Transmedia Storytelling: Once Upon a Time

Transmedia storytelling. Quite the buzz term of late, particularly in content marketing circles. In case you’re not au courant, Wikipedia define the term as “the technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies, not to be confused with traditional cross-platform media franchisessequels or adaptations.”

If you haven’t already heard the term bandied about, you will. With the decline of any real form of mass media, a fundamental strategy of publishers and broadcaster, not to mention brands, will become getting consumers to follow stories across channels, media and devices, each bit a stepping stone toward the total brand experience (even if some of those steps are skipped or eliminated).

It’s a concept I’ve been discussing in interviews I’m conducting for my in-progress research report on the impact content marketing is having on the advertising ecosystem. It popped up several times in discussion just today. Yet transmedia storytelling is at this juncture more likely more aspirational than it is a reality.

Print brands such as Hearst, Rodale, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Motor Trend, Vice, Slate, Thompson Reuters and The Onion have signed on to become programmers. Each will run one of the 100 or so original, branded channels YouTube is on the verge of launching, primarily with media companies and celebrities (Madonna, Jay-Z, Amy Poehler, Ashton Kutcher and  Deepak Chopra) but also with brands such as Red Bull.

Sure, it’s a way of extending the brand, and hopefully of raking in some additional ad revenues. But when a traditionally print brand extends its reach into video, is it transmedia storytelling?

Don’t bet on it. Indeed, many of these publishers have dabbled in video already, from running their own YouTube channels to adding video elements to digital stories.

We won’t know until we see it, but it’s more than likely these new YouTube channels will read as brand extensions, not extensions of the stories the brands are telling in other digital or analog channels. It’s a gut instinct, but it seems likely that the considerable editorial talent at these brands has yet to acquire the skills, the thinking and the mindset to arc their stories across multiple channels, in multiple places. Print, digital and video departments aren’t yet tightly integrated, not to mention orchestrated. Writers aren’t necessarily telegenic. Eloquent as they may be in print, their storytelling skills don’t always translate into talking to a camera (nor is that what they were hired for).

Real transmedia storytelling is something we’ve barely seen in digital yet. It borders on aspirational. Achieving it may require a new generation of storytellers who are digital natives with mad storytelling skills and production know-how who are really, truly platform agnostic.

We’re not there yet, and it’s much, much too soon to be calling print publishers’ experiments with digital “transmedia,” interesting as they’ll be to observe.

Image creditdeanashour

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