C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Welcome to our last C3 Weekly Update of 2007. We appreciate all the interest among our consulting researchers and at each of our partner corporations over the past year and hope you have enjoyed the work that has appeared in the C3 Weekly Update over the past 12 months.

Looking back at some of the pieces included in the opening and closing notes of the newsletter, we've had some exciting research covered in the C3 Weekly Update over the past year. Not only has the C3 team contributed research from the graduate projects of Ivan Askwith, Alec Austin, Geoffrey Long, and myself, as well as Joshua Green's work on the current state and future of television, network brands, and spreadable media, but our consulting researchers have provided a variety of interesting pieces as well.

From the video game work of Stefan Werning, Doris Rusch, and David Edery to the media history work of William Uricchio and Ted Hovet, we have covered the media industries' past, present, and future. We've also had great work on fans and consumers, from the excerpts Robert V. Kozinets' provided from the Consumer Tribes book he co-edited to Henry Jenkins' and Aswin Punathambekar's work on diaspora.

We've covered the proliferation of online video content (see Jason Mittell's interview with the creators of The West Side, for instance), the evolution of long-standing media properties (see Kevin Sandler's pieces on Scooby-Doo from his forthcoming book), current events (see Stacy L. Wood's piece on media violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings), music (see Shenja van der Graaf's "Bands and Brands," for instance), and notes from conferences from the likes of Parmesh Shahani and Grant McCracken.

We round out 2007 by featuring work from two of our outstanding graduate student researchers here at C3. Xiaochang Li concludes her two-part piece on in this week's Opening Note, while Eleanor Baird finishes her "Valuing Fans" series with the fifth and final piece in the Closing Note. If you would like to request past issues from their series, or any of the pieces mentioned above, don't hesitate to contact me directly about how to get back issues of the Weekly Update.

Otherwise, we are going to be back in mid-January with the next edition of our newsletter. Our blog will also be on hiatus through New Year's while we switch servers to better accommodate site traffic. There may be times in which the site is down during these changes, and comments may be temporarily disabled on the site. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me. Joshua Green and/or I will be available throughout the holidays. You can reach him at

Thank you all for a wonderful year at the Consortium, and we will have news forthcoming in the new year about our spring retreat and the work that we're doing here in C3. Hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

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: Xiaochang Li on the Controversy (2 of 2)

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Eleanor Baird on Valuing Fans (5 of 5)

Opening Note

Fanfic, Inc.: Another Look at (2 of 2)

Last time, I recapped the controversy over that occurred this past summer. I suggested that we might be able to better explain and assess's current popularity despite the firestorm of criticism by thinking of fanfiction writing as encompassing two major forms of fan engagement. More specifically, I think it is necessarily to tease out the differences between fanfiction as a textual practice and fanfiction as a community.

I would like to be clear that, while I see these as two generally different types of participation, I do not believe them to be mutually exclusive and that the degree to which an individual fan writer will engage in either varies depending on the writer, the fandom, and the online space. I also don't mean to suggest that the writers I interviewed are completely representative of the whole. However, they do share certain attitudes about fanfiction that differ from the rhetoric of other, perhaps more vocal, communities. In addition, I would suggest that the social and technical architecture of places like,, and Livejournal generally attract particular types of fans based on what sort of practices they best support.

The portion of fanfiction writers usually referred to as the "fanfiction community" -- those who self-consciously refer to themselves as such and foreground the social and participatory aspects of fanfiction writing and exchange -- do not account for all fanfiction writers, or even all of the prolific and widely read writers. One writer on Fanlib, who uses the name Iced Blood and regularly gets hundreds of comments on her stories on, claimed to be unable to answer one of my questions about fanfiction in-groups because she was "not exactly well-versed in the social aspects of fanfiction" due to the fact that she is "introverted by nature, and very rarely . . . socialize[s] with people [she does] not know personally." Another said that, while she had visited community sites to read fiction, she had never posted in the forums and doesn't participate in what she calls "fan communities," such as message boards or livejournal, because she has simply "never been a fan of those communities." In fact, of all of people I interviewed, only one had been aware of the controversy surrounding's launch, suggesting that there are significant portions of fanfiction writers who were simply not engaged in the circulation of information and discourse that characterizes fanfiction as a fan community.

Part of the reason for this lack of engagement is that these writers, for various reasons ranging from lack of experience to a conscious choice not to get involved with particular communities, did not think of fanfiction explicitly in terms of a community. For them, fanfiction was predominantly a form of personal fan activity they shared with others who might enjoy it as a product of their work, instead of as a social process. Most had come from other fiction archives, such as, and considered primarily a "fic archive" in which to publish their work. When asked questions regarding communities surrounding fanfiction, most of the writers I talked with gave answers that specifically discussed the type of feedback they received as a writer. On the whole, the writers I talked with primarily emphasized the creation and reception of content within a writer/audience dynamic, while that type of interaction is only one small part of larger, more varied social practices for fanfiction groups like the Livejournal community that was so adamant in their stance against

The difference in these social practices is particularly striking when you consider that, in addition to espousing a great deal of rhetoric about community and "bringing fans together," uses a number of Web 2.0 technologies and thinks of itself as a fanfiction "social network." But, in contrast to actual fanfiction social networks, they have gained a reputation as an archive -- a shinier, slicker with iPod giveaways. The problem, of course, is that, while employs a number of social technologies, it does not build a structure that accommodates social practices. For instance, the "featured stories" are chosen not by other fans, but by staff, thus short circuiting the sense of an organic value hierarchy dictated by the writers and readers themselves. The contest format as well appeals to a particular view of fanfiction as a deliverable to be valued, and thus rewarded, by an outside power.

It is then natural that this system would attract writers that find value in fanfiction outside its circulation within a community and as a contribution to a larger "fanon". Though highly prolific and popular fic writers, the members that I spoke to were on the whole less engaged with fanfiction as a community than those who were vehemently opposed to the site. In light of this, their participation makes a great deal of sense, as they were either excluded from or remained unconvinced by the arguments against Outside the notion of the fanfiction gift economy, wherein value is created through engagement and exchange with other fans, the prizes and recognition system of then becomes just a logical, perhaps more lucrative, extension of receiving feedback and comments on fics - just another way to be rewarded for a job well done.

Livejournal, then, becomes an interesting case as it was the site of the most intense and informed backlash. Livejournal works in many ways as an antithesis of the contest/reward model of All of the writers that I interviewed were aware of the Livejournal community but did not actively take part. Those that had livejournals kept them mainly for personal use, or only very rarely posted to them. One writer noted that Livejournal was "more focused on social interaction than fanfiction" and therefore would not post fic there. Another added that livejournal in particular made her "leery" while yet another writer cited the "fiction approval" quality standards of those communities to be a barrier.

It is important to note that, in communities such as Livejournal, the notion of a fanfiction community contains many individuals who produce little or no actual fanfiction. As a community, fanfiction requires a variety of practices. People who are aggressive fanfic recommenders, or who provide screencaps, or who generate active and insightful discussion can achieve equal status within the community as the most highly respected writers. There are, in fact, many communities across Livejournal that are devoted entirely to the discussion of fan writing as a social practice and community. During the controversy, fan writers aggregated and shared information on everything from the legal precedents regarding fair use and transformative works to the histories of every employee of Fanlib they ever came into contact with down to what high school they attended. In such spaces, the writing of fanfiction is only a small part of a larger whole.

At the same time, the very nature of Livejournal's structure and the community that grew up around it effectively created a silo where 'experts' talked amongst a long-established community and excluded nearly everyone else. This might be attributable to the structure of Livejournal as a blogging community where content is not centralized like on a message board, but spread across personal fan journals. Thus, though postings are public, in order to access them, one must already be aware of their existence, making it difficult for newcomers or those unfamiliar with the social systems and hierarchies of a particular fandom to discover content.

What results is essentially an expert community that echoes itself. I don't mean, however, to undermine the influence of the Livejournal fanfiction community; they are consistently among the most widely read and most influential writers. However, the closed-off nature and the high barrier for participation has a tendency to exclude many fanfic writers, particularly those who are new to the practice and less versed in Livejournal's social conventions.

The explanation of's popularity therefore seems to emerge as the result of a combination of factors -- most prominently the differences in how fanfiction is valued and conceptualized by different writers and fans, the segmentation of fanfic across different levels of participation, and the disenfranchisement of certain portions of the fanfiction writing community due to the hierarchies that structure established fanfic communities.

If we are to believe, then, that, with its flashy technologies and rewards, attracts in general a different type of fanfiction writer -- namely those who have made a conscious decision not to engage in the social economy of fanfiction writing or those who are new or unfamiliar with it -- the question becomes whether this particular type of fan is useful for Fanlib's purposes. That is, if the goal is simply to have high membership numbers and site hits and large volumes of content, is certainly on the way to accomplishing its goals.

If the value of fans, however, as suggested by the imediaconnection case study cited earlier, is to create active promoters and advocates for media properties, then they have entirely missed the mark by failing to draw the most socially active fans. While the tightly networked writers on Livejournal and across message boards are not necessarily "better" fans, they are undoubtedly the most active taste-makers among not only fanfiction writers, but fandom as a whole. These socially active fans are most likely to be responsible for large scale migrations and adoptions of new shows, books, and films. In order for a company to leverage the social networking power of fanfiction writers as a viral marketing strategy, they cannot rely upon just any fanfiction writer. They need to attract those fans who think of fanfiction writing as a social practice and participate in the expansion and development of the communities around it.

So, while it's certainly valuable for there to be a community that rewards writers who do not envision themselves as part of the fanfiction community as such and new writers who are sharpening their skills before entering professional work or communities with a higher barrier of quality, it is perhaps not a purpose best served by corporations out to turn a profit, nor are these the fans that are best suited for Fanlib's goals of near-free promotion and viral marketing. In the end, it remains to be seen if their current popularity is proof that has managed to achieve success despite heavy resistance from the very community they hoped to mobilize, or if their membership numbers are ultimately not as meaningful as they would hope, and yet further evidence of how little they understand fanfiction writers as a whole.

Xiaochang Li is a graduate student investigator with the Convergence Culture Consortium and a member of the Program in Comparative Media Studies' Class of 2009 here at MIT. Her work includes a focus on emerging narrative forms in the digital landscape and production and community-building in fandom.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Happy Holidays from the C3 Team. The C3 team wishes everyone Happy Holidays as the blog will be on hiatus through New Year's Day. In the meantime, be sure to read the many recent updates we've made to the site. As noted in the Editor's Note, the site may and/or comments may be down temporarily due to technological improvements being made over the next two weeks, but the blog should be fully functional once again by next week.

Holiday Viewing. C3 Research Manager Joshua Green provides links to video of his and Mark Deuze's presentations from the InVerge convergence conference in Portland back in September. Deuze was a member of the fan labor panel at Futures of Entertainment 2.

More Smart Folks: Optaros and LocaModa. Sam Ford writes about his recent interaction with open source company Optaros and Boston-based mobile company LocaModa and the many interesting small media companies in the Boston area.

Surrounded by Smart Folks: Fanscape and Communispace. Sam Ford writes about recent interactions he has had with a couple of forward-thinking companies who are doing work in the media industries space, particularly on finding ways to create communication between fans and brands/media properties.

Around the Consortium: The Press and Consulting Researchers. FoE2 was covered recently in Meio & Mensagem, while Sam Ford was recently interviewed on a piece about the Amazon Kindle for De Morgen. Meanwhile, see links to a variety of recent blog pieces by Consortium consulting researchers.

Privacy and Control Issues: Cell Phone Jamming. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Lauren Silberman looks at cell phone jamming and some of the privacy issues involved in the use of social defense technologies.


Che in Cambridge. C3 Graduate Student Researcher Ana Domb looks at the image of Che Guevara and various appropriations of that image through the years, and how the use of that image compares to the ideology of Che.

Reconsidering Digital Immigrants. C3 Director Henry Jenkins provides a post from his blog looking at the term "digital immigrants" and the "digital native" and unpacking what is meant by the use of that language.

FoE2 Podcast: Cult Media. The final panel of the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference, featuring speakers Heroes' Jesse Alexander, transmedia creator Danny Bilson, Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner, and Gordon Tichell from Walden Media, is available for video and audio download.

FoE2 Podcast: Advertising and Convergence Culture. The first full panel on the second day of the FoE2 conference, with a discussion on the current state of advertising and marketing, is available in video and audio podcast.

FoE2 Podcast: Jason Mittell, Jonathan Gray, and Lee Harrington. The academic panel that opened the second day of the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference is now available for video and audio download.

New Engagement Metric: A Conversation Piece. C3 Graduate Student Investigator Eleanor Baird presents some of the work she's been doing of late on working toward proposing an engagement metric and presents it to C3's blog readership for further thoughts. We appreciate any feedback our partners might have.

"We Had So Many Stories to Tell": The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling." C3 Director Henry Jenkins writes about the Heroes franchise in detail, based in part on part of the team's recent visit to CMS for the MIT Communications Forum and FoE 2.

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: Producers, Audiences, and the Worst Episode Ever
Part V - Modeling Fan Value: Numbers to Behaviors

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,

In this final installment of my series on fan valuation, there are three questions I will cover:

1. Can we use consumer lifetime value (CLV) to draft a model for fan value?

2. How might the model be different for television content versus television advertising?

3. How are long- and short-term value different?

CLV and Fan Value

In Part IV, I talked a bit about how one could adapt a CLV model from the marketing literature to fan valuation. This time, I'd like to talk through the preliminary stages of developing a model for the value of one thousand "average" fans of a television program.

Recall from the second part of the series I defined three categories of fan activity: consumption, activism and socializing. To quantify these, there will be four key, interrelated elements to the model:

1. Time spent relative to other media properties

2. Advocacy and promotional activity

3. Ancillary product consumption (DVD, VOD, branded merchandise, conferences, fan fiction)

Let's look at each, and my assumptions, in turn:

Time spent relative to other media properties

This element is valuable because it indicates a share of mind and time among fans. According to a recent study by Veronis Suhler Stevenson, the average American uses media for 9.5 hours a day, and a Ball State University study estimated that "almost one-third or more of the time spent with any one medium was time also spent with another medium." (For more, look here. So, effectively the average daily consumption is a whopping 12.6 hours a day, about 88 hours a week and just under 4,600 hours a year.

Since our example is television, let's take the Nielsen Media Research estimate for the average amount of TV watched per day, including DVR (i.e. Live +7), as 4 hours and 34 minutes, or 4.57 hours. This means that about 36% of media consumption time is television time, either by DVR or broadcast.

So, in our model for television, we'll want to look at current run or syndicated television as a proportion of 1,663 hours a year, and other types of viewing (online, DVD, etc.) that are not counted in that figure, as a proportion of the remaining 2,937 hours in the year of media consumption.

Advocacy and promotional activity

This category encompasses a variety of activities, outlined in earlier parts of this series about behaviors in the activism category. The table below outlines the ones that I think can be quantified and the source of that data. I am assuming that the average marketing budget for a TV show is 25-40% of the cost of producing it - this would depend on the genre of the show, network, etc. (Related to this, see "Reaching Influencers with Word-of-Mouth," eMarketer, 06 August 2007.)

Ancillary product consumption

This is a relatively simple thing to calculate for a studio, distributor, or consumer product company. Within a specified period of time, it could simply be the percentage change in sales of ancillary products (i.e. DVDs, branded merchandise, etc), of which we'll assume most of the purchasers are fans. For advertisers, this could also be a ratio of the change in product sales while the ad was running in a particular program to sales of ancillary products. I have deliberately left rentals through bricks-and-mortar stores and online using services like Netflix out of this list, for two reasons. First, I am more comfortable making an assumption that people who buy DVDs are either fans or are buying for fans than renters, which could well be more casual and less expensive, low commitment way to catch up on a program. Second, rentals contain minimal ads, which reduces their effectiveness as a metric for advertisers as well, which makes also them a less useful number to look at for this analysis than DVD sales.

Towards a model

The model basically has three parts, each of which involves different levels of engagement. As discussed in previous installments of this series, a higher level of engagement - such as developing fan fiction, videos, etc - does not necessarily translate into a greater monetary value. Although these activities may retain existing fans by increasing the social dimensions to their affinity for a media property or brand, I am working under the assumption that those reading fan fiction are already somewhat knowledgeable about the property, and that these creation activities are not changing activity in a material way for the purposes of this exercise.

What does generate monetary value for content producers and advertisers is attracting new viewers and fans and retaining them through syndication, downloads and video purchases.

Television Content Versus Advertising

Some of the differences in calculating the components of the model are discussed above, but a similar format can be used. There are more similar elements to a traditional CLV model on the advertiser's side, however, such as a clear way to measure consumption of a good that is often something that is "used up" over time, giving a different meaning to a "loyal customer". (Although loyalty is not the same as engagement, it is an important component.) The presence of compliments and substitutes for the product also changes the playing field for consumer goods and services in this analysis.

That said, the ability to track consumption of media for a particular group in aggregate provides a very interesting opportunity to understand the compliments and substitutes. For example, taking census-style data from cable boxes of a specific group of viewers as well as data from network websites with streaming content and download sites like iTunes and Amazon Unbox would help us to understand more about how program affinity translates across DVR, VOD, online and downloads. Although time consuming, this would help to better understand the behavior of audiences and how being a fan has an impact on viewing behaviors in a more holistic way.

Short Vs. Long-Term Value

As I have said in previous installments of this series, I think that short and long-term fan value are different things that warrant a different calculation over time. In the short-term, some variation on Nielsen ratings is probably an effective metric for content producers and advertisers (see my attempt to further discussion on this subject with a proposed metric of my own on the C3 blog.); however as priority shifts to the long-term value of the franchise, a more complex metric is warranted in order to make decisions about how to invest in a fan base that can be sold to advertisers and distributors.

This is by no means the last word on the subject, but an effort to begin to discuss it and develop tools to help decide what sorts of investments should be made in audience development and retention over time.

Conclusion: Next Steps and Takeaways

First, I would like to thank everyone who read the essays in this series, particularly those who provided comments, whose input was really invaluable. In the next couple of months, I plan to edit all five parts together as a complete and more formal paper, incorporating some of that feedback.

For the paper, I am also planning to delve more into CLV and ad metrics to write actual formulas for some of the metrics I have proposed here, and draw a clearer relationship between the levels of engagement and the types of fans I outlined in parts 2 and 3, using the metrics as a way of categorizing the prevalent fan behaviors and determining how to invest in audience development. Of course, this is all conceptual until someone puts it into practice; if there is anyone reading this who would like to experiment, either on the advertising or the content side, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I think there are three main takeaways here:

1. Fan activism is a valuable mechanism for attracting and retaining viewers, rivaling consumption behaviors, yet it is chronically undervalued.

2. Higher degrees of engagement do not necessarily translate into materially greater economic impact to the advertiser or the content creator; there is a saturation point.

3. Much of fan activity is about spending time with a property and building an affinity for it; although this is difficult to measure, there are proxies available that suggest that there is value to these activities that content creators and providers should, at the very least, encourage if not support.

As I said in part I, what I would like to achieve with this thought piece, and possibly more like it is to stimulate discussion between content creators, distributors, advertisers, audiences and fans, in hopes of eventually getting to a point that each group's contribution to the economic health of the industry is recognized and valued. Including the Comic Book Guys of the world.

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

The Fine Print

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


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