March 10th, 2012

Doing Transmedia Right #SXSWi

Transmedia is about storytelling across multiple platforms, or basically, integrating online and offline experiences. “In transmedia, elements of a story are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms, each making their own unique contribution to the whole.” And when done right, transmedia puts a brand message on surround sound with the audience right in the middle.

At SXSW 2011, there was much talk about transmedia as an up-and-coming trend. But this year, there are brands that actually have transmedia case studies to share. I sat in on two sessions today where brands shared how they executed transmedia experiences successfully:


The standard audience for a BBC documentary is 55+ year-old males. They needed to broaden their audience and BBC decided to do that with a documentary called “The Code” by making it a transmedia experience. To pull this off, they partnered with a company that specializes in transmedia storytelling, Six to Start. Adrian Hon from Six to Start presented the story of “The Code” to the SXSW audience today.

Hon described how they took a traditional documentary (about seeing code and patterns in nature) and added the following elements to it to create the surround sound experience of transmedia:

  • A treasure hunt (overarching puzzle/game/theme)
  • Opt-in communication to tease the upcoming show/hunt with clues (direct mail, opt-in from existing Twitter audiences of Six to Start and BBC) (the direct mail pieces were numbered and recipients ended up forming a Facebook group to figure out how all their postcards fit together and what the clue was)
  • Hidden clues within the documentary (television)
  • Online videos with hidden clues (YouTube)
  • Online games with hidden clues (syndicated across the web)
  • Code breaker (Flash application for website)

BBC worked hard to keep the barrier to entry very low: it wasn’t hard to start playing the game or find the clues across the various channels. But, there were tiers to the reveal as BBC carefully considered the difficulty curve. Once a player put the first round of clues together, he or she unlocked an 86-page puzzle book. Solving the puzzle revealed more clues. On their own, players created a Facebook page and a wiki for helping each other piece together the clues.

Ultimately, the viewership of “The Code” documentary tripled viewership numbers of the traditional documentaries, tens of thousands of people participated in the wiki puzzle book conversations and a woman actually solved the puzzle first to win the “treasure” (a unique, 3D printed trophy made of varying medals).


The panel from Bravo said they turned to transmedia out of desperation. They were basically using “Top Chef” leftovers online and gaining very little traction or engagement from fans. They needed something that could carry the show through fans’ lives more than the one time a week it aired on television. They set out with a transmedia plan hoping to generate about a million streams online.

The plan included:

  • A web video series called “Last Chance Kitchen” where eliminated chefs could compete to get back on the show. These online events impacted the final outcome of the on-air show.
  • Online fan voting for favorite chefs
  • Contestant social media activity, allowing fans to get to know their personalities
  • Game layer on the “Top Chef” website where fans accumulated points for activity on the site (reading the blog, voting for their favorite chef, watching webisodes, etc.)
  • Social media integration at all levels (moles, tweet battles, etc.)

Bravo executed this with one person dedicated to social media, but a full team of approximately 25 people helping to pull it all together. The web series got over eight million streams. It was the highest streamed series on NBCU ever and 26% of on-air show watched “Last Chance Kitchen.” They are still trying to understand the metrics for impact to their sole sponsor of the entire experience, Toyota, and are undergoing their most ambitious research effort ever to put together a full measurement report.

Because of the success with “Top Chef,” Bravo is looking across its other shows to determine how to create transmedia experiences for those audiences, as well. Up next: co-creation with and by fans with a social game for “Real Housewives of New York.”

Based on the level of complexity, the number of moving parts and the number of people that need to be involved to pull of a transmedia experience, embarking on a transmedia campaign can seem daunting. But, based on the results with the increased audience engagement, its seems an expense worth investing.

Read more about transmedia here:

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