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Textbook Transmedia

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As New Zealand university students start a new semester, Anna Jackson reflects on the value of studying transmedia.

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As New Zealand university students start a new semester, Anna Jackson reflects on the value of studying transmedia.

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When Transmedia NZ first began I found myself having to do a lot of defining and explaining, but as awareness of transmedia grew discussions turned from what to how. I'm about to begin teaching transmedia papers at AUT’s Colab this semester, and in my new role (particularly when introducing myself to colleagues from other departments) I find once again that I often need to explain the concept. In doing so I’ve been re-examining the need for the transmedia label and thinking a great deal about why it matters, particularly within an academic context.

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 the Producers 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 or Apocalypse 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.

Written by

Transmedia NZ

9 Mar 2015

Interests Transmedia NZ supports the ongoing development of New Zealand’s Transmedia production community, creating opportunities for collaboration and innovation, and the sharing of knowledge and ideas.