Transmedia Storytelling and Uses in Entertainment

DRAFT - updated August 16, 2011

This type of content delivery and story telling has been around for centuries in one form or another. Transmedia delivery is used in fictional media, nonfiction and academia as well as for marketing/advertising, and professional business/industry related projects. The recent uptick in transmedia mentions/projects/dicussions is in part due to new technologies that offer a wider variety of content delivery and audience participation. Social networks and social media forms have been especially attractive as alternate methods for content delivery.

Marsha Kinder in her book, "Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1991, 1993) - uses the term 

transmedia intertextuality to define and discuss how narrative for children's projects moves across multiple sources and has levels of interaction. From her book, "...form of transmedia intertextuality, which positions young spectators (1) to recognize, distinguish, and combine different popular genres and their respective iconography that cut across movies, television, comic books, commercials, video games, and toys; (2) to observe the formal differences between television and its prior discourse of cinema, which it absorbs, parodies, and ultimately replaces as the dominant mode of image production; (3) to respond to and distinguish between the two basic modes of subject positioning associated respectively with television and cinema, being hailed in direct address by fictional characters or by offscreen voices, and being sutured into imaginary identification with fictional character and fictional space, frequently through the structure of the gaze and through the classical editing conventions of shot/reverse shot..."

Henry Jenkins's description of transmedia storytelling provides a base that can be used to start the discussion.  Aaron Smith's comments add to that base. "One might think of Jenkins’ definition of transmedia storytelling as a photographic mosaic. In a photomosaic, each pixel is its own image, but when the pixels are compounded and stitched together, they form a much larger picture.  Similarly, a transmedia story does not privilege one text over another – the fictional world cannot be exhausted within a single medium. When all the dispersed elements of a transmedia story are pieced together, with each text contributing key bits of information, the result is a better understanding and unified picture of the story world at large."

A more detailed look at what is and is not transmedia storytelling is provided by Aaron Smith -  Carlos Scolari also provides a good overview of the concept in his article, Transmedia Storytelling: Implicit Consumers, Narrative Worlds, and Branding in Contemporary Media Production by CARLOS SCOLARI -

A transmedia experience/project/narrative will have content delivered in multiple forms with no SINGLE source providing all of the information/story. This viewpoint is often modified with the criteria that a transmedia narrative has multiple entry points into the story and while each source supports the larger narrative, a user can use any source to begin or drill down through layers of complexity and context.   Lastly, some add the criteria that a VUP experience is part of the narrative (Dineheart, ).

For example, the overall structure is provided in a print book. More of the content is then provided through a second source, say a web video that further develops a topic from one of the book's chapters. A third source might be a series of text messages sent over a mobile device. A fourth transmedia outlet for content could then be a series of related web sites.

Review these two interviews to look at the question of how transmedia storytelling differs from telling a story using different mediums - and as well as these articles that work to define the differences between using transmedia and a transmedia narrative -, and

The relationship of the content and sources, the use of the sources are some of the topics that still are being discussed as people try to better define and understand the use and application of transmedia. Topics for discussion include the following:

1. How related these sources must be to be classified as a transmedia project (is it really effective transmedia if the exact same story is told in all methods?).

2. How original the content delivered by each source should be (the content in the web video is new from what was in the book and furthers the story such as chapters in a book).

3. How crucial it is to the user to experience all forms of the transmedia (If the user does not have a cell phone to get the texts, can he/she understand the other transmedia content? Does the order in which the user accesses the sources matter?)

4. How distinct should the roles of writer/creator and user be (Should transmedia be interactive? Can the audience participate and actually change the story? Is crowd sourcing a form of transmedia?).
A nice blog article reviewing a good example of a transmedia experience, as well as distinctions between transmedia, multi-platform and thought on this form of narrative an be found in Alicia kan's blog post-

A nice summary of transmedia was provided by Simon Staffans, "transmedia is crossmedia with a deeper level of involvement, from the producers side as well as from the consumers. By building a narrative superstructure – a mythology, if you will – around your property, you’re at the same time building the possibilities for multiple entry points into your property for the audience" Dec. 7, 2010

Creative Commons License
Transmedia Resources by Julie Stratton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.