Transmedia goes transatlantic

PARIS -- Reinventing the way we experience traditional media, leading research labs at USC and French media giant Orange partner to bring transmedia to the forefront.

PARIS –- The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab is working with French telecommunications giant Orange to explore new projects in transmedia. The year-long partnership will allow American students hands-on experimentation with a major international telecommunications giant.

Transmedia is a form of communication that delivers a story or experience across several platforms or channels of media, according to Henry Jenkins, professor and co-director of the Annenberg Lab. Players in the field are researching new ways to enhance and rethink the seemingly one-dimensional media like television and books that consumers currently experience.

The Annenberg Lab, established in 2010, has been a forerunner of transmedia efforts stemming from the communications department at USC. Their main objectives include creating research tools for communications and journalism scholars, developing 3D storytelling devices, and evolving social networking platforms on all fronts.

French telecommunications giant Orange launched its own research institute across the Atlantic, the Transmedia Lab, in 2009, also focused on exploring new technologies and modes of communication.  Audrey Raitif, a communications director at the French branch of Orange’s Transmedia Lab, said that the center’s main goal is to analyze, share, and explore.

“We develop tools to create and otherwise take advantage of screens and their unique capabilities and of the interactivity of Orange’s networks,” she said. The international service provider functions not just in France but in 25 countries across Europe and Africa.

Further forging a link with France, Annenberg Lab’s Henry Jenkins has recently presented at a conference at Paris’s Pompidou Center in coordination with the Sorbonne University. His book, Covergence Culture, is a major reference for French communication students at the Sorbonne where research in transmedia lags behind its American counterparts. In July, researchers at the Sorbonne will build upon Jenkins work at an international colloquium called Crossroads in Cultural Studies, hosted by the French university in part with UNESCO.

While Jenkins is building bridges in France, Orange continues with its partnership begun in February. The company is hoping to benefit from the partnership with USC by developing a new ecosystem of media and entertainment according to head of gaming and transmedia at Orange, Jean-François Rodriguez. Research at USC will help towards launching a new flagship transmedia project slated for 2012 that Orange has not yet divulged.

Both labs have much to learn from each other. Raitif hopes that the partnership will help advance understanding of European communications and service provider strategy among the American researchers.  With an outpost in San Francisco, Raitif said that the yearlong partnership could become a more permanent fixture for the French team. “We hope to continue, but the choice will be made depending on the results that both labs will analyze together,” she said.

Professor Jonathan Taplin, director at the Annenberg Innovation Lab, told SmartPlanet that the partnership with Orange is a great fit. The corporation offers the Lab access to mobile, broadband, and TV media, giving hands-on possibilities to transmedia students. “Orange has been one of the first major telecoms interested in new forms of media and storytelling,” he said. The union allows researchers at the Lab to market test ideas while giving Orange access to top-notch thinkers in the transmedia field.

For French researchers, Raitif said that Emotional Tweets and Social Influencers are the menu. Both she and Taplin also cited major work in the realm of second screen prototypes.  This new technology, often referred to as social television, involves engaging TV viewers with a second device, like a smartphone or tablet application. Microsoft just introduced its own version, the SmartGlass, on June 4th, showing a market shift towards more innovative media experiences.

“Students are already working on creating second screen prototypes that might be of interest to Orange. We have seen their approach to the second screen and would love to work with their platforms,” he said. Consumers will have to wait until October 2012 to see the fruits of the partnership between the two labs.

Photo: USC Annenberg

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