Transmedia storytelling

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"Transmedia" redirects here. For a related process, see Transmediation.

Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling, cross-media seriality[1] etc.) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats including, but not limited to, games, books, events, cinema and television. The purpose being to not only reach a wider audience by expanding the target market pool, but to expand the narrative itself ([2]).

Henry Jenkins, an author of the seminal book Convergence Culture warns that this is an emerging subject and different authors have different understanding. He warns that the term "transmedia" per se means "across media" and may be applied to superficially similar, but different phenomena. In particular, the concept of "transmedia storytelling" should not to be confused with traditional cross-platform, "transmedia" media franchises,[3] see "media mix" for more.

From a production standpoint, transmedia storytelling involves creating content[4] that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives.[5] In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.


The origins of the approach to disperse the content across various commodities and media is traced to the Japanese marketing strategy of media mix, originated in early 1960s.[1][6]

By the 1970s and 1980s, pioneering artists of telematic art made experiments of collective narrative, mixing the ancestors of today's networks, and produced both visions and critical theories of what became transmedia. With the advent of mainstream Internet usage in the 1990s, numerous creators began to explore ways to tell stories and entertain audiences using new platforms. Many early examples took the form of what was to become known as alternate reality games (ARG), which took place in real-time with a mass audience. The term ARG was itself coined in 2001 to describe The Beast, a marketing campaign for the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Some early works include, but are not limited to:

  • Ong's Hat was most likely started sometime around 1993, and also included most of the aforementioned design principles. Ong's Hat also incorporated elements of legend tripping into its design, as chronicled in a scholarly work titled "Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong's Hat".[7]
  • Dreadnot,[8] an early example of an ARG-style project, was published on in 1996. This ARG included working voice mail phone numbers for characters, clues in the source code, character email addresses, off-site websites, and real locations in San Francisco.
  • FreakyLinks (link to archived project at end of article), 2000
  • The Blair Witch Project - feature film, 1999
  • On Line - feature film, 2001
  • The Beast - game, 2001
  • Majestic - video game, 2001

The Macaulay Honors College, part of CUNY, New York, established a New Media Lab focusing on Transmedia Storytelling and content, under the direction of Robert Small.

Current state[edit]

As of 2011, both traditional and dedicated transmedia entertainment studios are beginning to embrace transmedia storytelling techniques in search of a new storytelling form that is native to networked digital content and communication channels. Developing technologies have enabled projects to now begin to include single-player experiences in addition to real-time multiplayer experiences such as alternate reality games. While the list of current and recent projects is too extensive to list here, some notable examples of transmedia storytelling include:

In 'Digital State: How the internet is changing everything' (2013), author Simon Pont argues that transmedia storytelling is a theory that is at last starting to find its practical stride. Pont cites Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (2012), and specifically the three viral films produced by 20th Century Fox as part of the advance global marketing campaign, as vivid executional examples of transmedia storytelling theory.

Where Robert McKee (Story, 1998) argues that back-story is a waste of time (because if the back-story is so good then this is surely the story worth telling), Pont proposes that storytellers like J. J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have “pretty much lined McKee’s argument up against a wall and shot it”.[9] Pont goes on to argue, “Parallel and non-linear timelines, ‘multi-verses’, grand narratives with crazy-rich character arcs, ‘back-story’ has become ‘more story’, the opportunity to add Byzantine layers of meaning and depth. You don’t create a story world by stripping away, but by layering”.

In 'Ball & Flint: transmedia in 90 seconds' (2013), Pont likens transmedia story-telling to "throwing a piece of flint at an old stone wall" and "delighting in the ricochet", making story something you can now "be hit by and cut by".[10]

East and West Coast Transmedia[edit]

Most modern Transmedia Storytelling projects can can be placed into one of two categories: West Coast or East Coast.[11] East Coast Transmedia often incorporates the use of ARGs and social media in order to attract a large audience to play the game together in order to achieve an outcome which plays into the narrative. ReGenisis is a good example of East-Coast styling as a game which took place in unison with the original content. More often than not, these ARGs are played out by a relatively small group of people who have the time and dedication to the game. West Coast Transmedia uses an entirely new platform to create original content. For example Star Wars has a large abundance of West Coast Transmedia with television shows, books, games, etc. So where East coast style is deeply enhances the original story through ARG immersion, West Coast allows the story to build upon itself and reach a wider audience. Although West-Coast might seem like the more beneficial, it is also, typically, more costly to produce. Starting almost from scratch on a completely different medium that you may not have experience producing on. Although trying to produce games via live events are not without their potential pitfalls as well.

Educational Uses[edit]

Transmedia storytelling mimics daily life, making it a strong constructivist pedagogical tool for educational uses [12] The level of engagement offered by transmedia storytelling is essential to the Me or Millennial Generation as no single media satisfy their curiosity or lifestyle.[13] Schools have been slow to adopt the emergence of this new culture which shifts the spotlight of literacy from being one of individual expression to one of community. Whether we see it or not, Jenkins notes that we live in a transmedia, globally connected world in which we use multiple platforms to connect and communicate.[12] Using Transmedia storytelling as a pedagogical tool, wherein students interact with platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr permits students’ viewpoints, experiences, and resources to establish a shared collective intelligence that is enticing, engaging, and immersive, catching the millennial learners’ attention, ensuring learners a stake in the experience.[14] Transmedia storytelling offers the educator the ability to lead students to think critically, identify with the material and gain knowledge, offering valuable framework for the constructivist educational pedagogy that supports student centered learning.[15] Transmedia storytelling allows for the interpretation of the story from the individual perspective, making way for personalized meaning-making.[12]

In 'The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy' (2012), Pont explains, "Transmedia thinking anchors itself to the world of story, the ambition principally being one of how you can ‘bring story to life’ in different places, in a non-linear fashion. The marketing of motion pictures is the most obvious application, where transmedia maintains that there’s a ‘bigger picture opportunity’ to punting a big picture. Transmedia theory, applied to a movie launch, is all about promoting the story, not the ‘due date of a movie starring...’ In an industry built on the conventions of ‘stars sell movies’, where their name sits above the film’s title, transmedia thinking is anti-conventional and boldly purist." [16]

Transmedia storytelling is also used by companies like Microsoft and Kimberly-Clark to to train employees and managers.[17] Gronstedt and Ramos argues: “At the core of every training challenge is a good story waiting to be told. More and more, these stories are being told across a multitude of devices and screens, where they can reach learners more widely, and engage with them more deeply.” [18]


  1. ^ a b ,Marc Steinberg, Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. p. vi
  2. ^ Phillips, Andrea. (2012) Transmedia Storytelling.
  3. ^ Jenkins, Henry (August 1, 2011). "Transmedia 202: Further Reflections". Confessions of an AcaFan. 
  4. ^ Pratten, Robert (2011). Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling: A Practical Guide for Beginners (Paperback). London, UK: CreateSpace. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-4565-6468-1. 
  5. ^ Bernardo, Nuno (2011). The Producers Guide to Transmedia: How to Develop, Fund, Produce and Distribute Compelling Stories Across Multiple Platforms (Paperback). London, UK: beActive Books. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-9567500-0-6. 
  6. ^ Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, p. 110
  7. ^ Kinsella,Michael. Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat University Press of Mississippi, 2011
  8. ^ "Dreadnot". SFGate. Archived from the original on 2000-02-29. 
  9. ^ Pont, S. “Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything” (2013) Kogan Page 978-0749468859.
  10. ^ 'Ball & Flint: transmedia explained in 90 seconds' (2013) Simon Pont
  11. ^ Phillips, Andrea. (2012) Transmedia Storytelling
  12. ^ a b c Jenkins, H. “Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: An Annotated Syllabus”, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 24:6, 943-958 2010.
  13. ^ Wilson, M. E. (2004). Teaching, learning, and millennial students. New directions for student services (106). Summer 2004.
  14. ^ Warren, S., Wakefield, J.S., and Mills, L. “Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions: Transmedia Storytelling, “in Laura A. Wankel, Patrick Blessinger (ed.) Increasing Student Engagement and Retention using Multimedia Technologies: Video Annotation, Multimedia Applications, Videoconferencing and Transmedia Storytelling (Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6), 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.67-94
  15. ^ Teske, Paul R. J. and Horstman, Theresa. "Transmedia in the classroom: breaking the fourth wall." Paper presented at the meeting of the MindTrek, 2012.
  16. ^ Pont, S. “The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy” (2013) Kogan Page 978-0749466213.
  17. ^ "Storytelling for the Netflix age". T+D Magazine. August 2013. 
  18. ^ Gronstedt, Anders; Ramos, Marc (January 7, 2014). Learning Through Transmedia Storytelling (Infoline). ASTD. ISBN 1562869515. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Phillips, Andrea. (2012) Transmedia Storytelling
  • Azemard, Ghislaine (2013), 100 notions for crossmedia and transmedia, éditions de l’immatériel, p. 228
  • Pont, Simon (2012) “The Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy”. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0749466213
  • Pont, Simon (2013) “Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything”. Kogan Page. ISBN 978-0749468859