Let’s face it; there is now a grey area in online environments between marketing and editorial. Some people call this stuff ‘transmedia’, some call it coverage, and some call it advertorial. It’s actually all of these things.
Take the strategy deployed by Warner Bros. for Superman as an example – a three minute blockbuster trailer was released at the same time as a video of General Zod (Superman’s nemesis) appeared on YouTube where he threatened planet Earth through a series of broken messages. The YouTube video is essentially a marketing/advertorial tool, but it also became part of the storyline.
About four or five years ago, a lot of people got very excited by this approach and there was a deluge of ‘transmedia’ projects. This included work such as the relaunch of the Batman franchise with the alternative reality game (ARG) ‘Why So Serious?’ , as well as our relaunch of Red Dwarf . Although this was technically marketing, nobody called it that – often because the assets were coming straight out of the studios.
What interests me about all of this is that a growing number of people can become involved with a story in a way which does not detract from the main, let’s call it ‘linear’, story-telling experience. For instance, you could interact with a character on Twitter (e.g. Jack Whitehall’s Alfie Wicker from BBC Three’s Bad Education) without it impinging on your enjoyment of the main show.
But I think there is something genuinely new gathering pace right now, certainly in the TV industry, that is going to lead to some break-out multi-media narratives with the interactivity having mass appeal. Within the next two years I believe we will have a multi-platform format that will dominate the British pop culture landscape.
There are two key drivers behind this. Device penetration is bringing about the rise of the multi-screen living room , which means the user journey from screen to screen has shortened. It’s no longer necessary to go upstairs to log onto the show’s site to continue participation with what you’ve just watched. The other driver is the improved understanding of TV audiences in a digital world. We’re getting smarter about an audience’s relationship with a ‘broadcast medium of moving images’.
The fact is that TV schedules help create a sudden commonality; not only at 8pm in the evening (heightened further by social media of course) but also the next day – the old ‘water cooler moment’. Why? Because fundamentally, our life patterns haven’t changed at the same pace as technology. If you buy into research about how people make decisions (that a) we make decisions based on what we see others doing and b) we’re terrible at deciding so we revert back to habit), you see how important a broadcast schedule still is in our culture.
In other words, broadcasters are the creators of short, sharp, shared cultural spaces. Very few other mediums can do this at nearly the same scale, which of course strengthens the stranglehold of TV. YouTube attempted to loosen the grip a with Comedy Week, but a quick look at the numbers suggests UK terrestrials have nothing to worry about just yet. After all, it’s this burst into culture which most advertisers seek too.
So what does all this mean? Well I think ‘transmedia’ is moving out of the fictional genre, out of the fanboy forums at 1am on a Tuesday night and into the front room, with the whole family participating at 8pm on Saturday evenings. Unsurprisingly Channel 4 are leading the way in this space in the UK with Million Pound Drop, but I think this is just the start of something much bigger and commercially viable with multi-skilled teams of people (advertisers, schedulers, commissioners, producers, web developers) getting together and reinventing TV ‘formats’.
So is ‘transmedia’ finally growing up? Yes it is. And how will we know when it has finally matured? Probably when we start calling it TV again.
Tim Whirledge, Strategic Planner.