December 5, 2019

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Transmedia : a complex financing and legal framework

These past years more and more audio-visual projects are transmedia works. Such transmedia works are showed off in festivals dedicated to this format such as I love Transmedia and Crossvideo Days in  Paris, “Forum blanc” in Annecy, Festival for arts and numerical culture in La Rochelle ….


Among several transmedia works web can point out different major projects as « Anarchy »  produced and broadcasted by France 4 which involves multiple formats : TV, web, radio and print press or « Alt Minds » produced jointly by Orange and Lexis Numérique, that allows the user to play and get information for the game on computer, tablet and mobile and entirely immerses the player.


Before discussing the specifics of this format it is important to distinguish crossmedia and transmedia. Indeed, the crossmedia consists in transposing or declining the same narrative content across different media, as adaptations of books, films, video game, television series ... while transmedia is to develop a same story across multiple media which form a coherent whole. American teacher Henry Jenki


ns defines the transmedia as « a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.». Although it shoul be noted that may projects combine “cross” and “trans” media approaches.


The production of transmedia projects naturally raises for the producer funding issues but also specific legal issues linked to this new format.


I/ Financing transmedia


Transmedia is a complex format. Nonetheless it arises the classical financing issues all the more so the creation of numeric work is costly.



A/ Alternative financing


Different possibilities exist for the producer regarding alternative funding and we can notably point out that :


  • Brands have been (and remain) particularly important for transmedia' production whether considering brand content or brand advertising to reach the widest possible audience.


Some brands fund and develop their own transmedia universe to involve the consumers involve (here web can especially point out the web series developed to promote the Twingo brand). Trademarks may also be projects' sponsor or develop a policy for the products placement as seen with the series "Les colocs" (« The roomates » sponsored by the bank BNP Paribas. Indeed since 2010 the Frenc audioviusal council extended the authorization of product placement in music video and TV dramas, thus allowing brands to position themselves in transmedia projects using these formats.


  • Producers may consider to solicit a payment for the content


Indeed producers may consider broadcasting their project on a  "freemium" bases to ensure their return on investment. This remains rare but was notably the case for "Detective Avenue" (launched by Orange and Murmures Productions) fir which the players could get clues through charged phone calls and / or mms or "Alt-mind" whose web series and webapp were free while the investigation games were charged beyond the first episode.


  • As digital culture is go along with it, crowdfunding is also a possibility


We will not dwell on this financing system but we can discuss the project "Balance of Powers" fully funded on the platform Kickstarter that mingles book and alternate reality game in the form of episodes. Adrian Hon of SixtoStart explained in this regard that: "Crowdfunding is linked to the idea of community. (...) In addition to raising funds, (the platform) enables us to better reach our audience and to talk about our work "


Beyond these specific modes of financing we can notice that the strong development of transmedia works led broadcasters to show interest and enter into production, while at the same specific funds have been created.


B/ Traditional financing


  • Financial support from TV Channels :


We may notably mention the New writings department within France Télévisions established in 2011, which is experiencing a very strong growth. Indeed since its launch the annual budgets rose from 800 000 (e)  to 4 000 000 (e). France Télévisions wishes to accompany the evolution of the audiovisual sector. In this context Boris Razon director of this department stated in that sense that "The challenge is to give productions existence for the Web and to make enter TV programs in a digital dimension. Not as a showcase, but as a specific element of (the) programs ".


The productions of the New writings department are visible on a dedicated platform : Studio 4. Among them, the project "Jusqu’ici" (So far) by Vincent Morisset in which the viewer can visit a Canadian forest with a virtual reality helmet and a joystick or 'Wei Dei” by Sylvain Buisson that brings the viewer into a students' week-end that goes bad.


Arte creative platform that is very involved in the development of web projects is also interested in transmedia's work.  "Californium" project is a good example as the projet includes documentaries and video games (on sale for 9 euros in whole or freely published one chapter after an another on the Arte Creative platform). As another example the TV documentary "Un jour en France" (A day in France) comes with a localization app and a quiz that varies depending on your location.


If broadcasters are an important aid in the financing of transmedia projects, creators and producers may also rely on specific funds that have developed in recent years.


  • Funds dedicated to transmedia works :


The authors or producers may file an application for writing and development's aid for multi-support projects that include television and / or cinema. The French National Center of Cinematography (CNC) that rules on four times a year provides this aid. It is expressly understood that the project must be an original concept with specific content for the new media, with specific narrative developments for each supports but forming a single universe with an interactive dimension and / or a participatory dimension. This aid concerns either fiction, documentary or animated projects. It is capped at 50% of the writing and development budget and to an amount of € 50,000.


 CNC also proposes a fund for audiovisual innovation created to foster creativity and innovation for television. This fund supports authors while developing their concepts and/or while writing the project and then the producers while financing the projects entitled to a writing support. Nevertheless it should be noted that this aid may in no case be combined with aid to multi-support projects.


The Beaumarchais-SACD association, in partnership with Orange also offers authors a grant for the writing of Transmedia projects. Created in 2009 the Orange / Format Innovative fund became this year the Fund/ transmedia. This grant supports the authors in the development of transmedia fiction projects that highlight the multi-media storytelling and promote interactivity with the viewer. This fund consists of a lump sum of 7000 € as well as 660 € of social contributions paid for the authors to the French relevant authority. This amount is complemented by a personalized support system that consists of a support in the efforts to promote the work to professionals and may be complemented by additional aids available under conditions.


Finally, regional funds are also available. These notably include a fund for transmedia projects and web provided by the region of Provence "For projects that propose narrative developments non linear and / or interactive, provided for one or more screens". This fund supports projects with a development support (5000 to 10 000 (e) ) and a production  support (15 000 to 50 000). The region Nord pas de Calais has also a call for prpjects dedicated to interactive experiences with grants that go from 10 000 to 60 000. Finally in 2015 the city of Paris created a fund to support the writing and development of transmedia projects and may provide a maximum aid of € 20,000 per project; intended exclusively for the writing and development project expenditures on the Parisian territory.


Beyond the financial issues transmedia projects' creators and producers face a legal framework that can be complex.



II/ Legal framework for transmedia projects


The transmedia creation, by its very nature is complex: it involves a plurality of supports and authors and may sometimes be difficult to understand.


First, we note that the work transmedia is still new and therefore absent from the French intellectual property code. It is therefore necessary to examine his classification with caution. Transmedia combines multiple media and often presents interactive aspects, thus it is polymophic and complex.

Here we have to point out that the notion of interactivity excludes the qualification of audiovisual work. Indeed, the French Court of cassation has clearly stated about a video game, that as far as a work is not exclusively linear, it cannot be classified as an audiovisual work.  (C. Cass 2009 arrêt Cryo).


Similarly transmedia work cannot be classified solely as a multimedia work, indeed the multimedia work is defined as "the combination on the same media of elements of various nature, notably sounds, texts, animated or still images, computer programs whose structure and access are controlled by a software that allows interactivity and conceived to have its own identity, different from the sole gathering of its components”  (CERDI-Art 3000, 1996, for the French Minister of Culture).


Therefore be applied to transmedia works the usual classification as provided for in the French Intellectual Property Code. Thus transmedia works can be classified as a work of join authorship for which all those involved are co-authors or as a work of collective authorship, developed under the control of a project initiator and in which contributors have no overall vision . Then the rights shall belong to the author that created and controlled the entire universe.


However, it makes sens to consider multimedia work as intricate work within the meaning given by the French Court of Cassation in 2009 regarding to a video game. The Court establishes in this decision that a video game qualifies as an intricate work especially because it includes several elements such a scenario, software, or music. As a consequence the Court applies a distributive system and determines that "each element is subject to the regime applicable to it according to its nature."


As the transmedia work also includes a multitude of elements and have no specific regime it might seem appropriate to operate in a similar way and to apply different protections specific to each of the components of the transmedia project.


As a consequence, to protect the transmedia work it is necessary to adapt to each project, to play with the various provisions of the Intellectual Property Code and to seek to protect not only the transmedia work as a structure but also each of its components. First we will apply to protect the project bible that defines the universe and the multiple media involves, mentioning the author of the bible and all the authors of the transmedia project. In France SACD or SCAM, as copyright collectives, offer deposit forms for transmedia projects. Then we will act to protect each of the different components: film, TV series or web series, mobile app...

Jérôme Deschenes when he was still chief executive of the SACD said on this matter that « This is not a revolution. We know the status of each work and we know how to protect them. What is necessary is to protect each work in addition of the main universe. » nonetheless pointing out that «Not everything will come under the copyright regime but of the regime of the legal status of each component ».

It is still important to note that identifying the authors can sometimes be difficult. Thus, Morgan Bouchet, Vice President of Transmedia Lab noted that "if we can easily identify the principal author of a transmedia project, it's harder to do so for the co-authors, due to the number of partners and media..


Moreover, once the various authors are identified they will not benefit from the same status and great inequalities may result of these status. Indeed the French law does not protect in the same way scriptwriter, draughtsman, developer...


Indeed developers and software's authors are far less protected than the scriptwriters. Generally if a developer is hired for a game, a website or a multimedia media project, all of its copyright is granted to the producer.


Conversely for a screenwriter, copyrights will be managed in the same way for a transmedia project than for a traditional project. Then a scriptwriter will receive a minimum guarantee on his share of royalties and eventually later will perceive some revenue from the relevant copyright collectives or directly from the producer.


Here we can see that high vigilance is required on the part of authors and producers with regard to the protection and acquisition of intellectual property right. Due to the complexity of transmedia projects it is advisable to organize the protection of such works in collaboration with legal advice.

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