Brian Clark on Transmedia Business Models (Part Two)

This is the second in a five part series on transmedia business models written by veteran crossplatform and indie media producer Brian Clark. DISSECTING THE "TRADITIONAL" TRANSMEDIA MODELS

by Brian Clark

Most of the money fueling innovation in transmedia storytelling falls into one of three major buckets: entertainment properties created as extended experiences around a core media product; advertising properties created to advance the marketing of a brand; and issues advancing properties created to promote a topic or perspective. In the last installment, I proposed a "business model lens" for looking at some of issues hampering innovation in the new forms of storytelling. There's no better place to start than where the money is.

The Danger of Tactical Functionality

In truth, all three of these "traditional" transmedia models actually share the same business plan solution, one that focuses on the proven usefulness of transmedia as a tactical function. Let's take a look at the five business plan statements from the point of view of an entertainment, brand or issue property:

  1. FUNDING: From a brand / studio / granting organization.

  2. RETURN: Measureable results against a particular goal.
  3. SUSTAINABILITY: Tacking fees onto the funding, perhaps with a back-end percentage.
  4. AUDIENCE: The funder will decide who the audience is based upon their goal.
  5. PROMOTION: Through a combination of owned, earned and paid media.

So if a big brand hires you to create a transmedia marketing campaign, they are actually hiring you to use transmedia tactics to accomplish some particular goal -- perhaps to sell cars or videogames, perhaps to increase brand awareness or enhance brand perception, perhaps to generate leads or social sharing. From the funder's point of view, the cost of doing it must be justified by the results they hope will be delivered.

Big media brands work the same way as non-media brands in the current marketplace, because the budgets for those efforts are most typically from the marketing and promotions expenditures from the studio's point of view. The tactical goal might be different -- for example, film studios are often interested in "butts in seats" in the opening weekend as a marketing goal that they spend against -- but the focus on "transmedia as tactic" is identical.

Issues projects are slightly different, but share most of the same attributes. From a grantor's point of view, the results your effort could create per dollar granted is being evaluated not just against the funder's mission but also against the submissions you're competing against for that same funding. Typically, the fees tacked on are much less than with brands and entertainment projects, and grantors typically are less willing to provide fuel for paid media promotion than financers who are in the business of paid media.

The most noticeable difference between these three models is how they deal with the ownership of intellectual property. Brand marketing campaigns are nearly always a work for hire, which means you don't own the intellectual property you created because you were compensated to create it (although there are "branded entertainment" trends in those industries that are changing that). Entertainment properties tend to be similar, but as an industry they are more used to discussions regarding back-end percentages on direct revenue your work might create (and that trend towards "branded entertainment" is similarly impactful.) Issues funders are less likely to be focused on the ownership of the underlying IP, although some might put a re-compensation clause on funding that returns some small percentage of revenue back to the granting organization.

Their greatest similarity is the focus on transmedia tactical usefulness to accomplishing particular goals. Being useful brings with it baggage. There is a tendency to treat the work as disposable, like an advertisement or a poster promoting a band's gig or a banner painted for a traveling sideshow. It can be beautiful, it can be moving, it can be groundbreaking, but these aren't the way the work will be ultimately evaluated. The goal will be accomplished or it won't, but continued activities require continued funding.

Patronage as Lichen, Studio as Old Growth Forest

Since ancient times, there has always been a deep connection between the arts and systems of patronage. In the modern media age (from say 1920s onward), those patrons and sponsors have become brands and studios and corporations instead of kings and churches. Even the meaning of the phrase "sponsor" has grown in modern parlance to have both the implication of commercial ("and now a word from our sponsor") and of patronage ("a proud sponsor of the Olympics") intertwined. The advantage for the sponsors has always been the platform to advance their own ambitions.

Frequently, patronage is one of the first business models to develop in each periodic revolution in how media get delivered -- for example, the soap opera format first developed for radio that came about as branded entertainment for, you guessed it, soap manufacturers. Like lichen, it is the first part of the ecosystem that can thrive and that, in the process, lays the foundations for more complex ecosystems to develop (especially for those that are entrepreneurial in nature).

Eventually, the media becomes so successful (and mass producible as technique, like "the movie ticket") that an industry will emerge -- like in publishing, radio, film, television, etc. You could think of some of those industries as old growth forest, one of the last ecosystems to develop that requires a level of stability in the environment. Much of the revolution you see in every other media is tied to disruptions and inefficiencies in those stable business models that allow for those old growth forests, and most of that is both created and solved by entrepreneurial independents working against/with the old growth forests.

If we think that lichen is really cool and totally enough, patronage models are tremendous -- even those of us who aspire to more than that appreciate the fun of a nice big commercial innovation project. Many of my peers and I, though, hail from the more decidedly independent communities around music, film and new media. There, you work from the assumption that you'll probably never have access to the traditional system (but maybe you might) but still want to find a way to create a sustainable career making this kind of work. The transmedia movement has no traditional system to be excluded from, and the traditional system is the patronage model. What would it look like if the last hundred years of independent media business models were all research and development learning for this moment in time, before there was a real industry? In the next three installments, we'll go through ten business models that should provide inspiration for innovation.

Brian Clark is the founder and CEO of GMD Studios, a 16-year-old experience design lab based in Winter Park, Florida. He lives in New York City and occasionally tweets as @gmdclark