Monday, 16 March 2015

What Is Transmedia?

The Internet. Image: Wikipedia
Once Upon a Time there was Media. Then, there was Multi Media. Then, there was New Media. Later, there was Cross Media, and eventually 360 Media.  But nowadays, it's all about your TransMedia strategy. And yes, you really do need one - at least, anyone with a product to sell. At a recent conference on the business of making animated films, Mahesh Ramachandra, Transmedia Producer & Strategist, explained what a Transmedia strategy is, and why we all need one.

So what is a TransMedia Strategy? 
Today, a trans media strategy means having a variety of platforms - from Phones, to SMS, to interactive, auctions - whatever.  It's all about involving the audience at multiple levels.

So how do you get a multi-media strategy?
You need to "abstract your content from your platform". The audience's first engagement with your product is not likely to be a movie theatre - it is far more likely to be their phone, or online. Think of yourself as a "content creator".

What is your goal? It is to raise funds? Or to test interest in your product?
Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. You need a TransMedia Plan, and a "content creation schedule". Why do you need a plan? Because, if you don't make a plan, the chances are that it won't actually happen.

Sokatur 442 - a case study in how to launch an online game

Case Study: Sokator 442. 
Sokator 442 is an online game that gegan in 2005. It was also an animated TV series. The premise was an alien planet where warfare had been replaced by football.  In other words, the game is about "Soccer...but not as we know it". There was also a theatrical release in Asia.

Sokator 442 was launched among multiple platforms, including viral & Multiplayer web games, a tv game show, a movie, various premiums, merchandise, a mobile app, and collectibles.

The key components were:

  1.  Multiplayer web game, known as a PBBG (Persistent Browser Based Game). Basically, you manage your alien football team.
  2. TV game Show. This was "Active Play for kids". The creators did not make a pilot (it would have cost too much, around £200,000). So they re-used stuff from the animation which had already been done. They cut together a 30 minute animatic that explained how the game show worked. The TV show cost around £35k-100k per episode to make (These are Asia prices. It all costs much more in Europe).
  3. An animated film for theatrical release which cost £1.1m. It was a Chinese co-production, and the animation was made in China.
  4. A Viral game. They succeeded in getting 5 million game plays. This was very successful.

How did Sokator 442 work?
They began with the game. It was a "Fremium online game". Players could initially play for free, but they had to buy equipment. You could also win stuff to customise your player; clothes etc. Players could also buy Power Cards to give their players extra cards.

How successful was the Sokator 442 game?
Very. Sokator 442 collected around 200,000 registered players. Of these, around 25,000 were active players (that is to say at least 1 game play per month). These players brought in revenue of around£600 per day, or, on a good day, around £1,000 per day.

How much did Sokator 442 cost to make?
Quite a bit. The Development Cost of the game was around £150,000. Though this was "pretty cheap" by industry standards.

What about running costs?
The monthly running cost was about £8k per month, mainly because of creating new stuff, new content. Also the marketing costs were quite large, around. £5,000-15,000 per month. The marketing costs were sufficiently high that they caused cash flow difficulty. In the end, the game was launched too early, and the movie came out too late.

What went wrong?
They got the timing wrong. By the time the movie came out, the game was in trouble. The original idea was to  release the movie in China during the World Cup, but the window was missed, and the movie has still not been released in China, because the animation was not delivered on time. It was a UK/China co-production, and there were a number of problems.

So...Back to TransMedia Strategies. What does a Fan Kid's Digital Day Look Like?
The main platforms are Mobile and the Web, accessed through a PC. There is also Merchandise, TV and Movies, the latter mainly on weekends.

  • 8am - Morning - digital comics. Hand-me-down iPad. iPad comics are cheaper than paper comics. Merchandise - SpiderMan pyjamas.
  • 9.30 am - School - Education? Is there an angle? What about a branded lunchbox (single highest earner for merchandising) Toys and CCG (Collectible Card Games) CCGs are v profitable.
  • 4pm - Back at Home - casual apps. Chat. Branded calculator app? Makes a funny sound. V simple. Better ten inexpensive apps than one big expensive game.
  • 5pm - Home - PM - TV - 30 minute episode. Perhaps the TV program could unlock content on the app? Kids watch TV and open the app at same time? The TV show can be an advert for the toy.
  • 7pm - Home - Evening - Social interaction. YouTube. Book/Novel.

What else do you need to make your transmedia strategy work?
You need a good song, and catchy Music. Can you have a toy inside a pack of food? Not in the UK or the USA anymore - it's now illegal. But it is still perfectly legal in Asia.

What about CrowdFunding?
Start with a simple idea - build a basic website, add some artwork, ask people to sign up for a newsletter. Does anyone sign up? Your plan is probably not yet about making money - it is just about testing the market. Do people like it? Is it any good?

Start to build a fan base. How? Crowdsourcing.  Watch out though - games cost more than you think they will. What about Spin-offs? You can ask the fans! Get the fans involved and ask them what they want.

Ideally, you want to build an audience - try to get 100,000 signed up for the newsletter. Get them over to your game or your movie or whatever it is you are making.

Final Points To Think About

  1. Most importantly, you have to become a "content creator". And you have to "abstract your content from the individual platform". Ask yourself - what is your core thing? Your content is a brand.
  2. Set your TransMedia objectives, what is your goal?
  3. The Secret is in the planning. Make a budget for multi-platform content creation. Film everything you do. And don't forget you can re-use all the assets. Plan from the start to re-use the assets.

After the lecture Mahesh took questions from the audience.

Question 1: Who builds this stuff? Do you do it yourself?
Mahesh:  It is hard to do all of this yourself. You really need specialist companies to build this kind of stuff. For example, on Sokator 442,  the TV Game show was created by a TV Game show producer - a specialist. They also hired an animation company to make the animatic. And the co-production - dealing with China - was very hard.

Question 2: Do film financiers like to see a transmedia plan like this? 
Yes and no. It is always good to have more revenue streams. Especially with kids, this is a natural fit. Maybe it is ultimately more attractive for equity investors though, with longer time horizons. The problem with a transmedia strategy is that all this online stuff needs a budget. If you are putting together a budget for a movie, where does this stuff go in the budget? Also, how do the revenues get collected? When you are making a film, established Collection Agencies collect the money for film, ensuring that everyone gets paid back. With an independent game, there is no third party control over the revenues.  Another problem is that local film distributors may well insist on taking the online rights in their territory - even if they don't know what to do with it. Any this may well conflict with your overall digital strategy.

To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link. For more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we arehelping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films. Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business. Also see our post about freelancers and taxes.

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