Transmedia, in the blink of an eye

A_man_to_reckon_with I am at the Futures of Entertainment conference at C3 at MIT.  Last night, we listened to two of the guys who write and produce the TV show called Heroes, Jesse Alexander and Mark Warshaw. 

The revelation last night was to see how far the notion of "transmedia" has come. 

Transmedia is the term for storytelling across multiple forms of media.  Henry Jenkins, the author of the concept, uses The Matrix as a case in point.  The Matrix is a kind of matrix, the narrative now expressed in 3 films, a number of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories and several video games None of this is authoritative.  The Matrix is a transmedia property. 

Jenkins has been talking about this idea for some years.  Indeed this idea, as recently as a couple of years ago, existed chiefly in Jenkins’ head and his MIT ambit.  Fast forward to last night.  Transmedia is now a revenue stream and a business model at NBC.  It is in fact one of the things that makes Heroes possible and profitable.  (It was even hinted that transmedia properties help keep Heroes afloat when its audience numbers soften.)

This is one part of the future that distributed very quickly, from the realm of pure thought at MIT into the economy and an NBC spreadsheet at blinding speed.  Alexander pointed out that this ancillary revenue stream is vastly more interesting than the "merchandizing" that it now rivals as a revenue stream.  Merchandizing in my humble opinion actually manages to diminish  creative accomplishment whereas transmedia is a chance to build it. 

The revelation from this morning’s meeting, for me, was listening to Marc Davis.  Davis is the Social Media Guru at Yahoo.  Davis asked us to contemplate what happens when phones are not just spatially aware but socially aware.  As phone report where we are and what engages us, we have access to a record of attention.

It made me think of San Francisco.  Right now, if we were blimp born, we could tell what interests visits to San Francisco by noticing where the cluster.  We would see for instance that there is something fascinating about fisherman’s wharf. 

A record of attention spares us the blimp and gives us way more information.  Now, we know where people are clustered throughout SanFrancisco on a map with a memory, a selective memory.  Now when I come to this town, I can ask it to tell me where my best friends went, where my most media savvy friends went, where my most culturally savvy friends went.  Now, I know San Francisco through the shared intelligence of friends who got there first. 

Personal applications aside, it’s clear that these interest maps will be sources of social science data, a way to watch patterns forming and reforming as the world "votes with its feet."   The wisdom of crowds made visible.   


Jenkins, Henry.  2007.  Transmedia Storytelling 101. Confessions of an Aca-Fan.  The official weblog of Henry Jenkins.  here

Jenkins, Henry.  2006a.  Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide.  New York: New York University Press. 

Jenkins, Henry.  2006b.  Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture.  New York: New York University Press. 

Transmedia entry at Wikipedia here.


I took the picture above while in a museum in Oaxaca.  He is a MesoAmerican athlete who helped stage origin myths in another time.  And the sculpture isn’t actually sculpture.  As nearly as I can tell, it’s a man covered in clay.   Do I have a reason for using it?  Not that I can tell.   

4 thoughts on “Transmedia, in the blink of an eye

  1. Mary W

    Per the transmedia business model: yup, it’s a change from the old hierarchical model of media, to more of a network model. (I forget who pointed out that every age has its mental model — the steam engine, the atomic bomb, etc. — and ours is the network.)

    In the olden days, having a movie made out of your book or script was the “highest” (ie the most expensive) storytelling medium/outcome. Stories moved one way, from comics and/or books to TV and movies.

    Perhaps early transmedia was when movies and TV shows started doing spinoff book series (was Star Trek the first for this? I don’t know). But there was still the hierarchical sense that the movie/TV show was the “original canon” and the other stuff was “secondary canon.”

    Now it’s growing towards a full network effect: as you say, *all* the transmedia around the new IP/storyworlds (like Matrix) is canon, and the story elements interweave across the various media — minor characters in the movie become fully developed characters in the game or comic, etc. It’s not a one-way influence model anymore.

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