Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California and the author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.
Trans·me·di·a – 1. A storytelling process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.
What have you discovered about Brazil’s media culture? What opportunities do transmedia storytellers have in this part of the world?
The sky is the limit in Brazil. I’m still learning a lot about the media culture here, but what I’m seeing is a culture that preserves its traditions in a way that’s very much alive and vibrant.
What we’ve discovered is that digital culture represents the applying of a folk culture tradition to new media content. In Brazil, the folk culture has always been participatory. It’s always had a strong sense of remixing. It’s always included the audience as part of the performance, whether we’re thinking of the samba schools or carnival.
So if we apply that carnival spirit to thinking about media content, then I think something remarkable is going to come out of this. What I see in Brazil is a country on the threshold of global attention. Between the World Cup (in 2014) and the Olympics (in 2016), people are going to be paying attention.
That creates a unique opportunity for Brazilian companies to become international content producers, to model alternative ways of connecting the producers to the consumers and to experiment with transmedia storytelling, which I think represents the wave of the future where media content is concerned.
2. Transmedia storytelling reflects the economics of media consolidation or what industry observers call “synergy.” A media conglomerate has an incentive to spread its brand or expand its franchises across as many different media platforms as possible.
What role will social media play in supporting transmedia storytelling?
Well, I think social media is the key to what I call “spreadable media.” Spreadable media is media that gets passed along as gifts from one member of the community to another. And social networks play a really huge role in that.
Research in the United States is showing two things. First, social media is making people return to watching television in real time. Because otherwise it gets spoiled through their Twitter accounts. There are certain shows they want to watch and tweet about as they are watching [them] and that’s creating a return to a kind of event-based television.
The second thing we’re seeing is that Twitter may be the best indicator of how well a movie opens. Not just because it allows us to see the buzz, or the conversations that people are having about a movie, but it also amplifies those conversations and allows people to discover new movies and discuss them among themselves. It makes word of mouth much more powerful than it’s been before.
In that world, the fan or the consumer plays a crucial role in shaping the circulation of media content. And so companies need to know the fan, respond to the fan, build a relationship with the fan in a very different way than they’ve done before.
3. Most often, transmedia stories are based not on individual characters or specific plots but rather complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories. This process of world-building encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers.
Does transmedia spell the end of television as we know it?
Television is exploding across every media platform. It’s broadcast but it’s also on the Web, it’s on the mobile phone, and that’s part of the opportunity in transmedia entertainment.
Pieces of the story can be scattered across media platforms and that creates incentives for us to return to that content again and again, creating multiple touchpoints for brands but also creating an expanded canvas for storytellers to work on. The story is not tied to one platform. It is in all media.
The more open your system is, the more opportunities there are both for storytellers to expand their reach and for the audience to play a more active role in shaping the content.
4. Transmedia storytelling practices may expand the potential market for a property by creating different points of entry for different audience segments. For example, Marvel produces comic books which tell the Spider-man story in ways that they think will be particularly attractive to female readers (a romance comic, Mary Jane Loves Spiderman).
In Brazil, we have soap operas that run for as little as six or eight months. Is there an opportunity here for transmedia producers to extend the series beyond its television lifespan?
I’ve always felt that countries that have fixed durations for television shows have certain advantages for storytellers. We saw in the States that when the Lost producers discovered they could end the series after five seasons, that gave them a structure and rhythm that they could build on.
The result is a richer and more interesting program than one that has to be infinitely treading water because it doesn’t know how long the story is going to be. Once you’ve got that then you can build the story out in a variety of ways.
Star Wars has a fixed duration, six films, yet through games, comics and novels, there are more and more elements to the story. We’ve gone back in time to the old republic and discovered and explored different areas of that world.
And so you can build on that established base and extend it in transmedia ways that allow artists to continue to capitalize on a story that’s caught the imagination of the public.
5. Ideally, each individual episode must be accessible on its own terms even as it makes a unique contribution to the narrative system as a whole. Transmedia producers have found it difficult to achieve the delicate balance between creating stories which make sense to first time viewers and building in elements which enhance the experience of people reading across multiple media.
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring storytellers in Brazil and beyond?
I think creative people should be rejoicing in the fact that we’re living in a period
of enormous innovation, a highly generative period in which the definition of a story is changing.
It’s going to change inevitably for economic reasons, as stories travel across every media channel. But it is up to the artist to seize the creative potential of that, to create from that something that is new, that is fresh, that is meaningful and that enriches the culture.
And I think that is the challenge that artists face in the 21st century.
Transmedia definition adapted from Jenkins’ Transmedia Storytelling 101.