December 31, 2005

Electroplankton: DS music-creation "game"

Via Joystiq and DS fanboy comes yet another reason to buy a Nintendo DS-- a music creation toy called Electroplankton. Here's the lowdown:

It's not a game, precisely, though you do play with it (or on it, or through it...). Essentially, it turns your DS into a music creation tool -- but that's not quite right either, since you create rich and colorful visualizations as you play, and that's a huge part of the experience.

A fellow CMS student (Tracy Daniels) showed our class a video of an MIT Media Lab demo that sounds kind of similar to this, in which users could create beats and music by moving discs around a projector-illuminated table. Still, the idea of being able to do something like that on a $130 handheld with a stylus sounds pretty darn cool, even if the feature set will inevitably be somewhat constrained.

Update: Jeremy Parish of argues (quite convincingly) that Electroplankton should put the inane debate over whether games are art to bed once and for all.

December 29, 2005

Tragedy of the Anticommons

Lawrence Lessig has an intriguing post up about the "anticommons" problem, wherein excessively restrictive and separated property rights lead to the under-utilization of a resource. (This is the opposite of the classic tragedy of the commons, where a resource held in common is overutilized.)

In addition to providing links to a pair of economics papers touching on the topic, Lessig points to an article on music being replaced in the DVD editions of old TV shows as the first of many examples of the anticommons in practice. As Lessig notes:

Maybe enough examples will get the thick-political types to recognize that the issue of IP reform is not about whether you favor property or not, but whether THE PARTICULAR FORM OF PROPERTY the government has crafted operates efficiently.

As evidenced by some of my previous posts on IP, the issues surrounding intellectual property are far more complex and multifaceted than most anti-piracy advocates acknowledge. In addition to anticommons inefficiencies caused by rights-gouging and DRM, there are also a wide range of issues surrounding the perception of 'piracy' on the part of the public. To choose just one example, the MPAA ads in which gofers and grips implore the audience not to pirate movies so they won't lose their jobs just aren't credible when the press trumpets how much money hit movies make and constantly bombards the public with images of the lavish lifestyles of stars and directors. There's also the fact that music buyers know they're getting ripped off when they pay $14 for a CD with two good tracks on it.

The anticommons problem and its cousins, monopolistic and oligopolistic practices, cause most of the public resentment of the current IP regime. And until someone does something that affects the underlying causes of the IP wars, digital piracy isn't going to go away any time soon.

"Peak Napster" Observation

Atrios notes a peculiar correlation in a music industry sales chart:

Oddly, the years of "peak Napster" were also the years of peak album sales.

My godfather (who is a top recording engineer in the music business) was just saying the same thing to me the other day. Hm. That can't mean anything, can it?

Graphic below the fold.

Continue reading ""Peak Napster" Observation" »

Mainstream Tastes Limit Transmedia Opportunities

Reading through the year-end double issue of Entertainment Weekly, I began to think about the limits that mainstream coverage of the entertainment industry put on success in the industry. As you know, my main areas of interest are soap opera and professional wrestling, and it probably doesn't surprise you that this year-in-review recap include nothing from either of these places, despite their prominence on television.

Despite still being a dominant force in daytime television, even with the increasing competition for the daytime viewer and the change in composition of the daytime viewing audience, soap operas are completely ignored in the "Best of 2005," as a genre.

And pro wrestling is ignored in glaring ways. For instance, in their listing of the biggest entertainment stories of 2005, EW identifies the success of Chris Rock's Everybody Hates Chris for UPN, implying that it's the only major hit of interest in UPN's history and rejoicing in its capturing of the young demographic. Yet, WWE's Smackdown had previously aired in that same timeslot for years and was highly successful and remains almost as successful on Friday nights, despite Friday being a death day.

Considering the EW focus on sitcoms, that wouldn't be that surprising. But in its listing of the great entertainers of 2005 who died, 82 people are listed, yet the list doesn't include the death of Eddie Guerrero, one of the WWE's biggest stars, who died in his prime at 38 years old.

On the other hand, released its list of the Top 10 Most Euologized Persons of 2005, which found Guerrero trailing only Rosa Parks and Luther Vandross. The online funeral guestbook registered over 5,500 comments made on Eddie's page as of the end of the year.

Considering many of the ideas people now celebrate as complex television came from soap opera, and considering how much of an innovator WWE has been in transmedia storytelling and many other aspects of media convergence, it just makes me wonder how many other extremely popular and profitable areas of popular culture are ignored by most mainstream journalists, considering the two areas I study in particular were both completely shunned....

I believe a major part of it is that the fan communities surrounding these "fringe" entertainments, from the perspective of mainstream journalism, is chiefly misunderstood, even when the industry in general could still learn so much from these cultural producers and their fans.

Oldie TV ads

Oldie television ads continue to prove how powerful retroactive advertising and appealing to fans along the lines of history can be.

The use of vintage footage featuring Orville Redenbacher in advertisements is the focus of Brian Steinberg's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal entitled "Why Oldie TV Ads Make Comeback."

Sure, part of this is a drive on the part of advertisers, but the more important question is whether this is advertisers trying to create a trend or something that fans desire, and it seems to me that retro advertising and reviving old advertising lines remains very much in style and in demand from fans of brand communities.

What is the appeal of retro branding? There have been some great minds, including one of our partners Rob Kozinets and others, who have examined some of these very issues...It seems that honoring history is an important part of many fan communities and that such ads both reward longterm fans who have a memory of the brand at the point retro commercials initially aired and that newer members of brand community might feel rewarded with understanding the brand more by seeing its roots, so to speak...where it came from.

What do you all think?

Technology Must Hold Up for New Media to Work

New media opportunities provide plenty of new ways to tell stories and to get fan communities interacting with media properties. However, as with any type of storytelling, the idea of convergence storytelling doesn't work if it isn't implemented well.

Sure, this seems like a no-brainer, but the fall in participation in fantasy football is proof of this. Fantasy sports, in theory, provide a great way to get fan communities actively involved in a media property, watching the actual games while strategizing and competing with their own fantasy teams.

But Kevin J. Delaney and David Kesmodel's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal points out what happens when the technology isn't up to speed with the expectations of fans--it puts a bad taste in the mouths of fans who are starting to opt out of fantasy football, which was once the craze of many sports fan communities.

One has to wonder if fantasy football sponsored by ESPN, when the technology starts to fail, begins to have a negative impact on ESPN or on the NFL or college teams. How far does failure in one medium stretch over into negativity toward brands in general?

Transmedia's Effects on Comedy

Mark Oppenheimer's article "The Fall of Standup" in last Friday's Wall Street Journal raises an interesting point to me. While it may be debatable whether standup is a media that rich for narrativity as compared to other forms of storytelling, Andy Kaufman has raised some degree of question as to whether standup can be used as a way to further narratives in other media forms, through his Tony Clifton/Andy Kaufman performances.

In this particular article, though, Oppenheimer points out that the movement of comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno to television weakened the stand-up world becuase more talented comedians opted to skip the stand-up route and go straight to television writing.

This raises an interesting point in transmedia storytelling and likely provides one of the reasons why some companies are resistant to transmedia opportunities. If you know a genre well, you have control of your product. If you try to branch your product out into other storytelling forms, there is some danger in damaging the original media of the story by trying to spread it into areas that take the power more out of the hands of the "creator."

For instance, what happens when comic books inspire movies but the movie franchise becomes much more popular than the comic book. On the one hand, it may make the particular comic book more popular as fans of the films start buying the comic series. Or, is it possible that certain comic book heroes will come to be seen more as film heroes? Sure, DC or Marvel will still pocket most of the money in a situation like this, but there has to be some concern from breaking away from the medium that you've most clearly established yourself in in the first place.

I believe that transmedia done correctly will always be successful, but I wonder if this type of fear--this fear of losing the art of standup somewhere in the late night talk show or the sitcom--might be one of the reasons some companies who could benefit from transmedia storytelling have not embraced it

December 27, 2005

Holiday Insights from Grant McCracken

For those who aren't already reading C3 Faculty Advisor Grant McCracken's excellent blog, two of his recent posts are of particular interest.

First, he suggests that corporations have a need for outside consultants who can extract brands, ideas, and innovations which have languished for structural or political reasons.

Second, he plots out four models for the effects which the resurgence of enthusiasm for the internet will produce. Personally, my feeling is that the first three of his models are valid, just on different time scales. The more conservative models will come to fruition faster, while the third model (which predicts wide-ranging social change) has more cultural resistance to overcome. The fourth model can't really be evaluated, because it would entail a cultural singularity, beyond which nothing can be predicted accurately. Anyway, it's worth reading the whole thing.

2006: the "Unbundled Awakening"?

Terry Heaton over at Donata Communications argues that 2006 will be the year that online video takes off, both in the form of TV shows downloaded from iTunes and video blogs like Rocketboom (now available through TiVo). Quoth Heaton:

It's a very dangerous time for any broadcaster to be making assumptions based on history.

But the biggest problem for broadcasters is their crumbling core competency and the shrinking value propositions they offer to both viewers and advertisers. The natural ability of the Internet to distribute unbundled media is disrupting broadcasting's basic business, and that will accelerate in 2006. Most broadcast companies have responded to the disruption by forcing their mass marketing value propositions into the situation (it's what they know), but most are finding that such a response-- while creating some revenue opportunities-- doesn't produce the kind of scale necessary to make up for the kinds of losses to their core business that they're facing.

He also notes that:

Unbundled media is clearly what people want, and when that kind of energy bubbles up from the bottom, media companies of all sorts have no choice but to respond. This is currently happening in the worlds of entertainment, education and information and one day will be realized in every institution of our culture.

While Heaton definitely has a point, I suspect he might be underestimating the inertia and resistance of the big media conglomerates. If experience is any guide, existing interests within the media industry will fight change because it threatens their understanding and mastery of the existing system (as well as their job security). Heck, people fought against the adoption of the modern TV advertisement system for over half a decade in the 1950s.

My (extremely conservative) prediction: 2006 will see a rapid expansion of unbundled content, as well as continued resistance to the full exploitation of its possibilities by the majors on the basis of "protecting intellectual property". The fight over which evaluation metric for product placement becomes the industry standard will continue, although the real challenge (getting advertisers to switch to-- and understand-- product placement) will be a long, slow slog. Since 2006 is an election year and has the winter Olympics, real systemic changes in broadcast media won't occur just yet, although the groundwork for future changes will be laid.

I should note that I'd be happy to be proved wrong on most of these points. But periods of transition from the dominance of one media form to another usually take a lot longer than the boosters of the revolutionary media form suggest they will.

December 26, 2005

Effective In-Game Advertising

Gamasutra just published an article I wrote on enhancing the effectiveness of in-game advertising. It is basically a simple application of certain consumer behavior theories to the topic. If you're curious, here's the link.

December 25, 2005

Xbox 360 Mod Chips Expected Sooon

If more evidence was needed that no consumer electronics device can be made invulnerable to modification, reports that a hacker group has announced that mod chips for the Xbox 360 will be available within weeks.

This comes close on the heels of Microsoft's statement that:

We have made improvements on both the hardware and software side to protect Xbox 360 against piracy and modding. With Xbox 360, we had the benefit of learning from our experiences on Xbox. This allowed us to identify points of weakness that were exploited by hackers in the first generation and to eliminate those vulnerabilities in Xbox 360.

An impressive-sounding list of the barriers to modding can be found here. Still, when your console is a glorified PC, it's not exactly a surprise if hardware hackers find a way to access its full functionality and slap a different OS onto it, especially if they already did it in the console's last incarnation. There are also other issues at stake here, such as the fact that the feature sets of both the Xbox and Xbox 360, in their unmodded state, are intentionally crippled to cut down on piracy. Yet, if as Microsoft's own executives implicitly admit, such measures only serve to delay and deter modding to facilitate game piracy, isn't the consumer really losing out here? I suppose that's the price one pays for buying a console whose manufacturer loses money on each unit sold.

December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays from C3!

cokemas.jpgAs the year comes to a close, and families gather with relatives and friends for their holidays of choice, we here at the Convergence Culture Consortium would like to take a moment to extend our warmest wishes to you and yours.

It has been a long, fascinating startup year for us, and we're looking forward to ushering in 2006 as your brand culture/fan culture/transmedia/advertising commentators of choice.

In the spirit of the season, it seems appropriate to honor the Coca-Cola Company for their effective work in colonizing Christmas: from their enduring depiction of Santa Claus to their furry friends in the Arctic, Coke has (for better or worse, depending on your stance) played a vital role in developing the modern Yuletide iconography.

If posts are a bit more sparse than usual over the next week or two, it's because we're taking a breather from our brand-monitoring posts to spend time with our respective families and friends. We hope you're doing the same!

Warmest Holiday Greetings, from all of us to all of you!

Apple Touts Its Brand Culture

macminibot.jpgJust in time for Christmas, Apple offers a new round of fan-created innovations: the Apple website for the Mac Mini has been updated to include a section entitled "Mac Mini - Big Ideas", where Apple profiles some of the more innovative hacks that diehard brand-fans have undertaken with the Mini.

The first round of projects include an in-car entertainment center, a digital art gallery installation, an entry in the annual "Self Driving Car" competition, an autonomous robot, and the Millennium Falcon Mini, a "a fully functioning Mac mini inside a model of Han Solo’s venerable spaceship."

(Via MacSlash.)

December 23, 2005

Technological Innovations Coming Rapidly...

The technological changes are coming so rapidly these days, I can't even keep up.

For instance, I was flipping through yesterday's New York Times business section, only to find the following:

-an article by David Pogue on cell phones for small children that only has limited functions;

-an article by Thomas J. Fitzgerald on the dropping price of fast and elegant laptop computers, now easy-to-find for under one grand;

-an article by Adam Baer on Verizon adopting the popular Razr phone;

-an article by John Biggs on the Audex winter jacket that comes with cellphone and iPod capabilities built into the jacket, a crosspromotion by Burton and Motorola;

-an article by Andrew Zipern on a solar-powered charger for the iPod;

-an article by Shelly Frierman on LaCie's new Brick line of computer storage drives designed to look like children's building blocks;

-an article by Ivan Berger on a new, simplified memory card reader called the MediaGear 15 in 4 Camera Reader;

-an opinion column by J.D. Biersdorfer on the benefits of bluetooth and video files for Sony PlayStation Portable;

-an article by Ian Austen on the large profit margin for the BlackBerry;

-an article by Stephen Labaton on the Senate's approval of legislation to create a federal program to help American pay for equipment to help analog televisions work with the digital television conversion, to be completed by 2009;

-an article by Steve Lohr on IBM's buying Micromuse, a compoany whose software manages Internet-based networks for video, voice, and other types of data;

All of these processes make what some people would call pie-in-the-sky dreams by us academians of what is to come in transmedia approaching very rapidly, it seems. It's just hard to even begin to keep up with all of the innovation, even when your job is to track it...

Television and Fashion: A Two-Way Street

Not that long ago, I posted an entry about the marketing opportunities between Banana Republic and the new Sony Pictures release Memoirs of a Geisha. However, the fashion/cosmetics industry and the entertainment industry are constantly in the process of cross-promotion. For instance, my wife has the Sarah Jessica Parker perfume Lovely setting in her shelf.

And, this past week, a story and an ad really lept out at me with a message--the promotion goes both ways.

Case-in-point: Virginia Heffernan's story in Wednesday's New York Times focuses on the new Style Network talk show Isaac, featuring clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi as the host. The fashion guru-turned-Target designer is attempting to further brand his fashion products by becoming a television personality somewhere other than his ads.

On the reverse side, the inside of the cover of this past week's tabloid Life and Style features a full-page advertisement for new All My Children Fusion perfume, sold exclusively by Wal-Mart and online, the official scent of the popular ABC soap.

Is this just shameless cross-promotion to sell stuff or a spin-off of transmedia storytelling, using a broader definition of the term? A good move by Isaac Mizrahi? What about AMC? Does this encourage the trend that we're pushing for here at C3, or does it make us groan? For me, the jury is still out. Turning a soap opera into a scent borders a little close to the stench of marketing, pun intended, and the succes of Isaac depends on the quality of the show as far as building a personality.

But the broader question really is whether fashion should be seen as a form of storytelling? It seems to have very little narrativity, but we've seen a lot of moves toward moving fashion and cosmetics and storytelling into the same space...Does it work?

The Growing Influence of Hispanic-American TV

Fellow C3 member Ivan Askwith accompanied my wife and me to dinner last night, where we had a heckuva time getting the attention of the parking attendant, who was busy watching Telemundo. The incident made me think back to a news brief I read in The New York Times on Wednesday, written by Kate Aurthur.

Beginning next week, Nielsen Media Research as announced that it will begin measuring the national numbers for Spanish-language Univision. The companies announced this decision jointly on Monday. A story by Katy Bachman in MediaWeek this week covers the announcement in more detail.

According to The Times, Univision is the first Spanish-language network to subscribe to the Nielsen tracking numbers and hope to be able to get a better idea of the viewing practices of Hispanic viewers.

Then, on Wednesday, Telemundo announced that they would be joining the Nielsen National Television Index along with Univision.

Considering the growing importance of the Hispanic market, the move might make a change in how Hispanic consumers and Spanish-language channels are viewed in American culture. Most television programmers are still quite unsure how to handle the Hispanic market. For instance, Vince McMahon's WWE has, at times, produced some of the top-rated English language programming among Spanish-speaking viewers but the company still seems unsure of how to tap into that market completely while retaining their overall audience.

Nielsen has a National Hispanic Television Index, which Univision and Telemundo were subscribers to, but that index only calculates the Hispanic audience of the networks. The new move could have major long-term implications on the measurement of audiences of Spanish-speaking programming, an audience that is likely to continue growing heavily in the coming years. And, from our point of interest, how might acknowleding this Hispanic audience change the scope of television programming to reflect this audience? Should be interesting to see what happens...

December 21, 2005

One Step Closer to Success...

I've been keeping you up-to-date about my participation in an Internet effort in trying to get the television show Mama's Family released on DVD. I have signed petitions and joined the online effort on the Web site TV Shows on DVD to try and get Warner Brothers to release the show.

Right now, the only place to watch the show is through its daily airing on our partner Turner Broadcasting's TBS Network. However, fans are increasingly wanting to own these shows themselves as a sign of support, a lovemark for the brand. So it is with Mama's Family.

A "news story" from the TV Shows on DVD Web site indicates that the move to put the show on DVD may have come from the heavy show of support for Mama's Family on the Web site, where it remained #11 of the most requested shows yet to be released on DVD.

With fans continuing to request so adamantly these archived TV shows, one has to wonder how powerful the market of looking at fans as reviving retro shows and brands can really be.

And keep your fingers crossed for me on my quest to bring the Harpers closer to my DVD shelf.

Soap fans and product placement discussion

Over on Michael Gill's Media Domain Board for As the World Turns, one thread of the discussion has focused on product placement in soaps. Since my thesis project at MIT involves looking at the soap opera industry and ways in which the companies can change their methods of advertising and storytelling based on changes and new trends in television and entertainment, I found the discussion to be illuminating.

Everyone who posted on the thread were in agreement that product placement would be more effective, more natural, and possibly the only way for soap operas to survive, longterm. The majority of the argument singled not on if but on how product placement should be done...As several of the posters pointed out, product placement in soaps, where most of the scenes take place in people's homes or in public spaces, would be easy to incorporate into the show. The local coffee place could become a Starbucks or some similar chain. And kitchens could be filled with actual food products.

When this is a serious discussion in the fan communities and seems to be widely accepted, one has to wonder why CBS and P&G have not embraced these opportunities. I'm going to look into this very issue much further in my research over the next couple of years, but what do you all think? Is product placement the logical next step for soaps regarding advertising?

You would think a company like P&G would be better at naturalistic product placement than they are. Thanks to MaryHatch for starting this discussion, by the way.

December 20, 2005

This is a Really Smart Idea

The Japanese intend to test an emergency broadcast service that can turn on your cellphone and send a alarm, as well as more specific warning messages via text messaging.

This kind of functionality is the sort of thing that every country with the requisite infrastructure should be looking into.

December 18, 2005

The Boston Globe covers transmedia... twice in one day!

Two interesting transmedia-related articles in The Boston Globe today...

In "The plot thickens" (Subtitle: "Now it's not enough to watch your favorite TV show -- you may soon have to pay to get the full story"), Matt Gilbert offers a good survey of the current experiments in transmedia extensions for television properties:

In the coming months, you and your TV addiction are going to be reeled into an expanded ''environment" of your favorite network show, one that may require a cover charge for entry into certain exclusive zones.

You'll be invited to visit characters' blogs at, or pay for mobile phone episodes (known as mobisodes), or buy DVD packages and video games containing new and additional plot information. Your once-simple affair with your TV ''story" could have as much to do with your PC, your cellphone, and your DVD player as it does with your TV set.

In other words, your relationship is starting to get complicated. Network TV is becoming only the first step in what is known as a "TV series." It's becoming an entry point to show-o-spheres, where you not only watch "24" on Mondays on Fox but you purchase a "24" DVD set that contains clues to the season's big mysteries.

It's a good article which includes most of the new examples that have been surfacing here and in other blogs over the last month or two, and which illustrates the tension between creative and economic motives I've been tracking since the Year of the Matrix.

In "Make way, mainstream TV: mobile video is on the move", Scott Kirsner reviews the now-familiar questions surrounding the rise of mobile video players and content:

"As holiday shoppers evaluate Apple's new $299 video-capable iPod, the question hanging over the entertainment industry is whether the iPod can do for motion pictures what it did for music. Does its arrival signal a transition from the era of scheduled TV, DVDs, and videotapes to the age of Internet downloads?

Nice to see the mainstream press giving this trend some well-due consideration.

Continuing the World of Buffy

According to the latest Entertainment Weekly, Joss Whedon sees the Buffy universe as an ongoing property, albeit not in the broadcast television medium in particular.

The short article by Jeff Jensen, focused on the success of Whedon's cancelled TV series Firefly being released on DVD and the disappointing box-office performance of Whedon's Serenity but also examined some of Whedon's upcoming projects.

He declares the comic book series he is currently working with to be "the eighth season we never made," which has interesting implications for transmedia storytelling.

Furthermore, they pbriefly mention the possibility of straight-to-DVD films featuring characters from the Buffy universe, such as Spike.

Whether you're a fan of Buffy or not, do you think there is some promise in extending the life of the Buffy property through these DVD films and the comic book series? Whedon seems to be on the cutting edge of mainstream cultural producers who are experimenting with what transmedia can do, but what do you all think?

Product placement, branding, and Kong

The talk of product placement this past week has been centered around Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Last Wednesday's Metro featured an editorial from Dan Dunn that captures the complications of product placement in feature films.

Dunn's starting point is an e-mail from Chase requesting that he take out a Kong-themed MasterCard. He then finds that he can't escape the Kong crossover, from Toshiba to Burger King to Nestle Crunch to Kellogg's to Volkswagen to clothes and all types of merchandise.

We can sympathize with Dunn as he sarcastically makes a pitch for Trojan to launch the "Kongdom" or for Survivor: Skull Island because product tie-ins and crossovers shouldn't work along the lines of thinking the more, the better.

There is an emotional backlash that the audience feels when they start to realize that King Kong's face is stuck on products everywhere they go. Instead of clever tie-in or creative synergy, it starts to feel like...well...overbearing corporate propaganda that viewers can't get away from. That's not to criticize Universal in particular, but it seems to me that quality is much more valued than quantity when it comes to product tie-ins like this and that too much of a good thing can even make ardent supporters cringe at the sight of your brand on yet another box.

The editorial was placed across the page from of King Kong written by Dunn as well that calls the film "one of those extremely rare works of art powerful enough to change the way people view a medium," so it proves that the relationships are complicated and that annoyance on one side of the page is coupled with complete admiration on the other.

In Steve Daly's "Lexikong" in this week's Entertainment Weekly, though, he reveals that Peter Jackson wanted to recreate Times Square as accurately as possible for 1933, including a Columbia Pictures sign. However, Sony Pictures refused to allow the Columbia logo in the film without getting paid for it, so Universal just replaced it with their own logo.

So, imagine this...The producers of King Kong, a film getting massive amounts of hype and guaranteed to be seen by a huge audience, want to put a big sign for Columbia Pictures in their film, despite being competiton, but Sony refuses this prominent product placement because they want to get paid?

Am I missing something? Or are they?

December 17, 2005

Is Pay Radio the Future?

I've always thought that paying for radio was a faintly ridiculous notion, but Steve Gilliard has a very eloquent two part series (part one & part two) which suggests that like paying for HBO or cable TV, pay radio is an idea whose time has come.

The trigger for this, of course, is the departure of Howard Stern from terrestrial radio:

Let's get the bullshit out of the way: Stern isn't going to Sirius to say fuck, but to talk like an adult. One of their channels, Raw Dog Radio, has been playing tributes to Richard Pryor, sans bleeps. What is clear from listening to Sirius is that the lack of fear of the FCC is only one factor. The other is the utter corruption of programming on terrestial radio.

Every few years is another payola scandal, with some artist getting a push from the record company with a little blow attached. FCC rules which block many songs from airtime, uneven rules which punish Stern and not Oprah.

In short, you have a terrestial radio world which has alienated listeners for years, for any number of reasons, starting with increasingly restricted playlists. Wanna know why you have to tolerate Jessica Simpson, that's why. As MTV moved towards reality programming, videos got shunted up to the 100's on digital cable on MTV2, and music was merely the atmosphere behind the shows. MTV Cribs, Pimp My Ride, Viva La Bam, uses the rap/rock lifestyle to discuss anything but...

Stern, in many ways, was the last of the old breed of DJ who had a radio show and did it, stamping his own personality on it . People focused on the sex antics, but that was a small part of the show. Much more time is spent on the news, Howard and the cast's lives and calls than naked women. But unlike Limbaugh and O'Reilly, Stern isn't a bully, smashing down people who disagree with him and lying for sport...

Stern is to sattelite radio what HBO was to cable in the 1980's. We forget that HBO came before basic cable. You wouldn't be watching Alton Brown without HBO.

Why? Because HBO proved people would pay for TV.

Steve also diagnoses the problems of terrestrial radio. The key graf of the second article, though, is this gem.

Even without the FCC, the audience was moving away from radio because of those playlists and the lack of music. Because of the FCC restrictions, a lot of acts could not get airplay. Those demands, as much as anything else, drove the MP3 into the mainstream. Then it created internet radio. But the problem with internet radio is that it doesn't allow for easy movement away from the computer. But it proved that new radio formats, some incredibly specialized, could not only be created, but draw an audience. Radio spent more time killing low power radio than worrying about the power of the internet.

If Steve is right (and there's a fair amount of evidence suggesting that he is), terrestrial radio is in the position the TV networks were before HBO and cable TV exploded and chewed their "guaranteed" 32 share of the ratings down to the point where a 6 share is enough for a show like Lost to be a huge hit.

Read the whole thing.

Microsoft's New Media Strategy

There's been a fair amount of ink on Microsoft's moves in the field of convergence of late. Of course, there was the news that Microsoft had partnered with MTV to create a digital music service called Urge which would be packaged as a part of a new version of Windows Media Player. Then came the news that members of the Xbox staff were being positioned to direct Microsoft's media strategy versus Apple as well as Sony as part of the Entertainment and Devices division's reorganization.

This kind of move on Microsoft's part suggests that despite losing an estimated $4 billion on the Xbox in an attempt to capture market share from Sony, Redmond believes strongly in the initiatives the Xbox team has put together (like Xbox Live and microtransactions via Microsoft Points), and expects them to put together similarly innovative initiatives for going head-to-head with Apple in the field of downloadable music.

There are a lot of issues that Microsoft and MTV are going to have to confront if they want to make a go of it, but the first major stumbling block is Windows Media Player. WMP is functional, but in my opinion it's incredibly user-unfriendly compared to iTunes. (Don't even get me started on how you can't delete a file without using your mouse.) Unless Microsoft's interface designers retool Windows Media Player to make it even friendlier than iTunes already is (which isn't impossible-- I have a few nits to pick w/ iTunes's design), all the MTV content in the world won't get people to use Windows Media Player as their primary music program.

Still, the Xbox guys are pretty smart, as this interview with J. Allard (and Sony's Kaz Hirai) shows. If there's anyone at Microsoft who can pull this off, it's them.

Update: Cory Bergman over at Lost Remote is thinking along the same lines as I am re: Urge and the need to compete with iTunes on usability.

Analysis: Newly born Viacom is ready to deliver

An excellent article from The Hollywood Reporter covers Viacom's rapid adaptation to the transmedia mentality. Viacom CEO and President Tom Freston has had a lot of forward-thinking soundbites lately, a few of which are worth repeating here:

"'It's really so fantastic. The audience has been leading this life we have been baiting them with for 25 years with more fragmented media,' Freston says. 'They are into multicasting, and now they are having more and more control over what they want to do. So they are driving the process. Simultaneously, the advertisers, because of the technology, are able to be much more creative and efficient about what they can do. We can be much more accountable to advertisers and can sell to them on that basis.'

The cable networks that wrote the rule book on targeting niche markets are setting a new pace for exploiting the power of the MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures brands in new places -- from ringtones and cell phone features to integrating video clips in e-mails and compiling electronic scrapbooks.

'Content providers are like arms dealers today,' Freston says. 'We can sell pieces of what we do to a lot of places. We don't want to impinge on the integrity of the 24-hour cable service where it all starts.'"

Read the full article: Newly born Viacom is ready to deliver

Letting Your Fan (Culture) Do The Work!

Been meaning to post this for more than a week now, and I kept losing the link, so I'll do it now before it disappears again. reports that the forthcoming Silent Hill film (based on a video game franchise, as per the trend) is letting its fans compete to design the official poster.

Fans can enter the contest via the film's website where they will be able to download creative elements from the film (photography stills, title treatment and billing block) to create their own Silent Hill poster design. Deadline for entries is January 3, 2006 and all valid entries will be posted to on January 4th for online and WAP site voting to begin.

On January 17th, 2006, TriStar Pictures will review the 50 posters with the most votes for a selection of five finalists. The finalists will be posted on January 20th and fans will cast their votes for the winner. TriStar will unveil the winning poster on February 22, which will then be displayed in theaters across the country prior to the release of the film.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of results they get out of this, both in terms of the poster and generating pre-release anticipation for the film.

December 16, 2005

Advertising and Television for Children

In two weeks, new FCC restrictions on advertising aimed at children were to take effect. However, AdAge reports today that broadcasters, marketers, and media companies have reached an agreement that modifies some of the restrictions.

From the article: "As originally adopted, the FCC's new children's advertising rule would have forced broadcasters to start counting program promotions in shows aimed at children under 13 against commercial limits of 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends, essentially reducing available ad time. In addition, media companies would have been banned from showing Web addresses linking to pages in which program characters sold products. Finally, the rule would have limited broadcasters' ability to pre-empt children's programming. Broadcasters are required to provide three hours of children's programming a week."

The new agreement introduces some key exceptions, among which are:

  • Broadcasters can run program promotions in children's shows without counting against commercial time - if the promotions are for other children's shows
  • Program characters can sell products on websites as long as those individual pages are not mentioned during the television show

  • December 15, 2005

    The Carver on MySpace: a social networking television marketing effort that works

    Film and TV folks seem to be building on their experiences in the social networking spaces. After early experiments like Anchorman and Apprentice 2 on Friendster last season (Anchorman - bad, Apprentice - so-so), Nip Tuck on MySpace is doing pretty well for itself. This is because the FX guys seem to have got the underlying mechanics of social networking more astutely than, say, the NBC folks did for Friendster. Then, it was a site - where users could view candidate profiles, and share their opinions about them with their friends. Simple, but a complete underutilization of the power of the medium. With Nip Tuck, the guys at FX have a better model. They've created a profile page for The Carver, the show's serial rapist whose identity will be revealed on the episode airing on December 20. As a MediaWeek article about this initiative reports:

    A link on the home page sends users to a message board for the series, where fans debate the identity of The Carver, drawing on a slew of real or imagined clues seeded throughout season three and on the MySpace site itself.

    While some limit their comments to a guess--the popular vote would seem to implicate plastic surgeon Quentin Costas--many fans build up their hypotheses like seasoned litigators, deconstructing pertinent bits of dialogue, examining clips from the show and, in one case, using voice recognition software in an attempt to identify the man--or woman--behind the mask.

    The FX guys are thinking transmedia - creating a complex multi=layered narrative and personality for The Carver, seeding clues about The Carver in a variety of places, avoiding advertising on Carver's profile page, and making the initiative predominantly about content and community, although as the MediaWeek article points out, MySpace does belong to FX's media parent, New Corp, which recently paid good money to acquire it. Still, according to me, its an example of transmedia and viral marketing well done... (The Carver's profile page has over 61,000 'friends') and a template that future experiments in this space can build upon.

    Intercultural Perspectives on Cellphone Cultures

    An interesting way to look at the cellphone cultures emerging in the U.S. would be through the prism of similarly emerging cellphone cultures in other countries. I've been tracking the cellphone scene in India and other parts of the world over the past two weeks and am amazed at the diversity that exists, as well as the business opportunities that are rising, and the entrepreneurs that are moving in fast to satisfy the emergent consumer demands.

    The common theme seems to be that in a scenario where technology will be ubiquitous, it will be the service, innovative brand-linked promotions and compelling content that will become the major product differentiators.

    Let's start our journey from London. There's an innovative service that disseminates Shakespeare as TXT messages being provided by a cellphone company called Dot Mobile, that is aimed exclusively at students. Dot Mobile provides the Shakespeare messages free to its subscribers, that is, it is an innovation not for tangible revenue per se, but rather to build and build upon an existing brand affiliation.

    This branding effort is replicated across the seas in the Indian market with is growing at a scorching pace of over 2 million new handsets every month (65 million so far). While mass brand Reliance is giving away free handsets to all and sundry (including prepaid subscribers), a company like Airtel is offering a service called "Hum it", which allows the user to simply hum or sing a song and use it as a personalised ringtone, and also, believe it or not, a ‘free flight’ offer, wherein its postpaid customers can avail of a free local airline return ticket on the national carrier, Indian Airlines (more).

    Meanwhile Kingfisher, which is trying to brand itself as the premium upmarket airline in a very crowded competitive field, launches a service called King Mobile, which enables its passengers to get all the latest flight information on their cell phone, including their flight status, schedule alerts and and assistance numbers in various cities (more).

    Videotones are all set to take off in the country and there is a range of companies at different consumer touch points that are quickly moving in to fill up this space with premium content, such as handset maker Nokia, cellphone service provider BSNL and specialist cellphone content company

    Text messaging has already exploded massively on to the scene – and everyone is reaping the rewards – thus season two of India's Millionnaire-two shows, Kaun Banega Crorepati, has received 90 million phone calls/SMS messages already from participants eager to enter (in just 55 episodes; in contrast season 1, which was aired in 2000, before the Indian text messaging boom, received only 100 million entry attempts across 305 episodes), while the first 13 episode season of Indian Idol received 55 million phone call/SMS votes (source: India Today, October 31, 2005).

    Another major growth opportunity is cellphone games, which have emerged as a significant phenomenon - both culturally, and as a space where lots of money can be made. And the big companies are lining up already.... smelling the money trail. For instance, Electronic Arts recently entered into the Indian cellphone game market by means of a distribution tie up with the country's leading game company, India Games (more). This is on the heels of their recently acquiring US mobile leader Jamdat Mobile; they're also scouting for similar acquisitions globally, especially in Europe and Asia (more).

    Continue reading "Intercultural Perspectives on Cellphone Cultures" »

    The Fly

    An article on Slate yesterday examined why Leapfrog's Fly Pentop Computer is one of the most popular products this season. I found this article particularly interesting because the Fly is an educational toy that was designed for kids in the 8-14 age range, reminiscent of the products we had to design in CMS.610 for kids in the 5-7 age range.

    The Fly is basically a pen, "albeit one designed by Reebok," states the article.

    "It's got a battery, a computer brain, a software cartridge, a loudspeaker, and a headphone jack, all camouflaged by its rubber-gripped fatboy casing. You don't dock the Fly with your PC, nor do you download software for it, squint at a screen, or fiddle with pop-up menus. This is one gadget that makes you do most of the work."

    Among the programs offered by the Fly are a calculator, a music keyboard and drum machine, a planner, and a baseball game, each facilitated by the Fly's tiny camera that can determine what the user is writing or pointing at (when using the special "Fly paper" that comes with the pen). Extra programs, like Spanish and math "tutorware" can be purchased as separate cartridges. The pen talks as you write, giving instructions and encouragement.

    Like the products we designed, the Fly takes established hardware and expands the concept, building a new toy around an old one. According to the article, this is a big reason why the Fly is so popular right now - because the interface is so familiar, "it's as nonthreatening as a gadget can get."

    Green Lantern reader reception and hate crimes

    In the December 2005 edition of The Journal of American Culture, Oakland University Department of Communications' Valerie Palmer-Mehta and Kellie Hay have an intriguing look at the comic book Green Lantern and its handling of a story of a hate crime against a featured gay character from an important perspective--the fans.

    The authors contacted DC Comics and received several unpublished fan letters written in about the issues in question, examining how the gender issues were handled and the implications on readers not just from the issues but primarily from the response of the Green Lantern fan community.

    The authors found several responses, including praise for bringing current issues into public view, criticism for allowing homosexuality to creep into comic books, and concern about the use of vigilante justice to be used in response to a hate crime. The latter group is especially important, as they expressed concern that the Green Lantern's actions in these issues went against the moral integrity of the character and urged the writers to make changes, encouraging a collaborative model between producers and consumers.

    What is refreshing to me, though, is the way that the piece is then turned from more than just a political discussion or a discussion of GLBT issues but becomes a focus on how readers have appropriated this content for their own purposes. The piece is well worth a look for anyone interested in seeing how studying fan cultures through qualitative research can have an impact on understanding an audience and understanding how that audience processes and understands things.

    What do you all think?

    EW embraces television revolution

    The 16 December 2005 Entertainment Weekly has a great piece of coverage on all of the changes in the television industry for mainstream readers, introducing them to all the rapid changes in technology, what is driving it, and what this might mean for advertising, for the way shows are promoted and distributed, etc.

    The article, "The Revolution Will Be Televised," by Jennifer Armstrong, provides a list of the 10 things readers should know about changes in the television industry, including a prediction that most of these changes will be in full effect by 2010 and a savvy comment that this differs from WebTV because, with TV on demand and new digital technologies, the market has been driven by consumer demand instead of companies trying to show off new gadgets.

    In my opinion, these types of articles are major steps toward seeing these changes take hold for mainstream America. And the article reflects the networks' ambivalence and producers' ambivalence about these changes quite accurately for a short and broad piece like this.

    Anyone else seen it? Have any thoughts?

    Cross-media advertising and Golf

    A major move made by Golf magazine is leading to a somewhat unusual arrangement to try to bring in advertisers after a fairly significant slump in ad revenue for the Time-Warner mag.

    Next May, the magazine will have two one-hour episodes on CBS television, immediately before a golf tournament, airing a golf challenge among everyday players for a grand prize of $250,000 for making difficult shots.

    The move isn't being made for purposes of cross-media synergy, though. Instead, it was specifically to offer an ad package to provide an advertising block that includes time during the program, product placements, magazine ads, and Web site ads. Already, Johnson & Johnson's St. Joseph aspirin has signed onto be the title sponsor, according to a Monday Wall Street Journal story by Brian Steinberg.

    Is this a smart move for a magazine struggling to retain advertisers, or is this just beating consumers over the head with brand names to the point that it will turn them off?

    Digital books and intellectual property

    For those of you who have been following intellectual property issues, some of the attention is being diverted from music and film companies and toward the digitizing of books and who owns the rights to those digitized copies.

    If you've been following the news this week on these issues, you may have seen that, at the beginning of the week, HarperCollins announced that it will be entering actively into the digital book market by digitizing its active backlist of an estimated 20,000 titles "and as many as 3,500 new books each year," according to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Kevin J. Delaney with The Wall Street Journal.

    HarperCollins appears to see this as a preemptive strike after Amazon has already not only made money with the options for readers to search individual pages and see digital pages of a book they might potentially buy but has then charged $1.99 extra for customers to have access to digital copies of books it buys. HarperCollins questions whether retailers should have the ability to have that type of control over content owned by the publisher and are thus going to provide digital copies that will be available to Google searches, for instance, but will remain in a digital warehouse on the HarperCollins server.

    This could provide great revenue opportunities for the company in the future and could be great ways to access titles long after the physical properties have gone out-of-print. In this way, there's no way that the decision won't be a benefit for all involved. However, all of the intellectual rights issues surrounding this decision are still very much left hanging in the balance, as players like Google, Amazon, and publishers continue to try and decide who has rights to what when it comes to digital print content.

    Family Friendly Cable Packages

    In a recent post, I discussed the recent moves toward pay-per-channel at the FCC, driven, among other things, by a conservative push toward greater regulation on what programs are coming into people's homes.

    Continuing in this strain is the move toward "family friendly" tiers of programming. The FCC has been pressuring cable companies to provide packages of programming that would be more acceptable to family viewers, although cable programmers have tried to resist such governmental pressure.

    Now, Comcast and Time-Warner are considering creating these packages which offer no channels that show "risque programming," while Cox and Insight are pondering doing the same, according to a Monday article in the Wall Street Journal by Joe Flint, Peter Grant, and Amy Schatz.

    In the meantime, The Benton Foundation continues to follow this story closely and has a lot of details as to various articles and reactions published on the matter.

    On the one hand, I agree with consumer power and see great benefit in letting the consumer have choices about what comes into their home. I think, if people want to just watch i, let them have i.

    On the other hand, this raises some important questions. Who defines what is a "family-friendly" channel? Once you become a "family-friendly" channel, how closely are you monitored for content? Such questions might cause a network like Lifetime to shy away from doing pieces like their recent movie on the international human sex trade, for instance, in fears that they might lose standing as a "family-friendly" network. When the government becomes involved and outside forces start getting to make regulatory decisions like this, we might be opening television up to a whole new form of censorship, in which everyone is afraid to tackle any serious issue because...well...the real world isn't always "family-friendly."

    My concern here isn't with the cable providers, who should listen to demand and do as they please, as long as it's legal. If these companies want to offer such a package to families, etc., it is their perrogative.

    My concern here is a governmental power that is trying to put pressure on these companies to "voluntarily" provide these family-friendly packages. After all, something was invented long ago that can help people avoid watching television programming that offends them--the remote control.

    To my colleagues and to the readers--what's the danger here? How could this limit all of the progress currently being made toward transmedia storytelling, toward more complex television, toward product placement, even? Are we going to end up with television deals like many European countries and Canada, where we allow the government to push for further and further censoring power over violence, etc.? And what are the dangers, then, to free speech? Am I reading too much into this, or could this be a major turning point in television, depending on what happens?

    December 14, 2005

    More on Ford

    So, after a meeting with LGBT advocacy groups, Ford has reasserted its support for diversity in this letter. AmericaBlog summarizes the letter's contents as follows:

    1. Ford announced that it will continue to support gay organizations and gay events in the coming year and beyond.

    2. Ford is going to run advertisements in the gay media NOT ONLY promoting the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, but the ads will promote ALL of Fords brands, by name, including Jaguar and Land Rover.

    3. Ford states unequivocally that it will continue to tailor its ads for the specific audience it is trying to reach, and then goes one step further. Ford challenges us to keep an eye out on their upcoming ads in order to verify that they will in fact be tailored.

    There is no other way to read this than that Ford did the right thing. Whether or not an agreement was reached with the American Family Association - and the AFA has a record of crowing about such "victories" when no such victory occurred - Ford has rectified the real or perceived problem[.]

    Obviously, this was as much a political issue as a brand issue, but Ford's response was the right one, both morally and in business terms. With the American auto industry already in dire straits, it would be foolish to alienate a significant number of potential customers at the behest of a group that uses "research" from a hate group as part of its attempt to influence corporate behavior.

    DVRs and Advertising

    Last month a report issued by ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the WB, and UPN argued that DVRs like TiVo would increase the audience for network programming. The report was an effort to allay fears that DVR technology would erode the audience for ad-supported television.

    However, new research suggests that consumers are purchasing DVR devices because of their ability to time-shift and their ability to skip commercials. The president of the group that performed the study states "...the consumers want to control not just what they watch and when they watch, but also the ability to avoid commercial placements."

    Twenty-three percent of all consumers polled said that they planned to buy a DVR in the next six months. So the networks may be right: the audience for network programming is increasing...but the audience for network advertising isn't.

    The End of Television


    Bytrico sells stickers you can paste on your TV if you need another incentive to go play outside.

    Troma Entertainment: Long Tail benefits for small-time companies?

    All of our talk about convergence and major transmedia crossover can sometimes overshadow the fact that there are still plenty of small-time players out there content with a smaller piece of the pie, that may not have the resources of a major conglomerate to tell their stories but also have less to lose in being experimental.

    Case in point: Troma Entertainment. In this month's edition of Look Magazine from Entertainment Weekly, Dalton Ross enters the world of B-movie house Troma, the company headed by Yale graduate Lloyd Kaufman that has released classics like The Toxic Avenger and has inspired filmmakers such as the creators of South Park and horror film Cabin Fever.

    The piece is well worth a read and serves as a reminder of those companies who could benefit not from the big-business potential of The Long Tail and transmedia storytelling but from the alternative distribution methods such new theories of media distribution and storytelling allow that could benefit these smaller players.

    What do you think these potential shifts in media distribution models could have for B-horror producers like Troma?

    December 13, 2005

    Writers Demand Higher Pay for Product Plugs

    David Cohn recounts his experience on putting together a story for Wired about reality show writers demanding more pay for product plug-ins. "Writers aren't only complaining about the increased stress of writing entertaining stories that include undercover marketing messages. Some think they should be compensated extra for taking on duties not included in their job description."

    The Adult Swim Channel?

    Another notable post from TVSquad: the Adult Swim channel? It's a throwaway line in a holiday wishlist (and a hearty amen to his wish for complete seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000), but it raises an interesting question. Would it make sense to create a full-fledged Adult Swim network?

    On the one hand, I bellow a resounding yes because I myself would love to see it happen. There just aren't enough wee hours in a week to provide homes for all the great programming that Adult Swim has trotted out over the years – Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The Venture Brothers, Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, etc. – and a full-fledged network would open up a bunch more space to pursue development of even better shows.

    On the other hand, the creation of such a channel would be excruciatingly expensive, something that goes almost completely against the standard business model. The core revenue stream of Cartoon Network, like TBS, Turner Classic Movies and Boomerang, comes from rereleasing old content with an established viewer base in a perfect case study for the success of the long tail. This then enables these channels to redirect a percentage of that revenue to the development of original IP like The Venture Brothers.

    A much more likely scenario would be either an online Adult Swim IPTV 'channel' or the transformation of Boomerang into the Adult Swim channel. I'm reluctant to pony up subscription fees just to watch old Yogi Bear cartoons, but if Turner were to couple them with an expanded Adult Swim lineup to cash in on the nostalgia side market instead of as a core market, then I might go for it. Couple that stable with the increasing backlog of existing Adult Swim IP and this just might work.

    What do you think?

    The TV Learning Curve

    So here's an interesting little post from my morning's readings: TYSquad's top five shows that got much better after the first season. Their list:

    1. Seinfeld
    2. Friends
    3. The Odd Couple
    4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
    5. The Simpsons

    The list is insightful (swing by for their reasons), but this makes me think even fruther about reversing the current IPTV model. Instead of sending a handful of shows out to pasture online, why not finance a whole bunch of shows on an extremely tight budget, distribute them via the iTunes store, and then bring the "winners" to broadcast TV? Let the shows get their first season's worth of kinks worked out online and then bring them out to play – kind of like drafting from a farm team?

    CEOspeak: Thomas Glocer (Reuters)

    There's a good Economic Times (India) interview with Thomas Glocer, CEO Reuters Group that has just come up. I'm impressed by a couple of points he makes, even though I've mostly heard them before. Firstly, the technology really doesn't matter. Reuters has in its history used pigeons and rowboats in the transmission of information, now they use the internet. They're more concerned with how the technology can be used to serve the task at hand, and not the other way round. Secondly, from a branding perspective, Glocer is keeping Reuter's eye totally fixed on the ball that he knows how to hit (serious news and financial information - but within this space, he's reaching out and creating sensible strategic alliances - this the Times of India tie up for Reuters TV in India. Thirdly, he seems to understand that it always has, and it always will be, all about building communities. Whether its the news business or financial transaction business, he gets it. I find Glocer's embrace of bloggers a particularly noteworthy, and shrewd move, and he's now thinking of ways in which Reuters as an organization can build a relationship with bloggers.

    Often people ask, "Isn't blogging totally revolutionary?" I think journalists have known for years the idea of a stringer - he's on staff but maybe in a distant location. ET, for instance, uses somebody who's not on the payroll but you have a relationship with. In some ways you can think of bloggers as super-stringers - stringers with a loser connection. But it's up to you to build a community around them and to pull them in.

    Read the full interview here.

    December 12, 2005

    The Writer's Guild on Product Placement

    An article on Wired today documents the frustration of television writers who are tired of mandated product placement and want additional compensation for writing commercial messages into their work.

    Last month, the Writer's Guild of America, along with the Screen Actors Guild, called for a "Code of Conduct" for product placement in television and film, citing "the public's right to be informed of such advertising." Statistics provided by the Writer's Guild press release indicate the rising rate of product placements in television and film:

    "Last year, the use of products in filmed entertainment increased 44 percent and generated revenues in excess of $1 billion. In television alone, product-related revenues skyrocketed a whopping 84 percent."

    The proposed Code of Conduct would include rules about disclosure of product integration deals and restrictions on product placement in children's media; but also at issue is compensation for writers and actors. Guild members believe that incorporating products into their stories is beyond their job description: "...along with being asked to create memorable stories and characters, our writers are being told to perform the function of ad copywriter." The whitepaper available with the press release calls for negotiation between producers and writers about additional compensation.

    If their demands are not met, the Writer's Guild threatens to involve the FCC because broadcasters are bound by law to make sponsors public.

    World Creation: The Key to Collaborative Entertainment

    Denis McGrath over at Dead Things on Sticks has an excellent post up in which he debunks the notion of the "killer idea" as the source of great entertainment. It's a seductive notion which has snared many people in its tendrils, but let's be frank: Ideas are cheap. Execution is what really matters. And as Denis puts it:

    A television series... is all about creating a template: an ongoing landscape populated with characters from which a series of narratives can spring.

    And just as we wouldn't be talking about the brilliance of Born to Run today if not for the sax work of Clarence Clemons, the guiding hand of Jon Landau, the keyboards of David Sancious and the off-kilter interjections of Miami Steve Van Zandt, series don't become series until you pull in the beautiful minds who shape the initial idea, polish it, and make it the thing it needs to be to engage an audience not for two hours, but for up to seven years. It's a job that's too big for one person, even though -- like with Springsteen -- the mythology demands that in the end it be credited to one person.

    I'll go one step further than Denis and argue that not just TV, but any kind of continuing entertainment franchise (and especially a transmedia franchise) needs to create a template for itself; either as a world in which a series of similar but non-formulaic narratives can occur, or as a framework for interesting content. That world or framework has to be expansive enough for different people to put their own stamp on corners of it and still have enough space left for other members of the creative team to do their own thing, and it needs to be interesting and distinctive enough that it can set itself apart from everything else on the market.

    To quote Denis again:

    The idea never starts out killer. Hire the smart people, and put them together, and that's what makes it killer.

    Preach on, brother.

    Some time back, I'd posted

    Some time back, I'd posted on Shakespeare as text messages. Now, handhelds being adopted alll over...,1284,69806,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_5
    narrative complexity - transmedia... if narratives are flowing across, and kids aere comprehending them differently.... Grant's post on his blog... narative and transmedia - maybe corporations should pay more attention - can we apply transmedia to brands.. certainly...the audience is certainly ready

    Passions Animation: Genre Mixing in Soaps

    NBC soap opera Passions had an interesting week from Nov. 11-Nov. 15, running a series of animations as part of a fairy tale storyline throughout each episode during the week.

    Becuase Passions has framed itself as a fantasy soap, with storylines including vampires and all sorts of other supernatural situations, fans seemed to accept this major break in soaps-as-usual.

    The episodes were critically acclaimed and seemed to indicate potential new avenues for soaps. The move got quite a bit of press for the show, which is the lowest rated of the nine daytime dramas in overall viewers.

    The success of the episode reminds me of one of our reserach partners at the consortium Jason Mittell, in his book Genre and Television. Jason looks at the TV show Soap and the cartoon The Simpsons as examples of genre crossovers. In this case, the soap opera managed to do quite a bit of genre crossing, ironically using the same company that produces The Simpsons for the animated sequences.

    What do you all think of the potential in moves like this, if done occasionally? Is it groundbreaking from a transmedia perspective?

    December 11, 2005

    On Vlogs

    The New York Times has an article today about video blogs (vlogs, or video podcasts on the iTunes music store), calling them "new media's favorite new medium." The article profiles several vlog creators - Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom formats her videos like news reports, while Michael Verdi and Charlene Rule (of Scratch Video) create intensely personal movies that are almost like journal entries.

    The advertising opportunities with vlogs are mentioned briefly. While most do not have enough viewers to warrant advertising, the most popular vlogs may prove to be very lucrative when advertisers warm up to the idea. Recently TiVo began listing select vlogs in its directory, allowing users to record vlogs to their television sets and the vlog producers to profit from advertising before and after their content.

    The article is fairly comprehensive and a good resource for someone who wants an introduction to popular vlogs. However, I think the article is overstating the mass appeal of vlogs when it says that "the rapid expansion in the number of vlogs and Web sites offering video podcasts strongly suggests how bored viewers are getting with standard commercial TV." The problem is that vlogs and commercial TV are very different. Vlogs are shorter, produced with a significantly lower budget or no budget at all, and are created by individuals (often just one or two people) rather than corporations. Most vlogs - like most blogs - are personal, created to keep in touch with friends, discuss a hobby, or document daily life; thus they appeal to a niche audience. It seems to me that (for now) people enjoy both commercial television and vlogs, and the growth of vlogging doesn't suggest a shift from a different medium.

    Blog Posts, Literally


    Niall Kennedy spots a blog post in its most literal sense. "Someone had posted two of their latest blog posts at a busy street corner in San Francisco. The top post introduces weblogs and the topics they cover, encouraging people to read more weblogs for the latest news about their community and the topics they care about. The bottom post talks about comments by radio host Rush Limbaugh against homosexuals."

    Sprint To Offer Full-Length Movies For Cell Phones

    "Sprint Nextel Corp. is expected to announce on Monday that it has begun selling a service which allows users of its mobile video phones to watch full-length movies, television shows, concerts and comedy specials."
    -- Reuters

    Microsoft Points: Micropayments' Killer App?

    So, Joystiq has been commenting on good things about the Xbox 360, and the top two items on their list are the Xbox Live Arcade/Marketplace and the proprietary currency players can use there, Microsoft Points:

    It's clear that [Points] have been very carefully thought out. The exchange rate itself appears to have been carefully chosen so that points don't line up against most of the major world currencies in a simple ratio. A US Dollar buys 80. A Yen buys .67. A pound buys 120. A Euro buys about 67, and so on. That's important because it distances the gamer from the financial impact of the purchase. If the conversion to dollars is simple, every transaction will be evaluated in real dollar terms. If the conversion requires math, most people will choose not to perform the conversion and will presumably spend more freely.

    Second, the structure of Marketplace minimizes credit card transaction fees that Microsoft needs to pay. They're not passing those savings on to us, but the more [money] that we keep out of the pockets of middlemen-- credit card companies included in that category-- the more money goes into the pockets of the content creators. That's good for the games industry, because it means existing developers will make more money. More money flowing to developers should also increase the number of firms developing games, which will in turn increase the variety and creativity of games that make their way onto our gaming devices.

    Microsoft Points may well be the first step towards a viable and widespread micropayment system, as imagined by Scott McCloud. Up until now, there have been a variety of hurdles for would-be micropayment pioneers to overcome, such as technology, user adoption, vendor adoption, credit card fees, minimum purchases, and so on. Microsoft, with Xbox Live Arcade, is in a position to sidestep most of these hurdles, especially as everyone who buys an Xbox Live Gold Pack gets a certain number of Points as a part of the deal. Microsoft Points are also attached to Microsoft's Passport service, making them portable to Hotmail and a number of other online venues. If Microsoft can't make micropayments work with this much going for it, it may be a while before the concept makes it off the ground.

    Shadow of the Colossus Viral Marketing?

    Interesting... Joystiq reports that three separate (and fairly low-tech) websites have sprung up literally overnight, showcasing 'evidence' that gigantic creatures once walked the earth. The remains of colossal creatures bear a suspicious resemblance to designs from Sony's Shadow of the Colossus.

    A quicktime video of the first creature is here.

    A page with underwater 'photos' of the second creature is here.

    And a palentologist's account of discovering the third creature is here.

    What's interesting is how recent events (the Tsunami and an earthquake in Iran) are incorporated into the first and third accounts, and the very understated nature of the marketing element. While most viewers would probably be skeptical of the websites' veracity, the connection to Shadow of the Colossus is likely to be made only by people who are already aware of the game. One suspects that blogs commenting on the campaign are more likely to get the message out than the websites themselves. Whether that makes the campaign's designers very crafty or otherwise remains to be seen.

    IPTV not yet a viable business model? has an interesting piece on independent online-only TV production: Aspiring TV writers get their chops together online. The piece profiles J.D. Rynzar's "Yacht Rock", an offbeat show found online at Channel 101, an IPTV outlet for LA comedy writers. However, the disturbing part of the article is as follows:

    Despite their growing popularity, Channel 101 and other online video offerings don't pose a threat to established TV networks that employ phalanxes of middlemen between creator and audience, said Jupiter Research analyst Todd Chanko.

    "There are some distinct advantages to being big--it's money for marketing, and it's programming resources and distribution resources, and those simply cannot be ignored," he said. "You're talking about a household name that goes back to the 1920s."

    Ironically, for all their frustrations with the TV industry, Schrab and Ryznar said their main goal is still to find success within the mainstream.

    Channel 101 has helped them gain visibility, they say.

    Several Channel 101 alums have been hired as writers with "Saturday Night Live." Schrab said the project has helped him get work on comic Sarah Silverman's planned new TV show.

    As for Ryznar, he's landed an agent and partied with the cast of "The Simpsons," though VH1 turned down an opportunity to develop Yacht Rock into a full-blown TV show.

    "The fact of the matter is you cannot make a living doing Internet TV shows at this point, and you may not ever be able to," Ryznar said. "But God, it's such a great medium for making things that don't matter."

    This isn't really surprising, but it does raise the question: can IPTV ever become profitable enough to stand on its own as an independent medium, or is doomed to become the video equivalent of zines or self-published novels?

    Graphic novel of The Fountain v.1, film of The Fountain v.2

    Well, this is a form of transmedia I hadn't considered before. We film geeks have been following Darren Arnofsky's latest project The Fountain ever since his last film wrapped. The story sounds amazing, following explorers pursuing the Fountain of Youth, only cycling through three iterations: first in conquistador-era Spain, second in the modern day, and third in the far-flung future. It's exactly the kind of bizarre dark art you'd expect from the man behind Pi and Requiem for a Dream – the only trouble is, the poor film's been stuck in developmental hell almost as long as Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote. (Okay, maybe not that long, but you get the idea.) First Brad Pitt was supposed to star, but then he dropped out and had to be replaced with Hugh Jackman. Then the project lost its funding, and the script had to be hauled in for a major cost-saving rewrite. Now the principal photography has finally wrapped but they're still in post-production, which has the studio heads tearing their hair out because they'd hoped to get it out in time for this year's Oscar noms. Oy. For more ugly details (and a bizarre exchange about infant children and Steve Gaghan's Syriana, check out this recent AICN interview.

    Anyway, all is not lost for us fans. Arnofsky has partnered with DC's Vertigo comics to release an oversized hardcover graphic novel of the original story. Illustrated by Kent Williams, who some folks may know for his Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold which was based on Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, this monster clocks in at 176 pages with a $40 price tag, which is made all the more winceworthy by its being shipped in shrinkwrap, preventing potential buyers from flipping through and evaluating its quality in the shops. Luckily, DC has answered this criticism with a 14-page preview PDF available for free download on their site.

    DC describes the story and edition as follows:

    ...The Fountain crisscrosses through three distinct time periods: 1535, during an ancient Mayan war; the present day, following one doctor's desperate search for the cure for cancer; and the far future through the vast exotic reaches of space. Interweaving these three periods, The Fountain follows Tomas -- warrior, doctor, explorer -- as he feverishly tries to beat death and prolong the life of the woman he loves.

    A story so grand, one medium couldn't contain it, Aronofsky's feature film version of The Fountain will be released by Warner Bros. Pictures and Regency Enterprises, starring Tony-award winning actor Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Van Helsing, The Boy from Oz) and acclaimed actress Rachel Weisz (Constantine, The Mummy, the upcoming The Constant Gardener). But before he did, the filmmaker wanted The Fountain to be realized in the unique storytelling power and artistic beauty of the graphic novel. Together, Aronofsky and Williams deliver what might be considered the ultimate director's cut. This volume also features an afterword by Aronofsky.

    So this makes me wonder: is this transmedia storytelling, adaptation, or something between the two? Further, and perhaps more interesting, which edition is the primary narrative component? If one assumes that the primary media component of any property is its original intended product (the films in Star Wars, for example; all the 'extended universe' books would be classified as secondary media components), but the comic is based on Arnofsky's original, uncompromised story and the actual film is an amended version, then we start getting into battles of intent, of import (is the story more important than the director's celluloid composition?) and all kinds of other sticky wickets. Fascinating stuff.

    The rise of indie CGI animation

    Straight from the "clippings-I'm-saving-for-my-thesis" file: The Hollywood Reporter examines one early Weinstein Company project, Hoodwinked, as an example of CGI indie films. The budget for Hoodwinked? About US$35M. Not a small pile of cash, to be sure, but when you consider that, according to Wikipedia, Pixar's latest film The Incredibles had a budget of $US92M and brought in a box office take of $US259M domestic and US$366M abroad, for a whopping total of $US625M (I repeat – US$625,000,000), then Hoodwinked only has to make just under six percent of that take to break even. (Alec, you want to check my math on this?)

    (Postscript: cool! Post #100!)

    Prototype of the 21st century studio: The Weinstein Company

    Cinematical reports that the Weinstein brothers just struck a deal to handle their own DVD distribution. The brothers' new post-Miramax venture, The Weinstein Company, is emerging as a case study in 21st-century convergence filmmaking. First they unveiled a US$490M round of private equity from investors (including a hefty chunk of change from Mark Cuban), then they announced a US$25M partnership with the advertising giant WPP Group not just for product placement but "as an integral part of the actual film", then they announced the first-ever major partnership between a studio and a major cosmetics company in the form of a two-year marketing and placement deal with L'Oreal Paris. I can't wait to see what they'll do with online video.

    Amazing Race bonus round an online exclusive

    TV Squad turns in another interesting report with the news that Amazing Race will post an exclusive 'bonus round' episode on after the end of the 'official' season on Dec. 13. From the official press release:

    For the first time ever, the teams who finish in second and third place during the two hour season finale of THE AMAZING RACE 8 on Tuesday, Dec. 13 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) will have one final chance to win a very special prize, a brand new 2006 GMC Yukon XL. Video footage of the entire bonus mini-race will be streamed exclusively on, the official website of the CBS Television Network, immediately following the West coast broadcast of the finale (11:00 PM, PT).

    In the exclusive bonus challenge, the second and third place winners of THE AMAZING RACE 8 will compete in a mini-race that will require teams to recall specific challenges and locations from this past season. The team who's first to complete the challenge correctly will drive away in their very own 2006 GMC Yukon XL.

    I applaud CBS' initiative on this front, but I'm still waiting for online-exclusive content for shows I actually care about (*cough*West Wing*cough*).

    Online exclusive episodes of Family Guy coming up

    TV Squad reports that FOX will produce some original, web-only episodes of Family Guy. According to the post:

    At some conference in New York, the head of interactive media at FOX said in a speech that they are planning to create some original episodes of Family Guy for the web. He's not sure of distribution plans yet, but now that FOX owns MySpace and IGN, those are likely places to place video content. It could also appear on Just like the other networks, FOX will charge (about $2) for each downloaded episode.

    Commenters on the thread speculated that this might be tied into Apple's announcements of a new home media Mac in January – scuttlebutt has it that they'll be launching a more intense online video initiative as well.

    December 10, 2005

    Targeted Advertising

    A guest columnist at TalentZoo examines the relationship between clients, major advertising agencies, and smaller, ethnically focused agencies in an article entitled "Lost in Translation: Why so much multicultural advertising is still so bad".

    When large agencies use "targeted" agencies as "boycott repellent," the article states, but don't allow them to propose new ideas or changes to the campaign because of fear of going off-message, the result is ethnic campaigns that are stereotypical and even offensive. The reason?

    "Synergy, kids. Synergy. The images of ethnic folks presented by the targeted agency must be consistent with the preconceived notions of said ethnic folks held by the client/AOR/General Market consumer base. Otherwise, it's liable to make all involved think a little too hard about things other than the USP."

    Adrants offers a solution: trust. If the large agencies can trust that a smaller, focused agency can contribute something valuable - if they can trust that campaigns can and should be changed so to appeal to different groups - both advertisers and consumers will benefit.

    Consumers Create Burger King Video iPod Ads

    Sounds like Burger King may be positioning itself as an early champion in the convergence of brand culture and fan culture: they're apparently getting a decent response to their new campaign, which encourages fans to create their own BK ads for Apple's video iPod.
    Although less than a month old, the video iPod is fast becoming a new advertising vehicle. Burger King is dipping its toes in the water by partnering with to offer consumer-generated videos extolling its brand icon, 'The King.' Burger King interactive shop WPP Group's VML in New York created the campaign in concert with, a youth-focused broadband video site that features a heavy dose of user-created content. sent out about 25 Burger King masks, created for Halloween by Crispin Porter + Bogusky of Miami, to the site's frequent contributors. It got back a dozen videos of The King in action, including one featuring him driving through a McDonald's drive-through wearing the mask and asking for Burger King menu items... "It's more about giving people something they'll find value in, tying it back to 'have it your way,'" said Jessica Brown, media manager at VML.

    Read the full article: Consumers Create Burger King Video iPod Ads.

    Europe Proposes Terrible IP Precedent

    (Via Atrios)

    The New York Times reports that European lawmakers are proposing legislation that would criminalize patent violation and impose prison time on patent violators.

    Tim Frain, director of intellectual property at Nokia, called the inclusion of patents within the scope of a European law "ludicrous." Mr. Frain, who is based outside London, advises managers at Nokia on the risks of infringing existing patents when they develop new functions for mobile phones.

    Mr. Frain indicated that patent holders wanted protection, but not penalties of imprisonment as they test the boundaries of other patents.

    "It's never black and white," he said of patents. "Sometimes third-party patents are so weak that I advise managers to go ahead and innovate because after making a risk analysis we feel we can safely challenge the existing patent."

    He added, "But with this law, even if I'm certain the existing patent is no good, the manager involved would be criminally liable."

    What he said. This move would absolutely have a chilling effect on innovation, especially given how poorly vetted most technological or conceptual/business practice patents are. Mandating prison time for accidentally trampling on a pre-existing patent (which may well be flawed) is an absolutely terrible idea.

    Lifestyle Gaming + Sports Gaming = Marc Ecko's Getting Up.

    Marc EckoTo take my previous post in a different direction with a real world example, MTV Films just announced plans for the movie version of fashion designer Marc Ecko's Getting Up. From the official press release at

    Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure adaptation as a feature project promises to be an homage to graffiti's rich culture. Told through an alternate reality in a futuristic universe, the game represents the culmination of seven years of story and character development by fashion pioneer Marc Ecko, the visionary behind several of today's most respected youth lifestyle brands. Mr. Ecko will serve as producer on the project with MTV Films' Gregg Goldin, who brought the project to the company. Jason Weiss and David Gale will be developing on behalf of MTV Films. "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure" will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

    "When I first began working on 'Getting Up' seven years ago, I wanted to create a storyline that provided a rare look inside of one of the most influential, yet often overlooked, artistic movements in recent history. Today, graffiti is a global cultural phenomenon and few understand its impact better than MTV, pioneers in its use as a motion graphics tool nearly two decades ago. I am delighted to have the ability to bring the depth of our story to life on film and look forward to working with the great team MTV has assembled," added Marc Ecko. "Getting Up" drops in Feb. 2006 for PS2, XBOX, and PC.

    The response on the web has been mixed. From Joystiq's typical snarky commentary:

    We won't get into the reasons why fashion designer Marc Ecko has a videogame with his name on it in the first place, why anyone would make a movie based on a game that hasn't even come out yet, and why anyone would want to see said movie. Branding has become such a singular and overwhelming force in videogames and movies that it alone can get both made (even though some don't make any money). Expect plenty of finger pointing and scapegoating once this movie comes out. Expect people to say the game's (potentially) piss-poor story is responsible for the movie's equivalent lack of narrative. But we'll know better.

    The comments thread at Joystiq is pretty interesting as well, with several people touching on Sony's previous graffiti PR problem.

    For my money, while there's no mention of in-game ordering or other advanced advergaming implementation, I'm still quite interested to see where this goes. The mobile version already won Best Wireless Game at the Spike TV Video Game Awards, and the game's voice talent lineup alone is enough to make the scene sit up and take notice: Sean "Diddy" Combs, George Hamilton, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam West, Andy Dick, RZA, Charlie Murphy, and Talib Kweli. Wow.

    The Next Big Thing: Lifestyle Gaming?

    Last week Dr. Jenkins' Creative Industries class was visited by Jon Cropper, a friend of the C3 and the man in charge of marketing Sean "Diddy" Coombs' media empire. In his lecture, Jon presented two huge photomontages evoking the 'mood' of a brand, including locations, objects and people that all fit this brand style. Looking at them, it was almost impossible not to start imagining connections between the images and quickly forming some type of brand narrative.

    C3's research keeps returning over and over again to the use of storytelling as a marketing and entertainment device. We grapple with the functions that these stories serve in ads, the function that product placement for ads serve in stories, and how video gaming is developing as a narrative form. Aristotle argued that drama was all about the plot – characters are nice to have, but you can still have a story with a rousing plot and no characters. Video games, on the other hand, seem to be primarily about the setting, granting the player agency to run around in an authored world.

    So why not take this one step further and let gamers slip into the world that these brands attempt to personify in their advertisements? We have racks and racks of lifestyle magazines, so why not lifestyle gaming?

    Imagine a MMORPG for the Vanity Fair set that lets you be the heir or heiress to some massive business empire, providing you with nearly inexhaustible resources. In the game, you can then assemble the materialistic life of your dreams, obtaining houses and vacation homes and planes and cars or whatever, taking this life out for a spin. You can connect with your friends online and show off the newest toys that you've found, with the option of actually purchasing one in real life with real money in-game. It would be similar to a James Bond game, but playing up the shaken-not-stirred aspect instead of the Walther PPK. How would such a project succeed or fail?

    On the one hand, there's something intensely sexy about the concept of a Ralph Lauren videogame, distributed via free DVD-ROM in every issue of Vanity Fair, or even an Eddie Bauer or Timberland game. Pop in the game, and you're suddenly running around a lodge in Crested Butte wearing the latest fashions, sipping Godiva cocoa, cuddling with ski bunnies and taking your Land Rover out for a spin. On the other, there's the simple solve-all-my-problems psychology trap of big ticket purchases. People tend to buy brands because they believe that their lives will radically change when they obtain that $500 Gucci bag, but their friends stay the same, their waistline stays the same, their house stays the same... Very few big-ticket purchases would offer the same kind of massive life overhaul that such a game could offer – unless each game also offered a Buy This Life button that instantly sucked $20M out of your credit account, filed divorce papers, sold your house, and booked you plane tickets.

    Regardless, I think there is some interesting – and potentially lucrative – territory to be mined here. What do you think?

    "Transmedia: Branding's Next New Thing?"

    Grant McCracken, one of C3's distinguished advisors, has posted a detailed and thought-provoking three-part analysis exploring the possibilities for applying transmedia strategies to corporate branding. Take a look, and you'll see why we're all so proud to be working with him!

    Part One

    Part Two

    Part Three

    Whenever he can spare some time from working on his own blog, we look forward to having Grant throwing into the ongoing discussions here on the C3 Weblog.

    Nielsen to measure Massive ads

    Further proof that Nielsen's report is set to increase efforts in the VG advertising space:

    Nielsen will begin measuring Massive ads.

    Nielsen Entertainment and Massive Inc. announced a partnership Wednesday under which Nielsen Interactive Entertainment will provide third-party accountability and measurement for in-game advertising on the Massive Network...

    Massive operates the Massive Video Game Advertising Network, a system that enables advertisers to fine-tune customizable placement according to consumer demography, game genre, behavioral data, daypart and other factors, and all aspects of the campaign can be changed across the network instantly as well as being accurately trackable (HR 10/18).

    (Via Inside Video Games.)

    December 9, 2005

    Norwegian Broadcaster Tests Interactive Mobile TV

    (Via Lost Remote)

    The first attempts to create interactive TV may have flopped, but the idea keeps cropping up. This time it's being tried by Norwegian broadcaster NRK and Swedish wireless equipment maker LM Ericsson. According to Yahoo! News:

    During the six-week test, which started Monday, users can download a program for watching and interacting with the Norwegian youth music program "Svisj" on their mobile phones.

    Users can vote for the next music video by pressing a mobile phone key, and chat in writing with each other or the program leaders while watching the show.

    Espen Torgersen, a telecommunications analyst with the Carnegie Investment Bank AB, said the extent of interaction of the system may be new, but that many similar projects are under way.

    I have to confess I was hoping for something more impressive than the ability to vote on the next TRL video. So far, the killer app of "interactive" TV has been the easy time-shifting enabled by TiVo and the DVR.

    Online Video Audience Skews Older

    (Via Lost Remote)

    35 to 54 year olds are 20% more likely to watch online video than the average internet user, according to a recent study by ComScore, and accounted for more than 45% of the online video audience in August 2005. As ComScore's Erin Hunter notes, "it's not just college kids or bleeding-edge internet users who are streaming videos."

    While the bulk of the study is behind a pay wall, the following findings were summarized in the press release:

    * More than 100 million users consume online digital media (streams and downloads) in the U.S. in a month, which represents almost 60 percent of the U.S. online population (97.5 million computers).

    * Video consumption crosses all dayparts and demographics, with the primetime and daytime dayparts showing particular strength.

    * Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. Internet users in August streamed audio or video through a Portal and almost 50 percent did so from an Entertainment site

    * More than 17 percent of U.S. Internet users streamed content from a Music site and 15 percent streamed from a Retail site.

    All this data is interesting, of course, although it would more useful it it was put in context. For instance, what kinds of content do users watch through streaming video, and what do they prefer to download to their hard drive or DVR? Will people pay for streamed content, or is advertising a more effective means of monetizing the media form? Obviously, some popular streaming videos are advertisments, such as the now-defunct BMW Films and Apple's movie trailers, which presumably more than pay for themselves.

    The Blog Collective

    The Online Journalism Review has an article about blog collectives and their advantages for advertisers and the bloggers themselves. For the writer, a blog collective like Blogads makes his or her site visible to advertisers and works on his or her behalf to negotiate contracts and payment. Advertisers can rely on Blogads to recommend appropriate blogs for a particular campaign. "By joining together in loose or more rigid groups," the article states, "bloggers are beginning to appear on the radar of big business and advertising companies and present themselves in terms that big firms can finally understand."

    More on Consumer Pressure (and Ford)

    As I noted in the comments of Sam's post, below, AmericaBlog has been all over Ford Motors for caving to the demands of the American Family Association. Obviously, this is an area where brand cultures overlap with politics, as a look at the history of the AFA's attempts to influence Ford shows:

    Some AMERICAblog readers uncovered an action alert the American Family Association (AFA) used to try to influence Ford to become anti-gay three years ago.

    In that alert, the AFA uses the science of one Paul Cameron, the head of the Family Research Institute, an organization labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and whose "research" the SPLC says "echoes Nazi Germany."

    ...Specifically, the AFA is using Paul Cameron's fake "study" in which he determines that gay men die by the age of 40. I'm serious. (Cameron simply read the obituaries of gay men in gay publications in 1993, then averaged the age of death - really.) The AFA literally cited the results of this study in their action alert - I've been following Cameron's "research" and the religious right's use of him for the past 13 years.

    In light of the tactics used by the AFA (as well as the PR implications of being associated with them) it's illuminating to contrast Ford's reaction to that of Kraft, which reacted quite differently to pressure from the AFA. An excerpt from Kraft's press release follows:

    In recent days, the company has received many e-mails, the majority of them generated through the America Family Association, which objects to our sponsorship [of the 2006 Gay Games]. We also have received calls and e-mails - - not as many, but equally passionate - - thanking us for supporting this event.

    ...It can be difficult when we are criticized. It's easy to say you support a concept or a principle when nobody objects. The real test of commitment is how one reacts when there are those who disagree. I hope you share my view that our company has taken the right stand on diversity, including its contribution to the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.

    This is one case where I'm actually pleased that 'fan' pressure failed to achieve its desired goal.

    Mick Foley Enters the Blogosphere

    What power is the world of weblogs having on society as a whole?

    Just a few days ago, I posted an entry on the commentary from the Wall Street Journal in which Lee Gomez questions whether a few blogs will become powerful, leaving the rest to float in ubiquity. As Kurt Squire has responded, I think this viewpoint has some validity.

    Blogs aren't just making new names more powerful though--they are also giving a new space for already established names to enter. Case in point would be all of the journalists who are now taking to blogging...or bestselling author/pro wrestler Mick Foley.

    Those who know Foley's career know that he isn't much into new technology--he speaks at college campuses about the lost art of writing by hand and prides himself on handwritten manuscripts.

    Foley's entry into blogging is no different. He is currently blogging on World Wrestling Entertainment's trip to Afghanistan to entertain the troops, but swears he will only blog under two conditions--that someone else types his entries up and that he is never considered part of the blogosphere.

    However, he says that the temptation to have a weblog had just become too much.

    Is this going to be a trend that enters all spaces of mass media? For Foley, the blog becomes incredibly interesting, as his television character Mick Foley and the real person Mick Foley becomes very complex in this space, where he is blogging about his life. Which Mick Foley is this? What is the distinction? Can we claim to be seeing the backstage of the character, or should we consider the blog a performance as well?

    Interesting questions, not just for academic concerns but for understanding how fans comprehend materials and why they are driven toward them. The celebrity blog is a space that remains quite a mystery in many ways.

    And, to my friend Mick Foley, although he'll probably never read this since he claims not to use the Web--welcome to the sphere, fellow "Web log writer!"

    Soap Dance Videos?

    Procter & Gamble soap As the World Turns has taken a novel approach to promoting--surprising, of course, since soaps usually do very little to promote themselves other than on daytime television and through soap opera magazines, preaching to the converted, so to speak.

    However, the soap is hoping to show its artistry and complexity in a way that breaks out of the conventions of soap opera; several of the actors filmed a dance video that is currently airing on 1,400 movie screens before films, promoting the CBS show.

    The dance video will be set to Evan Olson's "Take the World."

    Several of the ATWT fan boards have members asking where these videos are airing, as most of them have not seen them.

    Is this a good idea? Will it really lead to increased viewership? How can a traditional soap opera like ATWT break through the stereotypes that soaps have against them?

    Actor Michael Park, who plays Jack Snyder, says, "Any time we can transcend different mediums, that's the name of the game. We're trying to reach as many people as we possibly can."

    The show has featured many actors over the years who have gone on to do well in Hollywood--Meg Ryan, Julianne Moore, Parker Posey, James Earl Jones, , Jason Biggs, John Wesley Shipp, and myriad other actors began on the show. The current cast includes Michael Landon's daughter Jennifer and a lot of young actors who have great possibilities for the future, as well as very accomplished television and film actor Tamara Tunie, accomplished stage actors like Scott Holmes, and veterans who have been on the show up to...well...50 years.

    Nevertheless, is there anything that soaps can do to draw in viewers who already have such preconceived notions about them?

    And what are the benefits to the crossover with Evan Olson?

    Any thoughts?

    Theft of signal?

    The world of professional wrestling is full of hyperbole, so, when I heard a while back that former WCW World Champion and WWE superstar Diamond Dallas Page was going to sue Jay-Z for stealing the DDP hand signal that Page apparently copyrighted (a symbol of excellence since 1996, DDP's Web site claims), I didn't think much of it.

    That is, until fellow C3 member Alec Austin sent me a link to a story from the New York Daily News about the lawsuit.

    What to say? The issues that we are discussing always open up concerns for copyright infringement, but I haven't heard much about theft of hand gesture in the past. There are so few signals one can make with the hand that one would think that nothing is being done that hasn't been done before. But, if a hand signal has been copyrighted, hmm...

    Any legal eagles out there who might be able to give some context to this? For the rest of us normal folk who have no clue how this might play out and what the precedents are, what is the implication on art and media if this case has some validity? Constant fear of doing anything because no one knows for sure what might be done before?

    One person has a definite opinion, one that's pretty harsh in its stance against DDP and questioning the true origin of the hand guesture. Check out Nick Mamatas' response to the issue.

    Perhaps even more interesting is the way the blogosphere is reporting the news--half frame the story that DDP is suing rapper Jay-Z (bloggers from the wrestling world or former wrestling fans), while the other half write that Jay-Z is being sued by a wrestler (hip-hop bloggers, no doubt).

    Major Shakeups for VNU and DreamWorks?

    Today's Wall Street Journal published two potential major stories that are developing for 2006--the potential change in ownership for both DreamWorks.

    Henry Sender reports that Dutch company VNU, the media powerhouse that owns Nielsen Media Research, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Editor and Publisher, AdWeek, MediaWeek and BrandWeek, among other properties, is currently under consideration for buyout by two separate consortiums of international buyers.

    Because of some recent frustration in company performance, some feel this will at least be the most successful attempt at a buyout in VNU's history.

    Several of us from the consortium recently participated in VNU's "The Next Big Idea" conference in NYC. Seeing the power that VNU holds in the media industry through its various partners, it's still unclear as to what effect a buyout might have on the media industry as a whole. I'm sure, though, that everyone will have their eye on what's happening here as we enter 2006.

    On the same page in today's WSJ, Merissa Marr reports that Viacom's Paramount Pictures is preparing to make a bid to buy DreamWorks, competing with General Electric's NBC Universal. DreamWorks, of course, is Steven Spielberg's company and has been part of many major films over the past several years.

    What do you think are the implications if VNU is bought out or DreamWorks becomes part of yet another major media conglomerate, whether it joins the NBC camp or the Viacom camp?

    Grappling with Video Games

    I would like to direct your attention to a recent post on the Inside Video Games Weblog entitled "Midway Gets in the Wrestling Ring." Thanks to the brilliant scholar and fellow C3 media analyst Ivan Askwith for pointing this story out for me.

    The posting focuses on the wrestling organization TNA which airs on Spike TV and their licensing of a new video game, to compete in the market with all the releases from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

    The WWE, under Vince McMahon, is an exemplar in many ways in using various media effectively, and this posting features reasons why the WWE has made such a name for itself in the video game market in particular.

    The WWE games were revolutionized in recent years by offering various modes of play, including not only the player vs. player match option and a career option, which allows the player to enter the complex area of building a WWE career, etc.

    Currently, TNA offers a successful alternative to the WWE but only on a small scale. It will be interesting to see how their reputation in the video game industry develops. If their property is attempted to be constantly prepared to the WWE and their accomplished development of video games, it might not be fair.

    In the meantime, though, WWE's Smackdown vs.RAW 2006 will almost certainly be a hit, shipping this week for Playstation.

    Do any of you have any thoughts on the video game/wrestling crossover or have any experience of your own? Since I am the least inclined to play video games of our fellow posters, I have only experienced these games when playing with friends. After all, I know that if I ever started, it would be like eating Pringles...I'd never stop.

    Machinima Comes Of Age

    This one is especially for our partners, who were asking about the state of machinima while visiting campus a few weeks ago.

    While I had already mentioned the recent buzz around a new political piece called The French Democracy, there was a great summation in the Inside Video Games Blog yesterday, talking about new developments and the state of the machinima movement.

    Worth a look for anyone who wants to keep tabs on how machinima is working its way into mainstream culture.

    (And kudos to our partner, MTV, for their active contributions in the machinima space!)

    UPDATE: BusinessWeek has another excellent feature article on the machinima movement. Worth a look.

    Film-VG Convergence On The Horizon... Again.

    From the same article as the previous entry: for those following the convergence of films and video games -- it seems that we can look forward to more Year-of-the-Matrix style transmedia experiments, as the industries begin to comprehend the logic of games that are complements, rather than adaptations, of their cinematic counterparts:

    Said Bruce Friend, executive vp and managing director of OTX Research: "The boxoffice has been weak, so studios will look to get more creative in their advertising."

    Stocks said he also expects another form of creativity to become more important in the Hollywood-gaming relationship. Over time, video game developers will likely start working more closely with film studios when it comes to creating games tied to movies, a move that would benefit both sides, he said.

    Said Stocks: "If there is more interaction between the film and the game, and the game offers expanded stories and more character development," gamers will be happier and enjoy both products more.

    Zen and the Art of Video Game Product Placement

    Hot on the heels of the recent reports about the efficacy of in-game advertising, Massive Inc. has announced that they will start integrating "dynamic 10-second ads" into video games in more fluid and logical contexts:

    Longano said a traditional 30-second spot would interrupt game play too much, but he is optimistic that gamers readily will watch the shorter commercials. "Advertising makes the gaming experience more realistic ... people accept it and actually like it" as long as it doesn't interfere or distract too much from the game itself, he said.

    He explained that players would get to see the short animated videos in "natural" situations, such as when moving their game characters by a TV set that is turned on.

    Massive will start using the spots in about two weeks and will charge higher rates than for its static ad displays within games, according to Longano.

    Will you look at that? The industry can learn!

    December 8, 2005

    Nielsen DVR Ratings forthcoming

    (Via Lost Remote)

    On December 26, Nielsen is shifting over to a three-part rating system, with the latter two data streams reporting on DVR playback. The three streams are:

    1) live, viewing excluding any DVR playback;
    2) live plus same day, live viewers and those who played back programs on a DVR within one day of their initial airing; and
    3) live plus seven, live viewers and those who played back programs on a DVR within a week of their initial airing.

    While up to 90% of DVR users skip ads, the expanded DVR ratings will be important for gauging the reach of product placements, particularly if Nielsen releases minute-by-minute breakdowns of their ratings so both producers and program sponsors can see when viewers were tuned in.

    Says Sara Erichson, general manager of national services for Nielsen Media Research, "With regard to the different flavors of data, it was pretty clear that different clients had different needs and different priorities."

    Changes in Nielsen ratings, the basis upon which networks and advertisers negotiate the value of ads, threaten to drastically alter how advertising deals are structured. Many ad buyers, not surprisingly, don't like the new streams and say they won't include DVR viewers in deals they make during next spring's upfront; more viewers mean more money that advertisers could be asked to shell out.

    Of course, 45% of all viewers of live TV don't watch ads either. Still, the spread of DVRs and the availability of TV shows for online download should start pressuring advertisers to sink more money into product placement any day now...

    Move toward Digital Radio

    The radio industry has decided to band together (again, pun intended, unfortunately) and support the development of digital radio.

    According to Sarah McBride in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, eight major companies, including Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting, have decided to approve a move toward digital that should lead to the capability of more channels to fit in a particular market, a clearer signal, although concerns are that such moves could fragment the radio audience and attack the current dominant advertising mode for stations because of the greater number of channels, perhaps targeting a niche audience.

    Can radio stations follow a similar method as satellite radio and cable television in this regard? Can it be profitable for more stations to enter the market and target certain niche groups in a particular regional market?

    NBC joining video iPod services

    NBC is the latest to jump on the Apple iPod bandwagon.

    According to an article by Brooks Barnes and Nick Wingfield in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, the company is joining ABC by providing content that can be downloaded on the video iPod.

    For instance, Law & Order and other popular shows will be available for download, as well as shows on the USA Network, the Sci Fi Channel, and classic series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dragnet, and Knight Rider.

    This movement takes Apple farther into the emerging market of video downloads to portable devices, as the company attempts to gain control of content distribution through iTunes.

    Again, what might this mean for potential transmedia storytelling?

    Cingular launches cell Internet access program

    Cingular Wireless is now offering Web access for laptop users via cellular signals, according to an article by Sara Silver in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

    The company's BroadbandConnect service is being tested in 16 U.S. cities appears to be working well.

    Because of relatively high costs involved at this point, though, Silver writes that the majority of early customers for the service have been businesses.

    Boston is one of the cities the service is currently available. What impact might this have on the intersection of these various technologies? The important question is how this might have an impact on people's lives? Do you consider using cellular signals a good model for future companies to profit off Internet access?

    Hieararchy of blogging?

    Lee Gomes has written an interesting commentary for Wednesday's Wall Street Journal that appeared on the front page of the Marketplace section.

    In "Tech Blogs Produce New Elite to Help Track the Industry's Issues," Gomes asserts that the idea of a mass revolution of bloggers offsetting the top-down approach of traditional journalism is flawed because, as blogging becomes accepted, only a small number of bloggers appear to be followed widely as credible, so that the old elite are only replaced with a new elite.

    Understanding the elitism in blogging communities is an interesting assertion but is important for understanding the social function of these communication technologies. Is it really fair to say that blogging only replaces one cultural elite with another?

    Gomes writes that "the difference between the old media elite and the new blogging elite is that the latter gets redefined much more frequently. All it takes is attracting links from other bloggers."

    Again, interesting to keep in mind as we here are creating our own blog and hoping for it to gain credibility. Why did we choose a blog? How is this blog positioning itself against other blogs that cover these various issues and technologies? And what stake do we have in competing with these other blogs?


    Web sites formatted for mobile devices

    A move by some of the biggest Internet sites to make Web sites more accessible to mobile devices could help push public acceptance of using Internet tools in mobile technologies.

    According to an article by Jessica E. Vacellaro on the front page of the Personal Journal section of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, sites such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are making key changes that are allowing for greater use of the sites on portable devices. eBay and Mapquest are also joining in.

    It comes as no surprise that these companies are beginning to accept the technology, especially since such a move could stand to expand profit exponentially in providing another new platform for companies to use. It is also important to find ways to make sites work on the smaller screens of these mobile devices, as design issues change dramatically due to the much smaller scale, although Geoff could probably address this aspect of Web design to a much greater degree than I could.

    The consensus seems to be that this is the wave of the future. I currently only use my cell phone for old-fashioned conservations, but maybe I'm just the luddite of our squad. I'm fully aware that I might be embracing these technologies along with most of America over the next few years.


    Another interesting Jenkins, the Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of Political Diary fame, had an insightful commentary in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal entitled "Decency Is Overrated."

    For those of you who haven't followed the FCC's recent comments regarding the cable industry, the government body's new interest is in promoting the right for customers to pick and choose which channels they want without having to buy whole packages.

    Jenkins feels that the problem is in this argument being fueled by concerns of decency and that this governmental decision will end up driving several small networks out of business and move the options back down from the diversity that a mandatory subscription rate currently sustains.

    Jenkins claims that such a battle is "for the future of TV."

    What do you all think? Is the business model for allowing customers to choose just the channels they want detrimental to providing true variety and quality?

    HBO Inks Deal With Vodafone

    Apparently HBO will be offering its shows via Vodafone's 3G mobile phones in Europe. The options (Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm) seem to be shows that have finished their run, so neither Rome nor Deadwood is available, but has quite a list of other channels (including MTV, Discovery, Fox, and Eurosport) which are carried via Vodafone in the UK and New Zealand.

    It's interesting that one of the side-effects of the convergence of TV and electronic media is the divergence of ways in which people consume that media. I suspect that while it's easier to repurpose existing content for phones and portable video players like the video iPod, the not-too-distant future will see more content being created specifically for mobile platforms. (Whether that content will have to sell itself by association with a pre-existing brand, like the 24 and Lost mobisodes have, is quite another question.)

    December 7, 2005

    Advertising Partnerships

    Julia Angwin and Kevin J. Delaney examine, in detail, the potential advertising partnership between AOL and Microsoft in an article on the front page of Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.

    AOL's advertising partnership is currently with Google, and Google and Time-Warner are continuing their talks, despite rumors that AOL might switch to using Microsoft's search engine and partnering to provide ads to thousands more online customers, even though the services would remain under the authority of both of their owners.

    The question as to what impact this could have to online advertising and search ads remains up in the air, as AOL hangs in the balance, enjoying this bidding war against three of the most key actors in the current electronic media landscape.

    According to Angwin and Delaney, "by joining their two systems, Microsoft and AOL could sell ads that would reach as many as 140 million Americans each month--or about 80% of all Internet users." The number is almost 20 million more users a month than Yahoo and over 50 million more users a month than Google.

    What could this mean for the future of online advertising?

    The McDownload Strategy

    The New Scientist reports that McDonald's has filed a patent for a new business model that seems likely to become part of the future of Happy Meals: providing media content that can only be partially downloaded on each visit.

    Patents filed by Disney reveal plans to drip-feed entertainment into a portable player while the owner eats in a restaurant. You only get the full programme by coming back to the restaurant a number of times to collect all the instalments. McDonalds could use the system instead of giving out toys with Happy Meals, suggests Disney's patent.

    When the owner buys a meal they get an electronic code that authorises a partial download. If the file is in five parts there is a strong incentive to come back for four more meals.

    (Thanks to SmartMobs for this one.)

    Starbucks: Pitching to Unsuspecting Good Samaritans

    Thomas Hawk recounts an interesting experience where Starbucks tried to get his attention by making him express concern for a fellow citizen. He thinks it's clever -- I think it's an uncomfortable trick to pull on your potential customers.

    C.S. Lewis Spurs Discussion in Christian Community

    Yesterday, the conservative Christian community and specifically popped up regarding the boycotting of Ford for their ads targeting the gay community.

    Today's Christian Science Monitor covers the Christian community at large and their reaction to the legendary C.S. Lewis, who has once again become a major name in the news due to the upcoming release of the first Narnia film.

    Lewis, in addition to being a well-known novelist, was an Oxford professor who wrote on English literary history and Christianity. Christian denominations across the spectrum are competing over visions of Lewis, each trying to claim him, while some want Lewis to be viewed as someone who defies differences amongst the various denominations and encourages looking at the Christian community as a whole.

    The article serves as a reminder that Christian groups, with their grassroots marketing efforts, have become an incredible area for studying the ways in which fans care about and define themselves by writers, performers, and texts.

    Check out the text of the article, "Christians Battle Over Narnia," by G. Jeffrey MacDonald.

    Expanding into the Asian Market--Electronic Arts

    Electronic Arts is opening a Singapore development studioo to customize current video games for Asian markets, according to a brief in the "Global Business Briefs" section of yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

    EA will redesign the game for at least five different Asian languages at the studio, whichwill have 20 workers from across the continent, as well as the Netherlands.

    The decision reiterates much of the current research being done toward the potential profit modifying existing products for distribution in Asian markets. Will the move work for EA as well as it has some other companies in the past few years?

    Ford Ads in Gay Publications Pulled

    There is sometimes a dark side to brand communities.

    We have often advocated the importance of making products appeal to more than one niche market simultaneously or making appeals to multiple demographics or audiences through various channels at the same time.

    However, an article by Jeremy W. Peters in Tuesday's New York Times reminds us why this multiple marketing strategy can sometimes back companies into a corner.

    Ford Motors has positioned itself as, among other things, an American family brand.

    It is precisely an extreme section of this fan base that is reacting against the company's ads in gay publications specifically targeted that audience.

    Conservative religious group American Family Association has successfully pressured Ford to pull ads for its Jaguar and Land Rover brands in magazines after the group called for a boycott against Ford for "supporting the homosexual agenda."

    With a market of many audiences, the concern with keeping them all happy has to be a constant one for marketing. And, marketing to conservative Christians can be a particular double-edged sword, as they are a group with an incredible word-of-mouth network, which can both spread good will and just as quickly call for a boycott.

    Any thoughts?

    Promoting the Geisha

    This week's Entertainment Weekly included a short interesting study of Banana Republic's promition of the Sony Pictures production Memoirs of a Geisha.

    Banana Republic has released a line of Asian-inspired clothes to help promote the upcoming film.

    Sony has also entered into tie-ins "with cosmetics company Fresh, luxury candle brand D.L. & Co., and the Republic of Tea, among others," according to Missy Schwartz, author of "Asia Miner," the EW article.

    This marketing ploy, coupled with the traditional media spots to air versions of the trailer or print ads, brings to question what the value of these loose tie-ins might be, as the measuring system for such things still remains largely speculative.

    Any thoughts?

    December 6, 2005

    iTunes and Video-On-Demand

    Apple announced this morning that they are adding 11 new television shows from NBC Universal to the iTunes Music Store. The new offerings include shows from the current season on NBC, the Sci-Fi Channel, and the USA Network. Past seasons of current shows and older NBC television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Dragnet were also made available.

    The iTunes music store has move than 3,000 videos available for download (including music videos, Pixar shorts, and television shows). Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, asserts in the press release that Apple has sold more than three million videos in the first two months of the service alone.

    Over on Brand Noise, an entry today - ostensibly spurred by the Apple announcement - discusses the future of Video-On-Demand (VOD). Two points are clear:

  • Advertising will play a role in determining VOD cost
  • Programming shouldn't be limited to the VOD itself but include extra content for new and dedicated downloaders. Extra content will also provide opportunities for imaginative advertisers to reach a "finely-tuned" audience.

    Right now, the iTunes music store is the highest-profile provider of online VOD content and has so far resisted including advertising. When Apple does begin to include advertising (and I think it's a matter of "when," not "if"), it will be interesting to see how it is implemented - before the content in the style of movie previews, or during the content in the style of television? Who will benefit: the producer of the content, or Apple itself? And most importantly, how much advertising will viewers tolerate before they move on to the next product that allows them to skip advertising?

  • Music, Johnny Cash, WWE, and The Shield

    Music has been the talk of the hour in some entertainment circles. For instance, people like Ben Wright are debating the musical choices that FX has been making to promote The Shield.

    One spot uses Johnny Cash's "Hurt," which has helped promote the various Cash albums out right now, the film Walk the Line, and The Shield.

    Another spot uses rap song "Bad, Bad Man" from WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena's rap album.

    For wrestling, music and entertainment has been a long-term cross-promotional vehicle, as a different band's song is the "official theme" of each month's PPV. For instance, for the WWE show that just happened a couple of weeks ago, "WWE Survivor Series 2005", POD's single "Lights Out" was the official music.

    What's different here is that WWE original music is being used to promote other television series? What does this mean in terms of cross-promotion? What might be the advantage here for both WWE and The Shield? I'm not sure, but does anyone else have any thoughts?

    Moon Pies, RCs, and iPods

    Product placement often seems to be most easily integrated into comedy, and the WWE often finds a way to put product placement in its programming very blatantly but in a way that makes fans laugh instead of gag.

    On last night's RAW, a trial was held to determine whether RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff would get to keep his job or would have to be fired.

    WWE Owner Vince McMahon acted as judge and was biased against Bischoff, his long-time enemy. For instance, when one witness for Bischoff finished talking, McMahon admitted he hadn't heard any of it.

    Instead, he revealed he'd been listening to his new iPod, which he showed to the audience, and then said that Ashlee Simpson music really sucks.

    Later, "prosecutor" Mick Foley opened his old-school Batman lunchbox during a recess and pulled out an RC Cola and a Moon Pie, an homage to the stereotype of the south but embraced by the fan favorite in a way that got a chuckle out of the fans.

    When product placement ends up being part of the most entertaining parts of a show, you know a company has found a potential landmine in profit while still retaining a show's integrity for its loyal fan base.

    TV Shows on DVD

    Has anyone visited

    The site is a listing for people to lobby for the shows they enjoy the most to be released on DVD. I originally became aware of the site when I joined a group of fans of the 1980s TV show Mama's Family that have been rallying for the show on the Web site.

    Basically, people join and list all of the shows that they would buy on DVD if they were released. So far, the Mama's Family rallying has gotten it up to number 12 of all unreleased shows with almost 3,000 households voting for it, from what I understand. And, it will be moving up farther because three shows ahead of it on the list, which I believe are Wings," SeaQuest, and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., are all being released on DVD.

    The Web site reminded me very much of Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory that has gained so much attention in the entertainment industry. I voted for less popular shows, such as Benson, that I would buy if they were released on DVD, yet there was no show that I voted for that didn't already have votes. Sites like this prove that there are markets for all types of shows, and the Long Tail theory is beautifully shown through the rankings on If you haven't checked out the site, you should do so, and vote for whatever strange favorite you might have.

    And, while you're there, feel free to vote for Thelma Harper. If you help me get the show released, we'll all take a trip to Raytown, stop at the Bigger Jigger, and I'll buy.

    Tyson Chicken--An Example of the Future??

    Since I study the soap opera industry regularly, I thought I would post something about the partnership between Tyson Foods and As the World Turns, the soap that I "study" (am an avid fan of).

    Barbara Ryan, who has been a regular character on the show played by Colleen Zenk Pinter since 1978, is one of the most recognizable stars on the show. In the past couple of years, her character--who has long been the neurotic head designer of fashion company BRO (Barbara Ryan Originals)--has gone of the deep end and has become a soap villain of sorts.

    Tyson, a regular advertiser on the CBS daytime lineup, somehow borkered a deal with the producers of ATWT and shot the following commercial:

    Barbara walks into the kitchen of her aunt and uncle's home (Bob and Kim Hughes, the core family of the show), on her cell phone and says the following:

    "What did I do today? Well, I took the kids to school, foiled a kidnapping attempt, took my son to his psychiatrist's, picked up the drycleaning, divorced my eighth husband, went to lunch and played bridge, recovered from the explosion, went to the grocery store, and sabotaged a fashion show. You?"

    At the bottom of the screen, Tyson's logo appears, along with its new catch-phrase "Powered by Tyson." These were a great departure from the more conventional "families powered by Tyson" commercials, but the fans of As the World Turns began talking about the commercial regularly.

    Later, Tyson featured Barbara Ryan's character in a second commercial with similar results, as she walks into the same kitchen and says:

    "What have I been up to lately? Well, I flew out of a second-story courtroom window, confessed to a murder that I didn't commit, foiled an attempt to brainwash my son, sent my enemies to a Swiss spa and aged them 40 years, and crashed my car into a mental institution? And you?" Again with the Tyson information appearing.

    As opposed to blatant product placement within the show, the fans have accepted this spot as brilliant and regularly bring it up on message boards, etc. I think this is one way that producers could market their products along with entertainment in intriguing ways. The spot cost nil to produce, as it was filmed on the show's set with one of their regular actors, and yet it created a much stronger link between the fans of the show--As the World Turns--and the product. Now, Tyson seems to be a "hip" product in-line with what soap opera is really like, rather than a frozen food and chicken company trying to hock its products at the stereotypical housewife.

    Robert Iger on Redirecting Disney

    DisneyRobert Iger, the new CEO of Disney, is featured in an excellent interview over at The Wall Street Journal called Redirecting Disney. In it, Iger comes across as someone who definitely "gets it":

    WSJ: You've previously suggested that the gap should be narrowed between a movie's theatrical release and its availability on DVD. Can you unilaterally change the DVD window?

    Mr. Iger: We'd be better off as a company and an industry if we compressed that window. We could spend less money pushing the box office and get to the next window sooner where a movie has more perceived value to the consumer because it's more fresh. The problem is the theater owners threaten that if you do that, then you're not going to run your film on as many screens.

    WSJ: Isn't there a way to work with the theater owners?

    Mr. Iger: There are some that are interested but as you find with any industry, there are others that just want to do anything they possibly can to fight change. ... No movie studio really wants to be first because it's like going over the hill first in battle. They don't want to take the most bullets. We'll have a conversation with theater owners to see whether we can move them more peacefully. But I think in the end, it's going to have to be more by force than through negotiation or diplomacy.

    One idea was to sell "Chicken Little" DVDs in the theater. So you've seen the movie and just as when you go to a play on Broadway or a concert, you can buy the DVD, that's when people are feeling best about it, and you cut the theater owner in to the video sale. But there's so much fear now about change that no one wants to sit down and have a frank discussion.

    The prospect of this kind of adventurous thinking at the helm of one of the world's largest media companies is thrilling. Imagine what would happen if they took this point-of-purchase model to transmedia storytelling and started installing little shops into theaters between the arcade and the concession stand? Imagine the following scenario:

    Mike has agreed to catch a movie with his friend Bobby. Bobby is a huge fan of Firefly, and so he's pushing hard to watch Serenity. Mike has never seen Firefly, but he trusts Bobby as a coolhunter, so he goes along for the ride. The movie blows him away, and on their way back to the lobby they pass by the movie shop, which is featuring the Firefly DVD box set. Still high on the excitement from the film, Mike happily goes to buy the box set, but then he notices something else.

    Beside the box set is a Firefly graphic novel which bridges the TV series and the film, so Mike picks that up too. Then he notices that also on the display case is another DVD, this one of Serenity itself. Thrilled to be able to take the film home and share it with his girlfriend, Mike picks that up too – and then he notices a third DVD on the stand, which is a second Firefly movie released straight to video that picks up right where Serenity left off. As he reaches to add that to his stack, he notices something on the spine of each item: numbers. The TV series is labeled 1, the graphic novel is labeled 2, the DVD of the movie is 3, and the straight-to-DVD sequel film is 4 – and on the next display case over is a Firefly video game labeled 5 and a conventonal novel labeled 6.

    Mike's mind (and his wallet) begins to reel. So many chapters! He goes to put back some of the items, then notices the big box at the top of the display case: a complete box set with all of the above labeled FIREFLY: CHAPTERS 1-6, selling for about thirty bucks cheaper than the combined cost of all the pieces. Grinning, Mike puts back everything else and makes his way to the register with the big box under his arm – the transmedia property as a single unified experience.

    This scenario isn't so far-fetched – some comic shops already setting up mini-stores inside of movie theaters when big comic-based films are released, so why not make the fixture permanent and open it up to all different genres? If Mr. Iger succeeds in leading the other major studios into collapsing the DVD release window, then this kind of model will probably appear in most major theaters across the U.S. within, say, 6-9 months.

    I was dubious when Mr. Iger was first announced as Eisner's successor, but if this article is any indicator of Disney's future development, the mouse may be set to roar again very, very soon. Definitely one to watch.

    December 5, 2005

    Sony: PSP = PisSing-off People

    When it rains bad press, it certainly pours for once golden, now seemingly forever-despised Sony. After the disasterous press they got a couple of weeks ago for their music CDs that infected customers' computers with devastating spyware, their PSP graffiti art campaign is getting totally dissed on the internet as an inauthentic grab for street-art cred. Check out these articles:

    Wired: Sony Draws Ire with PSP Graffiti.
    Kotaku: Counter Paint: Striking Back at Sony's viral graffiti.
    Gizmodo: Sony's PSP graffiti is pissing people off.

    Showing them the money...innovative e-tailing this season

    Interesting BusinessWeek article - one of many flooding the newslines right now - of how innovative online retailers are using the power of networking, blogs, and even GPS - to increase their revenues this shopping season. Covers initiatives such as Yahoo's Shoposphere,,,, GP Shopper, and of course, the big daddy of the season - Google Base.
    Check it out here.

    Gamer as Artiste: Shameless Plug Alert (but it's for a Guru cause :-)

    In response to the query: "Can games be something more than games? In other words, can they move people emotionally or intellectually in the manner of great art?", a recent New York Times article features multiple responses from our very own CMS and C3 super-guru Dr. Henry Jenkins, as well as friends of CMS, like Dr. James Paul Gee and Eric Zimmerman. Here are Henry's quotes:

    Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggested that they are equally close to dance, as a medium of performance, or architecture, as a medium of creating unique spaces.

    "The press treats Spielberg's announcement as the second coming," said Professor Jenkins of M.I.T. "But game designers remember how the game based on 'E.T.' nearly killed Atari, and is considered the biggest failure in game history."

    In its emphasis on filling games with scenes and dialogue to establish character, Professor Jenkins said, "Hollywood puts its effort into things gamers don't care about."

    He compared the video game industry to Hollywood of the 1930's, when studios created standards for their products but also imposed formulas for the movies they churned out, with rising budgets and diminishing creative risk-taking.

    "What you need now is a garage band aesthetic, or independent film aesthetic for games," he said. "You're building the world from scratch. Why does it have to look like the world we live in?"

    Read the entire article here

    NYU Fair Use Report

    The Free Expression Policy Project of the Brennan Center of Justice (at NYU's law school) has just released a report titled: "Will Fair Use Survive? Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control".

    To get kind of technical, as C.E. Petit has noted:

    Keep in mind that fair use is not a privilege. It is instead an affirmative defense to an accusation of infringement. (Unfortunately, neither the statute nor the courts are very consistent in treating it as such.)

    That said, the (quite reasonable) concern expressed in the study is that the culture surrounding copyright and trademark enforcement is having chilling effects on the exercise of the right to free speech. Those interested in the legal issues surrounding fan-created content and intellectual property may find it worth a look.

    December 4, 2005

    Digital VCR for TV/PSP/iPod

    (Via Kung Fu Monkey)

    NeurosThe Neuros MPEG4 recorder is a digital device that records TV to a hard drive or memory stick, and allows playback, much like TiVo's iPod-compatible extension for TiVo ToGo. This is mostly important because now there's a hassle-free way of porting TV onto PSPs as well as iPods, increasing the overall portability of media.

    Regarding the impact of this growing trend, Rogers says:

    Why do I like this stuff? Well, it's part of my 4th Generation Media Theory -- the profitability of future shows will not only depend on mob-dissemination of the products; there will be a direct relationship between the availability of good-but-not-great copies of those shows -- which can therefore be traded more much easily -- and the said profits. The faster we mainstream port-ability, we mainstream in the perception of trade-ability.

    He goes on to lay out the probable progress of several other trends that I've been following closely:

    There are two pieces of news which show some promise for the evolution of 4GM. First, the FCC has come out in favor of a la carte cable services. This won't change the mechanics of TV distribution all that much, but again moves audience perception along a very important curve for 4GM -- it changes the perception of TV/entertainment from something shoved down a pipline to them into something they choose. And as soon as they begin choosing the material, if only in the broad "what channels do I choose" sense, the nature of their relationship with the media changes. To be blunt, I think that most people won't bother to parse through the basic cable package channel list, but it's another chink in the wall.

    The other bit of news is more a rumor(leading us into the tactics discussion mentioned above): the buzz is Apple will make some heavy-duty announcements about moving into the home entertainment business and expanding its downloadable media deals to include other companies than Disney/Touchstone. CBS and NBC are possibilities. Now CBS and NBC already have deals in place with Comcast and DirectTV, respectively, so why the dabbling with Apple? I've written previously that I believe the delivery-systems will be the ultimate winners in the downloadable entertainment wars, but as I mentioned in the same post, Apple basically used (think total pwnage, please) the ABC deal to bootstrap itself into first place in the Perception Wars. If they wield that early advantage ruthlessly ... It'll be a race now, between Apple locking down the "source of all your media" spot in the consumer's mind, and cable's "we are the source, the box is meaningless" destiny.

    Definitely food for thought.

    Cory Doctorow's comments on the device at Boing Boing are also worth a look, for those interested in IP law.

    Stanford on iTunes

    CNET News had an article last month about Stanford's iTunes initiative. Basically, Stanford has made audio (described as "Stanford-related digital audio content" on the website) available for download through the iTunes music store.

    To access Stanford on iTunes, you must go to the program website and follow the link on the main page (or click here).

    I get the impression from the article and the Stanford website that the service is primarily intended for alumni, even though anyone can download the files from iTunes. I find this a puzzling decision - is there truly a strong demand from alumni for university lectures? I would like to see Stanford make the page accessible from the main iTunes Music Store, giving everyone a chance to listen in.

    December 1, 2005

    New Models for Cancelled TV Shows

    The question of off-network TV models (subscription TV, straight to DVD TV, and so on) has been really hot in the last few weeks. A few weeks ago, Lost Remote proposed a multi-part model for cancelled shows (specifically Arrested Development) which seems to be getting some press. Here are some of their suggestions for the show:

    * Offer the show online and on VOD every week for free.
    * Make it a free video podcast.
    * Seed BitTorrent with it.
    * Set up a site that has all the shows right there, along with shorter-form content, ready to watch or download in all formats.
    * Have the cast blog - in character. Have them do video blogs and even live webcasts in character, too.
    * After each show, have viewers comment and then address their comments. Invite the best commenters to have a guest spot on the show.
    * Heck - invite fans to shoot their own fan-fic shows. Celebrate "AD" as the first open-source sitcom.

    Meanwhile, a bevy of screenwriters have been discussing the possible hang-ups of an off-network model - namely the "Joss Paradox", or the fact that off-network models might work for the likes of Joss Whedon (of Firefly, Angel, and Buffy), once he's gathered a bunch of fans, but how do new creators get to the point where they can do that?

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