Future of Storytelling Expert Series: Transmedia Engagement 101 with Brooke ThompsonBy Kim Gaskins October 25, 2011
Recently, Latitude launched an innovation study on The Future of Storytelling. Why? So we can uncover the questions, challenges, and aspirations of tomorrow’s storytellers and identify how they can better align with audience’s changing expectations. Every week for the next several weeks, Latitude will share its conversation with a different influential individual. We’ll follow the series with a summary of best practices and insights for content creators and businesses from Latitude’s SVP, Neela Sakaria.
This week’s spotlight on Brooke Thompson:
Brooke Thompson is a freelance experience designer specializing in alternate reality gaming, transmedia storytelling, and real world play. A pioneer in the field, she has nearly ten years experience that encompass a number of award-winning projects. Clients and collaborators have included The American Film Institute, PBS, Shaftesbury Films, Sony Entertainment, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Brothers, Insomniac Games, General Motors, Alltel Wireless, 42 Entertainment, GMD Studios and more.
We’re glad we could catch up with you, Brooke. Working increasingly more as a freelance consultant, you probably have a nice bird’s-eye view on what’s driving the sudden activity and buzz around “transmedia.” What’s your take on this?
I think Hollywood finally found it, and that created the whole transmedia excitement. They realized they need more than just Web video, or more than just X—and transmedia combines everything. It can make both the big and tiny exciting. Though, in many cases, Hollywood is still just using it to refer to Web video.
Also, technology has caught up; we have smartphones and the iPad now. Those are now in more people’s hands. Three years ago, the tools weren’t completely available—or, at least, not in most people’s hands and not in a way that the executives and decision-makers understood. Now that’s changed, which has made transmedia more open and available.
More on Brooke’s work for Project Abraham and other projects here.
Yes, that makes a lot of sense. One of the things we think about often in our own work is this larger idea of “experience.” So, as an “experience designer” yourself, do you feel that, generally, Hollywood has truly started to think about story as experience?
Not really; they’re still looking. Experience isn’t easily measured. What we can measure are traditional metrics which vary depending on the industry—but experience: how do you measure that, and in a way that’s somewhat standardized and that people can understand?
In one regard, transmedia is an easy way to find new ways of bringing in sponsorships or brand placement and all those sorts of things but, on the other hand, none of that has really been proven—so it’s not paying a lot. I think in three to five years, when things have settled a bit and companies know how to find ad opportunities or how to sponsor things—where there are proven results, that’s when it will be really interesting.
This idea of measurement certainly has been brought up before—I’m curious if there’s also some ideological tension from the creative side not necessarily wanting to get to a point where things are measured, and standardized, and formulated. From your point of view, what kinds of questions might you really want answered, or are there moments where you wish you had data that says, “Look, this works!”?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure I can answer that entirely, but I think the biggest thing is figuring out how to measure engagement. Also, an important area for me is understanding the opportunities in niche versus mainstream; is it worth a company’s money or will they get a strong return by going after niche versus going after mainstream audiences? Personally, I think there’s a lot of value in going niche—and that it’s something transmedia is natively prepared to handle. We’re asking for an audience that is very heavily invested, whereas a mainstream audience is more casual. I really think that some companies are looking at this in the wrong way when they focus so heavily on mainstream. I don’t have any research to back up my feelings on that—I would like to see some, though.
Can you think of any examples of content, either mainstream or niche, that are great case studies for how things should play out?
Battlestar Galactica is really brilliant. One thing that transmedia is really good at doing: when expanding a universe, it’s good at pulling out either a character or an event. So, most of the television series for Battlestar Galactica focused on life on-the-run in a battleship but, in between two seasons, they were on a planet. With a few exceptions, the producers took all of the planet content and made those into Webisodes—so people who were watching the show on television missed what actually happened down there on the planet for that year or so, but the hardcore fans could go online and find out. It was subtle, too, and I think Battlestar handled it really well.
Speaking of good examples… if you had to think of a couple do’s and don’ts or best practices off the top of your head for people creating transmedia experiences, what would they be?
There’s gazillions. The biggest one is—and I go through this with clients all the time—is they want everyone in their audience to come in contact with everything or they want to segregate their audiences, so maybe they’ll have people read the comics and not know anything else. Well, that’s true, but ideally you’ll give your audience little hints in the other places; there needs to be a little bit of a tease in both directions, and people miss that all the time. Where things break most often is in how much information is shared between platforms. I don’t think there’s a quantifiable way to know what will work, like having X number of pieces going this way—it’s more of an art than a science. You just need to know how your audience is going to react.
This interview was conducted by Neela Sakaria, SVP at Latitude.
Latitude is an international research consultancy helping clients create engaging content, software and technology that harness the possibilities of the Web. To learn more about working with Latitude, fill out this form or contact Ian Schulte (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Image credit: InspireKelly