October 29, 2006

The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness

In a research group that consistently publishes on the ways in which new media technologies are impacting the way that users are interacting with content, the ways in which producers are making that content available, and the new financial models that companies are able to/forced to create to accommodate for these new technologies, few innovative products have had more of an impact on our society than the iPod.

The iPod innovated the music industry, distribution of music videos, the television industry, and now movies and casual games.

To commemorate this massive cultural reach, Newsweek journalist Steven Levy has published The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness.

I was impressed with the the book's design to look like a video iPod, as well as the fact that the book is written in shuffle mode, with the chapters being arranged in different order depending on which version you purchase. Gimmicky? Sure. But it's a pretty darn creative gimmick.

I haven't read the book yet, but I was impressed by the review by Clayton Collins with The Christian Science Monitor. Collins writes, "Both Apple and Jobs, Levy persuades, continue to emit brilliance, navigating the rocks of digital rights management, morphing the product, winning over fans from rock stars to college kids to preteen girls," and he further emphasizes that "his treatment of shuffle also highlights Levy's remarkable depth of access. Recounting one of many private encounters with unrelenting visionary Steve Jobs, Apple's chief, the author describes a heady chat about the "randomizing algorithm" of shuffle."

For anyone wanting a sample of some of Levy's insight, check out his blog on the iPod promoting the book here.

Passions Tabloid Providing Great Transmedia Storytelling Opportunities

NBC's soaps, known for their fantasy and departure of the semi-realistic depiction of the issues of domestic life that is expected from soap operas, are also known for some interesting innovations, particularly the show Passions. Since I've begun writing at the C3 blog, I've written about an animated sequence on the soap, as well as a Bollywood episode. Passions was also the first soap to launch on iTunes. Now, it is making news once again by working with a new storyline and site called Tabloid Truth. The storyline will play out over a 12-week period, with the tabloid--run by gossip columnist J.T. Cornell, who as returned to the town to cause problems, publishing new installments twice a week.

One benefit Passions has, with its irreverent style and its lack of focus on reality, is less concern about an immersive and realistic tabloid site. The site features a convergence of video, pictures, and text, in a transmedia attempt further storylines in interesting ways.

It also includes message boards encouraging readers to do their own gossiping and digging as well. As opposed to materials for an ARG, where every attempt is made to create an authentic product, this is an over-the-top tabloid on the main site for Passions, but it presents an interesting model for a transmedia story. I've long argued that soaps should do these types of crossovers on a more regular basis, including online newspapers for their shows featuring user-generated content.

Since my thesis at MIT is on the soap genre and the developments of new transmedia storytelling initiatives that take advantage of the massive storytelling potential in these narrative universes, I'm interested in how these projects are serving to slowly acclimate soap audiences to this type of storytelling.

More information is provided through the press release, including that each video installment will feature a hidden clue that will forward a story. Again, this storyline is strongest because the tabloid writer is a character on the show, and the rumors and installments in this online space are driving the stories on the show. Soaps are experimenting with transmedia in increasing ways, developing into what may become a fully immersed transmedia storyline at some point. See previous posts about the Guiding Light/Marvel crossover I wrote about yesterday, GL's Springfield Burns, As the World Turns's Oakdale Confidential, and ATWT's blog for character Luke Snyder.

October 28, 2006

Guiding Light Episode to Feature Marvel Crossover

Now, super heroes are raiding the soaps!

Last month, I wrote about my surprise of a soap opera/superhero crossover. The news had broken that an upcoming story of a comic featuring the Marvel super hero team The Avengers would feature the residents of the City of Springfield, the fictional town which is the setting for the soap opera Guiding Light. The idea came from Marvel's consulting a designer from the soap for a wedding gown for a Marvel character, leading to an idea of cross-promotion.

I wrote, "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.'" I found that statement refreshing because it allows fans to cross lines that are usually ignored in today's world of niche audiences and target programming and marketing.

However, I questioned whether this partnership could ever go the other way, in that GL characters may make more sense in the world of the Avengers than vice versa. I wrote, "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.'"

Now, I'm eating my words, as next Wednesday's episode of GL is going to feature a story straight from the Marvel crossover. A sneak preview is currently available here, as well as a written preview of the episode. The episode, entitled "She's a Marvel," will avoid some of my concerns, though, by being a standalone episode that does not relate to the rest of the GL world, managing to avoid many of my concerns about the realism of the soap universe. While I don't think it's completely fair to claim that soaps are realistic, with the exception of Passions and perhaps Days of Our Lives, these shows are much better at dealing with the complications of everyday life for real human beings, rather than trying to bring the supernatural into these small towns.

Continue reading "Guiding Light Episode to Feature Marvel Crossover" »

Channel One and ABC Working to Increase User-Generated Content for Teens

For those of you who grew up in my generation, you may have had the Channel One experience in school. For those who haven't, Channel One is a short morning program that airs every school morning, giving some basic headlines of current events that may be of interest to middle school and high school students. Some teachers weren't crazy about how it cut into class time, but--the way I understand it, anyway--Channel One provided our high school with television sets in every classroom with the edict that the televisions automatically came on every morning with the news.

Of course, some teachers just covered the television, or muted it, or a variety of other things to recoup that time for our classroom. But other teachers participated in quizzes to ensure that we had been watching the Channel One news that particular week.

Now, Channel One is trying to create a new project that creates some degree of news synergy between their middle school/high school programming and ABC, a program that is being celebrated by those interested in media literacies and proponents of citizen journalism alike.

The new initiative encourages the students watching Channel One to begin creating content for ABC's 24-hour digital news service, ABC News Now, through a weekly program called Be Seen Be Heard. ABC News Now is distributed through some cable programs, as well as wireless platforms and ABC's online site. The content will include text, audio, and video, and Channel One will include how-to segments on how to use webcams, digital video cameras and cameras, and cell phones to record footage that can be submitted to ABC News Now.

Judy Harris, Channel One's CEO, said in the press release that the "partnership with ABC News is crucial in extending our objective of providing teens with the tools to develop a better understanding of today's most pressing world issues. Citizen journalism is a critical component to extending the ideals of the First Amendment and strengthens the voices of students across America. This is yet another example of how Channel One is building alliances and forums beyond the classroom to make certain that teens' opinions can be heard."

The importance of teaching First Amendment rights and the importance of journalism to students may be best served by helping show them ways to participate. In a recent post here, Henry Jenkins wrote, "Those of us who care about this push for a more participatory culture should pay close attention to the legal struggles surrounding student journalists and bloggers. Students are using these new media as they make their first steps towards civic engagement and political participation. How they get treated can have a lasting impact on their future understanding of their roles as citizens. In my case, struggling to defend my rights as a student journalist left me with a deep commitment to free expression. For many others, those hopes can be crushed, leaving them apathetic, cynical, and uninterested."

And we recently discussed many of these issues when Dan Gillmor and Ellen Foley were here. After that meeting, I wrote that "I do agree that papers have to shift their purpose and their focus when new media forms come along. In this case, as Gillmor emphasizes, citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to augment it."

For more on the affect of community journalism, see my post from Sept. 7 on community journalism and a variety of new perspectives and projects in citizen-led journalism. Also, CNN has experimented with user-generated content in interesting ways, and MTVN's recent purchase of College Publisher.

October 27, 2006

TBS Wants MySpace Users to Determine Which of Them Knows Funny

Turner Broadcasting, one of our corporate partners here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, made news this week by teaming up with MySpace for a new contest. Anyone who watches TBS know that they are proud of knowing funny, so the network is teaming up with MySpace to create a contest, The Sierra Mist Stand Up or Sit Down Comedy Challenge, for amateur comedians to post videos of their comedy work through MySpace, with the network's users then being able to vote on the finalists, who will appear on a TBS special set to air on Nov. 17. The winer of the contest will not only receive a $50,000 prize but also a developmental contract with TBS.

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek point out that these types of user-generated contests have also taken place with Comedy Central (a network of another of our partners, MTVN), SoapNet, and the Sci Fi Network. Recently, The Colbert Report garnered some attention for its Green Screen Challenge, organized through fan site Colbert Nation, featuring Colbert doing some Star Wars style maneuvers on a green screen and asking viewers to use the footage for various fan videos, which included a variety of stunning examples he then showed on-the-air.

In the realm of talent recruitment for these programs, back in August, plans from HarperCollins were announced for a fan fiction writing contest in which a book would be communally written by fans and then published by the company. There was also an effort for fans to communally create a script of an episode of The L Word. And, back in February, I wrote about the WWE recruiting performers through its Web site.

These type of contests demonstrate the growing understanding by producers that users may make a great talent pool to recruit from. Should it be any surprise that these companies, then, like Netflix, are embracing the wisdom of the crowd?

Number of Sets Growing Within HD Households, Average HD Household Income Rising

Interesting news regarding consumer behavior released this week, as the Leichtman Research Group examined the expansion of high-definition televisions not just across the total number of U.S. homes but rather WITHIN U.S. homes. The group found that getting an initial high-def. television set causes most families to want to buy another set.

The group's annual survey of 1,300 households found that 29 percent of HDTV owners said they are likely to purchase a second set in the next year and that 26 percent already have more than one HD set in their homes, both percentages up significantly from the survey the year before, when 11 percent owning two sets last year and 18 percent wanting to purchase another within the next year. In the percentages are any indication, it looks like the majority of the 18 percent of the country that wanted to buy a second set managed to in the past year (I know that isn't a statistically viable addition of percentages there, but I'm not a math major, so cut me some slack).

According to the survey, one of every six households in America now have an HD set, compared to one in every 14 households two years ago. And James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek points out that the average income of HD set owners has increased even as HDTV set costs have lowered. He included a quote from Leichtman which said that this particular finding is "counter to adoption trends that we usually think of. What I think we're seeing is a second wave of adoption. The first wave is about affordability and interest; the second becomes just about affordability." The average household income for HDTV owners is $89,500, 42 percent above the national average.

Chief Gizmateer with RealTechNews writes, "While nothing seems surprising or out of the ordinary in LRG's assessment of the HDTV space, one thing that surprised me is that only a third of those surveyed knew about Feb. 17, 2009, the federal deadline for TV stations to broadcast only digital signals. While HDTV's long-term sales are upbeating (about 20% of all households get a new TV set each year), that may not be fast enough to beat the federal deadline in 2009."

This continued growth in HD, especially among high-income households, have led to continued tensions among advertisers, content providers, and networks about how quickly to adapt programming for HD viewers.

FX Introduces "Fancasting"

First noticed this a week ago, and re-noticed it last night while watching this week's episode of Nip/Tuck:

During one of the ad breaks, FX ran a spot to promote what they're referring to as a "fancast," where fans are encouraged to record audio clips of themselves discussing their thoughts about the show and send them in for possible inclusion in (what I assume is a cleverly renamed) Nip/Tuck podcast. Viewers are also encouraged to send in questions for a selected member of the cast, who will (presumably) answer either the questions that are most commonly asked, or that the fancast producers find most interesting.

This strikes me as interesting for a few reasons.

For one, it sets up the content of the podcast (fan discussion and dialogue) as more important than the medium of the communication (an iPod).

More importantly, though, it establishes a clear relationship between audience participants and cultural producers from the outset: we want to hear what you have to say as fans of the show, so long as we're all clear on the fact that you *are* fans of the show.

It's an interesting and subtle clarification to make upfront, given the problems that some creative teams have faced in the past due to the ambiguous and unarticulated boundaries that exist in their online interactions with fans.  In some ways, the "fancast" is similar to the use of "intermediary channels" like Ask Ausiello and Watch With Kristin; audience questions and input are still moderated, but in this case, by someone working either inside the show or inside the network... no need to form polite give-and-take relationships with outside writers, and it (potentially) makes the audience feel that much closer to the stars of the show.

I'd actually be quite curious to know how FX is structured, in terms of the division of responsibility on these projects, between the show team and the network's marketing division. I'd also be curious to know whether fancasts are specific to Nip/Tuck, or being produced for several of the network's more popular dramas.

Either way, given the attention that Nip/Tuck got for using a MySpace profile to deepen viewer engagement with last season's narrative arc about the Carver, I'm interested in keeping tabs on whatever they're doing now.

Warner Music Group Signs Online Video Distribution Deal

Warner Music Group has now inked a deal to distribute music videos online through commercial means, alongside efforts from Time-Warner to limit the distribution of company products through distribution that violates copyrights.

This week, Warner Music Group forged a deal with Brightcove, an Internet TV group, to help commercially distribute Warner music videos online, as well as other music-related material. Working with Brightcove, the plan is currently to make music videos available through the Web sites of all the labels that are under the Warner umbrella, as well as various artists signed to these Warner labels. There are also plans to forge official deals through Brightcove to syndicate Warner Music videos on other sites as well. The content will also include live performance and behind-the-scenes footage of various Warner performers.

The plan is currently to make the Web videos available free supported by advertising, as well as some with pay-per-view models.

Time-Warner, the parent company. has already indicated plans to go after YouTube for distribution of videos that violate the company's copyright. Meanwhile, the WMG label has struck a deal with Google Video for distributing videos, with Google and Warner Music Group sharing in the profits, and Warner has signed a similar deal with YouTube. The various approaches are one strong indicator of the period of flux and change we are currently in.

Brightcove, which is based here in Cambridge, also provides a music video platform for Sony BMG called Music Box.

NBC/Universal Pulls Out of Commercial Ratings from Nielsen

NBC/Universal has put another roadblock in the way of the Nielsen commercial ratings, a ratings system that they initial requested along with the other big four networks over the summer.

Just a few days ago, when it was announced that the commercial ratings were going to be delayed until December. At the time, I wrote, "I've been waiting until the November date to see how this affects discussions of advertising on American television, etc., but it looks like I'm going to have to wait a little longer, as well the television industry. Will Nielsen's commercial ratings change anything about the current television system? Will networks trust the commercial ratings? Will advertisers? The controversies that this discussion has raised so far shows the tensions currently in the industry regarding advertising and the continued vitality of the 30-second spot. I am betting that these commercial ratings will continue to be a major battlefront in this argument."

This is a battle that started back in June among the advertisers and networks, with Nielsen trying to strike common ground but ultimately dissatisfying both groups in a reach to compromise. I first wrote about commercial ratings on June 21, saying that, "If Nielsen continues with their push for active/passive viewer measurement as well, I wonder if we will eventually be able to also have attempts to measure the level of engagement people have during certain ads. We might find that particularly creative ads catch people's attention and ads placed right before a show comes back from commercial break, etc. But, even though I still question the validity of many Nielsen numbers, I think this will provide some basis for discussion." David Poltrack with CBS voiced some initial complaints about the numbers, particularly questioning the validity of DVR numbers regarding whether people skip commercials.

Continue reading "NBC/Universal Pulls Out of Commercial Ratings from Nielsen" »

October 26, 2006

The Fallout of the Mass Exodus of Japanese Content from YouTube

One recent story that's gotten a lot of press that I have not yet passed along was the decision this past week for YouTube to remove 29,549 videos of Japanese media after receiving requests from The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers. The Associated Press began reporting on this last Friday, when YouTube acquiesced to the demand to remove clips of music videos, films and television programs from Japan.

The reaction has been widespread across the blogosphere but demonstrates the long-term defense from the company. When journalism Robert Tur filed his lawsuit against YouTube for sharing his work, they claimed that they did not police content but would remove anything that caused a viable challenge of copyright violation. We've seen this battle again and again, with Universal, Time-Warner, etc.

Last month, Akiko Kashiwagi with Newsweek International wrote that "YouTube is shaking the staid world of Japanese broadcasters. When Japanese Internet ventures like Rakuten and Livedoor have tried to buy TV stations for their content, they've been swatted down by big media companies. But the popularity of YouTube, which limits videos to a few minutes, has caught broadcasters by surprise, and so far remains beyond their reach." It appears they've found a way to reach YouTube, though, and that's with the help of their big brother. Kashiwagi wrote, "It will be interesting to see how long this conversation can survive, in a country that has been hard on Internet innovators." Indeed.

The reaction across the Internet has brought up several points in relation to these issues. We have to wonder whether Google will acquiesce to these claims increasingly out of fear of lawsuits now that it has plans to be the corporate backer and owner of YouTube. In other words, now that a company with major capital behind it is in control of YouTube, will they be much more willing to sacrifice the users' content in the face of any fear of legal action? Google's CEO says they will use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for these types of situations.

The Japanese industry's suggestion was that YouTube should create an intermediary stage of posting videos where the company can make sure no illegal content is posted to the site. Ken Fisher with ARS Technica writes points out that some copyright holders have been upset at having to do this policing jobs for themselves. Yet, while there might be an argument that the company might have an impetus to be a better corporate cog now that it is part of Google, Fisher also points out the other problem--Will YouTube be interesting stripped of its user-driven focus?

The bloggers at Our-Picks say, "They are going to be integrated among all the other Google Web Services. They can't afford a wave of law suits due copywritten materials right now" (sic).

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek writes that "video-sharing sites that have built their audiences on both user-generated content and copyrighted material are now staring down a parade of potential lawsuits for copyright violations." Further, she points out that these videos have been very popular on YouTube and has led to a strong Japanese user base.

An interesting debate, and the plethora of lawsuits and success of the Japanese pressure on YouTube indicate that we're only seeing the beginning of this argument.

The OC Debuting Online Early for Fox Affiliates, MySpace

News came out this week that the season premiere of The O.C. will be first show launched online through MySpace today, a week before it makes its debut. The show will begin airing on Fox on Thursday nights starting Nov. 2, but, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, this will be "the first time Fox Interactive Media, the parent company of MySpace, will offer full episode online in advance of the program's on-air debut" (sic). The second episode will also be put on MySpace and on the sites of local Fox affiliates before it airs on the station and will remain to be made available after their TV broadcast, supported by advertising revenue.

This is the next step in a continued move toward providing more television program cross-platform, distributing shows through the Web, at least in experimental form. CBS innertube has continued to gain steam, while NBC, including NBC's deal with AOL, and ABC have made news in recent weeks for their own methods of distributing shows online through their own Web players and sites.

Owning the MySpace distribution space sets Fox apart from its competitors in this regard and questions how far Fox can stretch its use of the social networking site for synergy. This comes only week after the announcement for several Fox shows to be made available on-demand through MySpace. At the time, I wrote, "The plan is to air a variety of the top Fox shows online, especially during this month, when the network's regular programming is being so regularly interrupted with baseball playoffs. By streaming shows through MySpace, Fox hopes to maintain viewer connections with these shows, so that the fan base won't lose interest during their hiatus form television."

The OC introduces a new scenario, in which Fox is trying to get people talking about the show's opening this season before it's launched. It is reminiscent of CBS's preview of The Class on TiVo, as well as previews of several other shows. 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." Fox has also made its content available to multiple other sites.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch questions Fox's choices of what to make available at MySpace, feeling that a lot of weak shows have been offered, considering that The OC has been pitted against top shows from other networks and that Fox has not even ordered a full season this year, with questions about a great falloff in interest in the show, which has been considered somewhat of a cultural milestone for this youth generation.

Kirkpatrick writes, "Making shows available online first is a good move to build web viewership, but is Fox still not getting it or are they not taking it seriously? Perhaps they take what so many people say about MySpace being lowest common denominator consumers seriously. Why put weak shows in a media experiment? Aren't such experiments destined to fail? Why take the shows offline a week after they play on TV? Some long tail ad revenues would make sense."

I think he's right in saying that they are only putting "a little toe" in the water, but there are so many problems to overcome with expanding content across multiple platforms and with transmedia storytelling--issues with the WGA and affiliates. Will this be a boost to The OC. Conversely, is Fox just not providing enough to meet audience demands when it comes to cross-platform distribution? How far can MySpace be stretched as a tool for distribution for Fox without losing its appeal as a social networking site with its own identity? I guess we'll see how this all plays out in coming months.

October 25, 2006

'Swarm-Based' Collaborative Filmmaking

FresHDV had a report recently on the making of 'A Swarm of Angels', allegedly the first truly collaborative instance of indie filmmaking and online distribution using the Creative Commons copyright model, thus encouraging free download and fan 'remixes'.
The film's homepage features plenty of revolutionary rhetoric, from humbly calling this model of filmmaking "Cinema 2.0" to coining the "remixing cinema" slogan for the intended use of their product (which would, first and foremost, require an interesting film in the first place).
According to FresHDV, the film will loosely fit the thriller genre with a splash of Sci-Fi which is probably fitting for a first experiment in collaborative filmmaking. The production team expects to reduce the estimated costs of $3-4 million to roughly $1.75 million which is still an impressive budget for an amateur project. Their goal is to have ~50000 participants for the final film. Slashdot.org displays a healthy dose of scepticism, raising the question of whether the mode of production proposed by "A Swarm of Angels" will develop into a sustainable financial model, too. At least it is already one of the most formalized 'alternatives' to current Hollywood blockbusters and their relatively fixed value chains.
What interests me most about the project is the technological framework used to enable truly "collaborative" filmmaking at every stage. For instance, the script is supposedly created using a WIKI environment and creative & marketing issues are decided by voting which, at least from personal experience, can be useful but does not compensate for all the inherent difficulties of collaborative authoring. With regard to the research focus of my PhD thesis, I would be interested to find out whether the Swarm of Angels team will also be using collaborative media creation tools and which impact these tools might have on the creative outcome. In the case of music production, 'virtual studio' environments are already developed which allow geographically dispersed artists to collaboratively record and arrange music.
All due scepticism aside, it should be interesting to see if the final Swarm of Angels movie will also produce entirely new filmic syntagms and visual effects; after all, current movie or media production in general is already highly 'collaborative' with production units working at different locations and technologies like version management tools 'bridging the gaps'.

October 24, 2006

The Middle Ground Gets You Cancelled: The Plight of Moderate TV Successes

Last November, Grant McCracken wrote about long tails and fat middles, the discussion of the rise of indy films alongside the distribution of blockbusters, including the peril of being in the middle. He quoted what is called "the death valley problem":

"Big companies are flourishing. Small companies are flourishing. It's the one in between who struggle." This is an area he labels the "sour spot." However, Grant questioned "whether the death valley model is the right way to think about this problem."

Someone should have told this to CBS, apparently. As Edward Wyatt's piece in yesterday's New York Times points out, though, this can often have dangerous consequences for those who fall in the middle. He takes up the point of Smith, the recent CBS show that was a moderate success but was dropped after only a few episodes aired because it had dropped from 11 million in the first episode to a little more than 9 million in the third episode.

Wyatt writes, "The quick cancellation of 'Smith' elucidates how television, like the movie industry, has become a business where there is little room for modest success. Network executives might endlessly talk about how, in an era where the attention of audiences is ever more scattered, new shows need time to find themselves. But those same executives are often quick to pull the plug on an expensive production that does not immediately perform to expectations."

Continue reading "The Middle Ground Gets You Cancelled: The Plight of Moderate TV Successes" »

Weird Al's Gettin' "White and Nerdy"

Reuters, that print news network that has now expanded into Second Life, had a fascinating story on CNN's Web site yesterday about the immense success of Weird Al Yankovic's newest album, Straight Outta Lynwood.

According to the story, out of all of Weird Al's famous work over the years, this album is the first to break the top 10, while his new Chamillionaire parody "White and Nerdy" has broken the top 10 singles in the country. What does Weird Al attribute such success to? The Internet. Here's what he said:

"I'd kind of written off the chance of ever having another hit single, since record labels weren't really releasing commercial ones. As much as people are griping about the Internet taking sales away from artists, it's been a huge promotional tool for me."

Although his album is doing well as a whole, it seems to be driven by the "White and Nerdy" single. According to the senior director of marketing for Zomba in the story, the song has been in the top five of iTunes for several weeks now. He was quoted as saying.

"We knew with 'Nerdy' that he'd hit on something incredibly relevant to different generations. Kids were discovering him like a new artist." He goes on to point out that, while many of the artists Weird Al has parodied over the years have come and gone, he remains a cultural icon.

The video for "White and Nerdy" has gotten quite a bit of play on YouTube, and Yankovic doesn't seem interested in suing for any free distribution of his work, instead in spreading his name through his MySpace page. And Chamillionaire loved the parody of the song so much that he posted it on his MySpace page as well.

It's inspired some interesting fan response as well, including this video explaining a math problem with a very strange finale, entitled "Brown and Nerdy." with reference to MIT embedded.

If you want to talk a bout a song poised for success in Internet distribution, it really is no surprise that "White and Nerdy" struck a chord with the Internet crowd. With its references to almost every cult fan activity you can think of (he works in references to Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, "first in my class at MIT," html coding, comic book collecting, the chess team, Wikipedia, MySpace, and on and on, in the song and video), the song has hit widespread appeal and has been viewed more than 3 million times.

Because of the standalone nature of parody songs, I think it's important to further consider Weird Al's emphasis on distribution of singles once again made possible through the Internet and the impact that has on his music career and introducing him to a new generation of Weird Al fans.

Thanks to David Edery for passing this story along.

October 23, 2006

AOL Expanding Content with New Film, TV Digital Distribution Deals

As the digital video distribution competition gets continually tighter, companies are doing all they can to get their particular platform noticed. This includes expanding as quickly as possible to incorporate as much content as possible. Of course, Apple iTunes already has the leg up in that regard, but companies are striking deals left and right for digital cross-platform release of their content, as with the recent Showtime deal with Amazon Unbox.

Now, news has been released that AOL Video will be adding a variety of films from Paramount Pictures to its download service, now the fifth movie production company that AOL has such a deal with. According to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, this will make a total of more than 300 movie titles offered by AOL Video ($9.99 to $19.99 range for the cost to download the films to own). Whitney lists the other film companies who have deals with AOL in her article.

Also, a fledgling network focused on "bluegrass and western lifestyle programming" called BlueHighways TV has now developed a distribution partnership with AOL Video, as the company makes deals with both corporate giants and also small niche marketers like this. For those of you who have been following our blog for some time, you'll know that I have a connection with bluegrass music, so I'm excited about this prospect. Currently, BlueHighways TV airs in video-on-demand and through the RFD-TV network.

AOL's video services has been developing a wide range of content for some time, including an all soaps channel, Spanish-language programming, and several other categories of content.

CBS Ramping Up News Search Features with Answer deal

In the continued race to develop stronger transmedia presence on the Web for news organizations, CBS has decided to ramp up the news value of its site by creating a more powerful search tool for network coverage.

According to announcement that came through earlier today, CBS News has entered into a partnership with the group known as Answers Corp., creators of AnswerTips, to create a search engine that will help users navigate the site. For CBS, they get a much more dynamic search engine than one would expect on a network news site. And, in return, they are providing big news to Answers.com.

Michele Grippi with TelevisionWeek writes, "When the user's Alt key is clicked on any word or phrase, an AnswerTips window opens offering everything on the subject from maps and historical background to definitions." These sites is the first time some of these devices are being used on a Web space, as they are often only available by downloading a program.

Answers also provided a brief press release on the development.

How important is search and navigation tools for a news Web site? From the point of users, these types of tools are essential, especially for Web 2.0. The question is how can these types of tools be best monetized, and how will companies incorporate them into an important part of the business model?

In the meantime, CBS' search to make their news content more easily navigated is a step in the right direction for a richer news-gathering experience.

October 22, 2006

Edelman/Wal-Mart Fiasco--The Changing Face of Public Relations

Considering our focus on grassroots marketing, empowering brand advocacy, and the like, it's probably a surprise you've not seen anything yet here about the Edelman/Wal-Mart scandal. David Edery alerted me to this a while back, and I've been following the way it has unfolded in the past week or so in the blogosphere.

To make a long story short (and there's a lot written about this one to sift through). A group of travelers decided to travel across America in an RV to Wal-Mart parking lots. They created their own Web site about the trip,Wal-Marting Across America, but also contacted the Working Families for Wal-Mart group organized by Edelman, Wal-Mart's PR firm, regarding their trip to make sure there wouldn't be any issues with their parking in the store's parking lots, talking to customers, and running this blog. Not only did Wal-Mart/Edelman not have a problem with it, but they even decided to sponsor the trip.

The problem was that the blog was not that open about the Wal-Mart/Edelman funding, so when people found out that this great piece of grassroots marketing was corporate funded, the blogosphere went nuts, calling out the creators of the blog, Wal-Mart, and Edelman.

The reaction in the blogosphere was strong.

Continue reading "Edelman/Wal-Mart Fiasco--The Changing Face of Public Relations" »

Urban Interactive's Ghosts of Liberty

Last Tuesday's Boston Globe had a fascinating article by Peter DeMarco about a new "interactive adventure game" that has residents scrambling all over the city in a game with live actors and mobile phones. The game is called Ghosts of Liberty.

The company is called Urban Interactive, and creator Nicholas Tommarello began it with an interactive adventure in the Museum of Science designed as a team-building exercise for corporate employees, replacing the somewhat less fun icebreakers and trust-building games that see you falling back into someone else's arms or sharing little truths about one's self, as Harvard management says in the story.

In this adventure, teams meet at a bar and pay $60 per group to participate. They are given instructions by an actor and cell phones, with the teams working together to solve mysteries involving Boston historical landmarks in an effort to track down a terrorist, with the help of ghostly voices, a combination of live actors and cell phone messages that leads teams through an adventure that lasts for a few hours.

The intent is to create a game that both engages tourists and natives to interact with the city in a way that stretches far beyond a tour bus, as some of the participants mention in the story.

These are considered "augmented reality" games and are very much in line with our writing about alternate reality games, as well as the recent "Come Out and Play" conference in New York. These games create a fictional story that puts people in touch with the real world as part-scavenger hunt/part-mystery. And modern technology is one of the aids, as cell phones allow for a new type of communication that enables these real-time, real-world events to take place.

This game took place throughout the North End. The next one, scheduled for the spring, will take place at Harvard Square. The team with the best score over the two-week run of the game gets their choice of a variety of prizes.

The owner describes it as "part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part treasure hunt, part choose-your-own adventure novel. You've got to play it to understand." And I would describe it as a great example of convergence culture, with new technology enabling new forms of play and entertainment that empower and enable interactivity and user creativity by creating an immersive story world in a real physical space for an evening.

Basically, it's like a make-shift mystery cruise and a chance for enabling entertainment, exercise, and education in an innovative way.

Steve Ballmer on Google Purchase of YouTube

I had let this slip by without making comment on it, but I thought Steve Ballmer's interview with BusinessWeek a couple of weeks ago while the deal was being finalized between YouTube and Google was fascinating.

WIth my writing yesterday about Web 2.0 and its value to convergence culture, I was thinking back to the Ballmer interview. For those who have not read it, the Microsoft CEO questions Google's spending $1.6 billion for what he sees an unproven commodity that just distributes someone else's content, without a strong business model. He equates this with Google's overall business model, in which it is taking control of content and advertising in a powerful way that he finds dangerous in the lack of strong competition from other search engines, etc.

However, he admitted that he would have considered buying YouTube if it is worth $1.6 million to Google and discusses the thought of paying a billion dollars for Facebook, which he questions whether it will retain its popularity in 15 years as the youthful founder gets older and separated from the college crowd.

"Is it worth a billion bucks? It hasn't proven to be worth a billion bucks. But it also hasn't refuted that it might be worth a billion bucks."

Victor Keegan with The Guardian says that the irony of the sell of YouTube for such a high price is that they only provide a platform and really do little else.

"Without those content creators, YouTube--and Flickr, and all the others--would be nothing. Imagine what would happen if ebay tried to value itself on the basis of all the inventory it held on behalf of its sellers. It wouldn't because it knows the inventory doesn't belong to it."

Keegan's ultimate question here in this commentary is how artists will rise to the top in this new plethora of online content, with peer assessment and greater ability to be discovered but many times more noise to compete with. But his comments do point out the important detail--that YouTube is the service, not the content, and that they really were "at the right place at the right time."

As John Naughton on Memex 1.1 points out in response to Keegan's story, Ballmer's interview draws into question where the value is with content distribution companies when the content providers are users. "Where's the value? The answer is that it's in the stuff that people upload. But if people don't like what you (the new corporate owner) start to do with the space then they can--and will--go elsewhere."

If you're interested in how Google is changing the climate of advertising and the responses of various other powers, including Ballmer, check out this great commentary by Robert Young with GigaOM.

Showtime Launching Significant Content on Amazon Unbox

It's a partnership that makes perfect sense. You have Showtime, a network that has proven in the past that it isn't afraid of digital downloads. And you have Amazon's new digital video distribution service, now labeled Unbox.

Showtime got some attention earlier this year with its making whole episodes of Weeds available on iTunes before it was released on DVD, with the ultimate discovery being that making digital downloads available didn't cut into the profits of the DVD sales. While I never saw any data about how many people might have purchased it both off iTunes and then again from the DVD set, it wouldn't surprise me because non-Showtime subscribers who wanted to check out the show through iTunes may have wanted a more permanent "official" copy, leading to purchasing the DVD set.

Whatever the case, Showtime will move into the Unbox system, with content including Weeds, The L Word, Sleeper Cell, Fat Actress, Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. As with iTunes, these will be made available for $1.99, and Dexter will be distributed simultaneously for one cent to encourage people to check out the new show.

The TelevisionWeek article from James Hibberd said, "The move is the latest in a series of digital content expansions for Showtime, which is seeking to distinguish itself from fellow premium network HBO in the new media space by making whole episodes widely available in streaming and download formats." This distinction--to establish itself as separate from the more elusive HBO series, could yield good results for the company by making its programs more widely available (helps when you have good shows, which is the case with Weeds.

The announcement was made last Wednesday. Unbox is also offering several top CBS shows, a variety of MTV Networks programming, and other shows, with its visibility on Amazon giving the service a potential advantage, as I've written about before.

October 21, 2006

Web 2.0

If you've noticed some technical issues here on the blog, it has to do with trying to navigate Web 2.0. When I originally registered the C3 blog with Technorati, I didn't really trace it on the blog-tracking site on a regular basis. However, when I looked at it a few days ago, I realized that whole months at a time had not been correctly indexed on the blog and that Technorati had therefore not acknowledged the majority of the writing that has been done here at C3.

All of this is related to an intriguing talk we had in one of my Harvard classes last Thursday by Kathleen Gilroy, the CEO of The Otter Group. The company produces e-learning programs and helps solve needs regarding electronic teaching and training methods.

Because I want our archives to be accessible to anyone researching particular issues in the blogosphere, I sought out information on how to get Technorati's "spiders" to index a blog's archive and found that the only way to do so was to temporarily pull down all the recent posts that had been blogged and then put up blogs that hadn't been correctly indexed on the main page. Then, when Technorati is pinged, it pulls down those old posts off the main page and puts them in Technorati's system.

Unfortunately, that meant that recent posts had to be temporarily pulled down and also that the RSS feeds sent out some false pings over the weekend, based on pieces that had been written some time back. The process isn't finished (halted, though, since Technorati is not currently acknowledging my pings, likely because I indexed so many posts on Friday). This may happen again at some point in the future, but I wanted to explain the recent problems.

Gilroy quoted Tim Berners-Lee as saying that Web 2.0 was finally starting to fulfill his vision. She said, "You are seeing a proliferation of content and a proliferation of means to access this content."

She said that she considers Web 2.0 a success because of the dramatic increases in people making content, with 50 million blogs now being estimated. Among the attributes empowering Web 2.0, according to Gilroy, is its low cost, its ease of use, its openness and its accessibility. Gilroy said she considers a Web presence essential now not just for corporations, but for individuals as well.

"I believe everybody needs an online presence, if you are going to be competitive in what you are doing," Gilroy said. She said that, to be competitive, most people today should have a profile on a social networking site, should maintain a blo and should also provide images and podcasts online.

The point of all this is not just to outline the problems we've had here on the site regarding C3 (and which we hope will end soon) but also to underline the importance of the Web 2.0 concept for the blogosphere and as an enabler of what we call "convergence culture." The importance of tools from YouTube to MySpace to Flickr to individual blogs in creating the tools necessary for massive user-generated content, in the real of entertainment and journalism and citizenship and in just person-to-person social relations, is changing the composition of our world in fundamental ways.

But Web 2.0 isn't always easy to manage (as I'm finding out), and it's important to realize the continued technical divide that exists for those who are not as adept at managing these tools or who don't have easy access to some of these tools.

October 20, 2006

Technological Convergence between In-Game Advertising and Military Games

In-game advertising is still a hotly debated topic, also on this blog with recent contributions on the psycho-environmental circumstances of being exposed to in-game ads and on the ideal duration of exposure. Drawing on my PhD thesis, I'm suggesting a complementary closer look at the enabling technologies of in-game advertising.

The US Army is currently one of the most successful brands tapping the potential of interactive media for advertising purposes. Other military formations like the Australian Airforce pursue relatively conventional strategies of game-based advertising, following the principles of viral marketing and offering free, redistributable Adobe Flash games; the British Royal Airforce followed suit, cooperating with a successful online marketing company which produced a 'remake' of the game classic Choplifter around the RAF brand.

A preliminary list of brands featured prominently in popular video games contains mostly lifestyle brands like mobile phones and soft drinks; thus, by entering in-game advertising at this stage, the US Army has the added benefit of positioning itself among mostly desirable household brands, stabilizing its intended 'image' as an integral part of society.

However, my main argument holds that in-game advertising and military simulation games not only share converging interests but also technologies.
Recently, DICE and EA were severely criticized for their modular piece of advertising software implemented into the upcoming Battlefield 2142, which allegedly was consistent with the definition of spyware. Most of the allegations, focusing on the game supposedly analyzing its users' online behavior, were apparently exaggerated although the software does use the player's IP address for providing regionally specific ads only.

Actually, the whole debate blanked out a really important aspect, namely the fact that the (proprietary?) in-game advertising code is also able to track the average duration of a player looking at a specific billboard texture. (link) Most game engines even provide built-in object-oriented functions allowing for each object or even vertex to check autonomously whether the center of its bounding box is currently being rendered in a given camera view.
According to the 'reverse engineering' of a player of the game SWAT4 using a packet dumper, this game even secretly transmits a session and gamer ID to Massive Inc., thus allowing for adequate view measuring even in multiplayer sessions.

Current military software like America's Army uses similar techniques to track player positions, e.g. in coordinated attack missions, which can e.g. be displayed as graphical patterns overlayed on the level map. These patterns can, for instance, automatically be tested for compliance with standard procedures from military textbooks. The same functionality, usually termed 'after-action review' (AAR), was ex-post implemented into the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) game Operation Flashpoint which was then relabeled and used for training as Virtual Battlesystem 1 by the US Army. (link)

This type of convergence is enable first and foremost through increasingly compatible game engines used in military and commercial games. Massive Inc., for instance, provides a modular software package for developers to integrate into their engine that automatizes the dynamic updating of textures with the latest promotional material in the appropriate format etc.
Read against the aforementioned 'secret' functionality of its software, the tech documentation on the Massive homepage suggests a 'behind the scenes' look but in fact seems to take attention away from the really sensitive questions.

Inducing from these instances of convergence, it appears plausible to assume a symbiotic relationship between in-game advertising and military software technologies. For instance, taking up the movement tracking approach from the America's Army example, the Massive Inc. tools could be feasibly upgraded not only to preselect the type of product information shown on a billboard but also, for instance, to determine the optimal distribution of in-game billboards, branded vending machines, scattered advertising leaflets etc. according to an analysis of player movement in a given game environment.

Singapore-MIT Collaborate on Games Innovation Lab

I posted this on my blog several days ago but thought some readers of the C3 blog might be interested in knowing more about what's happening here at CMS.

I am going to be writing a great deal about this project in the months ahead. I am not able to tell you much more yet than is found in this news article which was released by MIT News Office this morning. But suffice it to say that all of us in the Comparative Media Studies Program are extremely excited about these developments, which have been under negotiation since January. As you will read below, William Uricchio and I will have a central role in this project, which is designed to spur innovation, diversity, and creativity in games design.

Singapore - MIT collaboration aims to spur gaming sector

October 9, 2006

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Singapore Media Development Authority have announced an agreement to establish the Singapore-MIT International Game Lab (SMIGL). The pioneering collaboration aims to further digital game research globally, develop world-class academic programs in game technology, and establish Singapore as a vital node in the international game industry.

The directors of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program (CMS) -- Henry Jenkins, DeFlorez Professor of Humanities, and William Uricchio, professor of comparative media studies -- will co-direct SMIGL, which will have offices both in Singapore and at MIT. Jenkins and Uricchio will serve as the leading principal investigators in the collaboration.

In announcing the SMIGL collaboration, Uricchio, a specialist in trans-national media distribution and reception, said, "We are excited by this collaboration with colleagues in Singapore and the opportunity to push game research and the industry in new directions, and we very much look forward to initiating an international dialogue among leading scholars, designers, students and gamers."

Uricchio described SMIGL as a "unique chance to reflect on games and to push them in new and unexpected directions, whether in terms of emerging technologies and interfaces, diverse cultural vocabularies, or important niches that have simply been neglected in the rush to seize the largest market share."

Jenkins researches media and the way people incorporate it into their lives. "The Singapore-MIT International Game Lab collaboration will provide a strong catalyst for innovation by bringing together students, industry leaders and faculty from very different cultures and backgrounds to work together and to conduct research that could have a great impact on the international game industry," he said.

The SMIGL initiative will enable students and researchers from Singapore to collaborate with MIT researchers and game industry professionals in international research projects. Beyond technology development, SMIGL will also conduct research on the artistic, creative, business and social aspects of games. The new initiative will also provide Singapore game researchers and professionals with access to cutting-edge technologies, the latest conceptual developments and links to international game development and research communities.

Michael Yap, executive director of the Interactive & Digital Media R&D Programme Office, said, "Over the next five years, we expect some 300 of our best talents from the industry and academia to take advantage of this unique opportunity to work closely with the best research minds at MIT.

"We are delighted to collaborate with MIT, one of the world's leading technology and research institutes. The Singapore-MIT International Game Lab will initiate and produce groundbreaking research in games, which is rapidly emerging as a global research focus. At the same time, the collaboration will further equip our industry-bound students to make a significant impact on the local game industry," Yap said.

Outcomes planned for SMIGL's initial period include development of both an academic and a high-impact research program, publication of peer-reviewed research papers and production of publicly distributable digital games.

The research resulting from the SMIGL collaboration will expand the ways in which the Singapore game industry can build and develop future products, and will aim to identify unique genres and aesthetics that are relevant to the Singapore game industry. In addition, according to the Media Development Authority, it will enhance the country's competitive advantage in areas such as education and tourism.

October 19, 2006

Nielsen Commercial Ratings Delayed Among Continued Controversy

Who could blame them for wanting to delay the controversy?

The Nielsen commercial ratings are staying in the news. For those who have been following the development of commercial ratings throughout the summer, in June, the company agreed to start measuring commercial ratings to provide a more reliable indicator of how many people who watch shows also watch the commercial breaks.

It didn't take long for Nielsen measurements to be criticized, as Magna Global raised objections including the fact that the ratings system will include a full minute for any minute that had any commercial advertising in it, even if the majority of that minute was filled with program content, as well as issues with DVR and VCR viewings. Magna called for a second-by-second approach.

The Weather Channel, on the other hand, subscribed to a real minute-by-minute approach that didn't average commercial minutes per show but rather provided real data for every minute of the programming, particularly because The Weather Channel isn't as regularly divided from one show to the next as a lot of other networks are.

In August, ad agencies raised additional objections regarding the use of VCR data for the ratings.

In the wake of this controversy, Nielsen has now decided to delay releasing this data from the planned Nov. 18 date until Dec. 11. The information will be made available free during the current season to anyone who subscribes to Nielsen data.

Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek writes, "The broadcast networks and one media-buying agency ordered the new ratings in June but disputes arose over how the ratings would be calculated. The accuracy of preliminary data coming from some cable networks and syndicators generated major complaints."

Nielsen has decided, however, that minutes that include at least one second of national commercial time will be counted as a commercial minutes but will be weighted by the number of commercial seconds in that minute. The ratings for the rest of this season is considered experimental, and Nielsen is requesting that they not be used directly for leveraging in ad buying situations at this point.

Continue reading "Nielsen Commercial Ratings Delayed Among Continued Controversy" »

October 18, 2006

Universal, TimeWarner Have Their Lawyers Ready

The discussion of the summer, especially when it comes to the distribution of video content, is how to control the flow of pop culture being shared openly and without direct compensation to companies.

First , we heard last month that Universal was threatening to sue both YouTube and MySpace for allowing songs posted on their site that provided feedback.

Now, BoingBoing has covered more information about TimeWarner's potential suing of YouTube over copyright. No surprise that TimeWarner decided to move further ahead with litigation now that Google's money is behind YouTube, making a settlement with them much more lucrative.

This type of lawsuit was already being anticipated, however, although no one knew who would send out the first letter ofcomplaint.

Meanwhile, Universal is moving forward in lawsuits with Grouper.com and Bolt.com regarding what they consider illegal voice anything to me because I am bringing things from home often.

More information about those lawsuits are available in The Los Angeles Times.

Continue reading "Universal, TimeWarner Have Their Lawyers Ready" »

October 17, 2006

New Partnership Offering Mobile Content on Sprint

A new partnership is making some buzz in the mobile platform as being a potential driving force for mobisodes. FremantleMedia, the production shop known for producing the long-popular beach drama Baywatch, as well as the reality show American Idol, entered into a deal that has launched partnering with a cell phone video aggregator.

The deal between FremantleMedia and Mobliss will be a mobile channel that is labeled Atomic Wedgie, including both repurposed content from the FremantleLibrary as well as the development of original programming and content from the company.

The service will be available to Sprint customers who will be offered the service for $4.95 per month, i guess.

The key demographic for this mobile content would be 18-to-34 male, and, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, titles for series include Baywatch Babes, Bush Bites, and Famous Farts in History.

The company converged in the past with some degree of success, introducing text-messaging for American Idol voting.

According to the summary by Jack Cook on the Mobility Site blog, "Atomic Wedgie will be available through a monthly subscription on Sprint, one of American's largest mobile broadband networks, and will debut in the U.S. with eight categories of short form comedy targeted at the 18-34 year old demographic."

This comes on the heels of an announcement last month about an expansion of Sprint's expansion of VOD services for mobile customers.

Sex Offenders and MySpace

The pervasive presence of News Corp.'s MySpace in the lives of Americans is growing all the time, and for the 20-somethings and teenagers who drive a lot of the subscription to this free social networking service, MySpace has helped transform the way people communicate with one another.

I've written in the past here about the social concerns surrounding MySpace, particularly when it comes to the safety of children. While social conservatives and censors always bring up concern about the welfare of children who might watch something (as with the recent Senate commission regarding screens), the same types of trends take place on MySpace.

And, although many of these act as masks to pass on greater concerns about unmanaged or unmonitored conversations online, leading to dangerous legislation,
there are also legitimate concerns about the safety of children on MySpace when it comes to online predators.

With that, the recent piece by Kevin Poulsen in Wired about his investigation of a convicted sexual offender toward children who was targeting children online through MySpace and his working with a police force to bust the child molester (for what turned out only to be a misdemeanor) provides a detailed account of some of the dangerous activities that can take place in an online space (or any other space for that matter).

The piece is worth looking at but still reminds me of the words of Henry Jenkins in reminding everyone that nothing physically dangeorus can happen on MySpace but only in the "real world," if these children happen to meet these adults in person.

Finding the right balance between minimal protection for minors and the ability of adults to express themselves free is always a challenge. It seems our goverment all-too-often relies on too many options of blanket censoring, but those of us who are skeptical of such "censoring" activities must also remain aware of the very real dangers that also exist out there instead of painting this picture in black-and-white.

Poulsen's essay and MySpace research are well worth a read.

Thanks to Joshua Green for passing this along.

Reuters Bureau in Second Life

Here at C3, one of our major research focuses has been online spaces and gaming spaces that allow for new engagement opportunity, not the least of which is Second Life. For instance, one of our affiliated research members here at C3--Ilya Vedrashko--spent more time in his second life than his first life these past few months while wrapping up his thesis worker for his Master's degree here at MIT.

But we've also focused a lot here on journalism, which makes the new Reuters announcement even more intriguing. For those who may not have heard, Reuters has opened up its own bureau within the online gaming space of Second Life, bringing coverage of real-world events into Second Life but also covering the people and stories in Second Life as well.

Currently, the top story from Reuter's Second Life News Center focuses on the U.S. congressional committee's discussion of online taxation for transactions that take place within virtual worlds like Second Life. But news also includes information from the CEO of Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life; various Reuters videos from Second Life, and stories covering issues throughout the Second Life world.

There are also a number of Second Life blogs that are linked to, as well as a link directly to Reuter's site within the game.

This virtual bureau is run by Adam Reuters, who is actually veteran tech journalist Adam Pasick--he has a calendar with regular hours that his online bureau is open.

In yesterday's New York Times, Andrew Adam Newman wrote about this phenomenon, which caught many in the journalism world by surprise. He quotes Pasick as saying, "It's not any different than when Reuters opens up a bureau in a part of the world that has a fast-growing economy that we weren't in before. The laws of supply and demand hold true, it has a currency exchange, people open businesses and get paid for goods and services."

Reuter's CEO says that, this "shows Reuters has a certain with-it-ness." While that statement may put its cool factor in jeopardy, his point isn't completely off-base, and it's an interesting experiment to retain the validity of a traditional trusted news source. It will be interesting to see what type of content Reuters' online bureau focuses on and whether it develops a reputation as being a serious source of news within Second Life or simply a fun extension--the questions will be what this virtual bureau means for quality journalism and what it means for the brand of a traditional journalism source.

We will see.

Thanks to Margaret Wiegel for passing information along.

The Student Press Law Center and the Future of the First Amendment

I recently published this post on my blog, but it fits into recent discussions here at the C3 blog about social networks, blogging, and convergence in the journalism industry.

Some of my most formative experiences involved working as a student journalist -- first in high school and then in college. As someone who took seriously my responsibilities to my community, I found myself on multiple occasions in battles over the censorship of the student press.

Most memorably, when I was an undergraduate at Georgia State University, we tried to do a special issue of the paper focused on the adult entertainment sector in Atlanta. There were a large number of strip clubs, porn theaters, and other such operations not far from campus which students drove past on their way to school and we decided to provide some insight into what went on there. Inquiring minds wanted to know and all of that. When the issue hit the stands, the administration was all over our backs and the editor of the paper quickly capitulated, pulling the paper from distribution. A bunch of my friends went around collecting the papers before they could be destroyed and then we organized a group of students to distribute them in brown paper bags as a protest of the pressures put on the paper by the administration. We later ended up defending our choices as journalist before a hearing conducted by the Student Government, which had been stung by criticisms of its policies and campaign tactics and saw this issue as a chance for pay back.

Several years later, I got involved in advising a high school newspaper editor who decided to stand up to the principal and the school board who wanted to stop him from reporting news about controversies going on in his school: he took the school board into court and won what was then a fairly groundbreaking case in student press law.

All of these experiences have left me with enormous respect for the work of the Student Press Law Center, a watchdog group that monitors struggles over censorship of student produced media and provides resources for editors who want to assert their First Amendment rights. A recent visit to their site showed a range of information which seems relevant to readers of this blog.

The website reports on a recently released study on the Future of the First Amendment, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which looked into young people's attitudes towards free expression. Among the studies findings was evidence that there has been a significant increase in the percentage of students who have studied the First Amendment in their classes (up 14 percent since 2004), that 64 percent of students favored the right of student journalists to publish what they want without prior restraint (up from 58 percent two years earlier), and that 45 percent of students (compared to 35 percent just two years ago) believe that the First Amendment "goes too far" in protecting the rights of the media. We can see this last statistic perhaps as evidence of the climate that has shaped this culture since 9/11 -- where criticism of the government's position gets read by a significant percentage of Americans as unpatriotic or "going too far."

Continue reading "The Student Press Law Center and the Future of the First Amendment" »

October 15, 2006

Review: The Ad and the Ego

I know that the documentary has been out for a while--almost a decade old by now--but I recently watched Harold Boihem's The Ad and the Ego, an academic piece looking to deconstruct the advertising industry and the impact of advertising on American culture and thought. The moment I saw Sut Jhally, I had to battle the urge to dismiss the piece altogether.

As I wrote about last November with Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers and No Logo, I don't these anti-advertising projects are without merit but rather that they overstep their boundaries in any case. I think it is important to remember the way that advertisements are constructed, the intent of advertisers, the pervasiveness of advertising in our lives, etc. But I think many of these attacks on ads become as simple-minded and as misleading as many of the ads and brands they are attacking.

At the time, I wrote:

Although such approaches may be in many ways antithetical to many of the tenets of our labs and our projects, it is important to remember the concerns of the other side, those worried about the effects of branding on culture.

However, what this study ignores, in many parts, is the active ways in which people interact with brands.

In this case, I felt as if I was watching two different documentaries with The Ad and the Ego, the first half of which was of the worst kind of scare tactics and intellectual posturing against corporate media, the second of which was much more nuanced, for the most part, in looking particularly at the automotive industry and particular ways in which their ads lead to a culture of fuel consumption that would be extremely dangerous if multiplied globally--and is already quite dangerous, not for short-term profits but for long-term sustainability of natural resources. Also, their complaint about personal presentation and P.R. sometimes becoming much more important than actual skill is a point worth noting. I'm sure we've all met a few people who seemed to have gotten where they are by image alone.

Among the things I noticed in this documentary is that so much of its rhetoric was against the 30-second spot, but I wonder how people feel now that the power of that particular form of advertising diminishes? Are forms of organic product placement as dangerous, according to these cultural critics? I can see how they might bring up its pervasiveness, an invisibility that extends far beyond the reach of the 30-second spot, but it is also much less of a direct emotional appeal when compared to 30-second commercials designed to scare someone into thinking they need a product, which tended to be their major critique.

Continue reading "Review: The Ad and the Ego" »

WWE Smackdown Your Vote! Podcasts

I have written a lot in the past about the WWE's use of cross-platform distribution to further the stories of its content. Particularly, the company has turned its Web site into a medium that furthers the storylines for the weekly wrestling programs. When some of its B-shows were dropped, they started distributing them by streaming the matches through the Web site. Stories started being explained through WWE Unlimited was released online to show what was happening during commercial breaks. And a recent drive to update and innovate the site's content was turned into an online storyline.

However, WWE also uses its penchant for multimedia distribution for content that does not belong within its fictional world. Particularly, the company's Smackdown Your Vote! campaign provides an interesting look at voting issues affecting the WWE's target demographic, young adult males, and a variety of information. Most interesting to me is the podcasts where WWE asks questions of various elected officials or candidates. This is part of the company's move for the 18-30 VIP group, focusing on issues affecting voters in this age range.

To make these of further interest to wrestling fans, the project is headed up by former WWE wrestler and Harvard graduate Christopher Nowinski. It's a chance for WWE to both use the celebrity of its performers/characters and the reach of its transmedia distribution to participate in a strong public relations campaign that has had success in the past of registering young adults.

For anyone interested in these types of voting campaigns or how an entertainment company can use its popularity to cover a social issue, this is well worth a look.

When Transmedia Goes Wrong: Studio 60 and DeFaker

Through the work of our Convergence Culture Consortium, CMS faculty and students have been monitoring ongoing experiments in transmedia storytelling, trying to help our client companies to better understand when entertainment producers are creating something valuable for their consumers and when they are antagonizing them. In a recent newsletter, CMS student Ivan Askwith wrote about Studio 60 on Sunset Strip's failed attempt to build a fictional blog set in the world of the series -- an experiment which was shut down in only a few days time. I asked Ivan if I could share this post with the readers of my blog and thought I would cross-post it here as well.

I am reminded here of the long-standing complaint from fans that official websites are often less satisfying than fan-generated sites: for one thing, they tend to be relatively static, built once and rarely updated, even on shows that have fairly dynamic character development or elaborate and unfolding story arcs. Kurt Lancaster made some of these points contrasting the official and fan websites for Babylon 5 in his book about the series, for example. For another, those who produce official content often do not pay attention to the details which matter most to fans. Janet Murray and I wrote an essay some years ago (published in Greg Smith's On a Silver Platter) which compared the kinds of details included in the early cd-roms about Star Trek with those which cropped up most often in fanzine stories. We found that the official materials supported some kinds of fan interests (those of male technologically inclined fans) and not others (those of women fanzine writers interested in the relationships between the characters.)

Those official sites which have broken out of this trap -- such as Dawson's Desktop, which I discuss in Convergence Culture -- have been real labors of love, often created by tapping the fan community for potential collaborators in their production.

Of course, those of us who have regularly watched Aaron Sorkin's series through the year know that his characters wage a running battle against online fan communities: Josh Lyman ran into trouble with a discussion list on The West Wing and we've already heard the characters opine negatively about bloggers on Studio 60. So, the conflict Askwith describes here seems almost inevitable.

Continue reading "When Transmedia Goes Wrong: Studio 60 and DeFaker" »

October 14, 2006

Book Worth Looking At--Global Entertainment Media

For those interested in the global flow of popular culture, I recently read a review of a book that is relevant to the types of issues we write about here at C3, particularly in further examining Henry Jenkins' concept of pop cosmopolitanism and how media properties flow and adapt from culture to culture. Again, since I've not actually read the book, I can't give it my endorsement, but I thought I would pass word along, considering its transnational appeal to understanding mass media and entertainment.

The book, Global Entertainment Media: Content, Audiences, Issues, is edited by Anne Cooper-Chen. American-published, the book nevertheless makes a conscious effort not to include the U.S. as one of the 10 countries studied. Tomoko Shimoda, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, criticizes the lack of focus on the U.S. in any book that intends to look at global entertainment, considering the U.S.'s dominant place in entertainment production. However, his review in the Journal of Popular Culture is largely positive.

I'm a little dubious about the media effects part of the research, but I think the book's focus on cross-national case studies (looking particularly at international events like the Olympics and international distribution of game shows), as well as an in-depth look at the media profiles of each of the 10 countries focused on--the U.K. Germany, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Japan, China, Brazil, and Mexico--could be a learning experience.

Such a grand enterprise as writing one book encompassing the international flow of entertainment is impossible, but for anyone interested in a global entertainment market, the book may well be worth a read, especially since the researchers for each country are either from there or were living there during the time the project was put together.

Jeremy Dauber Feels Like He's Living in 2004: The Shift to Watching TV on DVD

The occasional commentaries in the Christian Science Monitor by Jeremy Dauber are an intelligent look at the cultural changes related to a shift in viewing from watching episodes on television to watching them on DVD. Dauber, who has long been viewing his favorite series as they air on television, writes about the growing confusion when people are chatting it up with him about new shows like Veronica Mars or what's happening in the latest episode from the third season of 24 or how good Arrested Development is. These are the people watching on DVD, and Dauber says that he now feels behind because he watches them when they air and can't remember some of the storylines people are referring to now that they are watching on DVD instead.

He says that he gets frustrated because he is "constantly trying to remember fuzzy details of jokes I heard one evening three seasons ago, not to mention the constant anxiety about spoiling a show's future developments for my friends. As a result, I'm in the conversations, but not of them; it's like I've got a bad case of jet lag - except that, ostensibly, they're the ones who are off cycle." Dauber points out that his cycle is still the one that guides the TV executives but that he is increasingly finding the shift going to DVD instead, meaning that the model will have to change.

Continue reading "Jeremy Dauber Feels Like He's Living in 2004: The Shift to Watching TV on DVD" »

Celebrated Too Soon? The Harsh Realities of Managing Copyrighted Material

Mama's Family has indeed been released on DVD, but fans have noticed that something is missing.

Since December 2005, I have chronicled the battle for fans of the 1980s situation comedy to finally have the show released on DVD. When I first wrote about it last year, I had stumbled on the Mama's Family online community, which consists of multiple sites that appear to have new communication on a daily basis, I was surprised to find (especially for a sitcom that ended more than 15 years ago and that hasn't exactly enjoyed canonical status by most TV critics, as far as I know). At the time, fans were petitioning to drive the show farther up the TV Shows on DVD listing of shows that people want released on DVD, and it had reached the Top 15 by that point.

Later in December, there were rumors that the show would be released on DVD. Finally, in June, they announced a release date. Then, "Gert Rides Again" that hasn't appeared in syndication for years but just recently started back on the i Network) have found that the episodes contained on the DVDs of the first season are not those that originally aired on NBC but are rather those that are currently used for syndication, meaning that they have about three minutes trimmed out of them.

Continue reading "Celebrated Too Soon? The Harsh Realities of Managing Copyrighted Material" »

October 13, 2006

HGTV Launching Two Limited-Run Web-Only Series

My wife is addicted to HGTV, I think, and the folks at the Home and Garden Television Network are more than happy to oblige with increased content, it seems. Starting this week, HGTV is going to launch its first two Web-only series, as part of its popular Web site HGTV Kitchen Design.

The two new shows are called 8 Fresh Ideas for Kitchen Backsplashes and Getting Started--10 Steps to a New Kitchen. Not surprisingly, the first series will take place over eight installments, the second in 10. The idea is to create content based on popular searches from the existing online audience, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, and to increase traffic through HGTV's kitchen remodeling Web site, which already features a wealth of video content that has been transformed from the television product.

According to Christian Lewis with Multichannel News, the Backsplashes Webisodes will feature "celebrity designer Scott Sicari," with hopes of bringing in Sicari fans as well, it seems. According to Shawn Zehnder Lea, the event comes just in time for "Kitchen and Bath Month" (for some reason my calendar just doesn't have that marked!)

The original press release is available here.

But, it seems that this is a fairly straightforward and effective way to create online content...a clearly numbered list that makes organic use of a short-run online series, focused on a very concentrated topic that is likely to have viewers coming back for more. Most types of entertainment aren't as cut-and-dried as DIY programs like these, but these types of Web-only content can be instructive by their form more than their content.

Games in British Education

A recent line of British research finds that video games may...gasp...be shocking educational tools. Guess the folks here at MIT's Education Arcade really AREN'T wasting their time after all, huh?

The story, written by Liz Lightfoot, that appeared in The London Telegraph back in May, and which was brought to my attention last week by Margaret Weigel here at the New Media Literacies program at MIT, said that the Department of Education's research into video games found them to be a "powerful learning tool." According to the statistics, one school saw a 94 percent success rate in students passing tests in what they consider "key skills" like information technology, English, and math--after implementing a game into the curriculum.

Compare this to the recent study commissioned by the U.S. Senate, in which the infamous senators Lieberman and Clinton proposed that we study the effects all screens are having on the mind of our children, of course supposing that those effects will be of the negative sort...(Guess they haven't read Everything Bad is Good for You...Then again, who am I kidding? To adapt a phrase of Jesse Ventura's, "Senators don't have time to read.")

The teachers and education officials quoted in the story are still taking a pretty cautious approach, not surprisingly. They say that games "can be very addictive, but, used sparingly as part of a lesson, games can be a useful tool." That was from Richard Cairns, the headmaster of Brighton College. It's hard to know if you have support when the people who are writing in the favor of including new media forms in education are that qualifying and apologetic. After all, we're talking about video games, not methamphetamine.

According to the story, an Electronic Arts survey found that about 3/5s of students and teachers alike thought that using games in the classroom was a good idea, although 70 percent of teachers were afraid that games would "lead to anti-social behaviour."

I know that education using games is not one of the C3 focuses in particular, but public perception of media forms is very much a C3 concern. And, while I wouldn't consider this a resounding vote of support in terms of accepting video games as an artistic and potentially beneficial media form, it has a better ring to it than the current media effects focus of our Senate.

Can People "Steal" the Word?: Christianity and the File-Sharing Debate

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times featured a great piece about the current state of the Christian music industry and how the "piracy" question has leaked into a genre of music that has long been known for putting importance on proselytizing in a rather literal sense, with less thought given to making money but instead on saving souls. This piece looks at both the Christian music industry's approach to file-sharing and the opinions of listeners as well as to whether there is an ethical obligation to resist file-sharing Christian music.

Geoff Boucher, who wrote the piece, explains the debate succinctly: "Those attitudes, along with the arrival of an edgy and restless new generation of artists and lean times in the usic industry, have created a clash between familiar imperatives: Spread the Word and Thou shalt not steal. It actually raises a pretty fundamental question that doesn't apply as directly to other mass music industries. Similar to the economic arguments of the movie industry, reminding viewers that key grips need to eat on the money that theater tickets and DVD sales provide, there are some religious groups trying to tug on people's heartstrings, especially because the gospel music industry is not as substantially lucrative as some other popular music forms.

But there are organizations within the Christian music industry that have now taken an ethical approach, claiming that it is a sin to engage in file sharing with any type of music, including Christian music. John Styll, president of the Christian Music Trade Association is quoted in the story as saying:

"The RIAA feels it can't address it as a moral issue, but we certainly can, and our audience should be more receptive to that. It's like stealing. You wouldn't walk into a Christian bookstore and steal a Bible off the shelf...some fans say, 'This music is made to spread the Word, and I'm just helping.' Well, this is also about people's livelihoods."

Continue reading "Can People "Steal" the Word?: Christianity and the File-Sharing Debate" »

October 12, 2006

From Viewers for Quality Television to Television Without Pity

Another in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide that originally appeared on my blog, this sidebar takes a look at two very different mechanisms by which audience members expressed their feelings about television programs -- Viewers for Quality Television and Television Without Pity. Each emerged, in part, in response to shifts in the ways the television networks conceptualized their viewership -- TQT reflected a new focus on demographics (and the recognition that middle class consumers were highly desired by advertisers) and TWP reflects a new focus on expressions, that is, on the emotional investments audience members make in the programs they watch. This originally appeared in Chapter Three of the book.

Continue reading "From Viewers for Quality Television to Television Without Pity" »

Olbermann's Rising Fortunes & Transmedia Newsmaking

I just read this article about the rising ratings of Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Countdown. Olbermann has emerged from his sportscaster past (he's still the best ESPN anchor of all time) to serve as an alternative to the conservative punditocracy popularized on Fox News (& cloned across the channel grid), offering the most strident and erudite critiques of the Bush Administration to be found on television. The article rightly suggests that one of Olbermann's strengths has been counter-programming, showing that when it comes to Fox News, the reverse logic of "if you can't join 'em, beat 'em" holds - as Olbermann says in the article, "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety. As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years." (Feel free to assign your own links between pundits and particular kinds of fruit...)

What is only alluded to in the article seems to be just as central of a factor in Olbermann's rising success, especially among "quality" demographics vs. Fox: Olbermann & MSNBC have been forward-thinking in embracing the transmedia distribution of the program and Olbermann's persona. For years, Olbermann blogged on MSNBC as Bloggermann, allowing for quick linking & dissemination of his stories, especially around potential voter fraud in the 2004 elections. MSNBC clips the best of each night's show into a brief daily audio podcast, as well as posting numerous video clips online to allow viewers to watch and share on demand. When he delivers one of his "special comments," they shoot to the top of YouTube charts and generate heat on lefty blogs like Crooks & Liars and Salon's VideoDog, rivalling only the online repurposing frenzy toward Daily Show and Colbert Report. MSNBC even allows him to moonlight as a cohost for ESPN Radio, teaming with his former Sportscenter partner Dan Patrick each day to talk sports & promote his nightly show.

This transmedia dissemination of an otherwise ephemeral nightly newscast suggests the importance of old media institutions allowing new forms to use & reuse content - it is gratifying that MSNBC is reaping rewards in the old ratings system in part due to its willingness to allow the web to generate attention for its program, rather than trying to control and restrict its intellectual property. Thus while many decry the demise of quality television journalism, the online circulation of such public affairs television guides our attention via a viewer-driven filtering process salvaging the specific moments that break through the facade and transcend the endless high-decibel monotony that typifies cable news.

October 11, 2006

Mobile Games in India

There's an excellent piece on the challenges faced by mobile gaming in India at this present moment, written from a user's perspective, on the blog Youth Curry. The blogger, Rashmi Bansal, runs India's leading youth magazine -JAM - and is a keen observer of media/marketing trends in contemporary India. She writes of the challenges faced by her in getting the Don game that she's downloaded on to her cellphone to work, and using that as a take off point, comments on a wide range of Indian mobile gaming issues. Some samples:

(Writing about Rei, a game by Mauj)....The game itself is a snake adaptation where a Hello-Kitty kind of girl-character goes around collecting hearts. And there is no challenge in terms of higher levels, speed, or difficulty either. I can see even my 7 year old daughter getting bored of this in a jiffy.


The gaming companies can themselves identify and promote select titles which have wide appeal. Additionally, they should send out mobile games to be previewed and/ or reviewed by the media - the way audio companies send CDs or movie companies invite journalists to press shows. Given that youth is the target audience, even bloggers could be enlisted. The point being if the game is good, the ensuing positive recommendations will drive downloads. And if it's bad, well, those are the games which could be sold cheaply. And feedback would be valuable when developing games in the future.

Read the whole post here.

The way I see it, with mobile games, as with gaming in India in general, the challenge for the game companies lies in figuring out how they want to treat the games they offer - as a service or as a commodity. Even if they're treating them as a commodity, to be churned out, sold in enough numbers and then forgotten as their attention shifts to the next product, it is to their advantage to produce games with compelling content, and ease of use. However, wouldn't it be wiser for them to treat what they offer as a service? Here's a great chance for a game company to build a brand based on qualities like comfort, reliability, ease of use, courtesy and prompt attention in case of problems experienced, etc. If any of these companies can crack this (and Indiagames might have a lead start in India from what Rashmi writes), then they go beyond being mere content providers... they become entertainment brands in their own right. And in an era of choice, if I'm ecstatic with one gaming experience chances are that I'm going to continue patronizing the brand that provides me with that experience - just like I do with my airline, or hotel, or favourite film director.

Herein lies the challenge for the Maujs and the Indiagames of today (and I would imagine, for other global mobile game companies too): they need to stop thinking small, focus on brand building, and reimagine themselves from a neighbourhood tailor mentality (making salwar suits for aunties and 'didis') to that of a Westside or Provogue or Polo Ralph Lauren.

October 10, 2006

YouTube Monetizing Mash-Ups By Providing Ad Revenue to Copyright Holders

As I wrote about in my previous post, Google and YouTube have been generating all the discussion this week, but news of the Internet giant's purchase of YouTube has overshadowed an important announcement that came earlier this week regarding YouTube in relation to television content.

In its continued quest to strike a balance between the copyright concerns of property holders and its fame for providing a home for user-generated content, YouTube continues to strike business deals to allow for the distribution of officials shows through the video sharing site. Three networks have announced deals with YouTube to make video available through the popular Web site, supported by advertising revenue that YouTube will split with the content providers.

These three companies are CBS, CSTV Networks and Showtime, as well as record labels Sony BMG and the Universal Music Group.

The plan is to enforce copyright protection that would allow content providers to search the site for offending material and decide whether it should be pulled or allowed to remain on YouTube, thus striking a better balance with the desires of the industry while still washing the company's own hands of the censorship (or violation, depending on how you want to look at it). The plan is considered content identification architecture.

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek writes that "the agreement represents a step forward for YouTube, which has struggled to generate sales and has been mired in copyright disputes with media companies" but also concludes that:

"YouTube's alliances with media companies and its potential acquisition by Google mark a turn for the site, which gained popularity because of its orientation toward the user-generated community and its Wild West reputation. The service's alliances with established corproations may tests fans' loyalty if they perceive a change in YouTube's character."

One of the interesting ideas is that YouTube is monetizing fan mash-ups. As Pete Cashmore points out:

YouTube will share the revenue from any ads placed around those clips. In other words, YouTube is now incentivizing the TV companies to leave their content on the site, even if a user put it there without permission. This is the ideal solution to the copyright problem, and I sincerely hope it works out.

So that begs the question: Will fans view YouTube as a sellout or now as a company that is just trying to create a legal and long-term protected site for user-generated content using copyrighted content? The question will likely be answered in how the company turns its rhetoric into action.

Google Video Strikes Music Video Distribution Deals

Google's purchase of YouTube isn't the only thing making the news for the Internet giant this week, as they also have entered into an agreement with two major music labels to release music videos through the Google Video service. In fact, the blog Toby's Space mentions the irony of these deals being struck for Google Video just as YouTube was purchased by Google, pointing out that Google Video is "a destination that has been utterly dwarfed by now-sister site YouTube."

The plan is to provide dual platforms for audience members, one offering the content on-demand in a pay-per-view format, with each video costing $1.99, set by the iTunes price (which seems like a rip-off when compared to getting an hour television show for the same price), while the other is available for free but accompanied by advertisements that the viewer must watch to view the video.

The plan is to provide a lucrative new stream of advertising for Google, while giving customers another choice to sidestep ads. The structure is similar to Websites which provide a "premium site" free from advertisements, as has The Pro Wrestling Torch, which reports industry news on American wrestling.

The partnership is with Sony BMG and Warner Music Group, with the videos debuting later this month. Both Google and the record labels will share in the profits, and the long-term plan is to make this content available through other Web sites as well, sites that features Google AdSense advertisements. The Sony videos had been available for download since January through the Google Video Store.

In addition, according to their recent statement, the company wants to create copyright-safe places for user-generated content, such as a space that would allow them to create videos using footage from the Google music video repository that can be repurposed and then posted to Google Video. In other words, the company is looking to create ways to do what YouTube does without facing the barrage of lawsuits that have been threatened in the past few months.

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek writes that "the twin agreements underscore the need for online video destinations to work with content owners," while Rhys Blakely with The London Times foregrounds this decision explicitly against the desire to compete with Apple and the rise of many other players in online offerings of professionally produced content ,including plans for a new YouTube-style competitor featuring professionally produced content from the founders of Skype, entitled "The Venice Project."

Check out Search Engine Journal, a site that follows the developments of companies like Google, as the name would imply, for copies of the individual press releases regarding Sony and Warner.

October 9, 2006

Episodic Storytelling in Games

CNN's financial section had an interesting commentary last week about how video games are going for a multi-title story arc, with episodic storytelling that builds in a somewhat serialized way.

The piece attributes the type of storytelling to the days of the Saturday matinee, when moviegoers would load the cinema on a weekly basis to see the next installment of various features. I have watched some of these, including some old Batman and Robin movie serials from the 1940s pitting them against the evil Wizard, in which each episode was presented at the theater with a cliffhanger ending.

Of course, television is where the episodic format became a main fixture, as television could easily deliver these types of thrills. For whatever reason (principally concerns of syndication and a desire to hook viewers without requiring prior knowledge), television did not develop this "serialized" part of episodic storytelling very strongly most of the time, aside from the soap opera genre, so that episodic has largely come to connote a lack of serialization by this point.

However, this type of continued and sustained storytelling started with the development of serialized fiction and then comic strips and comic books, among many others.

How could video games wedge itself into this long-standing tradition?

According to Chris Morris, game developers are looking to the Saturday matinee to create games that are a series of adventures that interlink, leading users to not only have added reasons to buy a title but a deeper and richer playing experience through a sustained narrative.

Morris writes that "2004 really kicked off the trend in earnest. Halo 2 left Xbox players hanging (and more than a few pretty ticked off) with the Master Chief, stowed aboard an empty ship, promising to "finish the fight" as the player learned an invasion of Earth was imminent." This is one of many examples of how cliffhanger endings have led viewers clamoring for the next game in a series.

Morris says that "players, who have been trained to expect 20 to 60 hours of gameplay per title, might reject the model, even though it's lower priced." The episodic titles, being shorter games in length, would be lower-priced.

For fans wanting to enter an immersive storyworld, though, and for those who believe games can sustain compelling stories, this seems to be a promising development.

CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting, is a partner in the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Thanks to Alice J. Robison here at CMS for passing this along.

Journalism, The Blogosphere, and an upcoming conference

The newest edition of The Convergence Newsletter is out, this month focusing on a variety of helpful places to look regarding issues of convergence and particularly in ways that the convergence discussion impacts professional and community journalism.

Melissa McGill, the new editor of the newsletter, has compiled a particularly helpful list of blogs, with the help of University of South Carolina journalism instructor Doug Fisher.

At the top of the list (and we're honored) is the C3 blog and Henry Jenkins' blog. I was elated, until I realized the list was in alphabetical order. Still, we're honored to make the newsletter's list. But there are a few other intriguing sites as well that may be of interest of some of our readers here, including The Cornate Media Hub, MediaShift, and Media in Transition by Vincent Maher, among several others.

The blogosphere is certainly an important part of blogging and citizen journalism, an issue we've been writing about a lot lately, such as here and here and here. However, I appreciate Melissa's helpful tools in finding some of the cutting-edge voices in those debates and highlighting their work.

As an aside, there's also a piece promoting the Convergence and Society Conference at the University of South Carolina that will be taking place October 19-21. The conference looks to be worth paying attention to, whether you are actually able to attend or not, especially if you are interested in how convergence is affecting news outlets and expanding the reach of citizen journalism.

The conference's tag line is "Ethics, Religion, and New Media Conference." The blurb for the conference states, "Since September 11, 2001, ethics and religion have emerged as important topics in the study of new media. At this conference, the moral implications of emerging media are addressed at the levels of society, culture, and the media professions. It is a forum for scholars, media professionals and theologians to discuss converging media from the standpoint of competing values.

For more information, visit the conference's Web site.

Announcing: The Futures of Entertainment Conference

The Comparative Media Studies Program is proud to announce an exciting forthcoming conference, The Futures of Entertainment, to be held at MIT on Nov. 17 and 18. The event is designed to bring together leading thinkers from across the entertainment industry to speak about core issues around media convergence, transmedia storytelling, user-generated content, and participatory culture. Speakers confirmed so far include The Long Tail's Chris Anderson, Flickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comic's Paul Levitz, Warner Brother's Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell, and many others, including representatives from MTV, Cartoon Network, Bioware, and other leading companies in this space. The event is free and open to the public but we ask that you preregister since seating will be limited. The event is being hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Here's a more detailed description of the themes for the scheduled panels:

Television Futures

New distribution methods, new revenue strategies and changing modes of audience engagement are transforming how television works. Off- and post-broadcast markets make 'old' television valuable as a continuing source of income and suggest new ways to reach viewers. Digital video recorders threaten the 30-second commercial but offer the possibility of more detailed information about audience members. Some television producers may reach out to consumers directly rather than going through the networks and networks are using online distribution to generate buzz about new shows before they reach the air. Creative responses to these challenges are re-writing how we understand what was once just the box in the corner.

User-Generated Content

Media culture is becoming more participatory, rewriting the relations between media producers and consumers. New tools and distribution platforms, a changing cultural ethos, and innovative corporate approaches to user-generated content are turning viewers into active participants. Innovation may occur at the grassroots level yet influence decisions made within corporate media. Yet, are media companies ready for the grassroots creativity they are unleashing? What challenges does greater user-participation pose to both producers and audiences? What corporate policies enable or retard the growth of user-generated content?

Transmedia Properties

The cultural logic of convergence lends itself to a flow of narratives, characters, and worlds across media platforms. Moving beyond older models based on liscensed ancillary products, transmedia extensions are now seen as expanding the opportunities for storytelling, enabling new kinds of entertainment experiences, building up secondary characters or backstory. Transmedia extension may also create alternative openings for different market segments and enable more extensive contact with brands. The great potential of transmediation is to deepen audience engagement, but this requires greater awareness of the specific benefits of working within different platforms. How are media companies organizing the development of transmedia properties? How are storytellers taking advantage of the "expanded canvas" such an approach offers? How do transmedia strategies impact the new integration between brands and entertainment properties? What new expectations do transmedia properties place on consumers?

Fan Cultures

Once seen as marginal or niche consumers, Fan communities look more 'mainstream' than ever before. Some have argued that the practices of web 2.0 are really those of fan culture without the stigma. Courted, encouraged, engaged and acknowledged, fans are more and more frequently being recognized as trendsetters, viral marketers, and grassroots intermediaries. Fan affinity is being seized as a form of grassroots marketing, representing the bleeding edge of brand and property commitment. The sophistication of fan-created products rivals the professional products they honor, sometimes keeping defunct properties alive long after their shelf life might otherwise have expired. How is the increasing importance of fan behavior re-writing the media landscape? What kinds of accountability should media companies have to their most committed consumers? What kinds of value do fans create through their activities? What are the sources of tension that still exist between media producers, advertisers, and fans?

Not the Real World Anymore

Virtual spaces are more than sites for emulating the real world. They are becoming platforms for thought experiments -- some of which involve fantasies we would not like to enact in the real world, others involve possibilities that we may want to test market before putting into practice. Much more than simulacra of Real Life or a 3D version of text-based Internet communities, online worlds represent new sites for considering questions of community and connectivity. Marked by user- creativity, online worlds balance, sometimes precariously, the rights of users with the rights of sponsoring organizations. As we move closer to the cyberpunk vision of a wholly parallel 'metaverse', questions of power, community, and property are coming to the fore.

More information is forthcoming but for some provisional information and to register for the event, check out this website. I hope to see many readers of the blog at this event which promises a front line perspective on many of the trends I discuss in the books.

October 8, 2006

Lost as a Transmedia Storytelling Property

Lorne Manley's examination of Lost, Inc. in last Sunday's New York Times provides a fascinating understanding of the realities of a transmedia property, focusing particularly on the ABC phenomenon Lost and its subsequent branching into alternate reality games, video games, mobisodes, and various other storytelling forms and comparing that with various other current transmedia expiereinces, such as the use of Web comics to supplement the new series Heroes.

Manley writes, "Podcasts, blogs, cellphone episodes, Web-only content, DVD extras: they all mean more work for already harried show runners. But many of them wouldn't have it any other way." And many actors and writers are calling foul when they are expected to do more work for the same amount of pay or only a limited amount of extra money. Manley attempts to use various examples to break down the troubles that the two sides are having at this point, particularly because the value of new media experiences are not completely understood at this point, so that producrs are reluctant to give actors and writers significant extra funding for a project that might be a flop, as shows are still balancing how to create significant transmedia content.

Manely looks at The Office Webisodes, Battlestar GallacticaWebisodes, an an alternate plot on the DVD of My Name is Earl. She writes that "exploring the storytelling possibilities in these nontraditional forms is an intellectual and creative challenge," but it's increasingly becoming a legal one as well.

The Times piece gives a stronger overall picture of the complications currently plaguing the industry, as people want to move forward despite the fact that the system is structured in ways to hold innovation back. The promise of transmedia storytelling is demonstrated powerfully by this piece, in other words, even as the legal realities seem daunting.

Will Google Purchase YouTube?

You just can't keep YouTube out of the news.

While I was in New York City on Friday, news broke in the afternoon about reports that Google was interested in buying the Internet site that allows users to upload and distribute videos to share with others. The folks in the NYC business and media communities were sure abuzz about these developments and what potential implications it might have for the media industry. The rumor was started on the TechCrunch blog and then confirmed by The Wall Street Journal.

YouTube's rise in power has been well-documented over the past year in particular, and we have written about it several times ourselves, from company partnerships with YouTube to new advertising concepts to fan-generated content to potential legal battles and lawsuits. However, Google's attempts to compete with YouTube through Google Video may not have been quite what the company had in mind, leading to these rumored negotiations for a purchase of YouTube.

The figure that's been released is approximately $1.6 billion.

No one knows whether these negotiations will amount to anything, but it seems fairly certain at this point that they are happening, and this could have significant implications to the future of new media.

Many people have been quoting Mark Cuban, who said last week that anyone interested in buying YouTube is "a moron" becuase of the copyright issues involved. That didn't seem to affect Google's interest, if the figure rumored to be involved with the sale is true.

Corporate consolidation of Internet sites remain a business reality and were inevitable, but it's going to be interesting to see what alliances are made along the way and what implications a Google-owned YouTube could have for users and for other media companies, for instance.

Thanks to Margaret Weigel for sending me some of the info for this post.

ACC Select Brings Sports to Niche Audiences

This weekend, I was fortunate(?) enough to watch Bring It On Again, the followup to the popular cheerleading movie from earlier in the decade. The premise of the film was that a renegade group of cheerleaders begin supporting the sports that are not as popular on campus and that no one else is giving attention to, similar to some of those Spartan cheerleader skits from Saturday Night Live a few years ago.

And now there's a product doing something similar for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the college sports organization for schools along the Eastern coast. ACC Select, a new product being offered through Turner Broadcasting (one of our partners here in C3, for the sake of full disclosure), gives voice and public airing to several sports that are not covered elsewhere. Fans of men's and women's soccer, for instance, or field hockey, or volleyball, or wrestling, or track and field, or myriad other sports will be available through this venue.

As the idea of "broadcasting" is further eroded by the popularity of supplying niche programming, situations like this become more and more likely. While most schools with successful sports enterprises might only get basketball or football or perhaps baseball picked up by local affiliates or national cable sports channels, these online spaces become popular distribution mechanisms for other sports.

Does this, in itself, make these other sports more popular? No, but it makes being a fan or the parent or friend of a player a lot more convenient by providing fans a regular place to view their favorite sports and their favorite schools.

The catch phrase for the online network is, "Your sport. Your team. Your games that matter most to you." This idea of programming one's own sports network is particularly appealing to fans who like these types of games that are just all too often brushed over by the major networks.

ACC Select is a good example of the Long Tail theory and the ability of new technologies to meet niche needs that were simply not considered before.

October 7, 2006

Jellyfish an Interesting New Media Business Model

There are always interesting new Internet start-up businesses out there, and one of the latest that I've had brought to my attention is Jellyfish, whose tagline is "where stores compete to lower your price." The new online site, still in its beta form for now, gives cash back to users.

The premise is explained in Judy Newman's recent Wisconsin State Journal article about the Madison, Wisc. based business:

Jellyfish.com is an Internet comparison shopping service with a couple of new twists:

Stores whose products are shown on Jellyfish.com only pay a commission on the products that customers purchase.

The customers who buy the products get part of the commission.

Newman's story features a number of analysts discussing the possibilities of such a model, but they point out that the company--still in its beta form--will have its biggest hurdle to overcome in the fact that stores like Amazon simply provide a much greater range of products. Since Jellyfish has to reach a deal with every company directly, the amount of items available online remain fairly limited.

However, owners Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire seem more than confident in Newman's story, with McGuire saying, "We've really put the consumer in control. We're turning the tables on advertising and making it work for you, the end consumer."

The folks over at Blackfriars' Marketing write that "it's a complete rethinking of how advertising revenues should flow in an environment where attention is scarce instead of plentiful".

Doris Hajewkski with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that "Jellyfish's marketing efforts so far have involved word of mouth and publicity in the media. He doesn't plan to use traditional advertising to promote the site. Wiegland also is working on partnership programs with media Web sites."

And Tom Foremski with SiliconValleyWatcher writes that the busienss "addresses some aspects of the 'attention economy' that Steve Gillmor, Doc Searls, and others have been discussing." Foremski concludes that "this is a fascinating business model because it rewards customer loyalty plus the behavioral data collected could result in exposure to fewer, but highly targeted ads; and the customer shares in the sales commissions--that's a double value to users."

It's not yet going to be easy to predict whether Jellyfish will be a success, but it seems that they are asking the right sets of questions.

Thanks to Ellen Foley for passing information along regarding Jellyfish.com.

UHD Further Developing Its Brand

In his usual high-definition coverage that I've written about before, James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek wrote this week about the plan for Universal High-Definition, the UHD channel, to develop a brand of its own instead of just repurposing content from other sources within Universal.

The further cultivation of UHD branded content includes a stronger emphasis on movies and sports, which Hibberd considers "the two biggest drivers of HD viewership." Instead of using content from the Universal archives as its chief focus, the focus will go to more and more films, including the Back to the Future trilogy, among many other films.

The network originated as Bravo HD+ three years ago, then changing its name to UHD to promote various content from not only USA Network and the Sci-Fi Channel. However, even as the company has developed a stronger emphasis on movies and sports to cultivate an image independent of other NBC Universal programming, it still will air the most popular television series from Universal networks, continuing "the current multimonth window between premieres and HD encores."

Phillip Swann with TV Predictions writes that "Universal HD, which is now available on satellite and some cable systems such as Comcast, has struggled to find its niche in the high-def world." There is some feeling that the rebranding will make a difference, especially as the novelty of HD starts to wear off as the product becomes expanded to casual television viewers and not just lead users.

The effort to rebrand high-definition channels is becoming more commonplace, as with Mark Cuban's HDNet continued development of original programming.

Fans are continuing to debate the meaning of the content on the HD channel, and some are hoping that WWE programming--with its high-rated shows on both USA and Sci Fi--will eventually land on the UHD channel, although WWE itself indicates it will be some time before that happens.

As for now, however, companies are realizing that it takes more than just having high-definition to create a sustained network.

Interesting Book--The Commodification of Childhood

This weekend, I read a review for a book that I thought may be of interest for those who follow the aspects of the media industry we study here at the Convergence Culture Consortium. In our initial formulation of this research group, there was a particularly strong emphasis on what we were referring to as "branding cultures," looking at fan communities as they surround entertainment properties and consumer brands. Although our outlook is much broader than just branding at this point, we retain a strong interest at the marketing process and in finding ways that marketers and consumers can work together to create a media environment in which messages about products and brands get to consumers in ways that are neither manipulative to consumers nor intrusive but which still provides a viable financial model for mass entertainment.

This brings me to the review I found, of Daniel Thomas Cook's The Commodification of Childhood: The Children's Clothing Industry and the Rise of the Child Consumer, written by Cord Scott of the Lincoln Technical Institute in the August 2006 edition of The Journal of Popular Culture. Cook's book, published in 2004, is part of an increasing attempt to understand how the children's market has been created over the past century and normalized in the lifestyles of Americans. Of course, this "commodification of childhood" both has its negative aspects, as your anti-corporate and anti-branding folks would be glad to point out, as well as its benefits, such as the autonomy consumerism has granted to children in so many ways.

Cook, a sociologist, focuses on how clothing brands began to be formulated in the 1910s and the subsequent development of the industry. As Scott points out, branded clothing becomes "truly a visual outlet for children's self-expression, as well as what parents convey to the public about the child's (and the parents') social standing. I'm taking a course this semester on globalization at Harvard University by anthropologist James L. Watson, who points out the major differences this consumerism has made in the Chinese market, with the creation of the much-discussed "Little Emperor" phenomenon.

Scott considers this book "merely a starting point" but says that is well worth looking at, with only 151 pages (although the writing "can be dense at times"). Most interesting to C3's work may be the book's focus on product placement in the early days of the development of branding clothing, including a clothing line under the Shirley Temple brand. And the book has implications for understanding demography as well, as Cook writes that "the codification of children (in age, size, and gender categories) is one aspect of merchandizing that many take for granted, yet little has been written about the phenomenon."

For anyone interested in such issues, the book was published by the Duke University Press in 2004.

Also, be sure to check out this reviews from Harvard Business School by Michael Zakim.

From a "Must Culture" to a "Can Culture": Legos and Lead Users

I recently posted the following entry to my blog.

Joel Greenberg from the Austin-based GSD&M advertising firm is one of the fascinating people I am collaborating with on the Convergence Culture Consortium. Greenberg is a true believer in the collaborationist model I describe in my book and discussed here a while back. He's been putting together a series of podcasts called Friends Talking which interview some of the key thinkers in and out of industry on topics such as viral marketing, user-generated content, and community-based innovation. Greenberg brings in guests like The Long Tail's Chris Anderson, Got Game's John Beck, Linden Lab's Philip Rosendale, and others, sits down with them for a substantive conversation about cutting edge issues, and then runs the entire conversation via his podcast .

In the most recent installment, Greenberg focuses attention on the concept of lead users and applies it to examine the development of the new Lego Mindstorms NXT product which is being released in time for Christmas. Lead user innovation is a term most closely associated with my MIT colleague, Eric Von Hippel, who wrote a book, Democratizing Innovation, which should be better known among media scholars than it has been. Von Hippel's focus is innovation in manufacturing -- how companies are tapping insights from their consumers to produce more effective products -- but what he says has many implications for the kinds of fan communities that emerge around popular culture. Indeed, I learned of Von Hippel's work -- not through hallway conversations at MIT but because Robert Kozinets combined Von Hippel's work in management science and my work in fan studies to talk about consumerism around Star Trek in his dissertation.

Continue reading "From a "Must Culture" to a "Can Culture": Legos and Lead Users" »

October 6, 2006

The Flow Television Poll

I posted this entry several days ago on my blog.

A while back, I wrote on my blog about my choices for Flow's television poll: Flow is an online zine where media scholars share their insights about contemporary developments in the medium with what they hope will be a diverse and engaged general readership. Participants were asked to identify but not rank their top ten favorite television shows of last season.

Well, the results are now in and can be read in their entirity over at Flow for anyone who might be interested in what a bunch of academics think is worth watching on television. The top ranks look like this: Lost won overall, identified by 12 of the 24 critics who participated; the second tier down was Arrested Development, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show with 10 votes each (Keep in mind that 7 people also voted for Colbert's appearance at the Washington Press Club which may suggest that news/entertainment got more votes overall than Lost depending on how we count). 8 people (myself included) vote for Veronica Mars; Project Runway and Deadwood got 6 votes each; and altogether, 94 different series, specials, commercials, and YouTube videos got identified by at least one voter. Of the shows I identified on my original list, Spooks/MI-5 was the only one unique to my rankings. I don't know whether I should be depressed because my taste is so mainstream or kind of proud.

As Jason Mittell notes, many of the shows identified reflect the ways that new media is impacting our relationship with television -- shows that have not yet aired legally in the markets where the critics live, content which circulated only on Youtube or as in the case of Colbert's remarks, gained visibility through digital circulation, and series which really only found their audiences among academics once they became available on DVDs. In fact, he suggested that The Wire might have ranked very high indeed, based on feedback from academics who were discovering it on DVD had it not been off the air during the 2005-2006 season and thus been ineligible for inclusion. Mittell predicts it is an early front-runner for status in this coming year on the strength of its new season which is indeed getting rave reviews. (I still have to catch up with Season 3 on dvd before I can watch it but my Tivo is storing away episodes for the cold winter months ahead.)

Anyway, I thought you might be interested.

October 4, 2006

Netflix Embraces the Wisdom of the Crowd

Netflix has announced a major new initiative to draw on the "wisdom of crowds," as James Surowiecki puts it, to help answer some of its marketing questions.

According to its site, "The Netflix Prize seeks to substantially improve the accuracy of predictions about how much someone is going to love a movie based on their movie preferences. Improve it enough and you win a prize." The company is giving away $1 million, and has planned a $50,000 Progress Prize each year in addition to a grand prize for the research team that meets the criteria of the competition.

The company says that they will "provide you with a lot of anonymous rating data, and a prediction accuracy bar that is 10% better than what Cinematch can do on the same training data set...If you develop a system that we judge most beats that bar on the qualifying test we provide, you get serious money and bragging rights" but only if you share the method with Netflix and the world and explain why it works.

The company says, "We suspect the 10% improvement is pretty tough, but we also think there is a good chance it can be achieved. It may take months; it might take years...So if you know (or want to learn) something about machine learning and recommendations systems, give it a shot. We could really make it worth your while."

The blogosphere is already alive with commentary. Harry Chen, who thinks aloud, gives a fairly astute demonstration as to what other user attributes must be considered in Netflix's data to truly understand and be able to make better recommendations. Among these astute observations is a key one: "people share Netflix accounts." Chen writes of him and his wife, "It's inappropriate to consider our combined ratings as the ratings of a single person. Just because I like action movies and my wife likes comedies, one can't conclude with full confidence that we as a single Netflix account user like both action movies and comedies."

His suggestion reminds me of the problems Henry Jenkins said he had with Amazon's recommendations after he, his wife, and his son had used the site regularly, and after Henry had used the site to locate several books during various research projects that were outside of his realm of personal interest.

But researchers are cropping up and grouping together across the country to prepare for the event, including John Resig, who writes on his blog, "I don't think I could possibly be any more giddy about something, than how I am concerning The Netflix Prize." The amount of intellectual capital that the company may become privy to during this contest demonstrates the power of a collective intelligence, as Henry Jenkins writes about. And, with people saying things like, "First, I have to generate my test bed and get to work this is so cool. I don't know what it is with me and large, nicely formatted, datasets, but I don't think there's anything that can get me more excited," they've certainly hit a research nerve with a section of Internet users.

The discussion really got going after Monday's New York Times piece by Katie Hafner about the contest. According to the story, "Computer scientists say that after years of steady progress in this field, there has been a slowdown--which is what Netflix executives say prompted them to offer the problem to a wide audience for solution."

And now other industries are calling for a similar approach to these problems. Consider these comments from LibrarianInBlack: "Can you imagine what would happen if III or other ILS vendors conducted a similar contest? Make our relevancy ranking work better, please. Reduce the clunk and clutter in our code, please. Add RSS to our services, please. Make our products more usable and clearer, please."

Could Netflix cause a change in the way companies think about researching complex questions? Or could this be forgotten in a couple of months? We shall see...

Fox On Demand Service on MySpace

The Fox On Demand service is getting a major boost, per yesterday's announcement that Fox shows will start being streamed, supported by advertisements, through MySpace, marking perhaps the most active partnership between Fox's television side and the social networking site since the company purchased MySpace. The MySpace content, in addition to advertising during the content, is sponsored by Toyota and Burger King.

The announcement was that, in addition to streaming shows through the Web sites of local Fox affiliates, several shows will also be streamed on MySpace on a weekly basis. The beta version had seen Fox streaming programming through nine local affiliates, with the number now expanding two 24 affiliates which are participating in streaming.

The plan is to air a variety of the top Fox shows online, especially during this month, when the network's regular programming is being so regularly interrupted with baseball playoffs. By streaming shows through MySpace, Fox hopes to maintain viewer connections with these shows, so that the fan base won't lose interest during their hiatus form television.

The plan is to crawl information about how to view these streams online during baseball games for viewers who might be tuning in to see their favorite show, only to have no options to watch it. The shows that are being offered through this service are Bones, Justice, The Loop, Prison Break, Standoff, Talk Show with Spike Feresten, 'Til Death, and Vanished.

Previous episodes of these shows will be available, with plans to add new programs to the service in both October and November.

In order to view the content, you have to download the Fox Full Throttle video player, which claims to deliver HD quality programming. In the opinion of the folks at Lost Remote, "the move to keep viewers engaged during the confusing programming weeks of the MLB postseason is a smart idea. Now the next step is to produce new shows just for the Web."

Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek provides a good analysis from the user's perspective as to how easy it is to find the Fox content on MySpace and what it's like to watch it online, particularly having trouble with making the player fullscreen. She concludes that, "Fox on Demand works surprisingly well, but could use a little polishing."

Fox has been greatly expanding its video presence online, complete with a campaign across multiple sites promoting the launch of several of its shows. Fox has has been moving aggressively into the online distribution space throughout the summer.

PureVideo Launches Beta Meta Video Search Engine

Yet another company is interested in helping increase the reach of search engines specially for Internet video, as PureVideo Networks announced at the beginning of this week that it was going to begin offering video search services.

While Google has been steadily increasing its video search capabilities and other search engines, such as Yahoo and AltaVista, have had search engines for a while now, the rush for more compelling and user-friendly ways to search videos continue.

With the PureVideo search, there is also an option to trace the most popular videos across all types of video sites, with 35 charts depicting sites such as YouTube and MySpace and what videos are being viewed most often.

The company's stated plan is to provide a balance between allowing viewers to search for something specific while also having the option to find out what is most popular on any given day.

Currently, this is just a beta version ,but it features a search at the top of the page with a variety of options, along with "Top 10" lists from YouTube and a variety of other top sites, including the company's own Stupid Videos. Categories of Top 10 lists from sites across the Web include "Music," "Sports," "Comedy," "Viral," "Entertainment," and "News."

The blogosphere is only beginning to respond to the new service as far as comments go. Daisy Whitney writes that she thinks the idea is great. "It has great potential to be a one-stop destination to sort through the Web video clutter." Certainly, it's Web video features provide more usability than the multi-purpose search sites that are most well known but surmises that the idea "has loads of potential but a long way to go," particularly because of the many different players required to watch video files on the Web and various experiences with having to register at sites after clicking the link from the search, or else running into content that has been pulled due to copyright issues.

Whitney's comments highlight the need for universality in watching web video, most highlighted form search engines, when every clip seems to require a different player.

October 3, 2006

The Two Publics: Wall Street vs. The Readers

Sunday, The New York Times asked, "How Did Newspapers Land in This Mess?" Specifically, the title was referring to the effect of Wall Street on newspapers and the ways in which the two publics newspapers are trying to serve--the readers and the stockholders--often end up in conflict with one another.

In a post here blog yesterday, I wrote about a recent panel we had here at MIT in the Will Newspapers Survive? series. I wrote about "a lack of communication that I think exists throughout the journalism industry, in a period of great flux. How do you adapt new technologies in organic and meaningful ways? How do you keep reader interest and profit flowing into the newspaper? These are questions that journalists like Foley are trying to answer while also getting out a new paper everyday and trying to turn a profit for stockholders."

The problem is that, in a period with no substantial changes, newspapers with publicly traded stock is not a problem, as papers turn a regular profit with a rather sizable profit margin, and the stock trade gives papers a steady collection of extra capital. When the industry enters into a less sure-footed period, however, when innovative thinking and risk-taking becomes more important, the stockholders become the enemy.

Because of the nature of short-term investments, no one wants these companies to undertake great experiments or to cut their profit margins under their watch. And so many newspapers are losing their chances to gain relevance, letting smaller businesses with a tighter focus on the Web and elsewhere chip away at the credibility these print institutions have built up over a number of years.

With the cultural cache most local newspapers have built up in their communities, they could easily be the site of community discussion, of the local craigslist, of the chatrooms and message boards and blogs and everything else. However, the more lethargic these institutions are at embracing new modes of communication, the more danger they are in long-term.

Throughout the industry, there may be journalists on the ground who know what they are doing and who try to be as innovative as they can within the restraints of corporate America, but they have to admit that trying to serve "two publics," as this Times piece emphasizes, will not work in the long-term.

Richard Siklos, the author of the piece, compares Scott N. Flanders' position at Freedom Communications to Dennis J. FitzSimons, chief executive of the Tribune Company, who is suffering from various financial troubles.

Siklos writes, "The underlying theme in Tribune's unraveling is that in a time of technological transition, the two publics are served by many of the nation's newspapers are no longer getting along so well. One is the public market--that is, Wall Street--which cares only about an attractive return on its investment. The other is the so-called public good that newspapers serve by professionally gathering and reporting news for their communities."

The thing about Wall Street is that investors are not afraid to jump ship when a company begins to fall, so that many are beginning to believe that the only way out is to switch to private investment by private investors not afraid to take risks to build these companies back up, with the possibility of going public again in the future.

Whatever the case, the article's emphasis is most important--that these questions of convergence and change in journalism will be answered as much in the boardroom as in the newsroom, and a new business model and corporate structure may be what's needed to improve journalism. There's only so much you can do on the ground level.

India's Growing Soft Power

There is a nice article on the Financial Times India site about India's growing 'soft power'. Soft power is one of those buzzwords that was kind of cool a few years ago, but I think it is still very relevant and is going to remain relevant in the near future at least. The term was coined by the Harvard professor Joseph Nye to describe the force of a country's culture in international diplomacy. (As opposed to hard power, which is equated with military and economic might.) America has been good at this kind of thing for many years, and now, as other global economies like India assert their presence, they're realizing that their soft power can be a pretty neat strategic asset and sometimes, even a bargaining chip. I remember reading about this some years ago - but when the US forces captured Afghanistan and set up an interim government, etc., one of the first things that the Indian government did was send a couple of planeloads of Bollywood video and audio cassettes, for the people who had been deprived of these during the Taliban regime. Not food, not medicine, but entertainment. Similarly, at around the time last year when the India-US nuclear deal was being finalized, there was a surfeit of magazine covers in the US media about the 'rise' of India, and this time, interestingly, it wasn't just software or outsourcing that were being discussed, but also Indian popular culture. And as the FT article notes, this soft power offensive is producing strong tangible and consistent results....

India dominated discussions of the "creative imperative" at Davos in January, was "partner country" for the Hanover Trade Fair in May and then "theme country" at the Bonn Biennale, a culture fest for theatre lovers...Next week, India will be guest of honour at the Frankfurt book fair and the subject of a four-month festival that opens at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels.

I think that it is vital for our corporate partners interested in globalization and pop cosmopolitanism to consistently track the global soft power index, so that when countries like India (Or Korea, with the Hallyu or Korean wave phenomenon across the Asia Pacific) begin to rise culturally, they are ready to take advantage of the buzz, devise strategies to perhaps tap into these trends, and then ride their crest. Pop cosmopolitanism doesn't just happen out of the blue, it builds up slowly under the surface and then suddenly burts into the mainstream. It's both a push and pull phenomenon - and Nye's concept of soft power serves as a good lens to look at the push aspect of it.

October 2, 2006

PS3 Region-Free Gaming, Wii Flip-Flopping Generates Discussion

Very few things generate more discussion for gamers than the release of a new platform, and we are at another crucial time with the planned releases of the Playstation 3 on Nov. 17 and the Nintendo Wii on Nov. 19.

And this has generated further discussion of regional lockouts. One of the aspects of gaming that has the most significant impact on global gaming and global game fan communities is this issue of regional codes. Not being a gamer myself, I'm most familiar with encountering regional codes on DVDs, with most DVDs only being available for viewing within a particular geographic region, with players that are from that specific region. The intention is to keep regional markets from stealing each others' business, especially since the value of DVDs and DVD players will shift from region to region.

As the Wikipedia page on regional lockout points out, this is also a way to stagger the release of content from one market to the next, without the markets being able to share content with each other. According to the site, Nintendo originated this type of behavior in video games.

However, earlier this year, Sony announced that the PS3 would not include regional codes, meaning that games could be shared globally.

As IGN points out, "the one caveat of this new region-free structure is that games made for specific regions' electical and TV standards may have problems on your TV set." This decision to go region-free is based on the development of an HDTV universal standard that's being planned for the coming years, making many of these arguments about differences in regional standards to be less important, but interesting in light of the recent lawsuit to decide exactly what high-definition really is.

Meanwhile, the debate about Wii rages on. A Nintendo Marketing VP told Wired that Wii will be region-free, but then others said that Wii would be region-encoded, with Nintendo confirming.

What difference will the PS3's commitment to a region-free standard make to users? Xbox 360 is almost completely region-locked, with a limited number of games not having regional-encoding. And it seems that the implications on global gaming culture will be felt more with a universal gaming standard in the future, causing a lot of shifts in how games are marketed and distributed on the producers' end and how the games are played and shared on the users' end.

Thanks to David Edery for cluing me in on this debate.

The Emergence of Citizens' Media

A couple of weeks ago, we had a really interesting panel related to convergence and its effects particularly on the journalism industry. The panel was entitlted The Emergence of Citizens' Media, the first of a three-part series in the MIT Communication Forum's Will Newspapers Survive? series.

Dan Gillmor, the author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, was joined by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam and Wisconsin State Journal editor Ellen Foley, for a group discussion about the fate of newspapers.

I've written about Gillmor's work before, and while I'm not one to call for the end of newspapers at all, I do agree that papers have to shift their purpose and their focus when new media forms come along. In this case, as Gillmor emphasizes, citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to augment it, as is the case with situations I've written about here in the past such as the James Frey incident back in January or the shrinking distance from producer to consumer.

Foley's perspective most fascinated me, however. Several students took contention with her claims that newspapers do indeed "get it," and felt that she was suggesting her paper was already doing all it could to adapt to new media. The problem seemed to be that many of these additions to the newsroom seemed superficial more than organic, possibly out of a misunderstanding of what convergence really means, the form rather than the content. And that's not to say that Foley's paper hasn't done some really innovative things as well, as you can see here.

Dan Gillmor says that not every journalist should blog. And so it is with convergence in journalism as well. As I've written about before, part of the problem is that convergence in journalism is defined much too narrowly. Another is the struggle of an industry already built one way to adapt to thinking in another. We had a lot of discussion about the setup of the newspaper industry right now, most being a news monopoly with very large profits. Newspapers may survive, but they may not be able to survive in the same way and with the same profits.

I still contend that it is much more valuable to think of a transmedia approach to journalism, since that term doesn't carry nearly as much baggage. What does that mean? It may mean blogging or a video camera in the newsroom, or it may not. It simply means telling the story to the best of a particular medium's ability and forming partnerships with other media outlets or hiring people within a newspaper to provide the means to do a transmedia approach...but it doesn't simply mean cross-platforming everything, or giving everyone a blog, or any other superficial attempt at "convergence." Basically, if it doesn't add to the story, it's a waste of time, aside from some initial gee-whiz factor that wears off very quickly.

Foley also said during the forum that the newspaper couldn't digitize its content and disposed of electronic versions of all their stories every day because they didn't have room to store the pages, instead creating microfishe, which caused an outcry from MIT students about how cheap storage space is, considering how little space text takes up.

Foley and Gillmor joined several students for a luncheon the next day before leaving the Cambridge area, and I've had the priviledge of an e-mail exchange with Foley for a while. I think it's safe to say that we still don't see eye-to-eye, but I am glad that she is thinking about these issues and was glad that she came to MIT to share her perspective and also to hear what the people here had to say.

Nevertheless, there was certainly a disconnect between Foley and the people here, a lack of communication that I think exists throughout the journalism industry, in a period of great flux. How do you adapt new technologies in organic and meaningful ways? How do you keep reader interest and profit flowing into the newspaper? These are questions that journalists like Foley are trying to answer while also getting out a new paper everyday and trying to turn a profit for stockholders.

The answer is going to have to come in the reconceptualization of the business model, a shift in traditional advertising focus, and innovative new ways to make the newspaper's brand house a community forum in one way or another.

October 1, 2006

FoxFaith Launching First Theater Release with Love's Abiding Joy

Back in April, I wrote a post about the formation and promotion of FoxFaith, the division of the Fox broadcasting company aiming particularly at a Christian niche market. This division includes a lot of famous films in its list, repurposed content that is more family-friendly or considered "classic," such as Oklahoma!, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cheaper by the Dozen...okay so the last one may not be destined for quite as revered a status.

The division has a listing of "family films," "kids films," and "Christian based" films and has already released some titles to DVD (some of which were originally television movies) such as End of the Spear, a story of a man investigating the death of his father and four other missionaries when he was a child; Mother Teresa, a biopic of the famed missionary's life; and Love's Long Journey, a story of a woman's travel to the western frontier. The division lists their offerings as "family and Christian films everyone can enjoy!" and include the stamp of approval from The Dove Foundation, which bills itself as "the reliable symbol of family-friendly entertainment."

However, the big move for their company is their first theater release this month of a film adaptation of Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy, focusing on the same protagonist as the earlier DVD release Love's Long Journey.

This Love series foregrounded Oke as a "pioneer" of inspirational fiction, according to her own site, and her first novel sold her one million copies, and her work has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than 22 million copies worldwide.

FoxFaith, building on its earlier DVD releases and the build-in audience for Oke's product, is hoping to have success launching the new film, set to open Oct. 6 and appearing paticularly in Carmike and AMC theaters.

The hope is to bring in Christian movie viewers who may be turned off by many Hollywood offerings, and the company is hoping to be successful in theater runs as well as straight-to-DVD releases.

The film has another built-in major name in family entertainment, with the director and writer being Michael Landon Jr., whose father has been seen by many as a standard bearer in family television through Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

The movie's official site features not only trailers and clips and directions of how to find a theater that is playing it, but it also includes various church resources as well, including Web baners, postcards, and a discussion guide for church groups.

According to the site, this is the first film released by the company into theaters but the fourth of the Love series on film. All of the previous three were written and directed by Michael Landon Jr. as well and "ranked as the 3 highest rated films in the history of the Hallmark channel."

Will that built-in niche audience lead to a successful theater run for Love's Abiding Joy and FoxFaith? We will find out soon...

Thanks to Henry Jenkins IV for passing this along.

Springfield Burns Another GL Cross-Media Experiment, but with Transmedia Storytelling Potential

Make this the third post about the soap opera Guiding Light in the past week, but the show and its parent company--Procter & Gamble Productions--continues to do some intriguing work regarding cross-platform release and transmedia content of the show's story. Previously, I've written about the soap's crossover with Marvel Comics and the Washington Post piece examining the process of transferring a day's GL episode into podcast form.

In that Post story, there was also mention of an interesting transmedia project that the GL folks have invested in, a Web site called Springfield Burns. As with many other current transmedia experiments, it hints at how great an idea like this could be, more than anything else, but lacks enough significant detail and time invested into it to truly reach its potential.

The premise of the site is that it is written by an anonymous member of the town of Springfield, where the show is set, and is used as a place to dish about various famous figures in the area. The Web site is worked into the television show, as characters are angered about things that are written about them and loved ones on this site, etc.

Of course, there is not nearly enough narrative flow between the site and the show for this to draw major attention, as is the case with many current transmedia enterprises, and the site does not have enough new activity to become a daily must-read for viewers or anything of the sort. But it does provide another interesting instance of a company sticking its toes in transmedia waters and getting viewers more prepared to look for this type of content.

The site includes a merchandise section and links to a variety of local Springfield Web sites. None of these are much to look at, but that reflects what most real small-town restaurants and organizations have for Web sites, so I find that pretty realistic. And, knowing some of the landmark places from the show, it's fascinating to flip around and actually look at artifacts from the fictional world.

There are a couple of things that would make the site more authentic, such as having some of these sites not exist as subaddresses for this address but rather at standalone URLs, and that wouldn't be that expensive to pull off. And it would also seem more realistic if there were several places depicted that viewers hadn't seen on the show, since GL can only show so much of life in Springfield.

But this site provides the skeleton of transmedia storytelling, much as Oakdale Confidential did earlier this year...an indication that fans and viewers alike are amenable to this type of information, once it becomes monetized and once more and more viewers gain broadband Internet access and interest in pursuing the story outside of the daily one-hour show.

The key to monetizing it may be to solicit real advertisements for the site, even developing local ties for some of them. What about a local IHOP or Home Depot or Best Buy running a banner ad? There are a variety of ways to make this exist in the fictional realm of Springfield while also making it a profitable enterprise to expand the reach of its narrative. The site currently features ads from Oil of Olay and Cover Girl, but neither are particularly worked into the site in any way or make any acknowledgment of the Springfield market and, of course, are not the type of ads you would expect to find on a local site like that, anyway, especially without any particular reference to a Springfield area mall or something of the sort. Both Olay and Cover Girl are Procter & Gamble brands.

This would require, for soaps, deeper thinking about the structure of the town and a true organization of what Springfield or Oakdale or Genoa City really looks like, culling the collective memory of fans and writers to think of the various landmarks and where they would be in relations to each other, etc. But investing more energy in a project like this also creates another site to increase the fans' immersion in the narrative in meaningful ways.

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