Rules and financial models are still being worked out, but experts say that a new artform is definitely emerging.

We’re on the verge of a new art form, but one without a solid economic model in place. That was the message from the experts at the fifth Power To The Pixel Cross-Media Forum kicked off in London on Tuesday.

Michel Reilhac, executive director of Arte France Cinema, said: “Transmedia is a whole new set of tools and options. We are in a very privileged moment — for the next two to three years, we are pioneers, we don’t have any rules and models. This may take a certain number of years.”

When winning old-media converts to transmedia, Reilhac said: “The question that always comes back is, ‘Where is the economic model?’ The answer is easy: there is none, it’s just too early. We are pioneering this form. There are ways of making money…but we are just at the very beginning. If people are there to make money it’s not their place. They should come back in a few years. If they are there to explore a new artform, that’s where we are now.” [However, Nuno Bernardo of beActive did present one financial model for the current marketplace.]

Reilhac also spoke about the new language of transmedia. He compared the current situation to the Lumiere Brothers’ 1896 first film of a train coming into a station, which terrified an audience that wasn’t familiar with film language. “I feel that through this new frontier that we’re exploring of transmedia, we’re in the same exact position as the audience in 1896. We are just as naive, uninformed, disconcerted, unprepared.”

Lance Weiler, who has spoken at every PTTP London conference for the past five years, said it was still a time to embrace experimentation and exploration of new models. He said: “People are looking for answers, but I think the beauty of this time are the questions.”

Jeff Gomez, the transmedia guru who is CEO of New York-based Starlight Runner Entertainment (which has world on titles including Avatar), said there is still ongoing education about how transmedia should be used with film properties. “We are taking intellectual property — like tentpoles — and helping studios understand that there can be a greater return on investment if they don’t just repeat the same story on different platforms.”

Gomez acknowledged that transmedia can “give us a way to sell stuff” and that’s what big corporations are most interested in now, but that he thinks it will also lead to less cynical uses. “What is going to emerge, what is starting to emerge, is a new form of art. We are at the dawn of something really really special, it only happens when there is a new medium arriving.”

He noted that in the TV world, even old school players like Italy’s Rai are now trying to learn about transmedia. Also, Mexico’s Televisa has created a transmedia division to branch out storytelling potential from its telenovelas. He added: “Sponsors want to move out with that narrative, they will ultimately pay if there is evidence that the audience is building with these fresh accents points.”

That is one financial model — having transmedia inside the infrastructure of big media companies — that can be a solution to the challenge of transmedia.

Another example Gomez pointed to as a signal to transmedia’s future is JK Rowling’s Pottermore online community. “Pottermore will offer ebooks, and that’s a driver for the implementation. But what’s is potentially going on, is that there is a more powerful relationship being built between the visionary and the mass audience…At some point I’m hoping that Rowling and her team come to understand that there can be a little more here, this can become a communal storytelling engine.” [Another speaker, Christopher Sandberg of The Company P, warned that opening up storytelling to audiences has it special challenges, “like herding cats.”]

Like other PTTP speakers including Weiler and Sandberg, Reilhac also pointed to the power of “eventing” — or having real-life non-digital components to transmedia projects. “When CDs became obsolete, the music industry reinveted itself around concerts and touring,” he said. “The value of uniqueness of these events is as strong as the content.”

Paddy Adams of advertising agency Manning Gottlieb OMD, said that companies were becoming more open
to getting their messages across in new ways. “We are beginning to see advertising start to get more sophisticated. There are new media planning approaches that think more about participants, developing a story, evolving a story, having less repitition between media, and the idea that the content is deeper. It’s beginning to head in that direction.”

The afternoon sessions included case studies presented by Lance Weiler of The Workbook Project (Pandemic 1.0 and Robot Heart Stories); Rebecca Denton of Turner Broadcasting (The Amazing World of Gumball); Dan Efergan of Aardman Animations (The Tate Movie Project); Katerina Cizek of NFB Canada (Highrise: Out My Window); Tero Kaukomaa of Blind Spot Pictures (Iron Sky); and Cally Poplak and Mike Richards of Egmont Press (BZRK).

Power To The Pixel’s Cross-Media Forum, in partnership with the BFI London Film Festival, continues through Friday, with Wednesday and Thursday presenting the Pixel Market (including finance summit and pitching as well as one-on-one meetings) and Friday inaugurating a new think-tank with 40 experts.