How to craft a Story for a Transmedia Audience

From beginning to end, a transmedia storytelling should be a social experience, one which draws people together and unifies them through shared and common experiences. At present, producers, writers and creators are obsessed with creating toys and applications which are too exclusive. They do not address the primary goal of storytelling—bringing people together by revealing some truth about the world we all live in.

If transmedia storytelling is to be even more successful in the future, we need to concentrate on designed experiences that are socially inclusive which have the power to bring people together through common interests and goals. This will require that we take more care in designing the path along which our readers and viewers access the stories we tell.

Inexperienced producers have a tendency of creating interactive experiences that are overly complex which ultimately deter audience engagement across every available piece of content. We need to define the ‘path’ between audience access points much like a treasure map so that audience members know where they are in relative to the story as a whole and where they’re going, regardless of which piece of content they’ve accessed.

Story driven experience design is relatively easy to achieve on TV because you are restricted to a linear format. Transmedia narratives, on the other hand, are disseminated across multiple platforms. Without a proper ‘map,’ piecing together so many disparate pieces of content can become a bewildering experience. Keep your audience’s engaged; make them laugh and cry. Thrill them. Frighten them. No matter what you do, keep your audience emotionally connected.

Audience Development Strategies – Part II

Audience Development allows the Entertainment producer to connect directly with its indented audience. It’s being used extensively in the last couple of years, from independent movies that have a companion web site and a Facebook Fan page, to the multi-million dollar interactive experience that involve games, web sites and live events. What all these projects have in common is the desire of their producers to engage an audience using digital and social media tools.

For the first time in this industry, creators can “own the audience”. They can talk to the audience and find out what they like (or dislike). The success of their work is not 100% dependable on the work of a distributor or sales agent. Using audience engagement strategies, directors and producers can validate their work directly with a real audience and can build a fan base and increase awareness of their project from early development stage to the premiere of their work, whatever a film, tv show, book or videogame. During this period, that in the indie world can mean a few years, audiences can be part of the production and feel that this is their work too.

In the end, this will mean a pre-built audience willing not only to pay for a ticket or a product, but they also become advocates that can spread the good word about the work on their own social media profiles or directly to their (real) friends.

Without multi-million dollar campaigns, the success of an independent film is always achieved with strong word of mouth and good reviews in the press (and a few awards at the most important festivals). What the transmedia approach allows, is for the producers and the creative team to start building that word of mouth process as early as possible so it can grow, as a snowball, during all the production process, so when the movie premieres it already has an audience. The success of movies like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity or more recent Kevin Smith’s Red State was the result of the buzz created by the filmmakers using the internet and social media and a clear audience development and engagement strategy.

Most of the so-called transmedia projects that were produced in the last couple of years are just that – transmedia brand extensions. Most studio and network executives see it only as on-line marketing tool to promote to the young crowds of movie goers the upcoming summer blockbusters or the new sci-fi based network TV series. But the concept of transmedia goes beyond that.


Audience Engagement Strategies

Even though there are broad stroke components that you can point to that describe successful transmedia properties, there is no definitive formula of, say, three parts narrative divided by three digital platforms and multiplied by two parts social media, which will yield a guaranteed success. What works for a particular project or audience may not work for another. It’s all about Audience Engagement Strategies.

A few years after the initial success of Sofia’s Diary, we were able to adapt it to 10 different territories and we thought we’d cracked the code to producing multiplatform entertainment. So we went ahead and applied the formula we’d used to develop and market Sofia, to different concepts intended for different target groups. We created a project similar in format to Sofia’s Diary called Looking for Miguel, which featured an older male character. We also developed a concept for an interactive fantasy adventure called Dark Siege. Both projects failed to attract an audience. Their floundering made it clear to us that different target groups respond in different ways to characters, plot points, and interactivity; a one-formula-fits-all was never going to work.


Even though Looking for Miguel and Dark Siege both failed to reach their targets, we more than recovered our financial loss by learning invaluable lessons about our trade. Interactive entertainment and the ways in which audiences react to it will change from project to project and from target group to target group. Moreover, the Internet changes daily; new digital platforms emerge and established platforms fade out. Remember Bebo and MySpace?

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.

Transmedia Storytelling Expert

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 a 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.

Transmedia Storytelling: What is Transmedia?

It’s all about Transmedia Storytelling, Marketing, Participatory Media and Convergence. Every producer aspires to design an entertainment brand that can grow into a pop icon, a brand whose storyworld or hero has enough creative potential to power spin-offs and reboots, theme park rides and acres of merchandise. So how can independents achieve this degree of success if they don’t have a hundred million dollars to spend on a marketing campaign or the time to gamble on a viral video or game?

In “Transmedia 2.0: How to Create an Entertainment Brand Using a Transmedial Approach To Storytelling“, Nuno Bernardo will show readers storytelling examples and how to use the transmedia universe approach to build an entertainment brand that can conquer global audiences, readers and users in a myriad of platforms. “Transmedia 2.0” is the follow up to the 2011 bestseller “The Producers Guide to Transmedia” and draws on Nuno Bernardo’s experience of multi-platform storytelling and production.


Transmedia Storytelling Books Now Available

Every producer aspires to design an entertainment brand that can grow into a pop icon, a brand whose storyworld or hero has enough creative potential to power spin-offs and reboots, theme park rides and acres of merchandise. But, how can independents achieve this degree of success if they don’t have one hundred million dollars to spend on a marketing campaign or the time to gamble on a one in a million viral video or game? One of the answers is to use Transmedia Storytelling to build an entertainment brand that can conquer audiences, readers and users around the globe and in a myriad of platforms.

Through his own experience producing transmedia with beActive, Nuno Bernardo developed a step-by-step approach to building long-running Multiplatform Entertainment brands and loyal viewing communities. Now he wants to share his knowledge with filmmakers, television, games, and digital content producers, marketers and brand managers, audiovisual and media students who want to learn a trick or two about how to use stories and a transmedial approach to marketing, advertising and communication to attract audiences and users to their stories and products.

Nuno Bernardo’s Transmedia franchises have been adapted all across the globe, from the UK to China, conquering tens of millions of loyal fans and featuring in the world’s greatest film and television festivals along the way. Nuno has been nominated for three EMMY awards, two Rose d’ Or awards and won two Kidscreen Awards. Based on his experiences, recently he published “Transmedia 2.0”, the follow up to his 2011 best selling book “The Producers Guide to Transmedia”. Find out more about Transmedia Storytelling here.