have experienced physically in the park. Disney thus demonstrates the capacity for immersive experience-based design to inspire engagement across multiple platforms for both children and adults.
In the comic book industry, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (season eight) was the best selling title for Dark Horse in its first year’s release. Despite the recent emphasis on screens, Joss Whedon knew his genre — and his audience — well enough to recognise the world-building potential of the comic book format. Essentially, the fantastical nature of Whedon’s Buffyverse was best expanded using a format which allowed the characters — and the world — to grow in fantastical ways. The kinship between screen media and comic books has also been noted elsewhere; however this relationship is particularly relevant as it pertains to the action-fantasy genre, where the two are compatible because they both facilitate the expression of action and fantasy themes. This was corroborated in my own *soon to be released* research.
In short, one size does not fit all. Multi-platform and multi-screen design are not mutually exclusive. Best transmedia practice should be achieved via a careful synthesis of audience metrics and storytelling logic. Amid the hype surrounding digital media some of the best storytelling ventures still emerge from traditional media. Whilst digital-screen media can be used to astounding effect in transmedia design, the recent popularity of such formats do not guarantee their success in every case. For me, the aforementioned examples serve as a constant reminder that the emphasis in transmedia storytelling is still firmly on the latter, where it should be.