Transmedia tales lead Understanding Youth

“Transmedia is not just about buying ads on multiple platforms.”

Those words were from Columbia journalism professor Dr. Adam Klein in the first few minutes of his keynote presentation at yesterday’s Understanding Youth conference in Toronto, presented by strategy magazine.

The first speaker of the day, Klien has worked with some of the biggest mediacos in the business – VideoEgg, EMI, Hasbro, MTV and Ask Jeeves – in addition to his academic career at Columbia and Harvard.

Defining transmedia as being “about different entry points that co-exist but have an individual life,” Klein said that media strategies too often focus only on a linear way of thinking, with execs choosing to think of transmedia as something that can be purchased and left alone. But today’s digital-native youth don’t approach life in a linear fashion and that means you have to think about media in a whole new way if you want to reach them.

“It is about relationships,” he said of transmedia. “It is about relationships built on all platforms. It’s about the relationships that come from engaging through the user creations.”

Transmedia is bi-directional, it’s co-creation with your audience and if you’re not prepared to participate with your audience, then you will not engage them, he said. Campaigns, or media companies, that don’t achieve that will soon be irrelevant, he said, citing as a primary example the music industry, which failed to accept technological change, and pointed to future media examples such as MTV (“I predict that MTV networks will be irrelevant in five to 10 years”) and the New York Times (“heading to oblivion”). Creating media strategies to reach young people today, he said, is always remembering how they use media today, namely when they want and where they want. Bucking that trend, he said, will get you nowhere, or worse (see MTV comment). Success in the new media world, he quipped, is “about the ability to perform an unnatural act: to promote and sustain constant innovation.”

Klein’s thought-provoking presentation was followed by Mark Bishop of Marblemedia, the Canadian prodco with a speciality in transmedia and integrated content.

Using examples from Marblemedia’s stable of animated and live programming, Bishop illustrated some of the ways the company reaches the two to six-year-old demographic through its “This is Daniel Cook” and “This is Emily Yeung” programs and complementary interactive properties.

The key to successful transmedia, Bishop said, is not in repeating content across multiple platforms, but customizing content to each. The “This is…” websites are one example, he said, and the company’s Taste Buds programming and website are another. Taste Buds is a live-action kids cooking show (for seven to 10 year olds), and Bishop explained that it was developed specifically with interactivity in mind, for both kids and parents. The link between the real and virtual worlds is the Chillbot, a “high tech fridge,” with a screen that doubles (creatively) as the skin on the website.

Videos, games and recipes are available on the site, and Bishop said it’s interesting to watch the web traffic differ on the two days the show is aired on TVO Kids: On Saturday mornings, the website traffic is largely game-driven as kids seek out online fun, while on Monday evenings, the traffic is recipe-driven, as parents (ostensibly) seek out the dishes they see on the program. All of Marblemedia’s properties are developed that way from the start, Bishop said, ensuring that interactive and transmedia elements are not out of place within the overall tone and themes of the shows. (He also told the audience that interactive comprises the majority of the budget for a new project being developed at Marble.)

The morning’s transmedia discussions were augmented with some data in the afternoon, complements of Scott Beffort, lead strategist, at Toronto-based Decode. Beffort said that the average Gen Y’er has 43 friends they actively engage with via social media, and only 12% have more than 70 friends they contact regularly. Thirty-five percent have less than 10 friends they engage with at least once a month online. Teens’ online social behavior tends to mimic their “real life” social behavior, Beffort said, so it’s important to reach out to them via both online and offline media. It’s also important to remember that access to a teen online is not a VIP pass into their lives, he emphasized: just because a message is personalized does not mean they will engage with it.

The conference wrapped with a youth panel, moderated by David Diamond of Toronto-based Utours, who told the audience that they typically need to try a product before they “like” it on Facebook, they spend tons of time multitasking with media each day (an average of 10 hours, 45 minutes), they watch TV on their computer screens, and that they really, really like Walmart, which was a very interesting revelation, considering the brand’s mom-friendly image.

In his closing remarks, show host Tony Chpaman, CEO of Capital C, summed up the day’s learning by saying that what he got out of Klein’s speech and the info shared in the cases and research presented, is “we have to put drawbridges everywhere.”

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