Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone experiments with storytelling

The Toronto incubator is hunting for agencies and brands to submit projects that help evolve the transmedia space.
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Fresh on the heels of a “book hackathon,” working with the likes of Penguin Books and The Walrus, Ryerson’s newly-minted Transmedia Zone is hunting for new partners and calls for proposals to bring into the space.

Launched in December 2013, the Zone is an incubator of sorts to work on projects that “advance the art of storytelling,” says Richard Lachman, director, the Transmedia Zone.

For example, the recent book hackathon invited Ryerson students to innovate the book industry, and brought in executives from Kobo, the aforementioned Penguin and The Walrus, as well as some authors to help guide students. Projects from the event, which was held on March 7, are currently being reviewed for implementation. Though this particular event was student-focused, future hackathons and conferences will be aimed at bringing in industry professionals across multiple disciplines, including gaming, advertising and content creation, Lachman says.

While short events help promote the Zone and encourage people to think about transmedia, the bulk of its work revolves around its four-month residency program, where people are invited to submit project proposals and transmedia experiments. Right now, 11 projects are underway (including one for TVO, about which he can’t divulge details), and a new call for proposals will go out in early April.

Though the Zone doesn’t offer financing for projects, it does give participants a physical space to try things (such as new forms of video editing or app or game development), offers access to mentors as well as people from varied disciplines (such as connecting authors and game developers, agencies and media companies), to encourage ideas that can stem from those collaborations.

“We’re looking for experiments in telling stories, but also experiments in understanding audiences and new business models,” Lachman says. So while the current incarnation of projects is very “storytelling” heavy, he’s hopeful new participants could beef up the experiments with audiences and business models.

Less than four months old, the Zone is still in its “pilot” phase, Lachman says. However, he hopes they can attract industry professionals to apply during their next round of applications. The goal, he says, is to one day be structured similarly to Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone incubator, which works directly with agencies and brands, such as Sport Chek.

The Transmedia Zone is a good space for brands or agencies looking to experiment outside of a traditional business environment, especially those interested in cultivating a startup culture (which is often built around the idea of “fail early and often”). It can be difficult for companies to sign off on projects that are likely to fail, he says, so the zone offers them a “safe” space to experiment.

“We want to build something where failing often is great,” he says. “You’re able to try these [projects], put them in front of real people and see what the outcome is. If that’s a failure, you know it and you form your next project.”