Imagine entering a room for the first time. If you're like me, you probably look around, take the scene in, and combine all of the different individual elements into one seamless picture of the world you've entered. None of those elements contain the complete story of the room—rather, the combination, arrangement and directed narratives within each one aggregate into a deep, holistic view of the environment. The whole is greater than the parts.
In many ways this real world experience mimics one we should be having with the different types of media we consume. More often than not, content is duplicated and translated across channels, or confusingly left out. The emerging picture is often redundant, piecemeal, and shallow. There are several reasons why this occurs. Frequently, different business units own different properties and platforms, narratives are fragmented and broken, and a mentality much more comfortable with communicating the same message everywhere rather than parceling the story out across different platforms prevails.
That's an old-media mentality, and when singular platforms dominated media it made much more sense. But now we get our inputs from dozens of different sources. We've become much more adept at searching out content that's relevant to us as individuals. In a sense, we've appropriated the fan mentality: when we care, we care a lot and are willing to go the extra mile to find out more.
That's where transmedia comes in. Coined by Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, to describe new paradigms in media, the term provides a conceptual framework for a narrative or theme "across multiple media platforms (from movies to the Internet to your cell phone) in concert. It invites the audience to engage in a richer narrative and immerse themselves in other worlds" (as paraphrased by Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner).
A transmedia experience is not something that the casual participant will likely become involved in, nor should they have to. Consider the real-world analogue: we see something new and quickly make a value call, do we care and want to learn more or do we just take a conceptual snapshot of what we see and move on? Most often we move on, but we want enough of a read on the things we see to make that decision with confidence. Media must do that too.
What makes transmedia different than regular cross-platform media campaigns is simple. Jeff Gomez again: "Under the traditional model, when a big movie comes out, for example, we are offered the novelization, the adaptation in comics, and the videogame version for our Xboxes. It's the same story over and over again, so the property is essentially milked until it's dead.
"The transmedia approach to this kind of narrative would give us different pieces of the narrative on different media platforms, so that we can see the movie and then explore different aspects of the characters and the world in other media. Taken as a whole, it's a richer, deeper experience that gives us more of what we really want.
"But most of all, transmedia narrative by definition has a number of what we call 'invitational' components, where audience members are welcomed to participate by commenting on the narrative, by playing established or original characters, or even by contributing creatively to the world and the storyline."
What else can transmedia stand for? This time, Don Norman: "Let transmedia stand for those multi-sensory natural experiences: trans-action, trans-sensory. Let it stand for the mix of modalities: reading and writing, speaking and seeing, listening and touching, feeling and tasting. Let it stand for actions and behavior, thought and emotion. My form of transmedia has nothing to do with companies and formal media channels. It has everything to do with free, natural powerful expression."
As our work increasingly crosses channels and encompasses new media types we should be looking at new ways of knitting those narratives together. Transmedia is an exciting concept, one in which different types media work together in service of a greater narrative. The challenge? Convincing clients that monolithic media strategies are out, and agility and connectivity are in.