TW: In your book, you give reasons as to why, in spite of being part of a hugely successful television phenomenon like LOST, the ARG The LOST Experience didn’t live up to what it could have been. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about that, and some of the risk involved when creatives used to working in one medium have to shift their focus and learn an entirely new one?
FR: I think that’s part of the difficulty. And the other part of the difficulty is what happens when you blur the line between marketing and entertainment. One of the main points in the book I think is that the Internet tends to blur all kinds of boundaries. There are others as well, like the boundary between fiction and reality – which is what I was referencing earlier when I was referencing the fact that people who were watching early web video series would start writing into the characters as if they were real.
There are many ways in which marketing and entertainment are being blurred now. Certainly ARGs are one of them. Even though the Year Zero game was not meant to be a marketing campaign (in fact, Trent [Reznor] paid for it out of his own money rather than letting the record companies pay for it), things can get very bolloxed up.
With most of the ARGs that 42 [Entertainment] has done like Why So Serious for The Dark Knight and Year Zero and so forth, they’ve been very well structured. With The LOST Experience, it was not done in nearly so savvy a way. In particular, there seems to have been a lot of miscommunication between the marketing people at ABC and the showrunners for LOST, and things started to get bolloxed up when they tried to get the sponsors for the show involved in The LOST Experience. And it’s not impossible to do that in a way that works, but as with something so simple as product placement, it’s also real easy to screw it up. Anything that’s going to be too obvious is going to screw it up.
With The LOST Experience, what the people who were creating it realized was that they were expected not only to work the advertisers in but they were expected to drive traffic to the advertiser’s websites, which is an entirely ridiculous idea. For the most part, advertisers have given up even trying to drive traffic to micro-sites – they’re much more likely to go on Facebook for something.
There was no clear understanding — or very savvy understanding — who it was for. That’s often an issue. Things like this are very good at building excitement for something. Typically, they’re not too good at bringing in an entirely new audience. They tend to be more for the committed fans, and what they’re good at is making committed fans more committed, and getting them to share things with other people. But you don’t typically bring in tons of entirely new fans through something like this.
DEFINING TRANSMEDIA – TO AN 85-YEAR-OLD GRANDMOTHER
TW: I’m back in Ohio, around family who look at me and ask “what the hell do you do exactly?” So, on that note, what is Transmedia? But with a twist. How would you define it to an 85-year-old grandmother in the middle of nowhere?
FR: As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of the word transmedia. The idea that people tell stories across multiple media forms in different levels of depth, all of that sort of thing. But how would you explain it to an 85-year old grandmother? (Laughs)
TW: I’ve been struggling with that one myself.
FR: There’s a sense in which people tend to get immersed in all kinds of entertainment, and this is really just another way of making entertainment more immersive. I do see it to some extent as a generational phenomenon, not that it’s only under 30-year-olds who are into it, but for people under 30, probably under 20, it’s an entirely natural way of communicating. People who grow up with all sorts of different screens around them and expect that you’ll be able move more or less seamlessly between one type of screen to another, and the technology hasn’t really kept pace with people’s expectations of it, which is actually often the case.
The idea of immersiveness — that’s something just about anybody can understand. The specifics of how do you combine a TV show with a web component and a comic book or whatever, I think those are — obviously they’re important to anyone who’s a producer — but to a consumer (that’s a word I hate), to people who are enjoying these stories one way or another, it really doesn’t matter. Any way that is possible for them to engage with it is something they’re going to want to do.
What’s happening now is that people are telling the same story, or different aspects of the same story through a number of different media. Obviously that becomes more complicated, especially for the producer, but if it’s done well, it becomes seamless and potentially an immersive experience for the viewer, the reader, or the 85-year-old grandmother.
TW: What do you feel is wrong with the term “transmedia?”
FR: It puts the emphasis on the wrong place, which is the idea that you have to develop stories across different media. I think that’s one technique, and often a very effective one. But I don’t think that becomes the goal in itself. I see a fair number of people to whom that becomes the goal. I don’t think every story should become a transmedia story...."