August 31, 2006

Original Star Trek in HD

Earlier today, I posted about the drive to release content from the film archives on high-definition DVD. However, most of my recent focus on HD has been on the development of high-definition content for broadcast television. A few days ago, I linked to a chart that outlined how much primetime content the six broadcast networks are offering in high-definition.

But, one should remember that the transition to hi-def. is not only taking place in content for the future, although it will be best exploited in content produced specifically for HD. There is also a drive to remaster content from the archive to make it high-definition friendly.

Enter the new editions of the original Star Trek series. The cult classic, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as the incomparable Capt. Kirk and Spock (Mister, not Doctor, as Steve so astutely pointed out), is going to receive dramatic alteration, with the 40-year-old content being re-released in syndication.

The new epsodes will feature new music and special effects, including the move to high-definition format.

The plan is to make all of the 79 episodes from the original series available in syndication on stations across the country. Initially, the episodes chosen to be remastered are listed as "fan favorites."

For everyone collecting television on DVD, will there soon be a new round of almost everything, digitally remastered? But what good would a digitally remastered Honeymooners or I Love Lucy be, aesthetically speaking? Maybe, with shows that rely fairly heavily on the visual, and especially with special effects, high-definition remastering seems to make sense.

The question is what would make viewers who already own a television series willing to purchase it again and in what shows it would be worth investing that much new capital.

It will be interesting to see if other television series are going to follow Star Trek in this remastering process--and particularly how soon this process begins to become more prevalent.

20th Century Fox to Release Films in Blu-ray

Several recent posts have been dedicated to the drive to move television to high-definition quality. What we haven't focused on that much is the current competition to put new release and classic films out in high-definition format as well.

Currently, there are two competing formats in the high-definition DVD market--the Blu-ray Disc format and the HD format, both of which use high-definition technology. As with the large number of competing models for online digital distribution, there is a current war between these competing models, with one likely to become the industry standard at some point in the future.

This isn't new in television, and especially not for technology in general. In television's earliest days, when the drive was to make the picture color instead of black-and-white, companies presented various forms of colorization. The color format that eventually won out was the one that could work with the same technology used for the black-and-white format, with thought of keeping cost minimized for the user most prevalent.

In this case, high-definition is a completely new technology, and many people are not wanting to jump into either format at this point, in fear that they will amass an impressive video archive, only for it to become as obsolete as the laser disc.

With that background in mind, the biggest news this week in the world of high-definition film distribution is that 20th Century Fox has signed a deal to release several of its upcoming films on Blu-ra, starting in November.

Among the titles planned for the initial release on Nov. 14 are recent films like The Omen: 666 and various films from the archive, including Speed from the mid-1990s and films released in the last couple of years, such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Fantastic Four.

The next week features the first time a Blu-ray title will be released the same day as the standard DVD format, as the new animated feature Ice Age: The Meltdown, will be released on both formats simultaneously on Nov. 21.

Planned for the end of the month and the beginning of December are 1990s masterpiece The Usual Suspects and the cultural classic Rocky.

August 30, 2006

Lycos Partners with Blinkx for Video Searching

With video content becoming more prevalent and searched for, particularly with the continued penetration of broadband Internet access, search engines are in the process of trying to best facilitate video searching.

Yahoo has been a primary video search site, along with AltaVista and others. However, Google has been making major in-roads in providing video search services. Now, Lycos is trying to play catchup, utilizing Blinkx technology in the video search capabilities of the site.

According to the company's official announcement, they will be sharing all profit the video search generates with Blinkx as well. With the continued growth in importance of YouTube and other video sharing sites, the importance of providing compelling and easy search results rests increasingly on access to video content as well.

Again, it's important to realize how quickly technology is changing the way people use the Internet. When you had dial-up (and remember there are still plenty of people who can't have easy access to anything else), video downloads were really not a viable option, unless it was something you really want to see.

Now people are watching and sharing video clips, purchasing whole television shows and films online for download, and getting video hits galore (almost surely driven by the innovation and massive abundance of pornography video clips available online). But, even if porn is the innovator, it has led to the prevalence of video podcasts and even Web-only television shows and user-generated content at a continually increasing rate.

The drive to video is redefining what people want to see online, and everyone--from search engines to service providers--are trying to figure out what to do to accomodate it/profit from it. And, as broadband becomes even more prevalent over the next decade, these shifts are going to become even more pronounced.

The announcement by Lycos and Blinkx may be only a small symptom of this great change, but it's indicative of the changes that are empowering multi-platform distribution and a drive for the current convegence culture we are entering into.

Strange Alliance Potentially Affecting Online Video Distribution

Some potentially big news for the digital video platfrom was announced this week, especially for those interested in the increasing number of companies interested in jumping aboard the profitable distribution form after Apple has had considerable success with distributing video through its iTunes service.

As we've written about continually for the past couple of months, the number of companies launching into the digital video space is astounding. From Amazon to AOL Video to 20th Century Fox, as well as MSN Video and YouTube's video capabilities, the market is proving able to sustain several business models at this point, with some rolling out ad-supported content, while others are offering pay-for-download services. Some services--like CBS' innertube and TNT's DramaVision--are providing content for particular networks.

Google has been another major name in the video distribution competition, and the well-known Internet company is poised to have pervasive reach in creating new and innovative ways to distribute and market video content.

But this week's news is that Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt will be the newest member on Apple's Board of Directors, making an interesting link between two of the biggest companies in the online video distribution competition.

Does this really amount to anything substantial, as far as altering the race to downloading? Not at this point, but the link between Apple and Google could make for an interesting atmosphere as competition heats up when all these services are up and running full-force.

August 29, 2006

WWE 24/7 On Demand

While I've alluded to this product before, I want to examine the WWE 24/7 On Demand feature in a little bit more detail, since it alludes to another important aspect of Long Tail programming and the ability of convergence culture to supply niche products to various audiences.

Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment is the largest pro wrestling operation in the country these days. Vince was known in his youth for expanding his New York-based territory nationally and competing with various other promoters in their own regional spaces to create one wrestling company that toured from coast to coast, rather than there being a territory based in Memphis, another in Nashville, another in St. Louis, another in Indiana, another in Minneapolis/St. Paul, etc.

Now, however, since Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling has gone out of business, there are no immediate serious challenges to WWE's rule over the wrestling industry, with the TNA wrestling program that airs on Spike TV being considered a clear second company behind WWE's three major brands: RAW, Smackdown, and ECW.

At this point, Vince has remembered pro wrestling's history, a history the company often used to strategically ignore unless it was their own because they were in the process of building a WWE mythology, one that made its characters and its history seem larger than those of other companies.

When the WWE became the only big company left, however, they began to realize and utilize other wrestling histories. Vince had inherited the WCW/NWA tape library from Ted Turner when he purchased WCW in 2001. And, when ECW folded, he purchased not only the rights to its names but also its archive.

Continue reading "WWE 24/7 On Demand" »

Fan Activism in a Networked Culture: The Case of Stargate SG-1

This is a piece that I originally posted on my blog that I thought would be interesting to the C3 readers as well:

Last week, on the eve of its 200th episode, the Sci-Fi Channel announced that it would not be renewing Stargate SG-1, ending a run that extended across 10 seasons. The series began on Showtime, where it was canceled after five seasons, and then, as the result of fan activism, got picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel, where it ran another five season and spawned a successful sequel, Stargate: Atlantis.

One might imagine that the series was dying a natural death after a run which is far longer than the vast majority of series -- science fiction or otherwise -- in the history of American television or that the network and creative artists are performing a "mercy killing" of a series that might be well past its prime but as far as its most hardcore fans are concerned, the series is "not dead yet." They are seeking to rally the troops one more time and their efforts to do so demonstrate the potentials for audience activism within networked culture.

Continue reading "Fan Activism in a Networked Culture: The Case of Stargate SG-1" »

Roulette Games on Japanese ATMs

I don't know if this is an example of convergence culture per say, but this story that popped on Reuters really caught my eye, and I couldn't help but relay it to the way that media and entertainment creeps into the strangest places, this time games.

According to the story, there is a Japanese bank hoping to attract customers to ATM machines using a gimmick I've never heard of before: allowing a post-transaction chance at roulette.

The automatic teller machines for Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank will allow customers one spin of the roulette wheel after finishing their banking business, with the chance to win 1,000 yen, which is equivalent to $8.50, according to the Reuters story.

I wasn't aware of this, but the story claims that ATMs have not caught on well in Japan because of poor service from most banks, so the game is a hope to attract current customers to use the ATM machine, with the incentive being a slight chance of winning a little extra money for their transaction.

The new initiative, however, isn't the first, as the company launched an on-screen slot machine game on its ATMs a year ago.

I don't know if this particular form of gaming, as limited and arbitrary as it is, will gain a lot of insight, but it is proof that sometimes media pops up in places you would never expect (and gambling is probably one of the most pervasive media forms of all).

August 28, 2006

FOX Sports Developing New 3D Technology?

According to a story that originated in the New York Post recently, the Fox Sports Channel is returning to examining a long-researched television format: three-dimensional TV. While the drive to high-definition continues, as I wrote about on Saturday, this cable network is, according to the story, in the process of developing a 3-D technology that does not require viewers to wear the goofy-looking glasses that I had to wear when my wife and I went to see Spy Kids 3D in the theaters a few years ago. (Yes, we were college kids watching a movie with a bunch of 9-year-olds, and I still contest that the moment in which George Clooney morphed into Sylvester Stallone is one of the scariest moments in cinematic history).

The chairman of the company was quoted as saying that it will happen "in the next 10 years" and that it will "be as big as color."

James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek reports on various other 3-D developments, particularly in the video game industry and with cellular phone screens, that make such technology discussions more possible, and he points out the South Korean government's drive for "3-D Vision 2010," to develop 3-D as a worldwide standard by 2010.

FOX Sports feels that 3-D will be especially valuable to sports broadcasts, and I would agree that the 3-D format could transform the way the game is displayed and understood. But, considering how little we really understand 3-D since we've never seen great examples of it other than things you have to wear the glasses for, it's hard to know what this might mean.

Does this mean that all the research into HD will eventually be for naught, if 3-D presentation eventually becomes the norm? These are the types of questions William Uricchio, one of the directors of our programs here at CMS, likes to mull over. FOX Sports claims that it's not being nearly as aggressive in HD research because its 3-D research will supersede that. We'll find out soon enough, I guess.

August 27, 2006

Online Content for Emmy Awards

I'm in the process of relocating, so I watched the Emmys in quite a hurry tonight. Nevertheless, I found the show to be fairly compelling for an awards show, especially an awards show that actually ended on time (I guess putting Bob Newhart's life on the line really did work wonders. By the way, he still has the best comedic facial expressions I've ever seen).

However, compelling content was not just made available on the awards show itself, as the Emmy Awards joined the transmedia process by featuring companion content on the Web site tonight, coinciding with the rest of the show.

NBC's Web site provided real-time interactive features on its site, including polls and television trivia questions. Since the show was so rushed on television, the online content also was able to show more backstage interviews and the kinds of features that could not be crammed on the three-hour television event.

Polls were only mentioned one time on the actual awards show, when Bob Newhart was told that 52 percent of the voters wanted him to live. Newhart was not as much dismayed by all the people who wanted him not to survive but by the 6 percent of voters who signed on to say they had no opinion either way.

I'm assuming those numbers were fabricated, if a poll existed about Newhart's plight at all. Because I was packing, I didn't get a chance to catch any of the transmedia content.

The online content was funded through sponsorship from Target.

Nevertheless, the 58th version of the Emmy Awards may have been proof that a transmedia approach to an awards program may help alleviate any future concerns about going overtime, especially if they could go the WWE Unlimited route and have some of the minor transitory events happen during commercial breaks, to be streamed online. Tandberg Television's interactive content this time around displayed a glimpse of the transmedia promise for these types of special events that are somewhat rooted in temporality.

Tandberg may have only scratched the surface at this point, but they did include the video feeds from behind-the-scenes online. The online site also featured a chance to both predict winners and rate both the fashion of Emmy attendees and presenters and the acceptance speeches.

But I think this is a great example of how transmedia approaches can further benefit special events programming in a way that makes it more compelling to watch while it is happening and to encourage viewers to immerse themselves in the experience by using the online content simultaneously.

August 26, 2006

Percentage of Fall Lineups in HD

For those (rather large class) of lead users who have already invested in high-definition television, TelevisionWeek has provided a useful chart that examines the degree to which each of the six broadcast networks have invested in HD technology for the upcoming fall lineup.

The chart provided is well worth a look, breaking down how many primetime hours will be airing in high-definition and what percentage of hours it is for the network. Percentage-wise, the lead is MyNetworkTV. As we've written before, the network's 12 hours of original programming a week (comprised of two telenovela series that air nightly) will all air in high-definition, making it a clear lead with 100 percent HD programming. And, since the network has no daytime programming, it is clearly in the lead compared to other stations.

Of the remaining networks, CBS and NBC are tied for the most hours of HD programming, with both networks offering 18 of their 22 hours of primetime programming in high definition. ABC, which also offers 22 hours of primetime programming, has 16 hours in high-definition.

In fifth place is the CW Network, which is only now in the process of transferring to high-definition. According to the chart, 8 of its 13 primetime hours will be in high-definition. Finally, FOX will be making 8.5 of its 15 hours of primetime programming available in high definition, a number that was brought down significantly because of the network's primetime animation offerings on Sunday night that will be airing in standard definition.

August 25, 2006

Snakes on a Plane a Disappointment How?

I am still a little confused by the reaction to Snakes on a Plane's $15 million opening weekend box office. Our director, Henry Jenkins, says that he's eating crow becuase of his inflated projections for the film's financial possibilities, but how is a $15 million profit for opening weekend a disappointment for a film that reportedly cost $35 million to make?

I just don't get it. Samuel L. Jackson's film earlier this year Freedomland had a $5.8 million opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, and that was a movie starring a comparable big-name talent in Julianne Moore. What's more, Freedomland's total domestic gross by this fall is $12.5 million, with only a $14.6 million overall worldwide performance. That means that the entire worldwide life of that film didn't match Snakes on a Plane's opening weekend.

The problem is that people fell prey to their own hyperbole and expected a campy B-movie to become a blockbuster, which I don't think it was ever designed to be. At HorsePigCow, Miss Rogue posted some of the major blockbuster opening weekends to discuss the perception of the Snakes falilure. Films like World Trade Center grossed higher, but their budgets were likely far bigger, and films like Talladega Nights, which grossed $47 million in its opening weekend, are much like likely to become long-term cult classics.

Continue reading "Snakes on a Plane a Disappointment How?" »

Fake Press Release Fuels Sci Fi/Wrestling Fan Clash

The war with Sci Fi Channel fans conflicting with wrestling fans continue, this time with a fake press release making it on PR Web before being taken down.

According to Joel Keller over at TV Squad, the press release, which has already been removed from PR Web, stated that Sci Fi Channel, in keeping with the immense success of the ECW pro wrestling programming thath as been airing on it, will be changing its name to SurgeTV, to distance itself from the science fiction genre.

Keller guesses that it might be an angry sci fi fan who is looking to lash out against the wrestling takeover of Tuesday nights (ECW airs in the 10 p.m. until 11 p.m. timeslot on the Sci Fi Channel. Conversely, pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer indicates it could be the reverse, a wrestling fan looking to anger the sci fi fans who have been less than accomodating about the new programming on the network.

Continue reading "Fake Press Release Fuels Sci Fi/Wrestling Fan Clash" »

Friends Talking with Martha Rogers

Joel Greenberg, a senior planner for our corporate partner GSD&M, the Austin-based advertising agency, has a fascinating podcast series for those who have not been following it, focusing specifically on what it calls "the intersection of business, culture, and society."

The Friends Talking podcast features in-depth sit-down interviews with a variety of folks whose ideas have been vital for the understanding of today's convergence culture, including an interview last October with Chris Anderson, the Wired editor who conceived the Long Tail theory.

The latest interview is with Dr. Martha Rogers, who co-created the concept of 1to1 marketing. In the preview, Greenberg discusses how personalized marketing has not been able to make as much headway as it should becuase it doesn't figure well into traditional ideas of return on Investment. However, Rogers' notions toss ROI's to the side in favor of Return on Consumer, with the idea that long-term and more deep investments with consumers result in more than initial ROI.

The question is the same that programmers are facing, when we discuss whether overall impressions have been given too much weight over the years, compared to depth of interaction. There are plenty of studies and ways of demonstrating that more dedicated viewers/listeners/readers are much more valuable than a horde of casuals. A lot of companies are finding that dedicated fans who will follow a media property across multiple platforms are more valuable than just catching more people flipping through channels.

But how can these new types of marketing be justified in changing business strategies? This is what the conversation with Rogers focuses on, as she discusses how 1 to 1 marketing will alter business strategies and make advertising efforts more focused on consumers. In particular, she discusses the ways in which MySpace provides a valuable case study for marketers.

The conversation also focuses on Rogers' new book, Return on Consumer: Creating Maximum Value from Your Scarcest Resource.

For those interested in such questions, be sure to check out the conversation, which is just under 30 minutes.

August 24, 2006

Getting Lost

I posted this today on my blog but thought I would cross-post it here as well, considering the entries Jason Mittell has made on the C3 board regarding Lost.

I've been sitting out the conversation that Jason Mittell, Jane McGonigal, and Ian Bogost have been having about Lost, Twin Peaks, serial fiction, and puzzles until now. I have had limited time to write new content the past week or so.

One of the thing that interests me about this conversation is that it suggests what ludologists and narrativists can learn from each other if they actually talked amongst themselves. I am finding myself pulled back and forth as I read this discussion in part because both groups have valid points and a lot rests on how one reads the series. I m learning so much by looking at television through the eyes of game designers like Jane and Ian.

Puzzles or Enigmas?

Lost is a series that works on multiple levels:
1) There are indeed puzzles (defective ones, perhaps, but ones that seem engaging to an awful lot of folks who watch the series): what's inside the hatch, what's the status of the Island (social experiment, purgatory, what have you), what can we learn from deciphering the map, what do those numbers mean, etc.

2) There is all of the well-constructed backstory -- with each character allowing us a point of entry into a slightly different genre and into a different world.

3) there is the unfolding life of the castaways and the world they are building for themselves on the island -- all of the interpersonal politics, the stories of redemption or corruption, the issue of how they are going to deal with the Others, etc.

Lost is very very good at pitting these different pleasures and interests against another, with some new information added at each level in any given episode and the satisfaction of one level of interest being used to defer resolution on another level. Lost is a very well constructed serial fiction in that regard. Some of these pleasures are game-like in their dependence on puzzles, mazes, and ciphers; others are narrative in their dependence on enigmas.

The combination of puzzles and enigmas seems especially effective at motivating fan engagement and participation. This accounts for how Lost can work, in my book's terms, both as a textual attractor (drawing together a community that shares a common interest) and a textual activator (feeding that community something to do, some information to process, some knowledge to gather).

Continue reading "Getting Lost" »

AOL Video Adds Significant New Content to Service

AOL Video is continuing to bolster its distribution efforts, as the company becomes increasingly competitive with other major digital video distributors. With Amazon's video service set to debut before the end of the month, FOX entering the competition, MSN Video offering interesting content, Google Video gaining some steam with its deal with MTV Networks, iTunes' continued powerful reach, and network-specific distribution channels--like CBS' innertube and TNT DramaVision, the market is becoming crowded.

It's like the European imperialist race to establish the "New World," as each distribution company is looking to corner as much of the market as possible. We've written previously about AOL IN2TV's launch of a significant amount of Hispanic content, as well as the new PGP Classic Soaps Channel on AOL Video. Now, a deal has been struck with several major content providers for AOL, including Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and 20th Century FOX.

The deal includes old situaton comedies and dramas that will be distributed free with commercials embedded, as well as programs to be downloaded-for-pay, such as FOX action series Prison Break and 24.

The move makes AOL an increasingly viable competitor, as they are experimenting with simultaneous ad-supported and pay-per-download services. As AOL eases more and more from its service provider role into this content provider role, its video platform could be a vital piece in the company's sustained brand identity over the next decade, and they continue to strike major deals to gain sigificant content for the site's video distribution.

CBS innertube Expanding Content

CBS's innertube service is gaining some steam, after an announcement of several series that will be debuting their first four episodes of the season on the online video streaming platform. According to the new deals, each of these epsides will be available for a week following their broadcast on television, meaning that viewers will have the chance to watch it on innertube if they missed the show during the week before the next episode airs.

The deal is with 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Television, focusing on shows they are airing in the fall lineup on CBS. 20th Century Fox will be making the first four episodes of returning situation comedy How I Met Your Mother, returning drama The Unit and new law drama Shark available through innertube. Warner Brothers will be putting returning situation comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine up for streaming, as well as new comedy The Class and action series Smith.

Survivor and the new series Jericho will be making every episode available throug innertube after initial season, leaving these episodes up throughout the season, so that viewers can catch up on what they missed and still get involved with current episodes airing on CBS mid-season.

Several CBS series are already going to be made available, in this case with every episode throughout the season being available for four weeks after their initial CBS broadcast. All of the crime investigation shows--CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, NCIS, and Numb3rs--have this distribution deal.

The move will be used as a marketing maneuver, and all will be streamed for free as part of a promotion for each show to gain and retain viewers.

I've also written about CBS' digital distribution of the online reality show InTurn, which focuses on actors vying for the chance for a role on daytime soap opera As the World Turns.

These deals are further proof that many networks are working on solidifying their own broadband distribution platforms, as with the TNT DramaVision initiative I wrote about recently.

August 23, 2006

Comics and Convergence Part II

This entry continues the series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Again, the primary focus is on comics. Here, the focus is on the ways comics content is moving into film and television as well as the ways that television and film content increasingly is moving into comics. I originally posted this on my blog. This is a follow-up to my first post on comics and convergence.

Paul Levitz, President of DC Comics, characterizes comics as having a "permeable membrane" to the other sectors of the entertainment industry. It is easy for comics's highly visual content to be translated into film or television series. Because the pay is low, comics represent a recruiting ground for new talent which, in turn, get absorbed into other media industries. Increasingly, comics are a playground where writers successful in other media - such as Kevin Smith in film or J. Michael Straczynski and Joss Whedon in television - can do creative work that would be harder to be funded in those other media.

From the beginning, comics content has moved into other media sectors. In the 1910s and 1920s, the popularity of Buster Brown, one early comic strip character, spilled over from the daily newspaper into live action films, stage shows, popular songs, toys, and advertising. Today, if Buster Brown is known at all, it is through the shoe company which still bears his name and image.

Similarly, within five years after the initial introduction of Superman, the character could be found in movie serials, animated shorts, and radio dramas, and subsequently, on television, stage shows, and computer games. This flow of comics content into other media is in many ways a prototype for our contemporary franchise system of media production.

Over the past few years, comics content has been increasingly in demand. Many recent comic-themed movies, including Spider-Man and X-Men, have become box office successes, and comics content has also influenced production in independent cinema (Ghost World, Road to Perdition, American Splendor, Sin City).

Continue reading "Comics and Convergence Part II" »

TV Guide on Mobile Services

The newest in mobile media content may provide long-time television sidekick TV Guide with a renewed purpose. TV Guide may have felt like Woody of 4INFO, a search service for the mobile platforms, to provide viewers with the chance to search their local channel guide using their cell phone. According to early publicity about the service, the relatively simple technology will allow the service to be accessible through almost all cell phones.

While TV Guide may struggle against Internet and digital cable/satellite capabilities, expanding into the mobile arena gives the brand a chance to master new terrain, where it can become a trusted name in providing program times for television stations.

Could there come a day when the TV Guide brand becomes one no longer associated with the physical magazine? The company is certainly preparing itself for that day and is proving that providing data on multiple media platforms can often help insure that a company stays relevant in a constantly shifting media environment.

August 22, 2006

Paris Hilton on YouTube--New Advertising Concepts

YouTube is continuing its innovative output in both providing interesting video content on the Web while also experimenting with interesting new partnerships and advertising formats. The newest is the idea of placing video spots on the site that are marked as paid advertising while providing some of the same participatory content of other YouTube video content.

The first example was the Paris Hilton advertisements posted on the site. A video pormoting the new album, entitled Paris, was featured on the site beginning today, complementing the album's release. The video clip will be sponsored by FOX's Prison Break, featuring an original introduction from Hilton and one of the album's songs.

The video is part of a new advertising partnership between FOX, Warner Brothers Records, and the Weinstein Company film studio concerning YouTube content. And, according to YouTube management, the intiative is the first of many new forms of advertising the site plans to experiment with, trying to find new profit sources that remains true to YouTube's participatory nature.

According to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, the almost 4,000 fans who had rated the video at this point gave it a "nothing special" vote, two stars out of five possible. Does such participatory ads work against a company? Not if the product is good. And, in Hilton's case, the producers may have just wanted to prove the album was passable, since the main objective is to sell it based on her celebrity.

My wife, for reasons I've not yet to figure out, has followed Hilton's career closely and has already purchased the album, so my prediction is that, in this case, the two-star rating won't serve to discourage any potential buyers and is probably about two stars more than the anti-Hiltons would expect. In this case, "nothing special" may be a good promotion for the album and is certainly an innovative attempt at online advertising by YouTube and the other parties involved.

August 21, 2006

Convergence Culture and Politics

New Republic Senior Editor Ryan Lizza had an interesting piece in yesterday's New York Times about the impact video sharing site YouTube is having on primary elections and this November's general election as well.

One of the most publicized senatorial races in recent memory, especially a primary race, was the recent Connecticut Democrat primary in which political newcomer Ned Lamont defeated established incumbent Joe Lieberman, former vice-presidential candidate and scourge of the American Congress. In the interest of fairness, I should mention that my long-term beef with Joe Lieberman comes from his many censorship activities, in which he and other Democrats concerned with media representation and protecting children have formed alliances with social conservatives to try and enter in agreements that pressure advertisers and networks to drop programs that they have contention with, such as the Parents Television Council.

Lieberman, who already had a significant amount of Internet energy against him, was further hurt by Lamont's active presence on the Web. The new candidate hired a staff member to coordinate and work with bloggers and podcasters to create even more positive energy behind the Lamont campaign, and it aided in making him one of the most known candidates in the country. Of course, his appearance on The Colbert Report didn't hurt, nor did the movements of groups like

Then, Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen became involved in one of the most talked-about clips on YouTube, calling a college student of Indian ethnicity a "macaca," which is a racial slur. While many present may have not known what the term means, those on the Internet did, and members of the opposing campaign--of which the student volunteer worked for--taped and distributed his remarks on YouTube. The political footage ended up being the most popular content on the site.

Sen. Lieberman is going to attempt making up his loss running as an independent in November, while Sen. Allen will likely regain his seat despite the comments getting such widespread coverage. However, Lizza makes an important point: "The experience serves as a warning to politicians: Beware, the next stupid thing you say may be on YouTube." Lizza goes on to claim that "YouTube may be changing the political process in more profound ways, for good and perhaps not for the better, according to strategists in both parties."

Lizza says that we should look at campaign coverage as like reality television, positive in the fact that it provides continuous coverage but negative in that it might create an artificial bubble around politics and politicians in which the candidates are always posing for cameras.

In short, we know that convergence culture is fundamentally changing the media industry, but might it also be making substantial alterations to how we will operate as citizens? YouTube may be the most vibrant place to look for some indication of how citizenship and the responsibility of knowledge of current events that citizenship implies. Lizza's piece is definitely worth a look for those who haven't already seen it.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for bringing the article to my attention.

August 20, 2006

Personalizing Colas and Ketchup Bottles

After Stephen Colbert's tribute to the Heinz Ketchup My Heinz campaign, in which consumers can purchase bottles of the ketchup with personalized messages on them, I thought this new brand marketing strategy and a similar one deserved some discussion.

I can remember in grade school how proud I was to find a place at Consumer's Mall which could personally put my name on every one of my pencils, so I took those pencils back to my fourth grade class and paraded them around. A similar feeling of glee must be what propels the folks who order personalized bottles of the ketchup to send messages to others.

I remember hearing quite a while back about the Jones soda My Jones campaign, which went a similar route except with allowing viewers to get a completely presonalized bottle of the soda, complete with a picture, etc. Several people have used the bottles of the soda for weddings or other special events, in which personalized bottles can be used.

This is far from the first instance at creating a viable keepsake out of what is generally a discarded container for a mass produced product. Landfills are lined with glass bottles and plastic ketchup containers, but the people who have these personal products made are likely going to keep the bottle. Of course, in the case of both products, the idea is that such an innovative marketing drive will lead to a stronger consumer connection with the brand.

At the very least, people will end up with my dad, who still has several cans of Kentucky Wildcat RC Colas sitting in one of his cabinets, even though I'm quite sure that 18-year-old carbonated beverages are not going to be that tasty--wer're not talking about fine wine, here.

In contrast to CBS's egg-vertising campaign, this transforms a utilitarian disposable container into a keepsake of its own. And, because the messages are open to anything, the personalized services allow the products to be viable for any number of uses, from the aforementioned wedding to a wide variety of practical jokes.

I'm already wondering how many people have proposed by passing the ketchup.

Comics and Convergence, Part I

I posted this Friday morning on my blog and tought it might be of interest to the C3 readers as well, considering its look at comic books in the current age of convergence.

This is the first of a series of outtakes -- passages written for Convergence Culture, but ultimately cut for reasons of length. Each represents a snap shot of convergence culture at work. Most of these sections were intended as side bars. Those of you who have read the book will know that it is structured around a series of core case studies that are developed in depth and sidebars which suggest other dimensions of the topic. Sidebars seemed like the most effective way of juxtaposing these other examples to the core discussion and seemed appropriate given the book's focus on the way we pull together information from multiple sources. What I like about the sidebars is that readers will engage with them at different points in the reading process as their own whims dictate and thus each reader's experience of the argument will be slightly different. Some will read them as they go; some will wait to the end of the chapter and then go back to read them, and so forth.

This section introduces comic books as a particularly rich site for understanding media change. As regular readers will note, I find comics a particularly interesting and relatively underexplored medium. Experiments in new approaches to popular storytelling often take place in comics -- the risks are relatively low both because of lowered cost of production and because of the fringe nature of their readership. At the same time, comics content is being drawn into the commercial mainstream. More and more recent films have been based on comics -- not simply predictible superhero fare such as X-Men, Batman Begins, or Spider-Man, but also off-beat independent films, such as American Splendor, Ghost World, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, and V for Vendetta, among others. I am a hardcore comics fan so you will be seeing lots of examples of trends from comics coming under my analytic gaze as this blog continues.

For those of you who own Convergence Culture, you can always print out these sections and tap them inside your book to assemble your own director's cut edition. :-) For the rest of you, these will give you a taste of the style and structure of the book:

Continue reading "Comics and Convergence, Part I" »

August 19, 2006

NBC Universal vs. WGA

Things are just getting uglier in the battle between the Writers Guild of America and the networks. The latest is the complaint that NBC Universal has filed against the WGA to the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that the group's pressure has unjustly put a halt on the production of Web-based programming.

The issue here on both sides is not an aversion to transmedia storytelling but rather a fundamental debate over how writers should be compensated for their extra work. The network claims that, since they do not make profit from these Web episodes, they are just being used for promotional purposes and thus fall under the criteria for writing commercials and marketing for a show, which already falls under current agreements.

I have talked to people who are writers in the television industry, all of whom have told me that they have great interest in transmedia storytelling and see the potential but that the danger is in spreading the current writing staff too thin, adding new responsibilities on the same set of people without offering additional compensation in return.

This is the WGA's argument, and it's one of the reasons why some networks/producers have taken to producing their transmedia content through the public relations department instead of giving another task to the writing team. Of course, it doesn't take much of a leap to guess what happens to the quality of this Web-based content when it is not produced by the people who write the show but rather as part of a marketing campaign.

In this case, with no production of Web episodes in the past couple of months for three NBC shows and Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica, the producers are supporting the writer's request and not producing further episodes, which is unusual.

According to James Hibberd with Television Week, "Networks often spend about $5,000 or less to produce a webisode that typically has a running time of two to four minutes. With little to no advertising revenue generated by the content, networks are reluctant to pay writers for Internet reuse, instead arguing the content is strictly promotional."

The previous WGA battles with networks and producers come from arguments for extra compensation for writers from the profits derived to their integrating products in a show. And, while the networks have a good arugment that, while the Web programming doesn't draw profit, it is really just a marketing tool, the writers also raise an important point--that creativity and good storytelling is the essential part of a successful transmedia experience and that writers deserve to be acknowledged and compensated for the extra work that Web content entails.

What we are calling convergence culture may be an inevitable media trend, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be a smooth transition to accepting and incorporating new media forms and new ways to tell a story, as these continued wars between writers, producers, and networks continue.

EchoStar/TiVo Battle in Court

The battle over DVR services continues, as EchoStar and TiVo remain battling in court over the satelitte company's providing DVRs for its Dish Network customers. TiVo, the company that created the DVR craze, is trying to keep its corner on the market as many service providers are beginning to offer the services themselves.

Most controversial of all is the Cablevision plan to offer DVR services on their own server instead of a physical box to be located in the subscriber's home, raising all sorts of other complicated questions about who owns the right for this digital property and where that digital property should be stored. Back in June, I wrote about the Cablevision issue and how complicated these DVR wars have become.

The judge issued yesterday in the DVR case between TiVo and EchoStar that Dish Network could continue offering DVRs for rent to its clients while the trial continues on, although a lower court has already ruled in favor of TiVo, awarding the company damages and forcing the Dish-sponsored DVR off the market for Dish subscribers. The original district judge's decision would see the DVR service shutdown and $89.6 million in damages to be paid to TiVo.

Almost one-third of Dish Network's users have DVRs.

The question at this point is not whether consumers should have DVR services in their hand but rather who has the right to issue them and where that property can rest. The decisions made in this battle over the next year will help shape the industry for the decades to come.

August 17, 2006

E3: End of an Era?

I posted the following entry on my blog last week but thought it would be relevant to recent discussion here at the C3 blog based on Sam Ford's prior post about the end of E3:

Those of us who follow the games industry have reacted with various degrees of shock and surprise by the announcement a few weeks ago that E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the major trade show of the games industry, will no longer be held. As Next Generation has reported, several of the major companies whose support was key for funding an event on this scale had pulled their support from the event:

When I spoke to some people about E3's collapse, the general response was one of disbelief. How could something so big fall apart so quickly? Perhaps this is why so many news outlets simply refused to believe the news. The fact is that all it took were a very small number of company presidents to talk with each other, and figure out that if they all decided to pass, none of them would need to be there. Once Nintendo, Microsoft, SCEA and EA had stepped out, E3 was history. It was multilateral disarmament.

The Next Generation writer went on to identify a range of other factors that contributed to the collapse of this industry institution, including a sense that it had not achieved its goals in attracting media coverage to anything other than the violence issue or the release of new hardware as well as the degree to which other and better publicity mechanisms had emerged which made it possible for companies to maintain greater control over their messages and reach their intended audience at lower costs. The Next Generation coverage stressed the degree to which organizing for E3 had taken on a life of its own, often at the expense of other goals within the industry:

E3 isn't just measured in terms of the cost of the booth, the floor-space, the party, the hotel, the flights etc. There's also the incredible amount of effort that goes into preparing for the show. Marketing teams are focused on E3 for a good six months of the year. Developers are whipped along as they try to get games ready for what is, essentially, an artificial deadline. It could be argued that this adds focus to development as projects near their conclusion, or it could be argued that it's an unnecessary diversion and a big pain in the ass. Publishers that focus on company-specific events are not under so much pressure to compete with the rest of the market for column inches, months before the real battle of competing for consumer dollars.

In a public statement, Doug Lowenstein, the head of the Entertainment Software Association, explained:

E3Expo 2007 will not feature the large trade show environment of previous years. It is no longer necessary or efficient to have a single industry 'mega-show.' By refocusing on a highly-targeted event, we think we can do a better job serving our members and the industry as a whole, and our members are energized about creating this new E3.

Continue reading "E3: End of an Era?" »

CBS News Joins Cross Platform Competition with Simulcast

With all the innovations put in place with ABC and NBC's news divisions over the past few months, it's no surprise that CBS would fire back with plans to further transform its cross-platform news distribution. CBS has now announced earlier today that the new CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will debut next month as a simulcasted news broadcast, streamed through their Web site as well in its regular televised time slot.

CBS's cornerstone broadcast is the first foray of one of the major networks into simulcasting a major news broadcast in this manner, giving CBS a chance to gain some ground in the race the three major American broadcast networks have been in to stake their claims as online broadcast news innovators.

After the initial simulcast, the program will remain available anytime through their on-demand video service. Viewers must register with the site to be able to view the news, and the news will be available when it airs in each area's time zone.

WIth ABC's new 24/7 approach to news and NBC's new Web updates with videos and blogs every morning about what will be on the nightly newscast, CBS's simulcast shows that the industry is continuing to move forward in cross-platform news delivery. CBS' spin is that it wants to make its news available to people who are not in front of a television set when their news airs, hence both the live streaming of the news and the archiving of the episode for later viewing.

And they are smart to unveil the simulcast with the beginning of Couric's version of the news, providing the feeling that she will be ushering in a new era for the broadcast network once associated with the best news coverage of the three big broadcast networks. This seems to be a case of competition creating the best possible environment for the viewers, as the big three have certainly gotten into a war for best transmedia news coverage.

Now, if they can all put this much energy into content...

August 16, 2006

Media Effects Study Links WWE with Date Fighting--Seven Years Ago

For those who haven't already read the barrage of material made available on the study published in Pediatrics recently, I'll give you a short recap:

In 1999, a team of professors from Wake Forest University made headlines with a quantitative study that found a correlation between watching professional wrestling and participating in fighting while on dates among teenagers, in a study that also highlighted other potential negative behaviors associated with watching pro wrestling.

While the study was not published at the time, it did receive a substantial amount of attention and was covered by most of the major news outlets. Then, last week, when a written essay based on the study and releasing the full results of the study was published, major media outlets once again reported on it.

WWE Owner Vince McMahon was livid. On last week's episode of Monday Night RAW, WWE announcer Jim Ross lashed out and the study and promoted Mr. McMahon's response to be made available on the WWE Web site for fans, and also on the company's corporate site for investors.

That response claimed, among other things, that the study was "junk science" and that the findings were both dated and unsubstantiated. Of course, in true McMahon fashion, Vince went on to say that the study was produced by "some obscure professor who finally got someone to read his paper and is trying to get his name in the media." WWE certainly didn't hide from the issue, even linking to the study on its Web site to bring further attention to the results from fans and engage in a dialogue, although WWE was definitely issuing their response in "wrestling promo" mode.

The WWE site also included an exclusive interview with Dr. Robert Thompson, Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. Thompson questions what he sees as an insinuation of cause and effect, stating that he sees too many variables that cannot be controlled in trying to prove such a relationship. In the story, Thompson says, "These studies are demonstrating a correlation. For example, if the tree in my backyard gets bigger, the hair on my head gets thinner. There's a direct correlation there, no question about it; one happens, the other happens. But there's certainly no cause there, or I would've chopped down that tree a long time ago."

University of Cincinnati Doctoral Student Michael M. Wehrman wrote a sociological response to WWE's response defending the methodology of the Pediatrics study, even while he surmised that the Wake Forest study did not provide much sufficient explanation. Wehrman, who writes that he is a WWE fan and who published his response on a popular wrestling Web site, questions whether someone with a humanities background like Thompson has the intellectual tools to write any criticism of the Wake Forest team's media effects research.

I have to come down solidly on the side of Thompson in this case. Here's my own take:

Continue reading "Media Effects Study Links WWE with Date Fighting--Seven Years Ago" »

Procter & Gamble Launches Classic Soaps Channel

After what has felt like years of silence on the part of Procter & Gamble Productions for providing some of its content for redistribution to American audiences, news has broken recently that PGP will be launching its own Classic Soaps Channel through the new AOL Video player.

PGP is the original broadcaster of soaps, with its two extant shows having been on the air more than 50 years apiece, and several other shows in its archives. This new channel of content will not only air original content that will supplement their current shows As the World Turns and Guiding Light but will also start re-airing episodes of popular but now-defunct soaps such as Search for Tomorrow, Another World, The Edge of Night, and Texas, the Another World spinoff.

At this point, details remain sketchy, as the same paragraph of information is all that can be found from place to place, informing viewers that the company that put the "soap" in soap operas will be launching this new channel. Fans of both old and current PGP shows are eagerly awaiting to see what content the shows will air.

It seems pretty straightforward what the content will be regarding the old shows, as it will be straight distribution, but what will be offered for ATWT and GL. What type of original content might be made available? And, if they will offer original content for these "contemporary classics," will they be offering shows from the vault as well? My thesis reserach about applying convergence culture to the soap opera industry looks, in part, specifically at how best to utilize the immense archive that these shows have.

A platform like the Classic Soaps Channel would be a great way to provide a series of episodes to give historical context about current events happening on the show, for instance, or compliation collections of histories of current or returning characters. PGP could also attempt to recapture former fans who have moved on from ATWT and GL through this platform, by attracting them to rewatch the shows they watched 10 or 20 years ago.

A good model may be WWE 24/7, which charges a subscription fee airing old content through video-on-demand services from cable television providers. Many people who are not fans of the current content are interested in this platform because they can watch their favorite matches and storylines from years past.

What particularly intrigues me about 24/7 is the ability that it gives viewers to follow an old run of the show from episode-to-episode, making a new episode available at regular intervals so that you can follow the history of the show just as if you were watching current episodes. Soaps could do the same thing, but it does require substantial digitization of the archive.

At this point, it's not clear how far developed that digitization process is for PGP or what they have planned for ATWT or GL, but this new platform, if promoted and used right, could serve to bring in new or returning viewers by utilizing soaps' strongest power: their own histories. If that historical content is used in strong correlation with the current programming on CBS, it might serve to transfer those nostalgic fans to watching the current show as well.

And, if all else fails or if the media landscape shifts drastically in the next decade, the AOL Video platform shows potential promise for new distribution formats to help keep the daytime serial drama alive and vibrant, as I focused on earlier today.

Passions ready to Launch on iTunes

Scores of new programs are launching on iTunes' video feature on a weekly basis, but the latest is the first of the daytime serial dramas to announce their iTunes availability.

Passions, the youngest of the nine current daytime soap operas, will now be available on iTunes on a daily basis. The barriers for soaps to enter iTunes are a little bit larger than primetime shows, considering the daily episodes, the lack of emphasis in most networks on daytime programming as opposed to primetime lineups, and other industry factors.

It may not come as that big of a surprise that the youngest soap would be the first to launch onto iTunes, although PGP already podcasts their soaps, and many shows make their lineup available on cable network SoapNet for evening or weekend viewing.

NBC's Passions is a little more accessible for iTunes because of its being an attractive soap for teenagers.

I've written a couple of times in the past about how Passions, which is somewhat of a parody soap, has been pretty innovative with its pop culture references across multiple television genres. For instance, the show has aired part of an episode in animated form and an entire Bollywood episode.

Of course, the show is a little bit more amenable to these types of experimental content considering the over-the-top nature of the show. But maybe, if Passions has some success on iTunes, other shows will follow suit. People already regularly BitTorrent soaps and post clips on YouTube, and some soaps have had some success in the past airing pay-for-streaming episodes, such as was once available through the no-longer-existing SoapCity.

And, while many--from the creative folks behind soaps to the industry to the fans themselves--are talking about the future of soaps and what might happen next, as I've written about previously with NBC's Days of Our Lives, digital distribution may eventually offer a viable alternative for these shows, if there can ever be enough online advertising revenue or subscription rates to help guarantee the costs needed to fun those large ensemble casts.

As referenced in that post, executives had told soap producers that, if their current contracts were not renewed with the network, they should consider alternative forms of distrubution instead of letting these shows with such storied histories die away. By looking back at that issue, which I wrote about last December, and then seeing Passions launch into iTunes, it seems that this cross-platform distribution may be a good way for soaps to prepare for the future, in case the networks ever decide to pull their dedication to the serial drama form and instead launch a whole other round of daytime reality shows or talk shows.

August 15, 2006

Weeds Season Two Premiere on MSN Video

My wife just got finished watching the first seasons of Weeds, the successful Showtime sitcom starring Mary Louise Parker, and has now been converted as one of the show's many fans. One of the reason the program has gained so much mmentum entering into its second season is the grasp Showtime and the show's producers seem to have on cross-platform distribution.

News broke earlier today that the premiere episode of Weeds' second season will be made available through MSN Video for a full week after its initial airing on Showtime. According toDaisy Whitney with Television Week, the acquisition of the premiere episode of the popular series' new season is one of many bolstering tactics that MSN Video has engaged in over the past couple of months, including obtaining rights for all 53 episodes of the series-run of Arrested Development, the critically acclaimed FOX show that was cancelled last season. And the video distribution platform has also been streaming a full episode of CBS each week this summer.

With all the talk of Amazon launching its digital video distribution system, Google expanding its video services, FOX developing their new distribution system, AOL Video launching their system, all competing with the kingpin of video downloads in iTunes and the various network-specific distribution platforms that are croppoing up (such as TNT DramaVision), the options for distributing shows in the digital streaming and digital download medium is expanding on what is starting to feel like a daily basis.

For content providers, the possibilities are endless, and the network has every reason to make its show available to consumers in as many ways as possible. Of course, companies providing the downloading and streaming services have everything to gain from exclusivity contracts, which are fine in cases where they are readily available to all consumers but become a problem when they become gated under subscription fees, effectively blocking fans from consuming a product in digital form.

This current competition, though, seems to make everyone a winner, if the market is big enough to support this many distributors.

And this isn't the first time I've written about Weeds this summer. The Showtime program also garnered attention for its success on iTunes, followed by strong numbers in DVD sales. Some people had been skeptical about whether the show would do as well on DVD after so many people had downloaded it.

The VCR Still Causing Controversy, Two Decades Later

The continued arguments surrounding the Nielsen ratings raged on into this week, with the new focus being on whether VCR recordings should count in viewer measurements for the new commercial ratings that will be released for the upcoming fall season.

While last week's debate centered on the company's announcement of partnering with Insight Communications to measure Video-on-Demand viewership patterns, the commercial ratings have returned this week, as companies argue over the measurement system that will help further set advertising rates.

Advertising agencies are claiming that programming recorded onto a VHS tape should not count in commercial ratings averages for the coming season since VCR viewing is not measured, only recording. And, since many people never watch programming recorded on a VCR or often record three or four shows they do not intend on watching in order to also record a show they DO want to watch, the numbers do not reflect viewership. And, of those viewers who do watch the material they record, it doesn't take a social scientist to guest the viewer behavior here--those commercials are going to be fast-forwarded through.

The ad agencies have continued concerns about the way the measurement system will work and have even called for the monitoring system used to help compile the commercial ratings data to be accredited from the Media Research Council. For instance, a few weeks ago, I wrote about Magna Global calling for significant changes in the ratings, including working toward a second-by-second ratings system, calling for more detailed measurements of DVR viewers, and asking for changes in the way commercial minutes are measured, since the ratings will count any minute that has commercial content in it as a commercial minute, even if the majority of that minute contains programming instead of a commercial. According to the statistics used by Magna Global, a third of programs recorded on a VCR are never watched, while as many as two-thirds of the viewers who do watch what they recorded fast-forward through the commercials.

These issues surrounding the VCR aren't a new point of contention from advertising agencies, but it has an even more immediate impact on these commercial ratings, which may have a significant future impact on how advertising rates are negotiated and purchased. However, the networks maintain that, since playback cannot be measured, the number of recordings should be measured because including the data is more accurate than excluding it.

While it isn't the second-by-second data, networks could avoid some of the controversy by adopting The Weather Channel's plan for true minute-by-minute ratings, as I wrote about last month, instead of averaging all the commercial minutes together for a particular program. It wouldn't be the second-by-second ratings that some are calling for, but it might help satisfy some of the critics. Then again, network executives are afraid of what they might find, since everyone knows that most people don't watch television for the commercials.

Then, of course, there's the larger problem: if the Nielsen measurement system is inherently flawed, you can continue drawing as many new data streams from that same sample as you want, but they are still not going to be as accurate of a measurement as one would need.

August 14, 2006

Mentos' Fresh Approach to Viral Marketing

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba at The Church of the Consumer Blog helps keep readers abreast of the latest in advertising and marketing. In the past couple of months, they have twice written about online campaigns in which mint-maker Mentos works with user-generated content.

Back in June, they wrote about how fans have been posting a variety of videos about how Mentos and Diet Coke can be combined. There was one video in particular in which a choreographed experiment led to a "fireworks-like display" of Mentos freshness. Such experiments were covered on an episode of the popular Mythbusters show on Discovery.

According to their story, Mentos made every effort to congratulate the experimentation, which led to free major publicity for the company, as traditional media picked up on the online distribution of the video. On the other hand, Diet Coke took a prohibitive stance, wagging its finger at the video makers for conducting experiments not true to the true nature of the Diet Coke brand, or what they call "the brand personality." They said they would rather people drink the beverage instead of participate in such "craziness."

Then, in a story a couple of weeks ago, they wrote about how Mentos has gone further with its embrace of "citizen marketers" with a contest dedicated around videos featuring the combination of Mentos and some beverage to create a geyser of flavor. After getting what they call a "free publicity tour" with the viral marketing of the Diet Coke and Mentos video, the company has built off the viral marketing push by inviting hordes of other videos through YouTube.

Here is the power of viral marketing, and it appears to be something Mentos gets and Diet Coke doesn't. Sure, giving power to the fans takes some of the power away from you, but fans are quick to notice which companies are good-natured and willing to take a little parody and fun, and which ones aren't. Does this mean that Mentos as a brand is going to skyrocket over Diet Coke based on this one incident? Of course not, especially since the Coke name has developed so much brand capital over the years. But capital is something that can be eroded and gained over time, and Mentos has gone a step further in gaining a lot of fan support for their brand as something beyond a mint candy.

In the meantime, an Internet search for Mentos finds many of the top hits about this Diet Coke phenomenon, and the "geyser" content serves not only to capitalize on making the candy company the "fresh maker" of viral marketing but also poking fun at Diet Coke for its backward thinking, by further emphasizing the issue. Even though it does not explicitly say so, the Mentos brand may gain further mileage by its being played off the parental Diet Coke, with their "thou shalt not" statement.

Thanks to Siddiq Bello for passing this along.

ComicCon & The Power of the Devoted Niche

This is the third part of C3 Media Analyst Ivan Askwith's review of the ComicCon in San Diego that he covered for me recently. I posted this on my blog but thought that it would be relevant here, too, since Ivan is a contributor to this blog. He is beginning work now on a thesis which centers around transmedia and participatory aspects of Lost and Veronica Mars.

In my second dispatch from ComicCon, I tried to illustrate how the studios and networks are already beginning to understand the importance of fan support in the era of convergence culture. And while some executives have a better grasp on the core principles than others, it's fair to say that the entertainment industry are starting to think more seriously about how fans power new business models.

Savvy executives, however, will also realize that ComicCon still has a lot to teach them about the significance of fan support, particularly in economic terms.

Continue reading "ComicCon & The Power of the Devoted Niche" »

FOX Competing for Television/Video Downloads

The FOX Network is delving further into online distribution of its programming, based on a deal announced recently in which FOX will provide another competitor for Apple iTunes, Amazon's video service, AOL Video, and others.

FOX already has 24 and Prison Break available through iTunes but will now be offering its own distribution system as well.

The company will be debuting its FOX Interactive Media distribution platform soon, which will offer FOX television shows and films for download initially on Direct2Drive, a video game site, and then making them avaiable through MySpace.

For those who haven't followed it, MySpace is now owned by News Corporation, FOX's parent company, which explains why characters like The Carver from Nip/Tuck and Earl from My Name is Earl are most likely to be the first to engage in marketing their shows through MySpace (the former being an FX show and the latter being a FOX-produced program).

Shows will be offered within a day after they are initially broadcast on television and will include programming from across FOX networks. The episodes can be viewed on Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

As with individual episodes on iTunes, shows will cost $1.99, while movies will cost $19.99.

What will this mean for the iTunes format and other initial start-ups? Will more networks be likely to follow suit by launching their own download-for-pay sites for their content? WWE has long tried to market some of its products through pay-per-view online services through its own site, among many others. Will this end up being the preferred long-term model, or will companies like Amazon, AOL, and Apple continue to gain ground? Or will there be enough room in the market for all of these platforms to coexist?

There will be major long-term repercussions in the industry that depends on how this plays out.

Fans Designing Janet Jackson Album Art

One of the most talked-about names in the entertainment industry is making news again, but this time Janet Jackson is baring her naked CD cover for her fans.

The popular pop star is hosting a contest for fans to design the cover of her next album release. Actual entry for the competition has now passed, and the pop star and her team are reviewing what they claim are "thousands of covers" that were submitted by fans to decide on a winning design for the CD, entitled 20 Years Old, which will be released on Sept. 26.

According to the contest, "the best cover designs could be used for the actual album release, emphasis being mine. The promotion seems like a great idea to me, unless they kick in the "could" clause and don't end up using any of the fan art, which could really anger a substantial number of people, particularly the "thousands" who submitted art. Even if the art isn't used for the cover, one would think they will use it for some parts of the overall packaging, including the back cover or the enclosed booklet.

Nevertheless, the contest appears to be another opportunity for content creators to engage with fans and find a way for fans to become a permanent part of the official story. For Janet Jackson fans, especially those with an artistic bent, designing the cover of a Janet Jackson CD would make that fan a permanent part of the Janet Jackson story.

It will be interesting to see what kind of goodwill the contest generated for Jackson's CD and also what she might do with the mounds of artwork sent in that will not be used with the CD release. But the contest proved to be a popular one and may help continue to establish Jackson as a major pop star.

Thanks to Siddiq Bello for sending this along.

August 11, 2006

MyNetworkTV First Broadcast Network Entirely in HD

When the new News Corporation network MyNetworkTV launches this fall, the composition of the television landscape will have changed greatly. The network will be picking up many of the affiliates who will lose their network when UPN and The WB merge to form the CW Network but will only be starting with two hours of programming every night, based on two prime-time telenovela series.

But TelevisionWeek points out this week that the other major news for the new network is that it will be the first broadcast network that will provide all of its programming in HDTV form on its Sept. 05 launch.

Of course, considering the network will only have two programs, that's not a major feat, but it does demonstrate potential, as MyNetworkTV will have bragging rights in its initial promotion and will easily be able to add any new programming in HD form. And, as James Hibberd points out, since those two shows are aired nightly instead of weekly, this means a total of 600 hours of HD programming per year that the network has committed to.

Many are surprised by the decision, since telenovelas are generally not the prime candidates for the conversion to HD format. None of their daytime relatives in the soap opera genre have launched high-definition versions, and scores of primetime dramas have not made their programming available in HD as of yet, either.

Further, the standard broadcast will be made available in whta is called letterbox format, meaning that there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.

The network is trying to find its niche while establishing itself, and experimenting with HD content, letterbox style, and telenovelas is plenty of risk that will also give the network a distinctive feel. Of course, if the programming fails, it will be hard to know which experiment caused the failure, since telenovelas and letterbox programming is currently unproven in the broadcast networks.

However, it will make the network's Sept. 05 launch gain more buzz, and the television industry will have its eyes on the fledgling network to see what might develop.

Flavor of Love Drives Avid Fan Response

Reader Siddiq Bello pointed out a social phenomena that I'm admittedly not aware of: the VH1 show Flavor of Love, in which rapper Flavor Flav from Public Enemy fame hosts a competition from 20 women, similar to The Bachelor to get his attention and his love.

The show is done completely tongue-in-cheek, with contestants receiving Flav's signature big clock necklaces instead of a rose if he decides to keep them with him on every episode. Contestants will have to endure a lie detector test for the potential Flav loves, among many other obstacles. This will all be to help "weed out" those who are not true in their love of Flav and who might just be gold-diggers (and they might not be satisfied with just a set of gold teeth).

The show started airing about a week ago amid avid fan response. Not only does this carry the crowd who enjoys parody of the reality television genre, but it also brings with it fans of Public Enemy's, melding the reality television competition genre with the reality television celebrity genre and by building in the music television audience and African-Americans in the target 18-49 demographic.

So far, it seems that the 10-episode run is garnering significant attention. The show has created a stir in the blogosphere among fans and on message boards. It has also launched on YouTube already as well.

With a significant degree of social energy behind the program, it will be interesting to see if the second season sustains popularity to launch other future series of the genre. And it seems that VH1 has found its niche in this celebrity reality programming, even while appealing to different audiences from series to series (such as Hogan Knows Best).

August 10, 2006

My Name is Earl on MySpace

MySpace has been making headlines a lot lately, what with news of its continued climb in popularity alongside the development of governmental controls on how and when MySpace can be accessed. Although some have questioned whether the social networking site can sustain the continued attacks on its development, the site continues to collect controversy--and hordes of new users.

Some of those new MySpace users aren't just individuals, as we've seen in the past with The Carver from Nip/Tuck and the U.S. Marines, as well as the characters from the Web-based Soup of the Day show. And bands have found particular success in promoting themselves through the site.

Now, the popular NBC situation comedy My Name is Earl, starring Jason Lee, is launching onto MySpace as well.

NBC will be partering with the site to allow users the chance to have their photo in the closing credits of the show during one of the first episodes of the upcoming season. Each episode contians references to friends of the show's creator, Greg Garcia, with the Amigos de Garcia logo.

Now, through the MySpace promotion, viewers will have a chance to be one of these friends of Garcia's. The Earl MySpace page is also offering user-generated content and sneak peaks for the release of the show's first season release on DVD, as well as mobile content and other merchandising offers.

I have to admit that, although I haven't been a regular viewer of the My Name is Earl show, I feel a close kinship to Jason Lee's character is plight, since I suffer the social stigma of's my middle name. So, for all of us Earls who have had to suffer through it, I may extend my friendship to him on my next foray into MySpace.

And, as this show's site and former examples have shown, MySpace has great potential for creating transmedia content and distributing cross-platform content.

TNT DramaVision

Earlier this week, we covered the new video distribution deal by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, MTV Networks, with Google Video, where the company will syndicate video content through the pervasive Internet company.

Now, another one of our partners here at C3 is pouring content into a new online distribution platform. Turner Broadcasting will be using content from its drama cable network TNT on its new DramaVision Web site, which will launch next Tuesday.

The first content planned to be used on the site will be the popular TNT series Into the West, and the site will also include many of TNT's original films and events such as the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The site will also help distribute a co-production between TNT and Court TV called Ripped from the Headlines, Web-only episodes that will also be distributed on the program's own site, true-life crime stories.

TNT's development of a new broadband distribution platform will help provide transmedia potential for the Turner network and will also encourage the further development of original content for the cable network, which largely distributes previously aired episodes of various dramas from network television.

August 9, 2006

Nielsen and VOD Measurement

We've reported a lot this summer about Nielsen's continued expansion of its media research to include new forms of measurement, including the A2/M2 system of measurement and commercial ratings.

Now, the company has announced that it will begin measuring video-on-demand orders through Insight Communications. According to the joint announcement yesterday from both companies, Nielsen will be using the data to launch its Nielsen On-Demand Reporting and Analytics service,called NORA.

When the NORA service gets launched, it will provide more consistent measurements for the on-demand platform, which will make advertising prices for on-demand content more stable.

Of course, many still question the measurement abilities of the Nielsen ratings for regular television, but the company has been developing various initaitives to both improve their traditional ratings system and to also provide further measurement of new delivery forms.

In the meantime, with the devleopment of a Nielsen standard for on-demand content coming, it may help encourage advertisers and content providers alike to pour more content into the expanding platform, with not only the movies-on-demand products already established but also products like WWE 24/7, the on-demand wrestling subscription service offered on many major cable networks.

Building Popular Buzz: What to Do, What Not to Do

This is the second cross-posting from my blog written by Ivan Askwith, a media analyst with the Convergence Culture Consortium, on his experiences at this year's ComicCon in San Diego. Considering that Ivan blogs here from time-to-time, I thought you all might be interested in reading this:

Based on the evidence from this year's ComicCon, the entertainment industry is slowly starting to understand just how important a vocal fandom can be in the success of a new brand or franchise. As I indicated at the end of my last post, this growing comprehension is most evident in the largest "panel events" -- on the ComicCon schedule, this generally means those events held in Ballroom 20, Hall 6CDEF, and Hall H, which can seat anywhere from 2000-6500 spectators. Or, as the industry is learning to think of them, potential advertisers and advocates. Some presentations were more overt than others, but almost all of the largest scheduled events were closer in tone to a high-powered sales pitch than an intimate discussion between fans and creators.

That said, some presenters seem to have a more nuanced understanding of fan behavior than others. As Henry has already discussed, no one is currently cultivating fan participation more effectively, or respectfully, than New Line Cinema, in promotion for Snakes on a Plane. The panel for SoaP came at the end of a longer presentation from New Line, which featured previews of the Final Destination 3 DVD -- interesting insofar as it leverages the rarely-used interactive capabilities of DVD systems to let viewers determine the course of events at pivotal moments -- and the forthcoming Jack Black film, Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'. But the audience and presenters both knew that these were diversions from the main attraction: as the discussion about Tenacious D wrapped up, the energy in the crowd became palpable, and when panel host Kenan Thompson finally spoke the words -- "Snakes On A Plane" -- the audience erupted with enthusiasm and applause.

Continue reading "Building Popular Buzz: What to Do, What Not to Do" »

Google Video and MTV Networks

We've written before about Google's ramping up its video Web content, but the company has taken it a step further now, with new plans to become a content distributor for one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, MTV Networks.

This new feature from Google's video feature turns the company into a new form of syndication for networks and opens up a new form of distribution on the Web. According to early reports of the plan, videos will be distrubted supported by advertising, all going to companies that use the Google Adsense network.

Whereas YouTube provides user-generated content and iTunes and Amazon offer content for download, this distribution platform promises to use Google's pervasiveness to syndicate television content and to have it adveritising supported, as AOL's new video feature will be.

Google currently both gives users the chance to view free video and also to buy full downloads. This project is yet another in-road into the development of Web content as companies expand their reach onto the Web. For proponents of transmedia storytelling, this development is yet another example of the expanded potential being made possible by companies willing to experiment.

August 8, 2006

Bravo Launching Mobile Content

We've written before about Bravo's interesting developments on the Web platform, such as its site for unaired or short-run shows Brilliant But Cancelled.

Now, Bravo is branching into the mobile platform, with the network's offering of modified versions of a few of its major programs on Amp'd Mobile cell phones starting Wednesday. The deal is the first NBC Entertainment cable network deal with a mobile provider.

The cell phone users can access short one-minute or three-minute sets of clips from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Project Runway, as well as content from Inside the Actors Studio and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List.

Episode summaries from Project Runway and Hip Tips from Queer Eye will also be available for viewing.

I like the idea of expanding media products into other platforms, and as I'm sure fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long agrees, the mobile platform is ripe for major experimentation. On the other hand, I've expressed my issues with gated content in the past, and I think that the development of content locked into a specific content provider is as dangerous as net neutrality for developing strong transmedia potential.

However, I am glad to see Bravo and other channels continuing to experiment. When these more conservative projects are tested and when users become acclimated to the idea of consuming mobile content, I'm hoping to see the transmedia projects expand and become even more interesting.

CNN Exchange and User-Generated News

I've written substantially this summer about the effects that convergence is having on the journalism industry. The majority of my focus has been on transmedia news empires and my own work at the weekly newspapers here in Kentucky this summer, but there is another aspect of convergence culture that affects journalism substantially that we've only touched on vaguely: the blogosphere and citizen journalism.

The newest development in relation to citizen journalism? CNN Exchange, the viewer-produced content platform available online which launched at the beginning of this month.

I've written previously about Smoking Gun's expose of James Frey's plagiarism and how it's an example of Dan Gillmor's book and blog called We the Media. And, as Gillmor has focused on exhaustively, this participatory aspect of journalism has seeped further and further into print and television journalism: from BBC's focus on blogosphere response to newspapers and television accepting pictures taken from citizens' cell phones and digital cameras.

CNN's program has gained some momentum over the past week, with Dell Computers signing on as the first sponsor for the site. The computer company will have video advertising on the site, as well as banners and other sponsorship options.

What does this mean for journalism? Citizen journalism has its opponents, but there's no doubt--as Gilmoor argues--that allowing "the masses" to have input on the news process has substantial impact on reporting greater truths becuase those masses have what Henry Jenkins writes about in Convergence Culture as collective intelligence. That doesn't mean professionals aren't needed, and CNN realizes that, but it does give greater veracity and breadth to what CNN produces.

CNN Exchange may not be scooping CNN proper on major news stories, but it also may be a place to publish what happens in the crevices that CNN misses, whether that be eclectic feature stories or what turns out to be major stories, such as the James Frey issue and countless others.

August 7, 2006

Getting a Call from Samuel L. Jackson

One of my colleagues here at the Times-News office, Dustin Bratcher, pointed me toward a pretty innovative form of marketing for the upcoming release of Snakes on a Plane that shows how just including a limited amount of user control can drastically affect a product.

The premise of the site Snakes on a Plane: Send a Message from Samuel L. Jackson is that you can enter a little bit of relative data and can then generate a call to anyone you want from Jackson asking them to see the movie on its Aug. 18 release date.

The site asks both your name and the name of the person you are sending the message to, the numbers of both, and the occupation, hobby, looks, and mode of transportation of the person receiving the message. When you complete the information, the site calls the person in question with a message from Samuel L. Jackson, addressing them by name and telling them to leave their job and hobby behind, pick up the person who made the call and take them to see Snakes on a Plane.

Already, I've sent my wife one of those calls. I've sent messages to my friends from their spouses' phone numbers so they won't know who the messages really came from. And one friend received the message in question from his ex-girlfriend claiming to be his life partner. If you were to visit our office today, you can see the fun this simple calling program has been able to generate.

The site knows most names and can generate these calls. It only has limited choices for occupations, hobbies, and physical attributes, but each one leads to some pretty entertaining Samuel L. Jackson diatribes. And you can preview your message before its sent.

I'm hoping I can create mass confusion here in Kentucky with these calls. And, on a grander scale, this adds to the long list of user-generated promotion that New Line Cinema is allowing for this film. Previously, we have blogged about YouTube videos promoting the film, for instance the Bono parody song dedicated to Jackson. Henry Jenkins has questioned what the film will mean in relation to Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory. Now we can add this to the long list of promotional tools.

What will this translate to on opening day? Will allowing fans to become such active proselytizers and merely providing them with the tools to do so lead to more fervent response than the movie would have gotten through traditional methods? My insticts say yes, but one of the women here in the office with her desk close to me could be right in that people may enjoy the promotion but still have no interest in seeing the film.

I'd bet against it, but we'll be finding out soon. And, either way, I still have a long list of relatives and friends who can expect a call from their bro Sam Jackson.

Express Your Desires Romance Fan Fiction Contest

HarperCollins Publishers are teaming with FanLib to promote a new fan fiction writing contest called Express Your Desires online for fans of the romance genre. In this contest, readers and writers will work together to create an original novel which will be published as an ebook by HarperCollins.

No one is more passionate about a genre than the fan fiction writers who operate within that genre. These people, often with threats of copyright violation charges looming on the horizon in today's world of mass digital distributon of fan work, often do more to uphold the fundamental features of a genre or a fictional world than the people who manage the "official" works being released. We've written about the intense debates that govern fan fiction communities in the past here and here.

According to an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, this product will be one of many coming projects between HarperCollins and FanLib, including plans for a teen fan fiction event potentially similar in exeuction to this one. The reporters, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Brian Steinberg, the plan is for the Avon Books division to use the contest to showcase its set of romance writers and bring significant attention to their work. In the meantime, both groups will generate profit by selling ads for the site that will host the project.

For the contest, readers will be given six potential story premises that they will vote on. Then, writers will submit chapters based on the winning story proposal. Every week, a panel of Avon authors will choose the best chapter to add to the mix. In the end, the six-chapter book will be published. Authors will even correspond through e-mail with the fan authors participating in the contest, based on some of their submissions.

According to the WSJ story, the company hopes to boost sales for the flagging romance novel market. Several months ago, FanLib worked with Showtime to create an episode of The L Word, with fans writing sections of the show. Advertisers were a little leary about the implications of such a project, according to the WSJ article, and whether increased viewer engagement with the content of the site necessarily led to increased engagement with the advertisers on that site.

But fans seemed to enjoy the L Word experiment, and it got a lot of attention in the press. Will FanLib, and HarperCollins as well, be able to build on that success with this project?

Thanks to Henry Jenkins for alerting me to this contest.

Washington Post Mash-Ups?!?

Two of my major research interests this summer have been fan communities and journalism...never thought I would see the two collide in quite this way!

The Washington Post is providing video content from its political reporter Dana Milbank. In it, he is asking various questions for candidates running for office and providing responses to the types of things these say. Readers are encouraged to download these clips of Milbank and then create their own video content for the responses and send the mash-up videos back to the Post at no more than three minutes in length.

All of the videos that do not violate copyrights, that include at least some of the questions from Milbank, and that meet any othe rules laid out by the paper will be included in an online site wheer other readers can sign on and rate the various videos made by the fan community.

This really caught me off-guard, not that it's a bad idea. It does help to make people feel more involved in the potlical process, to understand the importance of the newspaper's role in that political process, and to increase civic education, as in how politicans are interviewed and how stock a lot of the questions and answers can really be.

And this could provide the tool for som realy fascinating commentary, including some pretty political commentary if the Post is pretty open as to what people are allowed to say and do during these three-minute clips. The newspaper provides all most three-minutes' worth of questions from Dana that can be employed in the mash-ups.

Although Danger Mouse's Grey Album provided quite a bit of discussion about the artistry of mash-ups and the nature of copyright, most mash-ups have been done for fun and some degree of sarcasm. This type of mash-up can also be fun, but it opens up the question--how much can this form of participatory culture allow for legitimate and meaningful political and social commentary? How much freedom does it put in the hands of the fans to express themselves in meaningful ways?

Sure, you're dealing with some stock questions here, but they are open to a wide range of answers. It will be interesting to see what Post readers come up with in response to this call-to-action for mash-ups.

Thanks to Margaret Wiegel for sending this along.

August 6, 2006

As the World Turns InTurn

Procter & Gamble Productions' As the World Turns, the show that earlier this year launched a podcast and its own transmedia novel, Oakdale Confidential, is now the focus of an online reality show called InTurn. The show is a reality show with several potential actors vying for a spot on the screen in fictional Oakdale, Ill.

Now already on its tenth episode, the show brings eight young actors to New York City to live together and compete for a spot on the show in a 13-week role, with veterans from As the World Turns acting as judges of their acting ability. The episdoes are only about five minutes or so in length and are distributed through CBS's innertube platform for digital video distribution. There will be a total of 24 shows for the InTurn season.

ATWT stars like Scott Holmes (he's still around) and Colleen Zenk Pinter, who made the creative Tyson commercials, from the main cast will act as judges and mentors.

Accoridng to a story from American Entertainment's TheWebNewsRoom, the current set of eight actors will be narrowed down to three, all of whom will get ATWT screen time, with viewers able to decide which one will make it as the show's newest cast member.

The show's site also includes a blog from the producer.

Fans seem divided by this, some who like seeing a different aspect of how ATWT is produced and what it's like to be an actor. These people also seem to believe it's a pretty good way to offer relevant transmedia content that doesn't overlap with what's being done on the show and also that it's a good marketing tool to reach out to people who may not be that interested in ATWT but who would love reality television like what InTurn offers.

The other camp is angry that time and energy is being wasted on a reality show when it could be used instead to invest further in the fictional world of Oakdale. These people may not have necessarily been opposed to the book released earlier this year or other projects that remain inside the fictional world but see these types of programs as being irrelevant to the show.

Either way, InTurn is another innovative effort from PGP. If the show develops a following, one has to wonder whether that following will come along with the actor who wins once he or she becomes part of the ATWT cast.

The Drive-In Theater and the Experience Economy

When I was on my way home from the aforementioned yard sale yesterday, my wife and I discussed where we could go to relax after having to get up before the sun for the past two days to get everything together for the yard zombies. We thought we might go to the drive-in theater.

Here in Ohio County, we have one of the few drive-in screens still around in this area, which is even more rare for a small town. The Tri-City Drive-In plays two first-run movies each week, along with occasional "Dusk-to-Dawn" features a few times a year. The drive-in runs every night through the summer and then on weekends through the fall before shutting down during the winter months.

But the drive-in is just the type of business that could flourish once again under an experience economy. For instance, last week we were sitting around the office talking about the drive-in. Just as there are certain films that must be experienced in a movie theater with a huge screen and people all around you, there are also types of film that are best as drive-in features.

We were talking about how certain films--like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or films low in artistic quality but targeted toward a specific fan base like Freddy vs. Jason--are only good when consumed in a communal environment with other fans. The only time I've ever seen Rocky Horror was renting it and watching it on my VCR with my wife, and it was horrendous...not the optimal viewing experience.

In the drive-in, you don't have the picture and sound quality that you would with a theater or a home theater system. You also don't have the communal environment that you have in a theater but also lack the privacy of the home. That's why the drive-in does best when it features films that appeal to a few key groups: families with children who enjoy the environment of the drive-in; friends who want to go see a good comedy that doesn't require technical precision or an amazing theatrical experience; and, most importantly, date movies.

When I was a kid, I remember the excitement of loading in the back of a pick-up truck and going to a drive-in (These days, I think you can get pulled over for that, but we always wanted to believe that we could hide in the truck bed and avoid having to pay.). Then, when I was in high school and dating Amanda, the drive-in was a regular destination as well, but it didn't particularly matter the film--it was the dating experience that made the drive-in popular. (And it appeared to also help popularize tented windows among teens in the area).

This weekend, Tony Frizzell and the folks at the Tri-City Drive-In seemed to find the perfect combination for the drive-in--the new Will Farrell film Talladega Nights served as the major attraction, with Monster House as the opener. I've never seen U.S. 231 here backed up like that for the drive-in, and the sky hadn't even started getting dark when the place appeared to be completely full.

We decided to wait until another day to take our visit to the drive-in. But I think that there is something to be capitalized on here and undoubtedly something that has been to a degree. However, I think a well-promoted and revamped drive-in operation could really start drawing in people from all around the area if the experience aspect was stepped up, particularly as a throwback to 1950s culture and the former popularity of the drive-in theater.

At the Bottom of the Branding Barrel

A few weeks ago, Grant McCracken wrote about what happens to brands when they reach the commodity basement. Well, I found brands at a different place, a place that actually holds a fairly esteemed position here in Central Kentucky, where I'm staying for the summer: the yard sale.

Yard sales (if they are inside any type of structure, they are garage sales by the way) are an important part of Kentucky life, and the newspaper is filled with reports listing the lawns which will be housing discarded junk on every weekend. Usually, these sales are on Friday and Saturday, and some families have them on an annual basis.

There's one man in McHenry who actually has a garage sale every weekend, and he puts signs as far as 30 or 40 miles away pointing the way to his weekly garage sales, a posterboard that he updates by pasting a new date on every week. I wondered how he could have so much junk inside his house to fuel a weekly garage sale, so I did a newspaper article on him and found that he went out to flea markets and everyone else's yard sales to collect enough stuff to fill his garage again every week.

But, whether it's a yard sale or it's a garage sales (we'll just call it a rummage sale for clarity's sake, which is what my grandma Beulah Hillard always called them--as in, you "rummage" through everything looking for deals), they are a cultural phenomenon. The one I participated in this weekend was a 5-mile long yard sale on KY 505, a stretch of road that connects Cromwell to Horse Branch. Every other family had yard sales or multiple sales set up.

But here's what I've found...there are certain items and certain brands that mean something at yard sales, and others that mean nothing. I had an Apple iBook laptop that got a lot of looks from lots of folks, but no one comes to yard sales prepared for $500 buys. I had a RAZR phone like new that I was selling for a couple hundred bucks that a lot of people looked at but no one wanted to come near. My fax machine and iPod and most name brand clothes in the sale suffered a similar fate.

But there was an ugly old painting that sold for a dollar. In fact, every piece of wall art and every mirror went without a problem. And I even sold an old Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association bag from the conference I went to a couple of years ago, which my mother-in-law had bet I couldn't sell...I had to throw in a hat for the quarter sale, but that thing went.

What's the point of this rambling sale? With all our talk about branding, I found one place where items are still not treated as commodity but where the name brand doesn't seem to mean much. No one cared about Apple...they cared much more about bargains and arguing people down on prices. Anything with a steadfast price is useless. In this case, it's not so much the items for sale but rather the feeling of getting a deal and the joy of arguing for prices that seemed to matter. Unlike Grant McCracken's finding a place where branded items become mere commodities, here the items and their use seems to not matter at all, but rather the act of purchasing, the fun in search and finding a deal.

But, fair warning for anyone who's never had a yard sale--the creatures come out before the sun even rises to rummage through your yard. And you usually have to close up shop shortly after lunchtime because it's gotten too bright for these people to be out. Maybe George Romero should make his next movie Rummage of the Living Dead.

August 3, 2006

Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture Released

Chris Anderson's The Long Tail is selling well, currently at #21 on the Amazon rankings (it hit #11 yesterday, due to the glowing review I gave his work here, I'm sure).

But our director here at C3, Henry Jenkins, isn't that much farther down the tail with his new book Convergence Culture. Henry's book was listed at #145,103 yesterday, but it is currently ranked at #744 for today, indicating what is sure to be called a meteoric rise.

Okay, enough of the overblown hyperbole, but the book has had a fundamental impact on the way that we here in the consortium have thought about media studies and the current mass media environment. Many of the points of our agenda are contained in the case studies Henry tackles in the book, and--although the consortium was being developed after the book was already started, we'd like to think that we had an impact on some of the points in the book as well.

In fact, and it comes as no surprise, the name of our research group came from the title of this book, and not at Henry's insistence. In fact, we did so over his objections. But, for those interesting in delving a little further into the concepts that we mention here on the blog, the book is a perfect extension. Henry tackles many of these issues--fan communities, online social networking, the implications of the Long Tail theory on fans, the fallout of copyright arguments, transmedia storytelling, fan-generated content, pop cosmopolitanism, and several others--by looking at individual case studies that demonstrate the implications of what we theorize.

In the book, he looks at the transmedia enterprise of the Matrix films, the vibrant fan communities surrounding Harry Potter, the popularity of Survivor spoilers and the way those activities change the show, as well as various political, economic, and cultural implications of the trends we are writing about on a daily basis.

For those of you who are following the blog here, I think you'll understand our research agenda and much of the theory behind it more by reading Henry's book. Between that and The Long Tail, you have your homework cut out for you.

Japanese Band Demonstrates Power of Pop Cosmopolitanism

With Henry Jenkins' new book Convergence Culture having been released (more on that later today), I thought it would be appropriate to write about something that C3 research manager Joshua Green pointed me to earlier today: a stunning example of what Henry calls "pop cosmopolitanism."

The gist of being a "pop cosmo" kind of person is that you use popular culture to learn more about distant places or to help generate cultural exchange. And that's what is happening with the major American grassroots support of a popular Japanese band...a band who has never had any mainstream media coverage in the country and whose albums are not even available for sale here.

Robert La Franco has written a fascinating piece for Wired about the phenomenal popularity of the Japanese rock band Dir en grey, whose lyrics are all in Japanese but who nevertheless have a strong American following.

He event recounts the travels of one wheelchair-bound fan, Lauran, who has traveled from coast-to-coast to watch the band perform on their first tour of America this week. If they weren't getting any plan in America yet, they will now, as they've had an album released in May, in addition to the four-stop tour, and have now been signed for the band Korn's Family Values upcoming tour.

The band was largely discovered through their MySpace page and through word of mouth among the burgeoning fan community, as fans who were converted by the group's unique sound began to proselytize. Others purchased CDs or DVDs of the band through eBay or discovered them through the world of anime and video games, where Dir en grey's music can be found. The band has been playing sellouts, and La Franco even recounts one incident in which "half the audience hoisted blue glow sticks in unison, a stunt arranged entirely via the online community site LiveJournal."

And is it profitable? Aside from landing the touring deal with Korn, the band has already made more than $80,000 in ticket sales and $65,000 in merchandising.

We've written about incidents of pop cosmopolitanism here on the blog before--for instance, looking at depictions of Japan in The Simpsons, examining Mark Twain's continued popularity in Japan, and the use of Bollywood motifs an an episode of the American soap opera Passions.

But this is different, particularly becuase of its grassroots nature. Mark Twain is questionable as popular culture, since the higher arts would claim him as well, and the other two programs are nationally distributed. The popularity of Dir en grey, on the other hand, can only be attributed to the swelling of support for them from the ground level.

Maybe the success of this small Dir en grey tour will help increase awareness of how, in an unparalleled age of social connectedness, culture can cross geogarphic and cultural boundaries or even serve as a way for us to learn more about others in the global community--to broaden our horizons through embracing fandom and popular culture.

Convergence and Transmedia in the News Industry

In the August edition of The Convergence Newsletter, the e-mail newsletter dedicated to issues of convergence in the journalism industry that I wrote about here last month, David Hazinski writes a lengthy and provokative piece on what he sees to be the overreliance on convergence in the journalism industry.

Hazinski, who is not only the head of the broadcast news tract of Grady College at the University of Georgia but who is also a principal at Intelligent Media Consultants, starts his piece with an anecdote about discussing convergence with a high-ranking CNN executive who said that the word made him sick and was "yesterday's trend."

Of course, we here at C3 would argue to the death about convergence being yesterday's news. And I would especially argue it with someone at CNN, one of our corporate partners through Turner Broadcasting.

But the problem is how the word is used. As I made my way through Hazinski's piece, I realized that his focus was not really on what we call convergence--which has a transmedia focus that doesn't see everything converge into one black box. Instead, he's still stuck in this mode of thinking of convergence solely as this "uberjournalist" perspective that we discussed in J-school, where one journalist would be expected to perform in every media form.

Hazinski begs journalism programs around the country to stop trying to teach journalists to report in all media forms which "will result in them having little market value." Instead, he says that "it would be like training a doctor to know a lot about different kinds of health but not equip him or her with the skills to cure anyone." And I agree with him. This is precisely not what journalism programs should do. But that doesn't mean convergence doesn't work, merely that it can't be defined so narrowly.

Continue reading "Convergence and Transmedia in the News Industry" »

Four Ways to Kill MySpace....

I posted this on my blog late last night. Considering the recent writings here on the C3 blog about MySpace here and here and here, I thought it would be relevant to cross-post here as well.

It's been a bad week -- make that, a really really bad few weeks -- for MySpace, for supporters of participatory culture, indeed for anyone who cares about civil liberties. MySpace is being hit on all sides and it remains to be seen which -- if any -- of these blows do lasting damage to its status as an important social networking site.

1. The Dopes in Washington:

By now, most of you who read this blog will have heard that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) by an overwhelming 410-15 majority last week and the aptly named law now moves to the U.S. Senate, where it is also expected to pass. A growing number of Library and civil liberty organizations have come out in opposition to the law. Here's what the President of the American Library Association Leslie Burger had to say about the legislation:

"This unnecessary and overly broad legislation will hinder students' ability to engage in distance learning and block library computer users from accessing a wide array of essential Internet applications including instant messaging, email, wikis and blogs....Under DOPA, people who use library and school computers as their primary conduits to the Internet will be unfairly blocked from accessing some of the web's most powerful emerging technologies and learning applications. As libraries are already required to block content that is "harmful to minors" under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), DOPA is redundant and unnecessary legislation."

danah boyd and I co-authored a public statement describing some of the reasons why we think this is a really bad piece of legislation earlier this summer. It's hard to know what more I can tell you now that I didn't say then. So if you haven't read our statement, take time to read it. Go ahead -- we'll wait for you to catch up.

Continue reading "Four Ways to Kill MySpace...." »

A Shift to a Gamer-Focused Conference? PAX vs. E3

The video game industry will be changed fundamentally by the news that broke a few days ago: that the E3 games conference will be downsized significantly. And, according to my colleague here at the Convergence Culture Consortium Alec Austin, the biggest beneficiary appears to be the Penny Arcade. Take a look at this post from them regarding their PAX gamers conference.

Now, reading much from me about the latest in the video game industry is like getting your weather report from a clerk at the BP have to take it with a grain of salt because there's a good chance I don't know what I'm talking about. While I was quite the gamer in my younger days, I hadn't played video games to any great extent for years until I got a PS2 last Christmas from my wife (a wife who wants you to game...yes, I am THAT lucky). And, owning the machine really hasn't increased my gaming any. I've played a total of 10 minutes this summer so far.

But I think any discussion of transmedia would be a shame without looking at the gaming industry, which provides so much innovative thinking for what we're calling convergence culture. Considering the amount of energy prior E3 conferences have generated, it seems to many that the highly exclusive annual event, even if its attendance is restricted, is nevertheless the biggest event of the industry. So many major stories flow out of that conference that it affects all the "unwashed masses" who aren't able to sneak in across the world.

But, with E3 now being downsized, Alec--and the bloggers at Penny Arcade--point out that PAX will be picking up some of the slack, with its emphasis on gamers. How will this affect the gaming industry? PAX won't likely have all the grand theatrics and slickness of the E3 conference, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have the potential to create an even more charged creative atmosphere if all the energy that once flowed through E3 is transferred to PAX instead.

I'm sure Alec or many others could elaborate on this exponentially, but I just thought it was worthy of highlighting this week, since it could have a fundamental impact on the industry over the next few years.

August 2, 2006

MTV Purchases College Online News Publisher

Could MTV be well on its way to creating a converged media operation of its own for its colllege coverage?

I've written a lot lately about how issues of transmedia are affecting the news environment at the big network guns like ABC and NBC and how print journalists and J-schools alike are debating the role of convergence in creating better news coverage for the audience/citizens.

Now, it appears that our partners at MTV Networks may be heading in a more converged direction for their college channel, mtvU...or at least they are putting all the tools in place to do so.

This week, news broke that the company has purchased Youth Media & Marketing Networks, or Y2M, which owns the College Publisher tool that 450 online campus newspapers use. The program reaches approximately 5 million college students. I'm familiar with College Publisher through the short time I spent with the WKU College Heights Herald in Kentucky.

Unfortunately, most of the focus at this point about the potential of creating a transmedia corporation is the advertising packages that can be put together. Sure, that's exciting for the bottom line, but if owning both the college television network and the college publishing tools only leads to better packages to sell, it seems to me that MTVN will be missing some of the potential of this deal.

How much better coverage can mtvU give college campuses if it works in tandem with the newspapers who use College Publisher to focus on stories that might be of interest to campuses across the country? While mtvU focuses on a variety of programming, it seems that they this acquirement could aid them in solidifying their reputation as a responsible member of campuses across the country by providing cross-media coverage, where mtvU could help create awareness of stories written by student journalists across the country by giving them play in their own programming and thus making people more interested in mtvU in the process.

Will creating some synergy between their new print division and their already established television network increase the bottom line further? I can't be sure, but creating more compelling programming for colleges and taking advantage of the tools available can only be a boon for the reputations of both College Publisher and mtvU if the company chooses to take advantage to what is now available through this acquisition.

Ivan Went to Comicon and All I Got Was a Lousy Photograph of T-Shirts

The title says it all. I've been wanting to go to Comicon for years now but once again, I didn't get to go. I sent C3 media analyst Ivan Askwith to be my eyes and ears at the event. I originally posted this on my blog but thought it would be relevant here as well since Ivan is a contributor to this blog. PIctures from the convention are available on my site.

This is the first of an unspecified number of blog posts he's writing about his experiences there. Here's what he had to report:

Continue reading "Ivan Went to Comicon and All I Got Was a Lousy Photograph of T-Shirts" »

Murder Mystery Interactive Movie Launches

My cousin and his wife, the future Drs. Steven and Kara Ford, have been bragging to me for a while about their extravagant honeymoon they've planned, going on one of these murder mystery cruise ships.

I was juealous, until Siddiq Bello forwarded me news of the new interactive murder mystery movie being launched by the Toronto-based SR Entertainment. I grew up as a big fan of Clue, the board game that now has integrated a DVD, but particularly the 1985 comedy film, so I was particularly excited to read in their press release that the transmedia online film is being called "a unique blend of Clue and a choose-your-own adventure movie." (And, yes, I was one of those kids who read those books, too, although there's only so far your imagination can take you when you are constantly flipping to page 135 and then 262 and then back to 67 to find out your fate.)

The project is called Mystery at Mansfield Manor, and the launch of this film/game reminds me of the more primitive versions of PC games that included video clips in the process of solving a mystery, such as the round of Clue games in which players watched video clips to delve further into solving the age old mystery of who did it in what room and with what weapon.

The new live-action interactive murder mystery movie is playing at the project's Web site. Participants in the interactive movie have to plunk down about $7 U.S. or $8 Canadian to receive a four-day pass to the Web site for unlimimited access to go through the murder mystery.

According to the synopsis provided by the site, the story features a protagonist police detective on the night before he is scheduled to be forced into an early retirement. The detective, Frank Mitchell, has been sent to extravagant Mansfield Manor to investigate the murder of Colin Mansfield, Sr., the wealthy oil man who controlled the families fortunes.

The viewer becomes Det. Mitchell and has a time limit to solve the mystery before the story's deadline of midnight, when he will enter retirement. Rory Scherer, the impressario in charge of the whole project, acted as both producer of the game and screenwriter and is operating as public relations specialist as well, basically a one-man creative show.

According to the site, the game begins with the interrogation of the first suspect, the maid of the murder victim, who starts to reveal her memories of the evening through flashbacks. The majority of the game works through various interrogations, in which the player must decide the veracity of the various characters' statements.

The game has a variety of potential endings through what amounts to 2.5 hours of video time. According to the press release, the game "gets even more involving as some interactive components allow the viewer to become further immersed in the investigation."

In some ways, this is just the type of mini-transmedia project we've been talking about. Not having played the game, I don't know how much farther this takes things than that Clue game I played a few years ago on my PC, but I think the potential is definitely there and that more projects like this will begin scratching the surface.

The Long Tail in Book Form

There has been a lot of talk in media studies and across the industry over the past year about Wired editor Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory, which looks at the combined profit made available from allowing everything in an archive be available...hence there being a long tail of media consumption.

According to the theory, while physical media stores can only make available the most popular merchandise, digital warehouses that can store scores of content will make more profit on the merchandise that wouldn't fit into a bookstore or music shop than it would on the top sellers.

Of course, Anderson's own book won't be able to be studied as an example of his own theory, at least not at this point, becuase it has landed him at number 10 on the New York Times hardcover non-fiction best-sellers list at present time. The book, which was released on July 11, has helped expand the reach of Anderson's theory and also has given space for him to elaborate on the meaning of his theory and its implications on the media universe.

This Sunday's New York Times features a short review of the book which includes a quote from his recent appearance on All Things Considered, attributing the rise of his theory to the popularity of the "infinite shelf space" provided by media distribution juggernauts iTunes, Amazon, and NetFlix.

I know most of the C3 team and many visitors of the site may be familiar with Anderson's theory, and we've written about it many times, such as with the way that the theory is enabling sites like TV Shows on DVD. Anderson's work is a perfect example of the meaning of convergence culture and is well worth a look for understanding both the business and cultural reasoning behind the rise of these new distribution forms over the past few years.

August 1, 2006

AOL Video Launching Beta Version

News broke yesterday that AOL will be launching a beta version of the new AOL Video platform this week, which is available for free here. According to a press release touting its coming, the new project will offer more than 45 new video-on-demand channels from established brands in traditional media and accessible through search options, and the ability to view both free and pay content, including full-length television shows, film trailers, news and music videos. The free content, of course, will be advertising-supported, since access to the player is free and available to non-AOL customers.

However, the new portal will not simply be one-way communication but also offers users the ability to post their own videos through the UnCut Video site, which provides support to upload video from home video cameras, cell phones or Web cams.

AOL is especially touting its new interactive programming guides which "brings together free and download-to-won video content from across broadcast and cable television and the Web and organizes it into new, branded video-on-demand channels." Additionally, the company brags at having the most powerful video search engine on the Internet, providing search results from a variety of other video sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

Last week, I wrote about IN2TV's new Spanish-language channel, an AOL online content provider that is making 1980s sit-coms available en espanol. But the company is continually expanding its horizons with the video services it offers.

The company is working with a variety of familiar faces from across the cable television spectrum including A&E Television Networks and Procter & Gamble Productions, the oldest soap opera production company in the country which produces As
the World Turns
, the 50-year old soap opera mentioned here frequently due to my research interests in the program. Both MTV Networks and Turner Broadcasting, two of our partners here in the consortium, are also providing programming for the AOL Video initiative.

The power of its deep resources when it comes to content is going to push the product far enough, but does AOL present a unique enough product to compete with YouTube and Google Video in user-generated content and video sharing? And what will its affects be on pay-for-content video providers like Amazon and iTunes?

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for pointing me in this direction.

MySpace and YouTube Expanding Rapidly

User-controlled technology has been the talk of the summer across the Internet and especially here on our blog. The headliners have been YouTube, which has shown us the way to a lot of interesting fan-generated content as evidenced here and here, and MySpace, which I wrote about earlier this week becuase of the Marines now using the site as a major marketing opportunity.

Now, these two cultural behemoths appear to be poised for war. YouTube, with its incredible growth over the past couple of years, is being challenged by a viable challenger for "number one Internet site," MySpace. MySpace has seen its audience burgeoning, tripling the number of individual viewers in week-to-week ratings on the week of July 17.

The battling grounds? Video distribution. While YouTube has been identified as the unquestioned king (or queen, being gender-equal) of video sharing online, despite the efforts of Google Video and others, MySpace has seen its video viewers spike from 2.9 million for the week of July 10 to 10.4 million for the week of July 17, according to Television Week's Daisy Whitney.

Does this mean that it's a battle for ultimate supremacy? No, as the focus of the two sites are different enough that they should be able to co-exist, but these types of numbers demonstrate how user-controlled conversation and creation is expanding through the opportunities provided by new technologies. As MySpace and YouTube become greater social phenomena, the ability of viewers and readers to talk back expands, as does the ability of producers to tell transmedia stories.

And the spike in MySpace's numbers does not indicate flagging numbers for YouTube, which is also continuing to grow. These numbers are demonstrating that people, above all, love the chance to have a voice and a chance to be a part of the creative process, whether that be through creating and sharing videos or their own Web pages and personas.

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