In 2006, Henry Jenkins published a book called “Convergence Culture” which shows in great detail how contemporary consumers interact with one-another and cultural franchises they are fans of in online environments. Prior to the book, Jenkins had done a whole body of research on fan communities, participatory consumption and online consumer cultures, but this book compiles all of it into one. The book is already a modern classic and a highly recommended read.
One of the key concepts of the book was transmedia storytelling, which Jenkins argues is a new way of telling stories using multiple media channels in combination with consumer participation. In transmedia storytelling, the “content” of a cultural franchise (Star Wars, for example) is modified to fit the medium, allowing the medium to do “what it does best”. All extensions to new media channels work as individual works, but collectively they form an overarching storyline, which Jenkins calls “world building”. Hollywood has already firmly adopted transmedia storytelling, continuously expanding its cultural franchises into new media channels and keeping consumers engaged with unanswered questions and riddles that will keep them engaged with the story.
From all the conceptualizations of crossmedia storytelling forms, transmedia is probably the most developed and sophisticated (see e.g. Dena 2004 for a catalogue of different concepts that are close to transmedia storytelling). Transmedia takes a clearer stance on how content should be created for multimodal environments and how consumer engagement is achieved. For example, Long (2007) did an excellent conceptualization of how consumers navigate between different media works within the same cultural franchises using different navigational cues, and what kind of hooks in the story keep people engaged with it and what makes them yearn for answers. Jenkins currently teaches a course on transmedia storytelling and the entertainment industry. He has also compiled some key readings on transmedia storytelling into a “101” blog post, if you want to read more on the subject.
Transmedia storytelling’s strength is probably also its weakness: its examples are predominantly from the entertainment industry. It features a healthy body of examples of how a cultural franchise was extended from movie format into becoming a real global brand. Examples or conceptualizations of how normal brands could use transmedia storytelling are a little thin though. Could, for example, a brand like Apple become a “world” and overcome its product-related nature, giving the brand more leeway for brand extensions? The notion of transmedia branding has only been briefly discussed in Jenkins’ and Long’s works. Could transmedia branding be the next evolutionary step for viral branding, or something even more? What are the grey areas of world and brand, or are they practically the same thing? These are some of the questions I aim to answer in my own research.
Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, 2008.
Christy Dena. Current state of cross media storytelling: Preliminary observations for future design. In European Information Systems Technologies Event, The Hague, Netherlands, 15 Nov., 2004.
Geoffrey A. Long. Transmedia storytelling: Business, aesthetics and production at the jim henson company. Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007.