Posted by: ath1 | October 1, 2007

Transmedia – The Future of Media Industry?

The idea of telling the same story across different media platforms has been around for decades, though in my opinion, it is commonly known as adaptation—the process of transferring content from literature to visual presentation (movies/ television series/games) or vice versa. However, after reading Jenkins’s analysis of transmedia storytelling, I realize the media producers have taken a much further step in adapting content to a much larger scale.

Adaptation tends to rewrite the same content for different media platforms; however, those contents are independent from one another as they are presented differently in different media outlets. On the other hand, transmedia refers to an artificial world where its stories are spread across many media channels, and the audiences can only realize its significance when they recognize the connection among those contents.

I would say that the concept of transmedia storytelling is innovative and it holds a potential to be a common practice in the future. Nonetheless, I can not help but feel uneasy with this approach because in my view, it undermines the audiences’ enthusiasm and to some degree, aims to force viewers to explore as many media outlets as possible in order to have a clearer glimpse of that “artistic world” which transmedia creates. If the media producers can motivate consumers to willingly experience various media channels, then it is certainly good business for the media industry. Nevertheless, the reality is quite the opposite. Even Jenkins has to admit that his best example—The Matrix—is quite a failure to apply transmedia into the real world.

In addition, Jenkins does point out the fact that in order for transmedia to succeed in its application, viewers’ participation “has to remain an option—something [they] choose to do—and not the only way to derive pleasure from media franchises”. Yet, no application of transmedia has completed this task. Furthermore, I see that it is inevitable that intentionally drawing customers to different media outlets would always be one of media creators’ ultimate aims. So, the issue is no longer about audiences’ “freedom of choice”, but about how to do it and at the same time, not to show the process explicitly.

Using Jenkins’s example—The Matrix trilogywe can explore the essential factor that profoundly weakens the practice of transmedia storytelling. At the first look, the audiences have difficulty to fully comprehend the franchise’s plot or its character motivations because many features are intentionally cut out and presented in other media platforms. Consequently, the viewers are required to “do research before arriving at the theater”. Such demand makes it difficult for consumers to evaluate or grow to appreciate this media artifact. However, this factor arguably popularizes the franchise as viewers would likely attempt to look for the missing pieces of the trilogy’s puzzles. Nevertheless, I believe that a large portion of viewers who comprehend the hidden messages achieve the goal mostly, in my opinion, through “gossiping”, rather than brainstorm to search for the answer as Jenkins indicates as the practice of collective intelligence. I would not say there is no one who enjoys spending time searching for the secret meanings across multiple media platforms of The Matrix, though I would say it is only a small number of “hard-core” fans who do that. Consequently, it is easy to understand that those loyalties are the most potential customers to the media producers.

Jenkins realizes that “the Wachowski brothers have pushed transmedia storytelling farther than most audience members were prepared to go”. In other words, Jenkins is saying that the success of transmedia is not currently at its peak because the cultural and social perspectives are not “innovative” enough to value the creativity and artistic significance of such practice. Well… Jenkins has his point, but I do not necessarily agree with him! No one knows what the future may hold. Perhaps in a few years, transmedia storytelling can possibly become the most popular practice and people would grow to appreciate the learning about the world of their favorite characters instead of simply taking pleasure in looking at them through different media lens. Or perhaps everything would be the same, or somewhat similar to what it is now: a good product comes out, many media channels adapt it, people get bored with the content, producers struggle to create new interesting elements to hold the consumers back, etc! Or perhaps something else that we are not aware of may come along and surprise the world. One thing is for sure: media is always changing.

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Responses

  1. This is an insightful piece. I think that you understand some of the challenges for transmedia storytellers. I also agree with your assessment that the biggest challenge for transmedia audiences is most likely not that we can’t or don’t value the efforts. In your opinion, what other aspects of American culture are prohibitive to the time investment required for transmedia audiences?

    I would also like to redirect you back to Chapter 2 of Jenkins’ book. On p. 83 you’ll find a section called “How Gossip Fuels Convergence.” I think there you’ll notice that Jenkins does value gossip as a manner of information exchange or put differently, as a form of brainstorming. I mention this because it begs the larger question of whether gossip should be valued in this way. You seem yo imply that it does not, why not?


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