The arrival of Fortitude – ITV’s new blockbuster series set in the Arctic Circle – was heralded in January by the appearance of an animatronic polar bear roaming the streets of London, much to the surprise of bemused commuters. It was an exciting event in its own right, but audiences would have to wait to watch the TV series to understand its full significance. The first episode would be dominated by a polar bear’s rampage in the fictional town of Fortitude, making the London event an exciting intrusion of the TV series into physical reality.
As a PR event, it was deemed a success – creating a lot of buzz in the press and on social media. It was also an interesting example of transmedia storytelling – where traditional stories are blown apart, and instead use multiple platforms and touch points to create rich, nonlinear narratives. We’ve seen excellent examples of transmedia in the realm of television. The BBC’s Sherlock has often been held up as a gold standard – by releasing (in-sync with the series) detailed websites and blogs ‘written’ by Sherlock and John Watson, it offered tantalising glimpses into the their lives and even rewarded fans’ curiosity by releasing information on the sites that would only later appear in the TV series. This helped the series gain a cult following and spawned countless unofficial transmedia content spin-offs.
Whereas Sherlock used transmedia to add depth to the world of the series, Channel 4’s 2015 Cucumber, Banana and Tofu uses it to offer multiple perspectives on a single subject – sex and romance in Manchester’s gay community. The three parallel TV series (two dramas, one a documentary aired on Channel 4, E4 and 4OD respectively) shared a common setting and characters, but each had a different viewpoint –Cucumber and Banana focussed on middle-aged and youth gay culture, and Tofu, on factual documentary content.
These examples barely scratch the surface of Transmedia’s future potential. With the inevitable growth of consumer’s access to and familiarity with multi-platform media, it is set to grow exponentially. In a crowded and digitised media landscape, brands must act now to harness the opportunity presented by transmedia techniques for creating genuinely engaging and immersive stories.