June 29, 2006

Congress Making Its Rounds

It's election year, so Congress is making its political rounds to make sure that it connects with social conservatives, concerned parents, and anyone else who can be swayed by similar arguments. Already this political season, Congress has seen fit to raise the indecency fines at the behest of The Parents Television Council and other censorship-minded organizations.

And now they have moved on to find yet another way to attack the First Amendment in order to score more votes in November--in addition to trying to bring back up banning flag burning...

That's right...Congress' favorite activity is back...talking about video games. The FTC presented to a Congressional subcommittee a couple of weeks ago about regulating video games. Here is the FTC's official report of that presentation. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has signed into law a statute banning the sale of violent video games to minors.

For those of you who caught The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this week, you may have seen some excerpts from the latest Congressional hearing where Congressmen attempt to scare a generation of voters who don't know anything about video games while, in actuality, probably planning to do nothing but increase its votes.

Stewart was pretty well able to let the Congressmen speak for themselves to make fun of them, as Fred Upton from Michigan claims his own ties to video game culture because of his love of Pong, followed by Rep. Joseph Pitts' admission that middle-class kids could handle video games while poor kids in rough neighborhoods might get confused because the environment on violent games is like what they live in every day.

Stewart said it appears "the House of Representatives is full of insane jackasses." Well, we can at least say that they are people who have their minds on re-election, which makes the bi-partisan discussion of video games on election coming right now about as sincere as...well...a politician. But, for those of us who are interested in an environment that encourages a "convergence culture," rhetoric about eroding First Amendment rights in order to gain a few extra votes is no laughing matter.

Cory Doctorow has a transcript of Stewart's segment on Boing Boing.

Madison and Vine Advocates a Drive to Digital Video

According to a news article/commentary yesterday from Advertising Age's Madison and Vine Web site, video consumption online has grown 18 percent over the past seven months, with the average consumer now watching slightly less than 100 minutes of video a month.

The Madison and Vine piece looks at the trend of advertising to follow this trail, with major reallocations of traditional television ad funds now going to new or integrated media. While it isn't surprising that this growth in consumption leads to an influx of advertising revenue supporting online sites with video content, the article highlighted or alluded to a few important implications that greatly affect recent discussions we've had here on this blog:

1.) Transmedia content--With digital streaming poised to become increasingly profitable, those companies who integrate online video content as part of their entertainment package are at a particular advantage. If companies have bonus content available for download or streaming online, they can easily package ad sales that include advertising or sponsorship of both the traditional content and digital content that may become increasingly attractive to advertisers, who would benefit from having a strong association with dedicated fans who follow the product across multiple platforms;

2.) Product placement--As the Madison and Vine article points out, those companies who are paying for product placement now have added incentives, since more and more television shows are becoming available for digital download or streaming. While traditional ads or the ads that run on television are not present in a lot of these digital presentations, all product placements are--indicating that placing products on a show is the smarter investment long-term.

3.) Promotional films--Creating branded video content subtly promoting a product, such as the famed BMW Films campaign, is proving itself to be an attractive option for reaching customers turned off by push advertising. Increased video streaming gives advertisers more of an impetus for creating compelling content that viewers want to stream or download and gives creative independent talents a chance to shine...It's smart marketing and less offensive to commercial-sensitive viewers.

It's hard to find much fault with Madison & Vine's final call--for marketers to "take heed" and take advantage of an audience "hungry for programming." For advertisers and for media content producers, digital video not only provides a chance for revenues and a chance to provide consumers what they want but also makes possible an environment that better enables transmedia content and new forms of storytelling.

Thanks to fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long for directing me to this article.

Do Snakes or Fireflies Have Longer Tails?

The following entry by Henry Jenkins was originally posted on Henry's blog, Confessions of an Aca/Fan:

Reader Skwid compares the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon with what happened to Serenity. He notes:

I'm looking forward to this movie as much as the next net.geek, but I don't expect as much of a box-office surprise as many seem to be anticipating, because I've seen it before.

What am I referring to? Serenity. It would be hard to beat the online buzz Serenity was getting, and sometimes it seems like it's difficult to find a blogger who isn't a fan of the prematurely cancelled series Firefly, but all of that buzz and a good deal of critical acclaim still couldn't get people into the theaters.

He may well be right--it is very easy living at the hub of digital culture to imagine that all of the buzz we are hearing is generalizable across the population as a whole. But let's look for a moment at what happened with Firefly/Serenity and then, I will try to explain why I think Snakes on a Plane is in a somewhat different situation.

Praise Be the Whedon

Let's be clear that I am a big fan of Firefly and of Joss Whedon's other work in television and in comics. I think he's one of the smartest and most creative people operating within the media industry today. He has enormous respect for his fans and he has earned our respect in return. He had constructed a television series he really believed in.

He was watching a very dedicated, very resourceful fan community form around a television series which either got canceled because a)the ratings were low and it was not seen as having a broad general appeal or b)the ratings were low because the network had not successfully targeted its most likely audiences and given it a chance to develop the word of mouth needed to expand its core viewership. We may never know which of these explanations is the correct one--I suspect some combination of the two.

Whedon still wanted to produce the content; there was a group of people clammering for the content; but the networks didn't think there's a large enough audience to sustain a prime time broadcast series. This is a situation we've seen again and again in the history of broadcast media. I think it's about time we rewrote the rules.

Continue reading "Do Snakes or Fireflies Have Longer Tails?" »

June 28, 2006

NBC and YouTube/Whistler on The Click

Two new announcements of mutli-platform promotion and distribution of television programs was announced this week, including NBC's new deal with YouTube and MTV Networks' The N distributing the debut of its new series both on television and on the Web simultaneously.

NBC will market its fall lineup on YouTube and will also purchase advertising and give on-air promotion to the video sharing Web site that has helped transform user generated content and fan control of television clips and which has burgeoning popularity over the past year.

NBC's is the first comprehensive deal with the online video provider among the broadcast networks, probably explained by the fact that NBC is currently fourth among the six broadcast networks for marketing to 18-49s according to TelevisionWeek, and more willing to experiment with new ways to reach young viewers. As part of the deal, NBC is sponsoring a contest for amateur videos to be made promoting The Office, with the winning spot running on the network.

Cable networks, such as E! and MTV 2, have done similar promotions of television programs through YouTube.

For NBC, which has pulled out its legal eagles as much as anyone else in the past, it's a major step in the right direction.

As for our research partner MTVN's new teen series Whistler, the program will both air on their primetime teen network The N but also on their Click media player online simultaneously, in what is being called a "simulcast" (which always makes me think of that surreal moment when Vince McMahon bought WCW and a 15-minute segment aired simultaneously on both TNN and TNT, cable competitors).

Two more moves in the right direction when it comes to networks being more open about promoting content in multiple media forms.

Google Research Making Waves with Social Intereactive Television Proposal

By this point, some of you have probably heard about the new technology proposed by Google researchers Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja, in association with Michael Fink of the Center for Neural Computation at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The study, which won the "Best Paper" award at the Euro Interactive Television Conference in Athens, Greece, about a month ago, was announced by Google Research on their blog on June 6 and made available for the public to read.

Siddiq Bello from Turner Broadcasting, one of our partners, made me aware of the study's availability, and I've been reading and thinking about it since he first contacted me about it a couple of weeks ago. In short, the proposed system would create mass personalization, meaning that the traditional mass media would become personalized to a degree never accomplished before.

I'm not talking about having a fireside chat where you make the American people feel like you are coming in your home. This is more than changing one's tone-of-voice. The researchers write that "mass-media channels typically provide limited content to many people; the Web provides vast amounts of information, most of interest to few." They propose to use their technology to make television and radio as personalized as Web content, while still providing the ability to be a somewhat passive consumer.

How to do this? The system would use a computer's microphone to pick up on what programs a person is watching on television and would then provide relevant data online to help enrich the viewer's experience. The report breaks this down into four categories:

Continue reading "Google Research Making Waves with Social Intereactive Television Proposal" »

JPC Editorial Reminds Us of Theory's Place

The current issue of The Journal of Popular Culture begins with what I think is an important reminder for academics and an important message for the rest of the world to realize about the academic community. The short piece, written by Gary Hoppenstand from Michigan State University, emphasizes that theories are not there to be proven or to cloud things, make them seem more obscure, but to help make complicated things make sense.

Of course, that's theory in theory. In practice, academics often get caught up in their own verbiage, their own jargon, and their own theories, to the point that theories are only used for theory's sake. And that's what gives academics such a bad name. It's especially scary in media studies, when theory takes precedence over the content to be analyzed, as Hoppenstand points out.

Hoppenstand writes that "academic jargon has a way of somehow making the obvious appear unknowable" (347). For any of you who have ever had any contact with the academic world, you know that this is sadly too often the case. When ideas are judged on their obscurity and their insularity, it just serves to distance the people who study our culture further and further from that culture ourselves. Sure, there might be some degree of value in objective distance, but not the hierarchical distance that this affords.

Our work with C3, engaging with corporate partners and writing this blog for instance, emphasizes the type of work that Hoppenstand writes about, a work that engages the world and engages the content of popular culture rather than trying to contort it to fit some bizarre theory that might make us famous in academic circles. If the object of theory is to know something better or to provide greater undersatnding about a subject, we shouldn't be afraid to engage content producers, to engage media fans and to engage the public at large about issues. In other words, we can't be afraid to make our theory accessible, to let people criticize and perhaps even disprove our theories, even if those people are...gasp...not "academics!"

Academia is facing some of the same problems that journalism is, as written about in Dan Gillmor's We the Media, where bloggers are being perceived as competition by professional journalists. When "amateur philosophers" are given a chance to interact with academics and engage in conversations with academics, how can we smart people prove that we're smart anymore...what if people realize that everyday people aren't dumb? Obviously, I'm stereotyping the academic community, but of course there is some degree of this sentiment.

Theory does have its place. In Henry Jenkins' and William Uricchio's classes on media theory, we have discussed the importance of theory in detail. Everyone is a theorist, as putting together "ways of knowing," as Hoppenstand puts it (347), is a part of understanding and functioning in life. But we need to keep theory in its place, use it as a tool, a means to an end, not as the end itself. Then, our colleagues in the corporate world, in fan communities, and in the general public might be able to engage with us on issues.

I wanted to commend Dr. Hoppenstand for his outstanding short mission statement at the beginning of June's JPC and hope that it serves as a continued drive to making academic discourse a conversation for all, focused around trying to know our popular culture better instead of just participating in insulated academic exercises.

June 27, 2006

A Non-Media Lifestyle--Eliminating the Mass Media from One's Life

When we think of people who don't participate in watching/reading/listening to the mass media in our culture, we often think about the anti-commercial activists, the highbrow critics, conservative censors, and (overly) concerned parents. It's easy to forget about a significant segment of American society, however, who willingly choose to ignore the media to mainstain their lifestyle, a group of people commonly grouped together as "plain people"--the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren. These three groups of people, in varying degrees depending on the particular community, distrust media use among the members of their society.

The head of our consortium, Henry Jenkins, was quoted as saying, tongue-in-cheek, that not allowing a child to participate in media consumption was a form of child abuse in a media-saturated society in which people communicate through and by talking about the mass media. Yet, here we have a group of people who say that it is not just the content funneled through a medium but the very media forms themselves that serve to disrupt their way of life, which requires being cut off from the rest of society.

Thomas W. Cooper, a professor at Emerson College and cofounder of Media Ethics Magazine, presents an intriguing look at what he calls a "media fast" among these plain people in the latest issue of The Journal of American Culture, entitled "Of Scripts and Scriptures," (pp. 139-153).

The plain people often see surveys and interviewers' questions as invasions of their privacy, so in-depth probing of their view on the media is often hard to receive. On the other hand, it's important to realize that, even in our media-driven country, there are plenty of people who consciously cut themselves off from the mass media industry.

In the June 2006 journal, Cooper provides readers with a review of the history of the plain people and how the groups share similarities yet have distinct differences among them. He also briefly details the history of plain people with mass media technologies, from photography to radio to television to the Internet. He explains the spiritual reasons these people reject the media, often not on form of content, as most social conservatives would, but on the principles of the medium itself.

For instance, many cannot substantiate fictional works because acting is seen as a form of professional lying, and radio and television cannot be trusted because "Satan had been biblically described as 'the Prince of the air.' Further, while most other social conservatives and liberal critics would criticize the mass media for its homogenizing effects, the plain people often distrust the individualizing nature of these media forms, encouraging people to fragment themselves from each other and to quit attending communal events. To these people, letting even some families participate in these media forms can be problematic because the communities are often felt to be a cohesive unit, in which any "antomized individualism" is dangerous (146).

Cooper concludes that, while many of the policies of these communities can be seen as oppressive and narrow-minded, the societies should be commended for avoiding many of the social ills of American society in general and for maintaining their own control of technology.

While Cooper's identification with his research often causes him to be overly sympathetic with the restrictive views of these societies, in my opinion, his essay does provide a valuable look at why these people choose to distance themselves from the media in order to preserve their culture. I remain skeptical about celebrating any culture that attempts to severely restrict the parameters of those who grow up within it in order to retain them as the next generation of that culture, and I find that the mass media can be an important way for people to be exposed to a variety of ideas and cultures, but I did appreciate the opportunity Cooper gives us to better understand why this oft-forgotten group of people choose to live in an insular world.

June 26, 2006

Could They?? Fans Reacting Passionately to Murder Rumor on Soap

A couple of years ago, Days of Our Lives got a lot of people's attention by killing off many members of its main cast, later revealing that these veterans had not died but rather had been sent to a deserted island.

That kind of camp may work on a show like DAYS, but it is not what viewers expect from As the World Turns, the long-running CBS soap I follow closely and have blogged about here several times.

Rumors are circulating quite heavily that Summer 2006 will feature a serial killer storyline, and now word is circulating that the story will lead to the demise of a couple of minor and a couple of major characters on the show. Word has begun to circulate in the online community that TV Guide and Soap Opera Digest are breaking news about the serial killer storyline, although no conclusive word has come out about cast members ending their contract so far, indicating that either word is being suppressed about who is leaving the show for as long as possible or that the characters planned to be killed are not played by contracted stars, making it much harder for word to break out (or, a third option, that fans are taking several unrelated news bits and combining them into something blown out of proportion).

Recently, the show killed off newcomer character Nick Kasnoff, who was murdered in self-defense, and is set to kill off Jennifer Munson, a longtime 20-something character on the show, next week to a bout of viral pneumonia.

Fans were upset about Jennifer's death, as she's been a major featured character on the show for a while, but that pales to the reaction that fans have given over the past day or two on the ATWT Media Domain message board about rumors of the death of character Tom Hughes.

Rumors had been circulating that a veteran on the show was unhappy with their contract, and the star who plays Tom's wife Margo--Ellen Dolan--has also voiced her displeasure with ATWT in a letter written to the fan community that I blogged about a couple of months ago. With news that a beloved character was leaving the show and that Tom was going to be attacked breaking out, longtime fans are angered and feel that portrayer Scott Holmes must be fed up with never getting a storyline. While some fans don't particularly care about the character and others feel that Tom's role has been diminished to the point that his leaving wouldn't be that big of a deal, many fans feel such a move would be a slap in the face of the show's history.

Continue reading "Could They?? Fans Reacting Passionately to Murder Rumor on Soap" »

Fashion Marketing and Theory

Fashion is worthy of considerable academic study and has been looked at by some of the most important philosophers of the past few centuries. That is the message of Daniel Leonhard Purdy's 2004 collection of essays The Rise of Fashion: A Reader. At least we've been clued into that for some time, as fashion is certainly not outside the scope of this blog, as indicated here and here.

The book presents essays from some of the greatest minds of philosophy and literature, including Voltaire, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Goethe, Hegel, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For those interested in cultural studies, this book offers conclusive proof that there's nothing wrong with studying fashion because some of the greatest mind in Western thought have done the same thing.

This collection shows how views of fashion's role in society has shifted throughout time and how understanding the marketing of fashion is important for understanding a group of people. This collection moves beyond the restricte "I hate (insert brand name)" anti-commercialist rhetoric that surrounds many of the most popular teen clothing lines today and moves into legitimating a focus on fashion. Part of the disrespect to fashion has been that it has largely been considered a feminine concern and thus somehow considered less legitimate.

Thse views are shifting, and men's fashion is becoming the focus of study as well. And, books like Purdy's reader prove that further emphasis is being put on trying to understand what makes clothing and fashion connect with people's lives and their self-expressions.

In the latest Journal of Popular Culture, Patricia A. Cunningham of Ohio State University concludes her review of the book by recommending that not only academics but marketers could benefit by reading what some of the greatest minds in history wrote about fashion throughout the years. As anyone who studies history knows, the best way to understand the present and predict the future is often to study and understand the past. This reader provides an interesting historical perspective on the mprtance of fashion in society that might be worth taking a look at.

Measurement of Media Engagement

The latest announcement by OMD indicates a further shift toward considering viewer/reader engagement as a factor.

OMD, a media agency, announced that it would use these metrics in its decisions on which programs to buy after studying the engagement that people have with Web sites, television and magazine titles. Their studies found massive differences in the degree to which people engaged in certain television shows versus others, which comes as no real surprise.

Television, as with radio, can serve both as background noise at some points but as the focal point at others, depending on if people are "watching television" or "watching a particular program." My wife is a zapper who is known for "watching television," but I almost always only turn the TV on if I have the intent of watching something in particular.

And that type of viewing definitely carries a more focused involvement with programs that the industry has known it should take into account for a while--no one likes to talk about it, though, because qualitative measurements are a little harder to do than just counting eyeballs as all being equal.

However, study after study demonstrates how much more valuable involved viewing can be.

OMD claims that they are going to be able to create a "standard engagement currency" based on their study that would be comparative in nature, branching across multiple media forms.

To me, this should invariably take advertisers back to thinking more closely about natural product placement as an important alternative. DVR and TiVo viewers are the most dedicated viewers of all, since they've singled a program out for special viewing. Of course they're going to skip the regular commercial spots because they want to continue with the dramatic run of the show, but advertisers and producers alike should be considering product placement alternatives and sponsoring alternatives that do not interfere with the quality of programming and diminish viewer involvement while capitalizing on the deep involvement these consumers have with the product.

Maybe OMD's study is another step in the right direction. Coming on the heels of Nielsen's newest programming changes, it seems to be a positive move.

June 25, 2006

Further Reflections on YouTube vs. RIAA

Henry Jenkins wrote this followup post to the piece reprinted here yesterday regarding YouTube and the RIAA on his blog:

University of Chicago law professor Randy Picker was nice enough to pass along a link to what he has written -- from a legal perspective -- about the potential threat which the RIAA may pose to those folks who want to post lip-sync or karaoke songvids on YouTube:

For the music industry, this is a not-so-golden oldie and the conflict illustrates the persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and, frequently, perceptions of fairness. On these facts, far from being crazy or somehow a misuse of copyright, I think that music copyright holders have a straight-forward action against YouTube.... this is how we pay for music in the real world: different uses, different prices, and until we change the law and come up with a better way to pay for music, you should assume that the music industry is going to show up one day and knock on YouTube's door.

I don't pretend to be a lawyer so my views on the law should be taken with a grain of salt. I am pretty sure though that Picker is correct that the RIAA is almost certainly well within its legal rights to take action to shut down this use of its music via YouTube.

That said, I feel that we should be paying closer attention to that "persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and frequently, perceptions of fairness." True, ignorance of the law is no excuse but a democratic state should always be concerned if the gap between the law and the public's perception of fairness grows too great. (And I would suggest that gap is growing hourly at the present moment).

Continue reading "Further Reflections on YouTube vs. RIAA" »

June 24, 2006

ECW a Hit--But Controversy Continues on Sci Fi

World Wrestling Entertainment's version of Extreme Championship Wrestling has now aired its first two episodes on the Sci Fi Channel, to follow up on a post from a few weeks ago. A lot of people on both the wrestling side and the sci-fi side have questioned how a wrestling program could fit in on the network, including a sci-fi fan who responded to our previous entry here.

Ratings-wise, we've gotten our answer. ECW blows away anything else that airs regularly on Sci Fi in the ratings. Before ECW's debut, according to Dave Meltzer, the highest rated show on the network was Ghost Hunters, which regualrly draws about a 1.2 rating. In its first week, ECW drew a 2.8 rating, more than double the highest rated regular Sci Fi program. The second week, in opposition with the NBA finals, the show drew a 2.4, and Sci-Fi and NBC Universal are ecstatic.

But that doesn't mean that ECW is still a particularly good fit on Sci-Fi. The regular Sci Fi fans are resentful. Fans on both sides seem ignorant of any aesthetic value in the other side's entertainment. Wrestling fans have no interest in what they perceive as any "sci-fi" influence creeping onto their show, and the sentiments of the fan who posted here, saying that Sci Fi is a refuge from terrible programming like wrestling, sums up how many sci-fi fans feel about wrestling.

So, let's establish this: neither Sci Fi programming nor pro wrestling is inherently bad, but trying to mix the two could be. The wrestling fans don't particularly care what network a show comes on, as long as it's true to what it's supposed to be: wrestling. But Sci Fi marketing people, according to Dave Meltzer, made suggestions that Martians and vampires appear on the ECW show in the arena and that ECW wrestlers should go into other dimensions. Well, you can imagine how regular ECW fans, and even WWE fans, felt about a suggestion like that. The WWE made fun of the very idea on the initial ECW episode, with a wrestler named The Zombie coming down to the ring, only to get caned by The Sandman, an old ECW regular. From WWE's perspective, Sci Fi probably was not their top choice (I'm sure that would have been USA), but they knew they wanted to launch an ECW show, and their exclusivity deal with NBC Universal dictated that it could only be on one of the conglomerate's networks...Sci Fi was the only network that displayed a strong interest.

While the sci-fi community has been vocally upset about the wrestling influence, wrestling fans were incensed by these suggestions and happy that the Sci Fi Channel got their answer with the caning. It was a joint statement by WWE and Sci Fi to wrestling fans that ECW would not be mired by such silly gimmicks. Consessions to the sci-fi sentiment, at least in the network's eyes, include a set of vampire cultish wrestlers in ECW, as well as pushing Paul Heyman's character as a cultish leader of ECW.

The only thing at this point that's hurting ECW with the wrestling fanbase are the hardcore ECW fans who can't see the new version of ECW as being true to the original, which WWE purchased the rights to. The first episode, while doing "extremely" well in the ratings, was considered a disappointment aesthetically by most fans and many with the company. But the following week introduced some new characters and started to reveal the direction the show will be going. And wrestling fans must realize that ECW can't be a reunion show and remain a vibrant weekly television program, so there has to be a new version that draws in the wider WWE fan base, in addition to the hardcore fans.

USA Network and Sci Fi are working hard to make the two wrestling shows cross-promote each other, but both networks have come to realize something about wrestling fans: they feel little loyalty to the network, so that WWE fans are most likely to tune in when their show comes on and tune back out as soon as the show is over. The only value WWE adds to the network, then, is increasing the ratings of the network substantially, especially since wrestling draws lower advertising rates than many other shows, despite its high ratings, because of the unfair stereotypes against its fanbase. For USA, this means that it more consistently wins its war to top the weekly cable ratings because WWE inflates its numbers. For Sci Fi, this means that they have a show that, ratings-wise, is their biggest hit. And, with ECW and Monday Night RAW cross-promoting each other, the two networks are at least giving wrestling fans more to tune into and trying to keep those flagship shows high.

So, at this point, that appears to be the impasse. If Sci Fi fans will support or at least ignore ECW's presence, it will be a boon to the network's numbers. Conversely, if Sci Fi stays out of ECW's programming, wrestling fans care little what network their show airs on. And it's a win-win...unless the fan communities have to come into contact again; then it turns into another battle royal.

By the way, my suspicions about Stephen Colbert reading this site are nothing more than conspiracy theories, but I've got proof that Warren Ellis does.

YouTube vs. The RIAA

Here's another post Henry Jenkins asked that I port over from his blog because of its relevance to media convergence and YouTube which we've blogged about several times:

This is another in a series of posts highlighting trends which threaten our rights to participate in our culture.

According to a report published in the Boston Phoenix this week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may soon take aim at the amateur lip syncing and Karaoke videos which circulate on YouTube. Spokespeople from the RIAA, which has never been slow to assert the broadest possible claims on intellectual property, have so far not confirmed the claims that they will be using their power to force YouTube to take down such videos.

Participatory Culture's Most Powerful Distribution System
YouTube represents perhaps the most powerful distribution channel so far for amateur media content. More than 6 million visitors watch a total of 40 million clips per day and upload another 50,000 more, according to the Phoenix. Some of that traffic is no doubt generated by content grabbed from commercial media -- including a fair number of commercials which are virally circulated, music videos and segments from late night comedy shows, strange clips from reality television, and the like. But a good deal of the content is user generated and this content is generating wide interest.

Many people will have seen the footage of the guy who went a little extreme with his Christmas tree lights last year or, in regards to this current issue, some of the videos of pasty-faced and overweight people singing off key versions of their favorite pop songs -- often with demonstrably limited comprehension of the lyrics. Many of us had argued that earlier file-sharing services such as Napster provided an infrastructure for garage bands and the like to get their music into broader circulation but there, the illegal content swamped the legal and made it hard to support this case. With YouTube, there is no question that some of the most interesting content comes from grassroots creators. Via YouTube, what were once home movies are finding a public -- some coming to appreciate real creativity, some there to gawk.

Continue reading "YouTube vs. The RIAA" »

The State of Videogame Criticism

John Scalzi has a very cogent post on why video games don't have their own Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael yet up on Whatever, his blog. The six reasons he gives for this state of affairs are:

* Video games are too immature (undeveloped as a field) for valid criticism
* To criticize video games, you actually have to be able to play them
* The current generation of video game reviewers are primarily reviewers, not critics
* Many current video game reviewers suck and will likely never stop sucking
* Video games lack a human story (i.e. the reasons behind design choices are often opaque to non-gamers)
* Criticism is a reaction as well as an explanation (if game criticism emerges, it will come as a reaction to the status quo)

Scalzi also proposes that the creators of Penny Arcade are the closest thing that the gaming industry has to a Bangs or a Kael at the present moment. That sounds about right to me.

June 23, 2006

Weeds successful in iTunes and DVD Sales

For those who have not already read this story on Paid Content, the latest news in examining the success of online distribution of television shows comes from Weeds, the Showtime situation comedy which features a single mother who must sell marijuana to support her family.

The show, produced by Lion's Gate, has produced an income of more than $600,000 on iTunes at this point, yet producers reveal that the show is providing high numbers (pun intended) in pre-orders for the DVD of the first season.

This success is leading to Lion's Gate further expandng their online distribution options, in addition to iTunes. So far, the company has found that these online sales are not cutting into DVD distribution, which means at this point that there is no downside to online distribution and that, with TV shows on DVD, at least, there is still a value to owning the actual official DVD set of the show.

As more companies seem to be finding this lesson to be the case, iTunes will likely continue getting a substantial influx of television programming and producers will be a little less scared of providing its content through even more media platforms.

The lesson seems suprrising yet full of common sense at the same time. After all, DVDs sets of television shows are expensive--it comes as no surprise that they are for collectors in particular. And those collectors may be well willing to pay to download episodes to see them early and still purchase the DVD set. Again, it all hinges on creating a quality product that people will want to own and/or finding a niche audience willing to pay first for convience of viewing and later for collecting purposes.

Coming from a wrestling standpoint, a similar phenomenon is when wrestling fans are willing to buy a wrestling pay-per-view program live as it happens for $40 and then buy the DVD of the same event a month later. Sure, there are plenty of fans who don't buy the DVD and wouldn't under any circumstances, and there are some that wait until the DVD comes out and who care less about the exclusivity, but the two products appeal to different types of customers--and many customers fall in both camps--and thus really do not compete with one another.

Instead, by providing its products in multiple arenas, the companies seem to be reaching more customers by providing their products in ways that are convenient for different types of consumers. Basically, a show like Weeds has a large group of potential consumers. The Showtime airing of the weekly show would not reach many of these people who do not have timeshifting capabilities and who cannot watch it when it's on or who do not pay to have Showtime. Those who do timeshift may never find the program unless they watch Showtime often enough to see promotions for the program.

By making the product available on DVD and online, the producers have been able to expand the Weeds fan base considerably, not hamper their own sales. Sure, customers are not willing to buy the same product over and over again, but a show downloaded from iTunes and a show to collect on DVD are vastly different products, even if they are two releases of the same programming.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this along as well.

What's Next for Advertising, and What Should "The Media" Do About It?

According to Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0, advertising's link to the mass media could be showing signs of major strains, as grassroots marketing initiatives become more and more viable.

In other words, when advertisers begin marketing campaigns that are so creative that fans are willing to forward it to their family and friends for free, then the traditional media has been completely side-stepped. Ad firms still get their piece of the pie, for helping develop the creative ad that everyone is forwarding around, but the distribution system becomes voluntary on behalf of the people instead of through an ad-supported media model.

Karp predicts that this is the way of advertising in the future, ads that seep into personal relationships and begin getting forwarded on a regular basis for their creativity, their novelty, or their appeal to a niche audience. And where does that leave ad placements and traditional ad services? More importantly, what does this do to the traditional system of the media?

Pretty good question...Karp's suggestion is that now, before it's too late, media companies should get their creative services involved in helping craft compelling video ads. In addition to providing content for television, these companies could use their creative services to create skits, commercials, and entertainment of various sorts meant to market a particular brand. In that way, these companies wouldn't miss out by trying to hang on to taditional ad profits while the future of advertising is controlled by more forward-thinking companies.

What does Karp predict for media producrs who don't take on this new role as advertising creator? "Those businesses will likely survive, but most won't grow very much, some will shrink, and some media brands may not survive at all."

Does this mean that, in his opinion, all television programming would have to go the way of HBO?

The major flaw in Karp's argument, at least as I see it here, is that it completely sidesteps issues of alternatives to the traditional 30-second advertisements placed in commercial breaks on shows but still within the traditional system. For instance, natural product placement within the fictive world of a show is an aspect of television advertising that's always been present and is currently growing that would not overturn the traditional media system, other than diminishing the role of the "commercial break." He also doesn't have any discussion of products sponsoring particular shows, another longheld television advertising staple that has been making quite a comeback as people lose faith in the 30-second spot.

With Nielsen planning to release viewer numbers on commercials come this fall, what does this mean for Karp's argument? I think he has noticed two very important trends--the importance of viral marketing and the slow death of the 30-second spot--but his prediction is a little extreme. I think it may very well be possible that media companies could directly involved in this advisory function for creative services in viral marketing, but I don't think Karp gives enough credit to other movements in the traditional media that will transform from traditional commercial breaks into other sources for commercial revenue. That's not to say that Karp has not though of these issues but just that they aren't present in this piece.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this along.

June 22, 2006

Ode to Robot Chicken

Henry Jenkins asked that I also pass along this post about Robot Chicken to this blog from his blog promoting his new book, Convergence Culture:

I recently had a chance to catch up with the first season DVD of The Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken series and found it an interesting illustration of some of the trends I discuss in Convergence Culture. For those of you not in the know, Robot Chicken is a fifteen minute long, fast-paced and tightly-edited, stop motion animation series, produced by Seth Green (formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers) and Matthew Senreich: think of it as a sketch comedy series where all of the parts of played by action figures. The show spoofs popular culture--vintage and contemporary--mixing and matching characters with the same reckless abandon as a kid playing on the floor with his favorite collectibles.

For example, the first episode I ever saw included a Real World: Metropolis segment where Superman, Aquaman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, the Hulk, and other superheroes share an apartment and deal with real life issues, such as struggles for access to the bathroom or conflicts about who is going to do household chores. The same episode also included an outrageous parody of Kill Bil l, in which Jesus does battle with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and George Burns (as God). And a spoof of American Idol where the contestants are zombies of dead rock stars and the judges are breakfast cereal icons--Frankenberry (as Randy), Booberry (as Paula) and Count Chocula (as Simon).

The humor is sometimes sophomoric (in the best and worst senses of the word)--lots of jokes about masturbation, farting, vomiting, and random violence--an entire "nutcracker suite" sequence consists of nothing but various characters getting hit or kicked in the groin. Yet, at its best, it manages to force us to look at the familiar icons of popular culture from a fresh perspective: one of my favorite segments features a series of breakfast cereal icons (Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Captain Crunch, The Trix Rabbit, and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun) as forming an international drug cartel smuggling "sugar" into the country. Many of the sketches depend on the juxtaposition of toys remembered fondly from childhood with adult realities (such as a segment which restages the violent murders of S7even within the Smurf kingdom): it has all of the transgressive appeal of cross-dressing a G.I. doll or staging a ritual hanging of Barney the Dinosaur, speaking to a generation which has only partially outgrown its childhood obsessions.

Continue reading "Ode to Robot Chicken" »

The Snakes on A Plane Phenomenon

Henry Jenkins, Director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, wrote the following on his own blog this past week, which I thought was pretty relevant to the topics covered here on the C3 blog, especially since I have followed the Snakes on a Plane fan following here as well. Henry's blog is in preparation for his new book, aptly titled Convergence Culture:

I am watching with great interest the growing hubbub about the new suspense/disaster film, Snakes on a Plane, scheduled for release later this summer and expected by many to yield some of the strongest opening weekend grosses of the season. In many ways, we can see the ever expanding cult following of this predictably awful movie as an example of the new power audiences are exerting over entertainment content.

Here's what I think is going on here:

Enter the Grassroots Intermediaries.
First, the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon has been building momentum for well over a year now. In the old days, the public would never have known about a film this far out of the gate. They might have learned about it when the previews hit the theatre -- a phenomenon which itself is occurring earlier and earlier in the production cycle -- or even given the fairly low-brow aspirations of this particular title -- when the film actually hit the theatre. In the old days, this would have been an exploitation movie of the kind that Roger Corman used to crank out in the 1950s and 1960s and destined to play on the second bill at the local drive-in.

Continue reading "The Snakes on A Plane Phenomenon" »

Game Producers as Lifestyle Brands?

One member of our C3 team, David Edery here at MIT, has published a piece entitled "Games as Lifestyle Brands" on Next Generation on Tuesday.

In this piece, Edery discusses the disputed definitions of the lifestyle brand, which can mean a product that becomes a part of your life, a product that you make part of your self-identity, a marketing campaign launched around a narrowly defined product that expands to all aspects of one's life (such as the Harley), or myriad others. Edery is right in that it's something that we know when it works, but we don't quite know what it is. For instance, I would argue that Target is not (ironically) targeted enough to be a "lifestyle brand" because it's a large retail store that distributes the products of hundreds of companies. It has elements of a lifestyle brand but just is not that concentrated enough.

In Edery's piece, though, he extends this argument to video games, about whether there already is lifestyle brands among video game publishers or not. Is EA Sports or Harmonix a lifestyle brand? It's an interesting discussion to have, and Edery's piece is worth taking a look at.

My take is that it's going to be just as hard for video game publishers to truly be lifestyle brands, just as it seems hard to me for movie production companies to be lifestyle brands--their products are often not concentrated enough to be a single statement and are not immersive enough. Sure, Harmonix has elements of a lifestyle brand, just as you may argue Lion's Gate has a certain feel to its films, but there's a major difference between publishers that release various titles and a store you go to regularly (The New Yorker), or a television network (MTV).

Whether your agree or disagree with me, the point is not that this makes video games less desirable to market. After all, even though I don't see Target, Starbucks, or IKEA as fully being a lifestyle brand, they still have many elements of a lifestyle brand that they incorporate into their marketing strategy that is beneficial to both producers and consumers. And, as David mentions, not every brand is or should be a lifestyle brand.

But incorporating more elements of lifestyle branding for video game production certainly helps labels develop a following. EA Sports comes as close as any video game label I can think of in that their product line is sufficiently limited and has video games at its core but extends to all sorts of ancillary products. But how can other video game developers copy or even build on that success?

Online Newspaper for DC Comics Series

Within the comic book medium, both DC and Marvel have proven their expertise in stretching narratives across various comic series. Occasionally, a storyline or a catastrophe is so great that it encompasses all of the fictional universes of a certain comic company, so that all characters and all monthly comic series are affected by a current event. And, for readers to get the full story, they would have to buy all the comic books that company produces in that time span, even if they are regular collectors of many of those series.

However, comic books have often used crossing media platforms simply for adaptation instead of transmedia storytelling (the difference being that transmedia requires each story to build on the other rather than simply telling the same essential story in multiple media forms). Comics have branched into film, cartoons, video games, and various other venues, but have often not utilized the storytelling potential this transmedia empire allows.

A new initiative from DC Comics proves what transmedia storytelling within the superhero genre is capable of, however. DC has launched an intriguing new comic series called 52, a weekly series produced by four of DC's best writers. The series focuses on what happened in the DC Universe that week, including the aftermath of many of the events that happen in the other comic series.

The storytelling extends to an online project, a digital version of The Daily Planet, the newspaper of fictional Metropolis. This daily newspaper mimics news sites in providing stock trackers, online ads, and other features, all utilizing companies that are part of the DC Universe. And there are several options, including a variety of news stories, updated on a regular basis.

The idea of providing a digital newspaper to cover the events happening in a fictional universe, especially as one as outlandish as the comic book genre, is a project that could extend to almost any transmedia storytelling format as an easy way to provide additional and meaningful content. For any fictional universe that is big enough to provide enough material for constant news updates, this type of project seems not only feasible but as providing meaningful extensions for fans.

This would be a more difficult fit for weekly series to pull off, but other daily series could do this as well because their fictional universe is updated often enough to make this type of product valuable. The areas I follow--such as soap operas and pro wrestling--are other potential extensions for this type of product. The WWE already has as an online newspaper of sorts in its main Web site, complemented by its magazine, which provides news on a regular basis about the WWE universe, often blending fiction and reality. WWE on-air commentator Michael Cole--a former news correspondent--has been named editor of the online news content and is working to give it a more authentic, news-oriented feel.

However, soaps have not yet branched into this area, although it's a natural extension. Most shows already have their newspaper as part of the fictional universe, so that Oakdale's City Times or The Intruder could easily become an online daily extension for As the World Turns, with AP-style reports on events that happen in Oakdale, on the show. Sure, Jack and Carly's divorce wouldn't be in the news, but it would be a fascinating way to provide background for the show and cover shocking events--murders and the like--when they happen.

I, for one, hope that the entertainment world takes notice of The Daily Planet and that the site is given enough meaningful content to realize its potential.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Jenkins for passing this along.

June 21, 2006

Two New Examples of "Convergence Culture"

Two new examples of "Convergence Culture" surfaced today (doesn't this seem to be the trend almost every day?) in two corporate partnerships that blend new media companies and concepts with traditional content providers or advertisers.

The first was a deal announced by EchoStar (Dish Network), an interactive advertising campaign for the Ford Motor Company through the company's satellite service. These ads will run for the next month, featuring the Ford Mustang on several TV screens, on which the viewer can use their remote control to view photos, for instance.

However, the project branches into transmedia, since you can download a ringtone specifically for the Mustang. And the interaction is taken to a direct consumer level, considering that the ad will allow you to find a local Ford dealer or receive more information on the product.

With our constant discussion of the slow death of the traditional advertisement, these more active and targeted advertising opportunities are coming more and more frequently.

In a different realm, longtime children's entertainment supplier DIC Entertainment has found a new partnership to launch a CBS Saturday morning programming block for kids: AOL. This new fall lineup will be called the Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party and will have transmedia tie-ins with KOL, the AOL online site for kids. And a KOL online personality will have his own reality series on Saturday mornings.

I've yet to be convinced that the partnership will take advantage of the opportunities this type of coalition allows initially, but this could be another step in the right direction. Transmedia opportunities seem particularly vibrant here in children's programming, where convergence seems more second-hand and moving from one media platform to another is second-nature.

But both products are two examples that I found today through TelevisionWeek of new interactive and transmedia movements. Fall 2006 is shaping up to be a period of intense experimentation. Some of these concepts will probably miss their mark, and others have probably come along a little too early...but I'm interested in seeing what will become of these two intiatives in terms of viewer response.

Nielsen Commercial Ratings

On the heels of Nielsen announcing the move away from paper and into completely digital media consumption measurements, including counts of media consumption away from the home, over the next few years comes the news of ratings for commercials.

By this fall, the media research company will be providing ratings for braodcast networks showing the average ratings of their commercials playing nationwide. The data will provide not only live viewers but those who watch the programs on digital recorders within a week.

In a story on Nielsen's announcement yesterday, Jon Lafayette of TelevisionWeek quoted David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS, as saying that the ratings would play a part in price negotiations for the next season but would not affect this year's deals. Poltrack warned that commercial avoidance will definitely be noticeable in the numbers but that the number has remained steady for years and that new techologies have not increased commercial avoidance. Instead, he "questioned the sincerity" of ad buyers for why they wanted the information and figured that it might be a negotiation ploy to lower the cost of national ads.

Whatever the case, accountability for commercials, in as accurate as Nielsen data is going to be, is a positive thing for measuring where the 30-second spot is at. David Poltrack came to MIT this past semester and spoke about changes in the media industry. As you can imagine, he was well-versed and very forward-thinking about CBS' role, but it is still a company invested in the 30-second spot system. There must have been some pretty heavy pressure from advertisers to succeed in getting a push like this, for Nielsen numbers for their ads.

If Nielsen continues with their push for active/passive viewer measurement as well, I wonder if we will eventually be able to also have attempts to measure the level of engagement people have during certain ads. We might find that particularly creative ads catch people's attention and ads placed right before a show comes back from commercial break, etc. But, even though I still question the validity of many Nielsen numbers, I think this will provide some basis for discussion.

June 20, 2006

Celebrate! Mama's Family made it

According to a press release on the Web site TV Shows on DVD, Warner Home Video has finally announced that they will be releasing the first season of the 1980s sitcom Mama's Family on DVD this September.

Last December, I blogged about this Web site and the potential power it gives for communication between fan communities and content distributors when it comes to the potential market for releasing a product from the archives. On the site, people vote for their favorite shows that have not yet been released on DVD, and fan communities often lobby actively to move their show higher up the rating, with the feeling that companies are taking notice at the popularity shows have on this site.

I had participated actively in getting Mama's Family released on DVD, a childhood favorite. Later that month, I blogged about the potential success we were having.

However, for the past six months, there was no news after Warner first said that it was considering releasing the show. Mama's Family despite last airing 16 years ago, maintains a few active online sites dedicated to discussing the show, still in reruns on TBS, including some that have continued daily postings from fans.

In the press release, WHV VP Rosemary Markson says that, "For years fans have anxiously been asking us to release it on DVD and we are delighted to bring it to consumers at last."

The show only lasted on network television for two yeras before moving to syndication, where it continued to prosper throughout the 1980s. In reruns, the show has gained more continued popularity among the fan community than in its initial airing. For those of us who are in that community, it's a great victory. And we would like to think that our vote on TV Shows on DVD made a difference in showing how the power of fan communities can benefit both fans and producers alike.

June 19, 2006

Ham Radio Fan Communities

Every day brings something new at the offices of The Ohio County Times-News (terrible Web site, but they have no interest in my helping them with it), the weekly newspaper in Kentucky that I'm working at part of the time this summer, in an effort to "get back to my journalism roots." And two surprise guests I had today seemed to have particular relevance with my work at C3--a pair of ham radio enthusiasts.

With all our buzz about new technology, we often forget that there are vibrant fan communities surrounding very old technology. Studies have been done to examine fan communities for outmoded or endangered technologies, such as the Fisher-Price PXL-2000 and the Apple Newton. And I'm sure there have been plenty of people, whether journalists or scholars, who have examined the national fascination with ham radios.

These guys, Felix Miles and Henry Morgan, were dedicating their performance in a nationwide ham radio competition this weekend to a ham contemporary who had died after falling while working on his radio antenna. We got into a discussion of the philosophy of the ham radio operators, and Felix told me that old school ham operators primarily like to communicate in Morse code and don't go for the voice communication that most "newbies" go for.

The fact that there are thousands of people around the country dedicated to what most people would consider a technology of the past, as with "Ten Four, Over and Out" on the CB, the telegraph, and--soon to be, if the massive switch to cell phones is any indication--the landline phone, is fascinating.

We discussed the move away from Morse code and Miles' own anger that modern ham radio operators no longer have to prove their competency with Morse code when getting an operator's license from the FCC.

My emphasis here at the C3 blog has been on content instead of the medium, more often than not, but we can't forget the importance of attachments to old technologies and distribution means. People become fascinated with vinyl records and eight tracks, and a beloved member of our department here at CMS often treks out his Beta player to show us clips of old television shows, even when many of these shows are available on DVD.

What is it about these old technologies that fascinate us? These ham radio operators give part of their life over to keeping this technology alive and vibrant, and it's aided the country substantially during natural disasters, etc., with ham radio operators creating a communication chain. But people are willing to give part of their lives--and even their lives--through maintenance of radios and antennas. As much as any brand, these outmoded technologies seem to connect with people's lives in fundamental ways, and even specific brands develop continued brand communities surrounding them, long after they have outlived their major pragmatic usefulness.

Studies of Teens on the 'Net

A new study released by Cornel University surmises that "teens take to the Internet like ants to a summer picnic."

This quote, from Science News Online's newest issue, is a sobering reminder that cyberspace provides unheralded communication opportunities (and marketing opportunities), but the effects of this communication can contain both an expanding world view and corresponding dangers. While Internet utopian fluff pieces celebrate the medium without fault, and watchdog attack groups go after the medium incessantly, this study emphasizes the neutrality of the medium and its capacity for both good and evil.

Those of us who study or are involved in the entertainment industry know that any medium--whether it be the written word, television, radio, or film--contains both the capacity for good as well as exploitative and lowest common denominator content. The Internet is much more complicated when you are talking about message boards and chat rooms, because you can't compare television shows and message boards, which is many-to-many communication.

Bruce Bower, who wrote the Science News piece, goes on to examine a Michigan State University study about the ways in which the Internet improves the reading skills of middle schoolers, and a Northwestern University study on leadership skill building among teens who form global Internet communities.

When we discuss teen audiences and the importance of using the Internet as a storytelling tool, it is important to realize how Internet has changed the lives of America's youth. And, while I blast pundits like L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council for always leading the censorship march under the premise of "negative effects on children," we can't forget that there are always dangers involved when people are allowed to communicate, especially children. As parents, as educators, as content providers, and as citizens, we have some duty to take responsibility. While I don't think those restrictions should be imposed through censorship, it doesn't mean that we don't all have an ethical obligation as well. And, when we talk about expanding transmedia into participatory culture online, especially involving young people, we can't hide from some of the issues this brings up.

Again, the study is a fairly lengthy read for an online article but provides a lot of interesting context for online communities involving teens.

Thanks to Kestrell for passing this along.

Cathy's Book and Product Placement

Several posts in the last couple of months on our blog have been dedicated to product placement and product integration in television programming, but the news that received some play last week of a Cover Girl novel crossover reminds us once again at how well books can cover product placement as well.

Cover Girl, along with parent company Procter & Gamble, will be working with Running Press, part of Perseus, to promote Cover Girl throughout several references in a new novel called Cathy's Book, written by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart. The book will be inspired by the principles of alternate reality games (ARGs), and the authors previously worked on "The Beast" and "I Love Bees."

The novel will include references to Cover Girl lipsticks and eyeliners, among other things, and Cover Girl will promote the release of the novel. According to a post by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, the novel included references to makeup brands but were only changed after a deal was put in place with Cover Girl.

But, it didn't take long to get the non-profits after them. Commercial Alert, a non-profit organization dedicated to "protecting communities against commercialism," have contacted book reviewers across the country, requesting that they boycott the novel because of its product placement.

Apparently, these organizations have particular problems with this book, as it is being marketed to teens. The problem here is probably not as much that the products are being used but that the company is receiving extra money for that placement. While the company has made the distinction that the book clearly called for a product there and that the deal came organically from that, Commercial Alert is not quite so excited.

The publishers, Perseus, quickly came to the book's and the authors' defense, with CEO David Steinberger saying that "calling for a review boycott is a form of censorship." In this case, I have to agree with the authors. While I understand Commercial Alert's sensitivity to commercialism and have seen plenty of great works ruined by product placement, this is a little different. If the product placement is organic, I don't think it's a problem, especially since we live in a branded world. And the book seems to have much more of a point than simply advertising Cover Girl. Steinberger says that the authors have a right to include these placements, "incorporating real-world elements consistent with their vision."

Further, I agree that the worst approach of all is attaching reviewers instead of engaging in public debate about product placement. What Commercial Alert is trying to do is end the debate before it starts, to eliminate the other side completely and not allow the book to get reviewed. And that's more dangerous to our rights as Americans as the commercialism of Perseus Publishing could ever be.

Thanks to Joshua Green for passing this along.

On-Demand Previews for Television Movies

Oxygen has once again launched an on-demand preview for an original movie it will be airing on its main channel this week, marking the third time the channel has used on-demand to hype both the airing of a new movie and the channel itself.

The movie, called Banshee, has been previewed since last Thursday and will continue to be until Wednesday. The linear debut of Banshee will be next Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.

The on-demand option seems to be a good way both to experiment with shifts in distribution and also to catch those flipping through on-demand options with a strong piece of programming tied to Oxygen. This way, those who might consider Oxygen programming as inferior or who may never even give the channel a shot can get a taste of sample programming.

Since Oxygen has tried this tactic twice before and continues to do so, it is an indication that the network does not consider making the movie available before its release to have substantial damage to its initial rating as a network premiere. In fact, it's likely--if the product is good--that allowing previews and making the launch date clear on the previews will cause word-of-mouth to increase the number for the network debut.

And, as a marketing tool, a strong product available on-demand may create new viewers for Oxygen.

June 16, 2006

The Greatest Five Mintues of L. Brent Bozell's Year

The Book of Job reminds us all that bad things often happen to very good people. And, if that's the case, it must be conversely true that, very often, great things happen to pretty crummy people.

And that's the case this week for the pit bull attacking the leg of free speech, The Parents Television Council, when our heralded leader President George W. Bush signed into law the raising of fines for television indecency from $32,500 to $325,000.

For those of you who want to know more, never fear--the PTC has included a complete transcript of what President Bush said for those five minutes when he signed the bill into law. And, for anyone who can't read, they also provide video. Hey, the PTC may not be fans of almost everything about what we call "convergence culture," since they consider shows like According to Jim to be heavily offensive to moral sensibilities (learned that one from Stephen Colbert)...But they sure do know how to be pretty media savvy. And, surprise! The video they show comes from Fox News Network.

Go look around the PTC Web site. They have difinitive proof about how free speech on television is destroying our country. Watching MTV for an hour makes kids more lkely to approve of pre-marital sex (just imagine what watching every day might do!) I guess we should be ashamed of our partners here at C3. And, in their press release celebrating victory, Bozell said this, which has been quoted in numerous news articles about the story, "They (the public) are fed up with the sexually raunchy and gratuitously violent content that's broadcast over the public airwaves, particularly during hours when millions of children are in the viewing audience."

In a subsequent online column about this issue, Bozell asks, "How can our media elite find so much pessimism in our society about our future in Iraq, or our future planetary health, or our future economic success, and totally ignore the public's pessimism about how Hollywood -- that is to say, they -- are polluting the culture?" This shows how powerful rhetoric can be when you turn a whole industry of creative people into one mass evil body..."they." More a propos to the "they" are groups like the PTC who directly tell people what they think, send out form letters to be mailed to people, and then claim how many people have spoken.

This site is dedicated to the vibrant possibilities that a new media landscape affords to us through convergence culture, but censorship initiatives like this endanger public expression by lumping everyone in the media industry into a "they" seeking to corrupt children...and, of course, anytime a group wants to attack an industry, the "children" line is always the infallible answer.

Bozell concludes with the point that "the four largest networks and 800 oftheir affiliates quietly have gone to court demanding the right to air the F-word and the S-word on the public airwaves any time and anywhere they wish, no matter how many children are watching."

And this is a guy who is consistently quoted in newspapers as an expert. An expert in rhetoric and distortion, maybe. Sure, there are plenty of things on television that I think is just done for sex, violence, or language's sake that is too "shock TV' in nature. And I wish every program had quality writing and imagination, but that isn't the way creativity works...you get a lot of bad stuff when you let people be free, but you also get a lot of quality.

In short, I believe that there's nothing more dangerous to American values than L. Brent Bozell, and continued initiatives like this can dampen the spirit of convergence culture like nothing else...

Nielsen's A2/M2

Nielsen Media Research made a not-all-that-surprising move this week, when the company announced that it will be making a shift to all-electronic recording of television viewing over the next five years.

The company will be abandoning current paper responses for what it is calling the "Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement," or the very clever A2/M2. However, the company hopes that A2/M2 will be much more compelling than a Star Wars character, in that it will compel companies to trust the data it collects on out-of-home media viewing, Internet viewing and other "non-traditional" media engagements.

According to their press release, the technology will be used to "measure the new ways consumers are watching television, such as on the Internet, outside the home, and via cell phones, iPods, and other personal, mobile devices."

This, in addition to the Active/Passive meter which measures all time-and-place shifted viewing and measurements of DVR and VOD viewing, are Nielsen's attempts at remaining the flag-bearer for audience measurement for the television media.

And it's reassuring to see the company try to further address the problems. As long as everyone remains invested in the 30-second spot, system, however, many of these issues remain problematic. The designation of active and passive is moving in the right direction, and measuring depth of experience seems to be preferable to just getting overall impression numbers, but those are tough things to quantify.

We have to applaud Nielsen for its further attempts to move in the right direction, however, and responding to the growing number of media changes, even if it is going to take the next five years to implement.

June 15, 2006

Sponsors Line Up for Reality Show's Next Season

Bravo's hit reality show Project Runway will be signing up a sizable list of substantial sponsors, who will be integrated into the show in one way or another.

The sponsors include Macy's, Delta Air Lines, L'Oreal Paris, Saturn, Orbitz, and TRESemme.

Involvement with most of these brands included on-air presence and product integration infused throughout the show, as well as an online presence.

Considering the natural way that many of these products fit with the show, this makes sense. Further, there seems to be less of a backlash against reality shows having product placement as fictional programs, where it seems that some sort of creative aesthetic is damaged by heavy product integration.

On the other hand, reality shows already lack a sense of suspension of disbelief that fictional programs do, so that they draw attention to the fact that it is a show. This is the way that they've avoided the backlash I've blogged about before with the WGA. As I mentioned then, shows like Project Runway are not badly hurt by extensive use of sponsor names because it doesn't seem as absurd and because contestants are already in contrived situations so that, even if giving away a Saturn vehicle to the winner seems pretty overt, it works within the "game" aspect of the reality show.

Both Ivan Askwith and Rachel Shearer have followed the WGA battle with product integration in the past here on our blog as well.

And the reality genre's ability to do product integration without continued backlash is another reason why it may be such preferable program to many executives (even though many of these programs probably won't fare as well in their long tail future).

Any other thoughts?

My Thoughts on "The Word"

Last night, I set my DVR (gasp!) to record The Colbert Report to my hard drive. I watched it a few hours ago and was surprised when his popular "The Word" segment featured a current Congressional debate that was the topic of one of my posts here last week: the push to raise indecency fines for television broadcasters by adding a zero to the end.

For those who haven't seen Colbert's "The Word" segment, he goes through a verbal diatribe while a graphic beside him displays one-liners that either contradict or further illustrates points that he's making. On this particular episode, he was discussing the current drive by conservative Christian "family" groups like the Parents Television Council to define what's indecent on television.

Colbert mocked how the group's encouragement of free speech and citizen voice was really nothing more than ventriloquism, as a recent drive to protest the show Without a Trace containing a scene simulating an orgy resulted in a massive numbers of form letters computer-generated by members of a group like this through their Web site.

Colbert's main complaint with this proposal is both that this type of encouragement of censorship is outside the purview of what our government should be doing in the first place, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but also that raising the fees will cause networks to become more and more gun shy of airing any new or potentially controversial types of programming, lest the PTC have its sensibilities offended. That's the point that I made in my blog post last week, that these initiatives could greatly hinder the autonomy of show creators and writers to create meaningful, interesting, artistic, and challenging content. In other words, censorship is hardly ever a good thing.

On Colbert's "snippet" preview of his show on The Daily Show, he spoofed product placement by bringing us his pre-show, sponsored by Coca-Cola, in which he did nothing but drink a Coke and then advertise his post-show, sponsored by Budweiser, with a huge Budweiser graphic. This coincides with the drive we've had since this blog's beginning toward understanding the difference between product placement and product integration, which I posted about a couple of weeks ago.

But, could these be coincidences? Maybe Mr. Colbert is reading this blog every night after his show airs. If so, Stephen Colbert deserves a "tip of the hat."

(By the way, if you're interested in watching this particular episode of The Colbert Report, it's available on iTunes).

June 14, 2006

Traditional Advertising Revenue Down from Earlier Projections

A report from TNS Media Intelligence released yesterday states that ad spending is not doing as well as originally projected, with ad sales increasing 4.9 percent this year instead of the 5.4 percent in the initial predictions.

On the other hand, the prediction for Internet advertising revenues made in January had severely underrated the power of all the new content being available online to pull in ad revenue, as the prediction was a 9.1 percent increase in Internet ad revenue which has now been revised to 13 percent.

But wait...didn't all the major networks get together several months ago and tell us all that the 30-second spot is more alive than ever? Of course, we can't predict any immediate doom...There's still a pretty sharp price increase, and the biggest loser in ad revenue appears to be ABC, with their attempted move to include DVR viewers, which I posted about last week.

However, this does weaken the stance that the 30-second spot cannot be toppled. WIth the increases in Internet advertising comes decreases in television advertising. Shouldn't come as a surprise, as viewers seem more willing to watch the few ads on most ad-supported video content Internet sites, instead of the many commercial interruptions that have driven so many people to
, DVRs, and other forms of time-shifting and channel surfing.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it...That's what the industry has said. But, maybe it's just a little bit more broke than anyone wants to admit. And there has to come that point where doing something about it becomes a necessity instead of innovative thinking. The increases in product placement, show sponsorships, and various other forms of deviation from the 30-second spot is already showing some alternate routes, even as networks claim the 30-second spot is gaining power instead of losing it.

However, it wasn't clear to me whether the report included any numbers for non-traditional ads like show sponsorships or product placement. Anyone know?

We'll see how this trend in ad spending continues, but it may be even further indications that a change is coming, even if it's coming slowly.

New Series Debut on Web Before Network TV

Considering my previous post about what has been labeled "gated" channel distribution, such as is the case with the SoapNetic series only being available on Verizon, comes something more along the line of the model I'm thinking of--Sundance will be launching a new series on the AOL Black Voices Web site before it debuts on its show.

Of course, AOL helped pioneer the "gated" channel concept on television, as I can remember the stress one had in the mid-1990s if some of their favorite media content was available exclusively to AOL members and others were available exclusively to Prodigy members.

But this newest initiative shows how much their thinking has switched. Sundance will be launching its new series House of Boateng, which is based on fashion designer Ozwald Boateng launching his first clothing line in America. The series will debut on the AOL site on June 20 and will play that Tuesday and Wednesday before debuting at 9 p.m. next Thursday night.

AOL Black Voices is a major online initiative to reach African-American audiences.

I think this is just the right idea to create buzz for a new show among a target audience. Of course, that type of approach only works if the show you have is worth creating the right kind of buzz for. Sometimes, movies that don't release their films early for reviewers have the right idea--they don't want to kill any buzz for their release. In this case, though, I think Sundance has the right idea, as long as they believe in their product.

It will be interesting to see how many downloads it gets in the two days prior to the series premiere on television with the numbers the show brings in. Will the exposure on Black Voices create a grassroots word-of-mouth for the target audience in time to get more views for the program's opening on television?

And, if so, will the Nielsen numbers be able to reflect that word-of-mouth, which depends on your faith in current measurement systems, I guess.

Either way, I think Sundance has the right idea.

Disney and Gated Channels: Exploring the Future of Online Distribution

A post by Rafat on paidContent has brought my attention to a TelevisionWeek piece about Disney's new digital distribution efforts through the Disney Channel Network, as well as its SOAPnet channel--a project I'm particularly interested in.

The company has adopted two simultaneous revenue streams, by receiving paid advertising content from a broader online site available to everyone in some projects, while only allowing other services to be accessed through what Daisy Whitney in the TV Week piece refers to as "gated" channels. For instance, the second approach is embodied by SoapNet's project called SoapNetic, offering content only to those who Verizon high-speed internet customers who pay to see it. But, companies should be careful by locking up content in gates that some people cannot access it even if they were willing to pay to...

According to Disney's strategy, this approach strengthens the relationship between Verizon and SOAPnet and encourages fans of SOAPnet to use Verizon to gain access to SoapNetic, while Disney gains fees from Verizon for offering this exclusive content.

The company is celebrating this two-pronged approach, offering both content exclusive to gated channels while also offering shows that are available for download by all. Experts quoted in the story indicate that this proves that the right idea is still up in the air and that Disney is trying to diversify by launching several different approaches simultaneously.

For SoapNetic, launching content in online forms helps it overcome the fact that the channel is not yet available in many cable markets. Daisy Whitney says that SOAPnet has been "among the vanguard of networks offering shows online." The SoapNetic site will include content not available anywhere else.

I'm interested in seeing which of Disney's dual approaches seems to gain the most legs. The problem with the "gated" approach appears to be the company-specific restrictions that causes many problems of platform. If, as a fan of soap opera and pro wrestling and classic country music (using me as an example, you see), soap opera content is available to me exclusively on Verizon, wrestling exclusively on RCN, and country exclusively on BellSouth, then I'm going to be extremely upset as a fan that I'm blocked from being able to enjoy the content I want to see the most because it's locked up in such company-specific deals. Of course, these deals mentioned above are hypothetical, but--while staying in Kentucky--I can't see the SoapNetic content if I wanted to, since Verizon Internet service is not offered here.

I would much rather see companies taking the approach of charging subscription prices or pay-per-view webcasts to get content directly from their site, such as WWE does with its content. Of course, with network neutrality itself hanging in the balance, more and more of these "gated" channel distribution deals may be in our future. But I think companies, including Disney, should think more about what they may be costing themselves with "gated" deals in alienating fans and shutting them off from content they love.

In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten.

Thanks to C3's David Edery for pointing me toward this development.

June 12, 2006

Digital Push Leads to Greater Transmedia Potential

Various networks have made announcements over the past week indicating that, even if there hasn't necessarily been a complete digital plunge, companies are at least getting their feet wet.

According to some TelevisionWeek stories today and over the weekend, new networks are popping up exclusively on the Internet, while several old dogs are trying some new digital tricks.

For instance, there's the new Code Networks, the online network that's aimed at the social life of the affluent, with a programming list that reads a lot like the sections of an elite magazine, focusing on the nightlife and arts of New York City. Reporter Daisy Whitney writes that the program was started by two ex-MTV executives, aimed at 25-to-49-year olds who make six figures.

Then, there's the new initiative from CBS Digital Media, ShowBuzz, an online product for entertainment news with broadband video and interactive content. The site will be ad-supported and will include content from various other established entertainment entities, such as Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. According to reporter Christopher Lisotta, the advertising will be session-based, "meaning that the only one advertiser will be featured throughout the site for any given user session or visit."

Then, Lifetime Networks has hired a new digital media executive vice-president to handle the development of the company's Web site, wireless initiatives, DVD releases and interactive components of television programming. Dan Suratt, who was hired from NBC Olympics, was responsible for new media development opportunities there, according to reporter Jon Lafayette.

With the exception of Code Networks, the initiatives offer many new opportunities for transmedia, with online reporting that both supplements and adds to content from traditional media forms, such as using content from the Lifetime television networks or from Hollywood Reporter. This may still be baby steps, but they're baby steps in the right direction, as long as these don't just become a place to dump repurposed content but explores the abilities of the digital to supplement and increase storytelling potential.

Crime Investigations and iTunes

I was watching a rerun of CSI last week when Gil Grissom made the joke, one of his usual one-liners, that there were way too many crime investigation shows on TV. For fans of diversity in broadcast network programming, there's probably a lot of consensus at that dig at the prevalence of a genre that CSI has led the drive for in many ways. But, of course, we've always had these trends (Westerns in the late 1950s being one of the best examples).

Now, though, it seems that Gil's comment is as true for the online space as it is for television. Last week, iTunes announced that it will be adding CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, NCIS and Numbers to the series available on iTunes. All these CBS series are in addition to NBC's Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Law and Order: Trial By Jury.

Some have made the claim that shows like this aren't destined to do as well in downloads and such because they are so episodic in nature and don't have the seriality that drives the need to watch and own that shows that build on themselves from week to week do.

However, both Law and Order and CSI seems to do well in DVD boxed sets, which seems to destroy some of that. There is a tendency among television historians and critics, at least those of us here at MIT, to dismiss these more episodic shows as not taking enough advantage of the seriality of television, but there is at least enough character development or at least interesting characters that it continues to interest people.

And, as all the crime investigation shows invade iTunes with these newest moves, it serves as a strong reminder that episodic television has its place and its power in the digital world as well as on cable and broadcast television. Those who claim that these shows only work because they are push media that just offer an episode to people flipping through channels don't realize how much these become "pull" media that people seek out--and, if iTunes are any indication, episodes that people are willing to download, even if they deny much of the serial power of television.

June 11, 2006

Netflix: The World's Best Idea with the World's Worst Distribution System?

There's a thought-provoking piece about Netflix in Wednesday's The New York Times about DVD distribution company Netflix, written by David Leonhardt.

The piece doesn't really say anything that most of us don't already realize to some degree: that Netflix has the right idea and the worst distribution system. For those of you who have dealt with our illustrious postal system that much, you know that it's not the most reliable way to transfer information in the world--the Internet provides a much better way to send data reliably (that is, unless network neutrality is out the window).

Since I'm always bringing personal anecdotes to the blog, here's another: I moved out of my Boston apartment and forwarded my mail to Kentucky on May 1. Now, it's June 8, and I've only gotten about three pieces of forwarded mail, and the postal system isn't entirely sure where that other mail ended up.

So, while Netflix has the right idea with making every DVD out there available for rental in its system, the distribution system is far from the best. Leonhardt chastises Hollywood, who have an online downloadable option available to them that could rival or eventually overturn Netflix but which is currently blocked due to the outmoded thinking of current deals with television distributors, which would allow DVD distribution but not online downloads of movies that cable and broadcast networks have exclusive rights to.

I was still shocked, though, that of the 60,000 titles available on DVD in NetFlix's inventory, 35,000 to 40,000 of them are rented every day. As Netflix's Chief Executive Reed Hastings said, "Americans' tastes are really broad." But it's still a shame that today's most forward-thinking distributor, that is helping to instill this Long Tail effect in the media industry and to create what Leonhardt calls a "meritocracy" for content, is doing so using one of the most disorganized distribution systems around (the postal service being a great example of how terrible a government-owned business becomes when it is allowed a monopoly on most mail delivery services).

Netflix already realizes that, if digital streaming of movies becomes prevalent, its current DVD-through-mail system could become obsolete, and the company is already considering ways to shift its distribution to stay on top of the market. In the meantime, though, Netflix is the best we've got, considering that Hollywood exclusivity rights only allows about 1,500 of the 60,000 DVD releases available through Netflix to be distributed digitally through the studios' Movielink. Oh, and I can't look at Movielink, anyway, because they don't support Macs.

Yet another reminder of how old thought patterns restrict the ways in which the industry can respond to new technologies and new viewer demands.

June 10, 2006

The Reach of the Telenovela--My Network TV

2006 appears more and more to be the Year of the Telenovela in America, as network executives have already turned their eye toward the power of telenovelas and soap operas to garner a continued audience. The American soap industry has had a fall from grace and dwindling ratings due to the increase of so many new programming choices over the past 20 years, but few--if any--types of programming are better at garnering continued viewing from its ardent fan base. And few programs are more ripe for timeshifting of various sorts. After all, a whole cable channel--SOAPnet--is currently being powered by providing nighttime viewing of daytime soaps, and many of today's soap viewers--for instance, me--are timeshifting soaps using digital recorders because they are working during the time they officially air.

Telenovelas are an interesting branch from the soap opera, as short-term soaps that examine one particular storyline with a smaller cast and then end when that storyline is over.

News came out earlier this week that Lifetime has ordered a 20-episode run of the telenovela Bianca, based on a popular German program that had the same name.

This comes on the heels of the development of a sixth broadcast network called My Network TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The network, which is planning to pick up many of the stations that are losing network affiliation in the fall with the merger of UPN and The WB into the CW Network, will be powered, at least initially, on soap operas and telenovelas.

The network launched from several FOX-owned UPN affiliates who were losing their network and has expanded into various other major markets already; New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Antonio and many others. Overall, the network already has 150 affiliates or more at this point.

Right now, programming will focus on only two shows, airing 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. EST, but the two soaps will air six days a week. The stations will fill up the rest of the day with syndicated programming. Both soaps will be telenovelas, named Desire and Secret Obsessions. After 13 weeks, each soap will begin a new story unrelated to the prior focus. Therefore, the overall program is just a blanket name for the telenovela series, while each 13-week show will have its own title.

While my home city of Boston has yet to find an affiliate, FOX is going to carry the network from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. so that Bostonians do not miss out on Desire and Secret Obsessions. (Thanks to the Wikipedia page for providing some of that information.)

How powerful will the telenovela form be? Because of its 13-week structure, the shows may be able to garner a powerful audience during each 13-week run. However, unlike American daytime soap operas, the storylines from one 13-week arc to the next will be unrelated. Will Desire and Secret Obsessions carry any long-term vitality without that ability to depict the lives of characters on a daily basis over a number of years?

My Network TV seems to be banking on it.

June 9, 2006

What IS Television, Anyway?!?

Those party poopers at TiVo are trying to cause more problems for tradition-lovers. First, they had to mess with the idea of live programming, and now they're getting desperate enough to try and further blur the lines between what is Internet programming and what is television.

TiVo announced on Wednesday that they are launching the new TiVoCast. For the 400,000 TiVo boxes that have high-speed Internet, the boxes will allow them to watch Internet video on their television set.

But...wait....if this program can be viewed on the television set...what is television, anyway? Most people have moved past the antenna phase, so it's not broadcast. And services like TiVo and DVRs (and even that dreaded VCR of yesteryear) have already done all they could to obliterate the liveness and the scheduling power of television networks.

TiVo's feeling enough pressure from all the DVR services provided by cable companies and DVRs with hard drives that many people value over the TiVo service.

We had a class at MIT this past semester in which a few of my colleagues and I debated at length what television really is, anyway. If it's not defined by its broadcasting or its liveness or screen size, what makes television different than any other video material? Or does it really matter anymore?

Seeing that the announcement came on Wednesday, I'm sure that, by the time I've posted this, there's already a group of lawyers ready to issue a statement from someone about the latest lawsuit to try and stop TiVo. But, again...it's like trying to hold a tsunami back with toilet paper.

What do you all think?

Religion and Cyberspace and Echols Church

A book released last year, edited by scholars Morten T. Hojgaard and Margit Warburg, brings us a reminder that one form of popular movement that has and continues to innovate the way the Internet is being used are religious movements.

In Religion and Cyberspace, a collection of academic work on the impact the Internet has had on various religious movements focuses not on the particulars but the overall way that one of the deepest human values in all culture--faith--has expanded with new means of communication.

Few movements are more grassroots and more "fan"-driven than religious movements (if you consider the faithful "fans" of their deity). Last year at MIT, when we were instructed to conduct an in-depth interview with a media content producer, I called back to my hometown baptist church in Echols, Ky., and contacted the pastor there, Darrell Belcher.

While many people who don't follow the Christian movement closely (especially since most strictly Christian programs only appear in places like Trinity Broadcasting) don't realize how media-savvy religion can be, Darrell discussed with me the importance of an oratory performance and the art of preaching, which he believes is often lost on those who study the craft in a seminary instead of being born with that gift of reaching people. Further, Belcher talked with me at length about the transmedia experience of transferring his sermons to video and to radio, both of which he has done.

Darrell had never done any Internet-related projects but said that he saw it as yet another tool to reach people, another communication forum. And that's what attracted me to learn more about Hojsgaard and Warburg's book. According to reviewer John Shelton Lawrence, whose review in the latest Journal of American Culture is how I learned about the book, a distinction made in most scholarship about religion stems from a comment made by A. Karaflogka, who cites the difference between "'religion on cyberspace' (where a religion merely uploads its usual wares to a server) and 'religion in cyberspace' (where new forms of worship are mediated by computer networks and reside there exclusively)" (247).

Similarly, Darrell talked to me at length about what a disaster one would have if they were unable to adapt their sermon appropriately for the radio medium, yet try to recreate the atmosphere of a church meeting by learning how to address the home listener versus the live congregation.

Regardless of one's religious affiliation or lack of one, these distinctions are important for all transmedia content. As Darrell realizes with radio preaching and as scholars who distinguish between on and in cyberspace acknowledge, media content is just not that interesting if some degree of medium specificity isn't kept in mind. I mean, sure you can video tape a play and put it on screen or transport clips from a show and put it on the Internet, but it will be imagination and new concepts of content that will drive new media and transmedia opportunities. And that's one message the industry can learn from.

June 8, 2006

L. Brent Bozell Keeps Popping Back Up

I am an unwavering advocate for free speech, even if it's speech I don't agree with, but L. Brent Bozell's constant campaigns sure do make me want to pull my hair out. Now, he's taking credit for the current move to drastically increase indecency fines that's making it's way through Congress.

He has led such efforts as the Parents Television Council, a group who watches for material that offends its members' sensibilities in all broadcast programming. I first became acquainted with Mr. Bozell as a high school wrestling fan in the late 1990s when his group declared war on Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), calling sponsors and pressuring them to pull ads from WWE programming.

Eventually, Bozell began to claim an amazing success, but his "successes" included both advertisers who never had even advertised with WWE and even companies still running ads with the company. He was eventually forced to make a formal apology, after legal proceedings between the PTC and the WWE. Through the efforts of anti-PTC wrestling fan communities online, I became acquainted with the group's tactics. By the way, one of the greatest critiques of Bozell and his background is available in Foley is Good...and the Real World is Faker than Wrestling.

Only later did I realize that Bozell was the bane of many other fan communities as well. On the other hand, his grassroots marketing is amazing, and he's generated quite a fan community of his own. And he's helped create all sorts of unholy alliances among censors on all points of the political spectrum, so that's pretty impressive.

Somehow, he always pops back up as a pundit, quoted in stories about important policy debates, as was the case with Jim Abrams' AP story this week.

But, I guess in a world where the senate is spending our time and money debating how much to fine shows for offending some general idea of what is "public sensibility," it comes as no surprise that Bozell has this much cultural cache. But these censoring moves does nothing but inhibit creativity and make network executives much less likely to try out interesting material, especially if they have a potential $325,000 fine waiting for them instead of $32,500.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about trying to convince my local congressmen to find a way to start fining journalists every time they cite Bozell as a credible source. After all, your children are reading.

Participatory Culture and Bluegrass Music

When you are living in Western Kentucky, especially working in the media industry, few days go by without hearing something about bluegrass music, especially since the genre has received such a resurgence in popularity over the past few years, after the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? introduced the music to mainstream America with its outstanding soundtrack.

My home county is considered "the birthplace of bluegrass music," because the man often considered the genre's father, Bill Monroe, and many other founding voices for the style, were born in the small town of Rosine. At least once a month, public debate has popped up in our small town, as the Bill Monroe Foundation hopes to gain control of the county's budget to help increase the drive for tourism traffic through Monroe's home place. (The wars over bluegrass music are more than can be detailed here, but--so far this year--they've included a public battle and debate over a semi-sacred tree on the homeplace between the county government and the BMF director and a current battle over the trailer which houses the BMF director being located on someone's property who wants it removed.)

However, bluegrass music and our neighboring Muhlenberg County's thumbpicking movement provides a space where most of the historians and scholars studying the music also play the music. In the latest Journal of American Culture, Dan Cusic of Belmont University reviews both Neil Rosenberg's groundbreaking Bluegrass: A History, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, and Bob Black's Come Hither to Go Yonder: Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe. He writes that, "one of the unique things about bluegrass is that almost everyone associated with it as a scholar, promoter, business person, DJ, or any other way is also a picker" (231).

While bluegrass music may not be the first place most of us think to look for media analysis, this blurring of the producer/fan/analyst line shows how we might be able to rethink and better understand how to frame the relationship between producers and fans. For all of the fans who go down to the barn on Friday night here in Rosine for our bluegrass jamboree, it's pretty hard to distinguish amateur from professional, and the heart of the music seems to lie in the community more than individual performers (save Monroe, of course).

June 7, 2006

The Debate Over Network Neutrality

This week, the debate over network neutrality has taken the blogosphere by storm. And, of course, such debates are key for communication that takes place over the net in the first place, considering how important current congressional debates are to the way the Internet works.

The House will decide today whether to allow debate on the floor about abandoning the principle of network neutrality in favor of allowing access providers the chance to favor some sites over others. The rhetoric is strong on this side, led by phone companies, who argue that certain sites use up more bandwidth and that they currently have to treat all types of sites similarly, or neutral, which is an unfair burden on their ability to conduct business.

For those who haven't followed the debate closely, The Washington Post provides an illuminating piece entitled "The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet".

Some are making a deregulationist argument on grounds of true capitalism to support the phone companies, saying that companies should be allowed to get a piece of the action when it comes to providing access to one site over another.

For someone with a fairly strong libertarian bent, the argument would be appealing if it weren't so obvious how heavily this line of thinking encroaches on the content providers that drive the Internet. After all, the phone companies and cable companies that provide everyone internet access would not have much of a business if it weren't for iTunes and Google and the other forces that cause people to want to surf the net in the first place. Obviously, content providers have a lot to lose if bidding begins for access providers to begin giving more bandwidth to some sites to another, and consumer rights groups are lobbying Congress as well.

When something termed "deregulation" instead leads to barriers for a free market, we get into dangerous territory. Net neutrality, as it stands, has allowed a free market to flourish online and has fueled new industry giants and new forms of competition that are unparalleled. All of our debates about transmedia, the power of new providers like iTunes and Urge, and the move toward BitTorrent are all dependent on a neutral battling ground. And it's not like access providers are hurting at this point.

But where does this leave media giants like Time-Warner who are simultaneously involved in both distribution and content? I referenced Erick Schonfeld's recommendations for Time-Warner in a previous blog post. Schonfeld recommends that Time-Warner step into a role solely as content provider and out of a mindset of access provider or distributor, particularly in the AOL branch.

With the divide between Internet access providers and Internet content providers growing greater over this current "network neutrality debate," his words may be growing even more appropriate.

If the proposals make it to the House floor, a vote could come by the end of this week.

Is It The Tonight Show if You Watch It the Next Morning?

Network wars seem to be battled as often online as on television these days. Previous posts have outlined issues such as the expansion of news content online by NBC and ABC. However, now the deals for ways in which content can be accessed on iTunes are increasing experimentation.

Case in point: the new distribution deal for Jay Leno's Tonight Show, which airs on NBC. The network's staple late show was launched on iTunes in December with sample episodes lasting less than five minutes in length, according to Michele Greppi's article in TelevisionWeek. Now, Leno's complete monologue will be made available for download, as well as comedy bits from the show.

Each set of clips will cost the traditional $1.99, but a 20-monologue mutipass will cost $9.99.

Will avid Leno fans be willing to download episodes, or will fans choose to cash in on a multipass? And, if Leno is successful, maybe we'll see an online reprisal of the Letterman vs. Leno wars. Perhaps an even better question--how does the loss of timeliness affect the entire idea of a "late show?" In the end, is programming that suggests its temporality such as news or daily variety shows as easy to turn into paid downloadable content, stripped of its "airing time"? How will shows like The Tonight Show perform alongside more serial fare such as Lost or Desperate Housewives?

Fan-Generated Promotion for Snakes on a Plane

The newest craze in fan-created content circulating on YouTube goes even further the the pieces I've noted over the past several days, in that this involves a parody performance of Bono from U2 that makes the piece even more amazing.

The video editing that transforms this fairly accurate impersonation of Bono singing a tribute to actor Samuel L. Jackson makes what looks very much like a legitimate music video, aside from its obviously comedic aspect.

The video is entitled "Someone Tell Sam Jackson He's My Bro" and features tributes, both in lyric and in visual flashbacks, to Jackson's performances and particularly to his upcoming role in Snakes on a Plane.

Jackie Huba at the Church of the Customer blog calls the piece "citizen marketing." Indeed, with such ardent fan support, the producers should realize the powerful marketing opportunities that fans present at no cost. Sure, creator David Coyne has broken some substantial copyright laws with his parody performance of Bono because of all the images of Jackson in the background. However, the producers of Snakes on a Plane and Jackson himself should celebrate such marketing. Even though the piece is clearly parody, it also draws attention to and celebrates Jackson and the upcoming film.

More than almost any other film in recent memory, Snakes on a Plane has a lot of cult buzz behind it. The show's producers capitalized on this through the very title, adopting what became an underground title for the project as the film's public name as well. Further, check out the film's site, particularly the "Fan Site of the Week" option, to see how well the show has integrated the grassroots marketing of the fan community with official marketing.

How much profit will all this cult grassroots marketing have on the film? Time will tell, but the even harder question is how long we have to wait with a cult film to determine its success--will audiences turn out to see it in droves on theatrical release, will DVD sales be substantially higher, or will the film's potential cult status lead to its continued success in DVD sales for years to come?

Thanks to Siddiq Bello with Turner for bringing this piece of fan promotion to my attention.

June 6, 2006

ABC Dealt Two Advertising Blows

According to Jon Lafayette of TelevisionWeek, CBS is taking over the lead in advertising deals with significant increases, moving past main competitor ABC, with CBS ranging a 2 percent to 4 percent price increase.

This comes on the heels of Lafayette's story yesterday detailing ABC's decision to back off of counting DVR viewers in overall numbers for advertisers and instead concentrate only on live ratings. The network originally claimed it would only do deals that counted viewing on digital video recorders, but advertisers had strong concerns that those recording on DVRs would be very unlikely to watch commercial breaks.

ABC's statement issued about rescinding the demand for inclusion of DVR numbers included the following comment: "While the majority of the advertising community has reached a consensus on the Nielsen DVR ratings issue, and has concluded that that commercials seen during a DVR-recorded programming have no value, the ABC Television Network continues to believe strongly in the worth of the 'Live Plus' viewer, and will continue its efforts to include this audience." Lafayette's story today indicated his belief that this drive for DVR inclusion is what caused ABC to drop from its perch, while every other network continued conducting business based only on live viewers.

What amazes me about the whole discussion is how vehemently everyone is holding to the traditional 30-second spot, when more and more people are moving to DVRs. It may not be that shocking to see the crowd around a "technology" school like MIT raving about DVRs, but more and more of them are cropping up around Kentucky, where I'm staying this summer.

I'll be interested in seeing how long people will hold to the non-DVR numbers. Hopefully, we won't get to the point where the nation's ad rate will be determined by a few households somewhere in the hills of North Dakota.

In the meantime, ABC's failed system doesn't seem to address the problem. Skeptics were right in that people are likely not watching commercials on their DVR. It's instead an indication that we need to have a major reconceptualization of how the industry obtains its profits, maybe even something along the lines of Erick Schonfeld's recommendations for Time-Warner.

As Schonfeld says, media companies are "groping for ways to fix their businesses before all content goes digital and their financial assumptions go out the window." Maybe Schonfeld's recommendations--such as an emphasis on content and fans instead of distribution and products--are a propos for the major networks as well.

Meanwhile, most of the experimentation continues to happen in the cable industry, such as WE's decision to let John Frieda's Luminous Color Glaze and the film The Devil Wears Prada to sponsor its hit show Bridezillas. Moving to these types of arrangements seem to cause fewer problems in the long-run than all the continued haggling to hang on to the vestiges of the 30-second spot.

June 5, 2006

Slater Just Can't Quit The Preppie: A Brokeback Spoof on Saved by the Bell

After blogging about The Skeletor Show and 10 Things I Hate About Commandments over the past couple of weeks, my cousin and future doctor Steven Ford directed me toward another YouTube phenomenon--the Brokeback Mountain style parody of the relationship between characters Zach Morris and A.C. Slater on that teen situation comedy my generation grew up captivated by, Saved by the Bell.

Apparently, this fan, in true slash fiction fashion, searched out the many scenes of mutual admiration between Slater and Zach in the show's archives and edited together this video, "Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style," as a tribute to their love, set to the great soundtrack from the award-winning cowboy gay love story. The show, marketed on DVD as nostalgia for those that remembered it fondly but largely unwatchable for anyone who didn't grow up watching it, is considered a marker of childhood for the generation that watched it on a regular basis.

For those who remember the show and the two masculine leads, the tribute video works almost as well as Kirk/Spock slash fiction--(such as the "Perhaps" video tribute to their love aboard the Starship Enterprise). And, considering the constant focus on Slater's body in the show and the rather cheesy dialogue, I believe there was probably a wealth of material that can seem pretty homoerotic once it's strung together.

The tribute is yet another illustration of the degree to which fans have gained the tools necessary to create fairly complex and well-edited videos using texts from the show's archives. In this case, this fan has created, in particular, an alternative reading of the show, so to speak, that largely only has appeal to other fans who will understand the various scenes depicted. In other words, these videos invite fellow fans to deconstruct the editing process.

Of course, in my mind, nothing will top the classic fan-reworked movie trailer for The Shining. If you have never checked it out, it remains a must-see.

Is the Sci Fi Brand Extreme? Wrestling Joins the Network

World Wrestling Entertainment is re-launching the cult favorite wrestling brand Extreme Championship Wrestling, a former competitor-of-sorts whose assets the WWE purchased after it went out of business in 2001, on the Sci Fi Network next week.

After a nostalgia DVD about ECW exceeded expectations and a reunion pay-per-view sold really well, the company has seen the profitability in bringing this brand back. In fact, the company's demise actually seems to have played into its mythic status, as the WWE content about ECW sold far more than ECW ever did. After all, low ratings on TNN was one of the contributing factors to the original demise of the company.

It remains to be seen how fans will react to this re-launching and if they will buy WWE's version of ECW as a valid descendant of the original. WWE has assigned the former owner of ECW, Paul Heyman, to oversee this incarnation, which may buy the project quite a bit of credibility with fans. One thing's for sure--the company has gained a surge in stock price after adding ECW to its already successful RAW brand on USA and Smackdown brand on what will soon be the CW Network.

However, one major question that fans have--how will ECW fit in with the Sci Fi Network? It was assigned there because WWE is only allowed to air its products on NBC-affiliated networks, and Sci Fi was the only network significantly interested. However, many Sci Fi fans are, shall we say, skeptical as to whether a pro wrestling show can really fit in with the mantra of the network, since wrestling ostensibly has only loose connections at best with science fiction (and The Undertaker won't even be in ECW!) But Sci Fi President Bonnie Hammer has worked with WWE in the past and feels confident that ECW will fit in well with Sci Fi.

The ECW weekly show will debut on Tuesday, June 13. Dave Meltzer reports that some rumors have circulated that the network may require ECW to have a science fiction storyline at any given time, a move that would likely anger hardcore ECW fans while doing nothing to appease the Sci Fi fans, since it would obviously not be a natural part of the wrestling product. However, Meltzer has found that the only current plans are to include a group of wrestlers that are vampirish, something that actually has a history in the WWE with The Brood.

USA Network will air a special on Wednesday night related to ECW, and the next reunion PPV is next Sunday, all leading up to the program's debut the following Tuesday. WWE has already moved one of its bigger RAW stars, Rob Van Dam, and arguably the greatest wrestler on Smackdown, Kurt Angle, to ECW full-time, in an attempt to bring a significant number of new fans to the ECW brand. But what will be the repercussions of airing the program on the Sci Fi Network? Will their be a backlash among hardcore Sci-Fi fans to the wrestling programming? How will hardcore ECW fans react to the reincarnation? And can ECW attract new fans on a full-time basis?

Since WWE only had the Sci Fi Network to choose from, it seems worth the risk to explore the selling power of the ECW name and to use the brand to create new stars and another alternative brand to its RAW and Smackdown shows. If the brand remains viable, it will be great for the wrestling business, with three WWE full rosters in addition to the TNA wrestling promotion airing on Spike TV and owned by Panda Energy.

But will it be successful? We'll begin to find out next week.

June 2, 2006

Study Released on Television Viewing Among Infants, Young Children

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61 percent of infants watch an hour of "screen media," primarily television, a day, while 90 percent of children 4-6 watch an average of about two hours of television.

The results of this study highlights recent developments in the television industry, such as the creation of BabyFirst TV, the first television network for infants, coming off the popularity of the Baby Einstein products.

My cousin and his wife regularly babysit for their friends and claim that Baby Einstein is intellectual crack for babies, as it almost always captivates the child. This phenomenon is undeniable. However, camps are divided about what that means. On the one hand, there are media effects theorists who cringe at the very thought of infants being subjected to the evil dumbing down of America and exposed to commercialism at such a young age. For instance, I have a couple in my extended family, both of whom are doctors, who will not allow their child near a television for her first few years of intellectual development.

Then, there's our director Henry Jenkins, once quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying that not allowing children to watch television is a form of child abuse. (The comment was meant a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but that context was lost in the quotation.) But the theme is essentially close to how I feel. Media literacy is important, and television that appeals to the learning patterns of infants is not harmful and potentially very helpful in the conceptual process, since we live in such a media-saturated environment. Learning how to understand and cope with that media is important, and media has truly become the way we communicate as a culture. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are moving television intiatives into even an infant market.

Any thoughts?

June 1, 2006

Bringing in New Audiences

A recent thread on the Dreamcaps Forums website is following the Luke Snyder gay coming out storyline from As the World Turns.

While the thread was started and maintained by a few ATWT fans who are also members of the gay community, following the message board's reaction to the show over several weeks shows how the storyline was able to draw non-fans in. Some of them mention that they don't watch the whole show but only the Luke scenes, but they are beginning to get familiar with much of the cast, as Luke interacts with 10 or so other characters on a regular basis.

The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well. First of all, members of the online gay community may have never become aware of the ATWT storyline if they were not already fans of the show without the active posting of some fans of the show. Further, their continued updated discussions of the show, made friendly for newcomers, has brought several regular posters on the Dreamcaps site to become regular viewers of ATWT as well.

The discussion about the Luke storyline starts morphing into a dicussion of the distinctive elements of the soap opera genre and its emphasis on dialogue and slow-moving action paced out over several days with multiple storylines juggled simultaneously. Posters begin encourgaging each other to not just watch the Luke storyline but also check out other current stories as well. And the thread has now gone to 17 pages over the past few months as people continuously follow ATWT.

A great example of the power of the fan community, particularly when a show taps into a niche "surplus" audience that is not its primary demographic, which is women 18-49.

As I mentioned in post back in February, the Luke Snyder character also has his own blog, as the show attempts to extend into multiple storytelling platforms.

Thanks to Alex Chisholm with Interpublic for passing this along.

The Ten Commandments: A Teenage Love Story?!?

After posting about The Skeletor Show last week, here comes the latest example of a YouTube-distributed piece of fan-generated content.

Geoffrey Long, a co-conspirator here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, brought to my attention this movie trailer spoof of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

The piece, called 10 Things I Hate About Commandments, is a trailer for a teen drama featuring Moses and Ramses fighting over the same girl. While a parody of sorts for both the older film and the teen drama form, as well as a parody of movie trailers in general, the piece is more a celebration and send-up spoof than a biting critique and is an example of the ways that fan-generated content can bring new excitement to long-existing pieces of work. When I first watched the trailer early this morning, the trailer already had over 600,000 views. While some Christians may be offended by Samuel L. Jackson's language in his version of The Burning Bush, I don't read this as a criticism of the original film or the biblical story, save its the camp value of some of the acting and costuming.

More than anything else, though, this trailer demonstrates the tremendous power of fans to generate "poached" content in ways that look as professional as a real movie trailer, for the most part. The use of quotes from the actual Ten Commandments shows the time and energy put into conceiving, piecing together, and executing a trailer like this. I can't help but be continually amazed at the expertise and dedication of fans.

And the DVR Battle Rages On...

As you all have probably heard by now, half of the big studios and networks are suing Cablevision for their DVR service, due to copyright issues. The disagreement here relates to how the service that Cablevision offers is defined. By Cablevision's definition, the company is offering a DVR service, with the only difference being that, instead of allowing customers to record shows onto a digital hard drive or a disc, it is stored on secure customer space within Cablevision.

All the companies who file the suit say that this is not DVR but instead video-on-demand because the "recorded" material remains in the hands of the company instead of recorded directly by the consumer. They claim that such movements will cause damage to all the new and innovative services that they are offering, such as mobisodes, iTunes downloads, web streaming, video on-demand, etc.

To me, though, this just seems like displaying insecurity with their own technology. If they are confident that viewers want web streaming or mobisodes or any of these other products, then Cablevision's technology won't be a major factor. True innovation won't be protected by stifling the innovation of others. Of course, I may not be grasping the whole story here, but it seems like yet another prohibitionist move motivated by scared companies who are worried about giving up too much control.

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