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The media is the message

Starlight Runner’s Jeff Gomez talked transmedia at the recent edition of FILMART in Hong Kong. After headlining the event’s T for Transmedia conference session, the world’s #1 exponent of successful transmedia campaigns sat down for a chat with SCREENZ about his work.

Jeff Gomez

Jeff Gomez

This is part one of a two-part article. Part two, including Gomez’s take on Avatar and other projects and initiatives in NZ, will be published on Friday 17 April.

For hundreds of years, Gomez told the Hong Kong audience, the world has told stories in the same way. The storytellers, the few, present their tales to the many, regardless of whether the medium of transmission has been the spoken word, a printed text, radio, TV or a cinema screen.

“That’s changed now,” said Gomez, “and there’s no going back. Millennials expect, demand, participation.”

The Millennials are, he explained, the most published and social generation the world has ever seen. They’re capable of taking different parts of a story, delivered in different forms across several platforms, and assembling a whole that suits the level with which they want to engage with the material.

If your content is good, Gomez suggested, a large proportion of those people will want it all: from the teaser to the book, the film, the TV show, the tee-shirt, the game, the key ring and – if you’re inclined to offer one – the sleep set. And then they’ll want the sequels, extensions and spin-offs.

Luckily, many members of that younger generation have either disposable income or indulgent parents, and they want to support and engage. They also want to tell their own stories, sometimes within a canon you’ve established.

What they don’t want, Gomez insisted, is repeats. They can have “all new, all the time – and they expect it”. So, if your content is not engaging, they’ll take it apart. If they’re feeling charitable they’ll offer opinions and constructive suggestions to improve things; if they’re not, they’ll leave – possibly sharing their distaste on the way out the door.

Delivering for such a demanding if willing community is a time- and energy-consuming job. Many content creators (including millennials) don’t have the time or skills to develop and implement a transmedia strategy around their idea. Their focus is on creating the ‘primary content’ as they envisage it – the book, film, TV show, webseries.

Which is where Gomez and Starlight Runner come in, delivering many years of experience in transmedia to maximise the value of clients’ brands and IP by expanding vision and essence to create a (theoretically limitless) story universe that can be accessed from many different starting points. Or, from the client side, removing a potential headache and delivering a return in the process.

“It’s important to engage audiences where they exist – not where you wish they existed,” said Gomez, explaining one of the most common problems content creators face. If your IP isn’t where it’s going to be found, it isn’t going to deliver much for its creators. Even when it is found, it’s not necessarily through the most obvious door.

Despite the massive numbers of book sales for the seven volumes of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, it’s not the way most children have been introduced to the canon, or Potterverse as it’s now known. Even the films are not the main door through which new arrivals have first encountered Harry, Hermione, Ron et al. More children around the world have first met Harry thanks to Lego Potter branded toys and console games.

While Harry Potter’s level of success is not one that’s regularly replicated, it should be viewed as a model not an exception, Gomez reckons.

The exception or the rule
“’Ah, but that’s the exception’ is a phrase I’ve been hearing all my life,” said Gomez. “It’s what people say about the success of Star Wars.”

Sometimes a film or show that outperforms the wildest expectations is indeed the exception, but more often the reason something looks like an exception is because it’s out on its own: few other projects around at the time are offering similar levels of transmedia content and opportunities for engagement.

“You can make a quick hit and move on,” said Gomez. “But these days the cost of content development and production is so high, it pays to apply these new, practical transmedia techniques to make them work better across different media, and make them last longer.”

Fans like to engage, to immerse themselves, to build knowledge and to have that depth of knowledge and commitment recognised and appreciated.

While there are projects that succeed as standalone entities, a transmedia approach can work not just for blockbuster feature titles but also for many forms of screen content: serial dramas, soaps, anything around which a fanbase exists or can develop.

In Mexico, broadcaster Televisa has drawn back many younger female viewers who’d been deserting telenovelas by creating integrated social media campaigns and allowing those women to connect and contribute to discussions about the shows. By being where the audience was (on social media) the broadcaster turned around a worsening situation.

While Star Wars started out as a kind of naturally evolving transmedia narrative, Gomez suggests, a more formal transmedia production approach initiated by Lucasfilm studio head Kathleen Kennedy spearheads the new wave of shared movie universes in Hollywood. Now, a new generation of Star Wars books, animated TV series, comic books, video games and movies have each been declared to be “canon,” an official new segment of the Star Wars saga. The results are that fans have been supercharged to get them all, significantly improving revenues for the nearly 40 year-old franchise. Of course, there’s still Jar Jar Binks, but nothing’s perfect!

Part two of this article, Talk don’t tell, can be found here.

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