Is Second Screen Content Actually "Transmedia"? / by J.C. Hutchins

Laith Graham, an Australian buddy who's followed my career since my 7th Son podcast days, asked me this transmedia-related question on Facebook. I thought I'd share Laith's Q, and my A, here.

Hey J.C.,

I've been wondering about your thoughts on TV-related Apps and Social Media integration, and if it is "transmedia." For example: Sporting events like Formula One and iPad apps that show live track position, or Big Brother showing viewer Tweets and Facebook comments, as well as extra footage going to the viewer's iPhone app while watching the show live.

Is this now mainstream transmedia? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Here's my take: 

These days, the word "transmedia" is being slung about in strange ways, and being applied to different content strategies. By some folks' reckoning, having such "second screen" content is indeed a breed of transmedia — it's certainly content rolling in through a separate channel/medium (the tablet, for instance), and is designed to enhance the experience of the core content.

Personally, I approach and define "transmedia" from a narrative point of view. For me, it's all about story ... which means I think it's best-suited for fiction programming. In this case, a second screen experience that actually pushes in-world narrative content to the viewer in real time (or permits time-shifted engagement) is a more authentic use of the word and content strategy. I'm talking about canonical content, not tweets of what other viewers think of the show, etc.

Of course, this strategy need not start and stop with mobile apps or social media. Savvy showrunners can, and have, hired creators to populate the web with in-world narrative content on YouTube, "personal" blogs, etc. The TV show Castle even features novel titles written by its crime novelist hero ... which then go on sale weeks later in real stores. Crazy cool.

Anyways, that's a longwinded way of saying I personally believe the most valuable application of transmedia storytelling is when it expands and enhances the storyworld of the show — and not merely (and crassly) promotes the show itself. Doing so can deepen interest and evangelism in the show's actual content and characters — which also accomplishes a marketer's mission of promoting the show itself. Everybody wins.

So, that's my hastily-written perspective. What's yours? Am I giving non-fiction and reality programming short shrift? Are there resonant, current examples of TV-based transmedia experiences — be they non-fiction or fiction ... story-driven or promotion-only — we should know about? Pipe up in the comments.