| drew davidson |




Cross-Media Stories

Excerpts from Cross-Media Communications: an Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences - Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press, 2010. For ACM Interactions Newsletter

Cross-media communications are integrated, interactive experiences that occur across multiple media, with multiple authors and have multiple styles. The audience becomes an active part in a cross-media experience, that can occur across the Internet, video and film, broadcast and cable TV, mobile devices, DVD, print, and radio.

Cross-media is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but it’s time has come to truly flourish. Advertising has always tried to incorporate a unified message across multiple media. In the mid to late 90’s the internet boom promised the incorporation of cross-media interactivity into transmedia experiences, but with the dot.com bust those promises have only now come into fruition. Currently, the technology is ubiquitous enough and the culture is more connected than ever. This has enabled more and more interactive cross-media experiences to begin being designed, developed and experienced. We are entering an era where our media experiences will be integrated together and we will be able to interactively participate in them.

Cross-Media Examples
A good example of cross-media communications is the Star Wars franchise. We can take part in the Star Wars experience by viewing the movies (in the theatre or on DVDs packed with extra features), by playing Star Wars video games (across all game platforms), by reading Star Wars comics and novels, by participating on Star Wars interactive websites, by listening to Star Wars soundtrack CDs, by purchasing Star Wars merchandise, and on and on. The key point here is that the overarching stories in the Star Wars universe are integrated and threaded together across all of these media in what the franchise calls the Expanded Universe.

The Star Wars Universe. (http://www.starwars.com/)

The original Star Wars movie trilogy is the tentpole that supports the Expanded Universe. A tentpole is one big media experience that supports a lot of other related media experiences. This helps with the evolution of a fanbase that follows the cross-media experience from media to media in order to get the full story.

Another great example is Pokemon, a cartoon that started in 1995, and serves as a tentpole for a huge cross-media experience. The cartoon follows the adventures of a group of kids who do battle with pokemon (pocket monsters) which are magical creatures with special powers. This type of battle is replicated in videogames that we can play on Nintendo consoles. There is also a trading card game that lets kids collect various cards with pokemon on them. And there are toys of the pokemon as well. So, Pokemon can be experienced from a variety of media.

You can find Pokemon online at: http://www.pokemon.com/us/

Let’s look at one last example to help illustrate some of the range of cross-media. The soap opera, One Life to Live, did something clever with cross-media in 2005, by incorporating a book written by a character on the show. Marcie Walsh, a character on the show, writes a book, The Killing Club. This book gets published and Marcie is now an author. In the real world, the book was written “with” Michael Malone, although Marcie does go on a book tour where fans of the show can buy the book and have the “author” sign it. Fiction blends with fact as the book is a part of the show, but it’s something we can read as well as meet a character from the show.

ABC’s One Life to Live (http://abc.go.com/shows/one-life-to-live/)


Problems and Promises
Moving beyond these examples, which are only the tip of the iceberg, there are both problems and promises to be found in cross-media communications. A fairly obvious problem revolves around issues of privacy. As we get more chances to get more actively involved in our media experiences, companies can gather more data on us based on our involvement, and how we like to watch what we want to watch. On the one hand, this helps companies give us more of what we want in our experiences. On the other hand, this gives the companies an ever-growing database full of financial and personal information on us. We wouldn’t want this information to be misused or stolen, and currently we don’t have good laws, regulations or processes to best ensure our privacy is protected.

Also, if we’re getting more actively involved in our media experiences, who owns the content created from our interactions? Do companies own our interactions within their experiences, or do we have some entitlement to the ideas we provide within these settings? Do social networking sites have any sense of ownership of the content we post on their sites, or is it clearly ours? At present, there is no clear way to define this well, and our world is set up to best protect the companies and creators of the content from a traditional perspective, and not one that takes the collaborative efforts of the audience into consideration.

The problems listed above do not take away from the exciting promises of cross-media communications. Cross-media has the potential to offer us more immersive and engaging experiences where we are able to engage as much, or as little, as we like. We can become a more active part of the experience, getting more involved with how the story evolves and how the overall experience integrates together into a cohesive, dynamic whole across all the various media incorporated together.

Cross-Media Communications
With this in mind, Cross-Media Communications was recently published to present an informed look at this time of significant transmedia opportunity. The overarching goal is to provide an overview of cross-media design and development. It is meant to be interdisciplinary and introductory in concept and implementation. We created a textbook, with an accompanying DVD-ROM full of media to show how cross-media can be applied.


Throughout the book, there are information graphics and interpretive illustrations of each chapter, providing opportunities to reflect on the readings from a more visual perspective. Information Graphics visualize each section and related chapters. Interpretive Illustrations summarize each chapter and the book as a whole.

An inspiration for this book comes in part from my involvement with the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University. The ETC (http://etc.cmu.edu) is a professional Master’s program in which students work on semester long projects with interdisciplinary teams working together to create interactive media experiences. The ETC has a cross-media focus on how entertainment technologies can be applied across a variety of fields and disciplines.

A Taxonomy of Entertainment Technologies from the ETC


Our Stories
Cross-media communications promise to be a powerful way to design and develop media experiences and we need to thoughtfully attend to all the issues involved. Our understanding and literacy needs to extend to include and encourage a fluency with international cultures, interdisciplinary teams and the processes and contexts of interactivity. As we develop this level of literacy, we will be able to get more invested in our experiences and we may even own more of them as well. We can create our own media, making videos, songs, games and more. A great example of this is Maker Faire, hosted by Make magazine, where people make stuff on their own together, collaborating, thinkering and experimenting with media and technology. Cross-media can be what we want it to be as long as we get actively engaged in creating these experiences.






| drew davidson |