In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Transmedia Storytelling

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works
  • Audiences and Participation
  • Narrative Theory and Design
  • Film/Television and Branding
  • Transmedia and Education

Communication Transmedia Storytelling
Helen Klaebe, Donna Hancox
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0174


Transmedia storytelling exists at the intersection of multiple academic disciplines and creative practices. It is generally understood as a story that is told across multiple media platforms. However, what distinguishes it from other multimedia stories is described by Henry Jenkins as “each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole” (Henry Jenkins, Transmedia Storytelling: Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling, 2003). The ways in which scholars and practitioners discuss, evaluate, analyze, and design transmedia storytelling projects continues to be debated, and various frameworks have been proposed. What has become clear from the theory and practice of transmedia storytelling is that existing methodologies—literary theory, narratology, semiotics, film theory, media studies—all contribute important perspectives to the scholarship of transmedia storytelling, but none is sufficient on its own. As such, transmedia storytelling necessarily encompasses a range of theoretical, philosophical, and creative approaches and continues to develop in ways that expand our understanding of narrative. This makes transmedia storytelling a unique field with fluid borders, and subsequently it has created entirely new forms and represents an innovative approach to storytelling that made use of emerging media platforms. This shift to creating stories that can be experienced across a range of platforms or that incorporate multiple modes of storytelling—games, blogs, video, audio, and text—now seems inevitable with the rapid uptake of mobile technologies and the availability of software for amateurs to create sharable stories. Transmedia storytelling may incorporate these diverse narrative modes and is a hybrid form, as such the fields of gaming, documentary, and film influence transmedia and vice versa; but these remain distinct fields in their own right. It is not only the use of platforms and technology that is distinctive to transmedia storytelling but also the role of fans and audiences. The complexity and reach of transmedia storytelling means that a variety of texts are associated with it—from scholarly books and journal articles to practical guides and creative products—while also being relatively few in number.

Foundational Works

Transmedia storytelling is inextricably linked to scholar Henry Jenkins. Jenkins 2003 is considered the first significant discussion of the movement of characters and story worlds across platforms that grew into his recognition of transmedia storytelling as a distinct form. His work on fandom and convergence culture, which can be found in Jenkins 2006 and Jenkins 2013, built on the foundation for his concept of transmedia storytelling. As can be witnessed in Jenkins 2016, Jenkins has continually re-assessed his definition and examined his own understanding of transmedia storytelling using current projects as examples. This willingness to refine his scholarship has allowed for transmedia storytelling to grow and encompass many practices and perspectives. While Jenkins’s work was pioneering and expansive, it is important to also include Marshall McLuhan in this discussion. McLuhan predates digital technology, and McLuhan 2012 was focused on traditional formats of film and television. But his assertions about the ways in which media affects the message is referenced by many scholars when theorizing transmedia storytelling. Voight and Pascal 2013 provides an expansive and rich overview of the influence of transmedia storytelling.

  • Jenkins, Henry. 2003. Transmedia storytelling: Moving characters from books to films to video games can make them stronger and more compelling. MIT Technology Review.

    This article is widely considered the first instance in which a description of transmedia storytelling is presented in depth. Stresses, in particular, the need for each platform to contribute something unique to the narrative, which distinguishes transmedia storytelling from multimedia narratives. The ideas Jenkins put forth in this article provides a working definition that continues to be widely accepted and used.

  • Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: Routledge.

    This book examines media convergence, a concept often difficult to define. Jenkins avoids discussing recent hardware advancements and focuses on media trends. He examines how many modern media projects generate more audience participation than ever before and the delivery method of some of these projects, many of which embrace transmedia approaches.

  • Jenkins, Henry. 2013. Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture. New York: Routledge.

    The book is a collection of seminal research by Henry Jenkins. Spanning from his groundbreaking work in the early 1990s to 2006, the collection provides a broad understanding of fan culture, outlining the core theory and methodological elements of fan studies. Jenkins also discusses the recent trends in participatory culture, how this culture can impact the development of media, and the implications surrounding fan participation and intellectual property.

  • Jenkins, Henry. 2014. Transmedia storytelling. MIT Technology Review.

    Using real world examples such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jenkins explains not only the artistic benefits of media convergence but also how it can be used to target specific audiences and develop consumer loyalty.

  • Jenkins, Henry. 2016. The revenge of the origami unicorn: Seven principles of transmedia storytelling (well, two actually. Five more on Friday). MIT Technology Review.

    Building upon his previous work in technology review and convergence culture, Jenkins here provides a clear definition and overview of transmedia storytelling. The exploration is underpinned by numerous examples from history and modern entertainment, including the Harry Potter media universe, L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 2012. Understanding media. London: Routledge.

    This influential text by media studies scholar Marshal McLuhan has influenced both Jenkins and Hayles in their approaches to ascribing aesthetic, cultural, and textual values of various media and media platforms. Although this work predates digital technology, it is prescient in its theories on the ways audiences receive information from media.

  • Voight, Eckart, and Nicklas Pascal. 2013. Special issue: Adaptation, transmedia storytelling and participatory culture. Adaptation 6.2.

    Asks whether transmedia storytelling is currently the dominant mode of adaptation and appropriation. The authors acknowledge that transmedia storytelling fosters new intertextual engagements but challenges the existing wisdom around fandom and convergence as sites of innovation and originality.

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