There’s a good point in this Quartz piece, that it’s not only common but necessary for entertainment properties to be multimedia. In addition to a play, you need a book. In addition to an album, you need a blog. Whatever the core product is, you need something else to reach the audience across multiple media, never letting the brand escape their field of vision for very long.
This isn’t a new concept, of course. Books and stage plays have been adapted into movies. Movies have been adapted into musicals or novelizations. TV shows have spun out of cinematic franchises. Soundtracks are the OG multimedia extension, offering an additional experience to people eager to maintain a connection to a movie in some way.
Comics are a good example of the kind of multimedia execution given how popular movies based on comic book characters are, though that popularity hasn’t flowed back downstream and translated into drastically improved sales for super hero books.
That may be because neither of the big two publishers have actually used their comics create story continuations or extensions aside from a few direct tie-ins. Instead, they usually retcon the existing continuity or character appearances to be similar to what’s happening in the movies and TV shows. But if someone picks up an issue of The Avengers they’re still going to be greeted with characters that don’t live in the same world as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if Thor looks more like Chris Hemsworth than he did 10 years ago.
In fact it’s rare to find an example of a multimedia extension actually continuing or expanding upon the story. Novelizations might contain a few additional details left out of the movie but that’s about it. More often than not these are adaptations, not continuations.
The biggest exception to that rule is Star Wars. Even in the old Expanded Universe, the additional stories being told built on the characters and situations from the movies, they didn’t just retell them. That’s now continued with the new, canon line of books, comics, shows and other media. Those stories aren’t necessary for people to consume if they just want to watch the movies, but they add context and background for those that do pick them up.
The potential for more true cross-media storytelling is vast, especially as people want more and more mobile-friendly video and other on-the-go entertainment. A movie can be accompanied by a streaming series of short films that expand on a character introduced in a book who also has a Tumblr blog, with story details and clues being doled out across all platforms.
We can and should absolutely debate the consolidation of media ownership into just a few massive conglomerates. But you’d think that such consolidation would give IP owners the latitude to experiment a bit more with telling cross-platform stories that lift multiple corporate entities. Seems we’re not quite there yet.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.