Show me the Money: Quantifying the financial impact of Transmedia.
Any transmedia narrative is costly in terms of time, personnel and money, so it is not surprising to see how more and more debates focus on its financial impact. “It’s all very cool, but… Can money be made with a transmedia campaign?
Brian Clark, founder of GMD Studios, posted in a blog by Henry Jenkins an exhaustive analysis of the different business models that are possible in transmedia. Clark’s perspective focuses on the different ways to obtain financing for this type of project, but from him we can infer a typology that differentiates between:
The traditional method: indirect financing
The vast majority of transmedia campaigns correspond to a business model that understands transmedia as a method for promoting something else, whether it be a film or a commercial brand. That’s how transmedia storytelling was born (and over time, real experts on this topic have emerged, such as the agency Campfire and the producer42 Entertainment), and as a result, there is an indirect financial impact through media coverage and the word of mouth that it generates. We must also bear in mind that nowadays the earned media (or free media) that create and generate loyalty from “their own audiences” for products or brands they promote are just as important - or even more so - than the paid media.
Therefore, a transmedia initiative can be considered successful if:
1) It results in significant media attention that complements (or substitutes) a more conventional marketing campaign.
2) It attracts/generates the loyalty of an audience for the product being promoted.
This being the case, transmedia can also be financially self-supporting and become a separate source of business.
Alternative models: direct financing
Is it possible to generate direct income through transmedia? Yes. As a matter of fact, Star Wars, Matrix and Heroes have expanded upon their narratives through paid products such as dolls, comics and video games. In 2007, Electronic Arts offered Majestic, an ARG for $9.95 a month that attracted 15,000 users. Another example is Audi’s ARG, “The Art of The Heist”, which generated 10,000 visits to the company's car dealerships because it told a story that referred to the product in a clear, natural manner, generating interest in finding out more about the model.
As this method of storytelling matures, challengers and deviants appear, people who have the desire to experiment with the format and substance of transmedia. In many cases, these outsiders do not have enough financial backing to sink a lot of money in the investment, so necessity has become the mother of art: self-financed transmedia.
Self-financed transmedia? Audiences have shown that they are willing to pay if the experience excites them, hooks them and provides real value. Shouldn’t this be the goal of all communication?
Generally speaking, we can divide these practices into three general categories:
1. Derivative products or merchandising:
A central money-earning piece (for example, a film or a record) is combined with other transmedia pieces that also generate income (for example, a comic, a doll, a T-shirt, etc.). But unlike the conventional system where each object is independent from the whole, transmedia merchandising creates pieces that are integrated into the main narrative, providing new contents and new information.
In these cases, we sometimes talk about accidental transmedia, something that began in a conventional manner and ended up becoming transmedia. The case of Star Wars is the clearest example of this. No matter how much George Lucas would like us to believe otherwise, he had no idea that the film would be so successful or that characters like Boba Fett would go from making a fleeting appearance in an animated Christmas special to becoming a cult toy and a key character in the saga’s mythology.
In a much more premeditated manner, the Matrix saga was expanded with the sale of short films, video games and comics, which expanded upon and even directly affected the plot of the films. Heroes, Halo and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga have also spawned comics that served as prequels and parallel narratives.
2. Fan-financed transmedia:
Fans are capable of setting up and managing complex transmedia narratives all by themselves. Proof of this is 18 Days in Egypt, a documentary about the popular revolt in Egypt created based on testimonies of all sorts sent in by the protagonists themselves, which has already gotten the attention of the New York Film Festival, Tribeca and the Sundance Institute.
Beyond crowdsourcing, independent artists are securing financing for their transmedia projects through incubators such as Kickstarter: Carpe Kilimanjaro, Calling Home, 11/04/08, Socks Inc, and Balance of Powers are all initiatives that rely on their fans to stay alive.
3. Transmedia products:
In other words, paying for a complete transmedia experience. In 2007, Electronic Arts offered Majestic, an ARG for $9.95 a month that attracted 15,000 users. Accomplice, a theatre company?, offers dramatized interactive experiences on the streets of New York and Los Angeles. Borrowing the concept from the film The Game, Accomplice acts out a story via live telephone calls, street tours and puzzles.
Accomplice is not alone. In the United Kingdom, Punchdrunk has already been offering “immersive theatre” with shows like Tunnel 228, The Tempest, and currently Sleep No More.
More experimental in nature, Authentic in All Caps is an audio drama where an MP3 narrative guides the audience through different websites they must interact with. The project has not been launched yet, but it can be reserved for $5.95.
Along a totally different line, Antony Zuiker, creator of the series CSI, has already published two “digi novels” under the auspices of Level26. These thrillers alternate between conventional reading and on-line video clips that extend the main narrative. In an unexpected turn of events, the story line of Level26 crossed with that of CSI through its main villain, a surprise that increased the audience share of the series by 15% and may open doors to increasingly complex and fascinating crossovers.
But these are only some examples.
For the moment, the Producer’s Guild of America has already officially included the position of “transmedia producer”.
And so it continues...