January 20, 2007
The Convergence Manifesto IV: The Importance of Quality Storytelling

This is the fourth part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

These types of transmedia attempts exist throughout the television industry, and I've talked with people in multiple media industries about cross-platform content. All agree on one thing--convergence may exist in a lesser form as a marketing ploy that simply distributes products across many media platforms, but transmedia storytelling...and true convergence...requires, at its heart, a compelling story.

Without good writers and other strong elements throughout the story, the fact that something is converged or spread across several media forms is only impressive in a shallow sense, as an experiment or a marketing ploy.

And that's what the journalists, the writers, the fans, and everyone else who fears convergence are worried about. They don't seem to really be against convergence, but they are against convergence done poorly.

In other words, the only way transmedia storytelling and convergence can work is if the story that is being told is worth following across multiple media forms. And that's why the model of the uberjournalist cannot work: convergence requires storytellers who have a knack and an understanding of each platform and of good storytelling in general.

When the character blogs and novels and converged newsrooms leave the experimental form, where it is interesting just because it's being done, in other words when convergence becomes commonplace, the only thing that will sustain their viability is powerful stories.

Most readers/viewers/listeners aren't really all that interested in convergence if it doesn't offer them anything, and companies will only sustain profitability in convergence if they put high priority on telling the best stories possible. Transmedia expands storytelling potential exponentially, and the most astute cultural producers are already realizing that. But, in the end, the best marketing for any cultural product is to simply tell a compelling tale with intriguing characters.

I have had conversations with people in the soaps industry, which has seen a drop in the number of viewers since the growth in popularity of cable networks. Most of the people on the creative side, as well as most of the fan community, agree on one central concept: that the characters and the story's universe are what matters most. At least in principle.

The best marketing is consistently telling a quality story, letting that story flow naturally, and creating and maintaining characters that connect with fans. When people rely on the form to attract viewers, they lose. Viewers are interested in content, and the only value in convergence culture is that it provides more tools for the storyteller and more opportunities for people to become storytellers (and, when those stories connect, more profit for the producers and more viable avenues for advertisers).

Even though the nature of each medium is different, the essential elements of a good story remain constant across any platform. People want characters to connect with, stories that stay true to the nature of the fans' requirements for the narrative, and plots that both meet the fans' essential expectations while also providing surprises. Those naysayers of convergence culture are participating in that dangerous form of technological determinism which gives the user no credit and takes an extremely cynical view of the people working in the media industry.

The problem is that you just can't leave the storyteller out of the convergence equation. When critics or producers attempt to eliminate creativity from the process, they aren't utilizing the power of convergence. Convergence can be more than just a buzzword...but it requires a compelling story at its heart.