With transmedia storytelling gaining greater prevalence, Steven Balbirnie looks at the influence of this technique on the modern television series

Transmedia storytelling may sound like an unfamiliar concept, but it is a narrative method that you have probably experienced already. According to Professor Henry Jenkins of the University of Southern California, transmedia storytelling represents “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.”

Taking a multi-platform approach to a franchise assists in the world-building process by allowing the audience to see alternative perspectives or aspects of a fictional world. In cinema, the accompaniment of the release of The Matrix Reloaded with the videogame Enter The Matrix and the animation The Animatrix, provides a prime example of transmedia storytelling in action.

Television series have now jumped on the bandwagon as well. The most prominent current series to implement this technique are The Walking Dead and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. With The Walking Dead, this has taken the form of the web series that have appeared on AMC’s website in between each season of the show. These webisodes flesh out the wider world of the series by following stories that intersect with the plight of Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors.

The first web series, Torn Apart, follows the backstory to the first walker that Rick kills, while the most recent series, The Oath, is set in the hospital where Rick was comatose at the beginning of season one and explains the origin of the iconic “Don’t Open. Dead Inside” doors.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series has been designed to complement the feature films of the Marvel cinematic universe. The show follows the background characters that provide the support network to the Avengers. Agent Coulson takes centre stage, thus developing the story arc of a character that played a pivotal supporting cast role in several of Marvel’s recent film adaptations.

So, what are the advantages to taking this transmedia storytelling approach, and why is it becoming increasingly common? There are several reasons. One is that it allows the creators to explore unused ideas just as the film Serenity did in regards to the series Firefly, and how the Dark Horse comic series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer continued the storyline of the television show.

Another reason is that it gives the audience a greater feeling of participation, as they have to piece the intertextual links together. Channel 4’s Skins did this by maintaining fictional profiles for the show’s characters on social networking websites.

The two reasons of greatest significance, however, are that transmedia storytelling sates the appetites of fans in between major instalments of a franchise, and it also helps to generate hype ahead of the next major release.

Transmedia storytelling represents not just a new artistic approach, but a pervasive method of marketing and thus its rise in television and in other media trend that continues to revolutionise the way we enjoy media.