Leveraging Transmedia Storytelling for TV Success

Transmedia storytelling is creating innovative ways to build an audience and launch television series and films. 

During the TV Drama Vision portion of the 2015 Gothenburg International Film Festival, Emmy-nominated producer Nuno Bernardo of beActive Entertainment presented a panel on “Setting Up a Transmedia Path to TV Success.

Bernardo took his story idea, Beat Girl, about a girl who is a classically trained pianist, but wants to be a DJ, and used a transmedia strategy to build an international audience and eventually a highly profitable brand.

For Beat Girl, he launched the story on Pinterest, posting photos of an actress in character as Beat Girl and essentially created a mood board that was a visual expression and representation of the character. This Pinterest board eventually led to a book series, TV series, live event performances, and a feature film.

But let’s back up for a second. What exactly is transmedia?

Transmedia storytelling means creating a fictional story that uses digital media and social media as a path to a book, television series, or feature film. It’s creating a story without marrying it off to one specific format.

For most writers, one of the first tasks in writing a new creative project is assigning a medium to the story idea. In today’s world, that medium could be a blog, one-act play, a TV series, or a film. Transmedia throws all of those options on the ground, and then kicks them back up into the air. Technology makes all of them possible, and many of them cheap to produce and distribute.

Most creative writers work in vacuum occupied by themselves alone, along with a select few editors or collaborators. Traditionally, a writer’s project isn’t seen until it’s released as a whole and complete entity, every word, scene, and character polished to perfection.

But with transmedia, creative perfectionism is thrown away in favor of the buzzword at the tip of everyone’s tongue…storytelling.

In the transmedia model for entertainment, once the story and its characters have been created, it’s up to the writer/creator/producer to figure out where online the audience for this story lives. And once it’s known what social media that particular audience uses, the writer can then seed content there.Fans becomes collaborators, and help the writer understand what’s working in the story, what’s not, and the kind of scenes they want to see more often. In the process, creative writers can validate the story, create a fan base, and more importantly, a community. 

According to Bernardo, it’s this built-in community of fans that allows a writer-producer the leverage to take their transmedia story to TV or film buyers, and have the project get funded to be produced.

For television series especially, social media is the new water cooler. So why not test stories, characters, and ideas with an ideal audience demographic?

The recent success of stories like “50 Shades of Grey”—which premiered at the Berlinale and was originally “Twilight” fan fiction turned book series turned movie franchise —have shown that once a fan base is established online, fans will eagerly follow characters and stories they love to any medium, even if it means paying for the continuation of a story they once got online for free.

For the tech-savvy, transmedia storytelling allows digital content creators to connect directly with an audience, control the marketing and distribution of their stories, and lead online discussions about what’s happening in the world of their stories.

For Bernardo, since his story revolved around a female DJ, he was able to monetize the free content he’d put out over social media by having a soundtrack on iTunes, novels for sale, and paid DJ game apps.

So, it’s 2015 and you have a story idea that you think would appeal to a certain audience. What do you do? Do you go around asking family, friends, and colleagues if it’s a good idea? Do you write it anyway with fingers crossed that it’ll sell?

For enterprising and entrepreneurial writers and producers, transmedia can help take away the guessing game and make the process of storytelling collaborative, entertaining, and potentially long-tail lucrative.