By Mariane Murakami*
When I was finishing my PhD, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Ron Greenfield, editor of the digital magazine Aspects of Entertainment. The central theme of our conversation was the understanding of what is transmedia storyelling which was also the subject of my research. Ron approached very interesting concepts and tried not to be too academic, so our dialogue could be understandable to the general audience. I really liked the result and I reproduce here the full interview.
Aspects of Entertainment for Newsstand – Transmedia Dialogue
Ron Greenfield interview Mariane Murakami
About Mariane Murakami (by Ron Greenfield)
Since childhood Mariane has been fascinated by the power of stories and narratives developed for television. Working as a high school literature teacher, she soon came to realize that media studies was her passion and in 2007 entered the University of São Paulo, Brazil to obtain her post-graduate degree in Communication Sciences. While there, she initiated and conducted several studies related to urban violence and its effect on the media, especially in popular fictional television programming.
Today, Mariane is a PHD student at the School of Communication and Arts at the University of São Paulo, where she develops research on television studies which focus on telenovelas, TV series, and transmedia storytelling. She is a member of the editorial board of Rumores (http://www.rumores.usp.br/) – an online scientific journal on media discourse and language studies – and an advisor at Novos Olhares – scientific journal Media Reception Studies, both published by the University of São Paulo. In addition, she is a researcher and digital media manager at MidiAto – Language and Media Practices Research Group that is also sponsored by the University of São Paulo.
She has written extensively on the topic of transmedia and is one of the authors of the book, Profissão Repórter em Diálogo, which discusses the language of TV journalism.
Ron Greenfield: What do you think is a good, working definition of transmedia?
Mariane Murakami: Transmedia is a concept defined by Henry Jenkins in his book, Convergence Culture, and it has been widely used by many people – from universities and from the entertainment industry. According to Jenkins, transmedia storytelling is a process where the essential elements of a story get divided across multiple media channels in order to create a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. However, I have seen some ambiguity in the definitions of the concept. Sometimes it can be confused with other concepts. The most commonly confused terms are transmedia and crossmedia, for example. But in fact, they are not the same. Crossmedia is “through” while transmedia is “beyond” media. When the same story is reproduced on different media platforms, it is crossmedia. Any person then, can access the same story in different media platforms. In transmedia, different media platforms produce different content, so they complement themselves. People then, can choose accessing only one or many different media – so they can have the most complete experience.
I think Jenkins’ definition is adequate for two reasons: first, because it is about telling stories, and stories have always gathered people together; second, because this definition is in line with today’s media environment, in which audiences increasingly demand participation. So, in transmedia storytelling, it is not only about distributing content in different mediums, once the story gains more and more relevance; it is about knowing how to balance creation and technology. The creativity and quality of the story is still important, but it provides infinite possibilities for the producers. It is about taking advantage of each media in order to create an environment that engages the audience.
Ron Greenfield: Just to clarify for the readers, there is a big difference between transmedia that can easily be confused with brand extensions. Each has their immersive or engrossing aspects, but transmedia is more about the original concept or story continuing along different platforms that incorporate different devices. Also it becomes a personal preference. There are some who prefer to be engaged with a story through their phone or tablet than their laptop or just through watching it on television. Do you think this is a major issue or problem affecting the global entertainment industry today, especially if it is going to grow and adapt for 21st century audiences?
Mariane Murakami: Engaging the audience: I think that’s the main challenge of the 21st century entertainment industry; audiences cannot be considered from the “mass audience” perspective anymore, since there are so many entertainment options. The way we consume information and entertainment has also changed. We continue to consume more and more media on multiple platforms including the internet, mobile, film, and television. This shift in media consumption and habits has forced the media industry to change strategies to engage them. This process is happening very fast; the traditional media is increasingly losing their audiences because people prefer to consume entertainment and news through the internet and mobile devices. The challenge for many media companies is how to bring back the audience for their products; the cultural framework is changing and the companies know that it is necessary to innovate in order to capture the consumer’s attention. So, transmedia storytelling has been one of the most suitable strategies to accomplish this.
RG: Can you give an example of how transmedia storytelling is a suitable option? For instance, let’s say you’re the producer of a television program or soap opera. Television, that is where your core audience is, but if the story is ongoing, what if one segment prefers twitter updates while others prefer instant messaging? How do you keep all these segments in the loop at the same time? And more so, how do you engage them on an interactive level? And, in addressing these issues, how do you see transmedia as a channel or means of resolving some of these issues?
MM: This is not a simple task, as I said, people think that developing a transmedia narrative is distributing content to many mediums – and that’s what most companies are doing. For example, reproducing videos from a TV series on mobile devices or on the internet is not transmedia storytelling. The media platforms (mobile phones, tablets, computer, television) are only supports – they only mediate. The companies have to focus on the stories they are telling – if the narrative is not attractive, it will not be capable of engaging the audience to move from one media to another.
RG: I think the essential idea here and probably encapsulates what transmedia is, which is, through the narrative, being able to engage the audience as they move from one media platform to another. It also brings up something else. I think culturally, whether it’s here in the United States, Brazil or China, we still have the mindset of entertainment as being what we call “one-way entertainment.” We see a film, that’s it. We dedicate ourselves to the situations or characters in a television show, but don’t necessarily see it going beyond that. If transmedia, or the concept of it is going to gain worldwide acceptance, how do you see or think the craft of storytelling is going to change or bring about a change in the way entertainment programming (film, TV, webisodes, even news) is produced and distributed? We can even add to that. Let’s take a hypothetical situation, and to the best of my knowledge, this has never been done before, but suppose a TV program has a run of 5 or 6 years, and for whatever reason, the series ends. Using transmedia, do you think the series can continue, and by that I mean to grow and build a following, even though the original programming is no longer on the air?
MM: Besides constructing an attractive story, it is necessary to think the narrative from a different perspective, because the experience of enjoying a fictional narrative in multiple platforms is not linear. The story has to allow for the viewer to be free to go in any direction he likes. That means transmedia writers should unfold a story in many directions, but being careful not to affect the narrative’s coherence for the different types of audiences. What I’m saying is that the story has to make sense – and be engaging and attractive as well – to the viewer (s) that follow the narrative exclusively through television, for example. After all, there will be casual viewers, and most of them will not access deeper levels of content. So the producers/writers need to build layers as rewards for the fan that wants to have the most complete experience. The most loyal fans who will consume the whole variety of products from their favorite story will feel an advantage over other people – they will discover unrevealed secrets, access exclusive content. For example, in 2009’s Comic Con, ABC launched the Lost University, an interactive multimedia experience, a fictitious university through which fans can enroll in courses that relate to content relevant to Lost. People could access the course content in the Season 5 Blu-ray set, and iPhone apps. Only the fans who were able to respond to questions about the show were able to take the course. – They received an exclusive Student ID card issued with an ID and PIN number for use with the Season 5 Blu-ray feature. Besides, the fans could take courses with professors from the cast and crew of Lost. They could feel they were part of the show. And for a devoted fan, nothing can be more rewarding.
As transmedia storytelling requires a wide perspective, I think media conglomerates will have to change (and it is already happening) the way they produce entertainment content. First, the notion of authorship has to change. An author no longer works alone on a project, because transmedia creation requires a creative process evolving people with different skills. This reality will force companies to redefine various management and planning processes during the creation, production, distribution, marketing, and promotion of a transmedia product.
For example, I think the main problem here in Brazil in transmedia experiences are telenovelas – the most popular media product. The author writes the story for television and only when it is done, the producers plan how to integrate it in other mediums – internet content, merchandising, mobile devices apps, etc. In the end, the viewer does not have a transmedia experience in the strictest sense, because in most cases, the different mediums do not constitute a unified narrative.
So, one of the most important challenges to be met by the entertainment industry is to change this way of thinking. The authors must learn new ideas and skills. They need to have an integral perspective, from the multimedia content production in order to construct a story with a broader offer of services to the audience, to the appropriate interactive relationship with audiences around the different mediums.
The integration of several different media into a cohesive and coherent narrative is a big challenge for the creators of transmedia narrative. Also, it is not easy to keep audiences interested in a narrative dispersed across multiple media, providing a comprehensive perspective to guide transmedia projects. The individual elements of a transmedia narrative (verbal elements, images, audio, and other forms of media) present their individual challenges, because each media has its own qualities, languages and strategies for producing and organizing content.
RG: From one point of view it is a whole re-thinking and re-education of providing entertainment content and taking storytelling in new directions. As you just said, “… the experience of enjoying a fictional narrative in multiple platforms is not linear.” Just in general, I think we are still very much a linear society. However, since the internet is now an integral part of daily life this is changing. More so in the coming years as we change our way of thinking. And as this occurs, how do you see the convergence of entertainment content (in whatever form that happens to be) and technology in the coming years?
MM: According to some authors, only experiments with transmedia narratives will help writers and media companies to develop new ways of combining media platforms and producing exciting new storytelling experiences. However, from a creative perspective, transmedia narrative projects are already transforming the art of telling stories. And it is what makes me believe that television and other traditional medium are far from “death,” as many people say.
What is happening is a transformation in the media environment, they are being forced to adapt to a convergence culture to survive. For example, journalism which is one of the most traditional forms of media has also been transformed with the convergence culture and the active participation of the audience. The cyberdemocracy phenomena – and the development of mobile and collaborative media – allows everyone to publish news before any newspaper. Great news agencies now compete with bloggers and tweeters for relevant information. So, transmedia journalism is now an important strategy to expand the company image. This process reinforces the interaction with the audience, it’s what motivates them to move from one media platform to another.
We can say that it is the same logic of the connection between marketing and transmedia narratives. Nowadays, transmedia narratives are the main strategy for companies to tell stories and to engage the consumers in an effective and immersive way, because: 1) the more the consumer knows about your product, brand, or company, the higher the conversions of purchase. 2) The more screens consumers use, the more time they spend with the content. 3) the more the consumer personalizes the experience, the more it pays off and less likely to move to a competing company. So, I think that media companies that are too reluctant about converging media platforms may suffer the consequences – the loss of audiences and consumers, especially if they are dealing with younger people. They tell stories for years, but the emergence of digital and interactive media – and the variety of entertainment and information experiences to choose from – turns the reception of this message into a difficult task, because they have to capture the attention and engage the audience first. As I said, they have to adapt and change their production and creative processes.
Transmedia strategies requires multitasking professionals and teams – marketing, design, techonology and most important, storytelling experts, because contrary to what many people think, what makes the difference when using the techniques of transmedia storytelling are not the platforms they use, but the stories they tell. That’s how you make the communication actions a true experience for the consumer, enabling great effectiveness and making better use of the money invested.
RG: Do you think, at the present time, media conglomerates (domestic and/or international) MUST restructure in order to maximize opportunities and revenues?
MM: It’s a fact that media conglomerates are now realizing that adapting their production and distribution strategies to the digital age is inescapable. Here in Brazil, for example, the most hegemonic TV company, after losing part of their audience and advertisers to internet companies, started to invest heavily in transmedia strategies. Today, every program has content on the internet, as extensions for TV. In doing so, they are trying to use the internet content to attract the audience back to the television. However, as I said before, I think media audiences are more and more segmented, so one of the trends in using transmedia strategies – especially for those who are beginning to explore opportunities in this field – is to increasingly adopt personalized (or one-to-one) marketing. So, they have to work with media specialists who are capable to work with integrated perspectives (exploring the possibilities of different media platforms), and also to understand the segmented profiles of the audience in order to produce personalized messages – which can be more engaging and attractive for the audience with all the available information and content.
*Mariane Murakami, PhD, is project manager focused on technology at Globant Brazil.
*Ron Greenfield is editor of the digital magazine Aspects of Entertainment.
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