Those words can scare you but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Actually, transmedia storytelling is a strategy easy to understand. The transmedia strategy uses several media to create and nourish a whole universe around a brand, a movie or some other cultural object. The difference with cross-media strategy (usually used by brands) is that the message or the story promoted is different on each media. Actually, each media add a piece of the story, they answer each other. They are complementary in the description and content feeding of the universe. It’s going to be easier to understand with examples. And I’ll focus here on TV series.
American channels are creative when talking about series promotion and advertising. Of course, it’s because they use series to sell advertising space. The main issue is therefore commercial. That’s why they look for a way to involve viewers and to generate a fan community. Let’s use the TV series Castle as an example. The series is about a writer, Richard Castle, who follows a police inspector (Kate Becket) in her investigations to be inspired in writing thrillers. To promote the series, the channel ABC created a whole universe in and off line, mixing reality and fiction. I explain myself. They created Richard Castle.
They invented a whole identity : real books from the author that you can buy anywhere, Twitter and Facebook accounts, and of course, a personal website mentioned in the series… They even released comic books. The whole strategy has one goal : to immerse the viewer in the series’ universe. They try to abolish frontiers between reality and fiction to activate the desire of the fans to always know more about the characters and the story and be buried in this world.
In another hand, we have Heroes. A wonderful series with super heroes of modern times. To keep people intrigued and feed their appetite for new content, the channel NBC created web comics. This is like comics but online (ah ah I know) and they’ve only few pages (2 or 3). Those web comics were released at the same time as each episode was broadcasted and they brought explanations, new stories between episodes. The channel also created a website, Heroes Evolutions, which presented in details all the characters. Unfortunately, the marketing package isn’t available anymore so if you want to see the comics, you’ll have to find the graphic novel putting together all the web comics in a specialist library… Good luck 😉
A great strategy of transmedia storytelling for a TV series is the True Blood one. This series relates the story of a world where vampires and humans live together peacefully (or try to). To promote it, HBO created a whole universe around it. To do so, they developed what we call an alternate reality game (ARG). This sort of game puts together real life missions and online game to dive fans into True Blood world. So they acted as if vampires do existed among us. They created 2 communities : pro and against vampires. Each community had lots of websites and forums to exchange and they even communicated by a media war. They even developed a dating site between vampires and humans to fit the series’ concept.
To promote the new seasons, they often used street marketing. For example, they changed a water fountain in a blood fountain or put wood stick with the mention « in case of vampire » in the middle of the city. Last thing to perfect the immersive strategy, they commercialised the true blood drink, Trubeverage, in real life. (It’s the synthetic blood drink thanks to which vampires can stop killing humans and leave peacefully with us). You can now drink it and taste it by yourself. It appears it’s really bad taste but anyway, you can act as if you were a real vampire with it…
I think now you’ve understood. Any transmedia storytelling strategy immerge people in a story universe. The main product (called mothership) can be a movie, a TV series, a book, a comic, or even a brand. It’s the starting point. From it, you create, using all the media you want, a full world to give fans new content, tips, secrets about the main product. Everything has to be coordinated and coherent to have a « real » universe.
If you want to go further, there’s this great article about the Hunger Games’ transmedia storytelling strategy by Christine Weitbrecht.