The Canada Media Fund (CMF) requires Canadian production companies to incorporate a digital media strategy as part of their project’s production plan. Since the CMF is the single largest funder of Canadian television production (more than $300 million in funding per year), it can force the issue. In fact this requirement is part of the directive from the federal government that provides a chunk of the CMF’s financing.
So what is digital media? Digital media is content that may be designed for a number of platforms, such as websites, viral videos, interactive on-line games (through websites), social games (through apps such as Facebook), augmented reality games (ARGs) or mobile applications (for smart phones or tablets/iPads). Digital content can be promoted and expanded through the use of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, etc.
Digital media strategies are designed to engage a user/fan/audience in storytelling from another platform, such as television series or movies. The approach requires planning to determine the intended audience of the digital strategy and the best use of digital media, including websites and social media. In Canada this has required the tech industry, the digital media industry and the traditional media companies to come together. Digital media strategies by their very nature require an understanding of technology to deliver content, of digital media to create the right kinds of content for digital platforms, and simple old-fashioned story-telling experience.
One thing I’ve learned is that there is a difference between transmedia and cross-platform storytelling. Transmedia builds a multi-dimensional experience with diverse content strands for users, while a cross-platform strategy generally uses multiple platforms to tell one story, similar to websites promoting a television series. A transmedia approach will engage the user in the broader story telling experience, while cross-platform storytelling is more often used as an approach to branding a particular product or program.
In his book Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins describes transmedia as storytelling across multiple forms of media, with each element making distinctive contributions to a fan’s understanding of the story world. By using different media formats, transmedia creates “entrypoints” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world.
Transmedia storyteller Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment defines it as “the art of conveying messages, themes or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well planned use of multiple media platforms.” If you want to see stunning examples of transmedia storytelling check out Starlight Runner’s website for films such as Avatar. The first time I heard Jeff Gomez speak, I was awe-struck and enchanted by the various worlds he was creating through multiple platforms but connected across the platforms. It changed the way I looked at digital media.
In Canada we are still struggling to find ways to monetize digital media projects, particularly given the requirement by the CMF that all television projects funded by the organization have a robust digital media component. But this forced marriage between traditional media producers and digital media producers is at least bringing these two separate groups together in a common purpose. Without this drive, we risk being left behind the rest of the world in digital content creation and innovation.