Intermedia – The Next Phase In Consumer Engagement

If you’ve be reading my blog for the last couple of weeks you know I’ve been keenly interested in the development of Social TV. And while sites like GetGlue and Philo (which was just bought by Local Response) got things kicked off by allowing you to “check-in” to the content you were reading/watching/listening to, I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more about companies like Social Guide and Bluefins Labs in the months to come. This area is developing rapidly now and a recent article in GOOD – Tweet Seekers: How Your Social Media Outbursts Influence TV Networkswas a real eye opener for me. Take a look at what TV programs people are talking about online:

The Tweet Is On

This data comes from Bluefin and shows how Social TV is starting to “hockey stick.” But I think something else is going to emerge here that is going to be significant for both agencies and content developers. It’s what I’m calling Intermedia.

Cross-Media v. Transmedia

Chances are you’re familiar with the terms like transmedia and cross-media. But right now distinctions and definitions are important, so let’s lay this all out. First, here’s a definition of transmedia from SeizeTheMedia:

Transmedia is a format of formats; an approach to story delivery that aggregates fragmented audiences by adapting productions to new modes of presentation and social integration. The execution of a transmedia production weaves together diverse storylines, across multiple outlets, as parts of an overarching narrative structure. These elements are distributed through both traditional and new media outlets. The online components exploit the social conventions, and social locations, of the internet.

Here’s what that looks like, again from SeizeTheMedia:

From SeizeTheMedia

The Producer’s Guild of America has issued a press release on Transmedia, formerly acknowledging the title Transmedia Producer. Brooke Thompson has a fantastic post where she breaks down transmedia, and looks to differentiate it from cross-media (and rightly so). Cross-media, according to Brooke, is defined as:

“[…]but here there may be content that drives you from one platform to the next.  However, the relationship is typically one way and it’s quite simple. As far as the entirety of the project, the platforms do not rely upon each other in order to make the experience complete. For example, look at you favorite television show’s website. Does it have character bios? A timeline of big events that have taken place? Extra video? All of these things are driven by the content on one platform (your favorite show), but they don’t have much interaction with each other and virtually none with your favorite show. It’s unidirectional – your show drives the content, but it does not ask for anything in return. In other words, any narrative outside of the show is not only optional but it doesn’t have any impact on the show itself. As you probably gathered by looking at your favorite show’s website, we see a lot of this coming out of Hollywood these days (advertising, too). This is cross-media.

Here’s an infrographic from the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association entitled, How Cross-Media Revived the TV Star:

Courtesy: MIMA

Finally, one last graphic from Brooke Thompson, providing a nice side-by-side comparison of cross-media and transmedia:


Want more on transmedia? Go read Henry Jenkins’ Transmedia Storytelling 101.

What is Intermedia?

But I believe the rise of Social TV is bringing about something different. Something beyond creating related content across multiple channels and platforms (cross-media) or even driving a singular narrative thread across multiple channels and platforms (transmedia). I think we are starting to see the evolution of content traveling between multiple platforms and channels (intermedia).

The term intermedia has been used before. From Wikipedia:

Intermedia was a concept employed in the mid-sixties by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins to describe the ineffable, often confusing, inter-disciplinary activities that occur between genres that became prevalent in the 1960s. Thus, the areas such as those between drawing and poetry, or between painting and theatre could be described as intermedia. With repeated occurrences, these new genres between genres could develop their own names (e.g. visual poetry or performance art.)

Note the use of the world between. This isn’t merely turning a musical into a movie or or using a famous painting as the basis of a play like Marat/Sade.  The former being something more akin to cross-media, the latter perhaps more accurately defined as an piece of meta-fiction. Nor is it something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which hovers somewhere between meta-fiction and transmedia. Intermedia has a more direct, and immediate interaction between content from multiple platforms or channels.

Here’s a stab at a more formal definition:

Intermedia is characterized by the real-time interaction of content consumers between themselves and content producers, the content’s participants or notable third parties. This engagement may play a role in the on-going or future development of the content in the form of voting, surveys, commentary or other forms of interaction.

They key here is that intermedia isn’t simply people tweeting about Beyonce’s baby bump during the MTV Video Music Awards. That’s simply an example of Social TV. Intermedia begins when Beyonce starts tweeting back to people immediately after her performance, while the VMA’s are still going on.

There are several scenarios where intermedia can pop up, here are a few examples:

  • During a football game, the announcers field questions from Twitter and respond both on Twitter and on television
  • Joan Rivers engages in a live Twitter chat from the Oscar Red Carpet and shares the comments with celebrities as they come by
  • Show runner Matthew Weiner jumps on Twitter during a first run airing of a new Mad Men episode, providing commentary
  • The character Sam Winchester from the CW television show Supernatural tweets between episodes and his interaction with fans works its way into future episodes
  • American Idol contestants are voted on via mobile phone by fans
  • A football team shows tweets in-stadium on digital boards
  • A news anchor hosting a live Google+ hangout during an evening newscast

Many of these are happening, or have happened, to some degree in the past, but I believe you are going to see an explosion of it in the future.

Intermedia Winners

Who is going to benefit from the development and practice of intermedia? Well for one, agencies. There is going to be a fight to see who will become the intermedia strategy agency on behalf of properties. Intermedia planner is going to be a job title in the future – held by the person who understands the platforms, the culture, the talent and the timing to enhance the engagement with and affinity for the property.

The service and tools providers like Social Guide. Check out their mobile app, it’s going to become an essential element to the content consumption experience. Measurement and real-time monitoring of intermedia content will be a lucrative field (hello Radian6, Nielsen and Bluefin Labs).

Savvy content producers will be in high demand. Here’s where Warner Bros. is going to potentially come to dominate in a whole new way. I’ve already written about their dominance of television content production, and much of it is intermedia ready. Shows like the aforementioned Supernatural, and daytime hit The Ellen Degeneres Show are already huge Social TV hits. Understanding how to make shows that work well for intermedia will be a new benchmark.

Intermedia in other channels and platforms

I’ve focused on Twitter and television for this post, but intermedia opportunities will expand and be adopted in other areas:

  • Imagine readers posting questions or comments within an interface in Kindle editions of books and having them answered by the author via a YouTube channel
  • DJs at a club could simultaneously play the same song in a room, or take requests from one venue and play the song in the other

In my next post I’m going to look at Intermedia strategy and provide my thoughts on how an agency would develop this new practice. But first I’d like your thoughts. Is Intermedia the right name? Do you agree that this is a rich new area of content integration and engagement? Give me your thoughts below.

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  • Gladys Santiago

    Not many people bring this up when discussing social TV, but back in 2007, Nielsen launched Hey Nielsen!, a site where viewers could chat and rate shows/episodes and music with other fans. The Hey Nielsen project was shelved prematurely because the first recession hit, but the amount of positive feedback from users was incredible. Initially it was thought that having real-time feedback from viewers would really help networks tweak shows to keep viewers more engaged.
    I’m glad to see this extension of content engagement beginning to explode.

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  • Rick Liebling

    Wow, I wasn’t aware of that, great knowledge Gladys. Nielsen definitely have a vested interest in this area, it will be interesting to see how they respond, or work with, groups like Social Guide and Bluefin Labs.

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  • Faris

    Ello! Nicely mate. I put some thoughts about this kind of thing down as Media is One System and Reverse the Polarity:

    I think we are mostly in agreement. Rock ON FX

  • Rick Liebling

    Thx FX. I’ll look to give that a read and incorporate into future posts on the subject.

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  • Carri Bugbee

    Rick, great overview and analysis. However, that gobbledygook definition of transmedia by SeizeTheMedia reads like it was written by attorneys. Ugh. I think it can be boiled down in far simpler and more accessible terms.

    Big picture, I think people will continue to use many of these terms interchangeably and it will be impossible to get people using the same terminology. Cross-media, transmedia, intermedia will all be used to describe story-telling across multiple media/platforms. I suspect cross-media or transmedia will be the most popular terms and it will be challenging to get people to adopt a newer term, however accurate it may be.

    Johnny Vulkan may be disappointed to learn that this stuff is amazingly complex with a stunning array of moving parts – and this complexity will only continue to escalate. I don’t think you can make it simple. For ad agencies, it’s no longer about the “big idea” that has dominated advertising approaches for decades. It’s about thousands of small ideas that you have to iterate every day. But if Ogilvy and his generation of ad men were alive today, I’m sure they’d see the opportunity and jump on it. 😉

    BTW, I wrote an article about social TV for the October issue of Social Media Monthly. You can subscribe to that new publication here:

    I also added your article to my Diigo group on Social TV & Film, which anyone can join:

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  • Aaron Strout

    Rick – wow! Great post and equally great use of infographics. Plus, you know that you had me at “GetGlue” (I also dig on the concept oh Philo).

    Look forward to more!


  • Rick Liebling

    Thanks Aaron!

  • Rick Liebling

    Hey Carri – Thanks for your comments. I’ll check out the article and the Diigo group!

  • David_Ogilvy

    @PeggyOlson – Rest assured we are indeed ready to “jump on it.”

  • Carri Bugbee

    I’d hate for Ogilvy to get a jump on the young & scrappy  Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce…I’ll make sure @PeggyOlson:twitter gets the heads up as well.

  • Matt McDougall

    Rick – really enjoyed your post! I have to share some concerns that appear down the comment stream regarding how to get the concept of intermedia firing outside of entertainment properties. Actually, scratch that – outside of high-passion properties. I have to imagine MINI or Canon or who-have-you could really take advantage of this. A few CPG brands could probably pull off something creative enough to ramp up interest, at least short term. The key would be in the logistics and execution of the interaction. My fear is that the line between actually useful engagement and gimmickry in this area is a very fine one.

    Within television specifically, I see pretty major engagement opportunities, from replacing the “panel of morons” they refer to during and after election debates (I think someone’s had a running twitter stream up during debates or during a SOTU address) to providing interaction between the audience and the showrunners/cast of scripted shows. Honestly it could replace/complement the podcast tradition that’s been around for some time (see Battlestar Galactica and LOST as prime examples). Something similar was tried for awhile with BD-Live, but that’s a crippled interface with basically zero use next to Twitter or other social networks.

    Looking forward to the next piece!

  • Anonymous

    Rick, great post and perspective as always. First I do like the term “intermedia” and can absolutely seeing this scale across many other screen experiences. The participatory aspect especially with your kindle example and having a real time discussion appear within a feed on say G+, is very compelling. The scalability to this kind of engagement and experience is a natural with both mobile and tablet, and I can easily see your observation rapidly taking hold. 

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  • John Evans

    Yeah, just imagine telling an interactive story, where people portraying the characters talked about their actions and a moderator decided what effects they had. You could start with something simple, like the characters exploring a dungeon and…oh wait…

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  • Rick Liebling

    John, I believe this is a thinly veiled allusion to that game played by young men in the 70s and 80s who couldn’t get dates. What was it called again, Creatures and Castles… Vampires and Villages…

    Bah, I can’t pretend, I was a HUGE D&D fan growing up and you make an interesting comparison. While interactivity is certainly an essential part of intermedia, the difference is that it spans different media. 

    I bet there would be some intriguing intermedia options with an MMO like World of Warcraft, which in some ways is the current evolution of D&D.

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  • Rohnjay

    Rick:  Grand post, well laid out.  I think game mechanics really become  the framework for this, with the very interesting twist that there are thousands / millions of players trying to influence the choices.  How could a TV / Online structure allow for both mass experience and personalization?