Everything is instantaneous.
There is no longer waiting in line for a cinema experience, when you can go anywhere with Netflix, Amazon Prime, or both. You can voice an opinion online, write a review, or check out countless YouTube video discussing a fan theory. All this can be done through a mobile phone, tablet, video game console, or whatever. This is the world we live in, and it is how we engage with media on a regular basis. It has never been easier to engage with a film or franchise.
With this comes a fantastic opportunity for storytelling – transmedia storytelling. There has certainly been much debate surrounding this topic, but I want to approach it personally. For a definition, it is the belief in having a story unfold across multiple media platforms, each one contributing to an understanding of the narrative text. (I highly recommend checking out Henry Jenkins blog if you want a more detailed definition).
Things get a little muddy when it comes to stories needing to be initially conceived for multiple platforms to qualify as “true transmedia”, but I personally think that any property can be adapted to the multi-platform, seeing as there are many that have already successfully taken advantage of new and improved technologies to better world-build. I mean, I doubt that a young Stan Lee necessarily envisaged an entire Marvel cinematic universe, with tie-in comics, video games, Netflix originals, meta-narratives and VR theme park rides when he created his characters.
Ideally, a transmedia narrative is beneficial for both the consumer and the producer, and could explain the vast amount of cinematic universes and franchises that have been developed recently. The consumer can now immerse themselves – whether it’s buying the toys, watching a tie-in series, playing the video game, or simply sticking to the cinematic releases, they have complete freedom and control over how they engage with the franchise.
The producer similarly benefits from this as well. After all, what could be better than having viewers pay to keep coming back to each chapter in a cinematic universe? Or better yet, after seeing the film, they can then buy the officially-licensed merchandise, or cosplay gear, or T-shirt!
In the past few decades we’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe, followed by the DC Extended Universe, and Universal’s Dark Universe, and Disney introducing a new Star Wars trilogy, prequels, TV series, and theme park attractions (with the assumption that fans would continue to lap it up). Needless to say, the cinematic universe seems to be an unavoidable phenomenon for the movie-going public.
Originally, there was a danger that the audience had to be familiar with a comic or a video game to get the full experience of a transmedia property. This was what happened with The Matrix, where the final two films were far less impactful if you hadn’t played Enter the Matrix – which introduced and developed supporting characters for the next two films. But streaming technology has transformed all that, and playing catch-up is easier than ever.
Now, studios are no longer afraid to risk narrative cohesion amidst this digital disruption. Avengers: Infinity War was incredibly successful and required prior knowledge of eighteen previous entries in the franchise.
Thinking back to the previous applications of multi-platform, there was also a distinct financial element. For example, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began as a satirical comic, that became a TV series, that was driven by a toy line, that led to movies, reboots, and so on. But today’s consumer (especially Millennials) aren’t going to be won over by cynical marketing ploys. There needs to be a more intimate connection with properties, and greater forethought on engaging with the world-building.
A recent Forbes article focused on the lack of ownership amidst the millennial generation, and the need for experience. This is where I think transmedia will become increasingly important, in the creation of experience. Instead of relying purely on owning the latest film paraphernalia, DVD, or action figure, creating something more experiential is essential in marketing to this younger film-going crowd – but perhaps something easier said than done.
That’s why this topic is so fascinating – the potential. Certainly, in the blockbuster era of filmmaking we saw home video, syndication, and merchandising act as a simple quick cash grab on iconic properties. But the audiences and economies have changed. So if studios wish to keep up with them, they’ll have to change too.
I like to think that purpose of this blog is to explore and various franchises, look at certain cases, and see how they have already successfully (and unsuccessfully) tried implementing multi-platform narratives, cinematic universes, and world-building techniques to transform the cinematic landscape.
With new technologies, new audiences, and new opportunities, multi-platform narratives are not only viable – they are inevitable.