November 16, 2007
FoE2: Opening Remarks

The opening remarks at this year's FUTURES OF ENTERTAINMENT conference are being made by Henry Jenkins, director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies, and Joshua Green, research manager for C3.

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The opening remarks begin with the screening of a Tex Avery clip, "The TV of Tomorrow."


Why is this relevant? Because at MIT, and in C3, we prognosticate about the future a lot, and have no guarantee that our predictions will be more accurate than Avery's.

We see a number of trends accelerating, particularly in television and media consumption. Simplified technology. Immediate use. Specialized devices. Disruption of life. New schemes for interacting with the television set. As Avery's clip shows, the idea of games and television overlapping is not a new one, but has been in the popular imagination since television began. Retro-futurism and visions of technology. We recognize that there are multiple futures and multiple directions. This conference thrives on the spirit of conversation, and brings people together to speculate on this.


Interactivity was the promise of the future, with VR systems being predicted as a solution that would allow viewers to get "into" television.

Instead, interactivity takes a range of other forms that allow viewers to engage with content across platforms.

One excellent recent example is The Simpsons Movie, which drew upon a range of interactive and non-traditional promotional campaigns. The most popular of these was probably "the Simpsonizer," which let visitors to the site create themselves as Simpsons-styled art -- allowing them to get personally involved, and offering an opportunity to interact with television. Another notable promotion involved transforming a series of 7-11 stores into KWIK-E-MARTS, a tactic which (in effect) pushed the television text out into the real world, rather than bringing people into the television world.

Recently, the virtual world platform Second Life was used to position an episode of CSI:NY as an interactive experience.

At the same time, technologies like the Nintendo Wii offer new ways for viewers/users to interact with the screen, and change the relationship between screen and viewer.

Example: a public-space projected game called Newsbreaker.

Games are also becoming a bigger success story: Halo 3 broke records on opening day sales, and top-tier games often challenge the top money earners in Hollywood.

Not all of these games are as narratively complex as others -- for instance, while Bioshock is extremely complex in its narrative, Halo 3 is not. More is happening in the gaming space, as well, such as serious games. Diorama of Final Fight. Experiencing war that never happened: documentary. Video game version of Private Ryan. Controversial way of advertising game, which is still a fairly derided medium.

At a pre-conference panel last night, guest-speakers discussed NBC's television hit Heroes. According to Jenkins, Heroes fully embodies the transformations taking place in entertainment: it is moving from an appointment medium, toward an engagement medium. The content of the show is not restricted to television, but unfolds across several media platforms. The show is also a blur/hybrid of cult media and mainstream media. Embedded media: 9th Wonders comic book and website has significant narrative functions: it flushes out minor characters in greater depth and helps us understand new characters; provides key pieces of backstory not on air; and effectively enhances and expands experience of viewer. In the past year, comics have started working with television more, in particular through Joss Whedon's Buffy comics, which extended the now-cancelled television series with a "new season ," and a new central storyline, rather than simply being a small-scale spin-off. Many shows are using comics: Supernatural goes back in time; Battlestar Galactica has comics.

Transmedia has been happing in branding as well: Geico Caveman moved from an advertisement into its own sitcom. Characters are migrating across mediascape.

Advertising itself is changing. (Josh shows a short clip from Tom Cruise's Minority Report, illustrating the idea of
personalized ads targeting individual consumers.

What is actually happening: increased granularity of advertising. We must question the fundamentals of how to understand the modern audience and how the industry has been organized accordingly. Facebook is the forefront of personalied advertizing. Started selling targeed ad campaigns based on profiles. Aggregating available data. Many users view this as inappropriate, even though it simply aggregates public information.

Facebook is important because of communities formed around it and using it for civic activities.

IBM has largest applications by use on Facebook. The widget plugs into a platform, not micro-sites has proved to be more viable recently. But there is a tension in the consumer relationship to be shared by two participants. NBC broke up with iTunes and went to Amazon Unbox. NBC has more control over content delivery, but production of different distribution platform. NBC and FOX and HULU -- Hulu will point people at content that is not ABC and NBC. Hulu is an attempt of the
networks to create an alternative, not just to deliver content online but to buld an effective service.

The writer's strike had a YouTube campaign explaining the systems of payment, residuals, etc.

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The original agreement that writers would give up some profit share to push the success of new platforms of video and DVD. Now they want a cut of new media, like streaming on the internet. The studios can get loads of money because very few production costs, but they don't want to share that with writers. "i'd love to pay you, but it's just a promo," is the explination, but what will happen when television and the internet become one? Will writers still get paid the internet rate?

YouTube is being used as an effective channel in this instance. The networks are not going to give them fair coverage in the strike, so Youtube emerging as an alternative communication channel. YouTube is really emblematic of contradictions of this moment of DIY media.

Stephen Colbert understands the audience and studio landscape. Treated as essential industries of communication? Students get most of info from these shows and how that effects next election cycle -- especially now that they are off the air not providing that info, due to the strike. Many saw the press conference dinner on YouTube, which was not covered much by the mainstream news.

Greenscreen Challenge contests. People are engaging in warfare with Wikipedia, which actually had to ask its staff to prevent changes.

There is a participation logic that is for people to be able to remix and engage in different ways, but at the same time economic, legal logic seems to work against this.

The same media channel is essential to the political campaign. For instance: the spoof of the Sopranos - Bill and Hilary, Obama Girl iconography, the CNN partnership with YouTube for democratic debate. Republicans refused to have a YouTube debate -- Romney won't debate a snowman. But there's a history of candidates using cartoons and silly stuff to speak to us about election issues -- we're just not allowed to use them to speak back.

The same distribution channel is enabling indie studios to get films out. Allow them to book films by seeing where the interest is and targeting certain cities and areas.

There is also the example of Soulja Boy, wherein a 15-year-old boy releases independent musical release on the internet that became a dance craze phenomenon. This popularity helped him get signed through the visibility of his fans.

Recently, New York Magazine did articles about online video. There was a salute to female vidding community that remixes television content to music to create new kinds of expressive works. This has gone from the days of VCR to digital work. Luminosity's fan work remixing The 300 and Vogue by Madonnna is a spectacular work of virtuosity distributed via the Web.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of a number of women artists. There is a 20 plus year history of work by this community. USC will be hosting a festival in the spring about it. It is suggested that people like Luminosity are the biggest fans and friends of media, but cannot reveal her name lest she be sued -- this points to challenges of creating participatory media within the current copyright regime.

There are contradictions over implicit social contract over Web 2.0. Fanlib tried to build on fan created work and sell user-generated content, but did not respect existing traditions. Historically, fanfiction is 90% women. FanLib did not understand that they did not create that audience, but were cooperating with previously existing communities.

Conflicts between users and producers persist in web 2.0. are present in the idea that fans writing had to "stay within the lines"-- a system of control and regulation, despite assurance to fans.

Ensure the rights of the media holders. LJ fan community created momentum and pushed back against Fanlib, although LJ was purging fanfiction over "child pornography" and obscenity issues. Terms of participation are exactly what is under dispute.

Harry Potter
Major media text of the last year, but it's a contradiction - mass of mass media texts. Touches the entire planet. Mass media success is giving away to market fragmentation and niche media. Is this the last gasp of media power? Mass media power may not be dead yet. There is still a power in these old forms. Leaks of early copies and spoilers raised an aggressive backlash against media power around Harry Potter. Henry and Cynthia camped out in the backyard to isolate themselves from spoilers and interruptions.

Then JK Rowling outed Dumbledore with the addition, "Oh, the fanfiction that will be written." This shows that she acknowledges and celebrates fanfic, but at the same time's it's the author staking out the right to make this claim, to make it an authorized reading.

Wizard rock is a form of fan music circulated mostly through social network sites. Harry Potter fan podcasts are competing with commercial podcasts. The Harry Potter Alliance is using the franchise to teach activism through the mythology of Harry Potter: just like kids learn to read from HP, they should learn to be activists too.

Meeting ground between mass media and participatory culture. It's both a fan event and an industry event -- it was once a geek-fest, now it's where companies go to reach an increasingly influential part of the audience. Gene Roddenberry showed Star Trek TNG at World Con, and thus created a fandom for the show before it even aired. It was an example of a producer that courted fans and engaged audience.

Different kind of productivity that's recently emerged in the mobile space. Rendering of iPhone as a paper craft object. DICK TRACY clip; two-way wrist watch (another imagination of the future -- gives us wristwatch television/communicator device for navigating landscape). The iPhone provides you with the real internet but also the ability to locate yourself in space. The iPhone also creates combative relationship with users. SNL spoof of iPhone commercial - cracked iPhone that does not need to have AT&T in the shot. Second roll out of firmware turned cracked phones into useless devices.

PSP mishandled by Sony: Sony won't let users open them up; keeps them closed down so you have to pay Sony for access to the device.

Google is seen as the antithesis of Apple, celebrating open-ness. The Android platform to build phones that are open and accessible, allowing people to use any provider on any phone. These issues of access will become more and more important if we establish an even more substantial mobile market. We must reinvigorate issue of net neutrality. What can be done with the iPhone pushes the issue of net neutrality back on the table.

Hopefully, the conference has touched upon a wide range of hot button issues of media in the last year, and gotten some conversation started.