January 31, 2008

On Wikipedia and Ironic Statements: Another Apropos Analogy

Another anecdote I've been sharing increasingly with others--apologies to those readers who've heard me share this in private conversation--is a conversation I had while doing some research as a graduate student with an executive for a media production company. At the time, I was doing research into the history of the company's brand, and I had searched far and wide for information on when their production company's brand had launched.

The production company has a weak corporate presence online, and the only place I could find anyone venture an explanation for when the current name had been used was Wikipedia. While I find the collective intelligence that Wikipedia offers incredibly useful, I also realize that there are all sorts of gaps in knowledge cobbled together by users, so I wanted to seek out confirmation from an "official source" who I felt was in a much better position to clarify this fact, as opposed to the anonymous. I was particularly afraid that this company's Wikipedia page may not have been as heavily edited as more hot-button pages, so it stood a greater chance of being wrong.

I asked the company representative who had asked to be the point-person for all my inquiries while I was doing research, to which that person replied, "I would not rely on Wikipedia for academic research."

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Airline Restrictions: An Analogy for Lack of Transparency

One buzzword making its rounds at the moment is "transparency," and it's one that I find myself using increasingly, no matter my aversion to adopting terms. In an era of Web 2.0 technologies, I find increasingly--as I wrote about earlier this month--that there are too many people who haven't gotten Web 1.0 correctly, either.

As Steve Cody and I wrote about recently, many companies are making a variety of costly gaffes online, and part of the reason is that the same principles regarding open communication and transparency still apply.

Recently, when I was preparing for a flight to New York City, these problems became apparent. I was going for an overnight trip, so I was in need of a variety of belongings to cart along with me, but not enough to pack checked baggage.

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January 30, 2008

YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (2 of 2)

Based on the observations from our YouTube coding project presented in my previous post yesterday afternoon, I'm trying to formulate some hypotheses to work with as I delve more deeply into the research for a project I'm working on with the Consortium on viral marketing, interactivity and film, and we begin to analyze the coding we've done to date for YouTube videos. To recap, the most prevalent observations I found were that:

1 - What's most popular is often taken from "traditional" media.

2 - YouTube has its own celebrities - and soap operas - that spur user participation.

3 - Webrities and traditional don't always mix.

So far, I have two hypotheses. First, the most effective way to promote something with YouTube is not with trailers and commercials. Second, YouTube is about YouTube users, not copyright infringement.

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YouTube: (De)Coding Culture Online (1 of 2)

Earlier this month, the C3 team took on the task of coding our sample of YouTube videos for our upcoming content analysis project. After recovering from spending many hours hunched over with my headphones plugged into my MacBook, with Excel spreadsheet and html archive files always open, I have had some time to reflect. This post is about my preliminary observations on what I have seen so far, that I thought I'd share here. Granted, the sample was small, but I'll be curious to see if any of these observations or conclusions are shown to be true across the group's sample.

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Cheerios Ads Tailor-Made for Specific TV Shows

After my daily intake of As the World Turns yesterday afternoon, I saw a curious ad, one that prompted me to write this morning.

First of all, I'm one of those timeshifters who doesn't watch the ads...It takes my hour of soap a day down to 30-some minutes, and it gives my wife and I something routine to watch on the DVR while we're having dinner. Generally, as the show ends, and we get a couple of preview teasers from the next episode, I hit stop and delete.

We got a new "all-in-one" remote over the weekend, so it look me a little longer than usual to stop and delete the episode, and I heard a commercial that sounded vaguely familiar. "Six weeks ago, Bob slipped into a coma. Ooh! Now, he's fine, and Chris is the one with a headache." At first, and only half-listening, I thought it was a bizarre start to the commercial, but then I realized that they were talking about Dr. Bob Hughes and his son, Dr. Chris Hughes, characters on ATWT.

The tagline? In that same amount of time, you could have lowered your cholesterol by 4 percent by eating Cheerios.

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January 29, 2008

DRM Is Dead! (Or Is It?)

The music industry has a flare for the dramatic. As such, last year has been repeatedly portrayed as the year that the music industry broke and October as the month that sealed the deal. That was when RIAA won its first major file sharing lawsuit, reinforcing their perception of consumers as potential criminals.

More importantly, however, it was the month that Radiohead announced its pay-what-you-want scheme; Nine Inch Nails declared itself 'a totally free agent, free of any recording contact with any label'; and Madonna terminated her 25-year relationship with Warner Music Group and signed a 360 deal with Live Nation.

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Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts

I've had the pleasure recently of having several conversations and exchanges with Bernard Timberg, a professor at East Carolina University. Bernard wrote a piece on soap operas more than 20 years ago that dealt with production, and Abigail Derecho and I are interviewing him for the collection we are putting together on soaps, looking at the rhetoric of the camera in American soaps today, compared to the early 1980s.

Timberg has written on a variety of subjects, including a substantial amount of work on talk shows, and he is passionate about fair use as well, which is where our most recent conversations were targeted.

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Looking Back to 1996

Recently, an e-mail came my way bringing my attention to this interesting piece from back in 2006, as a user decides to look back 10 years and see what the Web was like back in 1996. The author of the piece, Eric Karjala, writes occasional articles and blogs regularly at 3,300 Diggs. But it's interesting to see it still getting forwarded, more than a year after its spread and all those Diggs, and it's a reminder that, to whatever degree you buy into the idea of a Long Tail, an extended archive does leave content dormant for a renaissance someday. (That's what I keep thinking about some of those random blog pieces I wrote that I just know someone is going to find valuable in the future--ham radio, anyone?

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Fanista: Generating Value Back to Users

An interesting new site has launched in the past few months that provides users a chance to receive value for their proselytizing, for the site itself, that is. The site, called Fanista, sells media products and then gives you a cut on your friends' purchases if you convince them to sign up on the site. Basically it's rewarding the proselytizer for all future purchases they have a hand in generating. It's a traditional store online by any other means, but the incentive to recommend and sign others up is significant.

The short of it: for customers who join the site based on your recommendation, you get 5 percent of their purchases. The beta of the site is available here, and the way the site is built emphasizes the importance of these personal connections. Reviews are a major part of the site, and--if other customers who you recommended the site to buy products based on your review--you get a small share of the profit.

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Around CMS: Jesper Juul, Beth Coleman, and Market Truths

I wanted to start out this morning by passing along a few interesting stories that readers and colleagues have passed my way of late. The first comes from a few games-related stories here at MIT.

For those who are not familiar with his work, Jesper Juul received his doctorate from the IT University of Copenhagen and is the author of Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. He is now a video game researcher here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies, in the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.

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January 28, 2008

Looking at the National PCA/ACA Conference: Interesting Presentations (2 of 2)

For me, Friday at the PCA/ACA conference will see me give most of my day to discussing the current state of soap operas, in a series of three panels.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., the Soap Opera I panel--entitled "Families, Fantasy, and Values: Shaping Soap Operas and Telenovelas"--will feature four presentations. Barbara Irwin from Canisius College chairs the panel. Mary Devine from Marblehead, Mass., will be presenting on "Dynasties on All My Children." Jeffrey Lubang from De La Salle University Dasmarinas in The Philippines presents, "Commodifying Culture: Telenovelas as Cultural Commodity and Social Fantasy," looking at Mexican, Taiwanese, and Korean telenovaelas in Philippene Television History. I'll be ready to discuss MariMar with him. Melixa Abad-Izquierdo from SUNY at Stony Brook will be presenting "Cinderella, Indians and Aspirations to Modernity: Mexican Telenovelas 1958-1973." Finally, the University of Buffalo's Marsha Ducey will present As the World Turns: "Indecency" in American Soap Operas."

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Looking at the National PCA/ACA Conference: Interesting Presentations (1 of 2)

In the past couple of posts, I wrote in preview of the SCMS conference that I'll be presenting at in March. Later that month, I'm also going to be traveling to the annual national joint conference of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association, which takes place this year in San Francisco.

I am one of only two people affiliated with the Convergence Culture Consortium participating in a panel at the conference, joined by C3 Consulting Researcher Ted Hovet from Western Kentucky University.

In scanning through the panels, a variety of speakers I know caught my eye, and I thought I'd pass these presentations along to the blog readership as well, in case some of you are coming to the PCA meeting as well. If you are, please drop me a line at samford@mit.edu, and let me know of particular panels that you think might be of interest to the blog readers as a whole, since our comments section is currently down. I thought I'd include some presentations of interest from the first couple of days in this post, and I'll put some from Friday and Saturday up later today.

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January 27, 2008

Interesting Presentations at SCMS Conference

In the previous post, I wrote about presentations at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference from C3 staff and consulting researchers. Now, for a few other presentations that caught my eye from this conference, which will be March 6-9 in Philadelphia.

From 2 p.m. until 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, Mary Jeanne Wilson from the University of Southern California is making a presentation entitled "'Just the Good Parts': Fan Manipulation of the Soap Opera Narrative Structure through Elimination and Compilation of Storylines," as part of the panel "Storytelling: Narrative in Film and Television." Wilson is a contributor to the forthcoming collection on the current state and future of soap operas that I am co-editing.

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C3-Related Presentations at SCMS Conference

For those of you on the academic side of the aisle among the C3 blog readership, I thought you might be interested to know that there will be a variety of C3 staff and consulting researchers presenting at this year's conference for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, which will take place March 06-March 09 in Philadelphia, Penn. I was looking through the program of events and marking the times that members of the Consortium's official community would be speaking, and I thought I might share that information with others as well. (Thanks to Julie Levin Russo for the idea.)

SCMS is probably the one academic conference that draws the most C3-affiliated folks together, as well as many other academics who are interested in many of the same types of research as the Consortium. In a subsequent post, I may include some of the other presentations that caught my eye. Here, however, are the panels at SCMS which involve those affiliated with the Consortium.

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January 26, 2008

The Balance between Chains and Local Shops

In light of the previous post, I wanted to share with you an article I wrote back in the summer of 2005 for The Ohio County Times-News, for the column I write there entitled "From Beaver Dam to Boston." This deals with franchise chains and locally owned shops:

Over the past couple of weeks, Amanda and I were hosts to one of our English professors from Western Kentucky University, Dale Rigby, who was participating in a nearby writing workshop in Vermont. While Dale was here, we discussed Kentucky a lot. Dale has lived all over the country in his life: Ohio, California, Iowa and Missouri, before coming to Bowling Green.

He really enjoyed Boston and Cambridge, the chance to go to English pubs and play chess with strangers. That got us talking about the differences between the business culture and the culture of Bowling Green. Here in Boston, there are local businesses and restaurants on almost every block, each establishment with its own stories and its own history, and I think that should serve as a point of inspiration to the Bowling Greens and even the Beaver Dams I came from.

In cities the size of Bowling Green, though, there is just something increasingly generic about the city as it grows. I have worked with Bowling Green's Chamber of Commerce on various articles and know that there are many unique things about the local Bowling Green economy. But, for every Mariah's in Bowling Green, there's 10 Red Lobsters, good food but without any sense of local culture.

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Authenticity and Linda's Donuts

Sometimes, your life changes when you don't have a car. I decided to work from home one day last week, to do some writing from home. Now that I live outside of Boston and Cambridge, though, out in Belmont here in the Boston area, it's not quite as easy to run out for some lunch on foot. But I had dropped my suit off at the dry cleaners' on the corner, the one who waved at us when we drove by--a move that was so Kentucky-like in nature that we decided to give that particular dry cleaners--Hemmingway--a try.

A couple of blocks away, there's a small little restaurant I noticed shortly after moving in here last summer, but I'd never dropped in. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m. each morning, but it's always closed by the early afternoon. I had driven by on the morning commute and especially on weekend mornings and seen a virtual traffic jam around this place.

It's name is Linda's Donuts, and the store touts that these particular donuts are "hand-cut."

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January 25, 2008

One Year Ago on the Consortium Blog...

In January 2007, during the Independent Activities Period, there were three major strains of discussion here on the C3 blog. The first was about the emergence in 2006 and going into 2007 of various Web 2.0 initiatives. This included social networking and video sharing sites in particular. See our posts on the prevalence of social networking, legislation regarding social networks, and ambivalence toward social networks and big media's move toward using social networks.

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Two Years Ago on the Consortium Blog...

It's hard to believe that the Convergence Culture Consortium has now passed its second year of existence. As the ideas that led into Henry Jenkins' 2006 book Convergence Culture have become increasingly accepted and understood by the media industries, media scholars, and media audiences, I thought it might be interesting to return to the IAPs of years past to look at what major concerns the Consortium was confronting and discussing at the time.

For those who haven't been a part of MIT culture, the IAP time in January stands for Independent Activities Period, when our students here are back on campus but not yet in the classroom. Traditionally, this has provided an opportunity for the Consortium to push research projects into a new phase and plan activities for the spring semester.

Looking back at our first year, when our research group was in its infancy, it appears that our greatest focuses--at least in the insights that appeared on the blog--dealt with participatory culture and cross-platform distribution.

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Field Notes from Shanghai: China's Digital Mavens

I wanted to provide an update from my post earlier this week with some more notes about my recent trip to Shanghai. For more posts on the trip, see my blog.

As I was getting ready for the trip, I stumbled onto a recently released study, produced by IAC and JWT, which compared the centrality of digital media in the life of teens in the United States and China. I used these statistics in my talk at the conference to suggest the importance of fostering new media literacies and ethics among Chinese youth. Here are some of the report's findings:

  • Almost five times as many Chinese as American respondents said they have a parallel life online (61 percent vs. 13 percent).

  • More than twice as many Chinese respondents agreed that "I have experimented with how I present myself online" (69 percent vs. 28 percent of Americans).

  • More than half the Chinese sample (51 percent) said they have adopted a completely different persona in some of their online interactions, compared with only 17 percent of Americans.

  • Fewer than a third of Americans (30 percent) said the Internet helps their social life, but more than three-quarters of Chinese respondents (77 percent) agreed that "The Internet helps me make friends."

  • Chinese respondents were also more likely than Americans to say they have expressed personal opinions or written about themselves online (72 percent vs. 56 percent). And they have expressed themselves more strongly online than they generally do in person (52 percent vs. 43 percent of Americans).

  • Chinese respondents were almost twice as likely as Americans to agree that it's good to be able to express honest opinions anonymously online (79 percent vs. 42 percent) and to agree that online they are free to do and say things they would not do or say offline (73 percent vs. 32 percent).

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January 24, 2008

Soap Fans and Veteran Actors: Jesse & Angie, Scott Bryce

For those of you who have followed my writing about soaps here on the C3 blog, you likely know that I feel one of the strongest thing the current daytime serial dramas have on their side is their history. As such, historical characters on the show today provide those contemporary ties to that deep history which I believe helps strengthen the transgenerational viewing patterns necessary to gain and maintain viewership for these shows in the long term.

ABC seems to hope this is the case, especially with the sagging ratings of longtime ABC Daytime fixture All My Children has been experiencing. Racquel Gonzales, one of the contributors to the book Abigail Derecho at Columbia College Chicago and I are putting together on the current state of soap operas, wrote me recently about how ABC Daytime is using the SOAPnet channel in a strategic way for both AMC and General Hospital. For GH, the cable network has planned to air a "Robin Unwrapped" episode marathon which helps catch viewers up on the history that more fully explains a pivotal story on the show, which is the first HIV pregnancy storyline in television, according to the promotion.

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Around the Consortium: Qualitative Research, Commercial Avoidance, Games, and TV

As always, there's a variety of interesting pieces popping up around the blogosphere by those associated with the Convergence Culture Consortium. This week, we'll be looking at qualitative research, commercial avoidance, trial games, time-shifting television, and 24's connection with the current political scene.

First of all, as C3 Research Manager Joshua Green and Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken teach their course on qualitative research here at MIT for our Independent Activities Period, Grant has been providing some of the resources for the class to his blog readers as well. Grant shares some of his thoughts here and here.

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January 23, 2008


I've followed the story for a long time, but as of this Monday night, World Wrestling Entertainment has converted its programming over to HD.

WWE RAW on the USA Network, ECW on Sci Fi, and Friday Night Smackdown on The CW will all now be aired with high-definition feeds, as well as WWE pay-per-view events, starting with Sunday's Royal Rumble. The CW had been looking to upgrade Smackdown for a while, in its effort to transition all its programming to HD. Meanwhile, both USA and Sci Fi are using the transition amidst their creation of dedicated HD channels.

WWE provides an FAQ section on HD, as well as a story on their site detailing some of the last minute struggles for the production team to get prepared for the first HD broadcast of WWE television.

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Meeting Scheduled to Discuss Digital Deadline for TV

Recently, in my regular daily e-mail update from TelevisionWeek, I saw the latest update from Ira Teinowitz on the House of Representatives' most recent reaction to preparations for the digital deadline for American televisions.

Teinowitz, who has covered this situation regularly for that publication for quite a while now, writes that House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell remains displeased with the ways in which everyone involved with preparing for the Feb. 17, 2009, transition from analog to digital signals for television broadcasting has been educating the public and preparing for the transition.

Now, a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 13, with the idea of looking at how well the preparation has been and needs to be, one year from the actual date of the conversion.

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C3 in the News: Soulja Boy, Soaps, and Friday Night Lights

Back for a round of updates this afternoon and evening, starting with a look at a few pieces in the press that we thought might be of interest to C3 blog readers.

Most prominently, Xiaochang Li's pieces from the fall semester here on the Soulja Boy (entitled Hustling 2.0 and Meet Me at My Crib) has been referenced or featured in a couple of places of late.

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Field Notes from Shanghai: Fansubbing in China

I have been publishing a variety of notes from the time I spent in Shanghai earlier this month for my blog earlier this month. I thought C3 readers might be particularly interested in this piece. You can find other notes from my visit to Shanghai here, here, and here.

I had dinner on my last night in Shanghai with Yu Liu, a reporter who covers digital culture for Lifeweek Magazine, which is roughly the equivalent of Time. She shared with me a story she had written about the growing fan culture around Prison Break in China. As she notes, Prison Break's focus on strong filial bonds resonate powerfully with Chinese cultural tradition.

(This left me wondering about the popularity of Supernatural in China -- which has the strong brotherly affection coupled with ghost stories and would seem ready made for this market, but I didn't see any signs of it.)

Prison Break had already been mentioned to me several times during the visit as a series which was sparking strong fan response here. Yu Liu's report describes the elaborate collaborative network which has emerged to allow Chinese fans to translate and recirculate Prison Break episodes within twelve hours of their airing in the United States. As we spoke, she drew strong parallels to the fan subbing practices around anime in the western world, which I have discussed here in the blog in the past.

She said that during the first season, the Chinese fans had discovered the series on dvds sold on street corners as part of the black market in entertainment properties here. By the second season, the fans primarily relied on the internet to access content, impatient with the longer turnaround time of dvd production. Like American anime fans, they took the media in their own hands.

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January 16, 2008

McCracken and Green's Qualitative Research Course at MIT

Grant McCracken wrote a note recently over on his blog about the workshop he and Joshua Green are teaching at MIT on qualitative research. I thought this would be of interest ton Consortium readers as well, both because of the topic and because the course is being taught by C3's research manager and one of our consulting researchers.

The course runs for the next 3 weeks and students present their findings January 31st. Grant will be posting observations from the course over the next few weeks on his blog.

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Around the Consortium: Web 1.0, 2007 in Review, and The Playboy Professor

I wanted to start off this week's update from "Around the Consortium" by pointing toward a blurb that appeared on C3 Alum Ilya Vedrashko's Advertising Lab site back last month. This is directing people toward Jakob Nielsen's piece on some of the dangers of the Web 2.0 mentality. It's not that Jakob is against Web 2.0, per say, but rather the way that they are implemented.

In particular, Jakob feels (correctly, I believe) that too many people get the "get me one of those" mentalities that Stacey Lynn Schulman talked about at Futures of Entertainment 2, wherein they think very little about why they need some aspect to their site but rather that they should because it's the trendy thing to do. I believe very much in social connectivity on the Web, but not just for the sake of doing it. I think back to the conversation I had with the journalist who said she had put a camera in the newsroom as an example of convergence, as if that is inherently a good idea and little to no thought needed to be put into what comes next and what purpose that camera would serve to covering stories more comprehensively.

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January 14, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VIII: Soap Operas as Brands and Conclusion

Soap Operas as Brands

The phrase "not your mother's soap opera" does not work well for fans in this genre. This phrase may never have been overtly used, but the implication has been in place when the show's history was sacrificed at times to new characters meant to appeal to the target demographic with little connection to a soap opera's past. In most of these cases, though, managing these shows as one would a primetime show and trying to come up with a short-term way to increase viewership among the desired demographic proved to do nothing to curb the downward ratings trend and the continued loss of cultural and financial significance for soap operas. While every other television industry seems to make its name off target marketing and niche audiences according to age/sex demographics, soap operas are in danger when being conceptualized in this way because they are, by their nature, best as a transgenerational narrative. Soap operas may be able to continue thriving in a narrowcasting environment, but the niche audience these shows appeal to may not be able to be broken down so neatly by age/sex.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VII: Quick Fixes and Fan Proselytizers

Quick Fixes

Many long-standing television forms have not completely grasped the idea that one of the most important selling tools they have is exactly what sets them apart from the more ephemeral primetime fare: longevity. This category includes any type of program with deep archives but particularly daytime serial drama. These programs have been on for years, without an end in sight, making them special in a television industry of constant changes and cancellations. The formats of these programs are meant to instill in viewers the sense that, even if the program hits a down time, its longevity and format will cause it to rebound and remain a part of the television landscape for years to come.

Most soap operas today concentrate on finding new viewers by either trying to appeal to casual fans or else stealing viewers from other soap operas, resulting in a dwindling pool of potential audience members as the viewership of the genre as a whole slowly drops. On the other hand, these shows used to have millions more viewers a decade ago and especially two decades ago. Appealing to those prodigal viewers, the "lapsed fans" who have moved away from their soap but would still recognize and perhaps even care about some of the longtime faces of the show--legacy characters--could help bring fans back to these shows, and through the process of transgenerational storytelling, get them interested in newer characters as well.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part VI: Product Placement and Transmedia Storytelling

Product Placement and Soap Operas

If soap operas shift to a brand-management strategy that gives greater value to depth of fan engagement and the social activities surrounding the consumption of the official texts of these shows, new revenue sources become more plausible, as I look at in the fourth chapter of my Master's thesis.

The deeper engagement that the immersive story worlds of soap operas encourage also lead to revenue models that value engagement in a way that commercials based on Nielsen ratings do not. While the first forms of product placement can be found in literature, product placement in broadcast was launched simultaneously with commercial radio content, particularly driven by corporate sponsorship that involved prominent product mentions on the air. Nowhere in radio drama was the product more closely married to the show than in the soap opera, however, a genre in which product placement was part of its name.

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January 13, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part V: Utilizing Soap Opera Archives in a Long Tail Economy

Since most American soap operas have been on the air for decades now, these shows have legions of former viewers from previous generations that may not be as interested in the contemporary product but might watch the shows from their past if they could be reached and marketed to and especially if material could be packaged and contextualized in meaningful ways, rather than just airing every episode from the archive in its entirety--especially since many of those episodes no longer exist, especially from the early years. The potential value in this archive leads to a logical business model which directly integrates the available content from the many years in the air.

Using Chris Anderson's concept of the "Long Tail economy," the fifth chapter of my thesis looks at how soap operas could use their history more meaningfully, perhaps as an ancillary revenue source. While ratings today are lower than in previous decades, much of the footage available in that archive aired with higher ratings than the show airing today.

The proliferation of television viewing choices, the rise of women in the workforce, and the O.J. Simpson trial have all contributed to these changes, but the fact remains that most soap operas may have more prodigal children who could potentially be part of a market for this archive content than current viewers. Further, since there is no syndication and no off-season, many of these popular episodes only aired once, never to be seen again, unless a viewer happened to archive the episode and add it to his/her tape collection.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part IV: Understanding Online Fan Communities

Online fans are more active than the casual viewer model the Nielsen ratings system is based on, with its focus on impressions without relation to the level of engagement. The shift to balancing quantitative measurements with qualitative ones requires acknowledging and valuing that active engagement, however, as I explain in further detail in the third chapter of my thesis.

Further, many of the "unique" and "niche" aspects of online fan communities actually echo offline modes of engagement with the text as well, albeit on a much larger scale and in published form. These discussion boards can often seem full of noise, especially for the television executive approaching these fan forums with no history in the fan community.

It is important for those exploring the reaction of these fans to be a part of that fan community in an active way and to understand it not as an outsider but as a native. Generally, this means that researchers are best recruited from the fan community rather than trying to become anthropologists studying that community from a distance.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part III: The History of Fan Discussion

Soaps do not exist in a vacuum, and a show's daily texts can only be completely understood in the context of the community of fans surrounding them. Instead of imagining the audience as a passive sea of eyeballs measured through impressions, this approach views soaps as the gathering place for a social network. Acting as dynamic social texts, soap operas are created as much by the audience that debates, critiques, and interprets them than through the production team itself. Here are the various ways fans have interacted with and around soap opera texts through the years, as described in detail in the second chapter of my thesis:

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January 12, 2008

As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part II: The Current State of Soaps

Currently, the soap opera industry is in a state of flux. With Passions moving off NBC, ratings that continue to fall or at best stay even, commentators continue the discussion that has taken place for more than a decade as to the long-term fate of the American soap opera. Reasons for the long-term decline of soaps most often cited include the proliferation of media choices, women moving into the workforce, and the O.J. Simpson case interrupting the daily flow of the soap opera text. However, the inevitability argument posits that nothing can be done to reverse this trend, that soap operas are inevitably on a slowly declining path toward eventual extinction, and also attempts to give a pass to the strategic and creative errors that have expedited or even created many of these negative trends in viewership.

These shows have attempted a series of short-term strategies to gain more viewers specifically in the 18-to-49 female demographic, but this process is often done by focusing on characters within that age demographic as well, ignoring one of the soap opera's strengths--transgenerational storytelling, and particularly transgenerational storytelling that focuses on characters and relationships more than plot progression. In a broad-casting model, soap operas were strengthened by their ability to draw in viewers from multiple generations through texts that examined the relationships in multigenerational families, but the genre has increasingly targeted young adult females at the exclusion of its older viewers and characters as the television industry has become focused on target demographics.

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As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture: A Summary, Part I: Immersive Story Worlds

With my class on soap operas coming up, I recently completed a summary of some of the major points of my thesis work, some of which has appeared here on the C3 blog in the past here and here. A draft of the full thesis is available here. Speaking of the class, a quick thanks to the folks at CBS Soaps: In Depth for featuring it in their latest magazine.

As of this posting, comments have been temporarily turned off, so if you have any response to this summary, feel free to e-mail me directly at samford@mit.edu. Our tech guys tell me comments should be enabled once again later this month.

One of the central ideas of my thesis' posits that soap operas exist as one of few "immersive story worlds" in the media industries, narratives that are developed over time with a large volume of characters and text. Many of the reasons why people are attracted to these narratives deal with the depth and breadth of these stories and the feeling that these narratives are immortal. The first chapter of the thesis posits that only three narrative types exist as exemplars of immersive story worlds, even if many media franchises have some of the characteristics:

  • The DC and Marvel comic book universe
  • Professional wrestling
  • Soap operas

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January 10, 2008

The Ron Paul Candidacy and Facebook Controversy

The Internet is abuzz with politics. And it's that time every four years when suddenly everyone cares about civic engagement and democracy and all that. I'd like to see more of that type of engagement on a local level, including form myself, but nevertheless we're swept up in the frenzy of national politics.

This year, with so many candidates in the mix, it seems as if every election is a surprise. Online, it's been quite interesting as well. There's no doubt that Barack Obama is carrying unprecedented amounts of interest from young voters, and there's a corresponding amount of buzz in the blogosphere, on YouTube, and elsewhere.

For those of you who follow these spaces regularly, it will come as no surprise that there's a comparable amount of buzz from a much more unsuspecting candidate, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. As opposed to Obama, who is the youngest candidate in this year's election, Paul is the second-oldest, following only Mike Gravel. Further, Paul is a Republican fiscal conservative to an extreme, a fairly strict libertarian at heart.

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The Place of Social Reaction in Media Measurement

The media industries adapt to change very slowly. That I have established several times. In some ways, this is necessarily so. The infrastructure that the industry has built for itself helps major media companies weather the tests of time, but they also keep them from being nimble enough to change very easily.

Media research is no different.

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January 9, 2008

Soaps Continue through Writers Strike

Before the holidays, we published a couple of posts dealing with the writer's strike. As you know, a lot has changed over the past couple of months when the Heroes writers visited MIT while the strike was young. We've seen the late night shows disappear, only to come back in the new year. Letterman and Ferguson have returned with an interim deal in place, while the other late night shows--including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have come back sans writers.

For me, soap operas are in the most interesting place, as they are the one narrative that is especially built on a "world without end." Strike don't stop soaps, and whether you call the writers "interim," "scabs," or "fi core," there are a group of unnamed people churning out scripts for the nine American daytime soaps. Most of those scripts haven't made it on air yet, but fans are wondering what this will mean for the respective shows.

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Tying Live Events into a Transmedia Narrative

As many of you who follow our blog or our other writings or conferences regularly know, the Consortium has always been interested in transmedia storytelling, and I have often posited that professional wrestling is a narrative that has always been ripe for crossing multiple media formats. World Wrestling Entertainment has built a model around it.

At first, television and other revenue streams were meant as ancillary content and even more as a way to build for the real meat of the business, which was the touring live event show. Over time, however, the television show, pay-per-views, DVDs, and other media products have become the primary focus, while live events that aren't televised have fallen low on the list of priorities.

The question for a long time now has been what to do about that, how to make coming to a non-televised WWE event worthwhile. After all, very little usually happens at them, and the idea is more of a touring show that you only get to see live on occasion. A lot of fans otherwise engaged in the product, though, are happy to stay home when WWE comes to town, as they know nothing important in the narrative will happen if the cameras aren't rolling.

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Around the Consortium: FoE2, Ad Ubiquity, Tech News, Politics, and Social Issues

I wanted to start with a few stories and blog posts that are happening around the Convergence Culture Consortium this week.

First, Kevin Driscoll, a Comparative Media Studies graduate student here at MIT working with the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, ties some of the marketing rhetoric he heard from some industry folks at Futures of Entertainment 2 to the work of Lawrence Lessig.

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Updates on Stories: Soulja Boy, Radiohead, LinkedIn, Christianity, and Quarterlife

Now that we're in a new year, and with so many stories slipping by us during the time of our conference and the ensuing onslaught of holidays, I wanted to give some updates on stories we've run in the past that have had new developments over the past couple of months.

Since many of the daily hits to the C3 blog continue to come from people seeking further information on the Soulja Boy phenomenon (see Xiaochang Li's posts on the issue here and here), I thought you might be interested in Andy Hunter's post about the Family Guy Soulja Boy reference. Andy, who used to work for C3 partner GSD&M Idea City, has blogged here in the past (look here).

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January 8, 2008

Live Action Anime? Only at MIT!

I originally posted this entry on my blog last month. While my blog remains inactive during our transition to a new server, I wanted to cross-post this over at C3 now that the Consortium blog is back up and running.


When I heard several months ago that some of my MIT colleagues and students were helping to stage a performance of Live Action Anime, I knew I had to be there. I anticipated the experience with a kind of "only at MIT" amusement -- not sure what to expect but knowing that the results would be dazzling.

The performance, Madness at Mokuba, opened with a spectacular battle between two giant robots (see the image above) staged against the backdrop of projected anime images and accompanied by an awe-inspiring soundtrack of metallic clanks and engine sounds which instantly reminded me of my first experience watching RoboTech and Star Blazers several decades ago. I didn't know what live action would look like but as the performance continued, I was more and more impressed with the craft and research which went into this performance.

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January 6, 2008

CMS Research Fair Feb. 28

The Convergence Culture Consortium will be presenting in a Research Fair for the Program in Comparative Media Studies from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28, on the first floor of the Ray and Maria Stata Center on MIT's campus.

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January 3, 2008

Tracking the US Election

The varied uses of YouTube by candidates, citizens and the news media has lent a participatory air to the 2008 US Presidential election. While there is an emphasis in much of this discussion on the possibilities for candidates and citizens to connect more directly with each other (however unevenly this might be realized in practice), effective participation in democratic systems equally relies on access to information. In this regard, both Yahoo's Election '08 Political Dashboard and the ECOresearch Network's US Election 2008 Web Monitor projects , both of which offer reasonably sophisticated tools for tracking campaign coverage and candidate performance, are especially interesting because of the access to information and analysis they provide.

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Around the Consortium: The Digital Race, FoE2, Soaps, and IAP

It's a new year, and the C3 team is back on the ground to start off 2008 with several new changes. You may have seen that the site was down for some of the holiday break, as we were in the process of changing server space and hopefully eliminating some of the load time problems readers have informed us about in the past few months.

Our team is hard at work on its YouTube and viral media projects for what MIT calls the "Independent Activities Period," or IAP, in which students at the Institute spend time working on independent projects, taking short classes, and partaking in other projects outside of the normal class schedule, which resumes at the beginning of February. In the meantime, I wanted to point out to the blog readers a few interesting stories and publications from and about the Consortium regarding the digital race, FoE2, soap operas, and qualitative research.

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