Essential to the concept of cross-media is that there are more than one media/distribution devices involved, which support the central theme of the project from their own strengths.
The term cross media is fairly new. However it was around already in the early days of electronic publishing. In the printing world cross-media was already known as database publishing. Towards the end of the seventies, encyclopedias such as the All American Encyclopaedia were stored in databases for print, for online (The Source) and off-line (Laserdisc). Later on, the term multimedia was, amongst others, misused by printers and publishers for multiple media. A book with a CD-ROM represented for them a multimedia project. By the mid-nineties, the term cross media stood for content re-purposing in the publishing and printing industry. It was linked to the slogan “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” (COPE), a term used by various people including Paul Zazzera, the CEO of Time, Inc. in 1996.
But towards the end of the nineties, the term cross media was spreading to the broadcast industry. The broadcast industry finally embraced Internet from 1996 onwards, but usually this meant extra information about the program on a PC screen. But in 1999, the content production company Endemol launched the reality television program “Big Brother” in the Netherlands and this brought a shockwave to the broadcast industry. The format of the program centered on the theme of a group of young people locked up in a house, cut off from telecom and telephone communication. For the first time, the program was combining analogue television, interactive cable, Internet and mobile telephony and was supported by magazines and newspapers. The television program “Big Brother” was a whole new way of conceiving a product/project, in this case a TV show, that changed. And this new way of “thinking”, pushed most of the time by financial incentives (increasing the number of platforms and their accessibility means an increase of revenues) as well as the obvious interest of the audience, made the cross-media way of production relevant in many more industries. Besides the broadcasting industry, marketing, e-learning and tourism latched on to the concept. In the broadcast industry, the cross media formula did penetrate into new formats such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.
Cross media is not only driven by technology. With people moving about more often and further, cross media projects will have to count with network technologies, which seamlessly let the user move from one network into another, from the domestic Wi-Fi network into the mobile network. The necessity does not grow out of the technological possibilities only, but also stems from the desire to move from one sphere to another, taking a book, music or video along.
Another driver is the community-oriented attitude. Cross-media increases the VIP club feeling: users that will use all the media will feel closer to the story than the one only following the show on TV or just buying a book. The program “Big Brother” has a fan club for people interested in everything that happened in the program. With the new media, this community could be served. At home the fans could watch television or the 24/7 cable broadcasts, while going outside they could remain informed by SMS.
But there are also examples of communities which can create their own content to a certain level. The Finnish website for girls Sooda has its own games. On the site of Outer Rim Putti minigolf TV, users can design their own golf course projected on TV with their mobile.
In broadcasting, the concept of cross-media has been taken up and worked out in productions. After “Big Brother”and“Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, the program “Weakest Link”was put on a disk with a virtual presenter, resembling the UK presenter. Cross media does not remain limited to the traditional broadcasting companies. The French content companies Push TVi set up CornerTV, a TV channel soon to be available in 6,000 bars and restaurants.
Combining ADSLTV with mobile, the company created a new entertainment format mixing a game, to be played with a mobile, video, advertisement and information. These new hybrid formats are only possible because of the development and merging of technologies, lowering of prices, allowing innovative business models to arise.
Marketing and cross media
Cross-media projects are hard to promote. So far, only few lessons have been drawn from cross-media projects. Damien Marchi, who was involved in the second season of “Big Brother” in France, dubbed “Loft Story”, formulated eight commandments.
1. Give users access to exclusive content not seen on television - During a TV or movie production, usually more material is shot than can be shown. Users like this unused content exclusively, for example on Internet through a club.
2. Interact with the show - Give the power to the audience. Involve the audience by having them vote, ask questions and by polling them.
3. Make the show even more known - Use besides television the other media to keep the users in touch with the show.
4. Increase users’loyalty - Loyalty of fans can be stimulated by a fan club and viral games.
5. Recreate the atmosphere - Levy the atmosphere of the TV show to another medium.
6. Continue the show on the web - Use the TV show to drive the other devices.
7. Enhance the watching experience - Stimulate simultaneous use of media (browse the Internet when watching TV for example).
8. Use multiple devices - A multi-device system built around a TV show allows channels to increase the number of revenue streams.
But cross-media is more than only increasing the number of viewers. Having a cross-media system around a television program goes beyond the simple fact of increasing the TV audience. The broadcaster wants to extend its brand to the largest number of platforms possible, starting with the brand of its famous program.
With the development of cross media formats, it is the way we see television that will change: the broadcasted television program becomes one of the elements of the branding system. More and more programs are created where the cross-media format is not adapted to the show but where the distribution through multiple platforms is the most important part of the program. This can be illustrated with “Big Brother”/“Loft Story”. The show offers the audience the illusion, that the contestants in the house can be followed on a 24/7 basis; this is what makes the show popular. Yet the only place where it is actually possible for anyone to watch the contestants at any time is on the website (or on the special TV channel) and definitely not during the TV show that only shows highlights of the life in the house. If you look at it this way, the TV show becomes a promotion show for the website or other interactive platforms.
Is there a future for cross media?
As stated in the introduction, cross-media is not an unequivocal term. In the technology part, it has been made clear that cross-media is not linked to a particular technology platform. The question can even be posed whether cross-media will have a future.
Koopee Hiltunen of the Finnish cross-media company Haukion puts the thesis that intuitively many people know what the term means. In fact cross-media is hardly made explicit as a term. Cross-media is part of the media universe; it has become the default mode of making media. Users will be so accustomed to cross-media, that they do not notice its presence, but they will notice its absence.
For professionals, cross-media will put some burden on their skills. They will need a wide understanding of the whole media universe. Project management skills will become highly valued. Ideas will be valued greatly. Design (visual, structural, narrative, usability) will be the greatest challenges in cross-media productions.
Looking at the industry, Koopee Hiltunen predicts that marketing, communications and games will be the driving forces behind cross-media. There will be a small number of original cross-media formats, which will be copied in great numbers. He sees that small players have to co-operate in order to survive; big companies have more possibilities. It is even possible that there will be super developers, who can control the whole content production chain.
The critical notes of Koopee Hiltunen are counterbalanced by an optimism that lives with the European Union. Participants in the EC funded project MGAIN see the combination of mobile and cross-media as a new content generator for Europe. Technology is no longer an obstacle “in offering content to users in preferred media and rich-media formats, and the content can be personalised”. In MGAIN, entertainment, entertaining communication, advertisements, education and information delivery are areas where heavy growth is predicted.
(*This article is based on the report Cross-media, produced for the ACTeN E-Content reports series, which can be downloaded in full from: http://www.acten.net/cgi-bin/WebGUI/www/index.pl/cross_media)