C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

We are gearing up here at the Consortium for the Futures of Entertainment conference, which is now less than two weeks away. If any of you within the Consortium who are coming to Cambridge for the event next week have any questions about what to do while you are here, or interest in connecting with other folks involved in the Consortium while you are here, feel free to be in touch.

This week's newsletter features an Opening Note from the Consortium's research manager, Joshua Green, who provides an advanced copy for a piece he is writing for FlowTV, the online critical forum on television and media culture from the University of Texas-Austin's Department of Radio, Television, and Film. This piece, based on work that Joshua has been doing on how to brand a television network in a cross-platform media environment, is the first in a series of pieces he is writing for Flow. He plans to include the three following installments in this series in future issues of the C3 Weekly Update.

Eleanor Baird's series on valuing fan communities returns this week in the Closing Note with the fourth installment. Eleanor, who is one of our research assistants here in the Consortium and a graduate student at MIT's Sloan School of Management, will provide the final installment in next week's Closing Note. For those who missed the first three pieces in this series and do not have the copies archived, feel free to contact me for a PDF version. This week's newsletter has come out a little later than usual to help facilitate a longer-than-usual Closing Note, but we are excited about this series and hope that it is of use to many of you readers.

As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, please let me know as usual if you are having any trouble receiving the newsletter. If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Joshua Green on the Branding of Television Networks

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Eleanor Baird on Valuing Fans, IV of V: Working It Out: The Model Fan?

Opening Note

What Does an American Television Network Look Like?

As U.S. networks adjust to the shifting paradigms of control that govern the space in which television is produced, distributed, and consumed, the nature of the television network is being re-written. The industry focus on 'engagement' across platforms requires a re-imagining of what a television network looks like, how it behaves, and how it constructs its audience. Though not completely dead yet, the network ident, historically crucial to the construction of network identity, has been stretched by these new conditions.

Network idents themselves seem to have been absent from U.S. television for a while now. Though the network's featured promos for the fall line-up advertises the highlights of the coming season, ongoing promotional material selling the network itself is, in the words of ABC marketing chief Michael Benson, "fairly low on the totem pole." (McPherson 2006).

Indeed, ABC's Yellow "I Like TV" campaign of the 1990s is still popularly remembered as the last network-wide branding campaign that had any real impact (Friedman 2007), and the current emphasis seems to be on promoting programs as sub-brands rather than focussing on network "cheer" (McPherson 2006). This approach resonates with current discussions about the changing nature of television's form, particularly the decoupling of television programming from the television schedule and advertising modes (Carlson 2006), and the increasing disconnect between content and the broadcast medium (Dawson 2007; Hills 2007; Kompare 2006).

The absence of overarching branding campaigns articulating the nature of the television network - advertising, consequently, it's appeal to audiences - raises a question, however, about what a television network looks like in the current climate. Television branding, Benson told Broadcasting and Cable in 2003, "is not simply graphic packaging; it is developing a voice, personality and feel for a network and its programming." ("Brand Builders", Broadcasting and Cable June 2, 2003). Reflecting on his time at VH1 in the 1980s, Benson remarked, "It dawned on me that we needed to take more of a packaged-goods approach to branding [television] - to create our 'Coke can' or 'Cheerios box,' - and then prove to our audiences who and what VH1 was about." ("Brand Builders", Broadcasting and Cable June 2, 2003).

While a little blunt, the 'packaged-goods' metaphor seems a useful one to describe some of the work television idents have traditionally played. In the U.S. cable market, this description would still seem apt (consider USA's "Characters Welcome" or Bravo's "Watch What Happens" campaigns), and, though it doesn't account for the community-forming role idents play, it would also seem to describe, to some extent, the role of ident campaigns in places such as the U.K. and Australia.

U.S. networks, however, have progressively eschewed this model of television branding, moving further towards program-specific promotion at the expense of network identity campaigns. The germ of this movement might be traced to the watermarking of content in the early 1990s in response to the increased mobility of viewers in a multi-channel environment. ABC introduced watermarks as part of their 1993 attempt to position the network as a 'superbrand' (Mandese 1993), promoting programs rather than the season's lineup and marking their programming with the now standard visual reminder of the content's origin to make apparent the link between program and network.

The emphasis on program brands as opposed to network identity makes a certain degree of sense given the declining role of the schedule as a way to structure audience engagement, increasing personalization of both content streams and sites of consumption (Carlson 2006; Dawson 2007), and move further toward first-order-commodity relationships with viewers (Hills 2007; Johnson 2007). And yet, the Networks have not fully transitioned to a status as program producers or content providers. The organizational form of television still relies on individual programs contributing to the cumulative success of the network, meaning there may still be some value in promoting the network brand. This brand, however, is one that now stretches across not only multiple content types but also multiple sites of consumption or engagement, and this requires a shift in the way the network is constructed through ident materials.

Despite the current elusiveness of network identity material on American television, ABC's "Start Here" provides an insight into the way US Networks are adjusting to the challenges of representing the network in the current market. Rolled out with their Fall 2007 line-up, "Start Here" presents ABC as the launching point for engaging with their content regardless of platform. Built around a graphics package featuring revolving icons representing a TV, computer, iPod, and cell phone, it features a prominent "play button" on the flip-side of the ABC medallion and a reminder to viewers the Network is the official source for accessing content.

Expressly offering viewers the promise of content available "anytime, anywhere", the campaign attempts to establish the significance of the Network in an era of textual and viewer mobility. As Dawson (2007) argues, 'mobility' as it pertains to the current television moment needs to refer not only to the physical mobility of viewers but also to the mobility of television texts, available and portable across platforms. Having traditionally only made limited offerings available through official or sanctioned sites, the Networks are yet to ascend to a status as the predominant sites beyond television viewers can access content through.

ABC's approach, then, attempts to establish the network not only as the party responsible for the production of content, but also as the site responsible for the distribution of this content across platforms. This campaign represents a determined shift away from network branding strategies of old which positioned the Networks as sources for the experience of television. Consider, for instance, NBC's "Come Home to NBC" or "Be There" campaigns from the 1980s where the network was actively constructed as not only domestic but the site itself through which the television experience took place.

If anything, "Start Here" serves to drive viewers away from the television set, responding to the fact the consumption of television content is no longer medium or temporally specific. Similar tendencies are present in the break bumpers NBC uses during commercial pods to remind viewers they can consume more - additional content, encores, two-minute recaps and the like - over at These break bumpers play with the feathers of the NBC peacock, using one feather each spot as a substitute for a mouse pointer while the content available online is promoted (a similar strategy is employed by NBCU owned cable channel Bravo).

What is significant about ABC's campaign, however, particularly in comparison to NBC's break bumpers, is the way it constructs the television network itself as a multi-platform object. "Start Here" portrays ABC as a network that exists across multiple platforms, rather than emphasizing (as NBC does) that the television experience is supported by extra-medium materials. Referring to ABC in the first person (suggesting viewers "start with us") and presenting the platforms as virtually equivalent or interchangeable as sites for consumption (which in practice is untrue), the campaign re-imagines the television network as a network oriented around television content, rather than one organized around the television medium or the shared experience of consumption.

Works Cited

Carlson, Matt. (2006) "Tapping into TiVo: Digital video recorders and the transition from schedules to surveillance in television," New Media & Society, 8 (1): 97-114

Dawson, Max. (2007) "Little Player, Big Shows: Format, narration, and style on televisions' new smaller screens," Convergence, 13(3): 231-250.

Friedman, Wayne. "Peacock Ruffles Feathers, Launches Brand Effort", Media Daily News, 07/17/2007, accessed September 17, 2007.

Hills, Matt. (2007) "From the Box in the Corner to the Box Set on the Shelf," New Review of Film and Television Studies, 5(1): 41-60.

Johnson, Catherine. (2006) "Tele-Branding in TVIII: The network as brand and the programme as brand," New Review of Film and Television Studies, 5(1): 5-24.

Kompare, Derek. (2006) "Publishing Flow: DVD Box Sets and the Reconception of Television," Television & New Media, 7: 335-360.

Mandese, J. "ABC's 'superbrand': Net powers up plan to bolster programming", Advertising Age, 6/14/1993: 2.

McPherson, Steve. "ABC's Benson Pushes "One" Campaign," Broadcasting and Cable, 6/12/06: 2, 24.

Joshua Green is the research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Jesus 2.0: Christianity in Cyberspace. In light of a recent Forbes piece on Christianity in the Web 2.0 world, Sam Ford looks at several of the pieces featured on the C3 blog in the past couple of years dealing explicitly with the way Christian communities are using technology in interesting ways, and business models built around creating Christian media audiences and users.

The Black Nerd: A Stereotype to Break Stereotypes? Sam Ford looks at the recent post by Desedo Films' Raafi Rivero on the history of the black nerd and the ways in which conflicting stereotypes help complicate prejudice.

Bluegrass Music and Fan Tourism at Jerusalem Ridge. Sam Ford looks at his hometown's appearance on the front page of the Travel section in Sunday's New York Times and how fan tourism can be a draw for music industries like bluegrass.

The Future of Niche Cinema. Sam Ford writes about shifting business models for promoting films to target audiences and how outlets like DVD, online video, and video-on-demand might help change the cost structure of film production.

Looking at the Panoramic View: The State of Online Video. Sam Ford recounts a recent visit to the offices of Hill/Holliday to meet with C3 Alum Ilya Vedrashko and VideoPlaza Founder Sorosh Tavakoli to discuss the current state and future of a business model for online video. "It is precisely the panoramic view that people like Ilya have that can make this so frustrating. The industry is slow to change, and technological infrastructure can often be even slower."

My Afternoon with the Robot. Sam Ford recounts his recent visit with Robert Doornick, founder and president of International Robotics, and the robot he believes can still innovate education, therapy, and marketing. "So what is the purpose of the robot? Is it to diffuse a serious situation through an out-of-place gimmick? Is it to provide a face to marketing that isn't tied up with preconceived racial/cultural markers? Or is it to make us more aware of human nature and biases ironically by presenting a non-human entity communicating in very human-like ways, with a human controller? Or does it have to be any one way?"


Looking at the Google/Nielsen Partnership in Light of This Year's Development. Sam Ford looks back at the Google/Echostar partnership, controversies surrounding page counts, and second-by-second ratings, in relation to recent news of Google further positioning itself in the television measurement world.

MIT Center for Future Civic Media Blog. Sam Ford writes about the launch of MIT's Center for Future Civic Media, through a grant with the Knight Foundation, and the breadth of coverage on their blog, spanning not only issues in the journalism world but also posts like CMS graduate student Abhimanyu Das' recent piece on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

A Transformation of Our Own: Fanfiction Communities and the Organization for Transformative Works. Xiaochang Li writes about the Organization for Transformative Works, the new fan-run organization which is seeking to create its own archive of fanfic as a reaction to the FanLib controversy, which sought to create a commercial outlet for fan fiction content.

Growing Up in the 1930s: How Media Changes our Relations to the Past. Henry Jenkins looks at the amount of historical television and radio content he consumed in his youth and how the media of the past can still be relevant to the present.

What Value Is There in Being LinkedIn? Sam Ford takes an audit of his own LinkedIn network and starts a discussion with readers on the worth of maintaining a network on the site, based on a recent piece from Peppercom's Steve Cody on whether maintaining a LinkedIn page is worth the effort it takes.

Around the Consortium: Gender and Fan Studies, WGA Strike Lost. Avi D. Santo and Barbara Lucas participate in the latest round of discussion on Henry Jenkins' blog, while The Extratextuals look at what the writers' strike might mean for the industry and Jason Mittell shares an upcoming publication entitled "Lost in a Great Story: Evaluation in Narrative Television (and Television Studies."

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

Valuing Fans, IV of V: Working It Out? The Model Fan

Comic Book Guy: Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured I was on the internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.

Bart Simpson: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?

CBG: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.

Bart: What? They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.

CBG: Worst episode ever.

Source: The Simpsons Archive: Comic Book Guy File,

After a short hiatus, we return to the questions raised two weeks ago in my previous installments of this thought piece on beginning to quantify fan engagement based on previous qualitative work that C3 has done on categorizing fan behaviors.

In this installment, I will revisit our index from last time, and discuss in more depth what it might mean and how we might use it to understand the potential value of fan engagement.

Back To the Index -- Feedback and More Analysis

Click to Enlarge

To recap, the chart is a visual representation of different forms of fan behavior and engagement, based on criteria for loyalty set out in the marketing literature, and the three behavioral categories: socializing, activism and consuming. The bars represent the total index points that each role received in the analysis (to a maximum was 45), and the colored sections the proportion of the points that came from each of the three behavioral categories (with a maximum of 15 points each).

Based on input from my colleagues at C3, I changed the order of engaged behaviors in the "consuming" section. The updated chart appears above and the table on the final page of this document.

The objective of this exercise was to enable us to visualize and scale the proportion of activity within each role, or type of fan behavior, that is related to consuming, activism and socializing. It is important to note that this is about fan engagement with a media property, not with the advertising, which will be addressed in a future piece.


From this exercise, we see that although loyals, grassroots intermediaries, long tail fans, and content creators all have similar levels of consumption under the index, the loyals, the group of fans identified in C3's research as the traditionally most valuable given the current economics of the television industry are actually not the most engaged. For the time being, I will focus on that finding and come back to the other points later.

The Big Ideas

What are the implications of this? If indeed the "grassroots intermediary" and "lead user" behaviors represent the highest levels of engagement, it suggests that true engagement with the program is not about that first broadcast airing, or success of a product when it is launched, but what happens to that property and its fan base over a longer period of time.

Consequently, the value of these engaged audience members is not just difficult to quantify, but is complicated by realization over a long period of time. So, is measuring engagement the best way of establishing ad rates or reaching of the appropriate demographic targets? I would argue that it is not.

Ideally, if you are in agreement with this chart, a fan who is a grassroots intermediary and a long tail user, perhaps someone who watches a show after (and also perhaps during) the initial network run and promotes it to others. And therein lies the key -- the value of an engaged audience may not lie so much in what they do to interact with the property in any way, but how they create conditions for others to do so.

So, the question then becomes, what is the value of this long-term audience, and is it more or less than the eyeballs on the screen at the time of airing or, as the industry seems to accept, three days later?

Assessing Long-Term Value

This installment and part five focus on answering this very question. As always, my first step was to look at literature in various disciplines to see if there were any tested models that could be applied. The difficulty here is always knowing exactly the extent to which how these models are transferable.

Marketing research and models are helpful, but present interesting problems.

There is a fair amount of literature dedicated to consumer lifetime value (CLV), how to calculate it, and how much it should factor into the company's marketing decisions. There has also been a fair bit of work done on and customer relationship management (CRM) the value and motivation of word-of-mouth.

CLV is a particularly interesting concept to examine here, because no matter how you calculate it, the basic premise is that it is seeking to find the present value of all future monetary transactions that a company has with a particular type of customer, less the promotional and usually acquisition cost of those revenue streams. Like the model I am attempting to create here for audiences, CLV models generally seek to understand groups of customers, not individuals. The models can get very complex, but the key variables seem to fall into four categories:

Scale: Number and type of distinct customer groups.
Behavior: Probability of repeat purchase, propensity for cross-buying/picking up similar products, variation in customer activity in each cycle (season), word of mouth activity
Retention & Acquisition: Overall retention and acquisition rates, trial rate relative to regular consumption, switching costs to the consumer, customer communication and involvement (with the corporation).
Cost & Revenue: Advertising expenses, discount rate, consumption rate, transaction size and contribution margin Some of these variables do apply to fans, but as the next section will explain, some are not closely related to the fan behaviors that we have been looking at.

My first step was to create a table of the fan behaviors we have been working with and compare it against the preceedng variables from CLV models to determine what characteristics the ideal model would focus on to value engaged fans.

Currency Conundrum

To use any of the models, we would need to work out is what the currency in valuing fans could be. In the absence of advertising revenue as a currency, there are three potential units of measurement, which I see as playing, generally speaking, into the forms of fan engagement that the "Fanning the Flames" study outlined as shown in the table below.

Click to Enlarge

Not surprisingly, the consumption category generally requires money, while the other two require relatively large amounts of time and what I have called "affinity," meaning a strong emotional investment in the property and a desire to publicize it in order to see it continue.

To visualize how these currencies might relate to existing metrics, in the columns next to those, I have put in the CLV metric(s) that seemed to be the best fit.

Organizing my thoughts this way, a couple of things, not altogether surprising, stood out:

  • The "most engaged" behaviors involve some of all three currencies, but a significant time investment is the most common element
  • Currencies for measurement pose a real problem, but relative rates may be a workable measure over a dollar value
  • Time, which can be assigned a dollar value, but a single rate is tough to pin down, whereas time in itself is quantifiable
  • Affinity, the second most common potential currency is extremely problematic to assign a monetary value to, but ranking relative to other media properties may be an option
  • Money, outside of the consumption category, is not a very common factor
  • Retention/repeat patronage seems to be the element that relates most in all of these behaviors to potential CLV metrics
  • WOM, although not easy to quantify, may also be a useable metric
  • Estimated repeat purchase of media property-related items may also be useable to measure fan behavior
  • I also began to think about how the ad-supported model figures into this – in other words, could we value these different types of fans based on viewing ads, in the traditional publishing-style model. I have more or less come to the conclusion that that may be possible, but it would require data that’s really beyond the scope of this piece, but that is probably also not practical to obtain and segment as an activity separate from assessing overall viewership.

    So, it appears that a lot of the CLV metrics that many of the models use are, not surprisingly, a bit difficult to use, primarily because conversion to a single currency is problematic. Before my next installment, I will try to find a metric or model in the literature that only uses the stronger elements, but my sense is that there is not a single one at the moment that will fit appropriately. A metric for fan engagement will probably need to be made up of a number of elements, combined in a way that makes sense in the context of the environment in which they operate. Public relations metrics may actually prove to be a better fit than CLV.

    Next time: Measuring fan impact on the rest of the audience

    Coming back to my earlier argument that a large part of the monetary value of fans comes from recruiting and retaining others, in my next piece, I will look at CLV for an average viewer and how time spent and affinity among fans may have an impact on the value of those customers. At this point, I will also bring in a discussion on advertising and how engagement in ads, rather than content, might be integrated into this discussion.

    See below for a revised chart from Part III.

    Click to Enlarge

    Until next time…

    Part of the intent of this series is to encourage discussion of what I am attempting to do here, why, and how it might be a useful tool for industry. If any reader has questions or comments about the methods or data used here, please email me at

    Beck, Jonathan. "The sales effect of word of mouth: a model for creative goods and estimates for novels." Journal of Cultural Economics. January 2007, Vol 35, p5-23.

    Berger, Paul D. ; Nasr, Nada I. "Customer lifetime value: Marketing models and applications." Journal of Interactive Marketing. March 1999, Vol. 12, Issue 1, p17 - 30.

    Berger, Paul D.; Weinberg, Bruce; Hanna, Richard C. "Customer lifetime value determination and strategic implications for a cruise-ship company." Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management; September 2003, Vol. 11 Issue 1, p40-52.

    Dodson, Jr., Joe A; Muller, Eitan. "Models of New Product Diffusion Through Advertising and Word-of-Mouth". Management Science. November 1978, Vol. 24, No. 15, p. 1568-1578.

    Eleanor Baird is an MBA Candidate, Class of 2008, at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She has worked as a Research Assistant with the Convergence Culture Consortium since February 2007. Email her at

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    Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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