Transmedia Storytelling: An Entrepreneurial Approach

The concept of transmedia production, as both a creative template and business model, is by no means a novel one. Cinema pioneers began to experience a cross-media approach to storytelling 100 years ago, but today’s audiences are in a position to choose the content they want, when they want and on the device of their choice. In other words, the expectation contemporary audiences presume you’ll meet is; any content, anywhere. In the context of a shrinking market populated by increasingly fragmented audiences, transmedia storytelling provides a viable alternative to the conventional TV and Film production business.

To become a part of this digital revolution, entertainment producers will need to learn new skills in development, marketing and distribution, therefore the multitude of platforms and formats available to you as a transmedia or cross-media producer can be exhilarating and overwhelming. Throughout the initial phase of a project’s development, it’s nearly always prohibitively expensive to create and launch every transmedial element simultaneously.

As a result of this expense, the first challenge you’ll face is seeding capital to develop and launch the initial elements of your property. Typically, these projects extend across several platforms and most financiers will only consider funding a project on a platform-by-platform basis. Even though the transmedial approach is increasingly platform agnostic, the commissioning process continues to be device orientated, therefore cross-media producers must learn how to best utilize a business model specific to his approach.

This is not to say that you need to single-handedly develop transmedial business model, but you do need to be disposed to working within an industry that, by and large, is set up for platform-by-platform funding. Break down your overall transmedia funding model into specific platforms, and when you approach a film funder, only pitch the film element of your project. When you go to a games developer or broadcaster, be sure that the central part of your pitch is your game or series.

At beActive, we’ve developed a funding strategy, which divides our production model into stages specific to platform so that potential funders will know how to respond to our pitch. We design three to four different pitches for every property we produce, one for each distinct platform. Each pitch highlights that aspect of the overall project, which aligns with the goals and expectations of a particular funder. Think of your transmedial plan as a staircase and to ensure that you don’t loose focus during any one of your pitches, break down each element of the ‘big picture’ into platform specific steps. That way you can approach radio and television broadcasters, publishers and games companies with a clear and focused pitch.

If you pitch all of the elements in your plan simultaneously, you imply that each platform is equally important. As exciting as your overall plan may be, pitching the ‘big picture’ to a broadcaster, will probably succeed only in making your potential backers uncomfortable. They’ve never produced anything to the scale you’re proposing and are unsure of how to make it work. Rather than trying to seduce them with the full spread of your plan, organize your pitch so that it synchronizes with your funders’ expectations. Then gain their trust by showing your production credits within their format. Your goal is to demonstrate this one element of your ‘big picture’ property in the best light that you can.

Even though there is no rigid framework for the standard product-for-finance exchange in transmedia, there is industry precedence for transmedial funding. Put simply, this business model is geared to generate direct streams of revenue from your advertisers and your audience. This is by no means a novel business strategy; it has been the go-to method of traditional broadcasters for years.

Keep in mind that this strategy requires a long-term investment and, probably, it will not yield immediate cash returns. It will, however, ensure that, in the long term, your projects will work for you by generating sustained, independent profits. Bear in mind that the pioneers of cinema were trying to create a new format that few believed in. When the form was in its infancy, critics did not take it seriously. Cinema was considered a faddish offshoot of vaudeville, while one hundred years later, producers are now exploring new digital platforms online. Like the Hollywood studio moguls of the twentieth century, the pioneers of new media have the opportunity to bring digital art to the mainstream.

Nuno Bernardo is the founder and CEO of TV, film and digital production company beActive. He is also an Emmy nominated writer-producer and the author of “The Producer’s Guide to Transmedia and the upcoming “Transmedia 2.0” books. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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