Coming Soon to a Phone Near You

Circle of phones

At last week's guest speaker event with Brent Friedman, one of the major ideas he proposed was that the future of media consumption was going to be through the mobile device -- phone or tablet. One of the common explanation given for why transmedia storytelling is becoming such a big thing now (whether you think it's ultimately a new thing or not) is the prolification of technology and devices allowing storytelling in new ways to a mass audience. And one of the main new devices is the smart phone.

If entertainment is being put out in multiple types of media, a smart phone can access all of it -- video, audio, social media, the internet, books and text, games, everything. Not only that, but it connects me directly to my friends; in an age of social entertainment, it is an inherently social device. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it's with me all the time.

Furthermore, Brent quoted a stat that the anverage 8-18 year old spends a quarter of their media time with multiple media, multiple screens. They're watching TV while surfing the internet and texting their friends on their phones.

So it seems a natural conclusion that the phone is where we should be looking to make the most of a transmedia experience, especially from the audience perspective. People are increasingly in possession of smart phones, so it has become a way to reach a mass audience. As mentioned, all types of media are available on it, making for a truly holistic transmedia potential. And the creator also has the ability to reach people wherever they are. A push notification can draw them into your story in the middle of their day. It's both convenient for them and powerful for you.

The mobile phone isn't the be-all and end-all solution, though (and there's so often a danger in the digital community to accept the Next Big Shiny as the answer to Everything, Ever).

As someone pointed out during the talk, can content on a mobile device elicit the same kind of emotional response as other media? Is there enough depth to it? TV shows, movies, books, even games can make people cry -- can anything on a tiny phone achieve that?

There's certainly something to be said about the small size of the screen -- it's harder to become fully immersed in something that size. There's also the question of context -- you're less likely to start crying at something sitting on the bus than you are at home in your room. Furthermore, the content itself is likely to be designed in smaller bites on a mobile device, and so there's less ability to pull someone in.

But, it could be that we just haven't seen anything that yet really takes advantage of the platform. The content has to be built for it -- and there are certainly videos that are less than five minutes long that can send me to tears. Screen + Context + Content must work together. While perhaps less able to move everyone in a large audience emotionally, when people are in different places and in different moods, it does have the potential to send a great emotional piece of content at just the right time to catch someone in a situation when it can profoundly affect them. And that wherever-you-are-and-whenever-it-happens potential of a mobile device is something not available elsewhere.

Overall, I think there's a lot of potential with mobile devices to reach more people with a fully integrated transmedia story. What do you think -- is it the size of the screen that counts, or how you design for it?