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The Logic of Transmedia

By November 16, 2016Reading response

Does “transmedia” and “multimodal” mean the same thing? No, according to Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. There is often confusion about what the term transmedia means, and even controversy surrounding its definition within academic and entertainment circles. In his article, Transmedia 202: Further Reflections, Jenkins (2011) offers clarifications and reflections on what transmedia storytelling is.

quoteJenkins explains that transmedia storytelling describes one “logic” for understanding the shared connections and relationships across media. There are many of these logics: There is transmedia branding, transmedia performance, transmedia ritual, transmedia play, transmedia activism, and transmedia spectacle, and more.


Mickey Mouse Storyworld

Consider Walt Disney, for example, as a form of branding. Even before the dawn to the Digital Age the “Disney Brand” was in full motion. Micky Mouse is a visual icon, a mascot, and a fictional character spanning books and films (and his own amusement park!). Storylines follow adventures with a wide variety of characters, expanding and changing through many mediums. It isn’t the same story told over and over. It’s the Mickey Mouse storyworld disseminated over many media platforms.

Jenkins emphasizes this whole process is more than counting the number of media platforms a story is told on. He describes this as a world-building process with a continuum of possibilities, and for something to be truly transmedia it must contain all three of these levels

1.  Seriality – The unfolding of a story over time through chunking (small bits) and dispersed in interconnected installments. Think about your favorite TV show – The Walking Dead, Grimm, Game of Thrones . . . they’re all episodes in serial form.

2.  Radical Intertextuality – Characters and stories that move across texts within the same medium. Marvel is a good example of this. You can have separate stories about Thor or Captain America, then another book where many of the Marvel characters come together for The Avengers. Plots and character development unfolds across the many stories with a picture of the “completed universe” found after encountering all pieces of text.

3.  Multimodality – A story that plays out across different media adopts different modalities and representations. Each medium interacts differently with the story. So what Green Lantern looks like differs from a comic book, a live action movie, a game, or an animated television series.

Professor Jenkins makes an important point that transmedia has historically always existed. It’s not new, whether it be with Walt Disney, Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings or other franchises. Despite popular belief, transmedia didn’t come into being with network computing, the logical presentation has only expanded. Now with digital media, we simply have a new “container” for the storyline to pour into.

I found this article insightful. As Jenkins asserts, “There is no transmedia formula. Transmedia refers to a set of choices made about the best approach to tell a particular story to a particular audience in a particular context depending on the particular resources available to particular producers.”

He challenges me to think of “story” in a new way, and to delve into the many layers of narrative presentation and understand what that is. And with emergence of new media, new terms and definitions are evolving, having relevant impact on classroom literacies in application and interpretation.

It’s a nice discussion to be involved in.


Jenkins, H. (2011). Transmedia 202: further reflections. Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 1.



  • Stephanie says:

    Hi Lisa! Until your review, I had not heard of the term: transmedia. I had no preconceived ideas of what it is or isn’t, and so I was able to glean some new information from your post. Namely: I learned that transmedia is not just storytelling through multiple modes, but rather the distribution of a story through interconnected means. Your example of Marvel and its single universe bringing together the stories of so many heroes, anti-heroes, and villians really helped me to solidify this idea in my head. After reading your thoughts, you mention that the article sites transmedia as being around long before the digital era. I am wondering what you think this looked like back then, and how it may still be around in other non digital platforms? (Posted on 11/20/16 @ 9:43 PM).

    • Lisa Fish says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      Good Question! The article mentions three examples across three focuses or “logics”: L. Frank Baum (in his focus on world building across media), Walt Disney (in his focus on transmedia branding) and J.R.R. Tolkien (with his experiments in radical intertextuality). I had mentioned Walt Disney because of how many storyworlds Mickey Mouse is involved in, as well as all the print, film, and merchandising this one character spans (and that was before the internet). Tolkien’s book example is an interesting one. The storyworld of LOTR is originally from an oral Norse mythology passed down for many generations: The Prose Edda (Story of the Grandmother). Middle Earth, the legend of the lost rings and all of the dwarves in his story are from this narrative. So as an example of intertextuality, this mythology has been told in many forms, and Tolkien’s characters have been connected to other storylines. Old Tom Bombadil, for example, from book one also has his own story that Tolkien wrote. The Silmarillion, as backstory, the Unfinished tales….I love that Tolkien expanded this story across so many texts.

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