Heroes – Transmedia Storytelling

Another inspiring panel at SXSW featured Tim Kring as interviewee. He is a screenwriter and began his carrer with episodes for Knight Rider, achieved his breakthrough with the cult series Crossing Jordan and since 2006 with Heroes: in an alternative reality the protagonists discover they have super-powers.

What would Rupert do?

The usual marketing scheme for a successful series would be selling licensed products. So there is a loveless website, t-shirts, coffee mugs, DVDs, comics, eventually the stars produce a mediocre pop song. Fan pages will be sued, and the industry would bitch about weak sales because of evil pirates. However we’ve seen more successful ways, for example when the fantasy and science fiction novels that came along with Forgotten Realms or Shadowrun became more popular than the original role-playing games. All those products are set in the same fictional world, but the different media remain closed in themselves: for understanding the novels it is not necessary to know the game.

Then what is transmedia? Here is a quick introduction:

Heroes Transmedia Storytelling Extensions

“Heroes provides the most innovative and immersive interactive TV experience on the web.”

Central in that universe is the TV series, accompanied by a wiki, web comics (in JPEG, flash or PDF format), several websites, mobile strategies, webisodes exclusively published on the web and many more – and they all form a narrative whole!

Transmedia Storytelling

Primatech Paper business card When a character doesn’t appear in the series for a couple of episodes, their story goes on in the webcomics. The fictional characters have their own blogs, pages on MySpace and Facebook and ask their fans for help via SMS. Hanna even publishes clips from news channels in her blog. A fictional candidate for the US congress has his own website hacked by Hanna. Another discusses scientific theories in his book Activating Evolution (would be even more convincing if it was out-of-sale at Amazon). Fictional companies appear in the series, fans can apply for jobs on their websites thus getting insider information, or they can “hack” their surveillance cameras. Fan fiction and art is supported and can eventually become part of the series.

peko bird on NabooThat idea isn’t exactly new, emotionally drawing in the fan base through “secret” information. As early as 1997, before the Star Wars prequels, George Lucas registered numerous domains temporarily forwarding to starwars.com. Then the information was spread around in Usenet and they observed which domains generated the most page views. Then a mysterious swamp environment was created at naboo.com. Apart from the usual swamp noise we can hear the calls of the Peko bird and the Nuna toad. Subtly playing with the methods of easter eggs those animals will move across the screen when you enter “peko” or “nuna” hearing their sounds. After about five minutes the swamp water begins to ripple. If you click on it you originally landed on a simple page with background information. Of course ten years later Heroes is editing and interweaving the content more elaborately – originally there were five people on their web team, now there are more than fifty.

panel from the web comic where the protagonist reads an SMS Heroes has a world wide fan community – even in countries where the series isn’t officially aired on TV. It’s one of the most unauthorized downloaded torrents on the web. At least producer Tim Kring doesn’t mind that: Kring says “we fish where the fish are.” The whole multimedia strategy is designed for numerous sources of income. If fans get hooked via illegal downloads, the company will earn money elsewhere with them.

Most importantly today’s fans want to participate in “their” series, and this means more than offering contests and sueing them when they actually adopt content. Heroes is the pioneer massively involving their fan community into that complex alternate reality. The web provides the central communication platform, technically but most important creatively. In that depth this is an entirely new challenge for TV providers and Internet agencies!

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