September 30, 2006

Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary

I originally posted this piece earlier this week on my blog.

This has been my week for dealing with law professors -- having engaged in a conversation with Yale Law Professor Yochai Benkler last week at the MIT Communications Forum, I was pleased to find a review of Convergence Culture over at the blog of the University of Chicago Law School written by Randy Picker. The first and second parts of the review mostly provide a detailed, accurate, and positive summary of the key points from the book, targeting those passages which may be particularly relevant to people interested in the legal implications of participatory culture. The last segment, not surprisingly, gets into the book's discussion of fandom and intellectual property law. I thought I would use my post today to respond to a few of Picker's key points there.

Now let's be clear that I am no expert on the law. My wife happens to have a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and we both take some interest in developments in the area of intellectual property law and regulation of free speech. I suspect I know more than most laymen about these matters as they impact fan culture and the other sites of grassroots participation I have written about. But I would be a fool to try to debate the fine points of the law with a scholar of Picker's stature.

Fan FIction and Fair Use
Picker writes:

Jenkins pushes (p.190) for a reformulation of fair use "to legitimate grassroots, not-for-profit circulation of critical essays, and stories that comment on the content of mass media." But he clearly wants more, as he recognizes that most fans aren't that interested in producing work that the law is most likely to protect (parody or critical commentary of the sort seen in The Wind Done Gone), but who want instead to write about Ron and Hermione kissing.

Let me spell out a little more precisely what I argue on page 190 in the book:

Nobody is sure whether fan fiction falls under current fair-use protections. Current copyright law simply doesn't have a category for dealing with amateur creative expression. Where there has been a public interest factored into the legal definition of fair use -- such as the desire to protect the rights of libraries to circulate books or journalists to quote or academics to cite other researchers -- it has been advanced in terms of legitimated classes of users and not a generalized public right to cultural participation. Our current notion of fair use is an artifact of an era when few people had access to the market place of ideas and those who did fell into certain professional classes. It sure demands close reconsideration as we develop technologies that broaden who may produce and circulate cultural materials. Judges know what to do with people who have professional interests in the production and distribution of culture; they don't know what to do with amateurs or people they deem to be amateurs.

For me, the phrase, the public right to cultural participation is a key concept underlying the book's discussion. If I had my way, the right to participate would become as important a legal doctrine for the 21st century as the right to privacy as been in the late 20th century. I argue elsewhere in the book that a right to participate might be abstracted from the combined rights listed in the First Amendment and the right to participate would include the right to respond meaningfully to core materials of your culture. In that sense, I might go beyond our current understanding of fair use.

Continue reading "Fan Fiction as Critical Commentary" »

Fundraiser to Get Your Name in an Author's Book

Some very clever fundraising campaigns have taken place on eBay. There are, of course, the personal kind, such as the number of professional wrestlers putting their old ring attire up for bid in hopes of generating some extra cash flow and even one ex-female wrestling personality putting her implants on eBay. (WWE has its own auction site for "guaranteed authentic" items).

One of the most clever recent fundraising campaigns on eBay was used to raise money for a good cause by leading to interaction with a celebrity. In the case of the recent First Amendment Project fundraiser, however, it was not anything physical that the winning bidder received but instead the chance to have their name appear in an upcoming book from a variety of different authors.

According to its defined purpose, the "First Amendment Project is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition. For nearly ten years, FAP has provided advice, educational materials, and legal representation to its core constituency of activists, journalists, and artists in service of these fundamental liberties."

The authors who signed onto this project believe in the reach and goals of the First Amendment Project and are going to reward winning bidders by immortalizing them. The bids ran through most of September and, in all, raised $14,146.88.

From a "convergence standpoint," the contest is interesting on two fronts, both for the fundraiser campaign taking place through eBay and thus not only raising money for the First Amendment Project but also gaining a lot of free publicity as millions more became aware of the auction even without directly participating. And, of course, the implications for reader/author interaction is great when readers are bidding for a chance to appear in an author's upcoming book. Authors also gave away signed copies of books and personal phone calls to the winning bidders.

The most fierce competition was for author Chris Ware, with the winner bidding $4,049.99 to appear in Ware's next work. Another reader paid $2,850.00 to appear in Philip Margolin's next book.

Also participating in the contest was Tim Green (winning bid $1,259.46), Lorrie Moore (winning bid $1,136.01), Carl Hiassen (winning bid $1,025), Elinor Lipman (winning bid $511), Douglas Preston (winning bid $511), Francine Prose (winning bid $510), Kevin J. Anderson (winning bid $449.44), Edward P. Jones (winning bid $449.44), John Lescroart (winning bid $449.44), Patricia Polacco (winning bid $406), Stephen Elliott (winning bid $305), and Emily Barton (winning bid $235).

Thanks to Henry Jenkins for bringing the eBay campaign to my attention.

What is High-Definition? Lawyers Want to Know.

The latest big buzz in many high-definition conversations is not about the latest programming to switch over to HDTV but about litigation, particularly the class-action lawsuit that has been filed by California attorney Philip Cohen, claiming he has been given poor picture quality by DirecTV that does not actually qualify as HD, making it false advertising.

The judge ruled against the possibility of arbitration in mid-September, launching a new phase of discussion among proponents of high-definition surrounding this two-year-old case. Cohen claims that the bandwidth for DirecTV's channels has become so crowded that it's compromised the quality of the signal.

The case brings to light the lack of clear and concise definitions of what is and what is not high-definition television. Cohen claims that HD is an advertisement for a level of picture quality that is not currently being delivered by the satellite company, but the signal is certainly better than standard definition television. The possibility of a trial gives some the hope of standardization for high-definition, with legal restrictions clearly defining what can and cannot be labeled as such.

Some degree of latitude exists for using phrases to advertise one's product that may have a bit of hyperbole, most cleverly mocked by Will Farrell's character in Elf, who stops by a New York City shop to buy his newfound girlfriend "the world's best cup of coffee," as the sign says, thinking it would be one of the best dates of her life. But is the claim of HD by DirecTV fraudulent?

James Hibberd provides an informative piece on the whole situation as part of his weekly coverage of issues surrounding high-definition television for TelevisionWeek. He includes interviews with experts on high-definition television, legal experts, and statements from a DirecTV representative.

September 29, 2006

Picking Over Pilots

This piece was originally posted on my blog a few days ago.

Let's take a moment today to think about the shifting status of the pilot episode on American television -- a worthy topic in the midst of the rolling out of a battery of new television shows across the various networks.

In the past, the pilot served very specific functions within the behind-the-scenes decision-making at the networks. We might think of the pilot as functioning in television the way that a character sheet functions in comics or animation: it seeks to define the core characters and central premise of the series but it also does so by pushing them into their most extreme versions. The characters in pilots are often over-defined to the point of being reduced to stereotypes as the producers try to show who these people are, how they relate to each other, and what functions they serve in terms of the plot.

Compounding this problem is the degree to which performers have not yet fully jelled with their characters -- in many cases, they may have just received news that they were assigned these roles and been rushed into production on short notice. They are trying desperately to prove they can act so they can hold onto these parts. In the past, it was not at all unusual to recast key roles after the pilot was shot and before the series reached the air. In any case, we know that character on television is generated as much by choices made by the performer on set as they take up the roles as written and make them their own and typically it takes a few episode for the rough edges to give way to more fully human characters. (Of course, the opposite can also happen and a compelling character in the pilot can be smoothed out or compromised through the production process.)

Radical shifts in the conception of the series may occur after the pilot has been shot (see, for example, the case of classic Star Trek where Spock was a highly emotional character in the pilot and Number One, a character cut after the pilot, represented the voice of cold rationality). The pilot was almost never a particularly strong episode from the point of view of the audience but producers and network executives knew how to read pilots, or thought they did, and used them as tools to make decisions about the show's fate. It would not be rare for the pilot to get shuffled into rotation later in the run of the series (again, Star Trek is the classic example here where the original pilot got reframed and turned into a two part episode -- a flashback -- later in the run of the series). There was a clear separation between the pilot and the first episode.

And all of this took place behind closed doors. Network executives saw lots of pilots; they knew more or less which ones turned into good shows down the line and they knew what were the symptomatic rough spots experienced by most pilots. They might be anxious about innovation and shut down shows which took them in new directions; many of those shows are more likely to be embraced by at least cult audiences than network executives, but for most series, they knew what they were looking at when they saw a pilot.

Continue reading "Picking Over Pilots" »

September 28, 2006

Government Videos Distributed Through YouTube

Another major institution has realized the value of video sharing sites like YouTube, as the U.S. government has started to distribute some of its anti-drug material through the cultural phenomenon, in hopes that its repurposed content will reach new audiences and be shared throughout YouTube.

The content, which consists of a vareity of commercials/public service announcements that were just repurposed into a clip to be distrubted online, has been posted to the site in hopes of reaching young people in ways that they prefer their content.

The article, by Ted Bridis with the Associated Press, focuses on the wide variety of drug-related YouTube content, including videos depicting drug use and many videos of people doing things while supposedly high, and the ways in which the government's anti-drug content is hoped to counteract the reach of these drug-related videos.

As YouTube increasingly becomes a blend of a few corporate-driven pieces of content among a vast majority of user-generated pieces of video, the government is hoping to carve out a space out in this area.

Bridis quotes a statement from Rafael Lemaitre, spokesperson for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in which he says, "If just one teen sees this and decides illegal drug use is not the path for them, it will be a success." Further, national drug policy advisor John Walters says that "public institution must adapt to meet the realities of these promising technologies."

How will government content fit into the YouTube space? Will it generate a significant amount of interest? Only time will tell...

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for forwarding this article to me.

David Betancourt's Feeling Old

When Paul Simon sings about what it feels like to get old in his 2000 song "Old," he's thinking about the battle when the young man finds himself not quite so young anymore. When I went to see Simon & Garfunkel in concert a couple of times during their last run, it was quite surreal to see these two men on stage, singing about "how terribly strange to be 70," a song written about observing two old men at a park bench written when they were in their 20s and now sung by two guys who are nearing the age of those old men they observed.

But David Betancourt, a columnist with the Washington Post, writes about his struggle with getting old in his column early this week. And Betancourt is only 26.

Betancourt examines some of the misconceptions of looking at a technologically savvy 20-something market, pointing out that every year of age seems divided these days by the technology that divides them. Considering the amount of technological innovation that comes through from one year to the next, Betancourt points out that the technological divide between himself and his two younger sisters is a growing chasm that he doesn't feel he can navigate.

Betancourt writes about his sister in college who his hooked to a BlackBerry and his younger sister, 12, who communicates most heavily through text messaging. Betancourt writes:

Ashley and Bianca would roll their eyes at me and laugh.

But that's okay because I know that someday soon, Dakota, my 4-year-old sister who has yet to discover technology but soon will, is going to make them feel as old as they're making me feel now.

The column is a clever and anecdotal report from Belancourt but indicative of the complicated demographic divides that exist in 20-somethings and complicates lumping these viewers together. The cultural and technological experience of consumers only a couple of years apart does become a significant divide considering the amount of new products or new services released from one year to the next, such as the casual adoption of the BlackBerry, the development of increasingly sophisticated cell phones, the video iPod, and the list goes on and on.

Thanks to Joshua Green for bringing the article to my attention.

September 27, 2006

On the MTVN Purchase of Harmonix

One of the major news stories of the last week regarding cross-platform content is the intriguing acquisition of Harmonix not by anyone heavily associated with the video game industry but rather cable group MTVN.

The connection these two companies share is not that hard to make, since Harmonix is known for promoting games that cross over into music, and the MTV brand has a lot invested in the pop music industry, even if some of its program isn't explicitly tied to musical content (as the complaint so often seems to be).

However, MTVN wasn't the traditional company one would expect to be in competition to buy a business that produces video games. I did hear some waves going around for a while before the sale was announced that MTVN was going to be the top bidder, but this did not come at all from our research affiliation with MTV Networks and did not come from someone who works with the company.

One would think that it is directly tied to the phenomenal success of the Guitar Hero game that has made Harmonix a revolutionary name for gamers. I know that I've endured many a night that devolved into a de facto guitar tournament between MIT colleagues, as this Flickr collection demonstrates, although I've never partaken.

What is MTVN's plans? We've seen them aggressively expand into the college newspaper space and into digital downloading through their Urge product, and this latest acquisition has many people speculating. But it does prove that the company continually has its eye on spreading into new media platforms that can expand the product while also remaining true to the MTV brand's DNA. Only time will tell what this acquisition will mean.

Harmonix has been an interest of discussion from some time here, stemming back to a debate about what constitutes a lifestyle brand, such as this piece from David Edery and my response. Maybe David has a point, that one of the main reasons Harmonix ultimately became attractive to MTVN is that they were developing some of the characteristics of a lifestyle brand, making them fit nicely into the MTV package.

Thanks to Joshua Green for forwarding along one of the articles linked here.

Starz and Sony Strike Movie Distribution Agreement

The deal between NBC and Cablevision isn't the only new partnership announced this week that will affect multi-platform distribution of content.

Sony Pictures announced on Monday a deal with Starz Entertainment, through which Starz will be able to distribute films not only on its pay cable channels but also through video-on-demand content, as well as broadband Internet distribution.

Starz will have more than 500 Sony movies at its disposal to distribute through cable and satellite VOD, as well as the Vongo online movie download service. The deal will begin in 2008 and stretch until 2014.

So, while this deal won't be kicking in for a while, Sony and Starz are both preparing for the future, as movies are increasingly becoming as cross-platform as television shows. iPod has announced movies for download with the next generation of players, while Sprint continues experimenting with movies-on-demand for its mobile users and CinemaNow offers Burn-to-DVD services.

This continued drive to multiplatforming shows an increasing awareness by the industry that they have to provide content in as many ways as possible to reach as many viewers as possible. As systems like these are increasingly put in place, viewers gain more autonomy as to when an where they receive content.

NBC Launching Shows into Cablevision VOD

CBS isn't the only company continue to push its product aggressively in video-on-demand. Last week, I wrote about the deal struck between Comcast and CBS to offer a number of the network's top programs into the VOD space for free, with advertising support. Now, NBC has announced a further move into video-on-demand by working with Cablevision.

According to the announcement, which was released earlier today, Cablevision will add popular series like Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and The Office, as well as Friday Night Lights and Las Vegas starting next month, with each episode being available the day after they initially air on NBC and costing 95 cents per download. This is the fourth such VOD deal for NBC, as it has previous arrangements in place with DirecTV, Time Warner, and Comcast.

NBC also recently moved The Office further into the mobile platform with mobisodes distributed through i-Play, has debuted its own ad-supported in-house digital player to stream its shows online, had struck a deal with AOL to air the first episodes of some of its popular shows a week before they debuted on television, and, earlier this summer, previewed shows through Netflix.

As this brief rundown demonstrates, the show has made some major changes in the last few weeks alone.

September 26, 2006

ABC Expanding Transmedia News Opportunities

Every top American television network has been flooding headlines about intersting cross-platform and new media experiments over the past month. While these competitors have been running neck-and-neck to enter new platforms and distribution spaces, ABC has introduced a number of new initatives in the past week.

Already, the Disney-owned network has introduced a million free iPod downloads of season finales from popular shows to help build audience interest in the launch of these shows' new seasons, streaming shows through its own site, debuting a podcast for its daytime show All My Children, all in the past month.

News has already broken this week that ABC is now going to be offering an online player that will offer a stream of ABC News to the sites of its network of more than 200 affiliates. These will include pieces from both the evening news and Good Morning America, with the ultimate plan being to make the player also accessible for the stations to load their own content as well. The players will initially be used by affiliates just to channel national programming but should start to feature local content within a few months in areas in which affiliates take advantage of the opportunity. This comes on the heels of the story mentioned above, in which local networks are making their streaming of shows available for affiliate sites, with local advertising added in.

This is part of the continued effort to drop temporality from ABC News, aside from its morning show. The campaign began this summer and is part of the continued effort from network news divisions to move their content into transmedia spaces.

Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek also has information on a number of national advertisers who have signed on for interactive advertising for shows being streamed online for ABC.

Guiding Light Podcast Getting Ink This Week

A recent story by David Segal in the Washington Post details the transition of Procter & Gamble soap opera Guiding Light into audio form. Although written in the usual, intelligent but tongue-in-cheek tone that soaps are usually covered in, Segal looks at how the idea got generated--the show's Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler thought of the idea when her husband talked about the ability to follow the show while moving around the house as long has he had the volume up loud enough. The story was republished in the Chicago Tribune today.

According to CBS VP of Daytime Programming Barbara Bloom, the downloads of the Guiding Light podcasts number "in the tens of thousands," but the show remains one of the lower rated soaps, usually generating about 2.5 million viewers. Most soaps' ratings have been cut in half over the past decade, which this article cites as being due to the number of women going to work and the increasing number of television choices.

The story's details of the way in which the show is transformed into a podcast is fascinating, following the employee who edits the 40-minute show (once commercials are stripped away) into a 25-minute download for the iPod or to listen to on the computer, with all the scenes that are more visual in nature, close-ups on people's faces, etc., stripped out, and voiceover narration added in.

As I've mentioned before, GL's sister show As the World Turns is doing a podcast as well.

The article is a good read for those interested in cross-platform content like this and how content from one media form can be transformed on a daily basis into another medium.

But one aspect of this story that Segal doesn't look into very deeply is the fact that, since Guiding Light began as a radio show, the content has come full circle in some ways. The show launched in 1937 on the radio and transferred to television in 1952. Now, for the past year, it has returned to the audio form, and some people say they can enjoy the show just as much without the visuals.

This strikes up an interesting debate within the soap opera industry. Do soaps not use the visual well enough? On the other hand, those close ups to people's faces have become the staple of the soap opera genre, and the actors often tell so much of the story through their body language. If the remedy appears to some to be to introducing snazzy editing or more dreadful special effects (seldom look good on a soap budget), I think they are going the wrong way.

You do lose a lot with a soap when you don't see the actors engaging with each other, but dialogue remains the essential form of the soap opera, and any attempt to distract from that changes the art. The podcast won't become a preferable replacement for the soap opera, but it does prove to be useful for a lot of people and proof that dialogue-driven soaps can be repurposed in many different formats.

On Sunday, I wrote about an upcoming Guiding Light crossover into the world of Marvel comics.

Fans Finally Get Mama on DVD

For the past several months, I've written about the struggle for fans of the 1980s situation comedy Mama's Family to get their show released on DVD. The show was finally released today, with the 13-episode first season hitting shelves.

I grew up watching the show, and it's a nostalgic favorite of mine. Last year, when I was interested in finding out if the show was available on DVD or would be, I stumbled onto a Mama's Family fan community, something I was actually pretty surprised to find. While I enjoyed the show, I never realized that a sitcom from the eighties that has not really been heralded as one that belongs in the all-time classic canon would have such a vibrant following.

Yet, on a variety of fan sites, there were discussion boards on which Mama's Family fans were updating every day, schedules of when the episodes were running in syndication, which episodes they would be, and further discussion about those sitcoms, etc. And there was a vibrant campaign to get those shows released on DVD. One fan had all of the episodes transferred to DVD from recording the shows every day off television and offered to share with others, but the fans as a whole wanted an official DVD set.

There were petitions going around, and the fans made concentrated effort on voting for the show on the TV Shows on DVD Web site. It didn't take long to move the show up the chart, so that Mama's Family remained in the Top 15 fairly consistently.

The campaign seemed to work because it was only a few months later that news broke that they were considering a DVD release and then an announcement that they were releasing the show on DVD. Now, finally, Mama's Family has been released.

It makes a fascinating case study for understanding the power of products to reach to fan communities. In this case, it was a user-driven demand for Mama's Family to be released, even though the show was available in syndication every day. What still baffles me, even with my own love for the show, is that there was a connection with this program so strong that it has driven people to maintain a relationship to the content more than 15 years after the show went off the air.

Situation comedies rarely inspire this type of continued ardent support, but even though the Mama's Family fan communities were not as massive as most current shows or as ardent as Star Trek fans or other well-documented fan groups, I'm still amazed that the show has held this type of interest.

I'll be fascinated to see how well sales go for the show. I don't expect it to be one of the major hits, but its success--and fan demand for the release--is indicative of the Long Tail theory...that there remains niche audiences for content like this that it becomes profitable to fill. And these Mama's Family fan sites remain up as continued content for the product, years after the show is over. They are currently following not only the DVD release of the show but also the move of the syndicated run from TBS to the new i Network.

How can companies that own content in the archives and fans who remain active in their proselytizing for their favorite shows long after they have quit producing continue to work together and form active and current relationships surrounding old content? These will be the types of questions that should be considered in the coming years, and the Mama's Family fan community is a fascinating place to look.

September 24, 2006

Soap Opera/Comic Superhero Crossover?!?

Here's a project that crosses over into two great interests of mine but whose success I'm still not quite sure of...sort of like how two of my favorite foods are chocolate and pasta, but I'm not sure I want to put hot fudge on my penne anytime soon. It seems that the two company's approach, though, may just make this counter-intuitive crossover work.

Either way, I have to give the folks at Marvel Comics and Procter & Gamble Productions points for originality for the upcoming plan to incorporate the City of Springfield, the fictional home of the residents of the daytime drama series Guiding Light, into a storyline for the famed Avengers team of super heroes.

According to a Newsarama interview with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, the idea for this soap opera/comic book crossover came after folks from Marvel consulted with a designer from Guiding Light regarding a wedding gown for Storm of the X-Men. According to Quesada, Marvel's Sales VP David Gabriel "broached the idea with them about doing a bit of audience cross-pollination and they loved the idea."

I'm in the process of a small group study this semester with Henry Jenkins in which I am considering my own attraction to types of entertainment that have narrative universes that are large enough to become immersed in. I've found that my own interest in pro wrestling and soap operas come from this aspect of their narrative, that there is too much programming to ever be able to master, too much history to ever be able to know, and a wealth of former characters and storylines to draw off of.

My thesis project on soap operas, studying my longtime favorite and Guiding Light's sister show As the World Turns, can be explained by this, too. To know the history of the thousands of characters and the 50 years worth of storylines that have been on that show is impossible, but it leaves a wealth of potential stories to explore throughout the show's past.

Although I haven't regularly read comic books since I was in high school, I know that my love for the superhero universes can be explained in the same way, especially with Marvel, which has incorporated soap opera-style storytelling in the adventures of its heroes over the years.

The crossover seems an interesting one, as it seems the target demographic of soaps and comic books are drastically different. However, Quesada says that the Avengers-GL crossover "is just one more way that we're trying to reach out beyond our usual audience in an effort to expose those who don't know anything about the greatness of comics and hopefully come back with a few new converts."

In an age of niche targeted demographics for almost everything, that's a refreshing statement to read. With the way things are currently structured, almost every entertainment property has a surplus audience that most writers/producers/performers ignore. Because of the immersive natures of both story types, I can see a very compelling reason why soap opera fans would love comics if they were ever exposed to them in a way that interests them. Hopefully, the Marvel writers can present a compelling story that also stays true to the characters of the soap.

And I'll definitely have to say that the world of comics can fit the characters of GL in much better than the televised Springfield could handle the Avengers. This is one time in which transmedia storytelling would not play well, as soaps generally strive for realism, a realism that really would be ruined by having a team of superheroes invade the town "to determine if a new super-powered character will be a friend or fiend."

Conversely, the folks at GL may be hoping to introduce a few of their characters strongly in the comic series and convince a few people to give their daytime show a chance.

But the Avengers should just consider themselves lucky that they didn't come to Springfield during the Roger Thorpe era, or they would have a power on their hands not even a super hero could control!

Thanks to Geoffrey Long for pointing me to this story.

The Industry Tensions Over HD Commercials

For those interested in the development of high-definition television, a potentially significant event happened this past week at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau conference in New York City.

Manning Field, the senior vice-president for Chase Bank, made a compelling speech asking for even more high-definition adoption on television because his company is starting to develop all of their advertisements in high-definition.

TelevisionWeek's James Hibberd writes a compelling piece about the struggle between advertisers and content producers/networks regarding the high-definition argument. As Hibberd writes, "Mr. Field's stance is a twist on a common theme among television executives." Chase is relatively rare in its decision to produce all of its advertisements in high-definition, since almost all ads are still shot in standard definition. According to Hibberd, a summer AdWeek report says that 99 percent of ads are still shot in standard.

Hibberd admits his own confusion as to why there has not been significant advertising interest in switching to high-definition, since the format in which most ads were shot and the short duration of ads mean that it would not be a significant cost increase to film in high-def.

And, since the majority of primetime series are now shot in high definition, Hibberd points out that, "when the program goes to a break, the TV image shrinks due to pillar boxes appearing on the sides o the screen and the picture quality becomes significantly grainy compared with the primary programming. In the age of the digital video recorder, the dramatic change practically begs viewers to fast-forward until the HD content returns."

Hibberd quotes Field as saying that the problem is that a lot of consumers have "drunk the HD Kool-Aid," no offense to Fred Raley (sorry for the inside joke), but that a lot of people making decisions as advertisers may not have HD at home and may not personally realize how un-sexy these standard-definition commercials are when watching them on a high-definition program.

The article is worth a read, and Hibberd's focus on the weekly developments of high-definition are a great resource for those interested in the adoption of HD and the various cultural struggles currently involved with adoption of the technology--yet another aspect of convergence culture and the confusing that is raised anytime change comes about in the media industry.

New Advertising Techniques Using Scientific Methods to Better Understand Consumers

For those interested in the newest techniques to try and make advertising more effective and more accountable, a fascinating article by Kenneth Chang in The New York Times last Tuesday emphasizes the increasing use of scientific methods to better advertise and lay out stores for consumers.

Some of the methods are surprising. A multi-variable technique started by QualPro found that, when working with auto salesmen, full-page ads didn't get attention any better than half-page ads and, in many cases, adding color didn't increase attention to the ad, either. However, some combination of factors seemed to. Newspapers probably don't particularly like this approach, especially since color and full-page ads are particular cash cows for many print publications. But it goes to show you that many aspects of human behavior are counter-intuitive.

Some of the initiatives just seem helpful. Office supply store OfficeMax has hired Envirosell, a New York market research company, to come into its stores and apply anthropological approaches to understanding how consumers interact with the building. Among their findings were that most consumers paid no attention to products in the front of the store when they first walk in, a time that they call "decompression" in which the customer is still trying to adjust from being outside to being in a large store with a lot of people and merchandise. They also found that consumers tend to turn right when they first walk in and that, if they are in a situation where they can barely get through aisles without bumping into another person, they are likely to leave.

The store is combining that knowledge with close measurements of what people buy to understand how to better serve customers. By looking at what people often buy in tandem, OfficeMax is attempting to pair those items together to make the experience better for consumers and also increase their profits, since helpful products will be located in close proximity.

Other initiatives seem a little scary. FKF Applied Research are doing something straight out of John Carpenter's The Live, fine-tuning the message behind television advertisements so that they will generate the correct brain activity in viewers and make advertisements more effective. Consume. Procreate. Buy an automobile.

I don't mean to sound reactionary or to claim that there's something wrong with FKF's methods, since the purpose of ads are to get people to buy and it isn't as if they can fine tune the process so that we all go out and buy a car every time a Mazda ad airs, but it does demonstrate just how scientific some initiatives are becoming. According to the story, the consulting firm "sticks people in magnetic resonance imaging machines and shows them television commercials, studying how much brain reaction commercials generate.

For anyone interested in advertising and marketing, be sure to check this article out.

Thanks to William Uricchio for passing this along.

Comics and Convergence, Part Four

This is the final in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide dealing with the ways that the comics industry is responding to shifts in the media landscape that was originally posted on my blog. This segment deals with how we pay for digital content. Reading back through this, this section felt less au current than the other excerpts on comics I have posted here. When he spoke at MIT last week, Scott McCloud, himself, conceded that micropayments have not so far taken off in the ways that he had hoped and that other business models were emerging to support online content. To bring us up to speed on the latest developments in this area, I have arranged to run an interview tomorrow with industry observer Todd Allen, about recent trends in the digital distribution of comics.

Continue reading "Comics and Convergence, Part Four" »

September 23, 2006

Reebok Interactive Commercials--Buy Products Through the Remote

Back in February, I wrote about news from wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer that the WWE was planning to "showcase a new digital prototype technology that may prove to strongly increase business, and when copied, strengthen the value of television advertising greatly." The idea was to release a system that "would allow people watching a TV commercial, whether it be for a PPV, DVD, or other house show, to click to an icon on the screen to make an immediate purchase" and that would also give them exclusive footage free for using the technology." This was being considered for testing on WWE On Demand content.

However, I haven't heard anything more about it for several months. Nevertheless, a new experiment from Reebok and the Dish Network attempts to test the popularity of a similar theories, in which viewers will have a chance to directly buy apparel using the remote control.

These interactive commercials offer the chance to buy jerseys and such merchandise both before and then during ESPN's airing of Monday Night Surround. While, right now, viewers can play trivia games and view ancillary content during the game with their remote, including videos profiling players, the ultimate plan is to allow for the entering of credit card information with their remote to make purchases while watching an event.

According to their press release, this is the first time that a satellite provider and marketer have worked together to make goods directly available from commercials.

One definite benefit is that it provides a direct measurement as to whether the advertisement leads to a sale, although there is still the option of people seeing the ad and, while not participating in the interactive option, still go out and buy the product in a store later on.

It does prove, however, that there are plenty of companies willing to look at something that goes beyond the traditional 30-second spot, and this interactive advertising option provides yet another option for advertisers and television networks to move beyond the lie that the network tells itself, the validity of purely quantitative sample measurements.

MSN Video's Soapbox

Last week, MSN Video released a beta version of its own entry into being an outlet for user-generated video, a site that will be called Soapbox, made available as part of the video service.

I'll forgive the fact that they blatantly stole their name from Procter & Gamble's online message board where representatives from the show interact with soap opera fans. After all, mainstream media want to relegate soaps to the margins so often that they probably didn't even know.

But the company's hope is that the Soapbox site will provide significant competition from the popular services from YouTube, MySpace, and Google Video, among others. However, while the product will be available on both Windows and Macintosh computers, it is available particularly for Internet Explorer and Firefox. I don't know if that means that there could be significant complications for users with Safari, for instance, or other popular browsers.

The plan is to make any option, such as sharing the video, tracking the video, or embedding the video, available while still watching videos, in order to make Soapbox as user-friendly as possible. And the plan appears to be to allow for both advertising on Soapbox pages, ads that run before a video begins, and promotion of the Soapbox site on the MSN Video main page.

For at least half a year, the Soapbox site will only be available by invitation. There is a waiting list on the Web site that interested users can sign up for, if you want to be a Soapbox early adopter.

The question is whether it will prove significantly more useful than YouTube and MySpace's products. With the social networking uses of MySpace and the widespread popularity of YouTube by entering the space first, MSN Soapbox will have a lot of catching up to do. While it already has a trusted video site, user-generated video is a different beast, and the company better hope that the beta users find the unique features of this site to be impressive enough that they share it with plenty of people. Good word-of-mouth could make Soapbox a contender.

The Office Mobile Content Through I-Play

The very popular NBC show The Office is breaking into mobile format, with the announcement last week that NBC Universal would be partnering with I-play, a mobile entertainment company, to offer short scenes from the workplace comedy on-demand for mobile customers.

These episodes, which will be one-to-two minutes in length, is an attempt to help "extend our audiences' experience with the brand," according to Universal Mobile Entertainment's Senior VP Jeremy Laws.

The payment model has not been released yet, although recent initiatives for mobile movie content by Sprint have offered both a subscription option and a pay-per-view on-demand option.

As Henry Jenkins wrote about earlier this month, NBC is already offering mobisodes of the popular comedy through its own site, so this deal with I-play indicates an even stronger presence in providing a cross-platform reach for its show.

However, while Laws indicates that the strength of this show is to extend the extant audience's "experience" with the Office brand, i think that doesn't mean much more than the standard quote for press releases like this. The power of this is not particularly in extending the reach of The Office, especially since this is not original content but repurposed one-or-two-minute segments from the show as it airs on television.

Instead, the power of a product like this is how it empowers the audience to proselytize, to recruit others into the fold. For Office fans who want to attract others to begin watching, who want to spread the word about the quality of the show, what better way than to have a clip from the show easily able to pull up on a mobile device? Nothing convinces someone of a show's humor better than a first-hand example.

Networks need to start thinking about framing these types of mobile products in this light, emphasizing the social side of mobile content and the ability it gives users to share their lovemarks with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

September 22, 2006

Adobe Flash enabling indie game development for WII

Gamespot had an article recently on the multimedia functionality of Nintendo's 'quasi-nextgen' console WII. While there are some interesting aspects, including the creation of customizable player avatars on the so-called MII channel (who is being paid for coming up with those names, anyway?) which can be shared with friends and imported into any game that supports the channel, one of the really remarkable facts IMO was buried in the middle of a paragraph at the end of the text.

Apparently, Nintendo intends to sell a proprietary version of the Opera browser (which is already being used on the DS) that allegedly will support Adobe Flash, the platform for most low-budget indie game design. A prominent indie game portal immediately announced that most webgames being archived there could probably be played with the WII controller soon and that amateur designers should begin to think about game controls "with the Wiimote in mind".
Since the Gamespot piece mentioned "Adobe Flash Animation", I would be cautious since it might be a conscious or technologically induced decision not to implement Flash Actionscript support in the Nintendo-Opera-Browser and focus on animation only to prevent rank growth of indie WII games that might poorly use and thus depreciate the new controller as a unique selling point. If not, however, this might be a clever step by Nintendo to tap the creative potential being exhibited at indie game portals already and define next-gen differently than in terms of polygons-per-second.

September 20, 2006

Universal Suing YouTube, MySpace?

It's a textbook example of corporate logic that defies every bit of the concepts we discuss surrounding grassroots advocacy and viral marketing, and it's frankly pretty mind-boggling how and why companies keep coming up with such strongly prohibitive language.

The case this time? Universal's music division, the Universal Music Group, who are currently suing two of the most popular online social networks out there, YouTube and MySpace.

We've written in the past about the cultural power sites like these are gathering, such as here and here and here. For the most part, record labels have embraced the ways in which these site are able to reach customers through user-generated campaigns, word-of-mouth spread through the 'Net by sharing music and videos on MySpace and YouTube pages.

However, not every company is appreciative. For every small-time band trying to reach new listeners through MySpace or corporate label promoting their music videos through YouTube, there are other companies ready to send cease and desist letters to protect their copyrighted property.

Last Wednesday, Universal Music's CEO announced plans to sue, being quoted by AP business journalist Alex Veiga as saying, "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars."

The company has lawsuits planned, and MySpace may be seeking a deal.

According to Veiga, Universal has "made it a priority to get compensation for content that was once seen as purely promotional." This prohibitionist stance may make sense in the severely short-term, since the idea of losing money on a particular piece of content tends to get people upset.

But angering millions of YouTube and MySpace users may not be the public relations campaign the company is looking for. It's almost as mind-blowing as Diet Coke's reaction to all the publicity surrounding that explosive and fresh Mentos campaign that was popularized through sites like YouTube.

While I'm busy blogging about the social power that grassroots advocacy provides to fans while also giving great financial incentives for the brands themselves, groups like this are proving that they are not interested in promoting their brand and instead giving it a black eye.

It's easy to see why Universal would react this way while simultaneously mind-boggling that no one has been able to convince the company of the error of its ways. In their mind, they are seeing these sites capitalizing off fans, almost as if YouTube or MySpace is a leech that is taking profits by becoming a middle man for the users, but they are missing the power of these sites completely if they don't realize the vast importance of users in this process and that these types of moves will anger those users, who are coincidentally also either their customers or their potential customers.

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for sending this along.

Mr. McMahon Says, "This Site Sucks!"

When it comes to World Wrestling Entertainment, the line between fiction and fantasy is always blurred. There are economic incentives to blurring this line, especially as it deepens fan relationships with the product through spoiling communities as fans attempt to discern "real" rivalries from scripted ones.

That's why, when a wrestler's girlfriend (who is a female wrestler) actually cheats on him with another wrestler, it eventually becomes a storyline for their characters as well, with fans trying to decide how much is show and how much is real.

And Vince McMahon is a master at this, to both his benefit and detriment. It's to his benefit when fans want to know who the real CEO of the company is, versus the over-the-top Mr. McMahon character, and are willing to buy the McMahon DVD, one of the company's top sellers, to examine just this question. It's to his detriment when he can't escape his wrestling character in public appearances for the company, especially on news programs.

Nevertheless, the WWE has blurred that line again in relation to its decision to continue revamping its Web site, turning their plans for further innovation on the Web site into a mini-rivalry between McMahon and a WWE announcer. Although this rivalry has not come out on the air, the intention on the site is to again blur the lines. Is WWE announcer Michael Cole, who also serves as editor of the Web site in addition to being the play-by-play man for Friday Night Smackdown, really upset with Mr. McMahon's comments?

To give you a little bit of background, McMahon said at an investor's conference last Thursday that "this site sucks." And, if you don't believe it, the WWE has provided the link to a video proving it. An investor is actually praising the WWE for their work in transmedia and their expanding profit through the site, to which McMahon responds that his "people" still thinks the site "sucks."

A defensive Cole then retorts, emphasizing that the WWE is releasing a new broadband network in October, complete with Webisodes, new mobile offerings in addition to their mobile alert system, as well as "a re-vamped subscription site and more exclusive videos and photos than ever before."

Cole finishes it out by saying "the web site does suck, compared to where we are going to take it, but it won't suck for long. Wish I could say the same for the boss" and then resorts to a sophomoric reference to Vince and roosters that plays into a current storyline.

This strikes me as a unique way to handle several issues, both acknowledging McMahon's public comment about the Web site while also using it as a Web-only mini-storyline that explains and promotes improvements to the sites in an innovative way. Fans may have never bothered to read "exciting news about updates to the WWE site," but the controversy over Mr. McMahon criticizing his own site at an investor's conference is more likely to capture a fan's attention.

And now fans can wonder if there really is some hostility in Cole's words, why McMahon would make such a crude statement about his site at an investor's conference, where he is not supposed to be in character as "Mr. McMahon," etc.

In the meantime, the WWE continues to demonstrate its potential as an immersive narrative universe to really explore transmedia storytelling in a way few other companies can or will be able to.

U.S. Army's New Game Emphasizes "Real Heroes"

While The Marines may be aggressively exploring MySpace as a recruitment tool, the U.S. Army plans to build on its hugely successful new media tool to get the attention of young people: the video game America's Army.

The newest campaign is a new game based on the lives of eight actual soldiers who have fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan, to show the true "heroes" of the Army--and, to increase recruitment numbers, to encourage players that they could be one of these heroes outside of a gaming space. The new program is called America's Army: Real Heroes, using these characters for its Special Forces game.

According to a colonel who was quoted in the AP story, the initiative hopes to "put a face on soldiers so that kids can relate to them," with a product specifically aimed at attracting teenagers.

But, rather than simply acting as as free online tool to attract the interests of potential recruits, the Army is also using this as a fundraising technique, since the military organization is also launching a line of action figures to be in stores during Christmastime, thus taking a page out of the savvy business marketing of cartoons and films. The action figures (or dolls, if you want to make the Army folks uncomfortable) will cost about ten bucks.

The AP story emphasizes that the game costs about $2.5 million annually for distribution, calling it "a first-person shooter in which players go through a simulated boot camp or team up with other real players online in three-dimensional battles," and might even let his/her bias show a bit with the reminder that this is "a taxpayer-funded game."

Since recruitment numbers were down last year, there is some thought that the revamped version may be aimed at getting numbers back up, perhaps hoping that an even greater emphasis on "realism" will make the game more relevant to players.

While some real people appeared in the latest game, America's Army: Special Forces, the story emphasizes that they are not paid for their likenesses in the game, since it is distributed for free. And I saw an abnormal number of Kentuckians among the few soldiers depicted, so I guess I could really imagine myself as one of these real heroes.

I was initially somewhat concerned at the idea of players using these real players as avatars and then vicariously dying through them on the battlefield but was at least releived to find that "the idea is to provide an education experience in which gamers can meet the soldiers in a virtual recruiting office, ask questions about their various experiences and awards and get a better sense of Army life."

The game is certain to cause some critical attention. Those opposed to the recruitment tool are surely going to have a problem with further glorification of war, especially with the idea that teens should take on these soldiers as "role models," as one soldier suggests in the AP story, considering that this notion of heroism is tied up with the Iraq war that is part of an American public opinion divide. But, the Army and the game's many supporters make claims to creating a greater sense of what the Army is really like and a chance to communicate over these issues.

This is not a new debate; it's one that's been raging by academics, critics, and fans of the game since 2002. However, with the new insertion of "real heroes," I'm sure the debates over the importance of these games and their impact on recruitment and public perception of the Army will continue to be a source of controversy.

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for pointing me to this article.

How to Watch a Fan-Vid

I originally posted this on my blog on Monday but thought it would be relevant to all the discussions of user-generated content here on the C3 site.

I am always fascinated when some bit of bottom-up generated "content" starts to get momentum and gain greater public visibility. This past few weeks, I have been observing a ground-swell of interest in a Star Trek fan video set to Nine Inch Nails's "Closer." Many of you will have already seen this video. It has already been featured by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, by Susie Bright, and by Salon's VideoDog among others.

As someone who has done work in the past on Star Trek fans, I have received multiple pointers to this video from friends all over the world. Many of the people who sent it to me and certainly many of the bloggers who have pointed to it seem to have little or no awareness that there is a much larger tradition of fan-made videos or that the video makers, T. Jonsey and Killa have produced a larger body of work that circulates within the fanvid community. As artists, they are known for their sophisticated techniques and intelligent use of appropriated materials as well as for their diversity of approaches to their subject matter.

It is the nature of YouTube that the work which appears there could come from almost anywhere and that it is often consumed outside of its originating content: YouTube is the place right now where work travels from one grassroots community or subculture to another. There are real advantages to such a site since it results in cross-influences and more innovation, experimentation, and diversity, yet there are also losses to this process of decoupling amateur media from its original contexts of production and consumption.

Technical Innovation and Grassroots Media
Given that I have been following the development of fan-made music videos for more than fifteen years now, I thought it might be helpful if I spelled out some of what I saw when I looked at this particular segment. Through the years, I have watched dozens of hours of these videos, produced within a broad range of fandoms. In fact, my book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, published in 1992, already contains a full chapter tracing the aesthetics and production practices surrounding fan music videos.

Continue reading "How to Watch a Fan-Vid" »

September 19, 2006

Senate Passes Bill to Study the Effects of Screens on Cognitive Abilities Among Children

Last Wednesday, the United States Senate passed a bill calling for the study of computers, television and video games and its content on the cognitive development of children. The bill, which has been titled the Children and Media Research Advancement Act, is sponsored by those media effects legislators, the senators Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton.

While the bill raises some potentially good points--particularly that the very form of these screen media could cause substantial alterations to the way in which children develop--the rhetoric of the senators and the bill itself appear to be coated in this anti-media stance that these two often take.

I've never hidden my personal issues with Lieberman's political tactics, particularly surrounding his use of various social arguments to advocate various forms of censorship, as I mentioned in an entry about his recent defeat in the Connecticut senatorial primary.

The two senators have made various appearances in Henry Jenkins' posts as well, such as his entry on Four Ways to Kill MySpace, which focuses on proposed legislation to restrict children's access to MySpace in public libraries or schools. In that post, Henry writes:

Continue reading "Senate Passes Bill to Study the Effects of Screens on Cognitive Abilities Among Children" »

"Tape Bacon to the Cat" - Chronicle of a Viral Event

At 10:31 am on September 13, John Scalzi posted a to do list on his blog, the Whatever, which included the item "Tape bacon to the cat". In response to commenters suggesting that it was not, in fact, possible to tape bacon to a cat, Scalzi produced several photographs of bacon taped to his (somewhat bewildered) cat.

Less than two hours after the images were posted to Scalzi's blog, Fark had linked to the post in question, more than doubling the amount of traffic that the Whatever receives on a daily basis, and Scalzi's post with the pictures had become the 4th most linked-to post in the blogsphere for that day, as well as the top link produced by a Google search for "bacon cat". In response to this surge of traffic, Scalzi posted a demotivators-style poster with a tagline that read:

Awards? Success? Fame? Perhaps one day they will be yours. But the fact is, nothing you'll ever do will be more popular than that online picture of bacon taped to a cat.

There are several things worth noting about this momentary internet phenomenon, not the least of which is the speed with which it occured. While the bacon cat incident didn't involve anyone's IP, rapid responses to viral events will be vital if the free publicity they generate is to be successfully exploited by rights-holders. Another is that its charm seems to have stemmed from its novelty - as Scalzi notes in another post, it seems as if he was the first person to tape bacon to their cat and post the resulting photographs on the internet. The rapid expansion of the event was probably due to both the humor value of the post and Scalzi's pre-existing readership passing on the link to other people, and its lack of legs was probably due to Scalzi's disinterest in continuing work in the cat/bacon mashup arena, as well as the fundamentally transitory nature of the audience's engagement. Seeing pictures of bacon taped to a cat is funny for a few seconds, but it doesn't inspire a desire to more pictures of bacon taped to cats, though the same is not necessarily true of other viral events.

Ultimately, it would be easy to dimiss the bacon cat saga as a random internet event, but such minor examples of how viral events are spawned, expand, and die can be useful in understanding how larger-scale viral events function.

FOX Providing Shows for Multiple Web Sites

While NBC boldly promotes its new programs through avenues like Netflix and AOL Video and streams shows through its own site, CBS enters in deals with Comcast to air episodes for a month after their initial shows through VOD, and ABC provides many of its top episodes through its site and free iPod downloads, Fox is trying a pervasive multi-platform release campaign of its own to try and garner as many new viewers as they can for programs early in the season.

Just a few weeks ago, Fox tried an initial campaign like this, making the first three episodes of its popular show Prison Break, as well as the first three episodes of Vanished, available across several Web platforms.

Based on the initial success of that campaign, the network has now decided to extend this promotion to an extensive distribution campaign for the first episodes of new series Happy Hour, Justice, and 'Til Death. One episode of Justice will be provided and two episodes of the other two shows.

These will be made available through more than 40 different online platforms, including competitors like Google Video and Yahoo, as well as a variety of other episodes. Each episode will be provided without a fee and without commercials, posted the next morning after the show initially airs on broadcast and made available for the full week until the afternoon before the next episode is set to air, in the case of 'Til Death and Happy Hour.

I don't know what implications this has in the long-term or if this will become a prototype for permanent cross-platform content throughout seasons for Fox, but the impact this could have at the beginning of a season is important. When the new lineups come out and viewers are trying to decide what shows to start watching on a weekly basis, Fox has everything to gain by creating as many avenues as possible to hook viewers early, especially considering how quickly a show can be considered a failure these days.

The question is whether shows like Happy Hour or 'Til Death are strong enough to capture people's attention. Most people praised NBC's various promotions for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip because the show was perceived as being good enough to be worth the promotion, but we had readers on this site questioning whether CBS would have as much success with their initiatives to promote good shows because their new offerings aren't universally considered as strong as Studio 60.

In the meantime, though, if Fox believes whole-heartedly in these shows, they are smart to get as many people hooked as possible in the first few weeks to be able to sustain those viewers throughout the season, considering how important it is to be prioritized on viewers' weekly shows. (This is more the case with shows that have seriality than with episodes that are almost completely self-contained and which viewers can just watch casually from time-to-time).

CBS/Comcast Deal for Ad-Supported VOD Content

Last week, I wrote about my wife's anger at the Comcast VOD platform when she decided to check out an episode of CSI in high-definition for a fee and then was shocked to find regular clusters of 30-second spots, no different than if she watched the episode when it aired. I guess it is just the iTunes model that has caused everyone to expect that, if they are paying a subscription fee or a per-item fee for content on-demand, there shouldn't be any commercials involved.

On the other hand, I'm assuming that Comcast found some profit in the advertisement model with its on-demand because they announced last week, in a co-release with CBS, that they would begin offering CBS programs through VOD with advertising support but without a fee.

According to Thursday's announcement, CBS will make eight of its regular series available through free downloads. These include the three popular CSI shows, those pervasive crime investigation shows that act as a major packaged force when branching into new platforms as they did with iTunes this summer; the popular reality series Survivor and Big Brother; and drama series NCIS, Numb3rs, and Jericho.

The Comcast VOD episodes for CBS did cost $.99 an episode, only in markets served by affiliates owned directly by CBS , to avoid the continued problem that some affiliates have with losing revenue from VOD and other multi-platform sales.

CBS will sell the commercial spots for its VOD programming, which will be initially made available the day after a show airs and will remain online for the next four weeks.

This parallels announcements last week with ABC and NBC to provide many of its shows online for four weeks following initial broadcasts. The idea is that viewers who want to get caught back up or to time shift their viewing of primetime content can use these new platforms instead of just stopping their consumption of the show.

My prediction is that viewers will be fine with the commercials in this case, as long as there is not an additional purchasing fee for the VOD content. Otherwise, it's a win-win situation, giving more profit to content providers and more autonomy over when and how one views for consumers.

September 17, 2006

ABC/iTunes Giving a Million Free Downloads Away

In addition to ABC's announcement this past week that it will be streaming many of its top shows through its Web site for free, supported by advertising, the network also began a new promotion with Apple iTunes to help promote the season debuts of three of its top shows.

The company will be offering one million free downloads to interested iTunes consumers for the chance to download the season finales from last season of popular ABC shows Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, which are--not coincidentally--three of the seven shows chosen for the new service on their Web site as well.

Why is ABC eager to provide viewers the chance to see the season finale of these shows and also to provide them the chance to watch the last four episodes for free online throughout the coming season? Because not only are these three among ABC's most popular offerings, but they are also fairly complex narratives that require the viewer to follow several stories simultaneously. Providing viewers multiple avenues through which they can catch up on these shows helps ensure that viewers will not quit watching mid-season and just wait until the show is released on DVD because they now have several avenues through which they can get caught up and better understand the next episode.

Also, ABC not only airs each of these three shows, but Touchstone--another Disney company--produces all three.

The current download initiative, accessible through a "Million Hit Lowdown" button on the ABC main site, began on Thursday and will last until Oct. 4. Viewers, after clicking the link, are allowed to watch one of the three season finales for free and also are allowed to download recap programs for each of the three shows for free, in addition to one of the finales.

Each of the three shows will make their individual episodes available for download through iTunes throughout the coming season as well.

ABC Streaming Seven Shows Through Its Site

NBC wasn't the only network to announce an ambitious plan for streaming several of its shows for free viewing in the past week, as ABC has promoted an ambitious plan to ramp up its online offerings on its own site.

ABC will be making seven of its shows available by streaming them online through their site for free viewing, supported by advertisements. These episodes will be full length and will feature returning viewer favorites such as Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, as well as The Knights of Prosperity, The Nine, Six Degrees, and Ugly Betty.

Each of the shows will be made available the day after they air on television and will remain online for several weeks, with four episodes being provided at any one time for each of the shows. Some of the hour-long shows will also have half-hour recaps available for viewers who want to catch up but don't have time to watch the full program.

The service was put in place after ABC came to an agreement with its affiliates across the country on a profit structure that also rewards them for their content, allowing local affiliates to feature the ABC online video player on their Web sites and sell local ads for the content. The stations would be able to place local ads into the free content much as they would selling local ads for network programming through broadcasts.

One of the complications for every network is how to balance their relationship with affiliates when it comes to cross-platform content, and each network has been looking toward settling these sorts of issues, as CBS did over the summer.

The network has been moving toward this model for some time and experimented with offering some of its shows through its Web site over the summer. The network's streaming player even won an Interactive Television Emmy Award.

ABC now joins CBS and NBC in providing its own network player on its site, and Fox has plans to create an expansive online player that will compete more broadly with other video providers, by not just using the player to air Fox content.

September 16, 2006

NBC Streaming Ad-Supported Shows Through In-House Digital Player

Earlier this week, NBC released an announcement of an extensive plan to stream entire episodes of its shows on its own Web site for free, made possible through online advertising support for the video content.

The plan is for new fall prime-time shows to be made available through the NBC Universal Video Player, a revamped product that will make its relaunch on Oct. 1.

The new product will be one of many network-specific video products, similar to CBS' innertube, for instance, that opposes third-party models popularized through iTunes, AOL's video player, and myriad others by allowing viewers to access shows directly through the site of the content provider.

New dramas Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Kidnapped, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will each have its first eight episodes streamed online, while new situation comedies Twenty Good Years and 30 Rock will each have its first four episodes aired online.

NBC has been experimenting with several new distribution platforms to encourage interest in their new shows, such as their sneak previews made available through Netflix and the deal with AOL to provide the first episodes of both Studio 60 and Twenty Good Years a week before their broadcast debuts.

However, the digital streams are not the only major announcement from the Peacock Network, which also made plans to debut blogs from various creative powers on the network's shows, including writers, cast members, and producers. Every show on the air will have its own blog, with various powers from the show updating content.

Christopher Lisotta provides a comprehensive list of the blogs that will be available on the NBC site.

NBC's decision reflects the decision made by CBS and several other content providers, in they have their own in-house distribution system for online content, both of which are advertising supported, while they are also making content available through multiple other platforms. The question remains, though, with each network having their own site for content like this, whether it will be of ultimate benefit to customers. On the one hand, customers seem to enjoy a centralized location to find content on. However, streaming content through the site of the show is also of major convenience. That's why NBC's two-pronged approach makes a lot of sense, providing both services to customers simultaneously.

Multiplatform Entertainment: A View from China

The following post originally appeared on on my blog earlier this week, featuring a response to one of my previous writings from a graduate student here in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.

Last week, I posted about the rapid speed with which television content has moved into new channels of distribution and the degree to which the American public seems to have embraced the ideal of rerun on demand, television for download, call it what you will. One of the key lessons of media studies is that the same technology may get adopted in different ways and at different speeds in different cultures around the world. This is one of the real value of taking a global perspective on media change.

My post inspired one of the Comparative Media Studies graduate students, Rena Huang, to post some thoughts on her blog about how this same process is playing itself out in China and I asked her if I could repost these remarks here. Huang is a second year Masters student who is doing a thesis on the growth of the Chinese animation industry and is working with CMS faculty memberJing Wang, the Chair of the MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures Section, to construct a digital archive of Chinese animation in collaboration with the Beijing Film Academy. She was also part of the team from our Convergence Culture Consortium who participated in Project Good Luck this summer helping to document mobile culture in China. For those who haven't checked that site in a bit, they are still uploading pictures and interviews from the trip, including an interesting exchange with the Back Dorm Boys, the Chinese students who became famous for their lip-sincing video at YouTube.

The following was written by Rena Huang:

Henry's "television goes multiplatform" interests me a lot since when I was back in China for the summer, I heard a lot of talks about and saw some real happenings of TV on other platforms, but not quite the same kind of platform as described in Henry's article. There are less downloading (the legal kind) of TV programs in China for various reasons. The broadcasting system, which features an overabundance of similar TV channels and a relative shortage of original content, has made frequent program rerun on different channels a common practice. One who misses his or her favorite episodes can soon catch it up on other channels. I couldn't believe that during the summer, the Westward Journey series (which was premiered 20 years ago and I really love it), is being aired to audiences old and new, on at least ten different channels. It keeps you safe in the competition to show what others are showing if you don't have better things to show.

Continue reading "Multiplatform Entertainment: A View from China" »

Apple Announces Wireless Service to View Downloaded Content on TV Sets

My last two posts have focused on the biggest content-related announcements from the major Apple news coming out of this week, first with the announcements of movies being available on iTunes and then with the announcement of upgrades on the amount of casual gaming content available for iPod users.

However, the announcement that came out of Tuesday's press conference that appears to have the Internet most abuzz is the public release of the new iTV product, Apple's new wireless product set for release sometime in early 2007 that will allow viewers to transfer television and film content from iTunes onto their television sets.

The product is set to cost $300 bucks. Mathew Honan and Peter Cohen over at Macworld provide an easy-to-read account of how the technology works, with iTV being a digital box for the television set that would stream content from the computer using a wireless network.

And, although some may consider the compliments directed toward Apple and Steve Jobs to border on hyperbole, Arik Hesseldahi from BusinessWeek provides a comprehensive account of what this means for transferring digital content to the television and both why Apple is leading this initiative and why it is a benefit to have a company like Apple leading the way, considering their phenomenal track record in this regard.

Hesseldahi writes, "Apple is certainly not the first to try to build a product that crosses the great consumer electronics divide between the TV and all that digital video and audio content taking up ever-larger sections of PC hard drives. Others have sought to cross it, most have failed. I don't expect the same from Apple." (Again, as with the last story, I promise the comma splices aren't mine, Dr. Schneider.)

Hesseldahi breaks down the reasons he thinks Apple's leadership is crucial, including the importance of ease-of-use, the key core attributes for Apple, and Apple's track record at garnering significant amounts of content for its services.

Perhaps even more illuminating, though, than Hesseldahi's shrewd analysis of the situation is the wide array of topics brought up in the comments section, including complaints about DRM and how they might affect the technology and questions about whether such a service will eventually replace cable television subscriptions, since shows could just be bought on a want-to-see basis offline and then streamed into the TV.

iPods Branch Further into Casual Gaming

Another aspect of the big new announcements made by Apple this week regarding new services for iPods is increased video gaming capabilities for the newest version of iPod players. While the iTunes movie service I wrote about yesterday is getting the majority of the attention, Apple's extension into the gaming platform will include some of the classic "old school" games, from the addictive Tetris to the arcade favorite Pac-Man to Texas Hold 'Em, all games that are often labeled "casual games," in that they are simple games intended for challenging play but not requiring immersion in a story world as most narrative-based games do.

Kris Graft with Next Generation writes that "the move makes a stronger emphasis at Apple on portable gaming, and highlights the widespread interest on the part of digital entertainment companies to jump into the casual gaming market." (If Dr. Schneider from my undergraduate English classes ever reads this, the comma splice is Kris', not mine. I swear.)

Although Tetris is not known as a particularly graphically complicated game, this newest round of tiles--which also includes Zuma--is among the more complicated casual games and indicates renewed interest in bringing a greater number of game titles to the iPod platform.

The games will be available through the iTunes store for a $4.99 fee per game.

While iTunes cultivated its music market slowly and then has aggressively pushed television content in the past year, the new split focus at adding film and more serious video games into the mix indicates a strong belief in the iPod and iTunes brands and technology for crossing these multiple media forms.

The company has indicated plans to continue increasing the game titles offered, especially after it tests the waters with this round of games.

The implications for cross-purposing content seems pretty obvious in this case, as it creates a new audience and a new platform for gaming, especially since these types of games seem perfect for the iPod platform, with their ease in playing on a smaller screen and with limited controller options.

But it has yet to be seen how branching into the gaming world could affect original gaming titles, etc., in that games could be designed that are uniquely configured to being played on an iPod. I'm interested in seeing if a market develops in that direction.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this story along.

September 15, 2006

New iPod Announcement--iPod Movies

Although it's no surprise that the online provider would be moving in that directons, iTunes announced earlier this week that they will now be offering full-length feature films for download through iTunes.

The move is a major driving force for allowing the legal download of films online, as well as for the video iPod, opening film content widely into two new platforms. Coupled with the new "Burn to DVD" service from CinemaNow and continued moves for HD DVD content, and films are reaching masses in new and exciting ways, with new platforms and business plans seeming to be available on a weekly basis.

Apple held a big conference for the media on Tuesday, announcing that films will be available for download at $14.99, but viewers will have an extra incentive to download them during their first week of availability, as new films will only cost $12.99 to download.

In addition to these new releases, films will also be available from the archives, including 75 titles from the Walt Disney Company's various studios. Films from the archives are set to cost $9.99 per download. Compared to the cost of films on DVD, the download prices are cheaper to help make up for the lack of authentic art and some other features of DVDs and are designed to seem comparable with the $1.99 per show and $.99 per song that is currently devised by iTunes.

The estimated download time with a high-speed Internet connections for iTunes films is about half an hour.

Of course, Apple is predicitng a rise in online film downloads similar to the success of television downloads over the past year, along with a corresponding promise of substantial new film content as the new services moves along.

September 14, 2006

CBS Hires Hartman as Wireless Hostess

One aspect of launching a new technology or product is to create a celebrity face that helps establish one's product. That's no surprise, as it's worked for many years in advertising, from radio spots to television ads to product placement with favorite characters and/or actors showing their support or affiinity for a particular brand or drink. I think back to the very earliest television and those episodes of Dragnet where we get to see shots of Sgt. Joe Friday enjoying his cigarettes and his portrayer, Jack Webb, telling viewers during sponsorship breaks how great Chesterfield Cigarettes really are. Or Molly Goldberg leaning out the window during commercial breaks of The Goldbergs to tell us about a great new product that she's found.

These types of very direct sponsorship were to promote products, but companies also use celebrity speakers to promote themselves, especially when launching into a new realm. For instance, I wrote about the importance of Mark Cuban landing a personality like Dan Rather for his HD channel earlier this summer. And now, CBS has landed Ashley Hartman in a role that is being labeled as a "wireless hostess."

According to the news from CBS, Hartman will be both the voice and the face of CBS' wireless products and will act as a direct guide for consumers. She will be used for all mobile content, including both appearing on users' mobile phones for alerts and video segments, as well as on the CBS Web site to aid consumers in purchasing content for their moble devices, including games and ringtones.

As Christopher Lisotta with TelevisionWeek points out, Hartman's claim to fame includes being a semifinalist on American Idol and landing a recurring role on The OC.

It's interesting that CBS chose a celebrity whose fame comes from two of their competitors to be their online hostess, but it will be interesting to see if giving a face to their product helps make viewers connect or feel more at home with mobile content.

For those interesting in the mobile space, do you think this type of host model could help drive more mainstream interest toward mobile content, or is this just a weak marketing idea and a waste of money for CBS?

Astroturf, Humbugs, and Lonely Girls

This was originally posted Wednesday on my blog.

Last week, reader Todd asked me what I thought about LonelyGirl15. At the time, I had only a passing awareness of the Lonely Girl phenomenon. Just in time, though, my friend Zephoria posted a very interesting discussion of LonelyGirl15 over at her blog, Apophenia. Here's her explanation of the back-story:

For those who aren't familiar, videos by LonelyGirl15 started appearing on YouTube over the summer. She's supposedly a teenager who is home schooled by religious parents who don't know she's creating videos online. Her friend Daniel helps her with the videos and they often talk back and forth across their videos. It's rather endearing but too good to be true.

As more videos popped up, people started questioning whether this was real or not. Speculation mounted and fake lonelygurls started to appear. People created videos to comment on LonelyGirl15. People flocked to the LonelyGirl15 forum to discuss. Problem is the LonelyGirl15 domain was registered before the videos started appearing. People started tracking down more and more clues, trying to hone in on what it was, who was behind it. Suspicion mounted. In classic fan style, people dove right down and tore apart all of the data. Quite a few thought that this was an ARG, Jane McGonigal style, but she denied involvement on NPR. Others thought it was an advert or some marketing campaign.

The clues people dug up were fascinating. Personally, i was intrigued by "Bree's" MySpace profile. I knew it was fake but i didn't know if the YouTube LonelyGirl15 made the MySpace profile LonelyGurl15. Why did i know it was fake? Well, i read too many teenage MySpaces. Not sure i should give away clues as to how to create a real-looking fake MySpace profile. ::wink::

Then press started covering it. Hands down, The New York Times had the best coverage. I can't help but wonder if the NYTimes knew the truth because they are certainly using the same language: "Hey There, Lonelygirl - One cute teen's online diary is probably a hoax. It's also the birth of a new art form." If so, go Adam for good reporting!

And sure enough, the artists who had created the original Lonelygirl15 videos revealed their identities last week:

With your help we believe we are witnessing the birth of a new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story-- A story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the internet. A story that is interactive and constantly evolving with the audience.

Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is "who is she?" We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us. Regardless, there are deeper mysteries buried within the plot, dialogue, and background of the Lonelygirl15 videos, and many of our tireless and dedicated fans have unearthed some of these. There are many more to come....We want you to know that we aren't a big corporation. We are just like you. A few people who love good stories. We hope that you will join us in the continuing story of Lonelygirl15, and help us usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between "fan" and "star" has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts. This is an incredible time for the creator inside all of us.

As my son succinctly put it, "that's pretty bad news for lonelyboy15."

But it may not be news to many of the people who have suspected all along that Lonelygirl15 was a fake, a fraud, a hoax, or some other form of fiction. She was perhaps "fake" the way professional wrestling is fake -- that is a fake we are supposed to see through and enjoy nevertheless.

Continue reading "Astroturf, Humbugs, and Lonely Girls" »

September 13, 2006

Sponsorship Model Succeeds; Sony Uses It Once Again

Sony Pictures made the news at this time last year by trying something that was only experimented with on occasion on cable television networks, sponsoring last year's network premiere of the FX show Nip/Tuck by only annoucning itself as the sponsor and showing a handful of upcoming film previews during the 1.5-hour season three debut.

The previews hyped films that were soon to debut, such as Memoirs of a Geisha and Fun with Dick and Jane, as well as the 2006 film All the King's Men, which will come out later this year, more than a year after this initial preview.

The idea must have been a success, as Sony Pictures once again signed on to be the sole sponsors of the season four season debut of Nip/Tuck, this time hyping films such as Running with Scissors, Stranger Than Fiction, The Holiday, Casino Royale, and The Pursuit of Happyness. The sponsored episode ran last Tuesday.

Last year I wrote that, considering my affinity for films, "I had almost as much interest watching the commercial breaks as I did watching the show. Also, with a show that has quite a bit of critical buzz and high production values, being supported by in-depth film trailers was not a bad move." Further, I said that "it was a great way in trying to market the advertising a little more directly so that fans who had the opportunity to fast forward through the commercials, as I did, chose not to and willingly watched them."

Considering how successful this type of sponsorship has been in the few isolated experiments, I'm surprised that this hasn't been attempted more often. Even if Nip/Tuck only attempts this once a year, I am assuming that both FX and Sony Pictures see this as a smart cross-marketing opportunity, especially by carefully crafting what upcoming films they preview during a show like Nip/Tuck.

I can envision other film comapnies signing on to sponsor shows targeted to their audience, whether it be Lions Gate sponsoring shows on the CW Network or documentary distributors sponsoring shows on A&E. But I think the repeat experiment between Sony Pictures and Nip/Tuck proves that there are continued opportunities for a sponsorship model of advertising that is agreeable to viewers, advertisers, and networks.

September 12, 2006

TiVo to Release Hi-Def. Standalone DVR, Records Shows Simultaneously

TiVo made the news a few days ago with its partnership with CBS that resulted in the broadcast of sneak previews or whole episodes of various CBS episodes to TiVo subscribers a week in advance to help create advocates for the new shows before they ever hit broadcast.

Now, TiVo has once again made the news with its plan to offer a high-definition DVR. It's not a surprise that the company would relase a digital video recorder that could capture HD, particularly with all of the shows that are switching to high-def. broadcast and with the falling through of the company's HD box through DirecTV. What is a surprise is that no one knew when the announcement would come.

The product is set to come out by the end of the month at about $800, as part of a campaign to continue innovating the DVR market with various other devices, including time-shifting DVR services offered by cable operators and satellite companies themselves.

Aside from the obvious advantages to be able to record in DVR, the product will also allow users to record two programs while viewing a third, particularly helpful with multiple people in a household or on nights when multiple networks are airing top-grade content.

And, while it is innovating on the product end, TiVo keeps challenging what it views as copycat products intended to push the company out of the market in courts, such as its recent legal struggle with EchoStar's Dish Network.

For viewers, who are interested more in having innovative products than they are who provides them, TiVo will continue to woo people with offers like the new DVR. I know that, in the Ford household, Tuesday nights are already tense, with Nip/Tuck duking it out with ECW on Sci Fi (please, no fire from Sci Fi fans). Right now, without the funds for a second DVR, I'm making due with a VCR...but somehow I always end up with the show that gets recorded on VHS.

9/11 Documentary to be Streamed Online for Second Viewing, Viewers Who Missed the Documentary

CBS is making the re-airing of its award-winning documentary special 9/11 available through its Web site for one week for free, after the special aired Sunday night on the network's evening lineup.

The network has indicated that one of its decisions to make the program available in this format as well is that approximately some network affiliates across the country chose not to run the special in their lineup or delaying it to a later time slot, chiefly over some concerns of potentially offensive language in the broadcast.

The special, hosted by Robert DeNiro, included several new interviews not featured in the previous broadcasts of the documentary.

The special first aired in March 2002 and was replayed on Sept. 11 that year, the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. CBS decided to run the two-hour special again on the five-year anniversary of the event.

The documentary was originally meant to be a profile of a a group of New York City firefighters, and documentary-makers were able to capture the 9/11 events as they were happening due to already being on the scene for this documentary. The network was and some of its affiliates, especially those who chose not to air the re-broadcast, were concerned that groups like the Parents Television Council or the FCC itself might raise questions about the language used by some of the firefighters in the documentary but chose to run that risk anyway.

This sets up an interesting way that networks can avoid such censorship in the future, though, by bypassing affiliates who refuse to run a show and broadcasting it online as well. As high-speed Internet becomes more prevalent, networks can do this more often. I can remember that, in Kentucky, our local ABC affiliate used to refuse to run NYPD Blue in its first season, instead replacing it with that gritty realist cop show, The Andy Griffith Show every week.

And, when affiliates across the country have to preempt a program, instead of playing it at 2 a.m. that particular affiliate or CBS itself could run the episode online for viewers to catch up (this is particularly important for soap opera fans, whose content is preempted all the time and never re-shown.)

The key point here is that it might have taken a weighty subject like the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to allow these precedents to be set, but they could help broaden the scope of what is possible for networks and their affiliates in the future to both have more creative freedom, when the situation calls for it (as some profane language in the 9/11 documentary may be fairly easily justified) and as creating a way to bypass logistical problems with affiliates by allowing viewers access to content through other methods as well.

And it will be interesting to see if the usual suspects--like James Dobson, for instance, would criticize television for using profane language in this instance.

NBC/AOL Deal Shows First Episodes of Studio 60, 20 Good Years

CBS is not the only network trying new experiments in how to distribute their shows online, as NBC has announced a distribution deal with AOL for two if its most popular shows, one of them beginning this week.

Last week, I wrote about the network's new deal with The Class, as well as previews for other debuting CBS shows Shark, Jericho, and Smith.

I wrote then that, "the idea here is to make good content available ahead of time, so that the network can both embrace new platforms and show their innovativeness while also giving content to viewers ahead of time in hopes that the content is so good that these folks will act as grassroots advocates for the show's debut so that allowing a few people to watch the show early will actually lead to more viewers, not less, when the content is first broadcast."

Henry Jenkins IV, who has seen several of the shows planned to be previewed by CBS, questioned whether they were of superior enough quality for the sneak previews to spread positive word-of-mouth. Obviously, a viral communication campaign that spread the word about how a show is mediocre is not what the network is hoping for, but I'm assuming that CBS believes in the quality of the shows and make no judgments myself, since I've never seen the shows in question and am not a TiVo user.

NBC may have hedged their bets more in the show they released for viewing a week in advance, as they chose the new Aaron Sorkin show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to debut on AOL's video service yesterday. Considering that the show not only stars two fairly well known television actors in Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, the show should have some general buzz, but the audience they would hope to reach as early viewers of the program who could then spread the word about a show's quality are even more likely to like an Aaron Sorkin show, who has been the golden boy of many television critics with his impressive first few seasons of The West Wing.

Studio 60 is running without commercials until next week, when the show debuts on NBC. The network plans to do the same for Twenty Good Years, which will go online through the AOL service on Oct. 4.

The AOL deal is not the only way to see Studio 60 in advance, as to release the first episodes of both Studio 60 and Kidnapped for rent in advance to Netflix subscribers.

NBC seems to have chosen wisely and, from the people I've talked to who have seen the Studio 60 preview, they are giving it rave reviews. Again, I'm holding out hope for the CBS shows as well (particularly Shark, as I'm a James Woods fan), but the point is that shows must be of superior quality for this type of promotion to really work.

As Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek points out, there are other movements along this line as well. Fox offered the first seven minutes of The Simpsons online in advance of the show's debut last Sunday night, and the CW Network plans to make three of its prime-time series' first shows of the season available a week in advance through MSN's video service.

September 11, 2006

Sprint Begins PPV VOD Service for Mobile Phones

One major cross-platform development that I didn't mention last week was the announcement by Sprint of the formation of Sprint Movies, a service for its mobile users to purchase feature-length films through a "pay-per-view" on demand service.

The films will be available from Buena Vista, Lions Gate, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Universal Pictures, with a total of more than 45 titles, available at between $3.99 and $5.99 apiece. And, according to the press release, "Customers can view the movie for unlimited times within a set period, which varies between 24 hours and one week depending on the title. In addition, 24-hour titles include the option of purchasing up to two 24-hour viewing extensions at the rate of $.99."

The films must be watched while the user is in range of Sprint's network and is only available on phones that have the capabilities to show the films, and all of the films have been edited to meet TV-14 standards, one decision that is likely to cause an uproar with some film enthusiasts who won't be crazy about the TV-14 version of Scarface (one of the films available on Sprint's PPV system).

The press release also says, "Sprint Movies features many of the same conveniences as a DVD player. A movie can be seen in its entirety all at once, or it can be divided into chapters and watched over time. Customers can play, pause and skip forward or backward to different chapters. They can also resume a movie at the exact point where it was last shut down."

Sprint began the process of offering movies through mSpot Movies in December 2005, but the new Sprint Movies system differs in that it is VOD, while mSpot Movies is a subscription service with a fee of $6.95 a month and content that viewers can watch at any time for no additional fee.

The crossplatform potential of something like this is obvious, since films can now be redistributed via mobile phones through a VOD basis, but I am not yet quite sure how easily the content can be repurposed. In the coming months, we'll see the initial "gee whiz"-ness of the technology wear off and start to see how genuinely interested people are in watching content on their mobile phones, especially of feature length. What I predict will be found is an opportunity to begin teasing out what types of films people are willing to watch on their mobile phones and what types of content does not play well on the (really) small screen.

And, while cross-platform content is interesting, the technology also holds strong potential for transmedia storytelling, something that companies have not yet even scratched the surface of.

Thanks to fellow C3 analyst Geoffrey Long for passing this along.

September 10, 2006

Who Isn't Going to HD? 'Rasslin' in High-Def

The latest announcement of high-definition testing has come from World Wrestling Entertainment this week, as the wrestling company has started tests for high-definition content, according to a story on their site Friday.

Tonight is WWE's first test, recording a Smackdown house show (meaning an untelevised event) at the Mohegan Sun Arena) completely in HD. While the company has toyed with HD technology in the past, their plan is to record this event, which will not be televised, to see what aesthetic changes need to be made in the show before the conversion to high-definition is made.

The article gives a good idea of the various factors a company that does live entertainment events that are taped, as is the case with the WWE, must consider in making the conversion to HD. This includes hiring a makeup artist that will use airbrushing techniques rather than traditional makeup to better be captures in high-definition, changes in lighting, how the WWE's usual pyro will translate into high-definition sound and picture, and the necessary changes in audio when switching to 5.1 surround sound rather than the current system in standard distribution.

The WWE predicts "tens of millions of dollars of upgrades in equipment and a minimum of three years" to completely transfer their system to high-definition.

WWE Vice President of Event Technical Operations was quoted as saying, "We can provide HD content, [but] our broadcast partners have not migrated to a true HD platform as of yet. The first way our fans could see our content in HD [might be] through home video on DVDs."

The quote brings up an interesting point, that ties into the argument over Star Trek in HD. With other CW Network shows being available in HD, WWE's claim is that, if it does HD, it will benefit them more in the home video market because CW affiliates are not yet ready truly ready to handle HD content.

As WWE goes through this conversion process, though, it will be interesting to see what tests they make, as they have already promised to push the envelope and create HD filming techniques that will be emulated by others. Usual wrestling hyperbole, maybe, but WWE likes to be known as innovators, even if they remain a product marginalized by many who consider themselves "more mainstream."

New Technology Allows for Time-Sensitive VOD Ads

My wife and I have generally not purchased television content through our digital cable (except my subscription to WWE 24/7 On-Demand, of course), but Amanda decided last night to watch an episode of CSI for $1.50 while I was working on a project, since it's just the kind of show you can watch one episode of without having to have any context going in or any lingering questions coming back out.

But she was shocked when, a few minutes into the show, she hit the first round of commercials. For her, she felt that the $1.50 she had just paid should be enough to keep her from being subjected to advertisements. However, VOD full ads are becoming the norm, especially with technology introduced last week that allows advertisers to tweak the ads that are run with VOD content.

Paramount Pictures is the first to launch a trial of this ability, placing ads in MTV Networks' VOD programming in the Lawrence, Kansas, market through cable company Sunflower Broadband. The advertisements, to promote the Sept. 22 launch of Jackass Number Two, will be paired with content when the viewer requests the show rather than lined up months in advance, thanks to technology from Atlas on Demand and SeaChange.

What does this mean? It means that the advertisements can change depending on how close the movie is to release date or whether it has come out, and the ads can also be tweaked for content. The technology also allows Paramount to monitor how many people are watching the ads and whether the ads were skipped or fastforwarded.

The move is being declared as a breakthrough to convince advertisers to embrace VOD technology, since ad content is not locked in place for months at a time but rather can be adjusted accordingly at any time. This means that time-sensitive messages can be replaced and that companies that previously were not so keen in running VOD ads now not only have a mechanism to but also a potential measurement system to have instant feedback on how successful their ads are.

On the other hand, as VOD advertising grows, there are going to be people on the consumer end angry about paying a fee to watch a show and then having to endure advertisements as well. The eventual answer may be, if there is enough ad support, to do away with the subscription service, or to provide both, or to find ways to target ads to particular viewers now that ad content does not have to be statically set for months at a time with VOD shows.

September 9, 2006

ITN Purchase Indicative of New Adveritising Approaches

As Stuart Elliott pointed out in an article in Tuesday's New York Times, much of the attention on new ways to generate adveritisng still revolves around television and television properties because TV advertising remains the largest medium for advertising, so that both network executives and ad agencies alike have a strong interest in the future of the medium and in how both should react to new technologies and new viewer patterns.

The article examines the new deal taking place with ITN Networks. According to Elliott, the New York-based media sales company is known for assumbling "customized national TV networks for advertisers from teh commercial time it buys from local broadcast stations," working with such major advertisers as Johnson & Johnson, Burger King, and Capital One, among many others.

A media group consisting of Sony Pictures Television, Veronis Suhler Stevenson, and the Zelnick Media Corporation, is buying the majority of ITN, with plans to invest up to $250 million. The plan is to spread ITN's reach into cable and satellite television, as well as growing advertising platforms such as video games and the Internet. Elliott provides a helpful breakdown of what each of the partners involved in the purchase are involved in and known for as well.

With capital from extant players in the media industry being fueled into new and innovative groups like ITN, the industry is proving that, even as it is trying to maintain consistency in the current plan, there are myriad contingencies being accounted for and alternatives being prepared for when the traditional overall impressions and 30-second spot ship starts sinking even more. The one thing that has always been true in a capitalist society and in advertising in parciular is that the only fact that stays the same is that everything changes.

The article also covers the CBS/TiVo deal I wrote about here earlier this week, in which several previews and/or shows are made available to TiVo viewers before the general viewing public, in hopes that these lead users will become advocates for the program and spread the word of their quality before their widespread broadcast debut.

Thanks to William Uricchio for sending this along.

Spanish-language and Internet-based Ads Driving 2006 Increases

The rate of growth of advertising spending may have flattened in the second quarter of 2006, but that growth continues to be fueled by dramatic increase in Spanish-language advertising and in Internet advertising, according to a release from TNS Media Intelligence this week.

Advertising spending in the second quarter of 2006 jumped 2.9 percent, after a 5.3 percent gain the first quarter of 2006. According to experts, the first quarter was an anomaly, with traditional television advertising being boosted by the Winter Olympics and the World Cup, among other events, that skewed numbers, leaving the second quarter of 2006 being viewed as the more stable and important number to compare to for the future, although political advertising will also be skewing numbers in the future.

Spanish-language advertising in the first half of 2006 raised by more than a fifth, jumping 20.5 percent in the second quarter to a total of $2.4 billion, while Internet display advertising rose 18.9 percent, to a total of $4.69 billion.

While network television advertising's revenue is much greater, at $12.3 billion, the growth rate has remained flat, and TNS said that, excluding the month that the Olympics were broadcast, the ad growth for 2006 for network TV would only be 1.2 percent.

Back in July, I wrote about the same two sectors of advertising driving the growth rate for the first quarter, and it seems that driving into Spanish-language content and online distribution continues to gain in profit, while the numbers for traditional advertising in traditional media are leveling off.

Shakira and Bollywood

One of the effects of a globalized economy and the degree to which cultural sharing has taken place through mass consumer culture is that consumers learn more about the customs and popular art forms of other nations, making viable a degree of mass cultural sharing that has never been accomplished on this wide of a scale.

The latest example? News that famed Columbian singer and dancer Shakira wants to film her next music video Bollywood style, after the success of a Bollywood-inspired dance routine at the MTV Video Music Awards.

According to a story from the BBC's Monica Chadha, Shakira plans to work with Bollywood director Farah Khan, who helped choreograph Shakira's dance on the awards show.

There is even some talk of Shakira potentially appearing in one of Farah Khan's films at some point, although that may be rumors only generated from the interviewer in the story by directing the discussion in that way, as there has been no official word indicating such a move.

I wrote earlier this year about the American soap opera Passions having an episode in Bollywood style, particularly appropriate for a soap known for its excesses and campiness. And American culture has become more and more aware of an immersed in the Bollywood style through its cropping up in various forms, including the heavy influence it had on Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

Through the efforts of popular music artists like Paul Simon, these types of world music extensions have become increasingly acceptable and commonplace. If Shakira, a Columbian singer whose mother is of Catalan and Italian decent and whose father was American of Lebanese descent, and whose name is Arabic, launches a Bollywood video to a worldwide audience, it will be a pretty great example of the reach of popular culture and the cultural blending that happens with globalization.

Thanks to David Edery for bringing this story to my attention.

September 8, 2006

Television Goes Multiplatform

I originally posted this on my blog, but I thought it would also be of interest to C3 readers because of the heavy focus here on multiplatform television extensions:

It's hard to believe that it was less than a year ago that Apple launched the video Ipod and the ABC television group was the first to announce a serious commitment to make its top rated television shows accessible to consumers via legal downloads. Within a few weeks time, the other networks were forced to cut their own deals with Apple paving the way of a new era of rerun on demand.

A document shared with me recently from one of our corporate research partners gave me a glimpse into just how dramatically the landscape of American television has changed, providing a breakdown network by network of the various platforms through which one could access their content.

Continue reading "Television Goes Multiplatform" »

Battlestar Galactica Launching Webisodes

A great example of transmedia storytelling, or at least what promises to be, started earlier this week through The Sci Fi Channel's online distribution of mini-episodes of Battlestar Galactica, leading up to the launch of the show's new season on Sci Fi Oct. 6.

The online episodes will be only a few minutes in length, and Sci Fi will feature 10 of them in all, with a new episode made available each Tuesday and Thursday night until the show's first episode on Sci Fi.

An article by Jonathan D. Glater appeared in Tuesday's New York Times about the launch of the new online series, which will "focus on two soldiers in a new city built by humans fleeing Cylons, a race of machines that has wiped out human civilization everywhere."

According to the network's plans, the webisodes will provide information to viewers about the narrative in the fall and will help provide context and motive for decisions characters make when the show launches on television once again in October.

Glater writes, "These Web segments are a bit of a gamble. Sci Fi executives are betting that people who are only glancingly familiar with the series--whose storyline may be too complicated to follow for those who don't know what happened in the first two seasons--will be able to follow the story told online."

The network will also be launching a show called "The Story So Far," a one-hour recap of what has happened on Battlestar Galactica in the first two seasons, to air on Sci Fi, USA Network, Bravo, Sleuth, and Universal HD, all NBC Universal channels, and also be available on the Sci Fi Web site, You Tube, iTunes, Yahoo, and on United Airlines flights and Universal theme parks, according to Glater.

Glater ties this into the problems between NBC Universal and the WGA over webisodes, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

I'm interested in seeing how much of a success these episodes are and if they add any new viewers to Battlestar and/or strengthen the connection with existing fans.

Thanks to William Uricchio for passing the Times article along to me.

If You Can't Beat 'Em...

CBS has made the first move of any network at providing content in a special deal just for TiVo service subscribers.

The broadcaster will be partnering with TiVo to make the premiere episode of new situation comedy The Class available to TiVo subscribers a week before it will air in the broadcast lineup. The show will be available next week to TiVo subscribers and will air on Monday, Sept. 18 as part of the launch of CBS's fall primetime lineup.

But, wait..that's not all. TiVo subscribers are also going to get the chance to watch sneak previews of the three new and heavily promoted CBS dramas, Jericho, Shark, and Smith.

And, as part of the partnership, TiVo will offer a one-click option for which subscribers will be able to record the premieres of all four of these series.

Great to see the networks' guns continue to go down against services like TiVo, as broadcasters and cable networks alike are embracing cross-platform distribution incrementally, anyway. Since the networks are beginning to realize they aren't going to be able to do anything to stop services like TiVo, the question is not how can we hold up timeshifting services in court but rather how can we best work with them and adapt to the continued changes in the industry.

This new move from CBS is along the lines of NBC's partnership with NetFlix to promote Kidnapped and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip over the past month.

The idea here is to make good content available ahead of time, so that the network can both embrace new platforms and show their innovativeness while also giving content to viewers ahead of time in hopes that the content is so good that these folks will act as grassroots advocates for the show's debut so that allowing a few people to watch the show early will actually lead to more viewers, not less, when the content is first broadcast.

September 7, 2006

Google News Archive Promising

Google is expanding their reach on a weekly basis these days, and the innovations just keep coming. While they are further developing their video features and even doing a little research about social interactive television models, the network is also providing yet another important facet of searching for its users: news archives.

According to yesterday's New York Times article by John Markoff, the Google News Archive Search will allow users to search newspaper archives for content dating back up to 200 years. The archives will be available not only in general searches but also on a new archives search page.

Journalism industry leaders such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times are providing content, and Google has independently indexed content from each paper for the search. The content is already available online but had not been accessible through search engines, which is changing with the new archives search deal. According to The Times article, newspapers had been pressing Google to make their content avaiable for searches for some time.

Some of the content will be avaiable for free, while others will require a subscription--through the research company managing the archive, not Google--to see the articles in full. Time has its whole archive, dating back to 1923, available for free, supported by advertising, for instance.

There was even discussion in the article of making video content available as well, from the broadcast networks' archives, which are also being explored as transmedia content through network Web sites.

For journalists, students, reserachers, and citizens in general, having the ability to draw upon these resources is an incredible benefit, especially with the ease that Google will allow the content to be navigated. And with some companies providing their content for free, there now exists a great public database that makes researching topics even easier, especially now that trusted journalistic sources are available.

For those teachers and librarians who say that you can't trust the Internet because there's no reliable name involved with their research, for those that distrust the communal editing of Wikipedia, these digital archives provide a space for trusted news content that may provide a powerful new resource for public schools, college students, historians, and anyone just interested in educating themselves on something.

Star Trek Not in HD After All: HD Growing Pains

As a follow-up to the post I wrote last week, James Hibberd has written an update. It appears that, despite the fact that Star Trek episodes from the original 1960s series have ben digitally remastered, fans who watch the shows in syndication will be watching the same Star Trek as always, as the high-definition facelift will not be translating into high-definition distribution through the stations who have purchased the episodes for syndication.

As Hibberd writes, everyone is "pointing fingers in different directions" as to how this content won't be reaching viewers in HD. CBS Paramount blames the station for not having high-definition capabilities, while the stations are blaming Paramount's content relay service for the problems. Further, CBS Paramount says that stations do not have the handling capacity for airing their shows in high-definition and generally just broadcast them becuase they don't have room for storage, but Hibberd points out that, with the revamped HD look of game shows like Jeapordy and Wheel of Fortune set to go live, these arguments are a little dubious.

Hibberd writes, "The confusion puts a spotlight on stumbling blocks for television executives tasked with delivering shows in high definition. As distributors, networks and station groups race to meet consumer demand for HD content, they're discovering unanticipated problems that are complicating the spread of the super-crisp format."

I'm taking a course at MIT now called Media in Transition, and research always finds that some of the most compelling arguments and the most revealing discussions come at a time when technological changes sweep through the industry or, more precisely, when executives are trying to figure out how to best utilize a new technology. And high-definition is bringing out some of these arguments. The new technology may provide better picture quality than ever before, but no industry transition is an easy one, this one included.

So, for the time being, high-definition is going to lead to arguemnts over which DVD format to use, the place of 3-D technology, and issues of syndicated series like these.

Community Journalism and The Convergence Newsletter

September's installment of The Convergence Newsletter, which follows issues of convergence culture in journalism in particular, features a focus on community journalism. The newsletter, released as part of the Newsplex converged newsroom at the University of South Carolina, has become a great sounding board for those journalists considering issues of convergence and how it affects the news, as I've written about before.

This month's issue features four journalists' takes on how convergence can empower citizen journalism and bolster smaller papers. For those interested in questions of community interaction and how it affects journalism, former Convergence Newsletter editor Jordan Storm, who is now a doctoral student at Syracuse University, has a very good take on why allowing a community voice in journalism does not diminish the role of the professional journalist but rather extends it.

Storm, who completed a study of the free daily newspaper Bluffton Today in Bluffton, South Carolina, examined the paper, which he describes as "a community newspaper that welcomes citizen engagement and content onto its Web site through registered users' blog pages, photo galleries, and forum discussion boards for the purposes of feeding the print paper."

Storm's piece calls into question earlier claims that such papers lead to "a convergence of content creators" and instead asserts that these experiments at increasing the interaction among the community, with the newspaper as facilitator, leads to "a convergence of conversations." Storm feels that, "rather than reversing the traditional model of gatekeeping, editors and journalists are doing more gatekeeping than ever, as they have an additional source with which to contend."

As Storm writes, though, this is no burden to newspapers to become an extra gatekeeper, as it provides more information about the reader base and what they find to be newsworthy and also provides a check on the quality and accuracy of the journalism, making the initial news story a catalyst for interesting discussion throughout the community that can then be facilitated by the newspaper's own site. I agree with Storm's assertion that this is an example of "just better journalism."

Journalists have to be held accountable, since every newspaper you'll ever pick up has a mistake or a false assertion or something taken out of context within it. (By the way, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, I'm still Sam Bond as of this moment, although I've sent another e-mail along).

Storm's point addresses the fears of many professional journalists and journalism instructors, that embracing participatory journalism somehow cheapens their importance, that the loss of mystique of the news-gathering process will somehow invalidate them. Quite the contrary. Citizen journalists aren't going to replace professionals but rather help make stories more accurate, help hold journalists more accountable. Convergence isn't aimed to get rid of journalists but rather to give journalists another way to be more accurate. The only journalists that are going to be hurt are the ones who don't do a good job.

The rest of the newsletter is also worth checking out, for Dan Pacheco's reporting on The Bakersfield Californian's use or stories written by readers through their Web site and Doug Fisher's advice for newspapers interested in embracing citizen journalism.

Also, in a piece that has its origins here on the C3 site, when I wrote a few months about about the plight of weekly newspapers, I focus on how weeklies can embrace new models of advertising and interacting with the community in order to flourish, despite the Wal-Martization of small towns that have left many weeklies economically diminished.

Last month's issue featured a controversial piece from David Hazinski, for which I wrote a response about, as did Fisher.

September 4, 2006

L. Brent Bozell May Be Gone, But the PTC Rages On

I think I've heard some of the best news that's come my way in a while over the weekend, when I found out from Dave Meltzer's site that L. Brent Bozell, the head of the Parents Television Council, has resigned from his leadership position. Why was I excited?

I have no problem with grassroots groups of citizens who get together to call for industries to have more scruples, to consider showing more compelling content, etc. I am disgusted by these groups, though, when they become not just media watchdogs but media censors. Warning parents about media that may not be inappropriate or calling for more family-friendly programming is one thing. Trying to eliminate programming one does not agree with is another.

I've made my opinion of L. Brent Bozell clear in the past, such as here and here. The man led the PTC through some major victories, including the decision earlier this year by Congress to dramatically increase the fines for "indecency." Again, the problem here is who gets to define indecency, and these types of fines usually lead to a certain degree of fear to air certain content or to take risks, exactly the opposite kind of environment we need to be in to encourage networks to take advantage of the new possibilities offered by convergence culture.

Bozell has been a thorn in my side as a fan since his 1999 full-fledged attack on World Wrestling Entertainment. At the time, he not only targeted WWE on the Web site but personally led a campaign against WWE's advertisers, trying to force them to drop the show. All of this, of course, is within his rights, but he then started lying in his press releases, claiming to stop people from advertising who never advertised with WWE in the first place and even claiming to stop some people from advertising who were still running ads!

WWE did two things in response--they created a group of characters called The Right to Censor (RTC) to make fun of the PTC and what WWE Owner Vince McMahon considered "Puirtanical" values, which aired on television on a weekly basis, and they sued the PTC. In fact, the lawsuit ended in a several million dollar settlement on the PTC's part and a public apology to McMahon and the WWE.

So, you may be able to understand my enjoyment when Bozell was finally removed from power. But, then, simultaneously, news has come out that the PTC has filed an indecency complaint against the Emmy Awards. Now, I was expecting some feeling of distaste over the airplane scenes when I heard that someone was upset with the Emmys, since I knew there had been some discussion of that. Otherwise, I couldn't remember what it was at the Emmys that was so upsetting.

Then I read this article from Ira Teinowitz at TelevisionWeek explaining that it was the PTC filing charges because of comments made by Dame Helen Mirren and Calista Flockhart about not falling "ass over tit" up the stairs to the stage. The article said that the PTC's major objection was more to the word "tit" than the word "ass."

The PTC has taken legal recourse here, but I'm interested in seeing what happens. Coarse language has become more acceptable in mainstream media and on broadcast networks, in primetime or daytime. I heard a character on As the World Turns call someone a "son of a bitch" not too long ago, surprising for me considering the lack of salty language in daytime for quite a while.

But we'll see what happens with this one. And, in the meantime, it seems that the PTC's claim to be watchdogs really just leads to the same old song and dance about indecency in the media, usually attacking the most trivial of moments instead of the types of trends that may really be disturbing on TV, with our without Bozell. Why doesn't the PTC put all its big bucks into helping new networks develop compelling counter-programming if they feel the needs of families are not being met, instead of trying to eliminate most of the programming on the networks?

Wikis Providing Greater Potential for Collective Intelligence

The New York Times has a fascinating article today about wikis and the way that they are driving new Web-based company models, with the sites acting as facilitators for communally authored pages.

The article, by Robert Levine, focuses on popular wiki-based sites that allow users to supply the content, with some minimal guidance from a facilitator. The thought is that these pages could be advertising-supported, with users generating the lion's share of the content. But, as Levine points out, these sites have to start posting the types of numbers needed to get advertisers seriously interested, must prove that their impressions are viable, and must monitor for content that advertisers would approve being associated with, since wikis without guidance can often lead to a few vulgar or "objectionable" additions along the way.

One of my favorite quotes came from Wetpaint's CEO Ben Elowitz, who said about his start-your-own-wiki site, "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and this is about the other 999,000 books in the library."

What does that mean for transmedia? Well, I think it's fairly easy to see how extensive of an interest fan communities have in Wikipedia, in having the chance to communally define the history or mythology of their favorite shows, films, books, magazines, news organizations, etc. We have written and mused plenty in the past about the importance of a collective intelligence at being much more accurate than a set of experts, particularly in the journalism field, as Dan Gillmor has written about in We the Media. And, while Stephen Colbert's objections to Wikipedia are noted, that social agreement cannot replace the truth, this version of the truth is much more accurate than the truth from one set of experts.

For businesses that are interested in capitalizing the power of wikis and avoiding the problems discussed in the Times article, it seems smart to make very concentrated wikis, for instance a site covering a particular genre or even a specific show that has a wiki dedicated to the history and characters of that show, film, publication, etc. This way, the power of the wiki will draw in the fan community while also presented a concentrated enough of a market for advertisers to focus on, thus making it a more viable business model.

And, no doubt a well-developed wiki site going in-depth on the mythology of a particular story world would be much more valuable to the fan community than the more generalized Wikipedia, which does operate as an encyclopedia. We'll see if fan sites and even official sites will be willing to start incorporate wikis more and more as they help facilitate and encourage user-generated content.

Thanks to C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio for passing this article along to me.

September 3, 2006

Slamming Media Effects

I wrote this on my blog on Friday in response to Sam Ford's recent focus on the subject. I wanted to post it here as well, to play off the points he made previously:

Some of you thought Ian and I were playing a little rough with each other. Wait till you hear about the kind of rough treatment that media effects researchers have been getting lately.

CMS graduate student Sam Ford recently told the story here:

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.

McMahon brought on board a ringer -- his own academic -- Dr. Robert Thompson, the head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. Thompson -- who works loosely in the cultural studies tradition -- offers his own critique of the Wake Forest research:

What always worries me about these kinds of studies is that they imply a cause; this study claims nothing more than a correlation...So many people immediately see these studies, and they suggest that wrestling is causing these things, and I don't think that is a done deal by any stretch of the imagination....Whether you can make the step that says people who watch wrestling become more a lot more difficult to prove, and I don't think these studies prove it. I think it would be very, very difficult to put together a study that could actually control enough variables that you could demonstrate that.

Then, a University of Cincinnati sociology graduate student (and self proclaimed wrestling fan) Michael M Wehrman wrote an editorial for the Pro Wrestling Torch, a key publication in the wrestling fan community, claiming that Thompson's credentials for commenting on the matter were "highly questionable" since he comes from a humanistic rather than social science background.

Wehrman concludes that the Wake Forest Study "is fairly shallow, lacks relevant control variables, and seems overreaching in its conclusion," but Wehrman is convinced that he has the background to make such a judgment because he is a social scientist and Thompson doesn't because he's a humanist. In other words, nobody can beat up my kid brother except me.

Continue reading "Slamming Media Effects" »

September 2, 2006

Comics and Convergence Part Three

This is the third of a series of out-takes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide that originally appeared on my blog which centers on convergence within the comics industry. This segment explores the ways that online communities are altering the ways that comics readers and publishers interact. A small portion of this content found its way into the book's conclusion in a significantly altered form, but the rest of it is appearing here for the first time.

Continue reading "Comics and Convergence Part Three" »

Olbermann News Clip Getting Major Circulation on YouTube

One of the most popular new clips making its way around YouTube is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's commentary last week against Donald Rumsfeld and the current administration for what he views as their continued use of lies and fears to create an environment of fear in this country to allow the administration to continually make and cover up bad decisions.

Olbermann likens this administration to the 1930s British administration that ignored the Nazi threat and claimed Winston Churchill was wrong in his assertions, reversing a claim from Rumsfeld that they were like Churchill in the 30s. Of course, Rumsfeld was claiming that they could see a threat when everyone else could not, but Olbermann's comparison is to the faulty logic and lack of facts from Rumsfeld in being much like the British administration of Neville Chamberlain in the 30s.

Olbermann channels the spirit of Edward R. Murrow and even ends the clip with a direct quote from the famed journalist, which you will recognize from Good Night and Good Luck, transforming the quote as a direct warning against Rumsfeld instead of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

C3 Director Henry Jenkins sent me this clip, noting that, since the MSNBC program is not particularly higher rated, "this is one of those clips that is being seen by far more people digitally than saw it via broadcast."

Although I feel the political message is powerful here and cannot be ignored, despite how you feel about the current administration, the implications of this clip's popularity on YouTube shows how quality broadcast journalism or powerful journalistic commentary can have continued life in the blogosphere and in the current convergence culture.

In an environment of transient 24-hour news programming, where most comments come and go into the ether without anyone ever paying lasting attention, YouTube and similar video sharing sites are a place in which these types of comments retain and actually even grow in relevance over time.

So, for all those journalists who fear convergence culture, they should realize that this type of archiving gives added, not diminished, relevance to their work.

September 1, 2006

All My Children to Debut Video Podcast

News has broken that All My Children will become the second daytime soap opera to offer content through Apple iTunes.

According to Linda Marshall-Smith with Soapdom, the press release sent out by ABC and AMC stated that the content, which will be made available both on iTunes and, will consist of a weekly video podcast that will backstage footage, focusing on particular actors or storylines each week.

Marshall-Smith reports that the feature will be available for free and quotes Executive Producer Julie Hanan Carruthers as saying "the video podcast will provide an enhanced fan experience, allowing our loyal viewers to become equally as intimate with the actors as they have already become with the characters they play."

The first soap opera to launch into iTunes, the 30-minute soap opera Passions, is making every episode available through iTunes, as opposed to this ancillary content from All My Children.

In a similar vein, I have written in the past about the podcasts available for Procter & Gamble Productions shows which play audio-only versions of each episode for those who may have missed or not be able to watch As the World Turns or Guiding Light, the InTurn show airing on CBS innertube associated with As the World Turns in which aspiring actors compete in a reality show to get a 13-week contract on the soap, the Procter & Gamble channel on AOL Video, and various other online experiments for soap operas.

With the focus of the AMC video podcasts apparently to promote the show by developing a stronger connection between fans and actors, it will be interesting to see how popular the content is with viewers of the soap. Would anyone watch this content who were not fans of the show? And would fans of the show feel compelled to watch this online content that does not relate to the storyworld of the show but rather how the show is put together?

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