November 30, 2006

Lost Planet demo newest casualty in the push for HD

When Nintendo was designing the Wii, they knew that most consumers have standard-definition TVs, but Capcom and other developers for the HD-capable systems are only just getting the message. Games like Capcom's Lost Planet demo, Dead Rising, and EA's Fight Night all have text that's very hard to read on an SD TV, and while Capcom is promising that the finished version of Lost Planet will detect whether a player has an SD or HD TV and adapt the size of its text to it, it seems clear that some developers are only now grasping the fact that they can't just design to HD video standards, but still have to take the majority of consumers (who don't have HD TVs) into account.

November 29, 2006

Upcoming Emmy Business Reporting Awards Made Available Online for First Time

Here's further proof of ways in which the Internet is becoming a repository for airing and storing events of interest that just do not have a broad enough base to even air on the wide variety of cable networks.

On Dec. 7, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Emmy Awards for Business and Financial Reporting will host their fourth annual awards ceremony. While the major entertainment-based awards are of enough public interest that they can fare well on broadcast television, the niche audience interested in watching an awards show for business and financial reporting is small enough that "airing" the event has never been available before. This year, however, the ceremony will be made available online at both TV Worldwide and TV Mainstream.

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BitTorrent Signs Major Deals to Distribute Download-for-Pay Content

BitTorrent is continuing to shift its primary focus amidst the many controversies of copyright that have sprung up on the Web. News broke this week that the file-sharing technology creators have made deals with a variety of content providers to "legitimately" distribute TV shows and films for Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and MTV Networks.

This new BitTorrent service, will include both download-to-rent and download-to-own features, as well as some free content, when it launches in February. Now, BitTorrent is positioning itself as a competitor to iTunes and the whole slew of other providers out there who distribute content, such as Amazon Unbox, AOL Video, and others.

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Yahoo! TV Relaunch Jazzes Up Graphics--But Some Question Whether It Fully Utilizes the Power of Web 2.0

Yahoo! is attempting to improve and expand the reach of its television content amidst an increasingly heated Internet television distribution market, as the company launched a new design for its TV section of the Yahoo! search engine this week. This marks the first effort to improve the design of Yahoo!'s TV services in five years, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, who cited the reason for the design change as "part of its effort to keep pace with new ways of consuming television online" which "follows efforts by small and large video sites in the last several months to introduce new features in what's becoming the increasingly competitive online video business."

What are these changes? They include an embedded video player for Yahoo! TV that allows viewers to navigate around the page while the video is playing on the page, rather than having to be static in searching for content while the video is playing. The product also includes links to the most popular show on Yahoo! at any particular moment, as well as videos grouped by themes and "a personalized TV grid that follows users as they navigate the site."

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November 27, 2006

A Transmedia Project You Never Thought You Would See...Mr. McMahon's Ass

Okay, I can't say I've ever heard of a stranger transmedia product than this one.

Many people say that transmedia extensions of a primary media property can, among other things, give greater attention to a smaller player in a story, whose character can be expanded in some ancillary content. That's exactly what's happening right now with a figure that has played a part in some World Wrestling Entertainment storylines over the years--Vince McMahon's backside.

Only in the world of the WWE could a weekly cartoon about the CEO's butt be considered a plausible idea for a transmedia extension.

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Lincoln Charter Advertiser for Gospel Music Channel's VOD Services

The Gospel Music Channel is working toward expanding its reach in cross-platform distribution, and they've found a corporate partner to help them expand into video-on-demand space: Lincoln.

The Ford Motor Company that produces all the Towncars I used to see parked in the lots surrounding Baptist churches all around Kentucky may be a good fit for gospel programming, and they are now the "charter advertiser" for the new service, as was the phrasing from Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek. They will be advertising for on-demand views of the Hometown Gospel series. Hometown Gospel segments will be offered on-demand, with 30-second Lincoln spots on the front and back end of each segment.

The Hometown Gospel specials are scheduled to air quarterly, with the first one debuting on the actual channel's lineup on Dec. 9. The VOD version will be made available next February.

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2007 Conference on Media Brands: Their Management, Effects, and Social Implications, in Sweden

Shenja van der Graaf sends along news of a call for papers for a September 2007 workshop in Stockholm, Sweden, called Media Brands: Their Management, Effects, and Social Implications. Perhaps of interest to C3 affiliated faculty and corporate partners and interested readers, the conference's objective is "to explore media brand management in theory and practice. The also conference will seek better understanding of the effects of media brands on consumer media behaviour as well as on society. Connections to other customer-related marketing management approaches are to be examined."

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Be "the King"... on Xbox Live.

Burger King has taken another step into the online gaming space by releasing a free Gamer Pic package which allows gamers to promote Burger King through their online userpic. To quote Joystiq:

Some may view this as a win-win situation (users get free pics, BK gets free advertising), but the BK Picture Pack also highlights a growing disappointment: there aren't enough freebie gamer pics to download. If we had our way, playing a game would unlock at least a pair of pics (additional content could still be sold); plus, achievement images (already cropped to gamer pic size) could be inserted into one's gamer card. Instead, users are eagerly downloading Burger King ads because they deviate from the pay-for-content norm.

It's worth noting that individualizing one's userpic is a common desire on Livejournal, to the point that one of the major incentives to paying for an account is being able to store 100 userpics rather than the 6 that users with free accounts are restricted to. While Burger King's move into providing gamer pics is definitely filling a void, it seems like Microsoft and its developers are missing out by not encouraging a culture of customization on Xbox Live. A limited pool of free icons and an increased cultural emphasis on having an interesting userpic could well lead to an increased demand for gamer pics, driving both purchases of icons in Live Marketplace and downloads of sponsored pic packs like that released by Burger King.

November 26, 2006

A Few Good Men (and Women): The Front Line in the Big Media Battle to Understand Its Digital Future

A great piece from today's New York Times about the big media companies and their need to find someone to be able to tackle all the new digital questions. With such a daunting task before them, new digital VPs are being named every other day it seems, and the turnover is coming because companies are looking for new ideas and directions every day, with the feeling that the ground is constantly shifting underneath them.

That's what Richard Siklos' article is about, the continuing shifts among major players in the industry. He starts with an a propos want ad that describes the job perfectly...a job with heavy requirements and constant turnover but with companies looking in some pretty untraditional places for leadership as they entered unchartered territory.

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Targeting Those Surplus Audiences: Teenage Girls and Graphic Novels

There was an interesting article from George Gene Gustines in yesterday's New York Times about traditional American comics companies trying to reach out to female readers. Especially since manga has opened the door for substantial new female audiences, the long-held presupposition that comic books is the domain of men is being questioned.

We've already crossed the boundary that was placed between comic books and adults, as it's been a longheld myth that comic books--and animation--is strictly children's fare. But it's been a longer road for female readers. The problem is that, even if it is an obvious falsity that women are not interested in a medium like comic books, the majority of content over the years has not written for female audiences in any way, forcing them to be a surplus audience that is not part of the target demographic.

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Blu-ray Unnecessary for PS3 launch games?

[Update]: Apparently the "padding" data on Resistance is only 420 MB per region, rather than 17.75 GB, making the topic of this post a tempest in a teapot.

Original entry text available below.

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November 25, 2006

Oakdale Confidential: Secrets Revealed: How the Book's Reprint Is an Even More Striking Example of Transmedia Storytelling (with a Tangent about Bad Twin at Intermission)

Oakdale Confidential has now entered its first reprinting stage, and just as the writers wove the initial printing of the book into storylines for the soap opera As the World Turns, the reprint is becoming perhaps an even greater catalyst for events happening on the show. The book--which sat at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list for two weeks in a row and made it as high as number five on Amazon's seller list--is being reprinted with the addition of a new story by author Katie Peretti, a character on the show, who reveals a major town secret in the book now that she has decided to publicly acknowledge her authorship of the book. In a chance to get revenge on her ex-husband for what she sees as ruining her current marriage, she writes what would--in the real world--be sure libel in accusing that ex-husband and his girlfriend of stealing expensive jewels, an accusation that is, in fact, true.

Following the ups and downs of this book's release, both its major success as a transmedia experiment and also its pointing at some of the troubles with creating this type of text and its subsequent instructions on future projects of this sort, has been worth following throughout 2006. Unfortunately, because of what I perceive as a bias that marginalizes certain types of content even as its popularity should rank it as mainstream, the successes of Oakdale Confidential have not been that well covered or examined. I am going to attempt to trace that history a little bit here.

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Focusing on the Local: How Professional Journalists Should Go Back to School

Mike with Techdirt had an interesting piece on Monday about how newspapers should look to college newspapers for the answers to their problems and not portals.

Considering the fact that I've written twice in the past two days newspaper journalism, I thought Mike's piece was worth taking a look at.

Mike suggests that the industry's approach has been "stuck in a pre-digital age," pointing to one newspaper man's recent suggestion to "embargo breaking news from the web" for 24 hours. He points to several interesting journalism projects over the past year such as involving communities in the news-gathering process more heavily (I would include the Reuters Second Life Bureau and The Washington Post mashups, and--for broadcast--the CNN Exchange focus and the Channel One/ABC deal as well. It's obvious, though, that the problems are acute for print journalism more so than broadcast--not for content, since I would say print journalism as a whole is giving better coverage than broadcast, but just in trying to find their financial footing and understand how to use the modern convergence culture to their advantage rather than painting themselves as victims of technology and rather try to stick their heads in the sand.)

He points out, though, that newspapers should look back to college papers for some of the most innovative ideas. And it echoes the sentiment I have had for a while: that newspapers should do "what they do best: focusing on a local community." He points out that college newspapers are staying relevant because they are giving coverage to something specific. "The success of the papers is that they are extremely relevant to the readers in that community. They don't try to be all things to all people, but are focused on serving a need that is less well met by others."

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Yahoo! Leads Consortium of More Than 150 Newspapers to Bridge Print/Online Advertising

According to an Associated Press report on Yahoo! about Yahoo!, the company announced on Monday that it had reached a deal with more than 150 newspapers to sell advertisements through the company's classified online service.

Yahoo! has launched aggressively into providing services that bridge the divide between online advertising and the "traditional" advertising markets, such as television and radio and print. Coming after Google's deal to sell ads through its Web site for 50 top newspapers, the massive group of newspapers who have signed on for Yahoo!'s services is impressive and gives it a strong market lead--and significant press--about its insertion into the newspaper/online advertising market for classified ads.

The deal includes many of the top newspaper chains in the country and branches across 38 states, with the partnership beginning in December with the HotJobs service for job listings in classified ads. "Yahoo also plans on working with the consortium to provide search, content and local applications across the participating newspapers' Web sites," according to the AP story. The idea is to make it simple to generate national advertising revenue by creating a consortium through Yahoo!, rather than advertisers having to deal individually with newspapers or companies. The online career sections on each paper's site will be powered by HotJobs and co-branded by Yahoo! and each newspaper.

Steve Higgins with The Oakland Press, one of the newspapers using the service, writes, "While the initial focus of the consortium will be on employment ads, the partners plan to explore a wide variety of other Internet applications, from Web search tools to local maps and local news content."

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Copyright & IP in Virtual Worlds

Raph Koster has a good post on the nature of copyright in virtual worlds up. Key points include the fact that virtual objects are entries in a database table (and thus not really protected from 'resale' by IP law) and the fact that the value in the iTunes store and other similar systems is the service they provide to customers (ease of finding music on iTunes, ease of finding draft partners on Magic: the Gathering Online, etc.) rather than the 'property' that they sell.

November 24, 2006

Blurring the Line Between Fantasy and Reality: Borat Raising Questions That Affect User-Generated Content and Community Journalism

The commercial success of Borat has taken the American film industry by storm, as the low-budget film has been raking in substantial profit. According to Box Office Mojo, as of yesterday, the film has earned a total of $99 million domestically and $66 million internationally. It is currently ranked 354 in the top grossing domestic films of all-time and is already the highest-grossing mockumentary in history.

The film opened in 837 theaters its opening weekend, yet still grossed $26 million and was the number one film. Now, three weeks later, Borat has played in 2,611 theaters domestically and has already made five times its $18 million production budget.

However, the film is certainly not without its controversy. Borat, which is subtitled Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was filmed with a variety of unsuspecting subjects who all thought that the project was a legitimate journalist from Kazakhstan filming a documentary for his country. The film was based on skits from Channel 4 in Britain and on HBO for Da Ali G Show, by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

And it raises serious questions about the blend of fiction and reality and the questions some people have about how explicitly purposes must be stated when films are being made and the confusion involved when amateur filmmaking has never been more prevalent because of the availability of technology. In other words, the ruse of Borat was made much more possible in this era of convergence culture because his character's mission seemed fairly believable, even as his behavior should not have.

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More on "The Two Publics": Are Rich Private Owners the Future of Journalism?

The newspaper industry continues to be in major flux, and changes are coming on a daily basis. I've dedicated quite a bit of writing here on the C3 blog over the past year to how convergence affects journalism. And a variety of new stories over the past week have further emphasized these changes.

First, Drake Bennett wrote a story here in The Boston Globe last Sunday called "Return of the Press Barons," looking at the continued consolidation of newspapers and what it is doing not just to the business of journalism but to the quality of the press. Newspaper are losing ads by the droves to the Internet and are losing subscribers every year, and the profits recouped from Internet versions of the papers are not coming close to making up the difference. And, in order to retain the profit margins expected by stockholders, the only answer has been to continually cut the staff and further damage the journalistic integrity of many of these papers.

Bennett's piece examines why, with many declaring the newspaper industry in crisis, now would be the time for "several high profile multimillionaires and billionaires" to start buying up papers. "Few of the suitors are speaking directly to reporters, and the resulting silence has seeded a storm of speculation around the sudden interest of these aspiring press barons," he wrote. "It is far from certain whether any of the bids will be successful, but they have turned heads at a time when the future of newspapers as we know them seems to be at stake."

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HBO Announces Preliminary Plans for Launching Broadband Channel

News broke this week of potential HBO plans for an Internet TV channel that would be made available to the subscribers to its cable television network. The broadband channel would likely be used primarily as a tool for cross-platform distribution, being made available for its existing subscribers and giving them an additional way to access the HBO content.

Richard Keller at TV Squad writes that "HBO is slightly behind the curve when it comes to broadband content, most likely due to the fact that it is a subscriber service. Over the last year the four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX, The CW is really just an infant network) have begun offering free downloads of their programs, as well as web-only based content, through their own sites or through partners such as Yahoo and YouTube."

The company is currently negotiating with cable operators in order to facilitate such a service, according to Joshua Chaffin and Aline van Duyn with The Financial Times, and they plan only to make this type of move in conjunction with the cable operators that the HBO model is completely dependent upon at this point.

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Burger King Xbox games available

The Burger King Xbox games featuring "the King" are now available in Burger King outlets for $3.99 if you buy a value meal. Joystiq has the scoop, along with reviews of each of the 3 games.

November 22, 2006

Global Magna Not Thankful for Nielsen Commercial Ratings Compromise

One thing has been proven over the past few weeks--the tensions over the viability of the 30-second spot are being fueled into the continuing debate about commercial ratings. The industry has been at war for a while as to whether the DVR is going to be the technology that finally proves that a lot of people don't watch 30-second spots. We started writing about all this around this time last year. That was when the networks came together and claimed that the paradigm the industry has lived under for decades is as vibrant as ever.

The latest news is that Magna Global has announced that it does not support adding a new stream for average commercial minute ratings to the Nielsen data. According to Jon Lafayette's summary with TelevisionWeek, "Magna Global said it wouldn't support a compromise at live plus two days or live plus three days, which some networks and ad buyers are advocating." The tension is over whether the average commercial minute ratings would count DVR viewings after the show initially airs. The networks believe they would be greatly hurt by a plan that didn't count DVR viewing at all and felt that same-day viewing was also too narrow, while measuring viewing for seven days after was quite useless for any timely ads.

Plans for the commercial ratings were delayed in October and then again in November. This is a big battle, and neither side wants to show defeat. More importantly than that, both sides don't want to admit to the increasing lack of confidence in the whole traditional system television advertising is based around. So they're taking it out on these Nielsen ratings, in a case of deflected anger and frustration. Watching these arguments as a steam valve for the industry provides a fascinating indication as to what is going on under the surface in the current media environment.

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Google Branching Traditional and Innovative Approaches to Advertising

An article by Louise Story in yesterday's New York Times provides an interesting account of Google's plans to launch further into traditional advertising to secure its footing in the advertising world.

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The Power of the Consumer: Viewers and a Public Conscious Vote O.J. Off TV and Shelves

Some people have questioned whether collective intelligence really exists. Some people dispute that the crowds are wise at all. But many people are thankful that public pressure was able to get the News Corporation to cancel the book deal and planned television special for O.J. Simpson, the great piece of speculative writing called If I Did It.

Public pressure, grassroots campaigns...these can be used for good and for bad, and the Internet and other tools have increased the ability people have had to reach companies and voice their displeasure. In this case, even while the O.J. documentary and book may have had decent sales, there was also a lot of damage to reputation for Fox involved, especially as the main network has been able to rehabilitate its legacy of trashy television with some of the most popular and culturally relevant fiction shows on today.

But the O.J. campaign was sure to be a black eye, even if successful. And Rupert Murdoch decided to concede rather than risk losing something more substantial than a little egg on his face.

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The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner

Synergy is one of those nasty buzzwords that people don't want to throw around anymore. That's why convergence and transmedia has become preferrable. Of course, synergy seems to now connote a marketing exercise that lacks artistic merit, something that's just done for pure profit and that has no substance, whereas transmedia is a word used to indicate something that crosses media platforms, that sees companies work together, but that is more than just a superficial alliance.

Earlier this week, The New York Times featured an article from David Carr on the "post-synergy success" of Time Warner, writing that, "even as the concept has been left for dead, it is being put into practice, albiet in diminutive ways, at the current version of the company." The project that Carr refers to? TMZ.

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November 20, 2006

Technology and Television

Yesterday's New York Times had a great article on the social implications of interactive television and the various experiments being tested out across the country, written by Lorne Manly.

The story focuses on Gail Smith, a U.S. computer teacher who has lived in Guam for the past 15 years who returned to a world of digital video recorders and a great shift in the television landscape, the type of differences that has a profound impact on the lives of what some describe as "a nation of videots," others somewhat less cynically.

The point is that Americans love their television, and the technology is an enabler, not an end, for most people. Look back at Joshua Green's presentation from Futures of Entertainment this past weekend about the differences between the iPod and the Zune primarily being that of a relationship of software as opposed to a relationship to a piece of technology that acts as a communication or content-enabling tool.

While some early adopters are the exception, most people enjoy what they can do with technology, how they can interact with art and entertainment and people, not particularly in the television itself.

The story describes Smith's participation as one of 160,000 Time Warner subscribers in what it calls "souped-up interactivity," a series of cable programming options that give increased control over television content to the user. Among the facets of this product described by Manly is a high degree of news selectivity or extra programming from The Weather Channel.

The story goes on to describe the interactive television content through DirecTV for sports viewing, and new initiatives for sports news when viewers want it through ESPN's iZone and Dish Network, among other products.

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Babylon 5 Lives On with New Plans for DVD Releases

Last week, a major announcement was made in terms of alternate distribution of a television project and a potential future model for future transmedia ideas branching from a cancelled television show to a film: the plans for a straight-to-DVD film from Babylon 5. While last year, it was Firefly that showed the power of fandoms to resurrect a cancelled television property and breathe new life into it, it is the economic success of Babylon 5 on DVD that has inspired plans for a new product from the fictional world, in hopes to create a product that will both be lucrative to the dedicated niche market of Babylon 5 fans while not making the mistake of overestimating the widespread interest in the film by giving it enhanced expectations with a widespread theatrical release. Some were disappointed with the performance of Serenity, just as others were disappointed with the success of Snakes in the Plane earlier this year because some optimists had inflated the degree to which the cult promotion of the film would bring in audiences. In the case of all three products, it is taking grassroots initiatives to appeal to fans in a non-traditional manner, thus costing less to promote but not necessarily gaining great mainstream appeal.

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FOE: Reason Report on the Conference

In addition to the blog posts about the Futures of Entertainment conference, check out the Reason report from FOE by Jesse Walker.

There is also a piece from Henry Jenkins on anime with Reason, available here, with reader comments here.

November 19, 2006

FOE: Bloggers Respond to Panels at Conference

Here is a list of a few blog responses from folks at the Futures of Entertainment Conference:

-Several live reports from Licnece to Roam by Rachel Clarke.

-Gwendolyn with the SpellCast podcast for Harry Potter fans covers FOE in Episode 11. Also, check out her interview with Henry Jenkins in Episode 10.

-My Brilliant Mistakes by Cynthia Closkey (and a followup here).

-Big Secret Pizza Party from Amber Finlay.

-Off on a Tangent by Steve Garfield. Steve also posted pictures here.

-Erica George's comments about the conference at Writing in Clay are available here, here, and here.

-Adrian at wrote this about the transmedia panel.

-A Place in the Fire by Alec Austin.

-See Kent Quirk's post on Global Warming Can Be Fun about Joshua Green's opening presentation on Saturday.

-See Julie Levin Russo's live-to-tape blogging of the fan cultures panel at Cyberorganize.

-C3 Principal Investigator Beth Coleman also responded and summarized FOE on the Project Good Luck blog.

-Also, check out this reaction to the Not the Real World Anymore panel at KnowProSE.

-And Paul Levitz's involvement was covered on Publishers Weekly's The Beat blog on comics culture.

-The IDEA(R)S blog gave its thumbs up to the speakers on the fan cultures panel.

FOE: Not the Real World Anymore

The following wraps up our report of the Futures of Entertainment conference. Geoff Long took the onus of reporting on this final panel, with some help from Ivan Askwith and me. Thanks again to Geoff and Ivan for their work on getting this together. Geoff provided a partial transcript from the event. Also, you can see Rachel Clarke's notes here. Also, see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay. There is also a reaction to this partial transcript at KnowProSE.

The final panel of the day, "Not the Real World Anymore", focused on the phenomenon of virtual worlds. The panelists were John Lester from Second Life's Linden Labs, Ron Meiners from Multiverse Online, and Todd Cunningham from MTV Networks, who was accompanied by producer Eric Gruber, who ran Cunningham's demo of Virtual Laguna Beach.

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November 18, 2006

FOE: Fan Cultures

Fan Cultures
Biographical information for each panelist is available here.

Diane Nelson, President of Warner Premiere for Warner Brothers. Diane talks about her role with digital content production and her work over the past six years managing the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Brothers and the implications of fan communities on global brand management. She also discussed the fascinating global and cross-platform characters the company deal with like Batman, Superman, and Willie Wonka. "As new as everything going on in media and technology is, it's all very much the same." She said the underlying themes for discussing fan communities is understanding the consumer as people and their motivations in using the brand and the need to respect them. "Respect is the single biggest word I would use in relation to fans or any consumer, for that matter." Using her work with Harry Potter as an example, she said that fans begin to feel a sense of ownership over property once they become involved. "How deeply that shows itself is a wide spectrum," she said, from fanatical expressions or just expression in purely economic forms. "Who they are and what's driving them particularly is important if we want to speak to fans with any relevance and authenticity."

Molly Chase, Executive Producer of New Media Department, Cartoon Network. Molly discussed her work with the Cartoon Network site and its Hispanic equivalent for its Hispanic-American fans. She emphasized that her employees are definitely fans of the media they promote, which they feel sets them aside from some other networks. She said that she feels that respect is a theme in dealing with fans. For Molly, the idea of respecting fans and respecting content is closely intertwined, in language that positions the fans close to the content. By correlating the fans with the content, it creates a distinction where fans seem to have some autonomy and power in relation to understanding and managing content. She also talked about creating a range of experiences for a particular show, that would allow someone to play a simple game for five minutes as content online or a yearlong game that expands over time, depending on how deeply one is a fan of the entertainment property.

danah boyd, UC-Berkeley Ph.D. student and social media researcher for Yahoo! and Annenberg School fellow. She discussed her work in doing ethnographies for social networking sites, most recently with MySpace, through the sites' presences in both U.S. and global spaces. She looks in particular at the types of fan behaviors and how that disrupted what was intended in the beginning to be dating sites, and now what types of teen practices have shocked parents with MySpace in particular. "For me, it's about looking at the way collective processes are happening and the way outsiders get to see this because of the popularity of the phenomenon." danah talked about ownership and the agency that fans have to take entertainment properties and making it part of their own identities. "Why do we go out and shop and play with brands and mix and match and come out with clothing that expresses ourself? One of the cool things you see with digital embodiment, such as the notion of profiles, is to take cultural artifacts that you see as part of your life into a digital form to share something about who you are." She discusses the feeling of empowerment that comes along with mastering this material. For instance, she sees the kitsch blending of various brands and images of MySpace profiles as being much like the average teenager's room. danah's writings are available on her site.

Also, see Rachel Clarke's post about this panel with more detailed transcripts of the event. You can also see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay.

Continue reading "FOE: Fan Cultures" »

FOE: Futures of Entertainment Pics Up on Flickr

There are a variety of pictures from Futures of Entertainment going up on Flickr, available here.

We invite you to join the C3 Flickr group and upload photos, or to tag your photos from the conference "futuresofentertainment".

FOE: Joshua Green's "Viscerality and Convergence Culture"

Joshua Green
C3 Research Director and MIT Comparative Media Studies post-doc Dr. Joshua Green opened the conference this morning with his presentation of "Viscerality and Convergence Culture." Ignoring the fact that "viscerality" is not a word, and Joshua revealed his blatant disregard for the English status quo, his talk focused on the ways in which people want to internalize and humanize technology, how the average person does not care about these technologies except in ways that they facilitate their desire for expanding and extending human contact.

The talk, inspired by a walk in the rain with his iPod, was fueled by an anecdote Joshua shared with the readers. New to MIT and the country, Joshua spent most of his life in Australia. Now, all that he brought of himself, in many ways, was that iPod. "I'm not a music person before, but now I care about it," he said. "I suck it in now and feel passionate in a way that I didn't before." He points out that, by moving to America for this job, he has left a phase of his life he cannot necessarily return to. "None of my things are there anymore, and that's not a life I can go back to. The place it does exist in now is in my iPod. I no longer have a home in Australia, just a room at my parents' house backed with boxes. And it's not the iPod, but that's the only thing I can pack my social existence into."

He points to a quote about the Zune in which it was called a "software experience." He says, "The sharing that the Zune enables requires you to play by its rules. And, in the conversion environment at the present moment, we don't play by technology's rules. We bash, smash, and hit technology until it plays by our rules." And that's where he sees the distinction between the Zune and the iPod. It's the difference in relationship that's perceived about being about software and one that is about social relations. He points out that his relationship with his iPod and MacBook Pro feels like a relationship because it feels social. "It is a device for sharing culture. The way in which I utilize this device is one to facilitate sharing culture."

On the other hand, he doesn't completely buy into iCult, and he makes the point that these opening remarks are not intended to be a celebration of the brand without reservations. "I enjoy my relationship with this machine more than the other Toshiba box I had before, but iTunes has DRM and now they've cornered the market." He said that it's not the technology but the social interaction that it enables and encourages. He says that these types of social interactions is what companies are starting to get, and he points to Comedy Central's recent assurances at not taking all Comedy Central clips off YouTube as an example.

He points to examples from various Internets as his example of how the technology is used as social relationships. In making fun of the Ted Stevens "tubes" reference to the Internet, Joshua points to the user-generated responses to his idea of tubes. One was very scientific, the type of industrial containers you would see around MIT with those danger hazardous stickers on them. The other model is Fallopian tubes. Hedescribed the top one as being about technology, while the ladder is about organicness and squishiness. He asserts that the increasing acceptance of identity politics and the politics traditionally ascribed to a female domain in consumerism and fandom, etc., makes the Fallopian tubes of the Internet perhaps a better analogy.

In addition to this discussion about tactile relationships and viscerality, Joshua discussed the distinction between impressions and expressions. Impressions, as the old model, is when we send messages out that leave impressions on to users that prompt them to do something. When you understand tactile relationships, though, Joshua said that you encourage audiences to speak in some way. "When the product is transformed from commodity to culture, though, you have to cede control because it's no longer yours," he said, "but it's okay."

However, Joshua's presentation was very visual in nature, very visceral as the very title implies, so the video will be essential when it is made available for viewing over the next few days. Check back here and at The Futures of Entertainment site for more information. Also, see Rachel Clarke's notes on Joshua's presentation at Licence to Kill. Also, Kent Quirk has his take of Joshua's presentation at Global Warming Can Be Fun. Finally, you can see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay.

Also, see a recent post and discussion here on the Zune's release.

November 17, 2006

FOE: Transmedia Properties

Transmedia Properties
Paul Levitz, President and Publisher of DC Comics. Paul's early comments focus on the tools that are available now which open whole new realms of storytelling. To paraphrase, his opening remarks were that, "for cartoonists and comic book writers and artists, the potential of using our tool set and forms for a wider range of people and for evolving forms of transmedia has been something that has been a minute away for the last decade, it seems, and appears to be here now." He also traced direct forms of transmedia storytelling in America back to James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy, which appeared in 1821 as a novel and 1822 as a play, as well as the history of The Wizard of Oz through its various book, play, and film forms over the years. "You have people building Troy on top of Troy on top of Troy, 100 years of creative development layered on top of each other. That's the process of transmedia." Alex Chisholm also pointed to the development of Christianity and the spread of Jesus Christ as a figure in the early years as, in many ways, a transmedia project. He also made the comment that the idea of a mass media form that reaches everyone on two or three channels "don't work so good no more." "If you are an advertiser searching to get a large audience, you can either build out of big blocks that aren't as big as they used to be or you can start breaking away from the tyranny of 30-second messages and find cool new creative things people have been responding to. And you'll see combinations of the two, both 30-second spots and transmedia pieces."

Alex Chisholm, Founder of Ice Cub3d Studios. Chisholm, who has an ongoing relationship with the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, discussed the vocabulary and modes of thinking he learned from the time he has spent working with Henry Jenkins and others in the CMS department and discussed his work with NBC, who he said is trying to figure out a variety of new ways to reach audiences and to develop content across multiple channels. He particularly discussed his work around Heroes and understanding how audiences are interacting with that media property across various media forms, a concept he also encountered when working with the Olympics.

Michael Lebowitz, CEO and Co-Founder of Big Spaceship. Michael said that his company is in the fortunate position to work with major media properties such as television shows and feature films and sees his role as helping these content owners form new dialogues with consumers and to tell new aspects of stories through as many different means as possible. "We are thinking about everything from interactive experience development to branded game development across all digital platforms." He said that the job gets most interesting is when you start with crossover potential to lead and create development in types of convergence that hasn't formerly existed, expanding the transmedia storytelling format. He particularly discussed moving his work into an increasingly digital space, along with the help of his "team of 50 mad scientists in Brooklyn."

Also, check into Rachel Clarke's transcription of the panel here and here. Also, see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay. Adrian at wrote this entry about the transmedia panel as well.

Continue reading "FOE: Transmedia Properties" »

FOE: Rachel Clarke's Licence to Roam

Just wanted to write a quick note that another version of great transcription and notes from the Futures of Entertainment is available over at Rachel Clarke's blog Licence to Roam.

FOE: User-Generated Content

User-Generated Content
Biographical information for each panelist is available here.

Rob Tercek, President and Co-Founder of MultiMedia Networks. He spoke early in the session about the backlash directed toward traditional set up between producers and consumers, pointing particularly to the fact that major companies aren't set up to understand the medium but expects to be able to send everything out in a broad message and for users to just "sit there and listen while we talk." He says that companies aren't great at listening to their audiences, and that has driven this backlash.

Caterina Fake, Director of Tech Development at Yahoo!. Fake says that user-generated content is not only fun but allows people in this era to return to that scene of artistan culture from the 18th century where everyone is producers and everyone is consumers. The scene switches from a concert hall to a group of people setting around in no certain order playing music to each other. Everyone produces, and everyone consumes. And that's what she sees happening in these online spaces, where the division between producer and consumer just isn't quite as important anymore. Look at this point, for instance, about the shrinking distances of communication between producers and consumers, as to how that helps empower an environment for increased user-generated content. She sees this type of content as a way to differentiate from the masses for individuals and also for there to be true choice instead of a corporate producer-driven, limited sense of choice.

Ji Lee, Founder of The Bubble Project Video content has to be viewed just to see some of the great examples of user-generated content from the Bubble Project. The plan was to put an empty comic bubble up on public advertising and for viewers to be able to put their own comments on there. Examples from comments that were written online: (for Michael Douglas) I've had so much plastic surgery it hurts. Or, for Jennifer Lopez, I used to smoke krak on the 6 train.

Kevin Barrett, Director of Design for BioWare. He points out that rolepplaying games are no strangers to user-generated content but were driven by them, were pointless without them. Back decades ago, there may not have been a vibrant computer-driven gaming industry yet, but there was certainly games that thrived on user-generated content. He says that it wasn't something to talk about or discuss but what drove the gaming industry.

Also, see Rachel Clarke's posts about these presentations with more detailed transcripts of the event here and here and here, from her Licence to Roam site.

Dangers of Dialogue?

Ji says that, when corporations talk to consumers, it's almost like talking to a friend of his. "Telling a friend what I want to say is not a dialogue. By creating a dialogue, you're giving up control and listening to what other people have to say."

Continue reading "FOE: User-Generated Content" »

FOE: Television Futures

TV Futures
Biographical information for each panelist is available here.

Andy Hunter from GSD&M in Austin. He says that he works there as an account planner, helping to guide these changes that are happening right now. What keeps him at night? When he looks at what the industry does creating marketing campaigns, creating inertia in the business. He feels that so much is stuck in spin cycle. He says that people's behavior and relationship with the media has changed drastically. He wants to think differently about how the company can market and how they can communicate. "THAT keeps me up at night," he says.

Mark Warshaw, Founder of FlatWorld Intertainment and Smallville producer. He is a writer/producer/director for episodes of the series and has worked with extending the stories into the online world. He says, "What gets me up in the morning is I am just excited that there are so many possibilities out there, so many avenues for brands, for entertainers. We can just go anywhere right now, so it's a really exciting time to be in this world."

Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Forrester has been analyzing the effect of this technology on business during the 11 years he has been there. Most of that time has been spent looking at television. Their clients are everyone, and they have to be looking at what the future may bring and what the challengers are. He says, "There are two motivators, fear and greed. Is my business changing, and will I lose my job? Or is someone else making money that I should have?"

Betsy Morgan from CBS Digital. Betsy says moving into the digital landscape is hard but frustrating. CBS is doing a lot of thinking about YouTube. "It's great and horrible all at the same time." Katie Couric's interview with Tom Cruise got a second life, a third life, a fourth life after it was uploaded to YouTube. "That's what I love about YouTube. What our biggest challenege with a company like YouTube is that I've got a bunch of lawyers that are every day taking down copyrighted material, and we're really struggling with that. Users put up content thats ours." A big concern is making sure that if video is going to be online, that it needs to be of a certain level of quality not to make the network's programming look bad. "We're having a lot of fun trying to figure this stuff out."

See Rachel Clarke's detailed posts about the comments from this panel here at Licence to Roam. Also, see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay.

Continue reading "FOE: Television Futures" »

FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction

The following is the C3 team's note from Henry Jenkins' introduction to the C3 Futures of Entertainment conference. For the conference's details, look toward its main page.

To open the conference, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, gave some background information on what is being described as "convergence culture," to borrow the term from his book, that sets the stage for the various panels taking place here at Futures of Entertainment over the next two days. Also, see Steve Garfield's links over on Off on a Tangent.

Continue reading "FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction" »

Updates Coming for Futures of Entertainment Conference

Today and tomorrow is The Futures of Entertainment Conference, co-sponsored by C3 and the Comparative Media Studies Department here at MIT. Since seating is limited and registration closed almost a month in advance, the C3 team will be providing updates throughout the next few days here on the C3 blog in hopes of including readers in the discussion.

Check back throughout the day today and tomorrow for updates, and look through the program for the conference here.

November 16, 2006

Nielsen Plans to Release VOD Measurement for National Programming

Niesen's commercial ratings may be spinning its wheels, but the company is hoping to have some degree of success with the new VOD measurement service it will be rolling out mid-December. On Dec. 11, the company will begin measuring information from VOD viewing based on the same system it uses to measure national viewing from traditional broadcasting and cable networks.

Cynthia Brumfield with IP Democracy is a little dubious about how accurate VOD measurement will be, especially in these beginning phases. She writes, "The ratings service (which I can imagine will be beset by glitches galore given the vast numbers of on-demand choices) will be limited to on-demand content produced by national broadcast and cable networks." The distinction is made because there is no mechanism in place for Nielsen to measure offerings from individual cable companies or cable systems and is only measuring those nationally organized offerings that are easy to trace.

The comments on Lost Remote emphasize how much work needs to be done in the VOD measurement area, considering projections from Rentrak that more than 2 billion VOD programs will be viewed by the end of 2006.

These plans were presaged by an announcement back in August that Nielsen would begin measuring VOD for Insight Communications as part of its launching of the Nielsen On-Demand Reporting and Analytics service (NORA). At the time, I wrote:

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

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

This is one of many new initiatives by Nielsen, driven largely by its June announcement of the shift to an A2/M2 measurement system that would better measure how much content people consume anytime, anywhere.

Will the numbers for VOD curtail the sour taste some people have in their mouths over this commercial ratings debate? I hope it will at least further drive innovation in the VOD market, where viewers are increasingly interested and where new and innovative business models may be developed. We'll see what difference the Nielsen measurements make in this platform in the coming months.

NBC Video Podcasting Nightly News, Meet the Press

Here's an innovation that I wanted to highlight for the continued development of transmedia and cross-platform broadcast network news content.

The first is that, started on Tuesday, NBC started offering its flagship news program, NBC Nightly News, and the oldest television program on the air, Meet the Press in its entirety as a video podcast. This marks the first broadcast news show to be offered in this format, while others offer alternate versions of the news in podcast format.

The hope, of course, is to expand the audience of its news division. The nightly news will be made available each night at 10 p.m., while Meet the Press will be available at 1 p.m. eastern each Sunday afternoon, available through this site. The show had previously been audio podcasted.

Lee Aase, who works as manager for national media relations and new media for the Mayo Clinic, has written a comparison of NBC's approach to video podcasting for news as compared to ABC's. Lee writes, "I have mixed feelings about their approaches. ABC feels like it has worked out more of a sustainable business model, and that its podcasts could actually be profitable. But it is producing something different for the podcasts as compared to what goes over the air, so it has some expense involved with production that NBC doesn't. NBC has to delay its podcast to avoid angering local affiliates, so it's not as timely...but you see the 'real' news program featuring Brian Williams, and not something mashed together for podcast."

Lee's reference is to ABC's use of advertising for its news site, while NBC only offers ads for its own programming. I first wrote about the ABC/NBC competition for transmedia news programs back in May, when NBC began offering retro news content for iTunes, while ABC struck a deal with the BBC to put BBC news content on its Web site with advertising support.

In July, NBC ramped up its transmedia content with a video blog for Brian Williams, while ABC dropped temporality of its news to promote a continuous news cycle for its online and cable content, ABC News Now.

CBS has not been silent in this race with its simulcast of a streamed version of its evening news.

Strategic New Convergence Partnerships Around Us: Revver/Fame TV; MySpace Concert Webcast; MTVN/Nexon Partnership for Neopets

Here are three new deals that are worth taking a look at as to how they fit into a drive toward cross-platform distribution and greater use of video content online, for purposes of user-generated content and Internet-only content.

1.) Revver/Fame TV Deal. The Web site Revver, an advertising-supported site that allows users to share videos with some of the revenue going to content creators, has formed a partnership with Fame TV, a UK broadcast channel that exclusively features user-generated content. The partnership further develops cross-platform interest in user-generated content. Greg Baumann with TelevisionWeek writes, "The partnership represents another step in the integration of user-generated material and traditional television. Fame TV joins Current, a U.S. based cable channel, as an outlet for video created outside the entertainment industry's established structure." Beth Snyder Bulik with Advertising Age points out that "Fame TV runs nine boxes on-screen at one time, each titled and given SMS codes so that viewers can vote for their favorites via cellphone." And Revver is the online site that discovered and promoted the now-famous Mentos/Diet Coke user-generated videos.

2.) MySpace Concert. Here's a first: a concert Webcast on MySpace. The concert will combine performances of various artists with user-generated content. Mark with Digital Media Wire has further information on the concert, a six-hour live webcast that "will utilize MySpace instant messenger to let fans interact with artists during an exclusive live music performance."

3.) MTVN/Nexon Game Partnership. Our partner here at C3, MTV Networks, has formed an alliance with Nexon for promotion of MTVN's Neopets. Check out this press release from the PR Newswire. The company calls this a "broad based strategic partnership" that will enhance the online community for Neopets, on the one hand, and Nexon's massive multiplayer online games have major penetration in Korea, where the company will help MTVN market Neopets, and the company will be adding personalized virtual items for Neopet owners to buy. In return, MTVN will market Nexon's online game titles throughout its online and cable networks, as the company plans to branch several of its games into the American market.

TiVo Branching Further Into Internet Content, Providing New Conduits for User-Generated Video

Major news that broke this week: TiVo's plans to branch into Internet video for the television. In short: the plan is to allow people to use the TiVo DVRs to watch at least some Internet-based video programming for the television set.

While TiVo's service has not branched into user-generated and professional online content, a series of new features are planned to be added to the service that will take effect next year. The technology conflict that had caused a problem is that TiVo uses a recording format generally used for DVDs, which is not compatible with the file type of most online videos.

According to Saul Hansell with The New York Times, TiVo's way around the problem is asking some producers to convert their programs to TiVo's MPEG2 format to make it available for direct download to TiVo's recorders, adding content from a variety of online players, including iVillage,, The New York Times, CBS, and Forbes; as well as "software that will allow users to watch a much wider range of videos that are available on the Web."

In this case, new customers must download the videos to their computers from the Internet and then, using TiVo software that will retail at $24.95, they will connect the TiVo recorder to the computer over a wired or wireless network to watch the videos on TV. The company already offers software to view photos on TiVo boxes through the computer, as well as listen to Internet radio. The feature will be implemented by the end of December and will be offered as a free upgrade for existing users.

The software will work with MPEG4, QuickTime and some types of Windows Media. Hansell writes, "This will allow it to play most video podcasts and some files offered by video sites including Google Video and Revver." However, it will not play videos with copy protection, nor anything produced through Flash, conflicting with YouTube content. The plan, according to an AP story on the TiVo announcement, is for deals to be put in place for copy protected content to be ported over to the TV in the future.

TiVo will also plan to launch as service for people to upload their home movies and send them to others' recorders who they want to see them in particular. This service will cost $4 a month, while receiving the videos will not cost any fee.

The service will not work for DirecTV TiVo boxes.

This comes in addition to the company's official deals with online content providers for the TiVoCast product we wrote about in June, as well as plans to offer a standalone high-definition DVR that records multiple shows simultaneously, a first for the company in servicing high-definition users.

November 15, 2006

Nobody's Watching Continues Its Survival Online While in Limbo

Do you really need a TV network after all? It was back in July when we first wrote about Nobody's Watching, the TV series that didn't make it past a pilot. The series was to be a faux reality show about two guys making a sitcom, joke being, of course, that the reality show about making a sitcom is, in reality, a sitcom itself. But the pilot was leaked on YouTube, and it suddenly became a phenomenon.

Eventually, NBC showed interest in the show once again but has taken a more cautious approach, as the show has only been doing short pieces on the Web at this point.

Continue reading "Nobody's Watching Continues Its Survival Online While in Limbo" »

Convergence and Conversion: A Few Interesting Studies on Religion and New Media Technologies

One topic that we've only broached a few times here at C3 is the marriage between faith and convergence (and I'm not trying to get into a discussion of the gender of faith and convergence).

I've written about Fox Faith and the attempt to create a film division to more closely cater to a Christian fan base. For instance, last month, I wrote about a particular example of FoxFaith's product through its first theatrical release, Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy. And, back in June, I wrote a post about the book Religion and Cyberspace and particularly my interview with the pastor the small church I attended when younger back in Kentucky and about how religion adapts to multiple media forms.

Now, this month's Convergence Newsletter points to the University of South Carolina's recent Convergence and Society Conference, where a variety of speakers presented research about convergence and its affects on religion in various ways.

Continue reading "Convergence and Conversion: A Few Interesting Studies on Religion and New Media Technologies" »

The OC Gets Buzz from Acknowledging Competition: The Power of Internet Rumors

Viewers/readers/listeners like referentiality. And, in pop culture, most people really enjoy cross-references. You know, the kind of witty writing that get people talking while not really obstructing their enjoyment of the show, a reward for viewers who are in on the joke but that take nothing away from those who don't. That's what I thought was so clever about the recent campaign by The OC. For those TV junkies who follow ratings and the like, most people know that The OC has been on some people's endangered list after disappointing ratings. The show was programmed against Grey's Anatomy and CSI this season, another sign of Fox's lack of confidence in the show to carry a night, since those two programs carry so much of the audience.

But few shows have been better at referencing across pop culture than The OC, and it has helped make what may have been considered just a standard teen drama series otherwise respected among some circles that would have hated most shows of this sort. By referencing comic book culture and across music and television, the show has tipped its hat to various fan communities throughout the past few seasons. Nevertheless, last Thursday['s mention may have been the most ingenious, and now fan communities are talking.

And they aren't just talking about the Chili's appearance, either.

Earlier this month, the rumors started creeping across the Internet--one of the characters from The OC was leaving the show for another primetime show. What started it all? We can thank The OC's creator Josh Schwartz. In a piece by The Boston Globe's Suzanne C. Ryan, Schwartz announced his plans to have a character leave the show for Seattle Grace, the fictional hospital where its competitor, Grey's Anatomy, is located. Now, the reference, and subsequent references to the doctors he is working with at Seattle Grace, was intended to be humor at making reference to the show that, as one fan put it, "IS KICKING YOUR ASS IN THE RATINGS."

However, it didn't end up being bad publicity for the show, even beyond the reference, because some people started reporting not that they were making references to Grey's Anatomy in The OC but that a character would be leaving The OC for Grey's Anatomy. The rumor started popping up various places, such as here and here.

While it doesn't look like it's going to lead to any more than a reference here and there, it has people talking about The OC. And, when you're talking about a show not currently on an order for a full season, any attention is probably good attention. People are now saying that, by making daring references to taboo subjects like their own competition, the show is regaining some of the edge of its original season. But what will this mean? Either way, it's interesting to watch as this rumor continues to spread across the net.

Chili's Everywhere: The Restaurant's Aggressive Integration Campaign on Veronica Mars and The OC

For those who watch a lot of teen dramas and/or teen detective shows, you may have noticed a hot new character breaking onto the scene in the past couple of weeks, apparently branching across networks. I'm talking about Chili's, the bar and grill well-known for its ribs jingle, among other things.

In the past few weeks, regular viewers of Veronica Mars has seen Chili's figure prominently into scenes shot in the food court of Veronica's college. In last night's episode, she even approached one of her professors who was purchasing food at Chili's and offered her a rib, which Veronica didn't want to take because she didn't want to get her hands dirty, a scene that had resonance with the story itself since Veronica felt that the teacher's offer to recommend her for an internship was a payoff to keep her quiet about her catching him having an affair with the dean's wife.

I got an e-mail from one of my colleagues here at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, Neal Grigsby, who said that when he ate at a Chili's not long ago, there was an all-out CW cross-promotion, with ads for The CW on Chili's menus and coasters that asked various trivia questions about shows on the new network's lineup. Neal's summary: "Guess they're going for Total Chili's Awareness in the teen set."

Continue reading "Chili's Everywhere: The Restaurant's Aggressive Integration Campaign on Veronica Mars and The OC" »

November 13, 2006

Web 3.0 and the Common Sense of the Internet?

I just wanted to point your way to a piece this weekend from John Markoff in the New York Times on Web 3.0.

For those not familiar with what some are claiming will be the next great wave of innovation in Internet tools, the idea is creating a system that uses some degree of intelligent information to address specific concerns and questions of users. The example used in this article is a complicated question about planning a vacation that is not answered simply with pages that have keywords of interest but that legitimately addresses the question asked by the user.

In other words, it would be a Jeeves that didn't seem hard of hearing. I can recall many a day when I visited poor old Jeeves, who was sure that I could ask him anything I wanted, only to wonder how in the world he gave me some of the responses he did, considering the question I had asked.

Well, this would make for a Jeeves that actually listens. Markoff writes, "Their goal is to add a layer of meaning on top of the existing Web that would make it less of a catalog and more of a guide -- and even provide the foundation for systems that can reason in a human fashion. That level of artificial intelligence, with machines doing the thinking instead of simply following commands, has eluded researchers for more than half a century."

The idea is that a smarter system of links and aggregation could sift through content in a way that could provide financial planning, educational consulting, trip planning...responses that would provide accurate options in the way a real human agent would. This is what people are quoted as calling "the semantic Web."

The idea of computers directly answering questions is a simple desire that leads to a complicated research plan, and it will likely be some time before such search engines become truly possible and may not ever be fully satisfied. But the direction of providing direct and useable search engines that give users more tools to find exactly what it is that they want show the consumer-driven direction of most Web development and how Web 3.0 hopes to build off the great momentum and usability of Web 2.0.

Is this the answer? Discovering what Web 3.0 will be is driving a lot of speculation. Stephen Baker with BusinessWeek predicts that Web 3.0 will be easier and cheaper, always connected, and will provide greater control over data. Last year, Phil Wainewright said that Web 3.0 will consist of a foundation layer of API services, a middle layer of aggregation services, a top layer of application services, all on behalf of serviced clients, in an eara where we "will see buisness computing converge on teh same fundamental on-demand architecture as consumer applications." Finally, Dan Gillmor last year said that he feels it's already here. "The emerging web is one in which the machines talk as much to each other as humans talk to machines or other humans. As the net is the rough equivalent of a computer operating system, we're learning how to program the web itself."

So, what is Web 3.0? The question is where we want research to be headed on developing a continually improved Web, and this sustained public argument is an important one that anyone and everyone should join in on. We'll never get the right answers unless we're asking the most useful questions...

Friendbombing and the Confusing World of Social Networking

John Schwartz has a great piece from the Nov. 5 New York Times. Schwartz, who works for the Times, realized that his children were using Facebook and other social networking sites for the majority of their communication and, since Facebook in particular is insular, he signed up to be a user in order to view his son's page. His justification? "Now, I wouldn't read my kid's locked diary. But if Sammy is going to put his daily thoughts out there for the world to see, I'm going to check in every once in a while -- and let him know that I'm doing it, too."

John signed up with a corporate account now that Facebook offers services to those with corporate e-mails, but his son soon proved to have an adept response at his father's intrusion after John sent his son a friend invitation. John Schwartz was "friendbombed."

Apparently, Sam contacted all his friends at school and asked them to invite his dad as a friend, to the tune of more than 100 teenagers from the community. While his wife considers it poetic justice and John worries other parents will link him to the recent Mark Foley scandal, he sums up his feels about Facebook like this:

Facebook's use of the word "friend" is a little troubling in a world where true friendship is hard to find and even harder to sustain. The idea of getting friends wholesale seems to be part of that element of the Internet that can render life virtual and a little pallid. In many ways, the Internet strengthens relationships by allowing easy communication over a distance. But without a human touch, it's hard to keep the conversation going beyond niceties. Facebook seems to be saying: "Sure, we might be seeing less of our real friends face to face. But we'll make it up with volume."

I think John's touched on a fundamental distinction in social networking communities in general. It's not completely true that the point of the game is to get as many friends as possible. Although LinkedIn may reward you for doing so and there is value in gaining a certain number of friendships in any social network, there is also a heavy backlash against people who have thousands of friends (unless, of course, it's a celebrity with a MySpace page, although your exclusivity of being friends with these people is lost somewhere past the 5,000 mark).

It reminds me of MySpace's recent weakness in particular, when they became ambivalent about the Top 8 and started offering alternatives. I guess they felt that people were getting too stressed out picking their Top 8 friends. I personally liked that distinction, but now a lot of my friends have switched to a Top 20. I'll have to say, I could understand when I didn't make their Top 8, but when it moves to half their friends being in the "top" list, it hurts a little more not to make the cut.

There's something to be said about exclusivity...

November 12, 2006

Review: George Gerbner and the Media Education Foundation

A few weeks ago, I wrote about watching a Media Education Foundation video called The Ad and the Ego on the evils of the advertising industry. This week, I watched another two more of their productions, this time both documentaries featuring the late researcher George Gerbner. This time, the videos focused on the commercialism and conglomeration of the major television industries and how they limit the ability of the networks to tell good stories.

While I do not agree with many of the premises of the video, there are, of course, some effective arguments made as well. I usually dislike the simple-mindedness and lack of nuance of most of the MEF offerings in their unequivocal attacks on television content, advertising, etc., but I do try to at least pick out some of the best points made in such works.

Continue reading "Review: George Gerbner and the Media Education Foundation" »

Friends with Benefit from One Tree Hill a Great Example of Transmedia Product Used for a Fundraiser

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the public service announcement for As the World Turns that was woven into the dialogue of a show. While programming was becoming more adept with making sure that viewers didn't skip ads with DVRs by working product placements into the show, this did the same with the PSA, as longtime characters Dr. Bob Hughes and his wife, Kim, had a discussion about AIDS in Africa and the need to do something about it while at the hospital, in a way that would have made it hard to skip through.

I haven't seen shows develop more of those in-dialogue PSAs in quite the same way, but One Tree Hill took it a step further earlier this year. Just as All My Children sold perfume from the show in stores and Katie Peretti's book Oakdale Confidential made it onto real bookstore shelves, a soundtrack that was organized and put together online was released in the consumer's world. And, what's better, the album--a benefit for breast cancer on the show--is an actual benefit for breast cancer as well, with a portion of the proceeds for this, the show's second soundtrack, going to breast cancer research and awareness.

The soundtrack was a joint venture for One Tree Hill and The WB Network (now merged into the CW Network), the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and sponsor Sunkist. The goal of the project, according to a press release from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, "is part of an ongoing project for awareness and early detection" to help promote breast cancer awareness to fans.

Called Friends with Benefit, the soundtrack was released back in February.

Erin McMaster with Blogcritics Magazine writes that "those who watch the show will definitely enjoy it, as the album is put together by artists who are heard, and sometimes appear as guest stars, on One Tree Hill. And unlike so many TV soundtracks out there, every track reflects the emotions and feel of One Tree Hill in such a way that it truly is a successful soundtrack."

She also points out that one of the character's clothing lines on the show, Clothes Over Bros, was really selling pink T-shirts with the Friends with Benefit logo on it as well. The promotion also included a tour of major cities.

November 11, 2006

Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material

One interesting online development worth noting is a new venture by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Turner Broadcasting. In the past two weeks, Turner has made headlines with its plans for a new broadband channel launched for comedy content, Super Deluxe. The project will be cross-platform, with plans to launch the content from the online broadband channel onto video-on-demand, mobile platforms (phones and portable players) and video game consoles. There are also plans to cross content from Super Deluxe into video sharing sites like MySpace and YouTube, although Turner promises to strictly monitor user-generated content on its site for potential copyright infringements.

Considering that this is one of the most ambitious broadband channel projects yet launched by a traditional cable company, I'm sure all eyes will be on Super Deluxe when it launches in January. It will join CNN Pipeline and GameTap, two other Turner broadband ventures.

Continue reading "Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material" »

Microsoft Zune Gaining Consumer Interest, Setting Up New Deals with Content Providers, Undercutting the iPod's Cultural Cache?

Back at the end of October, I wrote about Steven Levy's new book commemorating the iPod. I'm sure Microsoft is hoping, at this point, that it will be a historical record of those first few years when Apple ruled the MP3 player world, before the Zune came along.

A report released on Nov. 1 from ABI Research touts in its headline that "58% of iPod Owners Planning Another MP3 Player Purchase Will Consider Microsoft's Zune." A survey of 1,725 teenagers and adults in the U.S. found that the Zune at least seems compelling to new users, or else that they are not so committed to Apple that they would rule out purchasing a Zune player. Principal analyst Steve Wilson concluded that "the iPod users don't display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products," and conclude that "Apple will need to make some big announcements in 2007 if it is to maintain its edge in the industry."

In other words, a leadership and innovator role only buys you so much cultural cache if someone releases a better product than you. Is the Zune going to be a better product? ABI writes that its researchers believe "that a crucial factor will be whether or not Microsoft can differentiate the Zune from competing products in some meaningful way," questioning whether Wi-Fi peer-to-peer sharing is useful enough to make viewers feel that much more loyal.

Meanwhile, Staci D. Kramer at paidContent points out the changes in royalty plans for the Zune, in which a new deal has been struck with Universal Music Group to provide a royalty for every Zune unit sold, with half of the fee going to Universal artists. Apparently, the plan is for $1 of every unit sold ($250 per unit price) will go to UMG, so artists will split $.50 per every device sold. Kramer writes that, "the deal, while not a first, marks a variation form the pay-per-download or pay-per-play models." Her story includes several interesting quotes from various newspaper stories.

Yinka Adegoke with Reuters writes that "the groundbreaking deal could redefine the digital music business pioneered by Apple Computer Inc. Rivals including cell phone makers eventually could pay for hardware sales as well as for the music itself, Universal said."

We'll see what happens when the Zune is released Tuesday, but the blogosphere is swarming with buzz waiting for the release. For more information, see the Zune page on Wikipedia.

Thanks for David Edery and Joshua Green for the information they sent along for the preparation of this post.

Oh, and be sure to read through the comments, where a couple of readers have already expressed their serious doubts as to both the validity of this ABI study and especially to the way it has been used to bolster claims of the iPod's demise. I guess rumors of the iPod's death have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain (and John Dixon). I know that the iPod has a stronghold on the Ford household, anyway. (My wife is quite the aficionado.)

AT&T Launching Into Video Services and Mobile Entertainment with Latest Plans

Will AT&T play a major role in the future of mobile content? Going back to some Halloween news, a USA Today story from Leslie Cauley focuses on the new moves by the major telephone company to move into position to challenge cable companies, as telephone and cable providers line up against each other to provide services. This has been a battle that has been a long time coming, and it will likely be a war waged over the next several years, with service and pricing in play on the field.

Cauley's story focuses on how AT&T plays to deploy one of the greatest tools that may be in its arsenal--wireless content. With AT&T eyeing a purchase of BellSouth and thus gaining complete control of Cingular Wireless (which it would change to AT&T), it would have a major cellular company at its disposal, allowing the company to move forward with its major plan to increase entertainment content.

Cauley points out that, while the current plans with other cable operators with Sprint for wireless entertainment services, for instance, have not led to any profit, AT&T would benefit from having a wireles service provider in-house along with U-verse, bolstering recent attempts like the U-verse, AT&T's new video service that could serve as sharp competition to cable and satellite providers. According to the story, plans include integrating wireless and "wired" products, "including high-speed Internet and U-verse TV," creating a package that "blurs the line between wired and wireless." These plans also include greater technology to fuel integrated advertising and an expansion of advertising on cell phones.

U-verse is being tested with AT&T users in San Antonio right now, with plans to offer it in 15 to 20 markets by the end of the year. It offers both Internet and video service that includes up to three digital receivers per home, as well as a DVR and on-demand service. The deal right now includes three months of free television through U-verse. They are also launching a voice over IP service, as UverseUsers wrote about last month. Plans are also being made to make service high-definition by the end of the month, according to MSNBC.

November 10, 2006

Wal-Mart's Third Strike? Christmas Campaign Drawing the Ire of Parents, Anti-Wal-Mart Activists

Like a lot of people who have been blogging about issues of viral marketing, branding, and online social networking, the Wal-Mart Supercenter has provided a place for continual discussion this summer. Their latest move is being heralded as the third in a stupid line of decisions. Wal-Mart has a new initiative in which kids can look through toys on the Web, and then two Wal-Mart online characters promise to help mediate between the kids and the parents to help convince the parents to purchase the items for Christmas.

But this isn't even a chance for kids to think up their favorite toys and then have Wal-Mart bug their parents about them. No...instead, it presents kids with a series of toys and then asks them if they would like to have it or not. Every one that they say yes to becomes fodder for spamming the parents, telling them that they should buy these toys for their children.

The site features the Christmas elves Wally and Marty (clever, huh?), and parents get e-mail spam about purchasing the gifts online. As the folks at Techdirt write, this comes straight "from the still-figuring-out-this-online-stuff dept." The comments in this particular post run the gamut of popular sentiment about Wal-Mart, including the supporters and the haters. But I don't think their plan was to establish yet another source of contention about their intelligence as a marketing department. As commenter Johnny writes, when he exclaims "Wal-Mart is Teh Suck" (sic), "I'm surprised that they thought this was a good idea. But then Wal-Mart and poorly thought out marketing schemes are becoming legendary. They so very desperately want to be cool and hip when they are anything but."

The problem is that this will do nothing to inspire brand loyalty but could serve to annoy parents and certainly gives more fodder to the anti-Wal-Mart folks. Take these comments from the Daddy Daughter Duo blog from Chris Maier, who says this can be "abbeted showing corporations like wal mart that there wholesale disavowal of any ethical decency in the name of a banner Christmas sales season is revolting and could backfire" (sic).

And MySpace user "A.J. Creations" points out another major problem with the initiative, that the elves applaud every toy chosen and complain that they will be out of a job when a toy is not chosen. Not exactly the message many people feel comfortable sending children, that they have to buy EVERYTHING or these cute little characters will be sent to the unemployment line. At least they didn't insert images of Wally and Marty at the soup kitchen or panhandling after a series of "NO" votes from kids.

The difference between this type of wish list and those on Amazon or others is that this is a passive campaign where the user does not seek out the toys they want to buy but rather have everything thrown at them...far from the cute letters to Santa they run in my hometown paper every year and a campaign that I think deserves harsh criticism.

For anyone who wants to send their parents a wish list, be sure to go to Wal-Mart Toyland. You can determine what toys are "listworthy." "If you show us what you want on your wishlist, we'll send it straight off to your parents." On a rocket fueled by their e-mail address.

Also, for more information on Wal-Mart's previous blunders, see my previous writing about The Wal-Mart/Edelman RV blunder and what many people considered a lame School Your Way social networking site.

This may not be considered as universally offensive as the recent "Our Country, Our Truck" ad campaign that I wrote about recently, but it's a reminder of the warning I made a few weeks ago--that I am much more convinced by arguments that pick out particularly despicable advertising campaigns rather than just categorically criticizing advertising as a whole.

In full disclosure, Wal-Mart has worked with one of our partners, GSD&M, for many years, but that partnership recently ended. I have had no conversations with anyone at GSD&M about any of these P.R. and viral marketing campaigns from Wal-Mart.

A Dream Come True? Wireless Technology for HD Among Future Plans

When I was trying to set up my bedroom and living room televisions when I moved back to Cambridge after a summer in Kentucky, I realized the difficulty of an increasing number of boxes surrounding the TV set.

In the living room, I was lucky enough to have an HD cable box that seconds as a DVR, so all I had to add was a DVD player to make that room complete, and the power strip and all the various cords (S-Video cord for the DVD player and an assortment of cords for the HD player, along with the power cords) fit behind the piece of furniture the TV is set on.

It was another story in the bedroom, where my entertainment center holds the television, cable box, a digital hard drive/DVD recorder, VCR, and another DVD player (I'm paranoid about my hard drive dying on me someday), plus the Playstation II. Point is, I had a pretty difficult time stuffing all the cords behind the entertainment center while still trying to push it against the wall.

And everyone knows what it's like to have a cable cord stretching across the floor that you are afraid you are going to trip over or try to hide with all your might. I have a feeling that there are plenty of readers who have been part of this particular scene when moving into an apartment or house sometime in their life.

That's why I was particularly intrigued by James Hibberd's TelevisionWeek piece about the WirelessHD Consortium, the group of six major electronics companies who are brainstorming with a wireless technology start-up about how to get rid of that "tangled mass of wires that lurk behind most HD displays."

Anytime TV junkies here the word "wireless," they get very excited. If I can someday dump the tub of excess wires I have under my bed in case something goes faulty into a recycle bin of some sort, I will be a happier man.

According to Hibberd, the technology would allow a cable box or DVD player to beam a high-def signal up to 32 feet. This would replace all the necessary HD cord hookups that are currently being used.

The technology would not be ready commercially until 2008 however.

According to Eric Bangeman, the plan is for new high-definition equipment to be compatible with the technology, while existing sets can work through adapters.

The WirelessHD Consortium Web site is available here.

Passions Now Streaming on NBC Web Site

When more and more women became part of the workforce, many wondered if it would be the demise of soaps. Plenty of cultural critics have written about how fundamental alterations in conceptions of daytime television came along with the changing conceptions of femininity. Of course, the VCR, the DVR, and a variety of other time-shifting devices has been the answer, and I think that the drop in soap opera popularity over the year is due to a variety of factors. While the change in the number of viewers at home may account for some of it, so does a great proliferation of viewing alternatives for cable and satellite users, as well as a variety of what I would consider ultimately faulty logic in how shows are written and marketed, as I wrote about last week.

One answer to the problem of viewers not being home when soaps air has been SoapNet, the cable network which re-airs a variety of soaps that have aired that day again at night, and in programming blocs on the weekend, to provide another form of time shifting for viewers who are not home during the day. Another has been podcasting, which has worked for The Procter & Gamble soaps, as well as All My Children.

Now, the NBC soap Passions has announced that it will begin streaming its episodes online. Each episode will be made available in the afternoon after it has aired on the network on NBC's site, as part of an ongoing effort to expand cross-platform content of NBC shows on NBC's site. The content is available free. Linda Marshall-Smith compares this to the previous online effort to distribute soaps, SoapCity.

Passions is an innovative soap when it comes to cross-platform, as it was also the first daytime drama to become available on iTunes. Because the show is the lowest-rated daytime show but pulls good numbers from teenage girls, its efforts at time shifting and its propensity for using new platform models makes sense, since younger viewers are perceived at being more savvy to Web-based and iPod content.

The show is also innovative in other regards, as I have previously written about here and here and here.

These types of new distribution models may help address questions that popped up last year (and do every year it seems) about the future and survival of the soap opera genre, as I wrote about last November.

November 9, 2006

Xbox 360 Provides New Opportunities for Cross-Platform Distribution

Here's the latest in plans for cross-platform distribution:

Two of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, MTV Networks and Turner Broadcasting, have finalized deals with Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game console to distribute various programs through the gaming platform.

For Turner, the plan is for programs from the popular Adult Swim programming bloc of The Cartoon Network, as well as content from Nascar's Web site (also run by Turner) for use for gamers who have the Xbox Live Silver subscription. To access this cross-platform content, users must have broadband Internet connection for their Xbox 360.

Nascar's content will be its online show Race Rewind, while popular shows Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Robot Chicken, and Sealab 2021 are planned to be distributed from Adult Swim.

MTV Networks has plans for content from several of its channels, including MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, and Spike TV.

Also included in the deal is CBS and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (mixed martial arts). In all, more than 1,000 hours of content have already been planned. The content for Microsoft Live Marketplace also includes select feature films from Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers. Content will be available on both standard definition and high-definition.

See the original press release here.

The plan is for the Marketplace to launch on the console's first birthday on Nov. 22.

According to supadupagama, the movies will cost approximately $6 apiece (480 Microsoft points) for high-definition and $4 (320 points) for standard definition, while all television shows will be $3 (240 points).

The High Definition Blog points out that "Xbox 360 will be the first gaming console to bring standard and HD TV shows and movies to the customer via digital distribution over the Internet," and also notes that Microsoft has beaten Apple in offering HD content via download.

Spencer Yip with Siliconera writes, "Forget blu-ray this and HD-DVD that, Microsoft is sidestepping the format war and turning the box 360 into a digital download station."

For cross-platform distribution, the move is a major one. While I know plenty of people have already taken Xbox and other consoles and reworked them to become distributors of other content, Microsoft has now officially transformed the Xbox into a platform for movies and film. My guess is that, while Turner Broadcasting and MTV Networks, along with CBS, UFC, and the movie studios, are the early users, that as long as this is successful, we will see a race for additional content from these partners as well as myriad others. Think about how quickly Apple added on content once the snowball started rolling down the hill.

This will probably inspire quite a bit of writing about cross-platform over the next few months.

The Papdits and InTurn on CBS innertube: Thank You Very Much

Along with news this week that CBS has formed CBS Interactive under the helm of Quincy Smith, news has also broken that the network will have new content available on its innertube player and will be launching innertube content onto CBS. One is a discarded pilot, while the other is a reality show based on the soap opera industry.

The first is plans for innertube to feature a pilot that the network did not end up putting into the schedule, a show called The Papdits. The show was created by Anthony Hines, who wrote the popular feature film Borat. The show, which was a pilot for this past season, strikes a similar cord with the popular film. In The Papdits, a family from Kashmir interacts with Americans, very similar to Borat's film, which creates comic misunderstandings and cultural differences. No surprise that CBS decided to pull this one out of the archives now that Borat looks to be a major commercial success at the box office.

Continue reading "The Papdits and InTurn on CBS innertube: Thank You Very Much" »

A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding Light Crossover

Some of you may have been following the recent Procter & Gamble Productions/Marvel Comics crossover. Now Jonah Weiland, who had some firsthand experience behind the scenes of this partnership, has written about the experience. Jonah's account provides an interesting perspective about how these intriguing narrative crossovers, not only across two entertainment properties but across genres as well, comes about and is mediated.

This crossover first caught my eye back in September, when I saw mention of plans for Marvel characters to make their way to Springfield, the town in which Guiding Light is set in.

Continue reading "A Firsthand Account and Reader Reaction to Marvel Comics/Guiding Light Crossover" »

November 8, 2006

Further Interesting Commentary on Complex Television

In light of my recent coverage of Jeremy Dauber's column on the cultural shifts taking place due to a growing number of people watching TV on DVD and my reaction to a recent NY Times piece about complex television and the failure of several complex shows this season came a couple of interesting recent commentaries regarding various aspects of complex TV.

First, over on his blog JustTV, C3 Affiliated Faculty Member Jason Mittell (who sometimes blogs here) writes about his opinion of The Nine and its treatment of complexity. The show, which is on the bubble as far as lasting the season, at last I heard, because of sagging ratings, suffers from what Mittell considers "unmotivated complexity." Mittell writes, "My problem with The Nine is that there is no clear motivation either for withholding the events in the bank from the audience, or the way in which they are revealed. In fact, the viewers seem to be the only ones who don't know what has happened inside the bank -- whereas in other programs using temporal complexity, a character's discovery process or the act of retelling to another character motivates narrative revelations."

Here, Mittell's warning is important. I have previously written defending The Nine to some degree, specifically in my claim that the idea of the aftermath of a bank robbery with a hostage situation is enough for a full season story arc, although I don't think it would be wise to make this show stretch beyond a season. However, I also agree with Jason here, that part of the problems currently being experienced by the networks with sagging ratings of the show is not only, perhaps, an oversaturation of complex television (which I have serious doubts about) or about fear of cancel-happy networks but also that some shows are simply using complex narrative devices without thinking them through.

It reminds me of what one of my professors here at MIT, Prof. David Thorburn, has emphasized several times. He says that the problem with some recent scholarship and popular writing about current television is that it considers complexity only in terms of narrative structure, and he contends that such narrative twists and turns is only complexity in a very shallow sense. That may be the case with the viewer apathy toward some of these shows, in that there is no sense of real commitment but rather only complex storytelling for the sake of being purposefully difficult, with no real or organic reason to withhold information other than to toy with the audience and to be able to claim complexity.

And, as a side note, see Edward Wyatt's piece in today's New York Times about the upcoming 13-week hiatus for Lost. Wyatt questions whether this long break will "have enormous consequneces not only for ABC, but also for the entire genre of serialized television drama, testing whether audeinces are loyal enough to expensive, complex shows to weather long midseawson interruptions."

In the meantime, "Lost Nuggets" will be airing as 30-second promotional clips with scenes from upcoming episodes during the new show Day Break, with ABC folks hoping Lost viewers will have an added incentive with these clips to invest in a new show.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for sending the Times article along to me.

Comcast Ziddio Platform Launches as Beta Version

Major cable and Internet provider Comcast made news on Monday with its announcement of releasing a live beta version of its user-generated Internet video platform.

The product is called Ziddio, and it currently allows users to upload videos related to the content of official participants, which are now the Style Network on Comcast and pay-television channel Cinemax. This allows use of some copyrighted material specifically in response to videos related to shows on these two networks.

Not surprisingly, initial prompts include requests for videos related to Star Wars, which Cinemax is currently re-airing. Since there is a wealth of user-generated content and what seems inexhaustable interest in creating user-generated content for the Star Wars films, this seems to be a safe place to start. There's no doubt that certain programs inspire the creation of user-generated content more than others.

The plan is to bridge this user-generated content cross-platform into video-on-demand for Comcast users as well, picking the best content for VOD. According to intiial press releases, the winner will get a zero-gravity flight at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Clean House show on the Style network requests videos of the messiest homes viewers can find, with the winning videos being picked to be houses to be cleaned up on the program.

The full site will be launched next month after running in its beta version for several weeks.

There are preliminary videos on the site right now for comedy, animation, games, movies, horror/sci-fi, action/drama, music, and reality.

The site is well worth checking out. Also, cross-reference Ivan Askwith's recent post here about FX Fancasting and Henry Jenkins' and Geoffrey Long's recent thoughts on YouTube here as well.

Also, the AP story points out that this comes along with the company's Halloween release of FearNet.

Pete Cashmore points out that the test site has launched alongside news of a Verizon partnership with YouTube, concluding about Comcast's site that "the early version is good, but it's not as compelling as existing video-sharing sites. It's a good idea, though."

MarketingVOX points out that the company is hoping to distinguish itself from YouTube both by offering prizes for the best videos and creating a more slick and cinematic visual feel for the site.

New President of CBS Interactive Division Making the News

Does the hiring of a new president of what is now being called CBS interactive mean an even more aggressive charge into digital media for the major network?

News came out Monday that Quincy Smith has been named to lead a newly named interactive division, coming to the company from investment bank Allen & Co. James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek reports that Allen was a major dealmaker there, including transactions for Google, AOL, and Yahoo, and speculates "the hiring of Mr. Smith could signal more aggressive growth for the new media division."

Smith's job will be to oversee CBS innertube, the online platform for redistribution of CBS shows and original Internet-only programming, as well as the various CBS Web sites. His job will also be to oversee the general trajectory of CBS' digital efforts and to forge partnerships for the network in expanding this area.

CBS, of course, is confident that a dealbreaker for major companies is the way to go. Others are more critical. Take these comments from Mathew Ingram, for instance, who writes, "So CBS wants to find and buy the next YouTube before it gegts big. Gee, I wonder why no one else has thought of that? Way to go. And so they've hired a guy who at age 35 is described as a 'veteran' of the industry, and of the takeover game. Why--because he helped advise Viacom to buy Neopets? Wow."

While Ingram questions whether there is a longterm strategy at CBS Interactive, the recent interview with Ingram at paidContent emphasizes that Smith is trying to get his bearings in this new role and proceed strategically. Staci D. Kramer writes that he is "a man full of ideas and details but wary of sounding too glib or all-knowing."

The interview is worth looking at for the man who will help lead the immediate future of one of the major television forces in entering more aggressively in digital distribution and original online content.

November 7, 2006

In Yoyogi Park

I posted this to my blog this morning but thought it was interesting regarding work here at C3 on fan communities and the global spread of popular culture.

The other week, I was asked to speak about globalization and new media to a delegation of Japanese businessmen who were visiting MIT. In the process of preparing for this talk, I dug back through a few of the things I wrote after a visit I took to Tokyo a few years ago. I thought it might be worth dusting them off and sharing with my readers here. What follows is an excerpt from an essay called "Media Literacy -- Who Needs It?" which builds on my experience of visiting Yoyogi Park on a Sunday afternoon.

I found Yoyogi to be a key location for understanding not simply the varied subcultures of Japan (they all seem to have a niche somewhere in the park's eleborate cultural ecostructure) but also the global exchange of cultural materials. I write here about two things I saw in the park -- the cosplay which takes place around anime and the rockabilly inflected youth culture called Yanquees -- but I could have taken you deeper into the park, where, for example, one could see teens rehearsing elaborately choreographed imitations of boy band music videos, even as a few feet away others are pounding on traditional Japanese drums.

Continue reading "In Yoyogi Park" »

November 6, 2006

Wikipediology coming up?

Andy Updegrove recently wrote about the "death of archeology" by the hand of Wikipedia. Essentially, Updegrove argues that Wikipedia eliminates the task of 'digging up' clues about prior societies and their self-conceptions by immediately providing this kind of material in abundance, conviently in an easily searchable form.

Instead, he argues for the development of anthropological tools to make sense of this wealth of information which can yield useful results if properly read. Part of this analytical toolset is provided by wikipedia itself, e.g. by offering articles on the same topic in its different language versions, allowing for inferences about the culturally specific understanding of a topic, say, a particular culturally sensitive videogame like America's Army.

Comparing the article categories, tags, choice of information etc. of the US vs. German Wikipedia version could, regardless of categories/structures predefined by the Wikipedia architecture, provide some insights into the linguistically and, probably, culturally specific understanding of the topic (or at least the respective modes of knowledge production in that culture...); Michel Foucault would be delighted. For instance, the concept of propaganda exhibited in the respective English and German Wikipedia articles is profoundly different. While the German article reports on the US Army allegedly "admitting" propagandistic intentions connected to the development of AA, the English article has a less 'essentialist' understanding of propaganda, considering the term rather as a historically defined, rhetorical construct used by critics of the game.

Updegrove furthermore suggests that a company like Google should partner with Wikipedia to archive the entire dataset at regular intervals, in this case less than anually. Apart from the fact that this would probably not appear very lucrative and hard to implement for a technology partner in itself, I wonder whether it would be an adequate strategy given the aforementioned particular modes of storing and 'harvesting' anthropologically relevant data.

Such a centralized, top-down approach might defy the whole concept of 'digital anthropology' as Updegrove himself outlines it, as opposed to, say, decentralized policies such as adding more comprehensive timestamping options in Wikipedia architecture which, not right from the start but over time, will lead to most entries being collectively 'updated' to use the new timestamping format. After all, not the entirety of information available is useful for retracing public conceptions of particular topics or artifacts but plausible criteria for selecting and linking a handful of information snippets.

P.S.: Wikipedia itself hosts a list of studies on the topic, including patterns of using it for more advanced purposes.

November 5, 2006

The Phenomenon of Fans of Fans

This piece originally appeared in our C3 Weekly Update back in July, a forum for internal communication here within our academic and corporate partners. I wanted to share it with everyone else at this point.

An increasing amount of time, scholarship, and focus has been directed toward fan communities, which manifest themselves most often and in the most easily traceable ways online, through chat rooms, message boards, and e-mail lists.

However, a related phenomenon that has a significant impact on the way many fans experience media properties are through the phenomenon of fans of fans. These fans--although they have no official relationship with the media properties shows are focused on--often make important contributions to the ways other fans enjoy a property, or even whether those fans stick around.

This principle is actually something that crops up in many long-standing types of programs. One of these is sports. I first thought about the phenomenon when conducting an ethnography of pro wrestling fans. When I went to some of the events, I found fans were as often entertained by their fellow fans as with the performers in the ring. Everyone who watches wrestling know that the fan are often as significant or more significant a factor in the success of a show than the writers and wrestlers.

But fans even acknowledge or begin to follow certain members of the crowd. Often, wrestling fans will come to the show dressed as a certain villain and supporting them, to the delight/anger of the rest of the crowd. These type of fan-performers enhance everyone's enjoyment of the show, even as they often take attention away from the focus the writers and performers intend. For instance, see the research of Chad Dell and others on the fans who became famous at local arenas during wrestling's regional days, as audiences would as often watch those fans' reactions to matches as they would what was happening in the ring. Perhaps the most famous of these was Hatpin Mary, who would actually bring a hatpin to the ring and attempt to stick the villain wrestlers who came her way.

Continue reading "The Phenomenon of Fans of Fans" »

November 4, 2006

After All the Debate, Commercial Ratings Once Again Delayed

Who knows when Nielsen will release its commercial ratings, with its latest announcement of another indefinite delay.

A couple of weeks ago, Nielsen anounced that it was delaying the release of its commercial ratings until Dec. 11, amidst controversy around a variety of issues, including how commercial minutes in a program would be counted and the status of VCR and DVR users.

Nielsen told its clients yesterday that it would be delaying the commercial ratings indefinitely, with no new release date currently planned. One of the continued problems, in addition to squabbling over how to count minutes that include both commercials and program time and DVR/VCR viewers, has been how to handle syndicated programming and some issues with commercial ratings for cable.

According to the news that broke yesterday, Nielsen had sent out a fresh analysis of DVR playback to clients at the beginning of the week, causing a fresh round of debate. A meeting will be held later in November for clients to further debate the issue.

Chris Thilk with AdJab points out in his sarcastic 7-step list that the chief problem is that "Nielsen says that it can measure who's watching what commercials," but "it can't." The debate remains about the three streams of viewer information Nielsen gets: those who watch shows live, those who watch them within one day of their airing, and those which watch them within seven days. Claire Atkinson with Advertising Age points out that "the data seems to suggest that most people, around 90%, have watched the ads within three days of recording a show while only 1% are watching at the seven day point. That is leading agencies to call for a fourth stream of data, maybe 'live plus three days.' Nielsen has agreed in the short term to add a fourth stream, but will only provide three when the data moves out of its test phase."

Continue reading "After All the Debate, Commercial Ratings Once Again Delayed" »

Number of DVR Viewers Up, Amidst Continued Industry Debate

Lost Remote reported yesterday that the number of people who are watching shows through time-delay on DVRs continues to rise steadily, citing the Oct. 11 Lost episode in which 16 percent of the viewers in the target 18-49 demographic watched the show on delay within seven days after it aired. Considering that I now watch almost every one of my shows on DVR delay and that I personally know of other friends who have taken up this process in the past couple of weeks, I anecdotally agree that the use of DVRs for this purpose is steadily increasing. In fact, I watch almost nothing live these days.

Lost Remote says, "Naturally, broadcasters want to be compensated for time-shifted viewing, but media buyers are refusing to pay. After all, most people watching recorded shows are skipping commercials--some estimates have it as high as 75 percent." They predict that buyers will end up paying but at a much smaller rate.

Their blurb came from David Goetzl's piece on Media Daily news, covering ABC's high number of DVR users for its most popular shows.

Continue reading "Number of DVR Viewers Up, Amidst Continued Industry Debate" »

Tape It Off the Internet: The Future of Navigating Internet TV Options?

One interesting initiative to look at is the Web site Tape It Off the Internet, whose mention statement says, "We currently index 1,600+ TV shows -90,000+ episodes - and we are matching everything up with content sources like iTunes, AOL and Amazon Unbox - with more to come." The beta version of the site launched Thursday.

This type of "finder" feature is important with so many different initiatives currently offering television features online and with so many exclusive deals currently in place. And it's Web 2.0 social networking features make it a viable model. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing that an online version of a show may be out there but not particularly easy to find considering all the content providers on the Internet. We've written many times about the wealth of these companies competing in offering television shows online since iTunes first began the drive, and Henry Jenkins wrote back in September about television "going multiplatform."

Having a site that helps you sift through the growing number of choices and complex ways of finding content that may be out there is a valuable resource, and Tioti is starting to gain steam by providing that resource. They list a five-step package for users: Discover. Share. Download. Chat. Tag. Even though it just launched in beta form, the initiative is generating some interest.

Mike Butcher with TechCrunch has an interesting insight on the new initiative and its immense popularity in beta form, writing, "It seems TIOTI's aim to be the first TV-based "social media aggregator" may prove more popular than that convoluted name suggests. Already it seems to be tapping into a pent-up desire among users to share and discover TV shows, employing several Web 2.0 techniques like tagging and user ratings."

He provides a detailed history of the project and an analysis of what it offers that is well worth a read. Through his interviews with one of the co-founders, Paul Cleghorn, Butcher also provides further insight into the project. "He thinks TIOTI is a step up from simple time-shifting TV via a recorder, and also goes beyond video-on-demand. Since by aggregating feeds from a variety of TV guides and download sources it effectively does the 'remote flipping' for the user: 'Like TiVo for the internet if you like," he says.

More information about the project is available here. The site says, "At TIOTI we keep tabs on download sources across the interweb and glue that together with TV guide and episode data. Filter all that through a list of our favourites and we can keep you notified when a new episode becomes available somewhere."

Be sure to check this out, as it may become a major player in talking about TV distribution on the Internet in the coming months.

November 3, 2006


The new C3 site is up, shiny and revised. Enjoy new content and news about our forthcoming projects.

Legacy Characters and Rich History: How Soap Operas Must Capitalize on Their History (and Pay Attention to the Lessons of the WWE)

Luke and Laura have me thinking about soap operas and legacy characters and the importance of recognizing histories on shows that are fortunate enough to have a wealth of former content to draw from.

A lot of long-standing television forms have not completely grasped the idea that one of the most important selling tools they have is exactly what sets them apart from the more ephemeral primetime fare: longevity.

In this category, I'm talking about any type of program with deep archives but particularly thinking of daytime serial drama, the soap operas; professional wrestling; some long-standing news shows or features on other networks, anything that has been on the air for years, without an end in sight. These programs are special, with formats that have built within viewers the sense that, even if the program hits a down time, that its longevity and format will cause it to be around for years to come.

That's why I've made the argument with both pro wrestling programming and soap operas over the years that you can't really apply the term "jump the shark" to these shows because they have jumped the shark and back so many times over the past few decades. As the World Turns and Guiding Light have both been on the air every weekday and all year long for more than 50 years now, making PGP a brand renowned for longevity. And World Wrestling Entertainment's roots stretch back to 1963 as a regional broadcast, giving WWE a longstanding viewership history that few other primetime shows can match, other than news programs.

Yet, traditionally anyway, these shows only give a cursory glance to their history, instead relying on bragging about their history only in ambiguous terms from time-to-time.

Continue reading "Legacy Characters and Rich History: How Soap Operas Must Capitalize on Their History (and Pay Attention to the Lessons of the WWE)" »

After the Hype...A NY TImes Perspective on Google/YouTube

Today's New York Times edition of DealBook, edited by Andrew Ross Sorkin, features a look back at Google's purchase of YouTube after a little time has passed.

Considering our recent writing about the Comedy Central/YouTube controversy and the purging of Japanese content from the site, as well as Henry Jenkins' and Geoffrey Long's comments in Taking the You Out of YouTube?, I thought this business perspective was helpful in thinking about where Google's purchase stands. Was Microsoft's Steve Ballmer's ambivalence justified?

The article starts, "The giddiness surrounding Google's deal to buy YouTube has begun to die down, and some harsh realities seem to be setting in. One of the thorniest aspects of the acquisition -- copyright issues related to the millions of clips on YouTube's popular video-sharing service -- seems to be causing some angst at YouTube's soon-to-be-owner," quoting today's Financial Times as saying that Google is in "a frantic round of negotiations" with major companies to come to terms with these copyright issues.

Check out this article to see what some consider "the paper of record" is saying about the YouTube controversy.

The Fans Aren't Laughing: YouTube and Comedy Central

Censorship is still in the air, or clearing up copyright infringement, depending on which side of the coin they are on. The popularity of YouTube and other ways of sharing video and music has proven that fans believe it is their right to share clips (and some even whole episodes or albums). And we've seen varied reactions.

There are musicians like Weird Al, who believe their success stems in part from their popularity on YouTube, or else Keith Olbermann, whose popularity has grown due to the surge in popularity of his work on YouTube as well.

On the other side of the coin, there are journalists like Robert Tur, American companies,and even collective entertainment entities in whole countries like Japan ready to pull content down or file a lawsuit.

There is a different feeling of sympathy, it seems, from sharing one song or clips from a show, versus sharing a full album or full films or shows using these devices. That has been part of the distinction that has led to some of the discussion around Comedy Central clips being pulled from YouTube. This week on The Colbert Report, Stephen mentioned the controversy, attempting to put heat on YouTube/Google itself for making money on user-generated content without giving any of the money made to the creators.

Continue reading "The Fans Aren't Laughing: YouTube and Comedy Central" »

November 2, 2006

Taking the You Out of YouTube?

I recently posted this on my blog and thought it would be of interest here at C3 as well. It includes a piece by C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long that he recently included in the C3 internal newsletter about the Google purchase of YouTube.

YouTube, along with Second Life, Flickr, Wikipedia, and MySpace, has emerged as one of the key reference points in contemporary digital culture -- emblematic of the move towards what people are calling web 2.0. As Newsweek aptly put it last year, web 2.0 is "putting the we into the web."

Elsewhere, I have argued that web 2.0 is fan culture writ large, fan culture without the stigma. Nobody is telling these guys to move out of their parent's basement -- though some of them have started multimillion dollar companies out of their parent's basements. What separates these companies from the dotcoms which fueled web 1.0 is the emphasis upon participation, social networking, collective intelligence, call it what you want. What distinguishes them is that their content arises bottom up from the community of users.

One by one, these insurgent companies are being absorbed into the surviving digital giants (as has happened through Yahoo's purchase of Flickr or more recently, Google's purchase of YouTube) or by old media companies (as in Rupert Murdock's takeover of MySpace). With each new buyout, there is renewed speculation about what happens to the "we" --what becomes of the communities that made these activities and services so attractive in the first place.

Today, I wanted to share two really interesting responses to the buyout of YouTube and what they might mean for the future of participatory culture.

Continue reading "Taking the You Out of YouTube?" »

November 1, 2006

Fan Fiction: Historical Misconceptions and Paratextual Arguments

This week, the debate of fan fiction is popping up everywhere for me.

First off, Margaret Weigel with the New Media Literacies program here at CMS at MIT sent along a UK Observer piece by Edward Helmore on fan fiction.

Helmore points out the increased visibility of fan fiction by the Internet, particularly in helping the writers gain even more widespread followings and the ability of the net to sustain more developed online relationships and structures for ordering, maintaining, and evaluating the quality of fan fiction. He points to various success stories among fan fiction writers.

However, the article is clearly geared for those who know nothing about fan fiction and its history, and it seems that a lot of the generalities and misconceptions in the piece is glaring and even insulting for people who participate in these universes. For instance, Helmore writes: "Fan fiction may not have originality on its side, but it comes with fewer pretensions and it often has a lot of sex, especially within the subgenre 'slash', in which, for instance, Captain Kirk and Dr Spock find themselves in an intimate, space-based relationship."

Aside from pointing to the tried and true example of Kirk/Spock slash fiction, his argument that fiction based on already established characters is less original is somewhat insulting in several regards, both for writers who take on new iterations of established characters (think comic book writers, soap opera writers, etc.) and for quality user-generated content. There's no doubt that much fan fiction work is derivative, much of it is not interesting...but this is just as true of the commercial publishing industry as well.

Also, Henry Jenkins wrote several of us at MIT in relation to the article to point out that his claims about the stereotypical fan fiction writer traditionally being an adult male living with his mother is not historically accurate. Jenkins pointed out that this is confusing the stereotype of the fan fiction writer (historically female) with the stereotype of the fan in pop culture in general. He finds a reverse trend in fan fiction, in which more and more men are now becoming involved in what was traditionally a female genre.

Back in January, I wrote about The Paratext of Fan Fiction and a recent debate by a fan fiction writer, a fascinating discussion about the ways in which fan fiction is labeled and archived. For those who have not participated in the rather organized world of fan fiction that often exists in these online communities, the debate shows how much thought and detail are put into the organizations of the social structure that produces and ranks the quality of fan fiction.

Continue reading "Fan Fiction: Historical Misconceptions and Paratextual Arguments" »

HotSoup/MSNBC: A Powerful Combination or Hype and Bluster?

MSNBC is hoping to garner stronger interest in discussion surrounding political issues, and subsequently stronger ratings for its political coverage, through its new partnership with the MSNBC site as well.

In addition, the two co-founders of HotSoup will appear weekly on Hardball with Chris Matthews and other MSNBC shows. The co-founders are Matthe Dowd who worked with the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign and former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart.

The popularity of HotSoup among politicians and celebrities in a short amount of time shows that it may have been the right product at the right time for politicians and the politically inclined in the public sphere to have a forum in which to communicate directly with concerned citizens dedicated particularly to issues of public policy. But is it more than just a marketing tool, or do these people actually engage with the site or only someone on their staff who is trying to give the appearance of their interest?

These are the types of questions raised in a savvy piece from William Beutler on Oct. 24, before HotSoup's deal was launched. He asks, "What to make of HotSoup, the no-partisan, non-ideological, mostly non-everything political discussion/debate site?" From his perspective, the site isn't amounting to much so far.

But what will the partnership with MSNBC mean for the site, if anything?

I guess we'll find out...

Our Country, Our Truck? Or Our Desperation?

I've written before about how skeptical I am at academics and other critics who bash advertisers in a completely uncritical manner. I think it's unfortunate to lump advertisements, meant to sell goods, all into one large dishonest category. That being said, when I was interviewing a local politician back in Kentucky for the upcoming general election last week, he said of the local fiscal court that one bad apple can ruin a whole bucket, and I think the same can happen with the reputations of advertisers.

Advertising can be heavy-handed, but General Motors' newest ad campaign--"This is our country. This is our truck"--demonstrates how this can be taken to disgusting extremes. The ad invokes some of the most harrowing experiences in the history of our country, both natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and periods of social strife over issues such as civil rights, and ties them to the ups and downs of General Motors. Oh, and they call on Sept. 11, of course. At least that's the way The New York Times' David Carr and a lot of his sources from the advertising industry see it.

Carr begins his piece by writing, "The message seems to be that, even though America has been in the ditch several times during its history, it has always managed to pull itself out. And what is true for the country must be true for General Motors. It could be pointed out that Detroit and General Motors are in a ditch mostly because they drove there, ignoring global competition and consumer needs in pursuit of quarterly profits. But the back story of the disaster is obscured by the universal need to rebound."

Continue reading "Our Country, Our Truck? Or Our Desperation?" »

Is Cancellation of Complex Shows Inevitable: Drop-Happy Networks Run Off Would-Be Fans

Here's an important concept to explain the failure of a lot of complex shows this fall: the cancel-happy networks are making a lot of people afraid to develop a deep investment with new shows that they are afraid aren't going to make it.

I don't know if Bill Carter is aware of it, but the most interesting insight of his piece in Sunday's edition of The New York Times was buried somewhere in the middle.

His essay was about how audiences were not taking to a lot of very developed and highly serialized shows that were being launched this fall, which he sees as proof that people already have enough deep and developed shows. In the first paragraph, for instance, he writes, "This season's lesson was clear within the first weeks of the fall: you can ask people to commit only so many hours to intense, dark, intricately constructed serialized dramas, to sign huge chunks of their lives away to follow every minuscule plot development and character tic both on the air and on Internet sites crowded with similarly addicted fanatics."

I was a little dubious to this claim that America just doesn't have more times for more well-developed television shows than are already on the air, although I think there is an argument that an audience can only follow so many of these series at a time. And one of the problems may be that the majority of these series are all trying to apply the serialized format and intricate plots into action-based scenarios, basically using this television format only chiefly to attract interest from action/adventure addicts.

But I thought Carter hit on an interesting point halfway through, when he writes that "the prospect of devoting time and passion to a show only to see it cut off, like a movie snapping in half in midprojection, has made a lot of viewers feel commitment-phobic this season." The article's continued claimed that only a few serialized shows can be on television at any one time, a perspective I'm definitely not convinced of, is balanced against this much more interesting argument, that viewers do not want to invest because they are afraid to...

Continue reading "Is Cancellation of Complex Shows Inevitable: Drop-Happy Networks Run Off Would-Be Fans" »

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