SXSW 2013 featured at least a dozen transmedia sessions – more, depending upon the degree of elasticity you confer upon that very elastic term.
Among them, the first officially sanctioned meet-up of transmedia meet-ups from around the world, organized by Paris-based Karine Halpern, including folks from groups in New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, as well as producers, tools-makers, broadcasters, academics, and technologists interested in the transmedia movement -- altogether about 50 attendees.
The session’s call to action announced the intention to form a Transmedia Alliance in order to formalize ties between transmedia groups under the umbrella of an international non-profit. Its goals would include: sustaining the global transmedia community, promoting best practices, helping newcomers enter the field, and sharing knowledge.
The idea of an alliance was stimulated by the upsurge of activity by local transmedia meetups since the first StoryWorld Conference in San Francisco in October 2011, when a similar meetup of meetups was held. Informal ties between groups have continued, including groups on Facebook and Linked In. For many activists like Halpern, something more structured is required. Her model is Transmedia Europe, which launched last January.
The session at SXSW lasted only an hour, barely enough time to get through introductions, so the hard work of organizational structure, governance, and operational process remains to be achieved. It’s hard to do that kind of work at a crazy conference like SXSW, that’s for sure. And harder still across thousands of miles.
On the other hand, the session relocated to the bar, which I skipped in favor of something I needed to do for a client. So I cannot report on what next steps may be contemplated, or whether incorporation, bilaws, membership eligibility or structure have yet been formalized for the Transmedia Alliance.
Thoughts on Organization
Groups like Transmedia Alliance face not only the inherent difficulties of launching and sustaining an organization, but also the challenge of moving from a movement to an institution. Its constituents are diverse (producers, academics, startups) and strewn across the globe. Groups are voluntary, with shifting membership, and often leaders burnout.
And yet, we have successful examples upon which to build. During the final panel of Story World 2012, I compared today’s transmedia movement to the independent film and video movement of the 1970’s, and called for organizations and resources that could help to sustain the artform as it grows. Here are some models from that era.
The Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF) was created in the 1970s as a membership group (with dues) to provide services (jobs boards, health insurance, lobbying, newsletter). It lasted almost 30 years before its assets were sold. Contemporaneous groups for indie filmmakers like the IFP and Film Independent grew more rapidly and survive to this day. Is there need for a separate transmedia membership group with a service mission?
A more apt model is probably NAMAC, formed in 1980 as a coalition of media arts centers that sprang up to support media production, due to the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts. NAMAC has evolved and survived, even as that funding and the initial leaders have faded from the scene. NAMAC started as an organization of organizations.
Another model was the Coalition for New Public Affairs Programming, which was set up to lobby for visibility, funding and policy changes on behalf of 20 grassroots video groups (like TVTV and the Videofreex about which a new film will be made with this Kickstarter campaign.) I became the chief lobbyist. We helped change the 1976 Telecommunications Act, as well as grant programs at foundations and public media entities. Once those goals were achieved, we dissolved the group.
In all of these examples, activists saw the need to transcend local or individual needs in order to act as one under the leadership of a constituency. Contemporary examples include the Interactive Media Peer Group of the Television Academy and the PGA New Media Council, both of which include a lot of transmedia producers.
The Yin/Yang of Conferences
Conferences have played an important, if erratic role in helping to grow the transmedia movement. StoryWorld 1 was a very exciting moment during which the movement seemed to take the world stage, but StoryWorld 2 last October in LA was disappointing, despite a diverse and enlightening line-up of conference activities organized by Alison Norrington. It is not clear if edition 3 will happen because of the economics of commercial conference management.
This August’s Transvergence Summit is poised to move into the market for a commercial conference designed to serve the transmedia community and will run a Story Hackathon with StoryCode. They have launched a blog under the banner of the Transmedia Coalition (full disclosure, I’m a member of this group, along with many others from the transmedia movement).
Also on the conference track are: Transmedia Hollywood a collaboration of USC and UCLA, offers an academic lens on the movement and is led by transmedia's spiritual leader, Henry Jenkins. The various Digital Hollywood events routinely showcase transmedia case studies, as do smaller events like the Future of Storytelling in New York and a slew of European confabs like Power to the Pixel and MIP.
Successful nonprofits require a mix of passionate membership, inspired and hard-working leaders, a clear and widely embraced mission, and a path for sustainability, which usually means money. Conferences are not enough.
The emergence of the Transmedia Alliance may provide a marker for the evolution of the movement. Follow their progress on the web here. Bon Chance!
This post was published on the blog of Transmedia Coalition, a project of Createasphere.