Transmedia Project Design

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    Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical Considerations

    Transmedia Project Design: Theoretical and Analytical Considerations

    by Renira Rampazzo Gambarato


    Baltic Screen Media Review (Baltic Screen Media Review), issue: 1 / 2013, pages: 80-100,
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    RENIRA RAMPAZZO GAMBARATO, National Research University HigherSchool of Economics, Russia; email:



    Project Design:Theoretical andAnalyticalConsiderations

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    ABSTRACTTheoretical and analytical considerations around thedevelopment of transmedia projects are evolving, but arestill widely open, probably because transmedia story-telling is a relatively new subject that does not yet haveits own specific methods and methodology of analysis.Moreover, transmedia projects are complex phenomenainvolving multiple dimensions, such as narrative, culturalcontext, marketing, business models, and legal framework.Currently, the usual approach gives place to methodologi-cally separate analytical perspectives related to some ofthese dimensions. This article first discusses the elusiveconcept of transmedia storytelling and later presents ana-

    lytical considerations outlining relevant aspects that cancontribute to perceive the process of developing trans-media projects. The significance of these discussions isto address essential features of the design process behindtransmedia projects and contribute to support the analyticneeds of transmedia designers and the applied research inthe interest of the media industry.

    INTRODUCTIONTheoretical and analytical considerationsaround the development of transmediaprojects are evolving, but are still widelyopen, probably because transmedia story-telling (TS) is a relatively new and elusivesubject that does not have yet its own spe-cific methods and methodology of analysis.Moreover, transmedia projects are complexphenomena involving multiple dimensions,such as narrative, cultural context, market-ing, business models, and legal framework.Currently, the usual approach gives place tomethodologically separate analytical per-spectives related to some of these dimen-sions. Jenkins assumes that dealing withtransmedia is especially challenging inpart because the topic represents an inter-section between fields of research that are

    normally held as methodologically sepa-rate (2010a: 943).

    Scholars and media professionalshave been applying different methodo-logical approaches and methods to betterunderstand the structure behind TS (Long2007; Dena 2009; Scolari 2012; Saldre, Torop2012). Usually the methodologies of analy-sis used to address transmedia projectsvary from semiotics (several kinds of semi-otics), narratology, sociology, and ethnogra-phy to economics, marketing, branding andso forth. The methods incorporate quan-titative and qualitative analyses and canbe based on interviews, comparative stud-ies, narrative analyses and documentaryresearch, for instance.

    Indeed, a plurality of perspectivescould be included in an analytical approachinterested in understanding a transmedianarrative as a whole. Here, however, the

    emphasis relies on the essential featuresof the design process behind transmedia


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    projects aiming to support the analyticneeds of transmedia designers and theapplied research in the interest of the mediaindustry. Analysis is being employed as theessential component of the binomial anal-ysis-synthesis approach within the designprocess (Dubberly et al.2008; Liestl 2003).


    Before discussing analytical considerationsfor transmedia project design, it is neces-sary to address a more fundamental issue:What could be understood as TS? Firstly, itis important to stress that there is not yetconsensus on what exactly TS means, butalthough the definition of TS is still open, itis certainly possible to trace its main char-

    acteristics and follow its footprints. Startingfrom the word transmedia itself, there isthe prefix trans-in combination with media.This Latin prefix means beyond, through,transverse, conveying the idea of tran-scendence. Consequently, the word trans-media would then go beyond, transcendinga variety of media. Geoffrey Long (2007: 32),moreover, suggests that the term trans-media should be considered an adjective,

    not a noun, i.e. a word able to describe andto qualify a substantive.In this context, the use of the term

    transmedia to depict a particular formof storytelling emerged in 1991, whenMarsha Kinder published the book Playingwith Power in Movies, Television, and VideoGames: From Muppet Babies to TeenageMutant Ninja Turtles. In her book, shedefines commercial supersystems oftransmedia intertextuality (1991: 3) asreferring to relevant franchises distributedon multiple media platforms. Nevertheless,the term TS was first coined in 2003 byHenry Jenkins in his article published byTechnology Review (2003). Three years later,he improved the concept and published itsdefinition in his notorious book ConvergenceCulture: Where Old and New Media Collide(2006).

    A transmedia story unfolds acrossmultiple media platforms with each

    new text making a distinctive andvaluable contribution to the whole. Inthe ideal form of transmedia storytell-ing, each medium does what it doesbestso that a story might be intro-duced in a film, expanded through tel-evision, novels, and comics; its worldmight be explored through game playor experienced as an amusement parkattraction. (Jenkins 2006: 9596)

    Carlos Scolari defines TS as a particularnarrative structure that expands throughboth different languages (verbal, iconic,etc.) and media (cinema, comics, television,video games, etc.). TS is not just an adapta-tion from one media to another. The storythat the comics tell is not the same as that

    told on television or in cinema; the differ-ent media and languages participate andcontribute to the construction of the trans-media narrative world (2009: 587). ChristyDena highlights that TS is all about a sto-ryworld unfolding across media platforms(2009: 18) and Geoffrey Long emphasizesthat TS is the art of worldmaking (2007:28). I propose TS as referring to, at least,integrated media experiences that occur

    amongst a variety of platforms. A transme-dia narrative tells altogether one big perva-sive story, attracting audience engagement.It is not about offering the same contentin different media platforms, but it is theworldbuilding experience, unfolding contentand generating the possibilities for the storyto evolve with new and pertinent content.

    Regardless of all the effort to specifyTS and differentiate it from other con-cepts, there are still conceptual confu-sions around it and several other termsthat, to certain extend, are commonlyconsidered synonyms, such as inter-media (Dick Higgins, 1966), multimedia(Bob Goldstein, 1966), cross-media (PaulZazzera, 1999), multimodal discourse(Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen,2001), superfictions (Peter Hill, 2001),multiple platforms (Stephen Jeffery-Poulter, 2003), screen bleed (Matt Hanson,

    2003), networked narrative environment(Andrea Zapp, 2004), transmedial world


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    (Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana Tosca,2004), distributed narratives (Jill Walker,2004), hybrid media (Jak Boumans, 2004),media mix (Mizuko Ito, 2005), cross-sitednarratives (Marc Ruppel, 2005), and deepmedia (Frank Rose, 2011).


    Probably the most referred terms alongsideTS are cross-media and multimedia. Arethey really synonyms? No, definitely not,but this answer is not unanimous. It seemsthe answer will plausibly rely on personalpreferences. Starting from the prefix cross-,there is the indication of movement, ofaction across something, and the idea ofintersection. Hence, the word cross-media

    would carry on the essential meaning of avariety of media that intersect each other.For instance, considering Drew Davidsonsdefinition of cross-media, it would be dif-ficult to differentiate it from TS:

    Cross-media Communications areintegrated, interactive experiencesthat occur across multiple media,with multiple authors and have mul-

    tiple styles. The audience becomesan active part in a cross-mediaexperience. It is experiences thatoccur across the Internet, video andfilm, broadcast and cable TV, mobiledevices, DVD, print, and radio. Thenew media aspect of the cross-media experience typically involvessome level of audience interactivity.(Davidson et al.2010: 4)

    In spite of it, as we emphasized earlier, itis possible to notice a largely acceptedassumption in considering cross-media abroader term, a more generic one, whichincludes the whole process of communica-tion and interactivity not restrict to audio-visual industry, and the main differencewould be the emphasis of TS on the narra-tive. That is the proposition of this article.Corroborating this premise, Scolari distin-

    guishes both concepts but, nonetheless,assumes that he uses cross-media and TS

    as synonyms. His statement could soundparadoxal:

    The concept of cross-media is widelyused in the professional scope,although some countries like Italyalso use it in the academic world.Transmedia storytelling a conceptintroduced by Henry Jenkins in 2003 is mo