Transmedia Storytelling & the New Media Convergence

[Cross-posted from Boing Boing.]

Narrative media is undergoing a shift from the traditional model of single, linear story lines to much broader explorations of the story world. Narratives are developed within larger contexts where even tertiary characters can act as launch points for new stories that flesh out the fictional universe. These bleed into the physical world through alternate reality gaming and transmedia cross-platform experiences that directly engage the audience, drawing them into the story through real-world challenges. ARG’s may not be especially new but they’re being more commonly integrated into franchise productions through transmedia campaigns across web sites, mobile engagement, shorts, graphic novels, video games, music, and any other possible medium that can extend the story.

While much of this shift has been driven by the entertainment industry, typically around run-up advertising campaigns, transmedia experiences are perhaps most compelling as native expressions of a fully-articulated narrative universe. This is transmedia world building: creating a fictional universe so rich and complete that a multitude of interweaving stories can emerge from it, taking form through the social and technological spaces we share. The video game spin-off becomes an opportunity to extend the narrative and create a new experience. The web site becomes a breadcrumb in the story arc offering a phone number that conveys a meeting place. The graphic novel picks up the life of a tertiary character from the original story. The audience is asked to participate in the unfolding narrative.

The pieces here aren’t particularly new but they’re all starting to converge with the technologies that enable these experiences. Most importantly (and disruptively) they are converging in a way that radically empowers independent content creators at exactly the moment when they’ve been completely abandoned by the industry giants of yesteryear. The majors have ditched or shelved their independent film houses and now focus solely on tent-pole blockbusters. Premiers at Cannes, Sundance, and other indie fests are barely selling to the studios. Yet, independent creators can set up powerful home studios and score a RED camera or even a Canon 5D mk2 to shoot & produce exceptional, authentic work. And very soon the audience will control access to this massive Long Tail of content right from their living room (and from their mobiles, and laptops, and kiosks, and car stereos, etc…)

Indeed, the near-simultaneous announcement of both Google TV and the new iteration of Apple TV herald the final arrival of truly integrated internet TV. This is the enxt major wave of convergence. These devices will fully legitimize web video – the pre-eminent domain of independent film, tv, and short-format creators – and bring it directly into the living room for mass consumption. Viewers will be able to open chat streams, web browsers, interactive content, and feedback polling while watching content from YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo and anyone else uploading to the cloud. Content providers will grab analytics off the back-end, manage ad placement, and push interactive challenges directly to the viewers. Internet TV convergence will be radically disruptive.

The majors are fighting hard to control this space. They’ll continue to defend the old models & limp box office gimmicks like “3D” movies while new media innovators will be figuring out how to use Microsoft’s Kinect and augmented reality and geolocation to extend the reach & impact of their content. New models of crowdfunding & collaboration will bring the audience into the production, and creators will push out distribution through iTunes, Netflix, torrents, and the emerging array of independent web hosts. Whatever the role of Old Media may be in the future, independent creators will play a much larger role in the new media landscape.


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