December 5, 2009 Jill

In the previous post I mentioned Harry Potter as the ultimate transmedia example.  But as Jeff Gomez points out in the comments, while HP does appear in many media, it is not transmedia narrative.  Across media, the Harry Potter stories are all reiteration or retellings of JK Rowling’s original seven book tale.  None of the non-book media expand the narrative or add new detail to the world.

The only elements in the Harry Potter media-universe that do that are the ones Rowling herself creates; Beedle the BardFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages and Rowling’s own web site.

But all the movies, video games, fan site, Xbox live community screenings, wands and time turners are re-iteration of the original story.  They do not add to the narrative.  There are no new characters, no new storylines and no new revelations for the audience.

So yes, Harry Potter is an example of transmedia, but not transmedia narrative.

For the narrative to be transmedia, different parts of the story have to be expressed in different media.  It’s not enough to tell your story in a book, tv show or movie and use other media for promotion, reiteration or community building.

To create a transmedia narrative, you must use the various media to tell the story and there must be unique parts of the narrative expressed in each of the media.  So that with each new medium, the story grows and expands.

Giving the inspirational opening keynote address at NextMEDIA last Monday, Jeff listed eight principles of transmedia narrative based on his experience on a variety of transmedia projects (including Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Prince of Persia and Tron, Microsoft’s Halo, James Cameron’s Avatar, Hasbro’s Transformers, Mattel’s Hot Wheels and Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory):

  1. Content is originated by one or very few visionaries.
  2. I think of this as the Showrunner rule and I find it quite telling that Jeff gives this top billing. One person or a small team creates the vision and is responsible for maintaining and protecting it. Even though he or she or they might bring in a specialized team to take the narrative into a book or ARG or toy, it remains their vision and the showrunner has final creative approval. Financial partners like broadcasters, brands and distributors cannot make these decisions either. Committees can ruin narrative. One leader or team should take responsibility for all media.

  3. Cross media rollout is planned early.
  4. Again, this rings true based on my own creative experiences. In order to have the best more creative most satisfying narrative experience for audiences, the multiple media should be part of the narrative plan from the beginning or as early in development as possible. Tacking on later doesn’t work.

  5. Content is distributed to 3 or more platforms.
  6. For transmedia, you need three platforms. Anything less is either bi- or mono-media. But why not aim for pan-media?

  7. Content is unique, platform specific and not repurposed.
  8. The Harry Potter rule. Unique and not repurposed is not enough. It must also be platform specific. Each platform offers the audience new story elements, expanding the world, introducing new characters and/or telling parts of the story not found elsewhere.

  9. Content is based on a single vision for the story world.
  10. One story, one world, many platforms. This is directly related to the first one visionary principle. There is one vision that is shared and parsed across multiple media.

  11. Concerted effort is made to avoid fractures and schisms.
  12. Hopefully having a single visionary/showrunner will help with this. Audiences notice when there’s a contradiction or mistake in your world.  And it bumps them out of the world and back to reality.  Audiences for these kinds of projects can be fanatical.  They will find the mistakes if they are there.  Be careful.

  13. Effort is vertical across company, third parties and licensees.
  14. I’m not entirely sure what this means. I’ll hazard a guess though. Everyone is working together on the same mission, no matter whether they are in the core team, people licensed to produce additional materials, brand sponsors or whomever. They all work from the same vision toward the same end.

  15. Rollout features audience participatory elements.
  16. Essential is the opportunity for audiences to participate. Transmedia can have lean back elements to it, but it must have opportunities for audiences to solve puzzles, play games, create content and otherwise interact with the story.

I love transmedia.  You’ll be hearing lots more about it.

Comments (3)

  1. kid mercury

    IMHO the monetization methods for each platform will likely be unique as well.

Comments are closed.