Building Transmedia Businesses

FOV Ventures’ talks to two practitioners building companies and content in the Transmedia space.

Transmedia, a way of telling a single story across different types of media, is at the foundation of the new digital age. 

Entertainment has come a long way from the Lumière brothers and if you want to read about the history of Transmedia, you can enjoy FOV Entrepreneur in Residence’s 3 Part Transmedia EPIC here, here and here.

For this month’s FOV podcast, Tiago was joined by Filmmaker HaZ Dulull from Hazimation, and Ben Watanabe, CEO of 555, anime’s biggest TikTok account, to discuss all things Transmedia.

Listen in FULL HERE:

and read a break down of some of the ear nuggets below!

The Podcast Covers:

1. Game Engines’ Role

2. Hollywood Hiring Game Devs

3. Bottom Up Storytelling

4. Social Media’s Next Turn

Transmedia Production Using Game Engines:

The intersection of game engines and transmedia production marks a pivotal shift in storytelling. Leveraging tools like Unreal Engine, creators are blurring the lines between video games, films, and animated series.

Early to that trend was HaZ of Hazimation, a small team of creatives currently in production on various animated feature film projects that have spun into transmedia video games. 

‘Rift’ from HaZimation

"Building a show in UE5, and then taking those assets to a game, was incredibly easy," HaZ remarks. This process added an interactive layer to the storytelling, where players could engage directly with the narrative elements.

Reflecting on the film 'Rift', he noted, "We had a 92-minute script, but ended up cutting out a lot, yet many of these assets were readily available for the game."

Games ↔ Films 

This approach not only offers creative flexibility but also leverages technology to enhance transmedia storytelling, showcasing the potential of tools like Unreal Engine 5 in bridging the gap between film and gaming industries.

The Mandalorian pioneered the use of the Unreal Engine, enabling the filmmakers to eliminate location shoots, capture a significant amount of complex VFX shots with accurate lighting and reflections in-camera, and iterate on scenes together in real time while on set. 

But it's not just the engines, game developers themselves are crossing over between the industries. Unlike the infamous “so bad it's good” Mario Bros movie in 1993, 2023’s smash hit Super Mario Bros worked directly with the developers of the game. Sony, in a similar example, had The Last of Us game co-creator Neil Druckmann directed several episodes of the TV show which was based on the game. 

Significantly too, is the convergence of the audience. Gamers watch movies, movie goers play games. When gaming IP is at stake, neglecting the gaming audience hasn’t gone well. Note the aforementioned first go at Mario, and more recently, Blur studio delayed Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) due to fan demand to change, redesign, and entirely reanimate Sonic back to his video game form.

Sonic too is a perfect example of fans dictating studio direction, another facet of the next wave of media…

Bottom Up Story Telling: 

If Transmedia isn’t new, why is it so interesting now? Well, one significant reason is bandwith. Content is now available 24/7, 365. This means creators, thanks to social, can place 365 bets a year, rather than 1 huge bet every year or two like the traditional movie industry.

What is happening now is a bottom up approach to the media.

Few know this better than Ben Watanabe and 555.

Truly trailblazing a new content medium, 555, with a community of millions, opens characters' worlds to fan creations. Fans collectively shape stories like Conspiracy Research Club by interacting with Luna Gardner, Jaime Taylor, and Katya Petrikov who are a kin of ‘virtual influencers’, building their own side characters and becoming part of the lore in the process. As fans' OCs (original characters) level up, they progress towards becoming an official part of the story.

Luna Gardner, one of 555’s most popular characters

Infusing lean development principles from his app development background, Ben calls 555’s approach ‘lean storytelling’. 

"It's about seeing if the fans are going to enjoy this, so we're not wasting years on development." This lean storytelling model represents a shift from traditional, linear content creation to a growing trend where audience feedback isn't just a metric, but a driving force of narratives.

With technology like AI and Unreal Engine lowering costs, experimentation can be faster than ever too. HaZ notes how the positive reaction to the Red Robot in Rift’s trailer, meant they could give that character more lines, and then spin off deeper stories about that character because the turnaround times are short, and the assets are ready to go. 

“Anyone can make a TikTok but not everyone can create a movie,” Ben notes. A truth that has recently been embodied by ReelShort, the Chinese app, like Quibi but with a catch: instead of Hollywood hitters, it is cheesy D-grade soap operas meets Hallmark films.

Without the high sunk cost of movies ReelShort churns out 50+ “episodes” that are 90 to 120 seconds each, giving them tons of shots on goal to figure out what content is resonating with the audience. Techcrunch estimates the app has been downloaded 11 million times, generating $22M. Conversely, Quibi raised $2bn, hiring Hollywood A-Listers, and reached only 500,000 paying subscribers for its high production pre-made content.

Social Media as Storytelling’s Next Arena 

“Transmedia storytelling in the social media era is about engaging audiences where they already are,” says Ben.

Offering a more interactive and two-way communication compared to traditional media.

Social media is undergoing a transformation similar to the shift from factual to fictional content in radio, exemplified by the "War of the Worlds" broadcast.

Today, platforms like those hosting VTubers are at a pivotal point, transitioning from traditional information sharing to immersive fictional storytelling. This evolution represents a significant change in how narratives are crafted and consumed, with social media becoming a space where fiction is not only presented but interactively experienced, inviting audience participation in shaping the story.

Like Transmedia, VTubers aren’t new - 90s Lara Croft sold SEAT, Lucozade, and Visa to adults, all on her “coolness” factor - but unlike Lara, modern influencers need to be able to engage their audiences directly; respond to comments, be more emotionally accessible, and build up community.

It’s with this mix of community and IP that there could be real potential in the Transmedia space.

Investment Landscape:

Ironically, the Quibi failing in light of ReelShort and 555’s success suggests a significant opportunity for investment into the next wave of Transmedia.

Rather than strong IP simply concentrating the upside, in the last few years, new platforms have legitimately provided venture scale opportunities for small studios to compete on level playing fields with legacy - and IP wielding - studios.

If the foundational media consolidations in the early 20th century to the strategic corporate manoeuvres of today continue, the next wave of integrations could be across UEFN, Social, Roblox or UGC led studios.