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Simon Staffans: Can Transmedia be a Cash Cow?

Not all transmedia projects can be as lucrative as The Matrix (photo): but they can help you make money. Here's how!

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The Matrix

I firmly believe that creating a viable business plan – a plan that fits logically with the content without compromising it – can be as much of a challenge when it comes to transmedia as creating the content itself. It’s also one of the most interesting points in my opinion as a creative person; if our transmedia projects make money, that means we will get to go on doing them and also get the opportunity to create new transmedia installments.

In this post, I will look at some ways in which transmedia can benefit your project and your production, not only with regards to storytelling, but also with regards to the financial side.

Now, what is this thing you call “transmedia”? you might ask. Have no fear: you can read some of my previous posts here to understand transmedia better. In short, transmedia is the art of building a story world around your original property and creating new stories for different platforms, that still connect 100% to your original story. Basically creating more and letting the audience touch more of your story.

In a good post on Tribeca’s “Future of Film” blog, Nick DeMartino looks at data, the big film studios and social media. The traditional media, in this case films, are waking up to the powers of connecting with the audience on a real, genuine, authentic and above all one-to-one basis, creating not only fans but advocates along the way. It’s still early days, and very few – if any – have embraced the organic and free-flowing approach to this kind of connections that would move them from “big company lowering itself to the level of average people” to “big company is just like you and me, and someone I not only can like, but someone I can relate to”. Now transmedia helps with this pretty nicely (providing it’s well designed and well executed, of course).

It can also help your bottom line in several ways, all connected to this close connection to the content and to the genuine and logical ways of interacting.

  • Firstly, a transmedia approach will help you in the development and design process, flowing over into the production itself. By building and creating the world, the mythology that ultimately will contain the specific content you are about to produce, and in the future many other pieces of content, you build a steady foundation to stand on while developing (which shortens development time) and a foundation to present to other team members and subcontractors, to make them see the same project you do.
  • Secondly, when you’ve produced your content you obviously, in most cases, have distribution covered already, through a broadcaster or an online service for instance. The transmedia approach will assist you when it comes to distributing the content beyond these more traditional forms of distribution. Since your content has been, from the outset, designed to split on multiple platforms, with storylines designed for mobile, for Facebook, for graphic novels just to name a few possibilities, it will let you put your content and your story world on display in a much bigger window.
  • Thirdly, your transmedia content has not only been designed to be on multiple platforms, it has also been designed to include the audience in one capacity or another. This in turn is wholly dependent on what type of interaction fits your content; it can be anything from commenting or (virtual or real life) treasure hunting to actually having an impact on your storylines in future installments. This in turn, this investment from the audience’s part, fosters interest and loyalty and is a solid base to build new installments on. It can also, for instance, make it easier to approach sponsors.
  • Finally, when creating a transmedia product, the creator or creative team develop a story world, a mythology, and a narrative superstructure. These in turn make it a lot easier to develop new instalments within the scope of the story world, that easily and logically connect to the last series in a way that makes perfect sense to anyone watching.

To sum it all up – a well executed transmedia project will let you engage deeper with the audience, creating advocates out of them, while saving you money in the long run on the development and script writing budgets. It will let you reach more people in a better, more logical and more genuine way, and it will help you make them see you as someone they can engage with and be on the same level with.

So… what are you waiting for?


Media City Finland
format developer Simon Staffans contributes regularly to MIPBlog on transmedia and format-related topics. Read all his posts here.

Matrix image inspired by excellent Transmedia site Transmedia Lab :)

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11 comment on this article

  1. On June 8, 2011 at 11:44 am Paul Burke said:

    You’ve hit the commercial nail on the head IMO. Its one of the big things I don’t get – why isn’t this being leapt on by broadcasters and studios?

    Is the upfront cost too scary?
    Is the way of working just too much of a change to make in one step?

    It is so OBVIOUSLY the way to go and the way to go now.

  2. On June 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm Krishna Stott said:

    Nice one Simon!

  3. On June 9, 2011 at 9:47 am guerillakitchen said:

    I think the issue for me as a development producer is that in any project, people seem to want development for free. The number of times I’m asked to do a TV job for lo or no pay on a promise of work and a percentage of the commissioned project is increasing. The key thing about a transmedia approach is that development is essential and a good use of financial resources as development on paper costs a lot less than mistakes or mis-assumptions in production. I’m not really sure why having a storyworld should mean development time is shortened. Transmedia still seems to be something which is talked about but ultimately the budgets to realise it on a grand scale still seem to be out of most practitioner’s reach. If you know of people who are being paid to develop transmedia projects, I’d be very interested to hear about them.

  4. On June 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm Simon Staffans said:

    Paul, Krishna, thanks.

    Claire – I think that’s been the case with the media industry since Gutenberg (or earlier), right? Please do more work with less or no pay; you get to be included in the closing titles. As I stated, this is from my POV. I believe having a thoroughly developed story world will help you avoid mistakes, misinterpretations, those “oh bugger this won’t work, we have to scrap last week’s development altogether”-situations… Not to mention avoiding costly mistakes when bringing in new ppl or branching out with new stories on new platforms. All good stuff, in my book. As for practitioners of transmedia getting paid, it probably depends on what you’re thinking of. Off the top of my head, and without having checked with them whether my assumptions are correct or not,, people like Andrea Phillips, Christy Dena and J. C. Hutchins come to mind.

    • On June 9, 2011 at 11:03 pm Sandy Brownlee said:

      Transmedia is a great marketing tool, but it’s more than that – it’s a new art form (or a return to a very ancient one). As with any new innovation, an industry will tends to discount what it doesn’t understand until it is tested and tested again by the pioneers – and proven profitable. But the pioneers are out there – and are making a living at it. Lance Weiler, Robert Pratten, and, of course, Jeff Gomez with Starlight Runner Entertainment. To quote the song “we’ve only just begun…”

      • On June 10, 2011 at 11:18 am Simon Staffans said:

        Sandy, I agree totally. The people you mention are great practitioners of the art – I tried to think of people who are doing paid work as developers; Jeff of course does it, but he has Starlight Runner and all the talented people there… Lance Weiler and Robert are known for “doing their own stuff” (and succeeding admirably). So yes, there are people making a transmedia living (myself included).

        I am in violent agreement regarding transmediated content being so much more than a marketing tool. At the same time, since it lends itself so naturally to marketing, why not use the transmedia powers to market said content? This amplification in turn leads to more hits, more views, better ratings… Which translates into more sponsorship money (for instance), which means we get to do more transmedia.

        It’s all good :)

      • On July 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm Jennifer Roberts said:

        Well said and as a matter of fact it’s a new art form (or a return to a very ancient one). Essentially, one has to learn (SEEK and FIND) if they are interested in knowing and devoloping this new art form.

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  7. On July 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm Jennifer Roberts said:

    Very interesting article. Thank you

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