Textbook Transmedia

Several tertiary institutions in New Zealand have recently introduced transmedia as a subject, particularly within the fields of Art and Design and Creative Technologies. This not only reflects industry demand but also suggests a growing acceptance of the significance and relevance of transmedia.

Perhaps transmedia is not just a buzzword or a passing fad after all. And yet I admit that I myself have never been completely comfortable with the term. Perhaps it is because after years of navigating terms like multimedia, intermedia crossmedia, 360 degree media, multiplatform, and even ‘all media’, the word ‘transmedia’ seems to many like yet another fuzzy yet all-encompassing term to applied to ill-defined new media practice or paradigm. I suspected this term, like so many others, might become redundant through sheer ubiquity (in much the same way that it seems increasingly awkward to use the terms ‘new media’ or ‘digital media’). And then (in a very kiwi way) I may also have felt a little self-conscious about the razzle-dazzle of this rather shiny word.

Transmedia, however, is no longer all that new (having been in use since 1991), and it is increasingly well defined (perhaps overly so in the case of theProducers Guild of America). While scholarly research on transmedia is still limited (in part a reflection on the glacial pace of traditional academic publishing), a growing body of professional literature on transmedia and the emergence of networks such as Transmedia NZ has helped to legitimate transmedia as a practice and as a subject worthy of study.

Though I am still sometimes shy when it comes to describing myself as a transmedia producer or academic, I am wholeheartedly pleased that students have the opportunity to explore and examine transmedia for the following reasons:

  1. Transmedia is complex, pervasive and influential. We are seeing the emergence of narratives that touch audiences in intimate and powerful ways and this is a phenomenon that merits deep critical analysis.

  1. Universities can function as innovation incubators. Free from the constraints of cultural policy or market values, in a research environment there can be great freedom to experiment and push boundaries… though the zero-budgets of student projects present major creative challenges!

  1. As a society we need creative and critical thinkers, storytellers, communicators, artists, strategists, collaborators and entrepreneurs. A student of transmedia must develop all of these skills.

In New Zealand transmedia practice is still very much in its infancy, and does not take the form of the kind of blockbuster franchise transmedia associated with industry giants such as Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner.

It does, however, increasingly take the form of more modest but nonetheless ambitious projects such as What We Do in the Shadows, Road Trip orApocalypse Z/The Generation of Z that explore creative new ways to reach audiences, and in a highly competitive media environment the skills behind such projects will be increasingly in demand.

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