May 31, 2006

Turner Classic Movies Reaching for Younger Audience

Turner Classic Movies will be reaching out to a younger audience with an attempt to refine its brand. According to announcements last week, the network will begin airing programming including a cult movie feature that will come on late at night, hosted by Rob Zombie.

Zombie's show will be called "TCM Underground," according to The Television Forum.

Zombie's show is one of several recent ventures by TCM to reach out to younger viewers. I personally don't see any conflicts with these types of projects, as long as they retain the overall intent of TCM. When brands try to stretch themselves so far that they lose any sense of their raison d'etre, they run the risk of losing their key constituency.

While some of their other original projects may be taking some of the focus away from the "classic" part of Turner Classic Movies, the idea of using current cult stars to look into former cult film favorites is perfect, especially considering that Zombie's own films have been greatly influenced by cult classics of the past. The project should attract new and younger viewers while not straying so far from the focus of TCM that it would anger the fans of classic movies that support the network.

It will be interesting to see how well the show is received by new fans and by the existing TCM fan base.

May 30, 2006

Fascinating Debate about Fan Sites

Thanks to Siddiq Bello from our partner Turner for passing along information about a review of a Web site called What Is A Piece of Strange?.

The site is a fan-created examination of the album A Piece of Strange, by southern hiphop group Cunninlynguists. The review, written by Rafi Kam, appears on the Oh Word blog and focuses particularly on the site as a blog marketing case study.

Rafi's in-depth discussion of the album and the positives and negatives of the fan site's execution of studying the debut of this new album is interesting and appears in great detail, looking at the strong start for the site that fizzled due to lack of updates and a lack of starting places for nascent fans. However, what I found at the end was far more interesting, with both someone who posted for the site and a member of the band joining in the conversation.

While I'm not personally that familiar with this group or even the genre of music, the Web site is proof of something I wrote about last December, the limits that mainstream taste often put on our understanding of fan communities and transmedia content. People choose not to look very often outside of what is perceived as mainstream taste, for instance at an underground fan marketing campaign for a southern hiphop group, even if this may be an example which gives the rest of much to learn about.

Also, it's proof of what I labeled in February as the most important discussion in the entertainment industry today, that being the relationship betrween fans and producers. As with the example in that post, this blog post by Rafi Kam became a site in which fans, critics and the artists themselves all come together to debate and discuss these issues openly. From the example that the comments to Kam's story provides for us, we see both the rationale for fans working on fan sites, the perceived relationship of performers, and Kam's theories about where fan sites like the one for A Piece of Strange need to be headed in terms of creating the most impact, both for the group and for the fan community.

ABC, NBC Further Expand Transmedia News

Both ABC and NBC are greatly expanding their news programs through online content, with new projects announced last week.

For NBC News, it will be a launch onto iTunes. According to an article from TelevisionWeek, NBC will be producing time capsule programs hosted by Brian Williams from NBC Nightly News, along with former episodes of Meet the Press.

NBC's news network is the first to launch onto iTunes. Could news potentially be something that people would be willing to watch on the run or in transit, thus making it appropriate for iTunes? It will be particularly interesting to see how the "time capsule" style programs do. News has been a type of content whose archives are incredibly hard to market, particularly because of the prolific output of news deparmtents of programming that is so time-specific. For the sake of archiving, all of this news content is kept, but there's been little attempt to capitalize off these products.

NBC, however, is farm from alone in launching into online content. While the "big three" networks have been accused for years now of shying further and further away from any comprehensive look at international news, ABC is hoping to rectify that--to some degree--by making short ad-supported clips from BBC News available through the ABC News Web site.

The newest project is a longstanding continuination of the relationship between ABC and the BBC, with ABC being announced, according to an article in TelevisionWeek, as "the exclusive reprentative for on-demand broadband and wireless in North America" for the BBC.

This particular conversation seems appropriate on the heels of our discussion of transmedia in the news environment that we have had with Aayush Iyer here on this site and on his own site. For NBC, iTunes is being mined as a place to market the expansive news archives, while ABC is hoping to expand its international coverage online. Will either, or both, be successful? The BBC clips may be of great benefit to those who don't have access to BBC America, and the NBC clips could draw well both with history buffs and with students doing research. Any thoughts?

May 25, 2006

Product Placement vs. Product Integration

Not that long ago, I had a discussion with a seasoned veteran of television writing who was not happy with orders from above of blatant product integration in the show that person was writing for.

It's been a common and growing complaint, so much so that the Writers Guild of America East recently released a statement calling for regluations of integration and inclusion of actors and writers both on the process of deciding appropriate uses of product integration and also to be included in the benefits.

According to a story by Jon Lafayette for TelevisionWeek, the writers called for a distinction to be made between "product placement" and "product integration." In this case, they are arguing against the use of blatant product placement versus natural product placement, an issue that has been close to our reserach over the past year, particularly through the research of my C3 colleague Alec Austin.

Some television programs allow for product integration, using the WGA distinction, more than others. Particularly, it seems that reality television shows or sporting events are not as badly hurt by the extensive use of sponsor names because it doesn't seem as absurd. Both are already controlled environments and in fact gain their narrative drive from that contrived situation, whether it be a game or a reality competition.

However, in fictional dramatic or comedy series, product integration can easily destroy the viewer's suspension of disbelief in a way that detracts from viewer involvement and the perceived aristry of a show.

Yet, episodes of Seinfeld and Sex and the City prove that episodes can have a particular brand name or product involved deeply in an episode without detracting from the power of the show, if it is not something imposed on the writers but instead something the creative team is a part of from the conception.

So, I don't see the WGA's call for inclusion as a threat but rather a great benefit to the future of effective product placement. When creative teams are saying that they see the economic reality of product placement but only object to it being done poorly, it seems they've found a mantra that the entire industry should get behind.

Convergence Brings Old Companies to New Media, Reverse Effect

In the past week or two, we've seen major moves by established "old media" corporations to further in-roads in digital technology. But, of course, I use the designator "old media" for television networks only loosely because it's becoming increasingly difficult to define networks as "television oriented," considering how rapidly almost every major name is moving content in different directions.

For instance, there's our partner here at C3, MTV Networks, and their new URGE product, cashing in on the cultural cache of MTV, CMT, and VH1 with a digital downloading service that offers exclusive content from the established "old media" names.

Or look at ABC's initial success with streaming ad-supported content online, annoucing that tests with streaming content to 2.5 million views in under three weeks led to an 86 percent recall rate for advertising. Each ABC program downloaded included three advertisements.

Conversely, Google has now expanded into video ads online, and CBS and AOL have announced an unprecedented plan for a transmedia reality television experience with their fall Gold Rush, a reality show that will be launched among multiple platforms and will allow people across the country to participate in a search for piles of gold. For those interested in alterative reality gaming, Mark Burnett's Gold Rush should be a fascinating experiment.

With new experiments being announced almost every day, the power of "old media" or established "new media" companies is obvious, and companies should be applauded for taking the risks to see what consumers will and will not respond to. Sure, ABC's dumping of content is a lot safer of a move than Gold Rush, but both are indicative of a trend across the industry.

Will the value of various MTV Networks carry Urge to success, and will ABC capitalize on their discovery of initial success with streaming by offering more content, original content, archived content? Media companies are realizing that those that discover the most successful new formulas for transmedia storytelling and new platform distribution will be standing strongest once we eventually reach a point of convergence stabilization. But, in the meantime, we have an exciting job trying to make heads or tails of what's happening in the midst of this age of media transition.

Forget Gold Rush. It seems that it's the moves by the company themselves that's the most fascinting multiplayer reality game of all...We've just yet to see who leaves with the stacks of gold.

May 24, 2006

Fenway Park, Fan Tourism, and The Experience Economy

Few entertainment organizations understand the experience economy and especially the use of tourism among the fan community as well as sports franchises.

In the latest Journal of Popular Culture, Michael Ian Borer writes about the power of the sports arena as a tourist attraction. His essay, entitled "Important Places and Their Public Faces: Understanding Fenway Park as a Public Symbol." The essay, which appeared in the latest JPC (39.2, April 2006, 205-224), focuses on The Boston Red Sox and their beloved Fenway Park. (Well, I'm a Bostonian now, so I guess I should say "our" beloved Fenway Park.)

Borer points out that, since 1912, the park has taken on a sacred meaning, not just for Red Sox fans, but for fans of Major League Baseball in general. The arena's meaning has changed through each season, and it has lasted as a symbol of baseball's history so that it is now one of the greatest tourist attractions of any arena in the country. Borer writes that, as one walks outside the park, "you get the feeling that you are treading on sacred ground, andthat by being there you are doing something important" (205). This is the essential feeling for an experience economy and illustrates the way in which Fenway Park has become a quasi-religious symbol for fans to make a trek to, either to watch a game or for an off-season tour of the park.

Fenway is not only valuable as a tourist attraction but also a symbol in the narrative of the Red Sox. As fans construct and constantly adapt this narrative, the meaning of Fenway may change as well. Borer writes that, when the Red Sox won the final series game in 2004 and became champions again after a winning droubt that had lasted almost 90 years, "in that very moment, the ballpark took on a new meaning or at least a meaning that had not been connected to Fenway Park since 1918: Home of the World Series Champions" (222).

For those of us interested in understanding the experience economy first espoused by Pine and Gilmore and the meaning behind fan-constructed narratives, Borer's essay is illuminating both as a detailed look at the image of Fenway Park and as a reminder of the power and unerstanding the sports world has had for years of fan tourism and the importance of physical spaces in the construction of fan narratives.

May 17, 2006

Xbox 360 Firmware Hacked

Joystiq reports that a group of hackers have found a way to insert a firmware patch into the Xbox 360 that bypasses the disc verification (read: DRM) process that would determine whether the disc was a copy or not - so long as the drive is a Toshiba-Samsung TS-H943 DVD drive.

No doubt Microsoft will be able to solve this problem by replacing the Toshiba-Samsung TS-H943 with a different DVD drive, or the HD-DVD drive they're talking about adding as an option, but the point remains that much of the money Microsoft sunk into making sure that the Xbox 360 was unhackable has now gone down the toilet.

In the long term, piracy cannot be prevented by technical means without preventing customers from accessing the content you're trying to sell them. Companies should be looking at more ways of creating customer goodwill instead of pouring their money into the black hole of the DRM industry.

May 13, 2006

Fan Generated Content--The Skeletor Show

I want to thank Siddiq Bello from Turner Broadcasting, one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, for passing along this really interesting example of the power of fan-generated content and the abilities of a remix culture--

YouTube has become a vibrant outlet for fan-generated content. (You can even find a video of my managerial services at work in a Universal Championship Wrestling pro wrestling card in Owensboro, Ky., filmed by someone in the audience and posted on YouTube.) A recent example, and this is a real kick of nostalgia for those of you from the He-Man generation like me, but YouTube features The Skeletor Show, which creators describe as "a heartwarming story of the most evil man in the universe" made "in the style of Sealab 2021."

The episodes, usually about three or four minutes in length, use visuals from the original Masters of the Universe cartoons to create a show from the perspective of the antagonist, Skeletor. The series is going to be in line with most fan-generated content, in that it becomes a community of creation based around the original product.

The initial creators say that, "for those of you who have written to me interested in writing, I am developing the show bible now and will have it available by next week (I hope)." I'm going to be interested in following The Skeletor Show over the next few weeks to see both if there is any negative reaction from any copyright holders and also to see if other fans join in on remixing footage from their childhood favorite. Yet another example of the power of the creativity of fan communities and how new tools help facilitate and spread that creativity.

What is Transmedia?

Aayush Iyer, a regular follower of our blog and who has an intriguing blog of his own called The Voice of A, has written the beginning of a primer on transmedia. Aayush comes from a publishing background, and, since I come from a journalism background, I found his emphasis on blogging, community journalism, and the importance of print media to find its place to be pretty useful.

In Aayush's case, his definition focuses strongly on the ways in which print media, visual media, and Web media should work together. In the case of journalism, each medium must realize its own strengths and weaknesses, and the use of transmedia in journalism allows each to augment the other to create a stronger whole.

The principles here apply pretty strongly to transmedia in the entertainment industry as well and even to transmedia storytelling where, in a perfect world, transmedia storytelling experiences would fully utilize the powers of each particular medium. As I'm sure Aayush would agree, professionals in the world of journalism and in the world of storytelling (aren't those two worlds pretty similar, though?) are only beginning to scratch the surface of using transmedia to its full potential, but activities like Aayush's--spending some time thinking of exactly what we mean when we say "transmedia"--are valuable steps in the right direction.

Tracking Moves in the TV Industry

A quick look through the top news items for TelevisionWeek this week reveals that fury with which the industry is moving toward the adoption of new delivery services and just how hard it is to keep track of what moves everyone is making.

For instance, CBS will be offering the finale of Survivor free on-demand through a few Comcast markets, with General Motors sponsoring the episode, marking the first instance of a major network show being sponsored and offered for free on-demand. Fox, meanwhile, is beginning to launch some of its most popular series for download on iTunes. And NBC Universal is restructuring its corporate hierarchy to make the push for digital distribution more seamless.

Meanwhile, Bravo is launching, a broadband channel which will air short-lived series that had cult followings, while VH1 is unleashing an online gaming site dedicated to VH1-branded games, in addition to a package of classic games.

CEO Eric Schmidt has announced a refining of video-sharing capabilities and improved search options for Google, while Yahoo en Espanol and Telemundo are combining their online sites to create Yahoo Telemundo, in an effort to better target Hispanic consumers.

Warner Brothers is now teaming up with BitTorrent to offer Web-based downloads of its television shows and movies, available for a fee the same day Warner Brothers properties are released in retail stores. The downloads will be able to be burned onto DVD but must remain on the hard drive of the computer it was downloaded on.

The moves within the industry are coming daily now, and the partnerships of Yahoo and Telemundo, for instance, or BItTorrent and Warner Brothers show how many top companies are beginning to think further and further outside the box and through new linkages in order to come out of the rush to new platforms and new distribution methods on top.

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