From Tie-Ins (marketing) to Transmedia (art)

On June 22, 2007 by Christy

A month or so ago I gave a talk at Sydney University called ‘Multi-Platform Art Versus Commodity Intertexts’. The aim of the talk was two-fold: to explore just what has changed in the object (entertainment) from so-called marketing tie-ins of the past and ‘transmedia’ forms of the present as espoused by Henry Jenkins and myself among others; and also to explore how the study of these objects has changed (the idea being that sometimes it is the researcher that has changed, not the object).

I notice that many people presume that any extension of a storyworld across media platforms is a mere marketing exercise that has no artistic intention. In trying to understand this I’ve looked at just what qualities in an object lends itself to this view. I hypothesized that one of the values people use to make a decision about art is the producer. And so, in my talk I removed the title and producer of a work, described the construction of it — how the elements in each media relate to each other in as neutral way I could — and then asked the students to tell me whether they thought it was marketing or art. They named it art. The work I described was the alternate reality game The Beast — a campaign commissioned by Microsoft and Dreamworks to market Steven Speilberg’s A.I. It is a ‘marketing campaign’ that has, incidently, been described as ‘the Citizen Kane of online entertainment’.

I also looked at what possible qualities there are inside the work that signify a difference from so-called ‘tie-ins’ of the past and the ‘transmedia’ forms of the present. Here are some differences I posited:

  • creative control over the extensions either by having the same creator or commissioned creators;
  • part of the primary narrative (needed for coherence);
  • deals with primary characters and settings;
  • conceived at the time of creation rather than after it;
  • consideration of the combined experience of the units in each medium for a particular (polymorphic) aesthetic effect;
  • cross-media traversal techniques are embedded in the work;
  • consideration of relationship between the narrative information, medium, arts type and audiences;
  • a sincere representation of the artistic preferences (transliteracies) of the creator;
  • targets and is experienced by more than fans;
  • ubiquity: employed by many major entertainment corporations, but also by independent artists and writers…

Now, these are just some, and they are not the only factors and are not strictly speaking the only way to identify a work with artistic intentions (which can also have economic ones). But I think these are some of the markers that distinguish works. What do you think?