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Transmedia Storytelling – What might it mean for TV?

03 Dec 2012

We recently worked with the BBC and Unthinkable Consulting to look at how current BBC programmes could add elements of transmedia storytelling to well known factual programmes, using the tools that the BBC has to hand already, rather than coming up with brand new platforms, technology or ideas that required huge resources.

Transmedia is the new buzzword making the rounds at the moment and lots of production companies are feeling the pressure to involve different platforms when making new programmes. To most people it would seem it isn’t a new concept, and is just about using multimedia as part of the broadcast package, but I’m going to argue that it represents a cultural shift for most television production companies in how they think about the digital offering around linear output.

For the research project we needed to establish what we all meant by Transmedia. These were the key elements I felt were the most important for a successful Transmedia approach:

  • Transmedia elements are planned right from the commissioning point – a part of the process rather than an add-on
  • Enables deeper audience engagement in the content of the programme
  • Encourages activity in the audience
  • Rewards fans of the show with more content and more ways to get involved
  • Lengthens the relationship the audience has with the programme
  • The programme doesn’t have to be the centre, or the pinnacle of the brand
  • Potential to reach a new audience on new platforms – different audiences might interact with you on the different platforms

That first point is, for me, easily the most important. If the non linear elements of the programme offering are added on after the initial programme concept has been signed off, they are just multi-media elements. Where transmedia truly becomes ‘Transmedia’, is when the package is thought of as a whole, right from the start. The non linear elements have a clear reason for being there (beyond offering video extras for super fans online) and add value to the overall brand and product.

There have been lots of programmes (BBC and non BBC) that have claimed to be Transmedia, but how many of them actually are?

The Code


Created by Six to Start for the BBC

A set of programmes that contained a secret treasure hunt and challenge to ‘crack the code’ built in to the filming. This is a good example of the transmedia elements being intrinsic to the programme development right from the start. It was relatively successful with a small demographic engaging deeply with the clues and others enjoying the mini-games that were also created a longside the programme.

An important point – you will never engage the entire linear programme audience with the transmedia elements you create, but you will engage a small sub set (or potentially new audience) more deeply and offer them more value through the activit

The Voice


An international hit, sold in many countries and the off-linear elements are certainly strong. All the judges (in the UK at least) have well established Twitter feeds and as part of their contracts were required to tweet. Hashtags are used consistently, and twitter conversations absolutely encouraged.

What actually made The Voice stand out over and above other programmes that do similar things (X Factor, Big Brother etc) was the fantastic use of Twitter Will.I.Am employed. He tweeted during the live shows, commenting on what was happening in a very open, honest and believable way (rather than being told to do it by his agent). People loved getting an extra insight in to what was actually happened, while it was happening. A true Transmedia element – adding to the value the entire brand offers audiences.

The Million Pound Drop


Channel 4 has spent a lot of money on building an interactive game that can be played at anytime, or preferably alongside the quiz show as it is being broadcast. It has been very successful in getting people to play along side the contestants (100,000 online players for some broadcasts). As the show is completely live, they can reveal how online players are doing

“Hairdressers in Wales did the best on that question”

This not only makes the people who are playing feel a part of the programme, it also encourages others to join in.

…And many others from the other side of the pond that I won’t go in to…

In short, Transmedia elements of a brand should feel natural, a key part of the content being created, as easy to access as the programme and adds to the overall brand experience for audiences. Can production companies get used to the idea of thinking about digital, face to face and mobile content with the same importance as the linear programming? If they don’t, they could be left behind.