Steve Peters

Experience Design

What the hell *is* Transmedia?

Well, much like herpes, this subject just won't go away for me. :) To further highlight the problem with the term "transmedia" and the increasing chasm between storytellers and franchisers/marketers, I am going to start collecting the amazing amount of sometimes contradictory definitions, which should nicely illustrate the problem. I'll add to this list as I find stuff, and please, link me to more definitions in the comments section and I'll edit them in! :)

Oh, and I've saved my definition until last...

(Note: all emphases mine)

First, we start with Henry Jenkins:

Stories that unfold across multiple media platforms, with each medium making distinctive contributions to our understanding of the world, a more integrated approach to franchise development than models based on urtexts and ancillary products.


Transmedia storytelling is storytelling by a number of decentralized authors who share and create content for distribution across multiple forms of media. Transmedia immerses an audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story.

From Wikipedia:

Transmedia storytelling is a technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats, recognized for its use by mass media to develop media franchises. [UPDATE: This definition has been updated to reflect a more accurate description]

From Jarrett Sherman:

Transmedia is based around one narrative wherein each component informs the larger world. Interconnected components, such as a TV series, book, mobile app and online game, may serve as off-shoots that give life to one main story. Think Star Wars.

From Seize the Media:

Transmedia is a format of formats; an approach to story delivery that aggregates fragmented audiences by adapting productions to new modes of presentation and social integration. The execution of a transmedia production weaves together diverse storylines, across multiple outlets, as parts of an overarching narrative structure. These elements are distributed through both traditional and new media outlets. The online components exploit the social conventions, and social locations, of the internet.

From Jeff Gomez (although I can't find the actual source material):

The art of conveying messages, themes or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well-planned use of multiple platforms.

From the Producers Guild of America:

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.

From Steve Rubel:

Transmedia storytelling is the future of marketing. And those who can span across formats and share their expertise will stand out in an age of Digital Relativity.

From Simon Pulman:

At its simplest, transmedia allows the expansion of a mythology for a story or intellectual property.

From Brian Clark:

Transmedia storytelling is the label for when you're creating a story as the primary storytellers and intending to tell your story across multiple channels.

From Robert Pratten:

'Transmedia storytelling’ is telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration. In transmedia storytelling, engagement with each successive media heightens the audience’ understanding, enjoyment and affection for the story. To do this successfully, the embodiment of the story in each media needs to be satisfying in its own right while enjoyment from all the media should be greater than the sum of the parts.

From Brooke Thompson:

  • a media project comprised of multiple media formats
  • distributed on multiple platforms (and where)
  • the platforms interact with each other in a complex relationship

…in order to create a larger and more complete whole.

And finally, from me (I like short and to-the-point):

Transmedia storytelling is telling a single story spread beginning-to-end across multiple platforms.

At this point, I'd like to quote Jenkins again, as he very astutely (as PhD's are wont to do) quantified the dilemma:

The reality is that our definition of what constitutes transmedia is still very much evolving, as can be witnessed from the various discussions of the concept at the Transmedia Hollywood: S/Telling the Story conference... As we brought together people from across the media industry to discuss these emerging trends, we found some included all forms of franchise entertainment as transmedia and others had much narrower definitions which insisted that the different media platforms be integrated to tell a single story. There was disagreement about the value of various proposed terms, including not only transmedia, cross-media, and "deep media." There were recurring disagreements about transmedia as a mode of content as opposed to a mode of marketing. And finally, transmedia's aesthetics was still being defined and with it, the issue of whether this is something really new or an expansion of long-standing practices. Around the edges, you could hear hints that transmedia should be extended from a focus on storytelling to a more expansive understanding which includes notions of performance, play, and spectacle that can not be contained within a more narrative-centric definition.

I take a little umbrage to his saying that people like me have a much narrower definition of things. :) I just want to tighten up the definition so as to be more useful. We need to quantify the differences of Transmedia as a "mode of marketing as opposed to a mode of content." See, the word Transmedia is a modifier, but most are not including what it's a modifier of. The franchisers are just calling what they do Transmedia, or worse, Transmedia Storytelling. I mean, come on! I don't know any storytellers that are calling what they do Transmedia Franchising! This is exacerbated by the (still inaccurate) Producers Guild definition above, which, although it's a definition for qualification for the PGA, in fact serves as a definition for many of the term itself. As a result, because of this incorrect/incomplete usage, the de facto definition of Transmedia is coming to merely mean Franchising.

I mean, the sky is blue and the ocean is blue. But that doesn't mean the ocean is the same thing as the sky, right?

So, here's my call to the marketers and franchisers and brand-builders out there (and you know who you are!):

Start being honest. Start calling your cigar a cigar. Stop referring to what you do as merely Transmedia or Transmedia Storytelling. Call it what it is: Transmedia Franchising (even though I think that term is redundant, but whatever). Or Transmedia Branding, or Transmedia Merchandizing, or Transmedia Marketing. I don't care.

Just leave the term Transmedia Storytelling (or Transmedia Entertainment) to the actual storytellers!

This means there can be lots of stuff like, oh, Transmedia Art (one art piece that spans platforms), Transmedia Games (one game that spans platforms), and more!

Let's just all stop using Transmedia as a noun. If you use it at all...

But don't forget that soon, very soon, this argument will be moot. As something somewhere made by someone one of us probably knows will penetrate the mainstream consciousness and become The Big New Thing that everyone understands and consumes. And that mainstream collective audience will decide what to call it.

And I will cheer. :)


[ETA: And dang, it's now apparent that there was a perfect title for this post: transmedia is the new Transmedia.]