The Routledge Companion to Transmedia Studies

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Around the globe, people now engage with media content across multiple platforms, following stories, characters, worlds, brands and other information across a spectrum of media channels. This transmedia phenomenon has led to the burgeoning of
  1  Introduction Transmedia Studies— Where Now?  Matthew Freeman and Renira Rampazzo Gambarato Let’s start with a question: what is transmedia? Here, we mean this question not as a lead- in to presenting any kind of rudimentary, oft- cited definition, but rather as a genuine question. The transmedia phenomenon has led to the burgeoning of transmedia studies across media, film, televi-sion, cultural, and communication studies across the academy, not to mention the wider creative and cultural industries. The Routledge Companion to Transmedia Studies  seeks to be the ultimate publication for scholars and students interested in comprehending all of the various aspects of transmediality, be it in terms of media industries and their platforms, digital and mobile communications, advertising and marketing sectors, audience behaviors and cultural practices, or socio- political forms like media activism, identity, literacy, and education. This collection, which gathers together srcinal articles by a global roster of contributors from a variety of disciplines and industry backgrounds, sets out to contextualize, problematize, and scrutinize the current status and future directions of transmediality, exploring the industries, practices, cultures, arts, and methodologies of studying convergent media content across multiple media platforms. Now is the time to offer this ultimate publication about transmedia studies, given the central yet multifaceted ways in which transmediality has come to materialize in the media landscape. Marsha Kinder ( 1991 ) first used the term “transmedia” to describe the multiplatform and multi- modal expansion of media content. Henry Jenkins ( 2006 ) reintroduced the term within the con-text of digital change and “transmedia storytelling” has subsequently seen widespread adoption and interrogation. Jenkins’ ( 2007 ) definition of transmedia storytelling as “a process where integral elem-ents of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” has become one of the dominant ways by which the flow of entertainment across media is now understood, especially in a digital and commercial setting where the correlation between transmedia storytelling and the commerce of entertainment has been reinforced in industry. As Heroes  creator Tim Kring once asserted, transmedia storytelling is “rather like building your Transformer and putting little rocket ships on the side” (Kushner 2008 ). By providing audiences with more and more content, it seems, transmediality— an umbrella term most fundamentally describing “the increasingly popular industrial practice of using multiple media technologies to present information … through a range of textual forms” (Evans 2011 , 1)— is char-acteristically understood as a commercial practice, enabling as it does for multiple revenue streams and numerous sites of engagement. Marie- Laure Ryan puts it plainly in her assertion that transmedia storytelling is essentially “a way to get us to consume as many products as possible” (2013, 384). But commercial transmedia storytelling is not the end of the story for transmediality. In fact,  Jenkins’ description of transmedia storytelling (of a single narrative that is only truly complete when 9781138483439_pi 494.indd 1 9781138483439_pi-494.indd 1 11 Jun 18 9:10:26 PM 11-Jun-18 9:10:26 PM  2  M. Freeman and R. R. Gambarato elements from multiple media forms are brought together into a coherent whole) has arguably rarely materialized in quite the fully integrated, plot- intertwining fashion that Jenkins envisaged. Further, as a mode of practice, transmedia storytelling is still most closely associated with what Benjamin Birkinbine, Rodrigo G ó mez, and Janet Wasko refer to as the global media giants— “the huge media conglomerates such as Disney and Time- Warner, [which] take advantage of globalization to expand abroad and diversify” (2017, 15). Outside of the conglomerates, though, transmediality has evolved in other ways, namely into a brand development practice or as a way to support traditional media content through transmedia franchising systems (Johnson 2013 ), to name its other dominant com-mercial purposes. But transmediality has equally gained wider relevance as digital screen technologies have multiplied, with the so- called “old media” of film and television now experienced through online transmedia distribution practices (Evans 2015 ), whereby content becomes integrated with social media and other online platforms. Other terms such as “multiplatform” (Jeffery- Poulter 2003 ), “crossmedia” (Bechmann Petersen 2006 ), and “second screening” have joined it (Holt and Sanson 2014 ), but transmediality remains an important concept for understanding the fundamental shifts that digital media technologies have wrought on the media industries and their audiences. More than this, transmediality has since grown into a distinct subfield of scholarly investigation, one that relates to a range of studies across film, television, social media, gaming, marketing, literature, music, journalism, and beyond. However, the more that transmediality has broadened its definition and its practical use in recent  years, the more that it has arguably become something else entirely. Let’s not forget that research has defined transmediality through very different disciplinary lenses, be it in terms of storytelling (Jenkins 2006; Evans 2011 ; Ryan 2013 ), marketing (Gray 2010 ; Grainge and Johnson 2015 ), jour- nalism (Gambarato and Alzamora 2018 ), world- building (Wolf 2012 ); historical culture (Freeman 2016 ), activism (Scolari, Bertetti, and Freeman 2014 ), literacy (Scolari 2016 ), and so on. And these different sets of creative and disciplinary lenses should not be underplayed in our understanding of what transmediality is. Mapping the many faces of transmediality is an important task for researchers, for it hints at its multifaceted formations, functions, values, and roles across the wider media landscape. And yet an almost inevitable consequence of transmediality being approached via so many different disciplinary lenses is that the very definition of transmediality might remain decidedly in flux, meaning different things to different people at different times. In 2011, Brian Clark argued that the potential for transmediality to be (mis)understood as almost everything means that “transmedia,” as term, has possibly outlived its usefulness, insisting that only by refining the definition will scholars secure its long- term viability. Clark, we believe, was absolutely right in his critique, and simply because we live in “a digital media environment … [that] calls for a spread of media” (Brinker 2017 , 209), it does not mean that everything is transmedial. Revising, refining, and clarifying our understanding of what does— and therefore what does not— constitute a form of “transmedia” is indeed crucial, both to the future of this avenue of study but more importantly to our collective abilities to make sense of how, why, and when media content flows, expands, and moves across multiple media platforms in particular ways, for particular reasons, and with particular effects. However, we posit that only by embracing the multiplicities and pluralities of transmediality as a cross- disciplinary phenomenon can one fully grasp its prominence. To paraphrase Christy Dena’s point from her chapter in this book, it may well make sense to create a simple definition of transmediality so that people understand and recognize it, but doing so is often at the cost of understanding the com-plete picture. A diverse and ultimate volume interrogating the status, the breadth, the developments, the themes, and the futures of transmediality is thus a timely opportunity for transmedia scholars to reflect on this subfield’s current status and to explore potential new directions for future research. Importantly, each contributor in this book has conducted leading research into a particular area of transmedia studies or has done widespread transmedia practice across the cultural industries. Together, our contributors thereby offer a unique perspective on the practices, cultures, arts, and methodologies of studying media across multiple platforms. 9781138483439_pi 494.indd 2 9781138483439_pi-494.indd 2 11 Jun 18 9:10:26 PM 11-Jun-18 9:10:26 PM  3 Introduction  Still, this cross- disciplinary approach based on embracing multiplicities and pluralities raises another notable question. If transmediality indeed means different things, in different parts of the globe (see Freeman and Proctor 2018 ), to different sets of industries, cultures, arts, and disciplines, then how can one go about classifying such different interpretations and divergent industrial practices as the same phenomenon? Doing this successfully— and responsibly— almost means re   - understanding transmediality, moving far beyond a set of narrow, discipline- specific definitions based on enter-tainment or storytelling or marketing alone. In effect, it means articulating a more overarching idea of transmediality, albeit one that still addresses the specificity of its workings in different contexts. As Henry Jenkins insists, “this does not mean that transmedia means everything to all people and thus means nothing to anyone. Rather, it means that we need to be precise about what forms of transmedia we are discussing and what claims we are making about them” (2016). This is where the breadth of this book comes in, and it is our embracing of the multiplicities and pluralities of transmediality that also drives the structure of this book. Looking across specific contexts of different industries, cultures, arts, practices, and methodologies of transmediality in turn, we will now use the remainder of this introductory chapter to outline our overarching conceptual interpretation of what transmediality really means, argued in dialogue with the themes and ideas of the subsequent chapters. From there, we also speculate where transmedia studies could go next. And so now we return to our srcinal question, meant with a sense of genuine reflection: what is transmedia?   Industries of Transmediality In her chapter on transmedia television, Elizabeth Evans claims that “these [digital] platforms, and the way they are being utilized by content creators and owners, are contributing to media culture becoming increasingly and inherently transmedial.” Similarly, Carlos A. Scolari argues elsewhere that, as of 2017, we are part of a media landscape where almost all content can in some way, shape or form be considered transmedial, meaning that “soon we will assume that all communication industries will be transmedial— it will be integrated into the DNA of media communication” (2017). Somewhat echoing the earlier sentiments of Clark, then, for Scolari ( 2017 ), the prevalence of transmedia across the contemporary media industries means that we no longer need to distinguish transmedia commu-nication from other forms of communication. But transmedia’s prevalence is highly questionable and complex, and it is not particularly accurate to assume that transmediality exists across all creative and cultural industries. Indeed, as digital tech-nologies and mobile devices continue to bring media interfaces into the workings of our daily lives, a salient question to consider is not only what   is transmedia, but also where   is transmedia? Jenkins’ more recent writings on transmediality have begun to consider ideas of transmedia location, meaning “the context from which transmedia products emerge” (Jenkins 2016 ). There is thus a question in terms of which industries transmediality is now an active part of, and what specific purposes it holds within and across them. The first section of the book comprises 13 chapters around those industries that we believe represent the most dominant transmedia industries today: Film, Documentary, Television, Telenovelas, Comics, Publishing, Games, Music, Journalism, Sports, Social Platforms, Celebrity, and Attractions. In terms of a focus on industries as a lens through which to better understand what transmediality really is, then, it is evident from this section’s configuration of chapters that transmedia industries necessarily embrace both fictional and non- fictional universes. Renira Rampazzo Gambarato’s chapter on transmedia journalism usefully reiterates the importance of characterizing transmediality as, first, multiple media platforms, second, as content expansion, and third, as audience engage-ment. The transmedia DNA of these characteristics is intertwined with fictional entertainment, as emphasized in Kinder’s ( 1991 ) and Jenkins’ ( 2003 , 2006 ) srcinal research, as much and as well as it is with non- fiction initiatives, as clearly demonstrated by Freeman’s ( 2016 ) historicized approach to transmedia studies previously. Transmedia phenomena, as a common ground, involve the richness of 9781138483439_pi 494.indd 3 9781138483439_pi-494.indd 3 11 Jun 18 9:10:26 PM 11-Jun-18 9:10:26 PM  4  M. Freeman and R. R. Gambarato multiplatform media— it is, as Jenkins notes in his foreword, about a set of relationships across media. Particular media platforms can emerge and disappear, can be in vogue or be ostracized, can change and evolve. Nevertheless, we could not have transmedia dynamics without the support of multiple media platforms and the industries that align them together. Furthermore, this section posits that beyond the digital domain, transmediality can and should involve a variety of alternative combin-ations between both online and offl ine platforms. The Internet and all digital technologies unequivo-cally play a crucial role in (1) disseminating transmedia content, (2) making content easily available worldwide, (3) reaching a diversified range of audiences, (4) enabling audience engagement, and (5) contributing to a participatory culture, for instance. But the possibilities to enrich the audi-ence experience via offl ine activities, live events, and analogue initiatives, are immense because they can dramatically contribute to (1) the feeling of immersion, (2) the sense of belonging, and (3) the emotional response of audiences, as discussed in the afterword of this collection. These immersive emotions and behavioral practices are key to definitions of transmediality, as is demonstrated in Helen W. Kennedy’s chapter on transmedia games, which shows the fruitfulness of applying “play theory” to understandings of transmediality. Looking across industries as diverse as journalism and the celebrity scene, moreover, it is clear that such playable online or offl ine transmedia strategies can contribute to a growth of these industries, with the proliferation of content across media platforms building both new storyworlds and new  job roles. Chapters on transmedia sports, by Ethan Tussey, and transmedia social platforms, by Portia Vann, Axel Bruns, and Stephen Harrington, for example, both reinforce the globalism associated with transmediality, and particularly the idea that transmediality is partly a tool for enhancing the dem-ocratization of media content everywhere. And yet part of the future conceptual breakthrough for transmedia scholars must be to better understand how said democratization of content gels with the innate commerce of many transmedia production motives, as is demonstrated by Š á rka Gmiterkov á ’s study of the transmedia Kardashian brand and by Matthew Freeman’s look at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London as a commercially oriented brand extension of the Harry Potter   storyworld. With any example of transmediality, where is the line between expansion- as- commerce and expansion- as- democratization— and if or when does that contradictory line become in any way problematic? Transmediality, in fact, is perhaps best understood as a series of conceptual contradictions, as the chapters in Part I show. Sarah Atkinson, positioning “film [as] arguably the most dominant instanti-ation of the transmedia storytelling phenomenon,” sees a tension between “the franchise and cam-paign binary”— that is, between notions of content and promotion— while Joakim Karlsen hints at the importance of conceptualizing transmedia documentary as a blend of fiction and non- fiction, experience and participation, all combined into a single package. Karlsen’s chapter shows the power of transmediality to embody the full potential of participatory media, and yet also points out the innate contradictions that arise when one begins to conceive of non- fiction as something that is itself par-ticipatory. Echoing this emphasis on combined tensions, Paola Brembilla explores transmedia music as a set of narrativized and visualized forms of artwork, cross- marketing, and branding. For Brembilla, transmediality is a “streaming of content” afforded by “synergy networks”— a streaming that builds a greater experience for audiences. Importantly, seeing transmediality— most broadly defined— as a stream of content “allows us to account for its versatility and ability to serve several purposes,” thus altogether suggesting that transmediality works to give media content greater “cultural and economic value in the contemporary mediascape.” Conceiving of transmediality as a mode of diversification across the cultural industries makes sense, tying in with William Proctor’s assertion in his chapter that transmedia comic books are often a secondary or alternative platform for films and television series. Such an idea also gives credence to Alastair Horne’s chapter on transmedia publishing, which outlines some of the challenges for transmedia production. Understanding transmediality as diversification also supports Evans’ concep-tion of transmediality as something that is deeply rooted in the past and yet is foregrounded by con-temporary media industries as a way to stand content apart in a crowded marketplace. For example, 9781138483439_pi 494.indd 4 9781138483439_pi-494.indd 4 11 Jun 18 9:10:26 PM 11-Jun-18 9:10:26 PM  5 Introduction Evans highlights the usefulness of “analogue” theory— academic concepts that srcinated before the days when “transmedia” was part of the common vernacular— in understanding transmediality in a digital sphere. Evans’ chapter on transmedia television shows how particular media— and particular media industries— are themselves  transmedial, and indeed have always been transmedial, in terms of operations, consumption habits, aesthetics, and so on. If media industries have long extended content across platforms, and audiences have long been encouraged to migrate across a stream of content, then transmediality is best understood as a conceptual approach to producing media via multiple delivery channels that each have combined commercial/ democratic objectives at heart, itself enabling creative and participatory opportunities for sustained intellectual and emotional engagement. Simultaneously, from an industrial standpoint, transmediality becomes a means of adapting and diversifying media content so to best afford this kind of sustained intellectual and emotional engagement— as in Inara Rosas and Hanna Nolasco’s chapter, which stresses how “lighter plots and shorter narratives” are key to the successful transmedial expansion of telenovelas in Brazil. Arts of Transmediality Part II of the book includes seven chapters on Transmedia Storytelling, World- Building, Characters, Genres, Writing, Photography, and Indie. Thinking about what the art of transmediality actually looks like, these seven chapters highlight a number of overlapping themes. Interestingly, Erica Negri’s chapter on transmedia indie positions transmediality as a “situation of narrative chaos … [one] that attempts to conciliate narrative forms of digital technologies.” In other words, transmediality is itself a conceptual approach to producing media that is intrinsically messy, born out of messy technological disruptions over time, shaped with often messy objectives at heart, and tailored for messy, fragmen-tary, hard- to- pin- down audiences. Yet from an artistic standpoint, our contributors’ understandings of what transmediality can be   remain more consistent than divergent. For starters, besides the story to be told or the message to be delivered, which are both funda-mental to the art of transmediality and transmedia storytelling more specifically, one such consistency concerns the role of world- building as a core concept. As Jenkins has pointed out elsewhere, the principle of world- building is inherent to the transmedia logic: Most forms of transmedia are structured through a process of world- building. The con-cept of world- building emerged from fantasy and science fiction but has also been applied to documentary or historical fiction. Worlds are systems with many moving parts (in terms of characters, institutions, locations) that can generate multiple stories with multiple protagonists that are connected to each other through their underlying structures. Part of what drives transmedia consumption is the desire to dig deeper into these worlds, to trace their backstories and understand their underlying systems. Fictional texts imagine and design new worlds; documentaries investigate and map existing worlds. (Jenkins 2016) Regardless of how much a given story overlaps with the “primary” world, the varied dimensions, plausibility, richness of details of fictional and non- fictional transmedia worlds are designed and represented to be as important, intriguing, and compelling as its characters and plots. This creative equivalence is a central distinction of the concept of world- building in particular and transmedia stories in general. The essence of world- building is the strategy that best provides audiences with more stories sharing the same characters and world dynamics, but moreover, it offers them different  yet equally immersive media experiences and emotional reactions. Moreover, Jenkins’ characterization of transmediality as that which provides the desire to dig deeper also extends to other chapters across this section, albeit sometimes with messier consequences in ways that reinforce Negri’s contextualization of transmediality as chaos. Roberta Pearson’s chapter 9781138483439_pi 494.indd 5 9781138483439_pi-494.indd 5 11 Jun 18 9:10:26 PM 11-Jun-18 9:10:26 PM
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