Transmedia Services

STARLIGHT RUNNER ENTERTAINMENT

BACKGROUND & TRANSMEDIA PRODUCTION PRIMER

Rise of Pervasive Communications

Today's most desirable target markets, Millennial young adults and Generation Z ‘tweens and teens, have come of age in a time of pervasive communications. As a result they are far more media savvy, interpersonally connected, and able to express themselves than any previous generation. 

The problem faced by corporations and big media is that many are communicating on old broadcast models, where the narrative is linear, the medium stands alone, and the narrative is only running one way. 

A new toolset and new techniques are necessary to reach and engage mass audiences in the digital age. The consumer or audience member is now a user and a participant. The narrative needs to be accessible through an array of media platforms, and the story must be designed to play to the strengths of the platform at hand. Instead of broadcast there is a pressing necessity for dialog. 


Transmedia Storytelling Defined

The term transmedia storytelling first saw publication in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, a text by Professor Henry Jenkins (then of M.I.T., currently teaching at the University of Southern California). Such producers and directors as Tim Kring, Guillermo del Toro, and Jeff Gomez have since popularized the term as a technique in Hollywood and internationally. 

Transmedia storytelling, according to Gomez, is the process of conveying messages, themes or story lines to a mass audience through the artful and well-planned use of multiple media platforms. It is both a technique and philosophy of communications and brand extension that enriches and broadens the lifecycle of creative content.

Distinctions of Transmedia Technique from Conventional Cross-Platform

A "cross-platform" or "cross-media" approach to communications was established in the 1960s and '70s, when televised content was repurposed for cable or satellite broadcast, or advertisements were repurposed for print, radio and television. 

Transmedia narratives evolved out of niche entertainment products such as Japanese animated serials in the '80s and '90s that generated film prequels, comic book sequels, and direct-to-video spin-offs. George Lucas emulated this technique with his Star Wars "expanded universe" books, video games and animated television adventures. In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was the first film to integrate the Internet into a kind of meta-narrative that invited the audience to speculate about the veracity of its story.

Transmedia is a subset of cross-media in that the story itself is distributed across a variety of media. Each piece of the story feels at least somewhat complete and adds to the audience's concept of the characters and story world. When done well, audience members become more and more deeply engaged with the narrative, accessing it whenever they want, where ever they want.

Good transmedia validates and celebrates the expression and participation of audience members. This is done through social media, and sometimes-creative expression of fans can take the form of YouTube videos or fan fiction published on the web. 

Notable recent examples of transmedia entertainment franchises include Hunger Games, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pokemon, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and Microsoft's Halo.


Transmedia Planning & Development

The process of creating successful transmedia campaigns necessitates careful planning, optimally in the early development phase. In the entertainment industry, this is becoming more commonplace, with television shows shooting web content simultaneous with series episodes, or Pixar or Marvel films shooting added value content such as short films that leverage the same digital assets and sets as the parent production.

Toy and video game licensees are arriving at the table earlier thanks to "transmedia hubs" being established at movie studios and production companies, allowing for better planning, improved quality and more pertinent content. When ancillary content and products "count" by expanding upon the property's story world in authentic and engaging ways, the audience falls in love with it, and they tell their friends about it.
 

Transmedia Branding

Prominent consumer brands began experimenting with transmedia in the 2000s, as exemplified by Audi's "Art of the Heist" alternate reality game, or the Old Spice campaign that featured the charming and amusing football star Isaiah Mustafa, often interacting directly with consumers across an array of media platforms. 

Lego Bionicle, Mattel Hot Wheels, and Microsoft's Halo followed suit, and Coca-Cola's Happiness Factory campaign became a global smash from 2007 - 2011 after implementing a full spectrum of transmedia techniques. 

Dozens of Transmedia Production Companies Emerging Worldwide

In April 2010, the Producers Guild of America ratified a Transmedia Producer credit for film, television and interactive projects. This established the skill set and techniques of transmedia storytelling as legitimate and contractually sound. A wave of self-styled Transmedia Producers joined the Guild, and a number of transmedia consulting firms, production companies and advertising agencies opened across North America and around the world.

In Canada at this time, it was ruled that funding for films and television programs would be restricted unless producers developed multiplatform extensions such as web sites, and other ancillary content around them. The Canadian Media Fund recognized transmedia technique and began funding projects that were developed natively across a number of platforms in concert. Australia, Holland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Colombia have since followed suit.

In the United States, transmedia companies such as Campfire have worked on projects such as HBO's Game of Thrones and True Blood. Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy) opened transmedia company Mirada Studios in 2010. Not long after, digital production company Fourth Wall took on millions in venture capital to create original transmedia properties. Transmedia ad agency FIVE33 was recently acquired by Legendary Pictures to develop campaigns for such films as Pacific Rim.  

Significance of Corporate & Brand Narratives 

With words like "narrative," "multiplatform," and "mythology" entering into the pop culture vernacular, its small wonder that corporations and big brands are being drawn to the proven efficacy of transmedia narrative in entertainment.

As the 30-second spot declines (due to the proliferation of DVR's and appointment viewing), and print and radio advertising fading into history, companies are searching for new techniques to connect with an increasingly preoccupied — and increasingly vociferous — consumer base.

At the same time, anyone with a Facebook page or Twitter feed is capable of making problems for a company or brand that has ticked them off. Witness what happened when Southwest Airlines ejected director Kevin Smith from a plane for "being too fat." Smith's 2.5 million Twitter followers flooded the airline with complaints, forcing them to apologize to their podcasting hero. 

When it leaked that Maker's Mark was going to cut the alcohol content from its bourbon, horrified fans pounded Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere to protest, eliciting a change of heart and apology from the distillery. A snide comment (incidentally made years ago) about how Abercrombie & Fitch clothing was "not for ugly people" was rediscovered and caused such a storm in social media that the company was lambasted on the Ellen DeGeneres show.

The narrative analysis techniques endemic to best transmedia practice helps companies clarify their stories, iron out the bugs, and prepare them for communication across multiple channels. Transmedia producers also encourage their clients to engage in direct dialog with consumers, something executives have traditionally been loath to do. 

"In addition to knowing exactly who you are, what you stand for, and what you are giving to the consumer, the key to successful corporate and brand transmedia narratives," says Jeff Gomez, "is in listening. When a company can demonstrate that it understands and sympathizes with the consumer, and that it is prepared to stand on its integrity, that's immediately mollifying to the customer. They're willing to hear you out and give you a chance. But there has to be transparency there, you have to really believe what you're telling them and be willing to act on it."

In a way, transmedia narrative, cajoles companies into communicating more clearly, and behaving with better character. Interestingly these are values closely associated with Millennials.

Leadership of Starlight Runner in Transmedia Space 

Established in 2000, Starlight Runner Entertainment has become a leader in the transmedia space, and a premium brand in its own right. Winning a roster of prominent clients, CEO Jeff Gomez and his team "get to play in the greatest sandboxes in all of popular culture." The firm's consultations include Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron Legacy for The Walt Disney Company, Avatar for 20th Century Fox, Transformers for Hasbro, Happiness Factory for Coca-Cola, and Goldfish for Pepperidge Farm. 

Gomez sees the technique as "rich but not necessarily complex" and dedicates a significant amount of his time teaching it to media professionals, C-level executives and college students around the world. Gomez helped to draft the Transmedia Producer credit for the Producers Guild of America, and Starlight Runner has established a number of legal and contractual precedents with the credit in contracts with such companies as Sony Pictures Entertainment (Men in Black 3), Factory Made Ventures (World Lucha), and Raptor Consumer Products (Spartan Race).

In addition to the corporate space, Starlight Runner is applying transmedia techniques to geo-political endeavors, and has been involved with population activation efforts in Mexico and Colombia. In his TEDx talk, Gomez expressed the importance of teaching transmedia technique and multiplatform literacy "to keep us human."

"Multiplatform narratives and dialog allows for previously voiceless people to be heard, acknowledged and helped,” said Gomez at the Tribeca Film Institute. “With careful research and design, these implementations can happen indigenously, without U.S. government intervention."

Starlight Runner Proprietary Process for Discerning IP & Brand Essence

Transmedia narrative is experienced by most consumers and audience members from a driving platform such as film or television. Where the process sometimes breaks down is in how the story is then carried through to other media, such as mobile apps or web content. Because different producers, ad agencies or licensees are handling that content, the "voice" of the brand or storyline can waver, or seem like a pale imitation of the content on the driving platform.  

"Ask anyone who has played the video game version of their favorite movie or television show," says Gomez. "They'll almost always tell you the experience was terrible!" 

With a collective background in the fundamentals of storytelling, be it popular narratives from around the world and throughout history, comparative philosophy and religion, and regional mythologies, the Starlight Runner team is capable of deconstructing a film script, video game franchise or brand narrative the way a hot rod mechanic can pull apart and engine block. 

While their exact process has been deemed proprietary it involves the team's absorption of "tremendous amounts of data" from franchise visionaries, marketers and stakeholders. The Starlight Runner team then "breaks" the brand, determining it's underlying ethos, philosophy, aspirational elements, and archetype. The resulting documentation forms a corporate or brand bible of sorts, a guide to be distributed and used by employees, customer service reps, advertising agencies, and PR agents — anyone who needs it.

"We can quickly get a sense of where the story's working, where it's not, and what's missing," says Gomez. "Not only can we fix it, we can tell our clients how to make it play to the strengths of the different distribution channels they're intending to use. So the story will play more intimately through your mobile phone, but a different element of the narrative can be designed to play to the visual processing power of the newer tablets." 

Case Study: Coca-Cola "Happiness Factory"

Starlight Runner’s work on Coca-Cola's "Happiness Factory" campaign (recounted in Forbes magazine) exemplifies the process. Ad agency Wieden+Kennedy's dandy 60-second ad featured an assortment of computer-animated creatures building a bottle of Coca-Cola in a fantastical realm inside a Coke vending machine. When the agency was slow to come up with an expansion on the concept after the commercial proved one of the most popular in the brand's history, Coke VP, Global Advertising Strategy Jonathan Mildenhall turned to Starlight Runner. 

"We had to find the key to helping to develop a great follow-up, and broadening the Happiness Factory concept into an ongoing global multiplatform campaign," said Gomez. "We nailed it by examining how the commercial represented and innovated upon the essence of the Coca-Cola brand, but also in how the characters and imagery of the commercial resonated with the global mood at the time. 

"The workers in the Happiness Factory were innocents; never minding that their work was hard, because they were doing what they loved. They were all very different from one another, but they were unified. The world had been through years of fear and war in the late ‘00s. This little commercial told us that the real Happiness Factory was between our ears. That theme would form the basis for the global transmedia narrative we developed with Coke, W+K and their stakeholders."

The campaign included comic strips, magazine inserts, mobile apps, billboards, movie theater posters, costumed performers, web sites, and of course, more animated commercials—many of these placing emphasis on characters and storylines with the Coke logo or bottle imagery more and more diminished. 

Results, according to Coke, were striking. The award-winning campaign was signified as one of the most successful in the company's history, spiking global sales over 4%. The five-note musical theme is now a staple for the Coca-Cola brand, and the company has since activated "Liquid Storytelling" an in-company marketing process that, according to Mildenhall, "Will leverage the opportunities in the new media landscape and transform one-way storytelling into dynamic storytelling adding value and significance to peoples' lives."

another, but they were unified. The world had been through years of fear and war in the late ‘00s. This little commercial told us that the real Happiness Factory was between our ears. That theme would form the basis for the global transmedia narrative we developed with Coke, W+K and their stakeholders."

The campaign included comic strips, magazine inserts, mobile apps, billboards, movie theater posters, costumed performers, web sites, and of course, more animated commercials—many of these placing emphasis on characters and storylines with the Coke logo or bottle imagery more and more diminished. 

Results, according to Coke, were striking. The award-winning campaign was signified as one of the most successful in the company's history, spiking global sales over 4%. The five-note musical theme is now a staple for the Coca-Cola brand, and the company has since activated "Liquid Storytelling" an in-company marketing process that, according to Mildenhall, "Will leverage the opportunities in the new media landscape and transform one-way storytelling into dynamic storytelling adding value and significance to peoples' lives."