The Visionaries Continued: Halo & Madonna
8 Defining Principles of Trans-Media Production
Part II: The Visionaries Continued: Halo & Madonna
By Jeff Gomez
Many of today’s visionaries operate on a global scale, the products of their muse rolling out across vast swathes of the media landscape. The challenge they’re facing right now is rooted not so much in the content of their message, but in how that message is going to be formed and reformed to provide a unique and satisfying experience no matter what the distribution platform may be.
The best of these artists are coming to understand that what is least satisfying to audiences in the digital age is repurposed content. They’re also learning that the best alternative to milking the cow ‘til it’s dead lays in generating a strategy that extends their message in a variety of ways—a strategy that is carefully coordinated, a plan that is equal parts creatively inspired and tech savvy.
This is the challenge currently being faced by two disparate but powerful mavens of pop culture: Madonna and the development team behind Microsoft’s Halo video game franchise.
Since 2001, Halo has propelled itself from console video games to local access networks and onto the Internet. The complex storyline of the game was expanded upon in novels, web sites and comic books. The releases of Halo 2 and Halo 3 were received with fanfare normally only devoted to major blockbuster movies (or Harry Potter book releases!).
The franchise has generated hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s now invading everything from YouTube to G4 TV shows thanks to the developers’ ingenious application of a playback and editing mode in the game that allows players to capture and direct their in-game antics as if they were creating big-budget sci-fi film clips.
But a few million video game enthusiasts do not make for a truly global property. In order to do that, Microsoft and developer Bungie Studios will have to realize some of the remaining principles of trans-media storytelling and production. They’ll have to examine their rich universe and carefully extend the characters and narrative in such a way as to make them accessible to a much greater audience. The key lays in their ability to engage people on an emotional level at least half as well as they did with great gameplay. Having a visionary like Peter Jackson on their side will certainly take them a long way, because ultimately story drives great trans-media properties.
Madonna’s latest venture will prove to be no exception. In a grand experiment that will only prove risky if the former Material Girl decides to become an avant garde performer for the next five years, Madonna has sealed a remarkable deal with mega-concert promoter Live Nation. The deal reportedly advances her $17.5 million, then pays her $50 million for performances, gives her 90% of ticket sales, roughly $20 million for each of three new albums, and partners with her on licensing deals and new ventures.
The challenge Madonna faces—particularly in light of the current state of the music industry as well as the fact that she’s entered the autumn of her career when most of her peers bailed in mid-summer—are myriad. One thing is for certain—endlessly repurposing music and concert footage simply won’t fly.
Then again, if she’s anything Madonna is an innovator. She understands how to recruit talent to her causes, and in this case savvy producers can make a huge difference. But will these creatives truly be able to help her build a rich, persistent, compelling and participative narrative that weaves what she envisions across an array of audiovisual outlets?
They will, but some alchemy will be needed to pull it off. These producers will have to possess a fundamental understanding of how people have come to integrate their media into their daily lives. More so, they must fully fathom the core messages and themes of this visionary’s new work. Only then will they know how to orchestrate these images, icons, sounds and narratives into a symphony of platform-specific content that engages, entertains and inspires.
I wish her luck.
Next Up: Jeff takes on the second principle of trans-media production when he discusses those special projects that plan their cross-platform rollouts from inception.
Jeff Gomez (email@example.com), is the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Inc., a developer and producer of highly successful trans-media projects whose clients include The Walt Disney Company, 20th Century Fox, the Coca-Cola Company, Mattel and Hasbro. Over the next few weeks he’ll be sharing his expertise on the white hot trans-media industry – exploring its fascinating history and expanding upon the 8 Defining Principles of Trans-Media Production