Transmedia Entertainment: 8 defining characteristics

Transmedia entertainment is quickly becoming the single most powerful way to convey messages and narrative to a mass audience. Some television networks and big movie studios are using it – and if you follow politics, the Obama election machine employed it with the interaction between politics, media and the American people. It’s about building a compelling narrative, and taking advantage of television’s reach, the Web’s interactivity, editorialization of radio, and the intimacy of town halls. Though still in it’s infancy, we’re starting to see more mass media entertainment embracing transmedia entertainment – and it’s working.

It’s not just for branded entertainment Transmedia storytelling is not just for branded entertainment. Branded entertainment drives product awareness by tacking or integrating the brand onto something else, like when you watch The Apprentice and they develop strategies around specific companies that have paid to be on the show. Transmedia can build a brand mythology, placing the brand front and center and building a narrative around it – a good example of that being Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory campaign. But while branded content is usually part of a short-lived marking strategy, Transmedia Storylines are the REAL gold in a brand’s pocket. These stories are timeless because they are built on a foundation of the classic narrative structure. They’re good stories. The owner of the brand pays for branded content, but transmedia entertainment is designed not only to market a brand, but to generate revenue because it’s the original content that is created on top of the branded content that the audience wants more of – think in terms of videogames and novels, websites and YouTube films, clothing apparel, comic books and merchandise.

Isn’t it enough to be #1 for a week? As mass media entertainment was born, the direct connection between storyteller and audience grew further apart. Popularity through television ratings and box office receipts measured success, but the measurement was one-sided. Studios gave us the entertainment that they wanted on their terms. They read us stories, but didn’t allow us to ask questions, or delve into the parts of the story that fascinated us the most. The Internet provides us with thousands of voices with an instant feedback that brings us full circle, placing us back at the central spotlight. Our entertainment can gauge our response, hear our voices, and the narrative can respond.

Jeff Gomez Case Study Jeff Gomez, President and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Inc., a leading creator and producer of highly successful transmedia franchises, often points to the following as examples of successful transmedia projects. Audiences need to be able to appreciate and enjoy content as it is presented solely on the driving platform of the trans-media production.

With Heroes, for example, the driving platform is the television series. Much of the success of the franchise hinges on the audience finding the show exciting, intelligible and complete. What the producers of Heroes are doing quite well is in providing fans of the show with a far more expansive experience of the fictional universe of the show on the complementary or orbiting platforms of the trans-media production. This additional content is presented in the form of web sites, graphic novels, prose fiction, etc., and this material all takes place within the canon of the Heroes chronology. So fans are provided with the level of depth, verisimilitude, sophistication and complexity that they crave, but casual viewers are not required to seek it out to enjoy the show. When the two approaches cross over, we have seen the potential for pop culture phenomena.

The media’s coverage of “The Lost Experience” for example, conveyed the fact that there was a greater architecture to the fictional universe of the Lost TV series than was originally suspected. The excitement generated by the trans-media components of the show helped to boost broad interest in it. The same can be said of similar approaches for both the Batman: The Darknight and Cloverfield feature films.

Also powerful on the home front, as families gather to watch Heroes, a teen fan of the show might recognize a peripheral character making her first appearance on a given night’s episode as one he originally read about in the online comic. So our fan takes on the role of gatekeeper for the show, filling in family and friends on the back story of the character, and giving them a greater appreciation of the show with his “exclusive” knowledge, and making the whole experience more entertaining.

In short, depth and complexity are built around the show, rather than weighing it down by presenting it front and center. Studios and entertainment companies are now learning that fewer and fewer trade-offs are necessary to broaden the appeal of niche or “cult media” properties. Contemporary audiences are now primed for high quality genre entertainment across all media platforms. So long as marketing efforts place focus on a driving platform, the launch platform and complementary content can be used to build anticipation, educate audience “gatekeepers” about the property, and enrich the overall experience.

Transmedia Production Transmedia production involves multiple steps designed to present a bible, or canon in Jeff Gomez-speak, of an intellectual property in a way that it becomes a fully immersive experience for the consumer. As the experience continues, that immersive experience has the capability to turn consumers into proponents. It shares some aspects of viral marketing, but there are a few very distinct differences that affect the execution. Viral marketing is rarely based on a bible. A bible – or canon, or the full exploration and definition of the universe of the intellectual property – lies at the very heart of transmedia production.

Establishing Bibe a.k.a. Canon Today, among the many mediums available for creating messaging, there exist differences and thus optimal ways of using each. Transmedia production promotes the best use of each medium, once the general rules of the canon (or bible) have been established. In other words, you will not likely see simple repurposing from one medium to the next, such as television to interactive online. Instead, each medium is given latitude to best present the canon in their environment. The best look for opportunities for cross-pollination.

The 8 defining characteristics of a transmedia production:

1. Content is originated by one or a very few visionaries

2. Cross-media rollout is planned early in the life of the franchise

3. Content is distributed to three or more media platforms

4. Content is unique, adheres to platform-specific strengths, and is not repurposed from one platform to the next

5. Content is based on a single vision for the story world

6. Concerted effort is made to avoid fractures and schisms

7. Effort is vertical across company, third parties and licensees

8. Rollout features audience participatory elements, including: – Web portal – Social networking – Story-guided user-generated content

Examples of contemporary trans-media properties include: The Blair Witch Project, The Matrix, Hot Wheels: World Race / Acceleracers, Bionicle, Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering, James Cameron’s AVATAR, many Disney projects including High School Musical, Pirates of theCaribbean, Fairies, Hannah Montana.


About Jill Atkinson

From concepts and smart headlines to original content and transmedia storytelling, to television pitch materials, directors treatments, long format writing, blogs and web copy with SEO, I write it all. I'm a writer, copywriter, and a content writer. My job is to help you say it better with ideas and language that get noticed. With copy and content that engages customers and audiences and ideas that make a connection with them. Ideas that generate a response. Materials that can sell a pitch. When you work with me you're working with the big boys: Maclaren, BBDO, Taxi, Sharpe Blackmore and also a great bunch of mid-sized agencies, b2b shops, a national television network (CBC), 15 specialty channels (History Channel, National Geographic, Showcase, Action, IFC, BBC Canada, + many more) and start ups who have taught me everything I know about how to get you noticed, remembered and sold. Or clicked. Or talked about. There are lots of ways to try to sell your products or to sell people on your offer or to engage them in your content and your show. But there is only one way to get it done right and on strategy. My experience is a foot in the door for your brand or your television idea . And no matter the size of your project, my commitment and attention to detail remain the same, big or small and always on deadline. Great conversations have to start somewhere. Give me a call or shoot me an email Check out my work at
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6 Responses to Transmedia Entertainment: 8 defining characteristics

  1. Jeff Gomez says:

    Excellent summary of the basics, Jill, a nice assembly of my broad theory. Interestingly, the Producers Guild of America embraced those 8 defining characteristics shortly after I submitted them, and they have contributed toward a new language for transmedia producers both in Hollywood and globally. Thanks much!

    Jeff Gomez
    Starlight Runner Entertainment

  2. Kai says:

    This is so great. So appreciate you sharing this valuable information. My head spins taking in all the possibilities but it is exciting times as a creator of web content.
    Thanks from a fellow Canadian. 🙂

  3. Amine Semmar says:

    great outlines information and thanks to Jeff agreat asperation for doing things differently in amore effeciant way. Thanks.
    Question! can way apply transmedia in education? can anybody ellaborate. Thanks again.

  4. Pingback: Buzzword of the year: Transmedia « Television Cultures

  5. Pingback: CHAPTER 2,3,4,5 of the narrative, the game, the program… « georgiaswinton

  6. Pingback: Marvel Cinematic Universe – Transmedia | Fifty Shades Of Mikelen

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