What the hell is transmedia?

From advertising campaigns to online video series, the term ‘transmedia’ gets quite the work out. But what does it actually mean? Cathie McGinn trawls the media landscape for a definitive definition.

Transmedia, all media and multiplatform are terms often used interchangeably when referencing modern storytelling techniques. Yet, depending who you speak to, there are distinct differences between them.

According to industry experts Encore spoke to, the key elements that define transmedia can be summarised as follows: platform, time, audience, adaptation, and creative collaboration.

“Transmedia projects involve the use of more than one medium to tell multiple stories from the same story world,” says Christy Dena, author of the first PhD on transmedia practice. But the main differentiation between transmedia and multiplatform is whether the content is adapted for each platform or simply syndicated. Each storytelling element must be shaped for individual platforms, operating independently but contributing to a richer experience of the whole. Mike Cowap, investment manager of Screen Australia’s All Media fund, says: “One of the main problems with the term ‘transmedia’ is that the terminology is over-thought to the detriment of the advancement of storytelling techniques. We prefer the term ‘all media’ because it implies the consideration of any media.”

Another factor is the idea of contemporaneousness; in general a transmedia production has the intention of telling the story across several channels from the outset. This could be a re-engineering of a piece of content, but still adhering to the idea of extension across platforms, along with a focus on audience. For example, the South by South West award-winning SBS-funded documentary Goa Hippie Tribe began life as a Facebook community but the story unfolds through film and online.

Marcus Gillezeau, producer of transmedia project Storm Surfers, which began as a TV series with a strong online presence and has a 3D film currently in the works, says: “Transmedia isn’t a noun; it’s almost a verb. It’s the notion of transferring a story across platforms.”

“Unlike the traditional Hollywood system, where you make a film then a game of that film, here we think about the whole universe from conception. Consider the audience first, not as an afterthought,” says Frank Verheggen, co-founder of production house Chocolate Liberation Front. It has recently been nominated for global interactive awards the Webbies as well as commended by the UN for its project Asylum: Exit Australia, an online interactive simulation, developed in tandem with the SBS documentary Go Back to Where You Came From.

“Understand how users connect with that service and create content to fit,” says Cowap.

One misconception that dogs discussions of transmedia production is that it requires a bewilderingly complex set of skills. “Traditional producers find the highly technical nature of multi-platform production confronting,” says Gillezeau. Cowap agrees: “One obstacle to successful projects is a lack of technical understanding on the part of the producer, a lack of knowledge about who to partner with. Producers overestimate how difficult it is – the best approach is to jump in and try. Bringing a good multi-discipline team together can produce the richest work.”

As Ridley Scott’s innovative approach to the release of new feature Prometheus demonstrates, content and commerce can work cohesively. By releasing teasers online and on mobile platforms, bringing characters from the film into the real world alongside traditional marketing, the principles of transmedia production are applied to marketing efforts and advertising becomes a part of the story itself.  “Transmedia production is about creating a universe you can get lost in, engage with characters, where you really feel you’re a part of the story. Don’t start with the limitations; first think of the possibilities,” concludes Verheggen.

  •  This piece first appeared in Encore magazine. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here

Encore Magazine - MoGeneration Pty Ltd


  1. Hoin
    17 May 12
    4:58 pm

  2. Transmedia was the name of Mike Willesee’s production company which produced A Current Affair for Nine in the early 1970s and several other shows for various networks during that decade. I haven’t heard the word since then.

  3. Adam Ferrier
    17 May 12
    10:10 pm

  4. Transmedia planning was coined by Faris Yacob whilst at Naked Communications in 2006


    This blog post explains the concept of transmedia planning, and the genesis of transmedia thinking very well. Most of us now do it as a matter of course (as its difficult to tell the whole story in any one medium.)

  5. Ed Commander
    19 May 12
    9:50 am

  6. Good article: however, the Prometheus example cited is an example where the delivery of idea is somewhat lacking.

    the execution is wonderful. The depth, variety and imagination put into the Weyland Industies site is quite brilliant. And the tie in with TED is great fun. I spent a good 15 minutes yesterday playing with the site.

    Yet, like so many people, here I am with some down time, revisit Weland Industries on my iPhone and of course it’s HTML 5 format means that the mobile user experience on my iPhone is beyond useless.

    If the key to transmedia is user first, engagement focused and effective storytelling, surely the ability for your target to actually engage and be told a story must take precedence. It no use creating something brilliant if it can’t be accessed, experienced or used in a key channel or medium.

    It’s either that or I really need to switch to an Android or WP8 device sooner rather than later.

  7. Craig
    19 May 12
    4:59 pm

  8. Sounds like a meaningless industry weasel word designed to justify high fees for a group of self-proclaimed ‘transmedia experts’ to me.

    Adapting material to the medium is a standard part of creative processes and has been since the creation of the concept of advertising.

    The idea of putting the same content into different mediums (syndicating) is a sometimes cost-effective, some times lazy response to channel proliferation. Most good marketers customise material and messages to maximise channel returns & fall back on syndication for a low cost ‘halo’ beyond core focus channels.

    No brainier really. Having to create a word, then explain it to people, seems a waste of time.

  9. Archie
    21 May 12
    1:51 pm

  10. first, draw say, 5 circles
    now, position them so that they share a small, common/overlapping area

    this represents the potential target audience for a ‘transmedia’ experience

  11. Gold member
    25 May 12
    8:37 pm

  12. Idea-tors !

    Wank-ators !

    Digitally leaning forward!

  13. Dianna
    28 May 12
    4:35 pm

  14. from 2007, Geoffrey A. Long’s thesis titled Transmedia Storytelling, available on web, best i’ve read. official definitions in US date from April/May 2010, so people could be awarded “Best Transmedia Producer” etc

  15. John78
    31 May 12
    1:10 pm

  16. Wow. From looking at the headline I thought the story was going to be about a new start-up community newspaper run by and for transmen and transwomen.

    Ho hum.

  17. Aidan
    1 Jun 12
    11:19 pm

  18. Haha great juxtaposition with Jon Hollaways post on “Speak English, Morons” on this very site…

  19. Roberto
    12 Jun 12
    11:31 am

  20. Interesting post! Thought this might be a good time for a plug of our short course with Jennifer Wilson from The Project Factory in “Multiplatform and Transmedia Strategy” …coming up this Friday for anyone interested: http://www.open.aftrs.edu.au/course/G605