New York Television Festival reveals that Transmedia Entertainment is not yet ready for prime time

10:12:00 AM

At a panel discussion that included the leaders television industry, the conversation reveals that their definition and appraisal of transmedia entertainment does not yet include the critical component of reactivity

Yesterday, I attended a panel discussion at the SVA Theatre, 333 W. 23rd St., New York, whose title was "NATPE Presents: Building the World -- Multiplatform and Transmedia Storytelling." The talk one of the many offerings of the New York Television Festival, and its panelists were leaders in the television industry, including Craig Engler, Senior Vice President and General Manager for SyFy Digital, and a director of Bravo TV. The brochure, included the statement: "The PGA's recent decision to create a 'Transmedia Producer' credit was recognition of the growing importune of expanding stories and brands across multiple media." One would think that the television industry, by now, would be informed and educated about this emerging form of narrative, and that they would be implementing complex Transmedia campaigns. That was not the case.

The event was remarkably dull. There was a wide spectrum of differing opinions when it came what each of the half-dozen panelists defined "Transmedia" to be. Granted, they all agreed it was an emergent phenomenon, but, it is now legitimated into the canon of television production. If there is, now, a transmedia producer credit for their productions, each channel would, at this time, be ascribing a different.

With the exception of the presence of Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, the was a remarkable absence of enthusiasm for transmedia as a whole. Gomez proselytized that is was a "paradigm shift," while others marked it as a kind of curiosity. Engler had a curmudgeonly stance on it as if it was nothing more than a fancy term applied to an already existent practice of the industry.

To my reckoning, and based on careful reading of a dissertation by Christy Dena entitled Transmedia Practice: Theorizing the Expression of a Fictional World Across Distinct Media transmedia entertainment is the union of narrative technique with game mechanics. What makes it unique as a form of story telling is that, on the one hand, it is not so much a product of the possibility for interactivity to exist in media, but reactivity. That is, the narrative reacts as it is being told to its audience and it unfolds as a co-created narrative. It is a mass media equivalent to a bard or live storyteller who embellishes, creates hyperbole or dilates the pacing of her performance based on "energy" of how the audience is receiving the story as it is told.

Modern mass media now has the capacity to do this - especially when it permits its audience to contribute to the cannon of a story. The panel discussion revealed that, aside from Gomez, industry leaders in television do not permit that to be the case. They are deploying their narratives already through social media tools such as Foursquare and SCVNGR, but they have not yet opened the doors of reactivity.

American culture is its media. The panel discussion revealed that there is a gap or wedge at this time where, while producers are actively engaged in interacting with their audience, they are not yet willing to react to them. As such, this emergent phenomenon, while embraced, still has a while to go before it penetrate the mainstream and shape it in a ludic way. Reactivity requires game mechanics. Modern mass media requires an education in gaming.

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