Message in a bottle: a short analysis of transmedia storytelling in Brazil

Brasil-matrixby guest author Marcelo Andrade

I work as a scriptwriter in Brazil. This year I started a business of transmedia storytelling. The goal of this post is to briefly present the scene of transmedia storytelling in my country. It is a simple article which aims at introducing readers to the situation of our content market, examining Brazilian people’s ability to absorb, in the most active manner, crossmedia content.

For one to grasp how transmedia storytelling is developing in Brazil, firstly it is required to understand how our content market works. For 50 years, TV has been the media with the largest audience – what happens to be no different from anywhere else in the world. Nonetheless, a survey undertaken in 2009 has revealed that the Brazilian people spend more time on the Internet than any other do, with an average of 69 hours a month, including apps. Such statistics (the link has some limited thought about my country and some old numbers about Brazilian internet state, but worth a reading) should make any content company look into the web more carefully.

A few prophetic voices have emerged announcing the end of the hegemony of TV; therefore of linear self-contained stories. Our TV channels thought of themselves as the sole effective link between advertisers and consumers. As a result, there was no need of reconsidering their storytelling formulas. In fact, until recently they were right. However, additional data has made this apparently unshakable certainty crumble. And I am not speaking of the lack of efficiency of traditional advertising. Brazilians are not only those who spend more hours on the Internet, but also they have been spending more time on the Web than they do watching TV.

What may seem obvious to us was not to the managers of TV channels. Thus, talks about transmedia storytelling started in Brazil with lots of hesitation. Even though TV kept its prominence in the content chain, it had to adapt to this new reality.

A few advertising agencies had been launching experimental campaigns on the Web, what besides being cheaper, for there was no need of paying the exorbitant prices of TV commercials, showed to be quite efficient. Admans expected the union of entertainment and advertising to take place, however it has never happened here in the manner they thought it would.

TV channels decided to go for their own formulas, in an attempt to transfer their monopoly to the language of the content to be developed. That meant new media platforms were being used to sustain the televised product, instead of being used to create a fascinating and interactive universe to the audience. The result has not been gripping at all. They make available on the Internet nothing but extra scenes and actors’ statements about plots in which they play roles – something far from transmedia storytelling or any idea of transliteracy.

The other side of the story seems more promising. Advertising agencies, snubbed by TV channels, found partnership somewhere else: independent content companies. After all, agencies have the advertisers’ money and independent producers have good ideas. If they were lacking a medium to broadcast their content, in accordance with the data I have shown above they do not lack it any longer.

Quite interesting things have arisen from that partnership. All of them based in experimentation. And it was not easy for scriptwriters to understand dramaturgy was no longer made in arches. Stories must unfold as a tree’s branches, communicating in many different media, in such a way one supports the other, but still keeping a certain amount of their individual independencies.

Since 2009, a few companies began to aim specifically at multiplatform content, the most prominent of them all being Os Alquimistas, which was formed by people who met in the MIT, in 2007, and has headquarters in Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles. The truth is here in Brazil we have professionals able to think and produce transmedia stories as well as an audience which can explore its many possibilities. As a drawback, we have an extremely powerful entertainment industry willing to maintain its content’s format.

In Brazil, any audiovisual project still gets “branded” as a movie, TV series, webseries etc. The main holders of production companies remain unable to conceive a transmedia project to a major medium of communication which would interact horizontally with fans through other media. It appears to me that the difficulty of transmedia in Brazil lies in producers’ fear of risking investment in new areas rather than in an inability of Brazilian audience to read, create and interact with transmedia content.

This is proved by the great involvement of Brazilians in online communities of foreign movies and TV series. Although that sort of content has an enormous reach, its possibilities are not to be fully enjoyed unless the audience has the tools to decode it. In Brazil, transliteracy seems to grow from the thirsty for transliteracy-based content, no matter if this need ends up being met by Heroes, Glee, Lost, Matrix, Twilight etc.

At the same time, it is interesting that the move of part of the audience, which seeks to increase their participation in their favorite mediatic content, is driving TV channels toward attempts to strenghten their linear stories. By following “discussion groups” assembled by fans, writers of soap operas adjust their stories so as to please the audience. Nonetheless, it is incredibly awkward that people join groups which are controlled by TV channels, instead of joining the ones in independent fora and blogs. That is another data which adds up to the conclusion that content producers do not understand the multilateral dynamics of the new media.

We are at a transition point. The way in which stories are told has changed. The interest of Brazilian audience in old TV show format decreases every day. In old days, a soap opera would hit almost a 70% share of audience, but now its peak will not reach 40%.

TV channels’ managers must be asking themselves if that collapse is due to the audience’s migration to other media or if the cause lies in the disinterest in old storytelling models. An answer will only be found when they realize Brazilians have an ability to experience culture convergence.

Marcelo Andrade graduated in History and has a postgraduate degree in Cultural Journalism. He works as a screenwriter in Brazil. He has created several transmedia storytelling projects for major content companies and now started his own transmedia storytelling company.