Even SXSW Panels Can Be Wrong

I kicked off Day 2 of SXSW with one of Interactive’s Featured Sessions, Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV. Driven by both a personal and academic interest, not only was I looking forward to seeing Tom Colicchio and Andy Cohen, but also hearing what Bravo’s media executives thoughts are on integrating their audience’s experience across multiple platforms. The Bravo execs included: Aimee Viles,VP of Emerging Media, Lisa Hsia, Executive Vice President of Digital Media, and Dave Serwatka, Vice President of Current and Cross Platform Productions.

With Cohen answering questions via Twitter, much in the same vein of Watch What Happens Live, the panel ended up mostly being about Top Chef, and even The Real House Wives, behind the scenes. Occasionally, the exec team was able to discuss their strategy and approach to cross-platform engagement for Bravo content, but the conversation was uninspiring and at times ill-informed.

My main beef with the panel came from the definition and application of what Hsia describes as a “transmedia” approach to audience engagement. Hsia quickly explained transmedia as extending a show or the Bravo brand across multiple platforms – mainly from TV to their site and social sites. For a cable network show, the approach is no doubt innovative, but transmedia? I would define it differently.

Here’s a brief summary of what Bravo TV is doing:

  • Watch What Happens Live: engages viewers through social media during the show, using Facebook, Twitter and phone questions with celebrity guests.
  • Last Chance Kitchen: fans of Top Chef were given the opportunity throughout the whole season to engage with “chef-testants” , provide suggestions and challenges directly to the Kitchen via social media, as well as participate in a social game to rally around favorite chefs.

Conversing with fellow MCDM student, Madeline Moy, we concluded that we’d best describe what Bravo TV is doing as a multi-platform engagement strategy rather than transmedia storytelling.

What Bravo seems to be missing in their definition is the fact that each medium should separately contribute something that builds upon the story and the over experience of the narrative. The best definition of transmedia as I understand it is Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.

There is no unique contribution to the viewers understanding of the Last Chance Kitchen narrative by engaging across the media they have built out: web series, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the television show. And in fact, their multi-platform campaign is not all that innovative. Perhaps for a cable TV network, this approach is innovative, but plenty of brands have created similar strategies that allow  individuals to play games and tweet directly with celebrities or spokespeople.

A true transmedia experience transforms the way the audience engages with a story. I could watch Last Chance Kitchen without tweeting or rallying around my favorite chef and still fully understand exactly what is happening. Sorry Bravo, close but no cigar.


adminEven SXSW Panels Can Be Wrong
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