SXSW 2012: My Transmedia Journal

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a set of film, interactive and music festivals and conferences that take place every spring in Austin Texas.

SXSW began in 1987, and has continued to grow in size every year. It was my first time to the event. I found it an innovation smorgasbord, with the latest technologies, most innovative companies in attendance across the web, mobile, film, advertising and music industries.

Marking its 26th year, SXSW swept across Austin, taking over various concert venues, bars, hotel suites, meeting rooms and the Austin Convention Center.
Once arriving you quickly get the impression that attendees were expecting, and even hoping for some new location-based technology to launch and continue the noise about the importance of social media.

I was hoping the opposite to be perfectly honest. I already have enough social media apps on my phone to connect with people. Although I do admit to attending the event and downloading the new app Highlight 1.1.

In my mind there is already enough evidence of the power of interactive sharing tools and platforms. Connecting to your friends happens everyday. My goal for the festival was a simple one. I wanted to find the people who are producing the most compelling interactive content that is shared on the existing interconnected pipes. I wanted to understand their approaches on how each message is modified and optimized for all the most popular screens to continue engagement.

I decided with this approach I would be able to find the story tellers focussed on using transmedia techniques. Transmedia is a form of storytelling delivered across multiple platforms and channels over time. It’s more than just integrating online and offline experiences. It’s about dispersing the story systematically across multiple media, each making their own unique contribution to the whole.

And when done right, transmedia puts a story and message on surround sound with the audience participating right in the middle.

Image sourced from NM Incite, a Nielsen McKinsey company

I thought if I was focussed on finding well crafted transmedia content examples I could navigate the hundreds of talks on offer.

What I found over the six days were some talented people developing unique content for the right channel, and on the right screen at the right time to enhance the content story and advance the users purpose to change behaviour.

Below are my comments from eleven talks I attended that I really found interesting. I have also provided some external web links to stories about these panels so you can read further opinions.
I should warn you, like all my blog posts this was drafted very quickly. I did this on my flight home to San Francisco while it was fresh in my mind. That said I hope you find the notes and the links of interest.
Overall I throughly enjoyed SXSW and I received some well overdue inspiration. I will certainly be back in 2013.

Panelists –

Walter Werzowa, developed mnemonic for Intel.
Greg Johnson, Creative director for HP
Robin Lanahan, Director of design and brand strategy, startup business group, Microsoft.

Brands today exist in multiple mediums, defined by multiple voices. The media brands inhabit is iterative, with no beginning, no end, and little permanency. In that context, adherence to a big idea and endless repetition of centralized, fixed rules can make a brand seem unresponsive and out of step with its audience. But without repetition, how does a brand create consistency? And without consistency, how does a brand maintain value?

The panelists in this session put forth the idea that a consistent brand today can only be achieved by creating patterns. These patterns should be distinctive (ownable, signature expressions), relevant (personal, meaningful) and active (delivering, doing, moving).

The pattern language should also always follow a consistent story. While the channel and goal of the communication may change, a tightly defined story framework, and an ownable pattern language, can convey a focused brand.

The power of patterns as a branding element was best demonstrated by Walter . He illustrated, by breaking down Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, that repeating the same series of notes would be boring but varying the basic motive resulted in emotion and engagement. With brands, as in music, one needs the right combination of what is expected and what is new to convey an engaging message over time.

The talk slides are worth a look.

Talk 2: Future of Entertainment: Viewer Becomes User

Panelists Mike Scogin, vice president of wireless and mobile for MTV Networks; Paul Chang, senior marketing manager for Showtime; Jared Hecht, co-founder of GroupMe; Kimber Myers, director of partnerships for GetGlue; and Tom Thai, vice president of marketing and business development for Bluefin Labs Inc discussed how audiences and brands are increasing visibility through apps and allowing audiences to transition from being simple “viewers” to actual “users” as they communicate directly with media through evolving social media platforms.
A good read about this talk was written by Impact Community newspaper and found here;

The Code is a BBC documentary about Professor Marcus du Sautoy’s search of a mysterious code that governs our world through numbers, shapes and patterns. It’s also a next-generation transmedia treasure hunt aimed at all ages and abilities that takes place online through games, puzzles, Facebook and Twitter, in the real world, and in Lost-style clues hidden within the TV show itself.

The Code is one of the most ambitious ‘native transmedia’ projects ever created by the BBC and Six to Start, and it demonstrates what’s possible when a broadcaster with the reach, reputation, and quality of the BBC meets the breadth and depth of engagement that the web can provide.

Talk 4: Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV

Bravo defines “Transmedia” as storytelling across different media platforms. Lisa Hsia, Bravo’s digital media department, said the channel employed transmedia “out of desperation” to keep their content, both on the computer screen and television screen, fresh.

Dave Serwatka, Bravo’s Vice President of Current and Cross Platform Productions, chose one of Bravo’s flagship shows, Top Chef, because he believed it was an ideal choice for Bravo’s transmedia initiative. Top Chef employed the mediums of internet webisodes (with their online show Last Chance Kitchen), responses through Twitter with assigned hashtags that were broadcasted on air, and traditional television.

Henry Jenkins from Fast Company wrote an excellent article on the ‘Seven Myths About Transmedia Storytelling‘. Also Time Magazine wrote a wonderful story on the talk, follow the link here

Talk 5: The Wars of Tech

Steven Levy is a senior writer for Wired, the former chief technology correspondent for Newsweek and the author of seven books. Washington Post describes him as “American’s premier technology journalist.”
Steven spoke how he felt you can get caught up with the horse races of Facebook versus Google or Microsoft versus Apple or record labels versus the Internet. But in nearly 30 years of covering technology he feels the major conflicts are those of philosophy, politics and power.
He described the last few decades as a spectacular cycle of fantasy novels with the Hacker Spirit as the protagonist and amazing supporting characters including Steve Jobs, Richard Stallman, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Stephen Wolfram, Whitfield Diffie, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Here is Storify account of the talk.

Nearly two decades ago, independent film ushered in a wave of new voices, new stories and a new way of looking at the industry.
Fast forward to present day and independent games are reinvigorating an industry in the same way. The parallels between these respective moments in time are quite strong.
In an age of online distribution and accessible technology, the independent artist of today would seem to have quite a bit more weighted in their favour.
The panel was hosted by Lisanne Pajot, a director whose film Indie Game: The Movie was an official selection at the SXSW Film Festival, and also happened to feature Fish and his adventures in developing Fez.
A good interview with Phil Fish after the panel can be found here.

Amber Case  founded CyborgCamp, a conference on the future of humans and computers.
Her main focus is on mobile software, augmented reality and data visualization, as these reduce the amount of time and space it takes for people to connect with information.
Case founded, a private location sharing application, out of a frustration with existing social protocols around text messaging and wayfinding.
She formerly worked at global advertising agency. In 2010, she was named by Fast Company Magazine as one of the Most Influential Women in Tech.
Time Magazine wrote a wonderful story on the talk, find it here.

This talk was hosted by Matthew Bishop from The Economist, the session brought together Neil Powell, founder of The Information Blanket; Cindy Gallop, founder of If We Ran the World; Margaret Keene, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA, the agency helping Toyota harness the power of their brand with programs like “Ideas for good” and “100 cars for good;” and Leo Premutico, co-founder of Johannes Leonardo, to explore the intersection of ethics and economics and look at why driving for social good has become has the guiding principle for the world’s leading innovators.

A good summary blog post on this talk from Helen Nowicka from Porter Novelli can be found here.

Andrew McAfee, author of “Race Against the Machine,” interviewed  Tim O’Reilly the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. A good summary blog post on this talk from W Craig Tomlin can be found here.

Hulu content Senior Vice President Andy Forssell moderated a panel entitled “Changing the Channel: The New Golden Age of TV.” Enlisting filmmakers Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) and Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) and actor Timothy “Speed” Levitch (“The Cruise”) for a discussion about the migration of television content to online outlets such as Hulu. See more here.
Al Gore the former US Vice-President and Sean Parker Napster and Facebook fame presented in front of a packed house on how digital has the power to disrupt what Gore described as ‘Democracy has been hacked…it’s time for Occupy Democracy”.
The rallying cry of Al Gore, talked about his work with campaigning sites Votizen and NationBuilder.
Gore applauded the recent efforts Stateside to stop SOPA, urged people to also campaign against efforts by governments worldwide to censor the internet and talked passionately about the coroding effects on US politicians of the efforts to keep collecting money from special interests to pay for TV campaign ads.
Parker talked about his belief that new online tools will reduce the need for such cash-calls and ensure campaigning is less dominated by TV coverage. He admitted that just because there are large numbers of people online with digital personas, it doesn’t mean that they’ll do anything other than “build farms” (zing-Zynga). He explained that passive participation in the political process through low effort online petitions is not the same as getting people who are connected online to meet offline and protest


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