Monday, October 11, 2010

Cross, Trans, Multi, Interactive

Coming back from last week's bookfair 2010 in Frankfurt and having attended the first Stroydrive, a transmedia conference, I am wondering why there are so many problems understanding the differences between transmedia, crossmedia, crossplatform, multimedia and interactive media.
If you're new to the field, it's easy to mix those terms up. And there still are debates going on about which is which, but enough material and common knowledge is already available to make clear cuts.

Here's how I'd define it:

A combination of different content forms in a single product. This could be a multimedia presentation with text, audio and video that runs on your computer.
In a broader scope, the term multimedia can be difficult to define, since even printed content such as a newspaper may be considered multimedia because it contains images and text at the same time.

Interactive Media
The expression already includes its purpose: To be interactive and give users the possibility to choose and interact with the software (user feedback and control). Since the interactivity has to do with media, it could be described as a subform of multimedia, because most of the time the users actions will change the display of different combined media, such as images, text, videos, graphics and audio.
Interactive media is not only limited to the digital world, as adventure books, card- and boardgames can also be considered interactive media.

Software that runs and inter-operates on multiple computer platforms. For example a 3D game that can be played inside a browser on a Mac, but also on a tablet PC or on a gaming console. In true crossplatform entertainment, different players can interact with each other in the same gaming world, using different platforms at the same time.
In a broader sense virtual machine platforms such as Java are crossplatform as well, because software developed for those machines runs on many operating systems and hardware types.

Here, content from one media format is ported to additional media formats. This can be done right from the start of a media release or gradually. For example a movie that is accompanied by a game and later a comic book. All media formats reside in the same "story environment" or "intellectual property", meaning they are all based on the same initial idea. Most of the time, crossmedia only copies the content of one media to the next while adjusting it to the new format's specifications. For example a printed comic book that is accompanied by a digital version on a tablet PC and an adventure game, all telling the same story.

Transmedia can be seen as a subform of crossmedia. Here, content is not only copied from one media format to the next, but split among them to generate a holistic experience for the user. Transmedia tries to penetrate a user's lifestyle as fully as possible, using different media to tell interlinked parts of the same story.
Users can enter a transmedia story at various entry points, because they might consume only a fraction of all transmedia products. What is true for good transmedia entertainment is still being defined at the current time. It is often a balance between attracting a user with a single, satisfying media product while quickening his appetite to consume other products as well. To get a holistic experience of the big narrative scheme that spans all transmedia products, a user might want to "collect them all".

360 essentially hints at an all around experience. Hence there are many areas that use the expression 360-degree. There is 360-degree feedback in human resources for example, where feedback is provided by many different sources in the team, peers, subordinates, supervisors and stakeholders to name a few. It helps to give a more complete view on a certain employee and not just approach him from a single view.
Then there's of course Xbox 360, an entertainment console by Microsoft. My guess is, it was named Xbox 360 because Xbox 2 sounded old in comparison to the Playstation 3. Plus, Xbox 360 likely also refers to an all around entertainment center, combining different media in just one console. And now there's Kinect that even makes you go hammertime in front of your tv.

In the context of a converging media landscape, 360-degree development means creating immersive media experiences for the user. This is true for 360-degree content as well as a 360-degree marketing approach. It can be classified as a cross or transmedia experience, but other than using a few media formats it strives to create an all around experience on as many of the touch points surrounding the user as possible. It will also likely use interactive formats and user generated content to engage the audience even further. This could be a campaign or product that involves a network of online media, games, radio, print, alternate reality games and real life events.

In the documentary area, like at the BBC, it stands for a certain cost effective production method and value chain. Journalists develop a story (quality core content) that is adapted to different media formats and platforms. For Mark Thomson of BBC switching to a transmedia production is even "a question of survival" in the converging media world (

360-degree deals, often used in the music industry, are deals that will give a company shares from all revenue streams coming from different media.

There are lots of fancy terms popping up in these fields, forgotten, reinvented and new ones - such as product worlds, meta media, integrated communications, branded entertainment, user generated content, social media, community involvement, creative kernels, operative ideas, content onions, rabbit holes...
but this is a different (transmedia) story to be told.

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