More on Media Franchises & Transmedia
In response to my last post Media Franchise vs. Transmedia, Geoff May (@thebruce0) & I got into a bit of twitter spat over whether or not alternate reality games (ARGs) are transmedia. Of course, I came down on the side that they are. To me, to question whether or not they are is just absurd. They regularly tell stories over multiple media and form complex relationships between the media used. Film, text, audio, found objects, live events… nothing is out of bounds and is chosen because of the way it enhances the overall storytelling experience.
Geoff recognizes that but countered with the Producer’s Guild credit…
A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.
ARGs, he argued, are single story experiences and, thus, they are not transmedia.
While I can respect his argument, it fails for me because I do not agree with the PGA’s definition. I have always been bothered by the “three storyline” requirement and I am not the only one. When Christy Dena first questioned it, Jeff Gomez (who was instrumental in getting the PGA to create the transmedia credit) provided clarification that it needs to contain “three narrative threads, not necessarily three completely different and separate stories.”
The problem is that the definition is just not clear. Geoff is more aware of this stuff than most, and he was not aware of that clarification. The PGA continues to state “three storylines” which completely favors media franchises (in my opinion, the least exciting application of transmedia there is). Not only that, but by only excluding the repurposing of material from one platform to the next (think adaptations & novelizations), it’s as open to simple world-building exercises as Henry Jenkins’ “provide backstory” example while seemingly excluding large swaths of native transmedia projects (including ARGs).
Whether true or not, it seems the issue comes down to money. For better or worse, Hollywood lives off of franchises. Franchises bring in the big bucks. Most native transmedia is still struggling to find financial models that pay the bills let alone rake in millions. This will not always be the case. Things are changing.
The most commonly known native transmedia is alternate reality games. Critics like to point out that they are for geeks & kids. Not coincidentally, the biggest franchises are also for geeks & kids. Geeks proudly wear their passion on their sleeve (a Star Wars geek, for example) making them an easy audience to find when awareness is low and their passion leads them to want to explore their geekdom… they want to know everything they can and enjoy the thrill of the hunt (ask any collector why they collect). Kids are natural explorers who will not only follow a story across media, but find it natural to do so and are comfortable with technology.
Increasingly, they are not the only ones. The number of people using social media is rising at an incredible rate. Few people had heard about Facebook 5 years ago and, today, it is one of the most used websites in the world. People are connecting and sharing at an unprecedented level and it’s not just kids & geeks doing it… 96% of 18-35 year olds are on a social network. And people over 35 (and 55) are taking up a greater share of the social media population every day. While social media may not be an integral part of transmedia, what we’re seeing is an increasing comfort level with connecting, exploring, and sharing through media which is an important element.
The PGA definition, though valuable because it acknowledged the field, is short-sighted. Not only has it supported old-media ways and thinking (franchises are nothing new and they are, certainly, not new media which is the heading transmedia falls under), but it has diminished what is truly exciting about transmedia: building a media experience from the ground up with the goal of telling the story how it wants to be told through the media that best tells it.
And that is a shame.