Is the PGA’s New ‘Transmedia Producer’ Credit a Good Thing?

UPDATED: The Producer’s Guild of America announced last night the creation of a new title for producers who work in the increasingly high-profile world of “transmedia,” which in this context specifically refers to those who produce content that expands the world of a narrative beyond one medium.

The PGA’s official definition for a transmedia narrative, as published on yesterday, is one that:

“…must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms: Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist.”

According to PGA Director of Communications Chris Green, the omission of video games from that list is an oversight that will be amended shortly, and emphasized the guild’s interest in bringing in producers who fall into this category. “It is producing work and storytelling work that does utilize many of the skills traditionally associated with producing,” he said via phone. “[Transmedia] is important and it’s only going to get more important.”

The question is, though, what do people who now technically qualify for PGA membership think about this? I emailed around a little to see.

Miles Beckett of EQAL, which would be eligible thanks to projects like the Harper’s Island spin-off Harper’s Globe, thinks it’s a good thing “because it will formally recognize individuals who contribute to the ‘multi-platform’ components of an entertainment franchise.” He’s considering joining, but he needs “to look into the full requirements for membership… including the dues :).”

Writer Nina Bargial, who was the architect of the Streamy Award-nominated transmedia experience for Valemont, believes that her work on the Electric Farm project would make her eligible, and while she didn’t think the definition of a transmedia experience was perfect, she did appreciate that that “it recognizes our endeavors as an integral part of the experience. Plus, for freelancers (such as myself) it also means things like health benefits and pension.” She’s already a member of the WGA, but is considering applying.

No Mimes Media‘s Behnam Karbassi, who was involved with the transmedia campaign for Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight (s TWX) among others, pointed out that the PGA’s decision “solidifies ‘transmedia’ as the term to be applied to multi-platform storytelling (after much debate over the last few years), it acknowledges transmedia as a true addition to the production world, and it signals what many of us already believe, that transmedia storytelling is the future of entertainment.”

Karbassi is now definitely going to apply to the PGA, but his No Mimes partner Steve Peters isn’t so sure. For one thing, he’s concerned that “its definition seems to be pretty skewed toward franchising as opposed to ARG or transmedia entertainment experiences in the classic sense (if there can be such a thing),” though he hopes that will change in the future. For another thing, his official title at No Mimes is now Chief Designer, which means he doesn’t quite fit into the producer role, even though his duties incorporate producing tasks (as well as tasks that might be covered by the Writer’s or Director’s Guild). Peters hinted at the fact that a new guild might be necessary for the transmedia world, “another organization that would be focused on Transmedia from its inception.”

Damon Berger, director of digital marketing at 20th Century Fox (s NWS), also wasn’t enthusiastic, mainly because he didn’t see the need. “Why do they need to call it something different than being a producer?” he said via phone. “You just happen to be doing the same job with something that incorporates new technology. To me it seems that there’s something missing in the idea that you’re a transmedia producer instead of just a co-producer.”

He was also not a fan of the definition, as it offered up so much gray area that “almost anyone can be considered a transmedia producer in the digital space,” including studio marketing teams. “It’s either going to be incredibly limiting or it’s going to open the floodgates for everyone who works on a project at a studio to become a part of this story universe,” he said.

In addition, he voiced his concern over the fact that giving transmedia producers a specific credit “almost feels like [they’re] the B-team. I can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

And he might have a point there. I asked the PGA’s Green about how a transmedia producer might be ranked in relation to a traditional producer, and he replied that “What a transmedia producer and a traditional producer do are separate things. I don’t want to say that they’re secondary, but a transmedia producer isn’t creating intellectual property, but instead expanding intellectual property across multiple platforms. Not to say that they’re not valuable and essential members of the team — I don’t want to set up opposition between transmedia producers and traditional producers — but they fulfill different functions.”

UPDATE: Green emailed later to clarify his comments above, saying:

“What a transmedia producer and a traditional producer do are separate things. I wouldn’t say that they’re secondary, but for the most part, as the term is used today, a transmedia producer chiefly will expand new or established intellectual property across multiple platforms. They’re valuable, even essential members of the producing team, who complement the role of the traditional producer, thanks to their understanding of the strengths and weakness of different types of media and platforms.

“Of course, as transmedia develops and evolves as a form of storytelling, we’re likely to see significant intellectual property created by producers whose ‘native’ mode is working in transmedia — developing properties that leverage multiple media platforms to tell original stories. Those producers would likely wield a similar level of authority and creative control over their creations as traditional producers in film and television do today.”

The general agreement amongst those I talked to was that despite its flaws, the new credit was an important acknowledgment of transmedia by the Hollywood establishment, and might, in Karbassi’s words, lead to “[fewer] puzzled looks on the faces of execs.”

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