Are we done with transmedia yet?

Catalina Briceno 06.02.2014

During the Forum Blanc, which unfolded in France from January 15 to 17, the CMF’s Trendscape team (represented by myself) was invited to take part in the opening panel discussion provocatively titled “Is there a future for transmedia?”

Ask the same question to a thousand people and you’ll get a thousand different answers. Simply put, everyone has their own definition of what transmedia is and that is especially true when North American visions are opposed to European ones.

Clearly, there is a risk when people use formulas and buzz words to box in concepts. In the best case scenario, the concepts may end up locked into a specific format or subgenre. At worst, they may need to be constantly redefined in this rapidly evolving environment.

To avoid pitfalls, let’s examine the question from a different angle. In this environment of hyper abundant content, what are the properties of creative content susceptible of establishing a relationship with audiences that reflect new uses and meet new needs?

Value of the relationship between content and audience

To begin addressing the question, here is a finding that we extensively explained in our Keytrends Report 2014. This finding’s impact is fundamental: value is now generated by the relationship between audience and content.

Therefore, when creating audiovisual content, it’s important to provide a space where this relationship can be established and maintained, where audiences’ attention can be focussed and where audiences will be encouraged to become engaged and take action.

How is it possible to create content that users will be able to improve by interacting directly with it or through their interactions with social networks?

First, content must be made as accessible as possible: multiplatform or even agnostic in terms of distribution platforms to provide for on-demand and on-the-go consumption.

Next, the content must be made social, .i.e., it must be made easier to share and a conversational space must be set up. In certain cases, a project’s proponent may go as far as authorizing its “editorialization” or interactivity—the goal being to enable users to make the content theirs in order to better promote it or extend its outreach.

Finally, a balance needs to be established between the intentions of content publishers and user experiences, i.e., between the needs of content creators and professionals capable of producing solid results, a signature and a brand while providing audiences with the tools they need to contribute to the work and its outreach in one way or another.

By examining content from this angle, we arrive at the conclusion that no specific format or genre dictates the intent. Instead, the intent is to give participating audiences the opportunity to add value to the content distribution process.

Graphic: Cynthia Savard-Saucier

In Canada, there are several convincing examples of projects reaching their audiences on various platforms using a wide variety of means and strategies of engagement: the La Voix variety series (francophone adaptation of The Voice), the The Defector documentary and its interactive experience, the Backpackers drama webseries and its accompanying 100% web lifestyle series, the Québec feature film Émilie and its interactive short films and youth shows such as The Next Step or In Real Life.

No magic formula, but certain must-dos

In light of previous examples and the discussion presented above, is the debate on what is transmedia and what is not transmedia still relevant today? To the contrary, do the examples provided above not instead demonstrate that the key to success cannot be defined in terms of:

- format (short or long; interactive or non-interactive)?

- genre (drama, documentary, youth or sports)?

- formula (synchronous or asynchronous experience, complementary or competitive)?

- distribution strategy (before, during or after the broadcasting of a TV program)?

One could conclude that all of these elements are of equal worth if and only if project proponents understand that what counts is the coherent and effective integration of their creative intent to provide relevant user experiences.

And that is the challenge that awaits all creative content publishers: to adapt their role as creators and distributors to resemble what orchestra conductors do, i.e., to coordinate all of the components (narrative partitions, technological platforms and multiple players including the active audience) in line with maintaining their works integrity and showcasing their value and sustainability.

To achieve that goal, we may need to build within our institutions and creative industries the infrastructure capable of supporting and facilitating coordination between creators, distributors, salespersons and audiences that is based on a collaborative effort. That is what Clay Shirky, during a conference given in 2005, described as “Institutions as enablers” in his vision of the future.

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