What does transmedia storytelling mean to you?
I’ve been working in this digital storytelling industry for over 15 years now so in my perspective, it means the same thing it did 15 years ago. It’s just the new word for it. What I like about transmedia is that it’s not about duplicating content; it’s about sticking to the essence of a story and expanding it to different platforms.
Coming from a public broadcaster angle at the BBC [editor’s note: Allimonos left the BBC last month to pursue a career in branded content], where we’re not purely concerned with profit, I see transmedia as the new art form of this century.
You’re known for developing BBC’s “mythology engine.” Can you explain what that is and how it’s being used?
As BBC’s multiplatform drama commissioner, I wanted to create this transmedia repository for everything to do with Doctor Who. The show is about to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, and it being the longest running science fiction show in the universe, a huge mythology has been built up around it.
So we constructed this reusable framework that we could apply to Doctor Who and to another iconic program, EastEnders.
Essentially, the mythology engine is a video-rich transmedia Wikipedia for TV shows with great mythologies. What’s great is that there are a few predetermined pathways through the stories, but the audience can still go in and play around like they would on the web.
Are there any stories that don’t work well across platforms?
With the BBC, I was mostly involved in fictional programs and figuring out how to extend them across the web, mobile, IPTV, etc., in a way that would reach millions.
Being public broadcasters, BBC needs to create content for everyone, so we try to avoid the niche. We’ve done a lot of experimental broadcasting but over the last few years, the BBC has been trying to ask, “what are the shows and moments that are really going to capture the attention of the nation in a non-TV format?”
That’s why we focused on Doctor Who as well as EastEnders, which deals with a lot of important social issues through drama.
For EastEnders’ 25th anniversary, I got together with TV execs to create a spin-off drama, E20. It starts in the main program, where the drama centers around a community of people, and then it moves online for a couple of weeks until the characters move back into the show. So we had to help audiences navigate the content and move from one medium to the next seamlessly.
Was there an interactive element?
We’ve created a Facebook following and some E20 characters are on Twitter. But it’s hard, because the tweets have to be really high quality and only one of the actors was really good at it. Unlike the Mad Men characters on Twitter who aren’t associated with the show, this came directly from the actors.
If you’re going to extend a show in any way, you have to figure out what its DNA is, what its essence is as a brand. Then you can carry that over to different platforms and decide if there is anything new to be added to the mix.
With EastEnders we wanted to attract younger viewers and nurture young talent. So we did summer schools with young people, had young people writing the show and rejuvenated the cast.
Any other lessons about what works and what doesn’t from your tenure at the BBC?
A few of the more practical things we learnt were the dos and don’ts of online video. For instance, avoid appointment to view. We experimented with that early on and it never really worked; VOD (videos on demand) is the way people watch videos online.
Another is to acknowledge the medium. The Guild, an amazing Felicia Day series about gamers, is an example of that. Each of the episodes starts with her addressing the audience and camera, then moving into the drama.
I think what it says on a semiotic level is, “we’re not embarrassed of being online. This isn’t lower-production-value content, this is a genuine form in its own sense.”
An additional really good lesson is to avoid leaving multiplatform to the end and to be involved right from the conception stage. I think it’s about orchestrating and architecting an experience for the audience. It’s what you do before, during and after the TV moment and how you bridge the gap for audiences between episodes.
An example of what worked is Being Human, a drama about a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf who choose to share a flat and try to figure out how to live as humans. I was involved with that brand from the conception stage and we came up with a really great formula.
Beforehand, we answered the ‘how the characters came to be’ question by releasing prequels, then we released the show and then we captured the chat that happened around the broadcast through social media.
We also had a blog that went into how the series was made, and then we released the prequel, which was the bridge to the next series. I think that way of pushing the audience along timelines works well.
How do you navigate the various silos (and budgets) that are involved when you’re working across platforms?
There are a lot of dotted lines and different parts of the BBC, so my role is really to cut through the silos as a translator.
I learn and speak the language of the TV commissioners and execs, and then bring mobile, tech and R&D together with the TV partners to make transmedia that works.
I do have a separate budget, but no decision is made without the dotted line being involved, and without bringing the whole business together.
Is transmedia a niche product or can it have mass appeal?
Having worked for a very large broadcaster who, each week, would broadcast to millions of people, I think transmedia has the opportunity to go mainstream and massive.
With Doctor Who, we had four million gaming downloads within weeks, which basically matches what a regular episode would get. With Being Human, half the audience came through heavily marketed TV channels and the other came through our iPlayer and catch-up services.
I think transmedia is a great opportunity because brands really want to have an intimate relationship with their consumers.I’m excited that brands are seriously getting into commissioning content and that there are amazing international collaborative projects breaking through and reaching millions.