“Multi-Platform Storytelling” according to Tejpaul Bhatia

On May 30, 2007 by Christy

Tejpaul Bhatia, the founder of Tej Media Networks & senior manager of international business strategy for ESPN New Media, was recently interviewed on Kevin Roberts site SISOMO about “multi-platform storytelling”.

Multi-platform story-telling requires story-teller’s to think on multiple levels and in multiple dimensions. The audience is no longer in one place and no longer on a single device for a scheduled period of time.  These additional layers and moving parts require quite a bit of effort on the story-teller’s part.  The story-teller is no longer just a writer.  She is a writer, a producer, an architect, a metadata specialist, a marketing exec, a business person, and a user experience professional.

Hey, now that sounds good. But then Tejpaul answers a question about whether formats will change with multiplatform delivery (“‘delivery?” I ask myself and then read on):

New forms of delivery alone won’t change story format. A new creative process that exploits end user devices and is in line with consumer behavior will eventually create new innovative story structures. For example, if you put “Lost” on an iPod or on a website, the delivery is very different from the delivery to television. The format however is exactly the same, only with a much poorer user experience. If, on the other hand, “Lost” were created with the understanding that aspects of the show will appear on a two-inch screen or on a highly interactive website, the format might start to evolve. Also, if producers and creators understand that if a user gets “Lost” on an iPod, they are probably on the go or if a user watches “Lost” online, they might be in the office, then creators might make different choices based on the consumer’s viewing context.

Oh, I see. Tejpaul is talking about multi-platform delivery, and is calling it storytelling. Right, well, I have a few things to say about that. Firstly, I agree with Tejpaul that creating with a multi-platform delivery consciousness is a different literacy. People are trying to create content that will work well on any platform (the COPE model: create-once-publish-everywhere). But due to the different affordances of each media platform (different screen sizes, graphic quality, sound etc) there is really only one artform that I think can actually achieve this: animation. Animation seems to work well on just about any platform. There are concessions that need to be made still, to address the requirements of the most demanding platform (eg: closeups for mini screens). Second, there is also the multi-platform delivery consciousness that informs creating content that can be easily altered for each platform (edited into minisodes for example).  Now, to my final point. It seems Tejpaul is arguing that multi-platform storytelling is about creating content that is aware of the platform it will be experienced in, not necessarily extending content across paltforms. To check this, I an article he wrote for StreamingMedia.com in Nov 2006: The Art of Storytelling:

My prediction is that the next big opportunity in entertainment can be found in the emergence of multiplatform storytelling.

A multiplatform story is a story that is created and designed to be told across television, PCs, and mobile devices. This is not the simple porting of television content to alternative distribution platforms, nor is it the use of those alternative platforms to market television shows. An end user can experience a multiplatform story on all of his or her entertainment devices. The glue that adheres the devices together and links the user to each platform is the story itself. The world of the story can be revealed on each platform in a way that exploits the platform to the fullest: linear TV, interactive TV with web applications, gaming, polling, user input, and whatever else the creator can think up.

The creator of the story world has to understand the nature of the person receiving the story and the nature of the multiple devices that the person uses to interact with entertainment. The story, like its distribution, is multi-dimensional and can offer a different experience to each user depending on that user’s entertainment consumption behavior patterns.

[…]

The way to get around this market fragmentation in interactive television is to use the power of the web to reach the masses and drive them back to their televisions so they can experience television in a new way (assuming they are on a cable or satellite system that offers the interactive application). The problem with this solution is how to link stories on the web to stories on television and keep the user engaged. Since the likelihood of someone jumping directly from the web to her television screen is slim, the challenge is to keep the story fresh in the user’s mind for days after she is first exposed to it. If this is accomplished, the next time the user sits in front of a TV, she will want to interact with the story she first interacted with on the web. Accomplishing this is no easy feat, and it again leads back to the quality and the form of the storytelling.

Have you noticed that people can’t wait to watch the next episode of Lost or 24? Have you noticed that despite the fact that people complain about how little time they have, they still find time to watch 13-hour DVDs of these shows? The stories are so compelling that people can’t wait to watch and talk about the stories with their friends. That is the “link” that needs to be tapped into.

[…]

[W]e don’t have to change user behavior in terms of how entertainment is consumed for multiplatform stories to work. We do have to find a way, however, to create cohesive experiences across all those entertainment devices.

[…]

Since we aren’t simply trying to change how stories are delivered but are instead trying to change the way stories are told, multiplatform storytelling is in essence setting out to become a new art form. And with any new art form—whether it is theater, film, dramatic television, or interpretive dance—it takes several iterations before a working format emerges. In other words, the next big thing in entertainment is not a new hit movie or a new killer delivery technology. The next big thing is a new focus on creating story worlds that are in tune with the new generation of consumers and the new interfaces through which they will interact with new stories.

The first multiplatform story will most likely not be a “hit.” The next step will be several generations of trial and error with creative experimentation to learn what consumers want and what they are attracted to. It is time for a whole new generation of Spielbergs and Scorseses to hit the market. Creative thinkers can now create imaginary worlds that are as complex and intricate as the creators’ own imaginations.

Okay, so it seems that Tejpaul does touch on a “cohesive experience”. He does oscillate, though, between describing adaptation and extension across media but I think the core sentiment is there. I haven’t seen any of his projects so I don’t know just what he is doing. I’m not clear on what he is doing, but I’m interested.

Describing the difference between stories being extended across media and stories being adapted across media is so important. I spend most of my days doing it. There really is a mono-story and mono-medium consciousness out there. That is why i have changed the terms I use on this blog to describe it. As soon as a term becomes saturated with other meanings, it becomes ineffective. ‘Convergence’ and ‘cross-media’ both suffer from this problem. People employ both of them to mean a range of conflicting ideas. Lately, I’ve been using ‘cross-media’ to describe the whole range of options available (including repurposing and adaptation) and trying to keep ‘transmedia’ as referring to extensions. I use multi-platform alot because it is accessible to many people too. That is why I get irritated pretty quickly when I see terms being adulterated again. It is a losing battle in some ways…until some key works come out that really cement the form. Anyway, check out Tejpaul’s links:

Interview at SISOMO: http://www.sisomo.com/sisomo/article/tejpaul_bhatia_multiplatform_storytelling/

Article in StreamingMedia: http://www.streamingmedia.com/article.asp?id=9465

Tej Media Networks: http://www.tejmedia.com/

Tejpaul’s blog: http://tejpaul.blogspot.com/