By her own telling, Alison Norrington’s transmedia career really took off when she figured out how to deconstruct her “chicklit” stories beyond the written page onto blogs, social networks and other digital platforms. Her romance novel fans exploded with excitement and engagement. So did Alison’s career.
Before long she was chair of the influential, if short-lived transmedia summit called Story World, where she harnessed an enviable supply of energy and creativity to showcase nearly every soul in the transmedia field.
So it was no surprise when she was hired by Harlequin, the world’s most successful publisher of romantic fiction, to help them create The Chatsfield, which just launched on May 6th at http://www.thechatsfield.com.
This is a ground-breaking digital series that uses multiple video, digital, social and mobile channels and formats alongside traditional publishing to deliver a unique experience for Harlequin’s gazillion fans.
I urge you to explore the site, create an account, and consume the story as it unfolds all over the web in the next three months – and not only because I’ve been deeply involved in this project on behalf of my client Theatrics.com. Don’t take my word for it: check out some of the press coverage here (WIRED), here (The Telegraph), here (The Guardian) and here (USA Today), not to mention the blogs and trade coverage. It's big news.
Even though my own taste in genre fiction runs more towards hard-boiled detectives and spies, I think we all have a lot to learn from this high-wire experiment in story formatting and fan engagement. If it succeeds, we’re likely to see more deployments with other story worlds, especially now that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has announced plans to acquire Harlequin.
The Chatsfield is a story set within the world of a luxury London hotel. “Harlequin has created a luxury hotel, an executive assistant with a bet to fulfill, a gorgeous barman with a dark past, a chambermaid with a side line that brings her huge amounts of cash, a permanent resident in the penthouse who throws the wildest parties to avoid thinking about a sad event from the past. The characters tell their stories side by side, stitching together the bigger picture like a movie but you, as the user, find all the pieces.”
My involvement with The Chatsfield began a year ago, when I began to spend time with Ms. Norrington on her frequent trips to Los Angeles to spitball ideas about various puzzle pieces might be deployed for this transmedia universe, and how they should connect with each other and with fans.
By winter, I had met Harlequin executives Tim Cooper and Jo Kite, and began to formulate different ways the Theatrics platform could help. The key was user-engagement.
In its earliest format designs, most of The Chatsfield pre-written and pre-produced content was to be found and consumed on sites around the web -- YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, SMS, and even phone calls. It would be managed via Robert Pratten’s Conducttr product, a sort of command-and-control system for storing, releasing and tracking content and user data across all the different digital venues.
That also meant that user interaction like comments and sharing would occur on sites other than the story world’s central hub, a beautiful faux hotel web site at www.thechatsfield.com designed by boutique agency BTL Brands.
With the addition of a customized version of the Theatrics platform, the site now has a dedicated location (“The Lounge”) where fans (“Chatsfield guests”) can gossip about characters and their stories as they unfold, and along they way perhaps create their own sub-plots and red herrings. They can post video, images and text, follow and respond to each other, and give a “cheer” to the posts they like – all of which earn points in an integrated gamefication scheme.
To achieve his, Theatrics executed a complete integration with the Conducttr user-management system, including single sign-on, global integration of points and badges, and seamless navigation and user experience.
A tip of the hat to the entire team, especially engineers Alexey Ossikine in Boston and Arif Sayyad in Houston (and his team in India), without whom the project would not have launched.
This project represents a new direction for the Theatrics platform – an application we have dubbed ENGAGE. The traditional Theatrics storytelling format, in which fans create their own fictional characters, is being redesigned as Theatrics STORY. And there is more to come.
We look forward to seeing how The Chatsfield experience unfolds, and some other applications of our platform beyond the storytelling paradigm with which we started.