While in Cambridge for the Futures of Entertainment conference, my wife and I stopped over at the Boston Museum of Science which is currently playing host to Harry Potter: The Exhibition. We had both attended a fascinating presentation about the design and development of this exhibit during last Summer's Azkatraz convention in San Francisco and so we had high anticipations for the show and were not disappointed.
If you live anywhere near Boston, you should definitely try to make it there for the exhibit which runs through Feb. 21. The exhibit is pricy since you have to pay a fee above and beyond the price of admission to the museum itself, but we found it more than worth it.
After the jump, Henry applies the concepts of transmedia from his Futures of Entertainment 4 keynote to the Harry Potter exhibit.
It's that time of year. Festive lights cover windows and lawns. People buy trees to put in their living rooms and unpack fake versions from boxes in their basements. Holiday specials are on TV. Lists are made for Santa. Family visits and travel plans start to take shape.
Popular culture often provides a secular interpretation of the meaning and celebration of Christmas, emphasizing its significance as a time of peace, goodwill, friends and consumption. Whether in the form of movies or malls, these interpretations have made Christmas more accessible to people by not requiring a connection to Christianity.
In that spirit, I've compiled my top 10 list of representations of Christmas in popular culture. Read on, then leave a comment and tell us what's on your pop culture Christmas Top 10.
Horribly Influential: Fan Passion for a Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Prequel
In 2008, Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog took the entertainment industry by surprise. As a response to the writer's strike, Whedon's 42-minute low-budgeted online superhero musical opened in July to a fan following that already anticipated the web series' success. Available for free over the span of a week, Dr. Horrible eventually was taken down to be released later for a small fee on iTunes, until its second release this time on DVD (chock full of incentivizing extras) alongside the CD soundtrack in December 2008.
Comparable to the success of Glee and its soundtrack (which I wrote about before in Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee), Dr. Horrible's success depended on the relationship between its transmedia franchise and its fandom. The (unintentional?) short form of the web series seems to have fueled fans to search out and purchase the DVD, which featured a segment called Commentary! The Musical, containing twice as much music as the original musical (and is now available on YouTube here. TubeFilter reports that Dr. Horrible banked over $2.6 million via iTunes before the DVDs were even released. And the series has even made its way onto Henry Jenkins's syllabus for his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment class at USC.
But recently a new variable has been thrown into the equation: Horrible Turn, the Dr. Horrible Sing-Along Blog prequel.
A few weeks ago I saw Up in the Air, the new film directed by Jason Reitman. It's a great movie, worthy of the hype it's been getting, but I was most intrigued not by the acting or the topical themes, but by the very obvious product placement from Hilton hotels and American Airlines.
In fact, Hilton and American are more than just product placements in Up in the Air. According to a recent article in Advertising Age, Hilton and American Airlines are integrated-marketing partners for the film. This allows the film to promote the brands and vice versa: both Hilton and American are currently running sweepstakes related to the film and Up in the Air's website has a prominent section devoted to its partners.
The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling
If you have yet to check out the videos from the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, we hope that you'll take at least an hour of the upcoming holiday to sit down and listen to Henry Jenkin's keynote on transmedia storytelling. Above, we've embedded the video of his talk, and after the jump you can find Henry's essay explaining the key concepts of his thinking (cross-posted from his blog). Enjoy!
A few days ago, Nielsen released a report about the top media trends in 2009. One of the most striking findings, highlighted by MediaPost, was that this was the year that the iPhone and the Blackberry Curve finally overtook the four year old Motorola Razr V3 as the device carried by the most US wireless subscribers.
Ultimately, it took the iPhone and the Blackberry Curve a little over 18 months to become Razr killers.
In a way, this isn't surprising news. Unless you've been living under a rock since the first version of the iPhone came out in June 2007, or perhaps even if you have, you've heard a lot about it. The Blackberry Curve 8300, the #2 phone according to Nielsen, has also been a popular standby for RIM, and has also been on the market since 2007.
What does this have to do with Convergence Culture? People's behavior around media is definitely changing, but these findings highlight how slow adoption of new technologies actually is among the majority of the US population. It also suggests that we still have a ways to go before the majority of Americans are being exposed to all of the possibilities of a "three screen" media world.
Futures of Entertainment 4: Videos, Shwag and More Thoughts on Transmedia
Point, the First:
If you were not able to attend the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference back in November, you're in luck: the videos are now available thanks to MIT TechTV. You can view the aggregation of videos here, or check out the individual talks and panels linked with their respective videos after the jump.
Point, the Second
If you were able to attend the FoE4 conference, you're probably in post-con withdrawal by now. So, why not push your FoE experience into the transmedia realm? Luis, our excellent artist and designer, has made FoE4 mugs -- featuring the cosplaying girls -- available for purchase here.
Her Excellency, Ana, pimping the FoE4 mug
Point, the Third
Last week, I published to the blog an article entitled Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee, which examines the music of Glee as a transmedia experience and how transmedia factors into Glee's business model. I sent out the link to Nancy Baym via Twitter (@nancybaym), who had questioned the relationship between transmedia and music while at the FoE4 conference. Along with Ana Domb Krauskopf (@anadk) and Xiaochang Li (@xiaochang), Nancy and I (@alexleavitt) responded in quick succession about our thoughts on approaching new and old aspects of transmedia that might inform future approaches to franchise studies. I found the discourse interesting and exploratory, so I've reproduced the conversation after the jump below!
Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee
Warning: This article on Glee might tend toward the meta, as while I write this article, I will be listening to the first Glee Soundtrack*: seventeen songs from Ryan Murphy's hit show on FOX. And the songs are exactly what I wish to discuss: the transmedia of music.
* The second soundtrack was actually released for sale two days ago on December 8th. If you want to listen to and/or purchase the first soundtrack, you can find it on iTunes or Amazon.
During the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, as Henry Jenkins comments on his blog, "Nancy Baym asked us to think about when and how music has gone transmedia. We struggled to come up with examples - everyone of course immediately latched onto the ARG created around the Nine Inch Nails; I proposed the comic book Tattoo where artists and writers used Tori Amos songs as their inspiration." What I wish to bring into the limelight is that we've been participating in a musical transmedia experience of epic proportions for the past few months, on TV, on Hulu, on our iPods, and even in our living rooms: the rockin' music of Glee.
Before I continue to discuss how exactly Glee works as transmedia, let me discuss the concept of the fan experience. Henry also writes in the same paragraph, "The question looks different, though, if we ask about transmedia performance, because most contemporary musical artists perform across multiple media - minimally live and recorded performance, but also video and social network sites and Twitter..." Back in October, I wrote an article for the Consortium blog, Performing with Glee, which examines the fan (re-)production that has emerged on YouTube from reenacting scenes from Glee's television episodes. While this fan performance has pushed the Glee experience into a transmedial mode -- the total experience of interacting with the Glee "franchise" spreads across mediums, regardless of its production origins -- the fan activity obviously is not the same as the actual artists or content producers performing across mediums. I try to make the distinction obvious, especially by putting quotation marks around franchise, above, because when we consider transmedia, usually we apply the term franchise to the complete production consumed by the audience without taking into account the extensive continual experience that moves beyond the original production (think: Star Trek conventions, anime cosplayers, or even Superbowl celebration parades).
So I wish, in examining why Glee's business model has been so successful, to explain how Glee's business model has been so successful. And this is due to the fan experience.
Futures of Entertainment 4: From Cool Hunters to Chief Culture Officers: An Interview with Grant McCracken
One of the high points of our recent Futures of Entertainment conference was a presentation by Anthropologist/Consultant/Blogger Grant McCracken on his new book, Chief Culture Officier: How to Create a Living Breathing Corporation. McCracken is a lively and engaging speaker and one of the most provocative thinkers I know when it comes to addressing the social, cultural, technological and economic changes shaping the world around us. McCracken has long been part of the brain trust behind the Convergence Culture Consortium and he writes an exceptional blog, This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.
I had a chance to read Grant's book in draft form and have been eagerly awaiting its release because of the conversation it is going to spark both within universities and within corporations about the value of cultural insights for modern business and where those insights were likely to come from. When we launched the Comparative Media Studies Program a decade ago, one of our early backers encouraged us to train our students for jobs that didn't have names yet -- jobs which depended on their ability to think across media and to understand the intersection of culture, technology, and industry. Through the years, many of our best students went into industry, often into jobs created around their expertise and talent. Recently, we've called them "thought leaders." I've seen these same kind of students through the professional programs in Annenberg and the Cinema School at USC. I constantly meet prospective students with this kind of vision for their future, but so far, few academic programs have embraced this alternative professional trajectory for their students or have developed curriculum which encourage a more applied perspective.
McCracken proposes a new title, "Chief Culture Officer," and argues that the most powerful companies in th world need to have people in the top ranks of their leadership whose primary job is to attend to the culture around them. While some may disagree, I would contend this expertise is most likely to come from programs in media and cultural studies, anthropology, and other branches of the humanities and the qualitative social sciences. It certainly is not the expertise fostered in most business schools. If we take McCracken's arguments here seriously, they have implications for how we train our students -- not limiting them for an increasingly constipated academic job market but giving them the background and experience they would need to navigate through a range of other sectors being impacted by media change. And it also has implications for how companies think about their consumers, how they anticipate new developments and how they pay respect to more stable, slower changing aspects of their culture.
All of these issues surfaced during the panel discussion which followed Grant's presentation. Respondents included am Sam Ford - Director of Customer Insights, Peppercom, and C3 Research Affiliate; Jane Shattuc - Emerson College; and Leora Kornfeld - Research Associate, Harvard Business School. The moderator was William Uricchio, chair of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program. You can watch the video of the event here.
I was lucky enough to get Grant McCracken to address some of the key issues in the book in an exclusive interview for this blog conducted earlier this fall. Here, he lays out some of the key premises of the book and its implications for how companies and universities think about the future.
What do you mean by a "chief culture officer" and what role would such a person play within the modern corporation?
Corporations have been notoriously bad at reckoning with culture. They manage the "problem of culture" with ad hocery of many kinds. They call on ad agencies, consultants, gurus and cool hunters and, when all else fails, the intern down the hall. But there is no single person and, worse, there is no senior manager. Even as culture grows ever more dynamic, various, demanding, and participatory. So that's my argument: there ought to be someone in the C-Suite who's job it is to reckon with culture and to spot the opportunities and dangers it represents.
Your professional training was in anthropology yet you've spent much of your career as a cultural consultant. What kinds of advice have companies sought from you? What has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make from anthropology as it exists in the university to ethnography as a basis for making business decisions?
Sometimes I am supplying the ethnography, and this means quizzing consumers about how they see the world. This is culture from the bottom up, as it were. Sometimes I am supplying anthropology and this means reporting on the categories, distinctions and rules that make up our culture. This is culture from the top down, so to say.
As to the adjustment, it was a horrible slog for awhile, like riding uneven circus ponies. But eventually my academic self and my consulting self found a way to work together. There are moments of surprising coincidence and the interactive effect can be terrific. And then of course you find a way to respect the demands of Christ by forgetting Caesar (and the other way round.) The good news is that consulting forces a grueling pace of problem solving that builds skills for one's academic work, I think. And vice versa.
You cite "Cool Hunters" as enemies of the Culture Officer. What are the limits of the current "cool hunting" process and how does it lead companies astray?
The trouble with cool hunters is that they are a little like cats. Cats have more rods in the retina than we do and this gives them the ability to see movement better than we do. The price that cats and coolhunters pay for this adaption is that they are not very good at seeing things when these things are still. Which is a too elaborate way of saying cool hunters are maximally responsive to culture in motion and disinclined to take an interest in culture when more static. Actually, we can go further than this. Cool hunters are generally pretty hopeless when it comes to the deeper, slower and more static aspects of culture. They don't even appear to know that they exist. If one had to guess at a metric only something like 30% of our culture is fad and fashion. That means the better of our culture escapes the grasp of the cool hunter and the corporation who relies on him/her.
What is the argument for embedding cultural expertise within the company rather than outsourcing it through some kind of consulting firm?
There are two problems with hiring in culture expertise. Culture is increasingly various and changeable. Corporations are increasingly complex and changeable. To find the fit between them takes an exquisite knowledge of both. Hiring culture knowledge in gives the corporation a collection of partial views as rendered by people who may or may not understand the corporation. No corporation would dream of handling finance, technology, human relations this way. It's something that has to be done in-house to be done well.
What should humanities programs be doing differently in order to fully prepare their students for the position of chief culture officer?
Humanities programs turn out to be the heroes of the piece. It gives people the frame-shifting, assumption-jumping, intellectual nimbleness they need to reckon with the complexities of culture and the corporation. We spend a lot of time these days looking at new developments and asking, "is this something or nothing really?" and if it's something, "Ok, is this X1, X2 or notX at all?" The liberal arts are wonderfully good at cultivating this gift. Certainly, engineering and finance create formidable intellectual abilities. The most fluid, the most elegant mind I trained at the Harvard Business School was a product of the British military. So, clearly, many cognitive styles qualify. But the humanities have a certain advantage. They seem to endow people with the pattern recognition the CCO needs. Of course, the humanities have problems of their own. Postmodernism has turned many minds to mush.
One model for cultural analysis which has gained some traction in the corporate world is Eric Von Hipple's concept of the lead user. Von Hipple encourages companies to use early adapters as test-beds for their products, often looking there for insights which may allow them to innovate and refine their offerings. How does this model align with your claims for the value of ethnographic perspectives in the board room?
Lead users are useful. The trouble is they are so enthusiastic about an innovation they are perfectly happy to make any adjustments necessary to adopt it. And as Geoffrey Moore says, this makes them a bad guide to the larger market of later adopters. These people expect the innovation to conform to them. And this takes another order (and probably another round) of product development, which development must be informed by our knowledge of the cultural meanings and practices in place. Without cultural knowledge, the innovation cannot "jump the chasm" to use Geoffrey Moore's famous phrase. (All of this is Moore's argument.) Ethnography is especially useful as a way of discovering what this culture is.
You write about the "Apollo Theater effect," as you try to explain the shifting relations between cultural producers and consumers. Explain. Why may we be outgrowing the concept of consumption?
I take your lead here, Henry. As you demonstrated so early and so well, more consumers are becoming producers, and this makes us as Apollo theatre audience of us all. Because we make so much culture, we have become more observant and critical, and less passive in our consumption of other's productions. And on these grounds I've suggested that perhaps its time that we start called "consumers" "multipliers." I except your wisdom here: "if it doesn't spread, it's dead."
Some companies are now monitoring Twitter to try to see how consumers are responding to them. What are the strengths and limits of this approach?
This is a good and necessary idea, as a way of spotting emergent concerns around which consumers are organizing themselves. On the other hand, Twitter is very like a key hole. It's hard to see very much and unless we follow up with some more thorough inquiry, we are missing a great deal.
Many executives assume that cultural knowledge is "intuitive," something they absorb by growing up in a culture. Yet, you are arguing that cultural knowledge requires a certain kind of expertise. Why is intuition not enough?
Intuition is indeed the instrument by which we often deliver cultural insights, but it is also a way for the corporation to diminish cultural intelligence by calling them "soft" "vaque," and "impressionistic." As we become more expert, more professional and more disciplined about our study of culture, I hope we will encourage a new comprehension of what culture knowledge is and how it adds value.
Does the cultural knowledge companies need become even more of a challenge as companies start to do business on a global scale?
Indeed, this is a challenge. How do we speak to several cultures and many segments with a single voice. There is a global culture in the works. It will be a long time coming, but it is coming. But as you and others have pointed out, the real opportunity for the world of communications is to move from the monolithic message to the nuanced, multiple one. We can speak to many communities with many voices, and this really takes a virtuoso control of knowlege and communication. The good news is that as we engage more consumers in acts of cocreation, they will help.
You've argued for advertising and branding as activities which are involved in the management and production of meanings. How would branding change in a world where more companies had chief culture officers?
Yes, that's my hope, that the presence of a CCO would make the corporation better at the production and management of meanings. At some point, I think, our destination must be this: a living, breathing corporation, that fully participates in and draws from and gives to the culture around it. We will have to teach the old dog many new tricks to make this possible. Old asymmetries and boundaries and assumptions will have to be broken down. The good news is that many of the old models are just not working and the corporation in its way has always been keenly interested in what works. I'm hoping the book will help a little here.
Grant McCracken holds a PhD from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology. He is the author of Big Hair, Culture and Consumption, Culture and Consumption II: Markets, Meaning and Brand Management, Flock and Flow, The Long Interview, Plenitude: Culture by Commotion, Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture, and Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation. He has been the director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and he is now an adjunct professor at McGill University. He has consulted widely in the corporate world, including the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA, Chrysler, Kraft, Kodak, and Kimberly Clark. He is a member of the IBM Social Networking Advisory Board.
Convergence of Industry and Fandom: The Japanese Musical Character as Production Platform
Once per month, the Comparative Media Studies department holds a general staff meeting, after which one member from the department gives a presentation. For November's assembly, Philip Tan from GAMBIT gave a presentation entitled "Hatsune Miku & Nico Nico Douga: Remixes, Media Production, and File Sharing."
Hatsune Miku (her name means "first sound / future") is a 16-year-old character from Vocaloid, "a singing synthesizer application software developed by the Yamaha Corporation that enables users to synthesize singing by typing in lyrics and melody" (Wikipedia). The software allows anyone to create a song with synthetic vocals, allowing for creative new melodies, recreations of old harmonies, and the imagination of improbable or impossible music.
Hatsune Miku Live Concert, Japan
In commercial terms, Miku-chan met wild success, finding a strong fanbase in the otaku subculture of Japan. These fans have created thousands of permutations of original videos, fan comics (doujinshi), mashups, fan art, and cosplay. Even in America, Miku has spread across the online American anime fandom like wildfire, and her image is noticeable to even young fans.
Below, I've embedded a video recording (excuse me for the not-so-great audio quality) of Phil's 15-minute presentation on the progress Hatsune Miku has made for fan production in Japan. It's the perfect example of an industry-produced piece of media that has been utilized by audiences in ways unimaginable to its producers. Amazingly, as Phil will explain, the industry actually celebrates the fan production and honors it in new productions.
Philip Tan is the executive director for the US operations of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, a game research initiative hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is concurrently a project manager for the Media Development Authority (MDA) of Singapore.
He has served as a member of the steering committee of the Singapore chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and worked closely with Singapore game developers to launch industry-wide initiatives and administer content development grants as an assistant manager in the Animation & Games Industry Development section of MDA. He has produced and designed PC online games at The Education Arcade, a research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that studied and created educational games. He complements a Master's degree in Comparative Media Studies with work in Boston's School of Museum of Fine Arts, the MIT Media Lab, WMBR 88.1FM and the MIT Assassins' Guild, the latter awarding him the title of "Master Assassin" for his live-action roleplaying game designs. He also founded a DJ crew at MIT.
Specialties: digital, live-action and tabletop game design, production and management
Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication
A couple weeks ago, I sat in on a lecture by Judith Donath, who is an Assistant Professor of Media Arts & Sciences at MIT. She also works in the MIT Media Lab, where she founded the Social Media Group, and is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.
Her talk, entitled Human Signaling: Competition and Cooperation in Everyday Communication, was one of a weekly seminar held by the Cooperation group at the Berkman Center. The talk introduced concepts of signaling, which draws from theoretical biology, and connected them to cultural practices of behavior, language, and even fashion. Judith's abstract explains more, below:
It can be quite beneficial to deceive - to indicate that one is smarter, nicer, or possessed of better genes than is actually the case. Yet if deception was rampant, communication would cease to function. Signaling theory provides an economic model that shows how enough honesty is maintained to keep communication working.
This model, which was developed in the field of theoretical biology, has also been used to understand a variety of human behaviors, e.g. cooperative hunting and religious rituals. Yet human communication differs significantly from animal signaling: we can rely on cheap
conventional signals because we have coordinated sanctioning; our cultural evolution allows for rapidly changing signal vocabulary; we can imagine other minds and deliberately manipulate impressions; we have internalized morality; and we are very creative - there are no signals, no matter how seemingly reliable, that we will not attempt to fake.
In this talk I will introduce signaling theory and describe how to adapt it for modeling human communication. I will then discuss two examples of applying this theory - first to analyze the social phenomenon of fashion (in clothing, arts, academic concentrations) and second to design new interfaces for online communication.
Unfortunately, while the presentation applied so well to many of the ideas floating around here at the Consortium, there's currently no recording of it. The best I could do for you wonderful readers was embedding Judith's similar talk from 2007 that she delivered at Google:
However, if you'd like more insight into the 2009 version of the talk, I've appended my personal notes after the jump below. Enjoy!
From Sticky To Spreadable: The Antidote to "Viral Marketing" and the Broadcast Mentality
About a month ago, I announced a free webinar about spreadability featuring USC's Henry Jenkins, C3's Joshua Green, and CMS alum Sam Ford. Below, I've provided a video and audio recording of the webinar presentation, produced by Sam Ford. If you didn't get the chance to attend the talk, or would like the chance to review it, please enjoy the embedded video below!
* How do you understand and measure success in social media?
* How do you create content that audiences not only pay attention to, but want to share with others?
* Do you really want to make a video "go viral"?
* How does the language you use to describe social media campaigns impact the end result?
Based on years of researching how and why people spread news, popular culture, and marketing content online through the Convergence Culture Consortium for the past several years, our speakers are currently working on a book entitled Spreadable Media. This Webinar will look at what "spreadable media" means, why the concept of "stickiness" is inadequate for measuring success for brands and content producers online and ultimately why marketers and producers should spend more time creating "spreadable material" for audiences than trying to perfect "viral marketing." In this one-hour session, the speakers will share the ideas and strategy behind "spreadable media" and a variety of examples of best--and worst--practices online for both B2B and B2C campaigns.
Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops: The Networked Publics of Global Youth Culture
Back in November, I was lucky to attend an excellent lecture/presentation by Wayne Marshall, who is currently a Mellon Fellow in the Foreign Languages and Literatures department here at MIT. His talk, entitled Skinny Jeans and Fruity Loops, explores dance subcultures across the globe and examines how technology is impacting these networked communities:
What can we learn about contemporary culture from watching dayglo-clad teenagers dancing geekily in front of their computers in such disparate sites as Brooklyn, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Mexico City? How has the embrace of "new media" by so-called "digital natives" facilitated the formation of transnational, digital publics? More important, what are the local effects of such practices, and why do they seem to generate such hostile responses and anxiety about the future?
Wayne's talk is available via audio below (with a direct link to the mp3 here).
Of course, the presentation relied heavily on audiovisuals, so I've embedded some relevant dance videos below. Please enjoy the talk, or dance along!
Finally, if you're interested, I've appended my own notes from the talk in this post, after the jump.
Wayne Marshall is an ethnomusicologist, blogger, DJ, and, beginning this year, a Mellon Fellow in Foreign Languages and Literatures at MIT. His research focuses on the production and circulation of popular music, especially across the Americas and in the wider world, and the role that digital technologies are playing in the formation of new notions of community, selfhood, and nationhood.