Steve Peters

Experience Design | AR/VR | Geolocation Games

Helping agencies, theme parks, studios and brands develop engaging, immersive experiences.

The Transmedia Hijack (or How Transmedia is the New Dihydrogen Monoxide)

I can't believe I'm going here, as this whole topic must seem so lame to so many people, but here goes... So it seems that my recent trip to SXSW in Austin and my subsequent outburst of frustration on Twitter about the misuse of the term Transmedia has caused a little bit of a stir.

I came back and, well, vented on Twitter about how everyone there seemed to bandy about the term when they were talking about not storytelling, but some form of franchising or media extension of an existing or new property, or narrative world, whatever the heck that means.

"Franchising isn't transmedia, it's FRANCHISING!!" I screamed. And it turns out I wasn't the only one having trouble with the term and how it's being used. Plenty of folks have been seeming to jump onto the anti-transmedia bandwagon (and I'm fine with that).

Even Felicia Day got into the fray during one of her SXSW panels, and in a way, she nailed what many of us in Transmedia Storytelling have been struggling to express for years. Here's what she had to say about the term (emphases mine):

It's just a really stupid word, and people use it because they don't know…they just want to like…I just hate it! Because what does it mean? It means nothing!!

I mean, listen: "Transmedia" is any comic book that ever became a movie, before the internet. I mean it's just (any novelization of a movie), yes! That's "Transmedia!" I mean, it doesn't mean anything, I don't think that….they're just throwing it around 'cause it's a catch-phrase, and it's like "yes, let's create a webseries that could potentially be a TV show that could potentially become a movie." That's not Transmedia.

I mean, I think what people are aspiring to, and what people are maybe, you know, could use better words or just articulate better, is that there is an opportunity to reinvent storytelling. So that, if I sat down and I created an app, let's just say, and every day I would tell the story in a different way.

So I would release a comic panel, then I'd release a piece of video, and then I would release a set of pictures, and then I would tell a story in so many different ways that would accumulate in a way that essentially would be like a movie from beginning to end.

And you could use a different media device, because we are in a world where all of that is amalgamated in a way that is unique to what we're living in and the tools we're using.

So maybe that's what we might do? But sometimes people just use it like "We're just gonna do a TV show that's gonna be a webseries and then a TV show."

So look, it seems like things have reached a boiling point. I mean, c'mon, if Felicia Day herself rolls her eyes at the term, it's time to do something about it. Well, or try to figure out if anything can be done.

And so here's what I think. Some of you aren't going to like this. Ready?

There's nothing to be done.

Pandora's Box is open, the cat's out of the bag, the horses have been stolen, (insert cliché here). The term is pretty useless (as are clichés), as it's popularly being used to describe something that's been around for a long, long time. It reminds me of the prank that Penn & Teller pulled on folks asking them to sign a petition against the use of dihydrogen monoxide in all our food. It's just a new buzz-term for something there are already plenty of perfectly good  words for (none of which I'll list here, thank you).

Now, let me be clear: I'm not bashing anyone or their work. It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, and there are only so many words to go around to describe new things. I just think it's time I abandon the use of transmedia to describe the work that I do. This doesn't mean that I forsake or forbid its use, I just won't be describing my own stuff as such, even though others may continue to for a while.

So......what will I call what I do? Well, I'm not sure what will stick, but I'm going to go with what we're calling it around the office: Alternate Reality Entertainment.

I'm not suggesting we change the term. All I know is that "Transmedia" no longer describes what I do, so everyone else can have it. :)

So, please excuse me as I prepare my submission for next year's SXSW: Can Dihydrogen Monoxide Save Hollywood?


ETA: Revised some wording for clarity and to fix the emphasis of the post.