The Transmedia Panel Talks Media Options at NAB – Part 2
Filmmakers Notebook brings you Part 2 with the speakers on the “Transmedia: Telling the Story Through Narrative Content, Games and Real-World Adventures” panel that was held at NAB in Las Vegas on April 11th. Moderator Henry Jenkins, who coined the term transmedia and is a professor of communication, journalism and cinematic arts at USC, was joined on the dais by Danny Bilson, EVP at Core Games, THQ; Jeff Gomez, transmedia producer and CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment; Gale Anne Hurd, producer (“The Walking Dead,” “The Terminator,” “Aliens”); Tim Kring, multiplatform storyteller (“Conspiracy for Good,” “Heroes”) and Kim Moses, executive producer/director/writer, Sander/Moses Productions/Slam (“Ghost Whisperer”).
According to Danny Bilson, Executive VP at THQ, the game business is a great hub for transmedia. He said that 10 years ago games supported the arts and wasn’t treated as a core business, but now it is a substantial marketing piece perfect for building partnerships, making a point of stating that THQ doesn’t license their properties when being developed for this purpose. He stressed that creativity is key since stories shouldn’t be repeated when extending them across platforms and the top criteria should be giving the fans what they want. Another point that was made is that somebody involved in any project being produced has to maintain ownership of all transmedia and make sure it stays true to the story.
Panelist Tim Kring is certainly no stranger to the world of transmedia either, admitting that he learned everything about transitioning from traditional television to multiple platforms while producing “Heroes.” “That particular desire to reach an audience is what led to the whole idea,” he told us adding “’Heroes’ was about the message of interconnectivity.” From there he went on to his next project in London “Conspiracy for Good”, which created a narrative that rolled out into the real world using multi user online gaming and social networking. An example of good social benefit storytelling, 130 people worked for 18 months on the project, which was created on a Nokia Cell Phone and was underwritten by the company. The show’s success led to it being responsible for building five libraries, donating 10,000 books and awarding scholarships at a school for girls. Kring even started a Twitter account for the corporate villain in the piece Blackwell Briggs, which Karl Rove followed.
The panel agreed that transmedia is tied to a new model of audience engagement that will shape new ways in which stories are told requiring a need to respond in various ways for participation. All transmedia pieces are driven by what is cool from the perspective of the fans and not with a focus on revenue. They believe that the job of storytellers is to find where people are and to bring them together. With the success of shows like “Glee” audiences are never not connected and a virtual cycle screen is being created on the wall and in the viewer’s head making it a pervasive experience, so that these devices are being used to bridge content as well as to entertain.
Gale said that “The Walking Dead” was launched globally in 130 countries within a one week period because the producers understood that once something is out there it’s going to be pirated and available around the world. The fans weren’t going to wait and the producers were fortunate enough to have Fox International Television come on board early making the quick launch possible even before they knew that the six episodes of the new show would be successful in the U.S. as well as around the world.
Emphasizing the strategy of engagement, Kim said, “Our stake in the ground is Smart TV.” This allows them to maneuver these multi platforms and move them quickly into a place where the technology is going. It was said that devices act and behave differently and that people have unique relationships with them. For example, mobile phones are considered intimate platforms for young people. In the gaming world connected systems and friendbases are being developed so that game elements and media can be sorted. Digital object gifting is also incorporated, so that participants feel they are receiving something unique. There’s also more cross media being infused into the fiction, so that if you watch the content you can unlock components of the games decreasing passive absorption making them much more user interactive.
Kring had the traditional background of a television producer and writer when he entered the world of transmedia with “Heroes.” He said, “We had a really interesting confluence of events. NBC wanted to get into that space and we had a show that lent itself to that because of the nature of the kind of content it was. Describing the way they approached it as having a Wild, Wild West quality he went on, “They really wanted to do this. We had the luxury of not having to monetize what we were doing. There was no pressure on us to monetize it.” He added that now the networks are burned by shows that last only 4 or 5 episodes, so it’s tough to invest in new shows and jump on board just for promotion and marketing. He believes more focus will be placed on finding ways to monetize the content although he still likes the idea of creating story elements on the internet and tying them together generating an intense response from the fanbase. Now in pre-production for “Touch”, the new pilot he’s producing starring Kiefer Sutherland, Kring is hoping he’ll be able to apply his knowledge of transmedia here as well. “I don’t know what the appetite is at Fox. I’m hoping they have the appetite for it cause the show lends itself to that.,“ he shared.
For Kim developing this type of campaign was practical since “Ghost Whisperer was scheduled for Friday nights. She needed a way to put the show on the audience’s radar, give them an experience and create loyalty. “You go out and find those fans and give them things connected to the heart and soul of the brand,” she explained.
In order to be successful Tim added that you need a whole team of people headed by the architects of the show and that it takes a tremendous effort by everyone involved in order to pull it off. Gale agreed and said, “It is a universe that needs to be cohesive.” She told us that at first AMC had wanted to get an outside producer to do the show’s webisodes, but that the producers preferred to do them inhouse claiming they live with the stories and with the fans. She also keeps a watch on Twitter and reads what people tweet and when the show is trending, so that she knows what the fans like and don’t like. One of the drawbacks was that when the episodes first aired they were already a month and a half out of production, however, what she learns will be taken into account in the next season. “We’re very connected with the fanbase,” she asserted.
Unlike with adaptation, in transmedia everything has to be authentic to the central hub and the panelists agree that there is a growing need to train writers in how to work in this emerging field. They are hopeful that the next generation will be able to build on what people like them have had to learn on their own.