June 27, 2007

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part IV of IV

This is the final entry in a four-part interview with C3 alumnus and recent graduate of MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies Geoffrey Long.

Sam: Since you have recently completed your Master's thesis research, do you mind sharing some general information about the project and some of the observations or arguments you make in your writing?

Geoff: The primary takeaway from my Master's thesis on transmedia storytelling is for would-be transmedia storytellers: it's not what you say that's critical in transmedia narratives, it's what you don't say.

Negative capability is the art of making references to external events, characters or locations as a story unfolds, which can then be returned to later for future transmedia expansion. Until then, these empty spaces provide fans with areas to fill in themselves.

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Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part III of IV

This is the third in a four-part series featuring an interview with recent MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies graduate and C3 alumnus Geoffrey Long.

Sam: What do you think is on the horizon in terms of media development and continuing changes in the way media industries tell their stories and also in the relationship between producers and consumers?

Geoff: I think that we're on the verge of some truly exciting stuff, creatively speaking.

I think that the genuinely smart big entertainment companies are finally adopting the 'nimbler, faster' model magazines like Fast Company and WIRED have been preaching for years, and are learning how to provide specialty entertainment to niche audiences.

The very nature of corporate America makes big companies almost insatiable, demanding higher ratings and greater profit margins and bigger and bigger ROI, but that's not what America - or the world, for that matter - is anymore, so these behemoths are starving themselves out.

The days of I Love Lucy dominating the vast majority of the American psyche are just plain over. Big companies need to learn that making reasonable profits on an intelligently-increasing number of niche properties is not just a recipe for survival, but is also a model for thriving in our new media landscape.

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Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part II of IV

This is the second part of a four-part series featuring an interview with recent graduate of the Program in Comprative Media Studies and C3 alumnus Geoffrey Long.

Sam: What are some of the areas of research that you have looked into and that have interested you in the past couple of years?

Geoff: My core interest for the last decade or so has been digital storytelling. My key influences there were the late Dana Atchley, who founded the Digital Storytelling Festival, and Derek Powazek, who founded the online storytelling site {fray}.

While in C3 I studied storytelling using mobile devices and ubiquitous computing - what Adam Greenfield calls 'Everyware' - but most of my attention was focused on transmedia storytelling, which Henry outlines in Convergence Culture.

I'm fascinated by how stories evolve across multiple media forms, but especially by ways that new technology can empower storytellers to use multiple media in the crafting of a single, unified narrative.

Continue reading "Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part II of IV" »

Interview with C3 Alum Geoffrey Long, Part I of IV

C3 alumnus Geoffrey Long has recently graduated from the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT. This is the first of a four-part series of interviews with Geoff regarding his background, his time working in the Convergence Culture Consortium, and where he is headed next.

Sam: What was your background before coming the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and the Convergence Culture Consortium?

Geoff: My interests have always been a weird hybrid of storytelling, technology and design. I was an only kid, and I grew up in a rural Ohio farmhouse built before the Civil War.

We didn't have cable at our house, so when I was at home I read and played in the woods a lot, but I crammed in crazy amounts of TV at my grandparents' house after school. My favorite shows were the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons, which would often run multi-part episodes, but since my Mom only worked a couple days a week, I'd usually miss half the episodes and I'd have to fill in the gaps in the story myself.

Looking back, I suspect that's when I first became interested in negative capability, which would eventually become my primary focus for my Master's thesis.

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June 26, 2007

Benoit Family Tragedy

I wanted to write a quick note in followup to the previous post, considering the news that has come to light regarding the Chris Benoit tragedy, as the WWE performer killed his wife and son and then committed suicide over the course of two days, while telling the company that his family was sick and no-showing his scheduled events, including a live pay-per-view wrestling event he was scheduled to perform on.

I have gotten an Associated Press request for an interview related to these stories, since I had taught the class on pro wrestling here at MIT.

I told the reporter that she could e-mail questions to me instead, and that I would skip over any questions that I had no expertise on (such as questions about steroids or Benoit's actions; I am not a physician/chemist/pharmacist, nor a criminologist). So far, I have not received any questions. But I did want to share my thoughts, so I thought I would do so here instead.

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June 25, 2007

WWE Fans, Transmedia Storytelling, and The Death of Mr. McMahon

One thing that I haven't written about yet but which certainly has gotten my attention, and a lot of correspondence, is WWE's big storyline over the past couple of weeks of the death of real-life owner Vince McMahon's on-air character, Mr. McMahon.

On a Monday Night Raw two weeks ago, McMahon stepped into his limousine, only to have it blow up on him, on a three-hour special that had been intended to be "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night," but which primarily consisted of wrestlers and WWE personalities ripping on Vince. McMahon had been having premonitions of his own demise previous to the explosion, and television for the past two weeks has focused on getting to the bottom of Vince's death.

Reaction has been interesting and split. On the one hand, there has been a great amount of fan interests. Previous posts on this site which mention the name Vince McMahon have gotten a lot of extra hits, for instance.

Further, when I was visiting WWE headquarters last Tuesday for a series of meetings, I was amazed at a fair amount of wreaths and memorabilia that had been left in front of the main entrance to the building, presumably by interested fans. There were tributes and posters to the memory of the Mr. McMahon character, and the company left them all in place and on display. From the accounts I got, everyone went home last Friday with a clear front entrance and then fans started leaving things over the weekend.

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CBS Streaming Most of Its Soap Operas Online

Great news for daytime soaps fans, and a special thanks to Ivan Askwith--another C3 alum--for passing this along. Three of the four CBS soap operas are now going to be made available through CBS' Web site on a daily basis.

The Young and the Restless and Procter & Gamble soaps As the World Turns and Guiding Light will be streamed in their entirety every day online through CBS Interactive, starting mid-week last week.

The full story is available on Soapdom.

In short, the episodes will be made available every evening starting at 6 p.m., basically providing the service that SOAPnet currently provides but through a different distribution platform. For those who aren't DVRing or setting something to record, or if their device malfunctions, this will be another way to timeshift soap opera viewing.

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The Best Business School Is a Soap Company in Ohio?

While I didn't come to my present job working in media research through a business school but rather through our program here in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, I'm quite interested in how the ideas we think about and write about are reacted to and incorporated into business school rhetoric, since today's MBA candidates may very well be tomorrow's business leaders or researchers who could have significant impact on the types of questions we are addressing.

(Let me be clear on this, though--I don't think one HAS to have that MBA to make an impact...at least I sure hope not!)

But, in that regard, C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken's recent blog entry about what the best business school is was quite intriguing.

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BBC'S Sam Smith and the Notion of "Fragvergence"

I don't know if it will become a bona fide buzzword, but C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken sent me an e-mail recently recommending the site Fragvergence, a Blogger site started by Sam Smith (head of future media research for the BBC) that just presents a presentation he made at the Market Research Society and a note that the MRS had nominated his paper in their best New Thinking category.

Smith's presentation focuses on his use of the word fragvergence to emphasize that what is meant by the term convergence does not actually mean the convergence of services into one "black box" (see Henry Jenkins' writing about "The Black Box Fallacy" in Convergence Culture) but rather into many devices, and he provides a diagram depicting how messy technological convergence has become.

While the majority of our work in C3, and posts on this site, focus on the social and cultural implications of convergence, particularly in relation to the ways in which consumers relate to each other and to producers, we nonetheless do regularly focus on and feature news about technological changes, and Smith's research is well worth a read in that regard.

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June 24, 2007

Links for Sunday, June 25: Bringo, OPA Study, Third Screen Media, Gender and Fan Studies

A few interesting final weekend notes that I wanted to pass along to C3 readers.

1.) BRINGO. I got an e-mail hoping I would promote this beta project, and I thought readers might find it interesting. The plan is for a service which will take care of the preliminaries of getting a human being on the line for a variety of companies. In short, you pick the company you need to call and the phone number for that company and then Bringo will call them up and call you back when they have a human being lined up.

A few people seemed to have good luck in using the service, and it's a way around the complaint many have that new technologies have eliminated the human touch. Now we have another new technology eliminating the elimination of the human touch. Nifty.

See more from Jeri Dansky.

Continue reading "Links for Sunday, June 25: Bringo, OPA Study, Third Screen Media, Gender and Fan Studies" »

Prom Queen and LonelyGirl15: Spinoffs and Product Integration

A couple of interesting news notes surrounding Web-only series that I thought I would pass along this weekend. Two of the most talked-about online Webisode series is the grassroots popularity of LonelyGirl15 and the promotion-driven Prom Queen.

The two series have both made interesting new moves in the past week, both worth highlighting.

For Prom Queen, the Michael Eisner-produced show will soon be launching into a spinofff series entitled Prom Queen: Summer Heat, which will start in August and run for three weeks in a series of 15 two-minute episodes. The idea will be to pick up the story following the prom night culmination of the narrative by following the lead characters to Mexico during their summer.

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Name That Product: Doritos X-13D

Another post that came to me via Geoffrey Long, a C3 alum who works for the Program in Comparative Media Studies here at MIT. This is a direct to the blog of Cabel Maxfield Sasser, co-founder of Panic, who writes about a variety of new packaged food products that have come out recently.

There are a lot of interesting branding issues contained in his post, and both some particularly tasty and quite scary products along the way, but what Geoff recommended I pass along to C3 readers in particular was the third product featured in his post, a brand called (for now) Doritos X-13D.

Here's the deal: Doritos has what Cabel calls a "beta" flavor of chips. The bag comes with the Doritos name followed by a nondescript "X-13D" and a message to consumers, stating, "This is the X-13D Flavor Experiment. Objective: Taste and name Doritos flavor X-13D."

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Media and Entertainment a $2 Trillion Global Industry by 2011?

C3 alum Geoffrey Long sent along a quite interesting story from The News Market which explained both that spending on "convergent platforms" will surpass 50 percent of total global entertainment and media spending and also that it is estimated that the global media/entertainment business will grow to more than $2 trillion U.S. dollars by 2011 according to current estimates of a 6.4 percent "compound annual growth rate."

The information is based on a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers called the Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2007-2011.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers' press release, "convergent platforms" here means "convergence of the home computer, wireless handset and television."

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June 23, 2007

Children Vs. The First Amendment: Sugary Foods and Marketing to Kids

Children v. The First Amendment. This is the choice being touted by Ed Markey, our Democratic Representative here in Massachusetts. I had been following Ira Teinowitz's writing (look here and here) in TelevisionWeek following public policy surrounding the media industries, especially in light of the recent decision by Kellogg's to quit promoting its cereals to children if they can't follow certain nutritional guidelines.

Markey was quoted as saying, "The First Amendment is precious, but the children of our country are just as precious." And I agree with him. But I also think the First Amendment is there for our children. While I don't want them to be dying of diabetes and heart failure before they are 30 and get a chance to enjoy their First Amendment, I don't feel particularly comfortable with government restrictions on these issues.

I've always been more of an advocate that the best way to fight speech you don't like is with alternate speech explaining why that original speech isn't so great. That's why I hold no ill will toward the grassroots public support that these nutritional groups have. If companies make decisions voluntarily based on consumer pressure to make a change, that's one thing. For the government to step in is quite another.

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Autonomy and Authorship Versus Mainstream Distribution: Homestar Runner

Are Internet and indy creators just TV wannabes? This is a question that I've seen posed in many ways time and time again, from indy rock groups who claimed to want to buck the system who were then offered big money from record labels and faced the big dilemma of staying true to their anti-authoritarian nature or joining the network and reaching a much bigger audience.

Then there was the story of Extreme Championship Wrestling, the renegade wrestling group who became really popular among Internet fans and Internet tape traders through word-of-mouth and a syndicated television deal for their local Philadelphia-produced show, only to then face the question of how to go big without changing the nature of their gritty product.

Of course, that's not to say that there aren't many ways in which autonomous auteurs can't reach wider distribution without having to relinquish creative control over their product, as there are myriad examples of independent content that have parlayed to a wider audience while retaining their hardcore basis, but I can't think of any situation in which the conflict isn't there.

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VeohTV Creating a Centralized Program to Watch Internet Video Through

Last week, we featured an interview from Bruce Leichtman, looking at the past, present, and future of video in the realm of digital video recorders and Internet video, among other trends that Leichtman tracks. (Look here, here, here, and here.)

I was interested in the latest news coming from Veoh this past week, as it has launched the equivalent of an Internet DVR (as Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek called it) or "a sort of distributed Joost" (as TechCrunch's Michael Arrington referred to it as).

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What Do Commercial Ratings Mean, with Nothing to Compare Them To?

As the upfronts continue to be negotiated, value is the question on everyone's mind. Now that commercial ratings are being gathered by Nielsen's, the idea is that it would lead to more accountability.

But how does that shift the metric? Obviously, with the first chance the industry has had to measure commercial ratings, it is hard to determine whether viewers are watching 30-second spots more or less than they did before. In other words, the first year of collecting data on commercial viewing would be better served as a benchmark to compare future years and has limited value as a reliable metric in itself.

Of course, I've expressed my concern about the reliability of the Nielsen ratings system as it stands on several occasions. Its value at this point relies much less on measuring the most viewed and most popular television content but rather on keeping the system status quo in place so that the industry can keep running business-as-usual as it always had.

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June 18, 2007

Links for Monday, June 18: YouTube, Bravo, Advertising, Jericho, Comcast, The Election...Too Much to Cover!

I thought I would round out my catchup flurry of posts with links to a variety of recent interesting stories that I haven't covered here in full but which I think might be of interest to C3 readers:

1.) Comcast has launched its own island in Second Life. A variety of bloggers have posted their own takes on it, including Aleister Kronos. (See more at MindBlizzard.) Of course, there are some heavy critics, such as this review from Kzero which calls the island cliche and is criticized from a branding level for not adding a lot new to the equation to make Comcastic! feel that much differently than other online destinations. See more here.

2.) CNN will be allowing user-generated questions via YouTube as part of the Democratic and Republican forums for 2008 presidential hopefuls. That's not to say the announcement wasn't without its problems. However, some bloggers feel that such a format could introduce much less staged questions to the mix, even if the editorial hand of moderators will be involved. The idea does bring a town hall format to national politics in a way that hasn't really been achieved in the past. Jeff Jarvis has more.

3.) Bravo is transforming into Bravo Media, including digital and radio channels, as well as merchandising and publishing, linked in with a talent agency as well. It will be a combination of six separate divisions, headlined by the television show. Some are questioning whether what was considered a home for quality television by many might be compromised in the name of synergy--and especially what might happen to Television Without Pity.

Continue reading "Links for Monday, June 18: YouTube, Bravo, Advertising, Jericho, Comcast, The Election...Too Much to Cover!" »

Are Trix for Kids? Will Other Cereal Brands Follow the Kellogg's Lead?

As those of you who follow this site regularly know, I have done my own study of the past on branding in relation to children's series, which I posted as a series of blog entries back in March, called The Cereal Serial. Imagine my surprise, then, when Kellogg's announced last week that it would be ending its marketing to children if cereals do not meet certain nutritional guidelines.

In particular, Fruit Loops has gotten a lot of press as a cereal which contains enough sugar per serving that it will no longer be directed toward kids unless and new version of the cereal will be released. This comes in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against Kellogg's and Viacom by a few advocacy groups and a set of Massachusetts parents regarding the marketing of sugary foods to children. In connection, the group backed down on their lawsuit.

C3 alum Geoffrey Long directed me to Andrew Martin's New York Times story about the decision, which came as quite a surprise.

While Kellogg's was under fire from children's advocacy groups for marketing to minors, there are now quite a few in the blogosphere who are angered by Kellogg's bowing to pressure from the consumer rights group. The blog Moonbattery linked to my series in their being upset about the groups who "have apparently used the threat of legal action to coerce Kellogg into doing away with the old favorites."

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Spam May Increase, But Has People's Tolerance as Well?

A while back, Alain Jourdier (friend of the blog) had a post over on his blog, Marketing Bytes Man, about a report on spam from Pew's Internet division.

In short, an increasing number of those polled said that they had an increase in spam for their personal and work accounts, yet fewer people seem as bothered by it in the newest round of their study.

The particular numbers are that 37 percent of users said their spam had increased in personal accounts, while 29 percent said that their work spam had increased. That's up from 28 percent for personal accounts two years ago and 21 percent for work accounts.

The full report is available here.

According to the report, 88 percent of the e-mail users they surveyed have a personal account, while 49 percent have a work account. Only 10 percent of those with a personal account reported getting less spam, while only 8 percent with a work account reported less spam. The majority in both (not surprisingly) didn't notice a major change one way or another in the past year (55 percent for work e-mail and 51 percent for personal e-mail).

The survey was among 2,200 American adults via phone. The reported margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

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Days of Our Lives Now Available on iTunes

As NBC continues to evolve its relationship to the traditional soap opera, Days of Our Lives launched last week on iTunes. This got some play from Variety's Josef Adalian, who has been among the best at the big magazines in covering the latest events of daytime television.

This is not the first daytime television show to go to the iTunes format. That honor goes to Passions, although the show will be back off iTunes soon when it moves this fall from NBC to its new home as exclusive content for DirecTV subscribers.

The Days deal is set apart because, while one can order a singular episode for $1.99, multipasses can be purchased, with $9.99 for 20 episodes, or just 50 cents an episode. The Passions shows weren't available in multipass format, to the best of my recollection.

That now means Days is available in three different formats--on SOAPnet in the evenings and on weekends and on iTunes, in addition to its traditional spot in the NBC Daytime lineup.

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June 15, 2007

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part IV of IV

The following is the final part in a series of four posts featuring a phone interview I recently conducted with Bruce Leichtman, who is the head of New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group. Leichtman is a respected quantitative survey-based researcher who focuses on both consumer analysis and industry data and perspectives.

The first three parts of the interview focused on Leichtman's background, his company's focus, and his work on high-definition television and online video. This final installment looks at his work on video-on-demand and his ongoing research.

For a previous mention of Leichtman's work on VOD, look here.

Sam: In a story on VOD from TelevisionWeek back in April, you were quoted pointing out the differences between 1.9 billion VOD sessions from Comcast and 51.3 million downloads from iTunes, yet iTunes gets much more attention in the press and the blogosphere. What do you think leads to this bias?

Bruce: There's the reality of what is actually happening, and then there is the hype about it, or what is being written. I think a great example of the disconnect that is out there was in the early days of the DVR and high-definition. Then, everything that was written about the DVR was positive, and everything that was written about high-definitioin was negative. Why was that? The writers for these publications had a DVR but could not afford an HD television at the time, so they didn't know people who had an HD television. Since they didn't know anyone who had one, they thought it was a failure, and they got caught up in their own circle without thinking of who else is out there.

A lot of people who write technologies like VOD off as passe aren't looking at what is really out there. Let's look at the reality of it; I always try to come back to what the reality is. The most important thing is not about me or you but about the masses.

One of the nice things about living here in New Hampshire is that life is a little more "normal." In New York or L.A., people are in a cocoon, and they think that everyone else is like them, but they are not. You often hear executives talking about themselves or their families as examples, but they don't realize how out of the mainstream they are. People just don't get that. Whether you are the president of a company or the reporter at a paper, everyone thinks they are mainstream, but no one IS the mainstream. That's why you do research.

Continue reading "An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part IV of IV" »

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part III of IV

The following is the third installment of a four-part series featuring an interview with Bruce Leichtman, head of the Leichtman Research Group, based out of New Hampshire. Leichtman has become a respected quantitative survey-based researcher who focuses on both consumer analysis and industry data and perspectives.

In the first two installments, the interview looked at Leichtman's background, the focus of his company, and his work on high-definition. This third installment looks further at his focus on high-definition television and his work on online video as well. For previous posts mentioning Bruce's work online video, look here.

Sam: What do you think will happen in the next three years in relation to HD in the average American household?

Bruce: We are going to have 9 to 10 million new HD homes each year, but there is still a lot of consumer confusion around these technologies. 37 percent of the digital TV sets purchased last year were not high-definition, and the CEA expects that number to be even higher next year. If you go to Circuit City or Best Buy now, all you can get is a digital set. But a lot of people don't know that their digital sets are not high-definition.

Then, you have people who have HD sets not watching high-definition programming but thinking that they are. It is still an evolving market with a lot of constituencies involved, and the problem is that they are not all always on the same dance card.

Continue reading "An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part III of IV" »

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part II of IV

Earlier today, we posted the first part of a four-part interview with Bruce Leichtman, head of Leichtman Research Group.

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

I also wrote more recently about Bruce's TelevisionWeek quotes about wrestling not having as much potential to be a hit on HD because it has "more of a downscale appeal." I wrote about cultural biases and how they might be informing such a statement, but I wanted to dig deeper into what Bruce meant. In the process, we ended up discussing issues of active fans versus passive fans, and the importance of the differences between the two. In short, wrestling is massively popular and has a large core audience that consumes its product in multiple media formats, but it also has a more casual fan base that may watch the television show and nothing more.

Here is the second excerpt from this interview:

Sam: Back in October, some research that you release indicated that homes which purchase one HD set are more likely to then want more subsequent sets. Were you surprised by these findings?

Bruce: Some people mistakenly thought initially that HDTV sales indicated the number of homes who now have high-definition television sets. That's the advantage to being focused and doing surveys, though. I always marvel at the analysts who don't do research. I'm not saying that all quantitative research is pure, but how can you get at the number without surveying what people say. That's the mistake a lot of firms are making, thinking that one set equals one house.

Continue reading "An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part II of IV" »

An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part I of IV

One of the leading voices of research in relation to new television and video technologies is the Leichtman Research Group, based out of Durham, New Hampshire. At the head of this research is Bruce Leichtman, who serves as principal analyst and president of the company.

Leichtman is regularly quoted as an expert in the field based on his continued research on high-definition television, video-on-demand, digital video recorders, online video, and other important issues in the television industry.

Since these are areas that C3 focuses on as well, I thought it might be of interest to our readers to interview Leichtman about his research, his background, and his thoughts on the current and future of the market. This interview was conducted via phone this morning. It will be presented in four installments. See more about Leichtman Research Group here.

Sam: What is your background in media and technology research?

Bruce: I have been in this industry for a while now, and I have run my own company for the past six years. I was previously the Vice President of Media and Internet Strategies for the Yankee Group., and I worked as director of marketing for Continental Cablevision before that. Prior to all of that, I was a communication major at Syracuse University. At the time, I was looking at going on-air, and I've even done some on-air internships. Basically I've been involved in this field and this field has been in my blood since before I started school in 1980.

Continue reading "An Interview with Bruce Leichtman: Part I of IV" »

June 12, 2007

Yahoo! and Access Hollywood Unite: omg!

As my final note on the blog for today, I wanted to mention an interesting partnership that has been making the news between the infamous gossip syndicated television show Access Hollywood and C3 corporate partner Yahoo!

The plan is to create an online site for gossip connected to a known television property and also to create a rival for TMZ.com, the celebrity gossip site launched by AOL.

The site will be called omg!, trying to rival the "Thirty Mile Zone" abbreviation specific to celebrity culture with the more culturally prevalent "Oh My God."

The move coincides with a reformatting of the Web site of Access Hollywood, which will be relaunching in the fall.

Continue reading "Yahoo! and Access Hollywood Unite: omg!" »

The Launch of Brandothroposophy

Since we don't have a blogroll up and running here on the C3 site (one of our planned renovations over the summer), I wanted to point toward the new Web site and blog of Dr. Robert V. Kozinets, one of our affiliated faculty here at the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Rob's blog, called Brandthroposophy, launched at the beginning of June and already has a variety of interesting topics up.

In his introductory post, Rob writes, "The title of this blog derives from a weird hybridizing of consumer culture, management science, entertainment and mysticism, in keeping with the theme of much of my thinking and writing."

Through the blog, Rob further examines his work on Star Trek as well as a look at the recent discussion about the appeal of the Beatles during the 40th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Continue reading "The Launch of Brandothroposophy" »

Recent C3-Related Pieces from Henry Jenkins' Blog

In the past few days, a few interesting pieces have appeared on C3 Director Henry Jenkins' blog that I thought would be of particular interest to consortium readers.

The first is an interview with C3 Affiliated Faculty Ian Condry through Henry's blog yesterday. Jenkins, the director of the consortium, talks with Ian about his Cool Japan project and both his 2006 book Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization and his new book project Global Anime: The Making of Japan's Transnational Culture. I have written in the past about Condry's work on Japan.

Continue reading "Recent C3-Related Pieces from Henry Jenkins' Blog" »

June 11, 2007

Silver Surfer Coins Generate Reaction from U.S. Mint

For those who haven't followed the story, there is another round of controversy from a marketing initiative, this time from promotion surrounding the upcoming Fantastic Four sequel.

I first heard about this from my colleague Geoffrey Long's blog. As these excerpts from the New York Times story detail, the U.S. Mint has spoken out against a promotional stunt in which 40,000 California quarters have the Silver Surfer stamped on the back of the coins.

In short, while it is not illegal to deface coins without intention to defraud, advertising on coins is considered illegal.

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June 10, 2007

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part V of V

My Focus on the Online Fan Community

Nancy Baym's research in Tune In, Log On provides a solid foundation to build on, but the online world has changed significantly from the discussion groups she studied in the 1990s to the new technologies and forums available in 2007. During the time Baym was studying, online discussion groups were still in relative infancy, whereas there are a much wider variety of soap opera discussion forums today in a variety of formats. A much greater portion of the viewership has signed on in the past decade, even as the overall number of soaps viewers has declined. Further, these contemporary discussion groups exist alongside a variety of soap opera Web sites, blogs, podcasts, videos, and other new media products, both professional and fan-created, that did not exist in the 1990s.

While the majority of Baym's focus is on how soap opera fan communities are built and maintained and how they function on a daily basis, I am particularly interested in the perceived and actual ways that these fan communities interact with each other and the producers of the show with the explicit hope of making an impact.

Continue reading "Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part V of V" »

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part IV of V

Web-Based Communication Among Soaps Fans

While these previous modes of communication lacked the potential for a large community of fans to build around daily discussion of texts, the Internet created a space where the one-on-one interpersonal model of fan discussion that empowered soap opera viewing could take place on a wider scale. With a forum for a concentrated discussion that was public, the Internet empowered fans with new ways to organize themselves to get the attention of "the powers that be," or TPTB, as fans often abbreviate.

As Jennifer Hayward points out through her essay "Consuming Pleasures" which came form her 1997 book by the same title, the Internet provided "a more collaborative forum for soaps discussion" than was possible by individual fan letters or other previous modes of communication (515). Further, the Internet's hybrid of concentrated niche spaces that are nevertheless public gave fans unprecedented ability to create their own texts based on their reception of the show through public commentaries and discussions.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part III of V

The Soap Opera Press

One factor that changed the way soap operas relate to their fans is the creation of the soap opera press. While soaps were often covered in some degree by TV Guide and certain big events might be mentioned in newspapers or magazines, daytime--despite its visibility and popularity--was left behind, even as primetime television programming was granted an increasing amount of attention from serious critics.

While there is much less scholarly attention given to the artistry of soaps as compared to the best primetime has to offer, there is also much less serious consideration of soaps in the popular press. This niche is filled somewhat by magazines focusing particularly on soaps that are now a staple of checkout lines in grocery stores. Whereas previous forms of fan communication involved private exchanges (local discussions, fan mail, and fan clubs) and most publications did not regularly report or include reader letters about soap operas, soap opera magazines provided a new forum in which the reception of soap operas could become texts themselves, through official industry news and behind-the-scenes information, official columnists, and fan letters and polls.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part II of V

Fan Clubs and Fan Letters

The earliest attempts at official connection for soaps, not surprisingly, came through letter writing to the network and fan clubs. I have found little information about the history of fan clubs, and my correspondence with the current president of both the As the World Turns and Guiding Light official fan clubs, Mindi Schulman, emphasized that there had not been an institutional history passed down and that she did not know much about the history of the organization prior to her taking over in 1999.

No matter how long this "official" fan club has been in operation, evidence indicates that various fan clubs have existed around these shows for some time. The current ATWT Fan Club hosts an annual luncheon with various current and former cast members and provides members with pen pal lists and various documents about the current creative team behind the show and the names and birthdays of current actors. The fan club also provides two resources to fans that echo the earliest powers that fans employed: a list of people to contact in the press in reaction to soaps, as well as a list of the executive producer, head writer, and contacts for both Procter & Gamble Productions/TeleVest Daytime Programs and the Senior Vice-President of CBS Daytime, all of whom fans might be interested in sending praise or (more likely) complaints.

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Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part I of V

At this year's Media in Transition 5 conference, I presented a portion of the work I have been doing on soap operas. I wanted to share that work here on the blog in a series of posts this weekend. I've been fortunate enough to get a great deal of feedback from members of the soap opera fan community while working on this research, some of which I haven't been able to incorporate back into the work thus far, but I look forward to any thoughts you all might have as well. Thanks again to Henry Jenkins, William Uricchio, Lynn Liccardo, and Kay Alden for all their help on this project, as well as a variety of others.

Soap Opera and Fan Discussion

Soaps do not exist in a vacuum, and the show's daily texts can only be completely understood in the context of the community of fans surrounding them. Instead of imagining the audience as a passive sea of eyeballs measured through impressions, this approach views soap operas as the central piece and catalyst for a social network of fans. Acting as dynamic social texts, soap operas are created as much by the audience that debates, critiques, and interprets them than through the production team itself. Of course, the power of the reader is not new ground. For instance, see Roland Barthes' 1967 essay "The Death of the Author." While Barthes focuses on the solitary reader's ability to "author" the text, the social connectivity of today's media landscape enables much more widespread meaning-making from the audience.

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June 9, 2007

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part VI of VI


The WWE has continually attempted to balance its domestic product with an attempt to maintain and foster an international appeal, especially at a time in which numbers are down from a late 1990s popularity boom for the company in the U.S. However, taking an international audience in mind raises new questions about the business dangers of relying on old stereotypes, as the WWE's change of heart regarding the Hirohito character demonstrates.

Meanwhile, the Japanese audience has to balance its desire for an authentic American product with a desire to see that product tweaked in some ways for the interests of a Japanese audience. Should matches be conducted in the colorful "American" style or the more traditional serious athletic Japanese style? Fans seem to expect an authentic American product that nevertheless acknowledges the "Japanese-ness" of its audience at points, and WWE has tried to find ways to balance the American stereotypes of U.S. pro wrestling's past with a transnational audience.

To return to the quandary posed at the beginning of this study, that moment when fans asked Shane McMahon to kick the Japanese interpreter from the ring, one inclination might be to say that it proves the cultural imperialism of the WWE, internalizing a desire for another culture's language. However, as James L. Watson points out in Golden Arches East, the outward appearance of globalization must be distinguished from the meaning that people attribute to that product.

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World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part V of VI

WWE's Television Product and Japanese Stereotypes

As Brendan Maguire and John F. Wozniak point out in their 1987 essay "Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes in Pro Wrestling," pro wrestling has long played heavily on racial and ethnic stereotypes. From the German and Japanese villains of the Post-World War II era to the Russians of the 60s and 70s, wrestling has a long background of playing up current events with villainous foreign heels. With its roots in Rikidozan battling the evil gaijin, there are similar uses of racial stereotypes in traditional Japanese wrestling storylines as well.

The WWE has continued that tradition, whether it be the Iron Sheik when American/Iranian hostilities were at a peak in the 1980s or La Resistance, a French team who drew the ire of American fans post-9/11. Yet, when the company is attempting to draw a massive international audience, some of these business practices have to be rethought.

In 2004, WWE made plans to bring in Japanese wrestler Kenzo Suzuki, running a promo on its RAW broadcast for his new character, named Hirohito. The character was introduced amid old war footage, and the obvious plan was to try and create an evil Japanese villain of the post-World War II type (The Wrestling Observer, April 26, 2004, p. 14).

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World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part IV of VI

WWE in Japan: 2004

Based on its popularity, the company decided to create a book release solely for the Japanese market, a memoir of wrestler Yoshihiro Tajiri, and also translated the books of two of its prominent historical wrestling figures, Hulk Hogan and Freddie Blassie, into Japanese as well (documented in the January 19, 2004, edition of Dave Meltzer's The Wrestling Observer, 19). A history of Vince McMahon and American wrestling called Sex, Lies, and Headlocks was translated into Japanese as well, called The Dictator of WWE, according to the March 29, 2004, Observer (10). Otherwise, the company announced its philosophy as continuing to have one Raw and one Smackdown tour per year in Japan, for fear that any more than that would dilute the success of their shows (The Wrestling Observer, January 26, 2004, p. 9).

For its February 2004 Raw tour, WWE announced in late January that the $1.6 million advance for the Saitama Super Arena on February 07 was already the largest gate in company history for a non-televised show, making it seventh place at the time for the largest gate in WWE history (The Wrestling Observer, February 02, 2004, p. 15). When the Fuji Network gave WWE a chance to promote their shows in a ten-minute spot on February 01, Vince McMahon made Japanese wrestling promoters furious by playing up the entertainment aspects of his shows and even showing backstage footage that demonstrated how this was, indeed, a "show" (The Wrestling Observer, February 09, 2004, p. 16). Meanwhile, WWE was also announcing plans to continue its drive into India, despite an unsuccessful 2003 tour, by expanding its marketing deals there.

The February 2004 tour grossed more than $3 million in ticket sales, with 20,002 fans at the Saitama Super Arena drawing almost $2 million. The show, which lasted four hours, drew a lot of people on their mid-20s, many of whom appeared to be on dates, "described as more like a rock concert crowd than the more wrestling educated crowd" at Japanese pro wrestling events, according to Dave Meltzer in the February 16 ,2004, edition of The Observer (1).

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World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part III of VI

WWE's Previous Trips to Japan

Current WWE owner Vince McMahon's father, Vince Senior, ran the WWE from the 1960s until the early 1980s and had a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling, occasionally featuring their wrestlers on his shows at Madison Square Garden and sending his wrestlers to Japan for tours. The figurehead president of the company on the shows themselves was even Japanese for a while, with Hisashi Shinma from New Japan playing the WWE President role, as noted in the May 24, 2004, edition of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (17).

However, when the WWE expanded on cable television in the 1980s and put many regional promoters out of business, they opted to begin touring in Japan in joint-promoted shows with Japanese promoters instead of merely sending over a few wrestlers for a tour. In America, Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling and the WWE were both looking at ties with the Japanese market, considering the continued success of Japanese wrestling since the 1950s.

WWE worked with both All Japan and New Japan to promote the "U.S. and Japan Wrestling Summit" on 13 April 1990, not promoted as a major deal in America but promoted heavily to the Japanese audience through the two Japanese organizations. The show was considered something of a disappointment for not selling out the huge arena rented for the event, but it drew 41,000 fans and a $2.1 million gate, and drawing a 14.1 rating on NTV, according to the July 28, 2003, edition of The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (5-6).

With all the promoters trying to put a show on together, arguments ranged from endings of matches to where the ring would be positioned to how the ring announcer would announce time limits.

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World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part II of VI

Scholarly Interest in American Pro Wrestling

Current American interest in pro wrestling takes an unlikely lineage, best traced out by scholars Gerald W. Morton and George M. O'Brien in their book, Wrestling to Rasslin': Ancient Sport to American Spectacle. They trace the roots of the American exhibition of wrestling to athletic competitions in Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures and a long tradition of "real" wrestling in European culture.

That wrestling tradition in Western culture collided with Native American conceptions of wrestling as well and spread in popularity through the Civil War, when troops on both sides wrestled each other as a pastime. Many of these soldiers, after the war was over, began touring with carnivals to display their wrestling skills.

Not surprisingly, carnival barkers like P.T. Barnum soon decided to capitalize on the showmanship, giving these grapplers costumes and characters and fixing the matches. The increasing visuality and performative style of pro wrestling bonded with television from its infancy, and wrestling has thrived in both national and regional distribution ever since. For more information on the historical relationship of American wrestling and television, see Forest Steven Beverly's 1989 Master's thesis from Auburn, A History of Professional Wrestling as Television Programming.

Since French Semiotician Roland Barthes first examined professional wrestling in 1957 in "The World of Wrestling," (first written in 1957 and translated into English in 1972), American academics in particular have sought to understand why millions of people across the country are attracted to this performance of violence. Barthes claims pro wrestling is "a spectacle of excess," as the hero's struggle against the unfair tactics of the villain provides a plethora of symbols of suffering and justice.

Meanwhile, in his 1974 book Frame Analysis, sociologist Erving Goffman finds the power of pro wrestling to be a key narrative, in which the hero adopts the rule-breaking tactics of his opponent in order to retaliate against him, only after the rulebreaker has first broken the frame of fair play. In other words, pro wrestling fans like the show most when the rules break down, and it is that departure from the rules that causes the excitement of a match's climax.

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World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part I of VI

The following series presents work I completed for James L. Watson's course on globalization through Harvard University's Department of Anthropology in Fall 2006. Since the work was closely related to the concepts of pop cosmopolitanism and the interenational flow of media products, as well as my work on professional wrestling that has appeared on this site on numerous occasions, I thought it might be appropriate to include this work here on the C3 site. This is the first of a six-part series looking into the popularity of World Wrestling Entertainment's pro wrestling shows in Japan from 2002 until 2006.

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June 6, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box and Understanding the History of Television Studies

As I was skimming through the latest issue of The Journal of Popular Culture which I received in the mail not that long ago, I found a note about a somewhat old book volume that might nevertheless be quite interesting to peruse. It's called Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader, featuring work from the likes of C3's Jason Mittell, although the reviewer mistakenly attributed his work to some bloke named Jason Mittrell. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who has their name regularly botched; remember back to an article in The Louisville Courier-Journal last summer on the changing branding practices of Kentucky Fried Chicken that attributed my quotes to C3's "Sam Bond."

The reviewer--Michigan State University's John F. Bratzell--points to Mittell's piece about understanding television genres alongside a review from Horace Newcomb as to "the early growth of cultural studies and subsequently the study of television." This is bookended by an epilogue from Brian G. Rose looking at the history of television analysis. The book is edited by Rose and Gary R. Edgerton.

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June 3, 2007

First Round of Discussion on Gender Issues and Fan Communities

I wanted to direct attention of regular C3 readers who might not follow Henry Jenkins' "Aca/Fan" blog on a regular basis to note an intriguing series of conversations that will be taking place throughout the summer among those interested in researching fan communities and fan activities and particularly in discussing the gender issues surrounding fan studies.

C3, of course, has a strong interest in fan behaviors and the motivations fans have for engaging in these activities. I will be taking part in this series in July alongside C. Lee Harrington, and Lee and I have an interesting dual commonality that exists somewhat on the fringe of these discussions. Lee has written considerably about soap opera fandom, and those of you who read here regularly know that I've been immersed in works on soaps fandom for the past couple of years, as a self-identified soap opera fan no less.

My other major area of interest is pro wrestling fandom, and Lee has done a significant amount of work on sports fandom. These two areas stereotypically have a gender divide--sports/wrestling with a masculine fandom, soaps drawing primarily female fans--and I hope that our contributions will help question some of these overall understandings about what fan behaviors are inherently "male" or "female" and how certain ways of looking at fans are inherently one way or the other.

The first round of this discussion, available here and here, takes place between Karen Hellekson and C3 affiliated faculty Jason Mittell.

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Networks Emphasize Commercial Viewing on the DVR

One news item from this past week which I neglected to note yet here on the C3 site was the latest news on Nielsen commercial ratings, which revealed that some shows' commercial ratings, when adding in DVR viewers for three days after, actually rated higher than the initial live rating for the show itself.

Case in point was The Office. In the last week of April, the NBC sitcom obtained a live rating of 3.11. The commercial rating for live plus three days on DVR was 3.36. Obviously, the Office rating for live plus three days was substantially higher for the programming, but the spin this data takes on it makes a pretty blunt point: people still watch the commercials on DVR for a variety of reasons, and networks are now going to try and make new arguments for the inclusion of this DVR data.

More on the particulars is available here.

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June 2, 2007

Vedrashko and GSD&M Weigh in on The Rude Ketchup

Former Convergence Culture Consortium Media Analyst and MIT Comparative Media Studies graduate Ilya Vedrashko had an interesting piece on his Advertising Lab site recently, focusing on a recent New York Times article about Heinz' advertising campaign asking viewers to create their own versions of a Heinz commercial.

Journalist Louise Story writes, "In one of them, a teenage boy rubs ketchup over his face like acne cream, then puts pickles on his eyes. One contestant chugs ketchup straight from the bottle, while another brushes his teeth, washes his hair and shaves his face with Heinz's product. Often the ketchup looks more like blood than a condiment."

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Go Ahead...Google Yourself

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I write a column for The Ohio County Times-News in Hartford, Ky., called "From Beaver Dam to Boston," about my move from The Bluegrass State to the East Coast and some of the cultural differences I have encountered. I also share my thoughts about new technologies. I thought it might be valuable to share an old column I wrote from back in 2005 about a process we are all familiar with...Googling yourself. While this is addressed to a local readership and dealing with some local public figures, I think the point is valuable to a greater audience...

For those of you who have some extra time and are running short of things to do, Google yourself. Well, you don't have to use the Google search engine in particular, but search for your own name and see what you find.

Chances are, many of you who use the Internet have already done this, to see not only what documents can be found in a simple Internet search dealing with you and also who else might share your name. But, if you haven't, you might find some interesting things.

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Understanding Ethnography and Academic Arguments

Grant McCracken recently had an interesting post in which he used a variety of plot points from a typical episode of procedural drama Law & Order to examine the role of ethnographies.

For those who haven't followed Grant's work, he is an affiliated faculty member of the Convergence Culture Consortium and the author of a variety of books on cultural changes surrounding advertising, branding, entertainment, and a variety of other issues we regularly examine here in C3. Some of his latest work is contained in his book Flock and Flow.

He goes through a series of common legal "objections" that are filed on television shows and how the concepts of legal evidence and procedure do not cross over very directly with the way ethnographers come to understand the phenomena they study.

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June 1, 2007

Personal Questions of Social Interaction and Etiquette Raised by Online Networks

Recently, a variety of personal events in my online network of friends has made me think further about a variety of issues about online social networks, issues that would not come up in a pre-social networks world. I just wanted to blog "out loud" about some of these issues to see if other readers out there have thought about these things as well.

1.) No ending boundaries for relationships. I talked with Cabell Gathman, who is doing her Ph.D. work in Madison on social networks and how they are changing communication patterns and the way people manage relationships, a few months ago about boundaries for personal relationships.

She had pointed out that friends from times past that you would never have had contact again in a pre-MySpace or Facebook world can now return at any point. For instance, there was a couple my wife and I were good friends with who got a divorce, and the wife moved away. I found her on MySpace and have tried to contact her a few times, but she never responds to my messages. Back when she first moved away, she said she was afraid that the divorce would cause us to lose touch and that she wanted to remain friends, yet she never responded to any of our attempts to contact her.

In a pre-MySpace world, she could have made that empty promise to want to stay in touch, move away, and never have to worry about hearing from us again. Now, however, I find her online and try to reach her, only to be ignored. Whereas time and distance once made it easy to let a friendship fade away, new technologies keep those relationships going. So, I'm left to ponder whether we are just a reminder of a life she wants to leave behind her, or perhaps that she never liked us in the first place and only stayed friends with us through her marriage...

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Apple and Google Working Together with YouTube, Apple TV

Apple created a content partnership that surprised a significant number of people this week, in relation to its Apple TV product. The company will be linking with Google to start providing YouTube content through the computer-to-television linkage device starting later this month, according to an announcement from earlier this week.

Previously, the device would only allow content from Apple's own iTunes to be transferred from a computer to a television set. Apple will be providing a software upgrade that will make such a switchover possible later in June.

The partnership, of course, could be a significant boon to the Apple device, as opening the product up to the massive YouTube user base could be an attractive proposition. This is really about allowing viewers to control the cross-platform distribution proposition rather than service and content providers, by giving viewers a new way to experience on-demand content on their television screens, rather than going through the official offerings of cable and satellite providers.

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Advertising Campaigns and Barriers to Creativity

The other day, I was driving down the road here in Cambridge, when an advertisement came on touting a car dealership. It caught my ear because it was one of those negative campaigns I've written about before.

As I wrote back in March, these are "anti-yourself" campaigns or "reverse psychology marketing," one of the most famous of which is "I Hate Steven Singer."

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Visible World's Partnership with Tremor Expands Ad Content into Online Platforms

An interesting new deal was signed this week that could have some continued effects on the ways in which online advertising is created.

Visible World, a company known for working with major cable systems to be able to insert targeted advertisements that can be changed more easily. In other words, advertisements can be modified for temporality or a particular audience in ways not possible through traditional means of buying ad time.

The company wants to expand its reach more firming into the online space, and it hopes to do so by forming a partnership with Tremor Media, an online advertising group. The plan is to bring their targeted ad technology to the Internet by creating advertisements that can target specific groups. Les Luchter with OnlineMediaDaily touts that targeted advertising will "expand online and down to the sub-household, individual browser level."

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