July 31, 2007

Enlightened Hollywood Returns to Fandom Marketing

Marketing movies was never much of a "long term" activity for movie studios, and most historically have used broadcast to quickly hype an upcoming release. It's just how things typically worked, particularly when the financial success of a film is all about the opening weekend. As the years have passed though, this approach hasn't yielded the kind of box office receipts that a studio craves. With their young, key audience harder to reach, it's interesting to see how these marketers are getting much more inventive.

This "inventiveness", in keeping with Henry's observations of fan culture, was arguably first tinkered with when Hollywood took a mediocre, kitschy movie like Snakes on a Plane and decided to work slowly on building a fan base before the movie's release. Not all agree that this movie was truly a success and it's doubtful that it will become a cult classic. But this type of fan marketing hasn't been jettisoned, and recent activity to promote The Dark Knight demonstrates what appears to be a great case study of how to apply fan marketing to the film business.

Of course it's easier with a property as perfect as this, particularly with its enormous cult following. But kudos to Warner Brothers as they incorporate unique fan marketing, and engaging alternate reality gaming techniques into its promotional mix.

Continue reading "Enlightened Hollywood Returns to Fandom Marketing" »

Daytime and Primetime Serial Dramas: The Question of Complexity

One final post for the day. I have been meaning to post links to the latest two rounds in Henry Jenkins' fan studies and gender discussions, and I also wanted to respond to some detailed comments from Jason Mittell over at his blog, Just TV. Jason is one of our consulting researchers here in the consortium.

First, see the posts and debate surrounding a round of posts from Kristina Busse and Cornel Sandvoss here and here.

This week's posts are from Abigail Derecho and Christian McCrea, here and here.

The first round of Abigail and Christian's debate brought up a lot of issues about soap operas and pro wrestling and other massive narratives which exist on the "margins" of popular culture, which of course got me particularly interested in the discussion. Be sure to look through the comments there for more.

Mittell's post on these issues particularly interested me, as he addresses his own works on narrative complexity in primetime television. I have often credited Jason with being one of the few scholars who does not try and hide the ties to daytime serial drama that primetime complexity has, but some in a recent conversation criticized his essay for not going very in-depth with that connection. He brings up quite a valid point in his blog--that many scholars have pointed out that it's hard to understand soaps from the outside and that it's best not to try and analyze them without intimate knowledge of them. Of course, that makes folks who aren't looking particularly at soaps at a loss for how to cover them, since many of their visual and storytelling markers have been so stereotyped, and are often misunderstood.

Continue reading "Daytime and Primetime Serial Dramas: The Question of Complexity" »

Producers, Writers, and Advertisers Harmed by the Hype

How is the hype and bluster surrounding "branded entertainment," "transmedia storytelling," and "product placement" endangering real and meaningful developments in actually making these concepts a real part of the industry?

People who read our blog here regularly know that we are quite keen on these concepts. But, of course, we come at it primarily from a fan-centered perspective, and that fannishness has a lot to do with artistry as well. We are excited to know about how product placement might help escape from the confines of the simple-minded advertising models currently in place; how transmedia storytelling might help media properties better tell their stories without the confines of a particular medium; and so on.

But the over-hyping of some of these ideas cause great problems. See Wayne Friedman's take on product placement. He talks with producers about product integration, and he points out that many of them are sour on it? Why? Because of the instant desire of the industry to turn everything into a stream. You can't just have something appear on a show; it has to take over the show. We still haven't tackled the art of subtlety. And if you can't make a quick and simple metric out of it, what use is it?

Continue reading "Producers, Writers, and Advertisers Harmed by the Hype" »

Followups on Coverage of Gambling, Viacom, Decency, and Fairness

I wanted to spend a few minutes this afternoon going through some recent news that provides updates for issues I have written about continually here on the blog. These include the Second Life gambling issues, the Viacom/YouTube case, and the indecency and Fairness Doctrine bills currently making their way through Congress.

1.) Gambling in Second Life. Word has officially been released that Second Life has shut down gambling inside the virtual world. I found out about it from Raph Koster's blog, as the new policy was released through the Second Life blog. The blog's Robin Linden writes that, even though there is no official gambling service in Second Life, they are still required to operate under governmental laws that regulate online gambling.

Users on Raph's blog debate issues such as whether poker is a game of chance, whether Second Life is better off or not with the gambling gone, and what this might mean for SL longterm, especially if the door for government intrusion stays open.

Continue reading "Followups on Coverage of Gambling, Viacom, Decency, and Fairness" »

Hotswap Launches: Questions About Long-Term Success

I was reading about the latest Web video start-up, Hotstwap, recently. Dane Hamilton's Reuters article focuses on the people behind the process, the connection to big money behind the little startup. With co-founders of Apple and Clear Channel behind them, their promise to offer high-definition television through the Web is quite impressive.

Of course, everyone is trying to find their little niche in Web video. Search throughout this blog, and you will find scores of posts about the latest Web video venture or redesign to offer new features or deals to reward those who post content or attract new professional content producers to submit their work.

It's no different with Hotswap. They want to define themselves through the quality of their video. This approach fascinates me, because I understand it in the short-term (although there are multiple folks who look to be competing in that online high-definition video field right now), but the difficulty comes in the long-term process. I thought about this when HDNet launched; when high-definition television becomes widespread, just offering content in HD doesn't provide much of a brand to identify with. That's why Cuban and Friends have moved toward original programming to get people's attention, such as Dan Rather Reports.

Continue reading "Hotswap Launches: Questions About Long-Term Success" »

New Measurement and Monetizing Efforts on Web, Mobile Platforms

Our continued discussions here about transmedia storytelling and the potential for new models for telling stories, gaining revenue, and consuming media properties remains reliant on the gradual acceptance of these new technologies and the infrastructure--both in terms of technology and business models--that surround them. This was a major focus of several of my posts here last week, focusing on the rate of technological change, realities of the digital divide, measurement systems, and cultural practices.

While thinking about some of these issues, I was paying particularly close attention to a couple of recent news stories.

First, ComScore--the main competitor for Nielsen NetRatings--sounds like they are moving in quite a different direction than Nielsen. While Nielsen is focusing its ratings toward time spent on a page more than total number of views, ComScore's shift in practice will move toward targeting less active viewers instead of the active minority.

Continue reading "New Measurement and Monetizing Efforts on Web, Mobile Platforms" »

July 30, 2007

Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (V of V)


Pro wrestling is an appropriate avenue for researching broader themes in American culture because wrestling allows its fans a close involvement in writing and defining the text. Through the instant feedback available in wrestling shows, fans can directly influence the pacing of a show and can rewrite its meaning. Those viewing televised wrestling can mediate its meaning through their own interpretation of wrestling's often ambiguous messages and through their viewing patterns, around which the shows are written. Promoters and performers alter their fictional characters to change the character's meaning, similar to how musicians such as Prince, Pat Boone, and David Bowie "redefine" themselves for a new generation.

Meanwhile, fans alter fictional characters through their perceptions and interpretations, similar to the ways that another liminal star, Elvis Presley, has been appropriated to represent a variety of American values. As Doss (1999: 259) concludes in her study of Elvis, "Elvis, after all, is an American emblem, and debates and conflicts over who Elvis is and what he means are comparable to the debates and conflicts over what America is and what America means." Rodman (1996: 1) writes that Elvis surfaces "in ways that defy common-sense notions of how dead stars are supposed to behave," popping up not only in for-profit creations but in very personal ways in fans' lives--such as my editor at the Ohio County Times-News newspaper in Hartford, Ky., who jokingly refers to his former "Skinny Elvis" days and his current "Fat Elvis" days, in which Elvis' personal trajectory becomes a metaphor for my editor's own aging and physical change.

Continue reading "Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (V of V)" »

Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (IV of V)

Gender/Masculinity: Brains vs. Brawn

The criticism of wrestling's narrow definition of manhood and its vilifying of any opposing views of what constitutes manliness has been covered by many critics (i.e., Lincoln 1989, Berger 1990). The critical concern about the effects of such confining representations of masculinity has been waged most broadly by Jhally and Katz (2002), who indict WWE as purveyors of damaging stereotypes and narrow codes of masculine behavior. Jhally and Katz attempt to connect wrestling's definition of gender roles with broad social problems relating to domestic violence. Jenkins (2005: 306-307) refutes these arguments by claiming that by oversimplifying their subjects, such narrow readings of wrestling participate in the very "anti-intellectualism" for which these critics often condemn wrestling. He particularly attacks their unsubstantiated attempts to liken the ignoring of wrestling's ill effects to the ignoring of Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany.

Wrestling has become a battleground for an argument that involves methodology (whether an examination of wrestling content can have only one possible reading), mediation (a singular writing of wrestling shows by Vince McMahon and his writing team or a communal definition of the product mediated by writers, performers, and fans), and gender roles (wrestling as one definition of masculinity or wrestling as a battle among conflicting masculinities). While wrestling glorifies certain aspects of the traditional hero, its treatment of masculinity is more nuanced than a simplistic reading would find. For instance, Jhally and Katz, in their analysis, do not consider the context of scenes they analyze in the overall narrative or whether the person perpetrating a certain action is a hero or a villain. The contradictions in Foley's character and its affirming and denying of traditional masculine attributes are a fitting example for Jenkins' argument of a more layered reading of pro wrestling. A reading of a character such as Foley's in unambiguous terms ignores the importance of his many contradictions.

Continue reading "Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (IV of V)" »

Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (III of V)

The Star Image of Mick Foley

Mick Foley's character developed over the course of twenty years in pro wrestling. Following the definition provided by Ellis (1999: 539) of the star as "a performer in a particular medium whose figure enters into subsidiary forms of circulation, and then feeds back into future performances," Foley's star image emerges out of his various fictional personas and the public dissemination of information about his private life that is incorporated into his star image. The image in wrestling is the fictional character depicted on the screen. These fictional characters are usually either heroes or villains, although they may change freely between the two extremes. Pro wrestling thrives on the relationship between these heroes and villains to build toward eventual grudge matches that fans want to see. Wrestling heroes and villains are defined chiefly through their opposition, as a villain can become a hero by engaging in a feud with one even more villainous than he or she. Similarly, a hero can become a villain by coming into conflict with a hero more popular than he or she. In the case of a change, the star image usually only alters slightly, as wrestlers generally retain their same basic characters. The chief difference is their view of the fans, as the hero-turned-villain usually abandons his or her supporters, while the villain-turned-hero embraces the fans he or she once despised.

In pro wrestling, the wrestler is the commodity. As Birrell and Turowetz (1979: 220) point out, then, every appearance is an opportunity to sell his or her character identity. This commodification process likens wrestling to another form of public discourse, politics. For instance, as Roper (2004) analyzes, the selling of President George W. Bush's heroic persona during his "War on Terror" led to the cultivation of a protector-figure to respond to the terrorist attacks on America. Wrestling's connection to political life has often been articulated by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (2004), who admitted that his understanding of marketing himself as a pro wrestler greatly informed his successful campaign for the governorship in 1998.

Continue reading "Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (III of V)" »

Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (II of V)

A growing body of scholarship has formed to analyze professional wrestling; however, this preliminary collection of work into wrestling's close connection with American society, past and present, has only scratched the surface of an art form that provides an inexhaustible wealth of research material. Wrestling is a particularly apt way to study the culture of a particular time and place and an exaggerated visual text that provides many potential avenues to study the hero-making process in American culture. Pro wrestling is liminal, existing both as sport and drama, fact and fiction, all mediated through a web of complex relationships within the larger construct of the promoter, the media, the actors, and the fans. Furthermore, wrestling is a text that draws on a variety of dramatic conventions and a unique blending of "high" and "low" culture, reflecting what Levine (1988) identifies as a contemporary questioning of distinctions between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in American art.

Wrestling has been examined from a myriad of critical perspectives because of the rich possibilities its complicated narrative structure offers for various disciplines. Barthes (1972: 21) claims that pro wrestling is "a spectacle of excess" involving a symbolic show of suffering and justice through the hero's struggle with the rule-breaking villain. Goffman (1974) further identifies this spectacular element of wrestling's central narrative, the hero's appropriation of rule-breaking to retaliate against an opponent who has broken the agreement of a fair fight between the two. Goffman (1974: 418) claims wrestling's excitement comes through this breaking of the audience's perceived frame of fair play in sports.

Continue reading "Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (II of V)" »

Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (I of V)

I am finishing up the final version of an essay about three years in the making, that I actually got accepted for publication in my final days as an undergraduate back at Western Kentucky University. After a few holdups here and there, the piece will be going into a collection edited by Cornel Sandvoss, Michael Real, and Alina Bernstein called Bodies of Discourse: Sport Stars, Globalization, and the Public Sphere. As I am tidying the essay up, I wanted to see if there were any relevant thoughts from C3 readers on the implications "real" characters like those in pro wrestling have on the meaning of masculinity in the modern media.

When professional wrestler Mick Foley won the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly WWF) World Heavyweight Title on Monday Night RAW at the end of 1998, he became a heroic character in the realm of pro wrestling, then at its height of popularity on cable television. Many considered Foley an unusual hero. His character blended masculine heroic qualities of tenacity, endurance, and hard work with characteristics not usually seen in the American hero: a need for communal acceptance, a desire for intellectual growth, and an unattractive aesthetic, with Foley's missing teeth, severed ear, unkempt hair, pear-shaped figure, and lack of the muscular definition usually expected in the wrestling hero.

Mick Foley is a paradox, as his character both embraces and defies elements of the traditional masculine hero. This redefinition of the heroic figure in wrestling, according to Dalbir Singh Sehmby (2000: 202), stems from wrestling's complex relationship among fans, promoters, the media, and Foley himself. Sammond (2005) writes that "whether professional wrestling is progressive, transgressive, or regressive (or all these at different moments) depends on how it serves the social goals of its producers, performers, audiences, and its critics." Because of wrestling's participatory nature, allowing fans to directly influence the product, wrestling heroes may perhaps be more indicative of the paradoxes in defining masculinity and American heroism than the heroes created through many other media products. The construction of Foley as hero reveals America's changing and conflicting values regarding its traditions and its definition of masculinity.

Continue reading "Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (I of V)" »

July 25, 2007

Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (2 of 2)

In my view, there are a few observations, some echoing those made in Sam Ford's post last week that we can draw from the NY Times incident and fan behavior around the HP7 release more generally:

Reaction against spoilers aren't so much about the story as they are about community "codes." Looking at some of the fan sites and comments, I was struck by how often it was suggested that people who had a spoiler needed to warn others if they were going to share it. Even though some fans see spoilers as abhorrent, they seem to be acceptable if they are properly marked and the risk of stumbling upon them therefore reduced. That said, a great deal of objection also came from the "premature" presence of spoilers, before the book was officially released. And if the alleged copies of the book's text that were floating around the Internet were actually fan fiction, fan writing in the context of an impending and high-profile release does not seem to be acceptable. In this case, adherence and "respect" for the official release date was explained as what defined a "true" Harry Potter fan.

The teaser-spoiler distinction is one of perception. I have not read the book yet, so I am purposely staying away from reading reviews. However, as the debate on the NY Times blog demonstrated, any mention of a plot point could potentially be seen as a spoiler by some, a teaser by others.

Continue reading "Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (2 of 2)" »

Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (1 of 2)


Behind every wildly popular, episodic narrative stands the treat of of a spoiler. Harry Potter is definitely proof of the rule. Some of the reports and commentary online around the book's release and the presence of spoilers of various types provides some insight into fan culture.

The other day, I found a short blog entry on the New York Times website about Harry Potter fans who were camping out in front of a bookstore in Picadilly Circus. Curious about what would drive someone to voluntarily sleep on the pavement in downtown London, I read on. But what really caught my attention was not the post, but the comments after it. They weren't really about the story at all, but a debate about whether or not the New York Times review of the seventh Harry Potter Book, The Deathly Hallows, was a plot spoiler.

Continue reading "Does Peeking Spoil the Fun? (1 of 2)" »

It's Not About the Technology; It's How You Use It

I've written a series of posts this morning on issues like the slow rate of technological change, realities of the digital divide, and the industry's inability to work together in finding new metrics efficiently.

Here's another concept underlying all of this and that bears repeating; it's not about the technology, stupid. As these posts throughout the morning indicate, we here at C3 do not consider ourselves technological determinists, even when we look at a lot of neat gadgets. Quite the opposite, we are interested in the social and cultural meaning attached to these new technologies. We are much less interested in what's possible than in how people choose to use technologies, the preconditions in their lives that make particular groups adapt to a technology, etc.

Continue reading "It's Not About the Technology; It's How You Use It" »

Changing Measurement Systems Move Even Slower than Technological Change...

If the rate of technological change is often slower than many people want to acknowledge that it is, as I wrote about earlier today, it is perhaps even more true that the systems we have in place to measure how people consume media is even more slow at adapting to these changes.

There's little doubt that the process of measuring television viewership based on a modest sampling of American homes became less and less relevant as television viewing became more and more fragmented. Now, as traditional "television" viewing patterns are moving to a variety of new platforms and a variety of time-shifting behaviors, the whole model of the linear television channel is showing cracks, as well as its supporting advertising system.

Again, I think it's important to emphasize that we aren't talking about the death of the 30-second spot, or the demise of television as we know it, but there is little question that a lot of changes are happening at relatively quick speed, when looking at change from a decade-by-decade perspective. The problem is that any single metrics system is designed to measure a single phenomena, but it's becoming increasingly clear we don't live in a single-phenomena world.

Continue reading "Changing Measurement Systems Move Even Slower than Technological Change..." »

Realities of the Digital Divide

I mentioned earlier today that the rate of technological change is often misunderstood. There are a group of people who want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is going to remain the same, to be sure, but there are likewise plenty of folks who want to believe that every change is revolutionary, will become widespread very quickly, and will completely overtake the outdated technologies and modes of the past and transform the world into a fundamentally democratic utopia.

However, the world can't be explained by such technological determinism, whether it be utopian or dystopian. And that includes remaining aware that, for all the discussions we have about the way the Internet is a primary driver in fundamentally changing the ways in which consumers interact with producers, fans interact with media properties and brands, readers interact with authors, and people simply interact with one another, we cannot pretend that there still does not exist a great digital divide among socioeconomic classes in individual countries and, even more sharply contrasted, between various peoples around the world.

Continue reading "Realities of the Digital Divide" »

Misconceptions of the Rate of Technological Change

Ostensibly, some observers might say this blog is "about" new technologies, changes in the media industries, new ways for users and fans to interact with one another and "the powers that be" and brand managers of the world. I've even said that myself many times. But the work C3 does often always focuses on just the opposite message, the misconception that change is going to come about really rapidly.

It can't be repeated often enough: change takes time. When we look at where we are now compared to where we are 10 years ago, it seems a major difference. The number of people who have reliable Internet connections in the past decade has mushroomed. Yet, I hear others talking about how we might all be wirelessly connected in five years, and I think about the technological bubbles many people live in. The length of time it takes for technology to move from early adopters to the public at large, the difficulty of infrastructure reliability on a national basis, the digital divide that is too often ignored, and a variety of other factors can't be forgotten.

I talked about these issues with television industry researcher Bruce Leichtman in my interview with him here on the blog last month.

Continue reading "Misconceptions of the Rate of Technological Change" »

July 24, 2007

Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand

Over the past few days, there have been a couple of interesting ideas batted around by C3 consulting researchers and alumni on a couple of issues that I thought might be of direct interest to the wider C3 readership. With all that is happening in the fan fallout from Harry Potter, the repercussions and new business deals stemming from the upfronts, and all the issues we've been covering more regularly, I thought that pointing the way toward a couple of those pieces might be beneficial.

One is an issue that I've been following from afar. I've never been an avid Simpsons viewer, although I appreciate its place in popular culture. It's not even that I have any aversion to The Simpsons, but I've just never become a regular viewer. Nevertheless, I've been paying attention to the promotion of The Simpsons Movie, both in the transformation of 7-Eleven Stores to Kwik-E Marts and in the competition for deciding which Springfield is the home of the Simpson family.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jason Mittell had published a piece on the Springfield competition. Now, Grant McCracken has weighed in on the Kwik-E Mart cross-promotion.

Continue reading "Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand" »

C3 Team Continues Analysis of Harry Potter Spoiler Controversy

Tuesday afternoon, and it's time to catch up on some relevant issues here on the C3 blog. One thing that has C3 and its consulting researchers talking is all the discussion flowing out the Harry Potter book release and concerns about spoilers related to it.

The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has gotten a lot of people up in a stir. There are all the people who crowded Harvard Square on Friday night, or sites all across the country, although that created a fervor I've encountered before back in Kentucky and that echoed the recent "happening" that was the iPhone release. This is all about event-based marketing and the importance of the release in an experience economy.

But people online are talking almost as much about the unofficial releases as they are about the official ones, including the New York Times review that some people felt provided too much information, as well as online leaks of the book before the official midnight book release.

Continue reading "C3 Team Continues Analysis of Harry Potter Spoiler Controversy" »

July 20, 2007

Why Do People Go To Search Engines Instead of the Official Site?

I saw a short news note from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek yesterday, noting that NBC has said that a third of its Web site traffic comes from search engines.

This doesn't sound like news to me, but it indicates something fundamental that I think media companies have been missing for a while. As the technology for the Web has spread, media properties have competed with one another by who could create the most aesthetically pleasing site that technology allows for.

We have some of the best Flash animations, the slickest graphics, the coolest interactive features one could imagine for a site, yet many people are finding content through a search engine instead of coming to the main page of the site and clicking through. I hypothesize it might have something to do with that ugly "U" word: utility.

Continue reading "Why Do People Go To Search Engines Instead of the Official Site?" »

Nielsen Finds Web Video Viewing Up, Not Interfering with TV Viewing

According to a recent study from Nielsen, the number of folks watching online video continues to rise, while a third of those respondents said that watching Web video actually increases the amount of traditional television they watch. Only 13 percent of those surveyed said that watching video online has decreased their watching television.

The study found that 81 million broadband customers reported watching online video, up 16 percent from September 2006 to March 2007. The 16 percent hike has been getting some attention.

See more here.

What might cause a rise in those viewing online video to not necessarily trim viewership away from traditional television? One question is what they're watching online. People engage in user-generated, short-form content, or even clipped and quoted content from professionally produced material, in different ways and for much different reasons than they watch TV.

Continue reading "Nielsen Finds Web Video Viewing Up, Not Interfering with TV Viewing" »

July 19, 2007

Metrics Go Upfront (2 of 2)

Earlier today, I looked at the issues of metrics surrounding this year's upfronts, particularly regarding the question of DVR viewing. At the end of that post, I moved the conversation toward one of the hot "new" words in the day in the media industry: engagement.

The engagement hypothesis is that the engaged viewer is more likely to watch the program carefully, devoting their full attention to it, and possibly the accompanying product placement and commercials. In theory, if the message is right, the engaged viewer is more likely to get the message, get it repeatedly, and buy the product. With the advent of the Internet, audiences and producers have more opportunities to interact with one another. Producers have more opportunities to create relatively inexpensive, broad, on demand forums and mechanisms for interaction with their brand or their media property. Thus, more and more ways to engage consumers and get them to the set to watch the program at least 3 days from the original airing.

Intuitively, this all makes sense. However, engagement is also one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot, there is lots of agreement that engagement is good, but no clear cut definition of what it actually is. So, for all of our measurement capability, this concept is extremely tricky to quantify. Even if you have a definition, how do you effectively boil a passionate devotion to the X-Files into a number? And this is all before you even think to tackle the daunting task of establishing a clear causal link to buying patterns around sponsor products. Ironically, it all brings us back to a question of which matters more, program ratings and engagement or commercial ratings and engagement?

Continue reading "Metrics Go Upfront (2 of 2)" »

Metrics Go Upfront (1 of 2)

The upfronts may have wrapped last week, but the discussion they highlighted, on the demand for measuring and monetizing television content on air and online, looks like it will continue for the forseeable future. So, now that the dust is beginning to clear (a little) what can we make of what's transpired and what's ahead?

In short, a lot of options, a lot of speculation, and nothing really conclusive. I want to examine this issue in depth in a couple of posts here on the blog today.

I would argue that this uncertainty is reflected in the revenue from this year's upfront. After all the haggling over, claims of a small victory were made when it was revealed that the nets brought in 3% more ad revenue than they did at last year's up front, excluding syndication. Yet, inflation was also 3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Continue reading "Metrics Go Upfront (1 of 2)" »

July 18, 2007

Spoilers and Special Release Events: The Case of Harry Potter

C3 Director Joshua Green clued me in to a fascinating conversation taking place over on Bruce Schneier's blog regarding the leak of the final Harry Potter book online, with digital photographs of each page.

The debate is going in both directions. Schneier's take is that this is no big deal and that it does not really equal much of a profit loss. This perspective is that, since the people obsessed with finding a copy just to read it online a few days before it comes out in print will likely buy a copy anyway, and anyone particularly adamant with finding a free copy would have either not read it at all otherwise or borrowed a copy from someone else.

But, of course, this is also about scheduling and real-time deployment of content. The same question gets raised for television as we move more toward a non-linear method of television watching, with DVRs and television shows on DVD. As I wrote about last October, television is no longer the consensus narrative it once was because even if people watch the same series, they may be on a different season.

Continue reading "Spoilers and Special Release Events: The Case of Harry Potter" »

NBCU Strikes Deal with Alltel, as the Company Tries to Expand Mobile Reach

Back in March, I wrote about the launch of plans for NBC Universal's mobile plan on Verizon and MobiTV. The deal included television shows from not just NBC but also from USA, Sci Fi, Bravo, Telemundo, and mun2, in addition to CNBC.

Now the network has signed yet another mobile deal to extent the reach of its content into new realms, this time with mobile service provider Alltel. NBC will provide 11 VOD channels, in addition to Web sites, ringtones, wallpapers, and more, featuring content from NBC, Sci Fi, Bravo and the USA Network.

What I like most about NBCU's approach here is that, even as the company has to strike deals individually with various service providers, the plan seems to be to stretch their content offerings across a variety of services, rather than rely on some exclusive partnership with just Verizon or Alltel.

Excerpts from the press release and a link to the full release are available on the Inside Cable News blog.

Continue reading "NBCU Strikes Deal with Alltel, as the Company Tries to Expand Mobile Reach" »

July 17, 2007

C3 Writing on Copyright and Fair Use

Joshua Green and I were sitting in his office yesterday, talking about copyright issues and how they relate to our own upcoming thoughts about a new environment of spreadable media, when the conversation shifted to fair use issues surrounding these debates.

Joshua's contention was that fair use issues are an implicit part of any facet of conversation about mash-ups, viral marketing, proselytizing, fan communities, or even convergence culture in general, and that, while talking about fair use is not necessarily something we will extensively focus on in our research, it is a part of many of the arguments we are making.

I concur that fair use discussions are quite important when thinking about issues of respect, and the prohibitionist/collaborationist modes of thinking Henry Jenkins writes about. Back in December, we featured a series of conversations about fair use issues in relation to C3 (see the posts from Jason Mittell, Ted Hovet, and Joel Greenberg), and I have been thinking about these issues recently in relation to my own writing about quoting, as opposed to piracy, when it comes to online video.

Continue reading "C3 Writing on Copyright and Fair Use" »

The Digital Deadline, Inefficient Preparation, and a New Digital Divide?

Not that long ago, I ran into Prof. Nolan Bowie, who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University down the road. I took a class with him on public policy issues surrounding new media last year, and I was intrigued to know that he would be writing a series of commentaries for The Boston Globe since, if nothing else, Nolan is always provocative.

What caught my eye when looking back over the articles I missed was his piece from last month on Bridging the TV Gap.

Those of you who follow the C3 blog fairly regularly may know that I've been quite concerned with the upcoming digital deadline, although also aware that the deadline could very well be moved again before all is said and done. The plan for analog television signals to be a think of the past by February 2009 is quite understandable when one understands the potential benefits for freeing the spectrum for more efficient uses, but the way in which the public has been informed, and plans have been made for such a digital deadline, has been...well...something less than efficient.

Nolan writes about the great benefits of the digital conversion but also about the dangers for low-income families, the need to follow this up with an emphasis on better and universally available high-speed broadband Internet connection, and concerns about what will happen with ownership rules with the proliferation of channels allowed by a completely digital media environment, as well as the substantial concern about the disposal of analog televisions. He warns, "Many poor and low income working poor families may not be able to afford new digital TV sets or suitable substitutes, thus creating a new kind of digital divide in addition to the expanding gaps associated with Internet access."

Continue reading "The Digital Deadline, Inefficient Preparation, and a New Digital Divide?" »

Place-Based Gaming, Romance Interactive Storytelling, and Choose-Your-Own Adventure

Our research manager here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, Dr. Joshua Green, sent me an interesting link to an interactive love story that is being described as akin to the "choose your own adventure" books of times past--except this takes place in actual real space.

The project is called She Loves the Moon, and it is a story told in San Francisco's Mission District through stencils on the sidewalks, connected by arrows. The story starts with two characters located in two different location, one at 16th and Valencia with the stencil "He Leaves His Lonely Apartment," and the other at 21st and Guerrero with a similar stencil. The couple meet through the course of the game and make several decisions, leading to four possible endings, depending on the choices players make.

A collection of writing about the stencil story is available here, and the project already has a Flickr site here.

Continue reading "Place-Based Gaming, Romance Interactive Storytelling, and Choose-Your-Own Adventure" »

How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?

While thinking today about how this issue between the Writer's Guild of America and television producers seems to have been stretching on for quite a while now, I began to realize that a lot of the issues I've been covering for the Consortium since we started our blog a little under two years ago, and especially since I've been the primary contributor to the blog since last summer have not changed that much.

So, while people talk sometimes about how fast change happens, it is important to realize that the falsity that nothing is ever going to change is often countered by an equally tall tale, that things are changing extremely quickly. The truth is that industry practices, corporate infrastructure, technological lagtime, and an endless variety of factors causes everything to move slowly.

I was told by an industry executive not too long ago that the upfronts this year didn't feel that much different, as if this person were somehow disappointed. I think that's how we all feel when we realize that the new environment feels only slightly removed from yesterday's...and that's because we as human beings can only move in steps. The first cars really did resemble horseless carriages, and the first mobile phones looked quite like landline phones. Change necessarily comes one step at a time.

That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the stories that were posted here on the blog during this same week last year. You'll see a few stories that have fallen by the wayside but a few more that could quite possibly be easily plugged into this week's headlines and still seem right at home.

Continue reading "How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?" »

WGA Negotiations Begin; What Will Be the Future of Transmedia Storytelling?

Tensions between the Writer's Guild of America and the entertainment industry show no signs of being any less heated than predicted, as a few news stories from last week emphasize. The negotiations began yesterday. TV Week has been my media coverage site of choice to follow the developments.

For instance, there was the bulletin sent around to WGA members emphasizing the need to stand strong for a piece of the profit on new-media ventures and to ensure what they consider proper compensation.

On the other hand the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers propose a three-year study of new media to help determine the conditions for compensation for this ancillary content, trying to determine the differences between models set up for television that would need to be built differently for online projects.

These tensions are about very important industry issues that must be worked out, since the teams that produce and create the content for these projects should certainly be justly compensated. Yet, while I understand that this is a complex issue not easy to resolve, the continued delays and lack of leadership in working through these issues only mean that the reality of transmedia storytelling will have to lag behind these longstanding stubborn positions within the industry.

Continue reading "WGA Negotiations Begin; What Will Be the Future of Transmedia Storytelling?" »

Collective Coping: Fan Communities Deal with Tragedy

I have written here on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium blog (see here and here) about issues surrounding Chris Benoit's shocking double-murder and suicide last month and the continued fallout from his horrendous actions.

One aspect of the story that has amazed me is the way that fans banded together to help one another through several stages of grief, first at the knowledge of losing a performer who most fans greatly respected and had always heard good things about, only to find out hours later that this heralded athlete had murdered his family and then killed himself. The conflicted feelings fans had of not only losing one of their favorite performers, but also finding out the awful truth about the man's final actions, have been hard for fans to handle, as well as the aftermath of this tragedy, leaving fans with a lot of soul-searching themselves in many cases.

As the issue continues to pervade media coverage and get tied into larger conversations that extend beyond the Benoit tragedy, wrestling fans continue to process and cope with how to move past this tragic news, especially when many wrestling fans have friendship built around the shared media text.

Dr. Laury Silvers directed me toward this conversation which follows, in real-time, one particular wrestling community's attempt to cope with this news as it slowly progressed. An in-depth case study could probably glean a lot of insight on the nature of these communities and how they are useful in times of tragedy.

Continue reading "Collective Coping: Fan Communities Deal with Tragedy" »

July 16, 2007

Cadillac/Damages Latest Example of FX Single-Sponsor Model

FX continues their interesting model of single-sponsored shows, the latest of which will be for the premiere of their newest series starring Glenn Close, Damages.

Close, coming off a heralded performance in season four of The Shield as Captain Monica Rawling, will star in a show about lawyers.

This time, the sponsor will be Cadillac, who will not only be the sole sponsor of the show and provide a commercial-free season premiere, but whose cars will also be integrated through the series.

This combination of product placement/integration with single-sponsor content is yet another hybrid of a model that seems to be fairly consist for FX season and series premieres. It seems to be a model that works well enough to continue returning to it as special events for important episodes, but we have not seen it port over to whole season deals for any FX shows of yet.

Continue reading "Cadillac/Damages Latest Example of FX Single-Sponsor Model" »

Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"

In my work on soap opera fandom, I keep encountering a document that I think deals with some questions that are at the heart of much of what we are talking about in working with fandoms, especially in thinking toward longstanding media properties with long and complicated histories.

I have written quite a bit lately about a particular form of narrative universe of this type, which I call immersive story worlds. As I have written about here on the blog before (see here and here), immersive story worlds are fictional universes whose characteristics include seriality, multiple creators, long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence.

In my own research, I have identified soap opera narratives (once a show has passed a certain number of years), comic books, and professional wrestling texts as being the best examples of these sorts of narratives, but the principles--and potential benefits of thinking toward developing and maintaining immersive story worlds--apply to a wide range of products which have some similar characteristics to these massive serial (social) texts.

To return to my point, however, I think that my writing about serial texts is underpinned by a set of creative criteria and an industry perspective perhaps best articulated by the late Douglas Marland, known by a variety of soap opera fan communities as one of the best soaps creators of all time, in particular in his relationship to the fan community and in respecting the continuity and history of soaps, and the nature of serialized storytelling for an immersive story world.

Continue reading "Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"" »

July 12, 2007

Challenges of Measuring Engagement (2 of 2)

See my first post on this subject here.

Another problem is how advertising engagement was measured. Using copy test results doesn't measure engagement, but how much people liked an ad, which is not the same thing. I've liked plenty of ads for products I don't need, don't really like, and don't buy. I have also seen a number of studies that have suggested that people may like an ad - and the copy test results may therefore be good - but that doesn't mean they will remember what the product being advertised actually was, or necessarily buy it because of their engagement in the ad.

This brings us to the sales data, which is vitally important in demonstrating that causal link. Ideally, one would track the buying patterns of the people in the study to establish a causal link between those patterns and engagement with the ad. Some qualitative data from the group would also be helpful. However, I'm not sure what sales data was used. General sales data would be extremely problematic in a model, because it would not reflect the control group from whom the original data was collected, and therefore not demonstrate a clear link between engagement and behavior.

Continue reading "Challenges of Measuring Engagement (2 of 2)" »

Challenges of Measuring Engagement (1 of 2)

How precisely to quantify and place a value on viewer engagement, is still, at best, an inexact science. Advertisers, networks, investors and content producers would all very much like to know what an engaged viewer is worth to them. It's a question I've personally pondered in some of my own research, at school and at work.

My usual Monday morning haze cleared when I found "What's the Value of an Engaged Viewer?" in my daily scan of Advertising Age online. I read it with eager anticipation, but walked away with more questions than answers.

The article describes the results of some new research by Omnicom Group's OMD that was presented to an Advertising Research Federation forum in June. According to the article, the research concluded "[o]ne engaged viewer is worth eight regular viewers", as "engagement with media and advertising drive sales, but it could also drive sales more than media spending levels". The study also found that factoring engagement into advertising analysis for the 3 financial services companies involved in the study increases ROI between 15-20% over models that rely on ratings. To come to these conclusions, they used a "proprietary engagement measure" to assess engagement with media and copy-test results to measure engagement with advertising.

Continue reading "Challenges of Measuring Engagement (1 of 2)" »

The Sharecroppers of the Digital Age: Remixing and Fair Use

One message has been emphasized throughout the bulk of our work here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, and throughout some of the writing by our director, Henry Jenkins, over the past few years, that the traditional model of prohibition in the media industries is being eroded by, and in our view should give way to, a more collaborative view of copyright ownership.

This takes into account a conversation that has been very important to C3 researchers, that of fair use. In his column this morning in The Washington Post, Lawrence Lessig writes that "the remixer becomes the sharecropper of the digital age." He admits it is an over-the-top metaphor but acknowledges that it applies an old way of thinking to new technologies and new consumer practices.

He doesn't mince words, writing, "Lawyers never face an opening weekend. Like law professors, their advice lives largely protected from the market. They justify what they do in terms of "right and wrong," while everyone else has to justify their work in terms of profit. They move slowly, and deliberately. If you listen carefully, sometimes you can even hear them breathe."

Continue reading "The Sharecroppers of the Digital Age: Remixing and Fair Use" »

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part Two): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford

See the first post in this series here.

Sam Ford: I know that a lot of the people following this debate might not be that interested in soaps in particular, but I am interested in the differences in discussing fan culture when it shifts from being a conversation primarily about fan fiction, which many of the back-and-forths have so far. How do we measure creativity in relation to fan communities? My understanding is that most people would agree that fan fiction only retains its full meaning and resonance within the community that it is produced in, and the social specificity of creative output is no different in the soap opera fan communities we have been discussing, but the output is often much different--criticism, debate, parody, discussion, continuity-maintenance, historical perspective...these are very creative processes that seem to be the prevalent forms of fan output for soap opera fandom.

To move toward your discussion of sports and media fans, I think the question you pose is one relevant to this series as a whole and one which various contributors have touched on in one way or another. Are we looking at the difference in male and female fan responses or in the responses of scholarship on fans, or can you really separate the two? As you imply in your question, there is some difficulty in separating the two, and perhaps the body of academic work on soap opera fandom, television fandom, fan fiction communities, sports fandom, and so on are shaped greatly by the gendered perspectives, and the respective genders, of those who have been most prevalent in those fields. It is important to realize this may be the case, while not making that the totalizing explanation for differences in sports fandom and sports fan studies, when compared to media fandom.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part Two): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford" »

Congress Talking Censorship, Fairness Doctrine

Two major congressional movements continue to pose potential major repercussions for the media industry and particularly for television.

The first is continued discussion about indecency enforcement, as Kansas Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Sam Brownback continues to make noise about "fleeting indecency" enforcement for the Federal Communications Commission and giving the FCC powers over violent programming. After courts questioned the definition of indecency in FCC decisions recently, Brownback is pushing for new legislation to be pushed through Congress to make these changes.

The discussion is to give FCC the authority for fining for "fleeting expletives" and the ability to fine networks for "excessively violent content."

John Eggerton with Broadcasting & Cable points out that the Parents Television Council is already hard at work trying to drum up support for the bill.

Continue reading "Congress Talking Censorship, Fairness Doctrine" »

What Are the Most Popular Video Sites? Companies Jockey for Position

Yahoo! Video and AOL Video are now more than popular than MySpace in terms of video-sharing sites. But, wait, more popular by what terms? Is that visitors and page views? Or will it be in terms of the time spent on the site?

Appears the news that MySpace has fallen is through "old school" Nielsen/NetRatings mentality. According to the story from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek, YouTube dominates the heap with 51 million visitors for June, followed by Google Video at 18 million, AOL Video at 16 million, Yahoo Video at 15 million, and MySpace at 15 million. These are all unique visitors.

Continue reading "What Are the Most Popular Video Sites? Companies Jockey for Position" »

A Look at Recent Writing from Affiliated C3 Thinkers

I wanted to point the way to some interesting posts from various Consulting Researchers with the Convergence Culture Consortium. A variety of our affiliated thinkers maintain regular blogs regarding their opinion of the latest developments in the media industries, and a wide variety of other subjects.

Henry Jenkins posted a piece on his blog last week emphasizing his own interest and respect with NBC's Heroes and his reading of a recent interview with Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, in which he brought up reading Jenkins' book Convergence Culture. Henry links his look at fan communities with Rob Kozinets' recent writing on wiki-media.

Jason Mittell writes about the contest among the different cities of Springfield across the country to claim The Simpsons and to host the premiere for the upcoming Simpsons Movie. The state Mittell calls home, Vermont, won the contest.

Continue reading "A Look at Recent Writing from Affiliated C3 Thinkers" »

New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape

I wanted to mention a few news stories that passed my eye over the past few days that I thought would be of particular interest to C3 researchers and readers, especially taking into account links between online initiatives and traditional television and print properties.

The news includes a new deal between TV Guide and Maven Networks for powering broadband video content for TV Guide's Web site, a cosmetic change for the brand of Court TV to the new truTV, Joost's deal with VH1 to show a sneak peek of the premiere of I Hate My 30s online first, and Bravo's deal struck to do its advertising deals minute-by-minute with Starcom USA.

TV Guide and Maven Networks. TV Guide's choice to hire the technology provider to power its broadband video on its Web site indicates an increased effort to make TV Guide a brand based on more than the print product it is most closely identified with, especially as paper guides have become all but obsolete. Find more at The Boston Business Journal.

Continue reading "New Industry Deals Demonstrate Shifting Media Landscape" »

Nielsen/NetRatings Replaces a Simplistic Model with...Another One

Nielsen is not just making changes to its television program ratings and commercial ratings systems. As I have already written about this month, Nielsen recently purchased mobile research firm Telephia, as the company looks to bolster its Nielsen Wireless Initiative for mobile content audience measurement. See more on that purchase here.

Now, Nielsen has announced that it will be changing the way in which it measures the popularity of Web sites. We here at C3 are gearing up for a year of talking about the stickiness model in terms of Web traffic and how it is, in many ways, still fixed in prior ways of thinking. Nielsen does not agree, or else it sees value in keeping a system as close to the current one as it can find.

Their shift is going from measuring the popularity of a Web site from total number of page views to one that measures instead time spent. The change has particularly been attributed to the rising popularity of online video, which might keep a viewer on a particular page for quite a while instead of clicking through an increasing number of links.

The measure will be of "total sessions" and "total minutes," for the new Nielsen/NetRatings.

Continue reading "Nielsen/NetRatings Replaces a Simplistic Model with...Another One" »

July 11, 2007

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford

This is the first of a two-part series being posted on Henry Jenkins' blog and discussed through a LiveJournal community site, the latest in the rounds of posts featuring a male and female fan studies scholar looking at issues of gender in relation to the study of fan communities. This round features my discussion with C. Lee Harrington, who has been a key scholar in the history of the study of soap opera fandom. Both parts will be posted here on the C3 blog as well.

C. Lee Harrington: Hi everyone. This has been an interesting set of discussions thus far -- Sam and I are happy to contribute. We'll follow the general norm by beginning with introductions. I've been engaged in audience/fan studies since the early 1990s, with most of my work co-authored with Denise Bielby.

Our interest in fan studies grew out of our long term soap opera-watching habit. I don't remember how long Denise has been watching, but I started watching soaps in the late 1970s and have been an enthusiastic follower ever since (mostly ABC soaps, with some years watching DOOL).

When I was in grad school at UCSB in the late 1980s (Denise is on the faculty there), we went to a General Hospital fan club luncheon, were fascinated by the entire experience, and decided to study the soap fan culture. Our book Soap Fans was published a few years after Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers and Camille Bacon- Smith's Enterprising Women, among other important work of the late 80s/early 90s, which heavily influenced the way I thought about audience/fans.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford" »

July 9, 2007

The West Side, Urban Westerns, and Independent Distribution

Some say that the Western is dead. With the lack of quality Western movies in recent years (and, yes, I know some people are going to debate Open Range, but there was a strong negative response to the quality of that film), there has been a fascinating online collaboration from Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman called The West Side.

It is a series of online short videos, a collection that the creators call "a contemporary version of the serial novel." The series is being funded personally by the two creators and presented online for free, distributed through their Web site and through RSS subscriptions. And it is an urban western set "in a unique, alternate universe," melding the American Western style with an urban setting.

In all, there will be 12 episodes of the series, with the first one posting on Independence Day. The creators plan to have a blog for the series run alongside the distribution of the 12 episodes, located here.

Continue reading "The West Side, Urban Westerns, and Independent Distribution" »

Digital Cinema and HD DVDs Expected to Experience Significant Growth by 2011

A new study from PricewaterhouseCoopers examines high-definition DVDs and digital cinema, finding that digital and HD filmed content will reach $103.3 billion, up from $81.2 billion in 2006. The study, entitled "Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2007-2011," emphasizes Asia Pacific as the fastest growing market and finds that download-to-own services will remain a niche market but one that will grow tremendously over the next few years.

One of the most interesting predictions is that digital cinema will "reinvigorate the box office to the tune of $11.7 billion by 2011," according to Reuters' Gina Keating in her article on the report.

There are still a lot of controversies, particularly in the length of time given to release for DVD, which digital cinema encourages. However, theater owners are adamantly opposed to such a move because, while it will benefit the production companies, it may very well be detrimental to the box office, especially due to the fact that one can own a movie on DVD for about the cost of a couple viewing it once at a theater, not counting the costs for snacks and beverages.

Continue reading "Digital Cinema and HD DVDs Expected to Experience Significant Growth by 2011" »

July 5, 2007

AOL Video/AOL News Relaunches Emphasize AOL's Continuing Emphasis on Content

The race for dominance in providing content and a viable site for online video has been very tight in the past year-and-a-half. As AOL tries to establish itself more and more as a content provider rather than a service provider, the company has continued giving a great deal of attention into improving both its content and its services in relation to video.

This week, AOL relaunched its video portal to improve the search functions, as well as to be able to increase access to non-AOL content online and to make the home page reflect such features. The new site allows for playing YouTube videos, among other things.

Continue reading "AOL Video/AOL News Relaunches Emphasize AOL's Continuing Emphasis on Content" »

NBCU Folding Its Online Syndication Network into New Site with News Corp.

Earlier this week, I saw that the process for launching the Fox/NBC-Universal online video site continues to move forward, as NBC starts to wind down its own exclusive video service that it offered to syndicate sites (National Broadband Co., or NBBC), in preparation for folding those operations into the project, which is apparently being called simply "New Site" for now.

Back last September, I first wrote about NBC's plans to stream entire episodes of shows for free on its own site, bolstered by advertising. I wrote, "The plan is for new fall prime-time shows to be made available through the NBC Universal Video Player, a revamped product that will make its relaunch on Oct. 1."

The decision to scale back the NBCU-specific video offering and start switching over to the new venture is the latest move toward the collaborative video platform effort. I last wrote about this in May, when NBCU and News Corp. were working toward a summer launch by securing advertisers and discussing names. For now, the "new site" moniker stands.

Continue reading "NBCU Folding Its Online Syndication Network into New Site with News Corp." »

Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks

There are both positives and negatives to building walls around content and services. I often get caught up in the negative aspects, especially when thinking content that is locked down by service providers, which I find to be a particularly bad idea for the content brands.

For instance, if you are an ardent fan of a particular show that uses a transmedia storytelling campaign across multiple platforms, but that deal is locked down into only those who have Sprint mobile or Verizon for an online provider or Comcast as a cable provider, it can be a little hard to take for the fans most likely to take advantage of such transmedia stories. After all, if you follow three shows, but you must have Verizon mobile service for the extra content for one, AT&T for another, and T-Mobile for the third, it wouldn't really seem very worthwhile to have three cell phone contracts just for the extra mobile content.

That being said, though, it doesn't mean that walled gardens are not without their uses, and Steve Bryant has raised some good points in this regard in relation to the benefits of privacy, particularly in relation to Facebook's lack of searchability and accessibility from the Googles of the world.

Continue reading "Gated Content, Walled Gardens, and Social Networks" »

July 4, 2007

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI


To trace the character of Tom Hughes is to trace the trajectory of the American soap opera and, to a degree, American television. The character demonstrates the soap opera genre's use of SORASing and the supercouple and the constant tug at soap storytelling between the three major strands of soap opera plots--family and workplace drama, tackling social issues, and escapist romance fare.

A part of the soap canvas for 45 years now, Tom Hughes is, in a sense, the history of ATWT, and the treatment of his character marks changes in performers, changes in writing staffs, and changes in audience reception and in American society. From tackling divorce to drug culture and Vietnam to living wills and AIDS, Tom's character has been involved with many of the controversies that have defined American public discourse over the past few decades. And for fan communities with lasting memories, his current character serves as a monument to those social changes and plot turns.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI

Tom's Maturity--Scott Holmes Takes the Role

At this point, Scott Holmes took over the role of Tom Hughes. Tom was out of Oakdale for some time in Washington D.C., where he was heavily involved in a massive FBI case that the Oakdale Police Force was also involved in. With Holmes portraying Tom, he returned to Oakdale to put his marriage back together and began working with Margo on the Falcon case. The couple was eventually reunited.

The central character in the defining family of Oakdale, Holmes' Tom once again became a part of several storylines that sought to renew focus on social issues through personal drama, similar to the stories Tom was part of in the late 1960s. This mid-1980s to early-1990s time period is often celebrated by ATWT fans as a glory period of the show, with head writer Douglas Marland blending social relevance into a strong writing emphasis on workspace tension and family drama.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI

Childhood and Adolescence--The SORASing of Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes was immediately a central focus on ATWT because he was born to the central couple of the show at the time, Bob and Lisa. The show's writers recognized that only a minimal amount of storytelling could be accomplished with Tom as a young child.

Therefore, Tom became one of the first victims of SORAS, a disease that now regularly strikes children in soap opera towns. SORAS, which stands for Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, is a term popularized in the soap opera press and in online fan communities, in response to the trend to age soap opera characters, almost always children, much more rapidly than real time would allow.

The early development of Tommy Hughes is one of the most blatant examples of SORASing, as the character was born in 1961 and, by the end of the decade, was in Vietnam. The character's birth and early existence was largely as a plot device in the dissolution of Bob and Lisa's marriage.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI

Shifting Portrayals: The Many Men Who Are Tom Hughes

One important aspect of daytime television is that characters, even as they become so entwined with their portrayers, are also bigger than those actors. It is quite common in American soap opera for a character to be recast if an actor leaves the show, especially when the character is linked to several others. Because the power of soap operas lies in character relationships rather than plot development, an essential character must stay on the show, whether the actor who portrays him or her does or not. The duration of actors such as Wagner, Fulton, or Hastings is impressive because such long-term performances are relatively rare.

Tom Hughes, excluding his time as a baby, has been portrayed by 13 different actors. Starting in 1963, Tom was old enough to have dialogue on the show and began being portrayed consistently by one child actor at a time. The character was aged more rapidly than real time would allow, and his birth date was revised significantly as the show progressed so that the character would be aged enough to allow for certain stories.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI

As the World Turns

However, As the World Turns changed the conception of the television soap opera. Under the supervision of Irna Phillips, one of the "auteurs" of television rarely discussed in "mainstream" accounts of television history, As the World Turns (ATWT) popularized many of what are now considered defining elements of the genre.

The program aired daily for 30 minutes, breaking away from the shorter 15-minute increments of shows like Guiding Light. Slow pacing, an emphasis on dialogue, and the now-stereotyped camera angles were all part of the ATWT conception. For that reason, many soap historians would consider ATWT the most significant soap opera in American television history.

From 1958 until 1978, ATWT was unchallenged as the top rated soap opera, until growing competition in the 1970s unseated it. Throughout its now 50-year run on CBS, ATWT has survived important changes--the switch to color, the conversion from live to taped television in the early 1970s, the shift from 30 minutes to an hour in the late 1970s, and fluctuating ideas about what topics the genre should cover, oscillating from family drama to romantic escapist fare to tackling controversial social issues or some combination of the three.

Today, ATWT remains an award-winning soap, often recognized with writing and production awards at the Daytime Emmy awards. While Guiding Light has phased out many of its long-term characters (most characters considered "veterans" on the show today debuted with Guiding Light in the late 1970s or early 1980s), ATWT has retained not only the greatest number of long-term characters but also many of the actors who have defined those characters.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI" »

Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI

Next week, Lee Harrington and I will be presenting the latest in Henry Jenkins' series of discussions about gender and fan studies. Since Lee has been a pioneer in research on soap opera fan communities and since much of my recent focus have been on fans of daytime drama, I wanted to return to a paper that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's conference here in Boston back in April. It was a great conference, with a followup discussion about the present and future of soaps with a variety of interesting and interested scholars who have written and presented on soaps. I thought I would present the content of that paper, sans the footnotes, as I prepare for next week.

Television is an actor's medium. While budgets and schedules have often given movies a greater mastery of grand visual spectacle than television (a divide between film and television that is growing increasingly thin), the actor has always remained the currency of television fiction. Even today, with television series consistently raising the bar for production values, the actor still holds the most power in connecting with the audience.

The smaller screen of (most) television sets values the close-up, the study of human emotion (and especially the human face), in a way that the grand vistas and elaborate cinematography of most Hollywood films seem to miss. The value placed on the actor and the exploration of character is more suited to the seriality of television as well. While films visit a character's life for a short time, a television series visits characters on a regular basis, over a number of seasons.

Continue reading "Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI" »

July 2, 2007

What Do People Do with Their Technology?

C3 Alum Geoffrey Long recently alerted me to an interesting study from Jan Chipchase (see his profile here). Jan works as a researcher for the design branch of Nokia, and he both designs new products and tests them.

In the meantime, he publishes a lot of intriguing studies and materials on his personal Web site, enttiled Future Perfect. He writes, "The material that you see on this site is what I do in my spare time--the stuff that inspires or challenges me, helps me understand how the future might turn out."

What caught Geoff's idea was his piece "Where's the Phone?" drawing on research he had done with Cui Yanging and Fumiko Ichikawa, based on a variety of street surveys for Nokia between 2003 and 2006, focusing on "where people carry their mobile phones and why."

Continue reading "What Do People Do with Their Technology?" »

Links for Monday, July 02

I wanted to do a quick roundup of some of the interesting stories that have caught my eye over the past week that I thought it might be of worth for interested C3 readers to take a look at.

1.) MySpaceTV. The new service, available here, is an upgrade of MySpace video with the idea of creating a forum for cross-platform distribution of professional content, including of course News Corp. content. The plan is for an international video platform with 15 countries and seven languages and an emphasis on customization. The company may be looking to compete with YouTube in relation to video views, but the focus seems to be much more on professional content for the MySpace platform. See more at Mashable.

2.) Lycos Further Integrates blinkx. Lycos has increased its relationship with video search engine blinkx so that the blinkx function will be fully functional on the Lycos MIX platform. Users can do a blinkx search within the platform. More from Minic Rivera at 901am.

3.) BBC YouTube Platform on thePlatform. BBC Global News will be working with Comcast's thePlatform, an online video technology, to help the network deliver its news through YouTube. The branded BBC Global News site on YouTube is promised to feature up to 30 news clips daily. See more from Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeek.

Continue reading "Links for Monday, July 02" »

The Apple iPhone and Brand Fandom

I have mentioned here previously that I write about differences in my former life in Kentucky and life on the East Coast in a weekly column for The Ohio County TImes-News called "From Beaver Dam to Boston." I was in the process of writing my next column when I realized that it might be of interest to readers of the consortium as well, so I thought I would share it here:

My wife and I made a grave mistake. Seeing that I study media technologies, branding, popular culture, and the like, one would think I would be more in-tune with the craze that was taking the country over on Friday, June 29, but I suppose that I'm not as "in touch" as I would like to fancy myself.

Last Thursday, Amanda's laptop battery just quit working. The battery decided it didn't want to charge anymore, so when the computer ran out of energy, the only way that she could use it was to have it plugged into the wall. The battery had a little "X" in the middle in the spot where it usually tells us how much of her battery is charged.

Apparently, it was a problem with the MacBook model, one that they caught but which many users had not fixed in time to stop the computer from, as the genius at the help bar in the Apple store told us, "self-cannibalizing" itself. He claimed all one would have to do is switch out the batteries, but I can't help but wonder if there might be deeper issues that need to be resolved in cases of self-cannibalization.

Continue reading "The Apple iPhone and Brand Fandom" »

Telephia Finds Mobile Video Subscribers Tripled; Company Purchased by Nielsen

Mobile consumer research group Telephia has seen a significant amount of press in the past week, releasing a study at the beginning of last week which found that revenues spent on mobile video tripled in the first quarter of 2007, and then following that up with news that the research firm is being purchased by industry titan Nielsen.

The Nielsen purchase will bolster Telephia's resources while giving the audience measurement company substantial in-roads to the burgeoning mobile market. Rafat Ali with paidContent points out that this comes three weeks after Nielsen announced its Nielsen Wireless initiative for mobile content audience measurement.

See more from Alice Z. Cuneo at Advertising Age.

Their most recent study found that subscriptions to mobile television services actually grew 198 percent from the first quarter of 2006, to approximately $146 million. The estimation is that 8.4 million people in the U.S. subscribe to mobile video, which is about 4 percent of the country's mobile users.

Continue reading "Telephia Finds Mobile Video Subscribers Tripled; Company Purchased by Nielsen" »

July 1, 2007

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part Two): Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger

Where the Wind Blows: The Matter of Authorship

Geoffrey: Ah, so we've arrived at the point in this academic conversation when we both devolve into real, true fanboy/fangirl engagement -- what the hell is up with that Supernatural "prequel" comic anyway? The art is horrible and the writing isn't much better! I swear to God, I was so stoked when I found the first issue at my comic shop, but when I got it home and cracked it open I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to finish reading it. Ugh.

A-hem. Back to the topic at hand...

I think this is one area where my own experience as a storyteller colors my attitude towards hierarchies of canon and authorship. When I tell a story, I'm creating a group of characters, a world in which they'll exist, and the series of events that will happen to them. I am the author of that story, and these are my creations. If someone else wants to tell a story featuring my characters, it feels like it should be up to me to determine whether or not the events they describe are actually 'canon' or not. If I accept those events as canon, I'm also granting that person the right to be considered an author of this narrative -- literally 'authorizing' them. If I don't, then I have options. I can sue, in an attempt to make sure that no one else plays with my toys, but I personally firmly believe that this is a bad way to go unless someone's making money off of my work illegally or that they're passing off what they're creating as official canon. A better option is to acknowledge the existence of that story as fan fiction, and recognize that it exists in a sort of orbit around the original creation. This is where things get particularly messy -- is it "equally viable as literature", or is it permanently tainted as a 'lesser' creation, since that person didn't invent that story from whole cloth? How much distance from the original creation is required for something to be considered viable as literature?

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part Two): Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger" »

Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part One):Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger

As Sam has noted here on the C3 blog, there has been a series on my blog for the past five weeks focusing on gender issues in relation to the study of fan culture, drawing on a variety of male and female scholars who examine fans. C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell has participated in this dialogue, and C3 Alum Geoffrey Long participated in the latest round this past Thursday and Friday. I thought that Geoff's con versation with Catherine Tosenberger might be of particular interest to C3 readers, so I will post the two parts of that conversation here on the C3 blog as well.

Introducing Our Protagonists

Geoffrey: Hi, I'm Geoffrey Long, and I recently completed my Master's degree from the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. Back in 2003 I read this article in the Technology Review about something called transmedia storytelling, written by some guy named Henry Jenkins. The piece really resonated with me, so I sent Henry an email to ask him some more about it -- never imagining that the resulting conversation would last for over four years and culminate in Henry being the advisor for my Master's thesis, which wound up being about, surprise surprise, transmedia storytelling.

For anyone who hasn't read Convergence Culture yet, transmedia storytelling is the crafting of a narrative that spans multiple media types. Chapter one might be told in a book, chapter two might unfold in a film, chapter three might be done as a video game, and so on. Telling a character's adventures in multiple media is nothing new, but until recently most cross-media storytelling was done either as adaptation or as franchising, and most of these extensions weren't considered officially in canon. Contemporary transmedia storytellers like the Wachowski Brothers or Joss Whedon are telling stories that were designed from the start as cross-media narratives, and are deliberately taking advantage of the strengths of each media type to enrich each project. The Enter the Matrix video game, for example, wasn't created just as a cheap grab for more money but as an actual chapter in the larger narrative of The Matrix, and the second and third Matrix films only truly made sense if you'd played the video game.

Continue reading "Gender and Fan Studies (Round Five, Part One):Geoffrey Long and Catherine Tosenberger" »

Add to Technorati Favorites