Collaboration across Borders: Interview with Seung Bak of DramaFever
Founded in 2009, DramaFever, an English language video site for Asian TV shows is now the largest US-based site of its kind, boasting over a million active users every month. I had the chance to interview Seung Bak, one of the founders of DramaFever about why the site has become so successful. He also told me about some of the collaborations DramaFever has been able to foster between American fans and producers of Asian dramas.
Bowing and Begging: Resisting Industry Failure Through Fan Loyalty
The Japanese popular culture industry, especially for anime and manga, is an interesting case study for global fandom, but also for global industry. The comics, television, and film industry for animated popular culture in Japan has its own history, structure, and approaches, but over the past five decades, as it has reached millions of new, international viewers, new industries have risen to cater to these fans. Still, with the rise of the Internet and the economic troubles that most industries have gone through over the past decade, both the domestic and international manga and anime industries have been hurting for money, even with a surfeit of fans.
The anime and manga industry is especially volatile, because its domestic and international audiences have utilized the Internet to spread and consume the media at the expense of industrial and commercial models that cannot keep up with the audiences' changing tastes, modes of consumption, and cultural behaviors of media consumption (sharing with friends, international online distribution, the culture of collectors versus mere viewers, etc.). The industries, both in Japan and elsewhere, must change: however, the success that anime and manga brought a decade ago have influenced the producers of these media to stick with old models that are no longer fully applicable to the current fan cultures that drive the markets.
Today, I want to discuss two very recent issues of the manga and anime industries -- in Japan and in America -- publicizing comments to fans in a way that might be seen by many as "giving up": without adapting to technological, cultural, and commercial changes, the industries representatives have voiced concerns to fans by pleading with them to stop behaving as they current are -- mostly by using the Internet to circumvent commercial models for their media consumption -- and to think ethically about how these behaviors are affecting the respective industries.
Video on the Internet briefly promised us a cultural future of decentralized production and daring changes in form--even beyond dancing kittens and laughing babies. Yet recent developments on sites like YouTube, Hulu, and Fancast as well as research about how audiences watch online video both suggest a retrenchment of structures from the old "mass media" system rather than anything daring. In this talk I'll argue that choices about the distribution infrastructure for video will determine whether all our future screens will be the same.
Christian argued that online video is more and more resembling old models of television networks, and he talked about everything from the YouTube redesign to a new approach to Chris Anderson's "long tail" model of distribution. He delivered some engaging thoughts on bandwidth monetization and asked critical research questions into how television and online video researchers can go about tackling issues of network algorithms. My liveblogged notes provide some textual takeaways from his talk, but the full lecture will eventually be available on the Berkman website here.
Christian Sandvig is a Fellow of the Berkman Center and Associate Professor in Communication, Media, and at Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds the Ph.D. in communication from Stanford University. In 2006 he received the Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in the area of Human-Centered Computing. He blogs at multicast.
From time to time, I use this space to showcase the global dimensions of the kinds of participatory culture which so often concern us here. When I first started to write about fan culture, for example, the circuit along which fan produced works traveled did not extend much beyond the borders of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and perhaps Australia. American fans knew little about fan culture in other parts of the world and indeed, there was often speculation about why fandom was such a distinctly American phenomenon.
Now, fans online connect with others all over the world, often responding in real time to the same texts, conspiring to spread compelling media content from one culture to the other, and we are seeing a corresponding globalization of fan studies. Yet, some countries remain largely outside of field of view, because of language barriers, cultural differences, political policies, and alternative tech platforms.
Consequently, most of us know very little about how fan production practices have spread to China -- which is too often described in terms of its piracy of American content and too little discussed in terms of its creative repurposing of that content to reflect their own cultural interests. So, I am really excited over these next two installments to share some glimpses into fan culture in China -- specifically focusing on the vidding community there (but also discussing other forms of fan participation.)
These two posts were created by Lifang He, an Annenberg student who took my transmedia entertainment class in the fall and who is doing an independent study with me this term to expand her understanding of the concept of participatory culture. Here, she talks about how Kung Fu Panda got read in relation to the economic crisis in China, and next time, she will tackle the array of different fan responses to Avatar.
The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band
With the uneven future of the music industry and its models, I've become really interested in exploring the potential that music has by integrating these old tactics into transmedia storytelling and cross-platform distribution frameworks.
Previously, I've gushed about how the hit television show Glee has experimented with these methods with respectable success. The Glee model takes advantage of the ease of cross-platform distribution as a business model; however, it's a bit difficult to discuss the transmedia storytelling elements of its story. In my Glee article, I attempted to speak to the idea of affective economics, "which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions" (Henry Jenkins, in Convergence Culture). Glee's story extends beyond its original narrative when expressed by its consumers and especially its fans, by understanding characters better through playing their songs, or by performing favorite dance routines.
Unfortunately, what I can't argue is that the producers of Glee have themselves extended the story across mediums. In response to this basic fact, I've been trying to look for the appearance of other types of stories that span multiple forms of media. Today, I want to discuss the band OK Go and how the story of not the songs but the band has succeeded in with a transmedia model.
And now the story continues... On Wednesday, OK Go announced that they will be leaving EMI to set up their own independent label.
C3 White Paper: It's (Not) the End of TV as We Know It
2009 C3 white papers are now available for download. Over the next few days, we'll be posting links to them here on the blog.
My white paper about online TV audiences is up first. The paper outlines strategies for understanding how viewership online complements broadcast viewing. Through research and case studies, this paper:
Explains the strategies needed to manage viewer expectations of scarcity in the broadcast space and plenitude in the online space.
Categorizes types of online content in terms of their appeal to viewers.
Outlines strategies for appealing to different types of online viewers.
Michael Zimmer, executive committee member of the Association of Internet Researchers, gives his opinion on the ethical implications of Pete Warden's 215-million-user data set of public Facebook profiles.
Jean Burgess produces her own review of the criticism on Google Buzz's privacy issues evolving on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list.
And, finally, enjoy (or be surprised at) this video:
What is a Browser?
A representative from Google asks 50 strangers in Times Square if they understand what a browser is and does? Given that most of the online hype around Internet development addresses early adopters, here's a look at how the general public perceives the Internet. The results: Less than 8% of those interviewed knew what a browser was.
Say iWant a Revolution: Two Ways for Apple to Crack the Small Screen
Last week I posted about why Apple hasn't been able to revolutionize the television business. Alex then chimed in with a post about Apple's iPad representing a shift toward entertainment in the consumer electronics sector. Apple's plan seems to be a contradiction in terms: they're an increasingly entertainment-focused company that hasn't made an impact on the most popular entertainment of all--TV. In this post, I'll explore two tactics Apple could use to aggressively enter the television market. Steve Jobs himself has said that Apple TV is just a "hobby," so maybe he's looking for suggestions.
Streaming Sports: Superbowls, Olympics, and Online Video
If you live in America, you probably did not miss out on the constant chatter about the Superbowl this past weekend, whether you were paying attention to the football or the commercials. Nevertheless, you might not have watched the actual event -- like myself, who was on a bus from New York to Boston throughout the duration of the pre-, in-, and post-game periods. However, I followed the by-the-moment hype of the sport and the advertisements on my phone's Twitter client, and the morning after I caught up on the game highlights and commercials (rated and organized by social media addicts via services like BrandBowl 2010).
Even though the Bowl lasted at least 4 hours, I feel like I didn't miss much after spending about 40 minutes rewatching -- for no fee -- game highlights and the Bowl's funnier commercials. Watching this content via the Web is not something I could have done a few years ago. The potentials of online video have created an environment in which I don't need to own a television. I can simply flip to NFL.com to watch a 10-minute recap of the best plays while spending the time it takes to wait through NFL.com's ads watching the previous day's commercials on Hulu's 2010 AdZone. I can even jump over to the Discovery Channel's website to watch the annual Puppy Bowl.
However, I still need to own a television set to watch everything. What gives? I thought this was the Age of the Internet, where all content would be beamed to my computer screen through my Apple TV (no, I don't actually own one). The situation for most television shows at the moment is that I can see most episodes online at some point in time, until they are removed (producers need to make some money off DVD sales, and online ad revenues are still nowhere comparable to those of television ads). But sports events are pretty hard to come by for free online. Occasionally we will find a hub of clips (eg., NFL.com), or we can subscribe to a subscription service which grants access to high-quality streams (eg., MLB.com).
Why? Well, while most networks are feeling the heat, sports are still bringing in all the viewers.
When Steve Jobs announced Apple's iPad last week, talk of revolution was in the air. The jury's still out on whether the iPad will change the publishing industry or even pose a threat to Amazon's popular Kindle e-Reader. (For a great analysis of the iPad, check out this Ad Age article from C3's own Ilya Vedrashko.) We've come to expect an exciting kind of innovation from Apple. Apple doesn't give us the newest technology--there were MP3 players before the iPod and smart phones before the iPhone. Apple's true revolutions come in the form of innovative digital business models. The iTunes store changed the way we think about buying music and the App Store made cell phones into anything a third party developer could imagine and create. As someone who studies and writes about the television industry, I think it's valuable to think about why Apple hasn't been able to similarly revolutionize the television business. Sure, selling shows in the iTunes store has brought in some revenue for TV networks. But if Apple (or any other over-the-top connected device manufacturer) changes TV it will be in spite of--and not because of--the television industry.
Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World
In the last week of January, an interesting conversational thread broke out on the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list regarding a video about scholarship in the "critical commons," on the debate between digital humanities and media studies. The video follows below, but judging by the preview image it might not be exactly what you expect:
How profoundly disappointing, if not on the edge of insulting. If (a) you know German reasonably well, and especially if (b) you've seen the terrific film, Der Untergang, that is ripped off here - it doesn't strike me as funny at all. (emphasis mine)
It is actually just a spin off of a meme that uses this clip from that movie, there are probably 30 or so different re-texts and mashups i've seen of this clip. The joke, i think, of the meme is that it never ever comes close to the German, nor is it ever supposed to, nor is the content really supposed to be evil or really related to the clip, it is a play of contrasts and a play of hyperbole. I think you hit it on the head, it is supposed to be contrary to intentions, that's sort of its point. ... however, i'm pretty sure that neither german, nor evil is supposed to be the point here. (emphasis mine)
Before elucidating the above situation (the entire thread of which can be viewed in the AoIR archives here), I want to take a step back to examine the idea of "meme" -- a unit of cultural information -- once more.
Ultimately, both Conan and Leno were hurting NBC's bottom line. Conan was the lowest rated host in Tonight Show history and his tenure marked the first time the show was ever on track to lose money.
Leno's 10 pm show hurt NBC too, but at the affiliate rather than the national level. Local news is the bread and butter of affiliates and with the low-rated Leno as a lead-in many11 pm newscasts were hemorrhaging viewers. No doubt the poor lead-in from local news also hurt Conan's ratings.
NBC made a huge mistake putting Leno at 10/9c and their huge mistake has taught us three huge lessons about the television business.
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.
Google Wave: Innovating Innovation at the Expense of Innovation
Platforms for culture and community are no longer a "cool, new thing" online. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have been around long enough that most users understand the basics of their purposes and functions. But now that these systems have been entrenched in the flow of the Internet, some users have begun to hack away at the conventions of Youtube, for example, to create some pretty innovative uses for the platform.
Last year, Sheila -- now a second-year graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program and a researcher with C3 -- wrote a report for the Consortium on the current state and future potential of online television. One of the interesting perspectives she draws from is that of technological adoption, to which she responds that now is the time for television to adapt and integrate with other technologies. Referring to the research of Noshir Conractor of Northwestern University, Sheila describes three stages of technological adoption -- substitution, enlargement, and reconfiguration -- which describe the evolution of technology to fit social practices: 1) new technology replacing older forms, 2) frequent use of the technology, and 3) a change in the use of the technology to fit social customes, or (vice versa) a change in a cultural practice because of the use of the technology.
YouTube is a great example of this, because in the past couple of years we have witnessed a host of awesome projects that have come out of the third stage, reconfiguration. Most of these projects have attempted to move beyond the ordinary practice of "viewing one video on a single hosted webpage" with wonderfully successful results.
After the jump, I'll briefly describe a set of these YouTube-based innovations, and then comment on Google Wave, the new venture of Google to mix up email and social networking into a highly collaborative space, and how the Wave might be moving a bit too quickly beyond its initial adoption phase.
I originally had another topic planned for this article, but I decided haphazardly to change it at the last minute, because one video made such an impression on me yesterday morning.
My morning routine consists of a few primary objectives, one of which is to browse my Twitter stream to find anything of note or something missed during the night. I noticed that Henry had posted a link to a YouTube video late Wednesday night under the guise of:
Susan Boyle's Legacy?: Winning performance from Ukraine's Got Talent has Drawn more than 2 Million views. http://bit.ly/zDFFT
The link sent me to the video embedded below. While the clip lasts 8 minutes and 33 seconds, I highly recommend taking the time to watch through the entire video. This is storytelling at its finest.
The astounding ability of a hand to shape a story is purely evidenced by Kseniya's work. It's simply awe-inspiring at how simple movements of addition and subtraction, how curves and lines and cuts can craft such simple yet refined art. I find it more beautiful because the scenes flow and crash (literally) into each other. Metaphors become real images. After the planes enter the scene, at 1:47 Simonova scrambles the bench-sitting couple into a blur of sand, a blur that represents fear, but a physical swirl that becomes the scared face of the female onlooker. When the bombs hit at 3:08, Simonova throws a handful of dust onto the baby, eliminating him symbolically and literally from the picture.
This video represents a piece of wondrous art and fanciful storytelling. And by the posting of this article, it has probably reached over 3 million views on YouTube. After the jump, I'll examine some more implications that this video presents about YouTube, transmedia, and cross-platform distribution; how we explain our understanding of popularity online; and how the Internet complicates our comprehension of foreign cultures.
This summer I've been working at two fabulous internships in New York--one with C3 Partner Turner Broadcasting and the other with the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). These experiences are going to be invaluable to my C3 research this year as I've had the much-needed chance to see what's important to those who work in the media and advertising industries.
Last month, I was able to attend the ARF's Audience Measurement 4.0 (AM 4.0) conference. This two day conference brought together leading players from research, publishing, and advertising to discuss the state of audience measurement.
Selling Out on YouTube: vloggers weigh in on brand integration online
Recently, a string of prominent vloggers on YouTube have been having a conversation about advertising, product promotion, and the notion of 'selling out'. This was triggered by their experiences with various companies who courted them to help promote their products amongst their viewers and community and generated a lot of great conversation around how to intergrate brands into their videos.
The first video was one by UK vlogger Alex Day (nerimon), who called on vloggers to discuss the topic of "selling out" after turning down an offer from Sanyo for a free camera and 1000GBP (~1700 USD) in exchange for sticking a 15-second spot in one of his videos:
It's very evident why they choose to mute the entire audio track of a positively ID'd video instead of just the part with the problem audio: The fingerprinter can only reliably say "yes, [one particular song] is in here, somewhere," but it doesn't know exactly where in the video the infringing content starts or for how long it plays. It's far easier to just nuke the entire audio track than try to figure out precisely how to cut into it.
Here then is part 3 of the full interview transcript with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the founders of the Asian Media streaming site Dramafever.This section deals with issues of audience measurement and engagement metric, as well as the challenges and opportunities licensed online video platforms face in light of the many unofficial sources of content out there.
Part 1 and part 2 of the interview are available, and the rest will be up soon.
Here then is part 2 of a multipart full interview transcript with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the founders of the Asian Media streaming site Dramafever. In this section, Seung and Suk talk about surprising audience demographics that reveal that the audience for Korean dramas might be more broad and more diverse in the US than previously imagined by the Broadcast networks.
Part 1 of the interview was posted last week. Keep an eye out for more of the interview in coming weeks as I get around to transcribing the recording.
And again, for an introduction to this case check here and a summary of the key points of the interview can be found here.
On Tuesday, the Participatory Culture Foundation launched version 2.0 of their non-profit, open-source internet video player, Miro. A detailed features list can be found at the getmiro.com site and Ars Technica has a fairly thorough breakdown of the pros and cons of the interface.
What is immediately striking about Miro is the ability to aggregate, and share if desired, a library of videos from a variety of sites, platforms, and formats. Users have the freedom to create channels and libraries where broadcast content pulled from NBC.com can co-exist with the lasted vlogs taken from youtube.
Surplus Global Audiences and How to Court a Community: Insight from Dramafever.com
Last week I introduced Dramafever, a new content-distribution and community platform dedicated to bringing Asian entertainment content to the US (currently in closed beta) that is posing some interesting questions about engaging niche audiences in an increasingly global media landscape. This week, I had a chance to sit down for an informative phone conversation with the Dramafever founders, Suk Park and Seung Bak, about their goals, their tactics, and how they're negotiating the space between fan communities and commercial interests.
Expect the full interview transcript in the near future, though for now (and for those of us pressed tight for reading time), after the cut is a brief summation of some of the stand-out revelations on how to approach established communities, unexpected surplus audiences and the broadening appeal of Asian entertainment, and what the future holds for global media flows online.
Boxee, the much-hyped "social media center," opened its alpha download to Linux and Mac users on January 8. A private version of boxee alpha became available last fall and today it has been downloaded by over 100,000 users. Boxee is an open source application that allows users to play media and share recommendations with friends through the boxee interface or through automatic Twitter updates. Boxee plays media from local and network sources, but its real innovation is a slick interface that allows users to stream video from a popular sites including Hulu, Joost, CBS, ABC, CNN, MTV, YouTube, and even Netflix.
Boxee has been in development since early 2007 and it recently secured $4 million in funding to expand. Boxee is based on XBMC, the open source Xbox product that allows users to turn game consoles into home media centers. Boxee CEO Avenr Ronen saw a need to bring digital media to TV screens and thought XBMC was the perfect platform. Ronen explained in a July interview with CNET blogger Don Reisinger: "We believe it's the best damn media center you can get your hands on today." I've been playing around with boxee for the past week and I have to agree with Ronen.
FOE3 Liveblog: Session 7 - Global Flows, Global Deals
So we finished out FOE by trying to push some of the key themes of the conference into a global context, with panelists Nancy Baym (Personal Connections in a Digital Age), Robert Ferrari (Vice President of Business Development, Turbine Inc.) and Maurício Mota (Director of Strategy and Business Development, New Content Brazil).
The panel was moderated by C3 Reseacher Xiaochang Li (that would be me, for those of you playing at home) and Liveblogging was done by Harvard undergraduate Christina Xu.
Introduction of Panelists:
Nancy Baym: I study fans on the internet. I come at it from an interpersonal relationship and community building angle. I'm more interested in music fans than the narrative music, and how they relate to other fans in relation to pop culture material. I'm especially focused on Swedish/Scandinavian music flowing out of Swedish borders.
Bob Ferrari: VP of Business development, Turbine Inc. Looking at the online gaming side of the business. Turbine is a studio, 350+, based in Boston with a small office on the West Coast, that focuses on social (MMO) gaming. We build these deep dynamic worlds around brands (LoTR, D&D) and bring in hundreds of thousands of players into these live worlds and allow them to play & socialize. What I've been doing is driving it not just domestically, but also bringing them to other countries (Russia, starting South America, China/Hong Kong, Korea).
Mauricio Mota: Director of Strategy and Business Development, New Content. Pioneer company on branded content, leading the process of bringing transmedia storytelling to Brazil. Managing all of Unilever's 29 brands.
Videos by Mauricio and Bob (embedded to the C3 blog here
As an Australian, my experience of the US political system has always been a mediated one. As such, this is the first US election I've ever experienced 'live', and what an election it has been; Regardless of the outcome, this has been a unique and significant campaign season for a number of reasons. As we've pointed out previously in discussions about election monitoring, campaigns and fandom, Facebook and campaign building, and politics in the age of YouTube, the 2008 campaign has seen unique, interesting and savvy uses new media tools, particularly social media and online video publishing for grassroots campaigning, campaign financing and connecting with constituencies.
These will be some of the things I'll reflect on this afternoon, when I participate in a live chat over at PBS' MediaShift site. At 4 pm EST/1 pm PT I'll be chatting about the election coverage and online media specifically with PBS blogger Mark Glaser and my old friend Alice Robison, Assistant Professor of English at ASU. Come on over if you'd like to join in. They've got a whole afternoon of discussion lined up.
Oh, and whichever way you fall, please do vote. And for the junkies out there, Twitter's election feed makes for interesting reading throughout the day.
Registration information will be soon to follow, and be sure to check in for updates to speaker lists as we start to finalize our panels in the upcoming weeks. This year promises to be exciting and provocative, as we push our themes of convergence and media spreadability onto the global stage, while not losing sight of central C3 issues such as transmedia storytelling and audience value.
To get an idea of what the Futures of Entertainment conference is like, check out last year's site and listen or view the podcasts.
When C3 was first booting up in 2005, our circle of students would speak wistfully of how the Internet could have saved Joss Whedon's Firefly or Warren Ellis' Global Frequency. Although both of those properties seem to be dead or at least comatose, their creators have each announced new Internet-launched properties.
Last week the trailer and official website for Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog went live, as well as (of course) its official MySpace page and the more-or-less official fan site. The project, a spiritual follow-up to the incredibly popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode "Once More with Feeling", is a serialized superhero musical starring Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.) and Whedonverse regular Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly) as a hapless supervillain and the hero that plagues him. Business-centric readers of this blog, pay attention: the first of the show's three episodes will premiere at www.drhorrible.com on Tuesday, July 15, followed by the second on July 17, and the third on July 19, but all three episodes will only be available for free viewing on the site until July 20th. After that, the episodes will be available for "a nominal fee" (according to Whedon), which will then be followed up by a DVD with "the finest and bravest extras in all the land". More information has been promised to us at Comicon, but we Whedon fans are already champing at the bit.
Speaking of conventions, at last week's G.I. Joe collector's convention (JoeCon 2008) it was announced that Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency) is writing a series of animated webisodes for adults. The miniseries, called G.I. Joe: Resolute, will consist of ten five-minute episodes and one ten-minute finale, and is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2009. The show will be much grittier in nature than any G.I. Joe cartoon yet, featuring guns that fire bullets instead of lasers and characters falling in combat, but "little to no blood shown". While it isn't clear whether or not these webisodes will tie into the live-action G.I. Joe movie set for release next summer, in the style of The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight, the producers did say that they hoped to air the entire series someplace like the Cartoon Network or distribute it on DVD and that this is the direction Hasbro hopes to go with all of their brands.
While both of these projects seem to be following a fairly solid "web to DVD" model, it's far from the only business strategy being kicked around. Another intriguing alternative was announced this morning by Google, who has struck a deal with Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane concerning his next project, "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy." According to the New York Times:
Google will syndicate the program using its AdSense advertising system to thousands of Web sites that are predetermined to be gathering spots for Mr. MacFarlane's target audience, typically young men. Instead of placing a static ad on a Web page, Google will place a "Cavalcade" video clip.
Advertising will be incorporated into the clips in varying ways. In some cases, there will be "preroll" ads, which ask viewers to sit through a TV-style commercial before getting to the video. Some advertisers may opt for a banner to be placed at the bottom of the video clip or a simple "brought to you by" note at the beginning.
Mr. MacFarlane, who will receive a percentage of the ad revenue, has created a stable of new characters to star in the series, which will be served up in 50 two-minute episodes.
What's doubly interesting about the project is the reason MacFarlane cites for moving to the web. According to the article, MacFarlane felt "feeling constrained by the 'taste police,' a k a the Federal Communications Commission." Given how raunchy Family Guy is to start with, I can only imagine that this new project will be something the late George Carlin would have been proud of.
As C3 followers well know, all three of these creators have had experience with alternative distribution methods of content before Whedon's fans turned the fallen Firefly into the feature film Serenity; Ellis' fans built up a huge amount of buzz around the failed pilot of his Global Frequency when it leaked onto the web and he is currently posting weekly installments of the web-only comic Freakangels to http://www.freakangels.com/; and MacFarlane's Family Guy was brought back from the dead due to fan support. To say that we could have worse canaries in this coal mine would be an understatement.
This Thursday evening, the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium, in conjunction with the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, will be hosting a public event entitled "Potentials of YouTube."
This event is the public portion of our C3 Spring Retreat, with many of our consulting researchers and representatives from our corporate partners in attendance.
Since the Consortium has been spending significant time researching YouTube in the past year, we will feature two short presentations and subsequent discussion about the potential uses and significance of YouTube as a site for cultural performance, vernacular creativity, and evolving business practice.
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will introduce the discussion, and presenting will be Nate Greenslit, a postdoctoral scholar in MIT's Program on Emerging Technologies, and Kevin Driscoll, a graduate student in the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT.
My Twitter account has come to serve as the CNN crawler to my RSS feeds' feature stories and interviews: little bits and snippets of news with tinyurl pointers to the latest events. As I scrolled through my account this morning, I saw that at 5:31 PM yesterday, Derek Powazek tweeted "Are you resistant to change? Join the EVERYTHING NEW IS BAD army! http://www.flickr.com/groups/changeresistance/", which was my first clue that something was up. I thought Derek was just being snarky, so I didn't take the bait -- but at 5:57, Matt Howie followed suit with "Man, just when you think nothing can top Livejournal user drama, Flickr "no video" people go and redefine the term 'user drama'". The topic died down for a while (evidence that my circle, now in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties, are getting more interested in things like cooking and kids than teh Intarwebs in the evenings), but then at 1:01 AM EST my photographer friend Rannie Turingan tweeted "What do you think of Video on Flickr? http://tinyurl.com/5qdqqw". Molly Wright Steenson's tweet "all your base are belong to Flickr Video" was the next on the topic at 11:07, followed by my "Holy crap Flickr Video" at 11:15 and Kevin Smokler's "Flickr video kicked my kitten..." at 11:24. Right now the blogosphere is discovering something new and, like a bunch of curious kittens (thanks, Kevin) we're poking it, prodding it and figuring out what we think of it.
A lot of the reaction so far has been negative, as Derek's tweet seems to have foreshadowed. (This isn't surprising; Derek's wife Heather Champ Powazek works at Flickr, so both Derek and Heather are sitting at ground zero for this one -- in fact, Heather posted a video on the official Flickr blog called 'Video on Flickr' that served as an official teaser for the feature on April 8.) Ryan Gantz posted an interesting Obama-meets-Anti-Flickr-Video mash-up image titled 'leave flickr alone', which is only one image in the pools We Say NO to Videos on Flickr (25,239 members), NO VIDEO ON FLICKR!!! (10,544 members) and We say NO to Videos on Flickr UNCENSORED! (27 members). It's the last one that's particularly interesting; aside from the fact that yes, you do have to click through Flickr's safety screen to get to it (Flickr's CYA clause for NSFW images), it's the only one of the three to have a number of actual videos appearing on its initial page. In fact, six of the thirty images on the pool's initial page point to videos, all of whom seem to be illustrating the point that shocker! adding video to Flickr opens the door to questionable content. Actually clicking on them, though, shows that the content isn't that questionable the first one, a short video called 'Genesis in Reverse' by a user called Claudia Veja is straight out of art school, featuring what appears to be a naked woman wandering through a city, but the film is shot in such a way that it shows no 'questionable' body parts aside from some ankle and some collarbone. The second, Easter Photowalk 2008' by ♥ shhexycorin ♥, is a hyperaccelerated autobio piece with the most questionable bit being a guy trying to kick a pigeon or two. PETA might be annoyed, but they'd be hard pressed to file charges. The third, Genesis in reverse part 2', also by Claudia Veja, is a continuation of the first that is somewhat sexier (featuring a risque outfit, a cigarette and, later, some cross-gendered makeup) but still isn't what I'd deem NSFW. The others? A dog getting peanut butter off his nose, a cat drinking from a toilet and a dog named Gilligan running at double-speed around a yard.
Last weekend, Cadbury launched the "sequel" to its hugely successful "Gorilla" dairy milk advert. The original "Gorilla," launched in August 2007, features a man in a life-like Gorilla costume drumming passionately to the Phil Collins hit "In the Air Tonight" and consequently spawned numerous mash-ups, remixes, and spoofs. The ad got roughly 7 million youtube views and launched 70 community groups on facebook, according to the Telegraph UK, and went a long way in restoring Cadbury's reputation after the Salmonella controversy in 2006.
The sequel, "Trucks," which hopes to garner similar viral success, features pimped-out luggage trucks drag racing down airport runways set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." The design of the trucks is great -- they look like an 1980s version of what cars in the future should look like (brightly-hued and somewhat demented and in complete defiance of any consideration for aerodynamics) -- and the lighting is lovely, but one has to wonder if it'll live up to its considerably less elaborate predecessor.
So far, the comments on blogs and youtube postings have been significantly more mixed than the "Gorilla" video, some criticizing the song choice, but most of the criticism suggests that it simply isn't as good as the original. Part of this might be attributed to the fact that "Trucks" is visually and narratively more complex than "Gorilla," which may work against it as viral content. "Gorilla" worked largely because it was so straight-forward in its delightful absurdity: it's a Gorilla drumming, and the surprise and pleasure of the ad comes simply from the strangeness of the juxtaposition of two unexpected elements. On the whole, it's has elements of parody and nostalgia and gestures to some pop culture clichés that might lead to deeper levels of reading, but those are an added bonus and work as easily as cultural touchstones to help keep the surreal content within the bounds of comprehension as they would as access points for deeper consideration. "Gorilla" works without a lot of work on the part of the viewer, but it also leaves its message broad and generous enough allow for an active engagement in creating meaning if the viewer so chooses.
At the Consortium, we tend to dig into long discussions regarding the validity and scope of concepts. I am now wondering about a question that has also been on our minds on more than one occasion, but that we haven't had a chance to tackle just yet: without looking for a inevitably incomplete formulaic answer, what are the aesthetic properties of a Web TV show? And in turn, what makes a TV show a TV show?
The past couple of weeks have made me think about these questions in light of two projects: Quarterlife and Squeggees.
I originally posted this on my blog and wanted to share it with the Consortium readers as well, considering C3's particular interest in online video and participatory culture in its current research.
A few weeks ago, Stephen Duncombe, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, and I held a public conversation about "From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy: Politics in the Age of YouTube" at Otis College. The conversation ranged across many aspects of the current campaign season -- from "Obama Girl" to Huckabee's relationship to Chuck Norris, from The Daily Show to this anti-Hillary video -- suggesting the ways that social networks and participatory culture have impacted this most unlikely of campaign seasons.
As part of ongoing work about YouTube and the nature of online video sharing we've been pursuing, I've been looking lately at the some of the reasons for the ascension of the service to almost generic status as a shorthand for online video-sharing. The reasons for YouTube's rise to Xerox status in the US are many and murky, some having to do with diverse matters like site design, early mover status, canny marketing, the width of the stripes on their sweaters and champions they picked up along the way. Undoubtedly, however, I think that one of the reasons for YouTube's particular success is the downmarket quality of the video on the site. This is due to change, with the service currently testing technology that's been in development for a while now to increase the video and audio quality of the site, so it is perhaps prudent to point to some of the reasons I think grainy quality equalled success in YouTube's case.
Learning From YouTube: An Interview with Alex Juhasz (Part Two)
Earlier, I ran the first installment of a two part interview with filmmaker, activist, and cultural critic Alex Juhasz that first ran over on my blog.
In the first part, we focused primarily on a course she taught this fall on YouTube, describing some of the pedagogical issues she encountered, and some of the ways her course got distorted through mass media coverage.
Today, she is focusing more fully on some of her concerns about profoundly "undemocratic" aspects of YouTube, concerns which her teaching experience brought into sharper focus. While Juhasz and I start from very different perspectives, I see her critique as a valuable starting point for a conversation about the ways that YouTube does or does not achieve our highest goals for a more diverse and participatory culture.
Learning From YouTube: An Interview with Alex Juhasz (Part One)
Given the Consortium's interest in YouTube, I wanted to post a recent interview I ran over on my blog a few days ago.
What does it mean to learn from Youtube and what would it mean to treat YouTube itself as a platform for instruction and critique?
Alex Juhasz taught a course about YouTube last term at Pizer College, a small liberal arts school in California. As she explains below, Juhasz and her students adopted novel strategies for not simply engaging with YouTube content but also for using the YouTube platform to communicate their findings to a world beyond the classroom. In doing so, they took risks -- inviting outside scrutiny of their classroom activities, bringing down skepticism and scorn from many in the mainstream media which itself plays such a central role in the cycle of self promotion and publicity which surrounds the platform and its content. They became part of the phenomenon they were studying -- for better or for worse.
Earlier this month, I served as a respondent on a panel at USC's 24/7 DIY Video Event on a panel during which Juhasz shared her experiences. I felt that both her pedagogical approach and her critical perspective on YouTube would be of interest to readers of both my blog and the C3 blog.
Among the featured guests number of youtube celebrities such as Lisa Nova, Tay Zonday, and the source of my own bit of YouTube infamy (see here and here), Soulja Boy.
Bloggers hit their keyboards soon after and several called the event an "upfront" -- a telling comparison since the goal of Videocracy seemed to be to present YouTube to advertisers not just as a video distribution platform, but also as a viable alternative content stream comparable to television wherein advertising was concerned.
Pulling Out the Crystal Ball: Is Streaming the Way of the Future? (2 of 2)
In my previous post, I said, "How prevalent streaming becomes in relation to other methods (DVD, VOD, broadcast, downloads) will ultimately depend on the collective movement of five interdependent forces: content creators (including writers), technological change, cable companies, advertisers and audiences." While I looked at the first of those forces--content creators--in that post earlier today, I wanted to elaborate on each of the other four aspects I mentioned as well.
Let's face it, most people still watch television on their TV, and moving content from your computer to the television screen isn't exactly simple at the moment. There are definitely options, but they aren't obvious, simple, or convenient for most people (myself included). They also require high-speed internet connections, relatively new televisions, relatively new computers, and the know-how to set them up.
Pulling Out the Crystal Ball: Is Streaming the Way of the Future? (1 of 2)
There are a lot of lingering questions following the writer's strike. Will TV audiences return? How will networks recoup the lost revenue of the last three months? Will TV meet the same fate as newspapers and see advertisers move to greener new media pastures? Could NBC's reaction be the beginning of the end for the fall premiere season and the up fronts?
These are all interesting questions, but one sentence in this Washington Post article caught my attention Sunday afternoon, referring to the contentious and complicated issue of writers' payment for streaming content online: "[t]he guild, in turn, held fast, arguing that writers had to share in the profits of what may become the preeminent way to view filmed entertainment."
I think this leads to the most interesting question of all. Will streaming episodes online become the primary way that people view television content? And, perhaps equally as important, will that be a viable way for networks and producers to monetize content? I would argue that the shift is is not, as some suggest, a foregone conclusion.
As we have written about several times here on the C3 blog of late, we've been immersed in a study of YouTube for the past several months that involved going through and coding a variety of details about hundreds of videos on the site. As part of our ongoing effort to provide some very preliminary sketches on some of the interesting data or trends we've found, I wanted to write a bit about some of the more interesting series that appear to have a strong following online.
Binbir Gece. Several times, I ran into posted videos of a Turkish video series called Binbir Gece. It appears these videos became popular after an individual user started splitting individual episodes into pieces short enough to be posted on the video sharing site, from a handful of individuals, none of whom seem to be officially affiliated with the site. A search for the series on YouTube reveals about 2,500 videos in all, These videos appear to generate a significant amount of discussion in the comments section, revealing a community of Turkish-speakers on YouTube that might not be apparent at first glance.
Over the weekend, NBC launched the beta version of NBC Direct, the site offering full-length downloads of popular NBC shows that they announced back in mid-September.
This release appropriately coincides with reports of a study conducted at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania about television viewing habits online.
The study, which tracked a dramatic increase in television viewing done online over the past two seasons, showed that television content was being watched more despite the decrease in actual television viewing. Moreover, authorized web viewing in the past two years surpassed the increase in unauthorized viewing.
Copyright Crackdown: Coalitions, Aggregation, and Audiences (2 of 2)
Yesterday, I wrote about all the new stories arising about online video and copyright: Google's YouTube announcement, the media company pact, the shutdown of TV Links, and NBC closing out its YouTube channel. I wanted to follow that piece up with the predictions I alluded to last night, as well as some recommendations:
1. The industry may actually be ready to work together - for now.
No, pacts to protect and defend copyright are not new, but we all saw what happened to the recording industry. It's very difficult to quantify revenue that one would have had, but that's not really stopping anyone. Overall, I expect more lawsuits filed by multiple plaintiffs for exorbitant damages, just to make a point and to tell television advertisers that the networks aren't allowing CPMs to increase without trying to get their audience back. Expect the creation of an industry-sanctioned YouTube-style site. How customers will react to leaving the sites they know to go to one they don't for content is yet to be seen, but I would not be overly alarmed, particularly if Hulu gets a reasonably large amount of traffic, if other networks or content producers jump on board. This leads me to my second prediction.
Copyright Crackdown: Coalitions, Aggregation, and Audiences (1 of 2)
Viacom suing Google for a billion dollars may be old news, but the ten days have marked a sudden and a little bit startling push of the big media companies and government to defend copyright of video on the web. These events, although not totally unexpected, may have long-term implications for audiences in how we access television content online, and signal a need for some changes in how media companies relate to their audiences.
What happened? Replaying the last 10 days
There were four important developments this week: Google's YouTube announcement, the media company pact, the shutdown of TV Links, and NBC closing out its YouTube channel.
I am a regular listener and sometimes guest on NPR's On the Media, which does a great job of covering new developments in news and civic media. One recent segment, featuring an interview with Regina Lynn, the sex and technology correspondent for Wired.com, caught my attention.
The segment started with the oft-repeated claims that pornographers might be regarded as lead users of any new communications technologies, being among the first to test its capacities as they attempt to construct a new interface with consumers. We might add that pornography is at the center of the controversy surrounding any new media as the public adjusts to the larger shifts in the ways an emerging medium shapes our relations to time and space or transforms the borders between public and private.
The Medium Is the Message?
Indeed, I have long used pornography as an example to explain Marshall McLuhan's famous line, "the medium is the message," suggesting that the evolution of pornography can show us how different media can change our relationship to the same (very) basic content.
"Meet me at my crib . . .": Reading the official "Crank That" video
Last week, I brought up the phenomenon surrounding Soulja Boy and the "Crank Dat" dance craze that propelled him to success and touched upon a few of the things that drew my attention to this particular case. This week I thought I'd dig in a little further, and try to tease out some of the things that Soulja Boy really embodies for me (as a concept more than as a musician or performer) through a closer examination of his official music video, which touches upon a lot of these themes of production, participation, and distribution in the age of convergence.
Pragmatically Challenged: Where Do Quotes Fit in the YouTube Copyright Solution?
As those who are either members of the Consortium or who follow C3 regularly may know, we are in the process of doing some in-depth research into YouTube and the types of content that is most prevalent on the video sharing site. With that in mind, we have been paying more attention than ever to what is happening in this space. With the recent launch of the tools designed to cut out the improper use of copyrighted material, or at least offer copyright holders the opportunity to profit from the content's appearance on YouTube by offering ads, I fear that both fair use and the benefits to producers are getting lost in the process.
Let me explain what I mean. It has to do with what I feel is a very legitimate and fundamentally important aspect of YouTube: quoting. There is a substantial amount of copyrighted material on YouTube--of that, we can all surely agree. However, there is something fundamentally different about a segment from a show, a funny bit or a suspenseful bit, that is quoted in particular, versus the many people who post "last night's episode of X, Part I of V." One is trying to find the way around distribution; the other is about sharing a snippet of content that points back to the larger work, pointing to the proselytizing activities that are vital to a fan community and benefit both the fan sharing the link, those who click on the link, and the media company which the quote points back to.
Online TV Affects TV Viewing; It Affects It Not; It Affects It...
Alice Robison here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies alerted me last night to a short piece from TelevisionWeek's Daisy Whitney that viewing of online TV has doubled in the past year.
The study, which came from ad researchers TNS Media Intelligence, found that viewers cited most often a desire to avoid ads and the convenience of watching on-demand as reasons to move online. However, she writes, "While broadcast television ratings continue to decline, 80 percent of online viewers say watching shows online has not affected their viewing of traditional television."
The future of online television continues to get brighter. Why? Not necessarily because any of the particular series that have launched are of such high quality that it will make a major difference. In fact, I'm trying to take a quality-agnostic approach here. I'm convinced rather by the proliferation of online video series. As the number of television series that launch online continues to skyrocket, the chance of online distribution becoming a viable market increases.
The learning curve requires industry innovation, an increase in quality, and viewer acclimation. The many online video series that have been launching in recent months encourage all of that. The first online video series are interesting just for their "gee-whiz-ness," the fact that they were an online video series being a novelty all their own. As these series become more commonplace, though, the industry begins to learn through trial and error what does and doesn't work, and series can no longer ride on that innovator wave, requiring the shows to have to stand on their artistic merit.
Hustling 2.0: Soulja Boy and the Crank Dat Phenomenon
A little while back, Kevin, one of my colleagues here at MIT, brought the Soulja Boy YouTube phenomenon to my attention while we were discussing an upcoming project.
Fast forward to October: Soulja Boy is fending off Britney Spears and Kanye West on the Billboard Top 100, and you can now watch a rag-tag team of MIT grad students, researchers, affiliates, and Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and the Free Software Movement, crank that:
(CMS program director Henry Jenkins even joined in the learn the dance, but sadly had to run off to something undoubtedly important before the video was shot.)
I've been writing about a variety of interesting online video series lately, that have been in one way or another labeled "online soaps." I want to make clear at the outset, though, that I don't personally agree with this definition, or at least would argue that the online soap would be considered a very different format than the daytime soap.
I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately, as Abigail Derecho and I are co-editing a collection of essays on the contemporary state of daytime serial drama. We have been thinking through questions about what does and does not count as soap opera. I've discussed this often with other friends and fellow soaps enthusiasts, like Lynn Liccardo, in the past, finding that there is danger in the conflation of daytime soaps and primetime soaps, even with the similarities.
The latest of these online soaps comes from the United Kingdom, originating with a study that has found that the desire to watch the romantic lives of soap stars often eclipse the romantic lives of the actual fans. Now, mind you, a condom maker commissioned this study.
Among all the discussion about the television shows launching this season is a whole other series of programming launching this fall as well: new online series.
In the past couple of weeks, I have written about new online series like Crescent Heights, sponsored by Tide, and Quarterlife, the online television series from the creators of thirtysomething and My So-Called Life.
Now, there has been some buzz about another new online series, launched from NBC, called Coastal Dreams. According to the series' site, Coastal Dreams "is a new online-only drama featuring two young women living, working and playing in the scenic seaside town of Pacific Shores."
There is a new player in the UGC field: The User-Generated Content Database (ugcDb), which expects to become the "Who's Who" of the UGC world. As the name hints, this site has a pretty similar structure to that of IMDB.com, with the distinction that they focus on the content creators and the community around them. Although they're still in beta, ugcDb already has close to 1,000 creator profiles.
In a time when mainstream media and advertising are constantly trying to find a way to take advantage of the passion behind UGC, and when many amateur creators are hoping to use UGC as a stepping-stone toward a more profitable production model, creating a clear-cut definition of UGC is not an easy thing.
The Odd Couple: Digital Distribution and Network Television Branding, Together at Last? (2 of 2)
Digital distribution and network television branding may seem like strange bedfellows, but a recent announcement by NBC suggests to me that they might be a better match than expected.
Betting on Business Models - Will It Work?
Is the new NBC strategy a viable model? Parts of it definitely are, but there are some hurdles to jump first.
One that stands out to me is the pay to download model. More and more, media companies are shying away from paid online content, The New York Times recently joining their ranks. Granted, a TV show is more expensive to produce than a newspaper article, but that should not be the rationale for charging consumers a fee, much less setting the price. When the marginal cost of letting one more person see the show is basically zero and it's very easily available elsewhere (albeit often illegally) for free, next to a lot of other content audiences want to see that doesn't belong to NBC, and not tied to a cool device like the iPod, pricing content is a slippery slope.
The Odd Couple: Digital Distribution and Network Television Branding, Together at Last? (1 of 2)
Digital distribution and network television branding may seem like strange bedfellows, but a recent announcement by NBC suggests to me that they might be a better match than expected.
Eliminating the Middleman and Branding by Association
On Wednesday, the network announced a new service called NBC Direct, which would enable users to download free,copies of prime time content to their PCs. The files would "expire" in a week.
The service would be ad-supported, with an "unskippable" commercial running before each "chapter" of the program, although no sponsors or advertising partnerships have yet been named, according to MediaPost.
The latest news coming out about an online series ties into writing we've been doing here at the Convergence Culture Consortium about online video, branded entertainment, and soap operas. Procter & Gamble's Tide brand will be the sponsor of a new broadband series through GoTV Networks, a 10-parter called Crescent Heights.
The series, written by Mike Martineau of Rescue Me fame (see this post relating to Jason Mittell's writing about the FX series and how he feels it serves as a hypermasculine soap opera), will be available not just through Tide's Web site but also through mobile providers as well.
Kentucky Weatherman Controversy Raises Issues About Privacy, Copyright, Context, and Information Traces
An event that got a lot of people talking over the past few weeks back in Kentucky, and elsewhere, have--for some people--brought up the somewhat unsavory side of online video, user-generated content, and issues of privacy and context. The weatherman and morning television personality for a local news station in Kentucky, WBKO-13, had a short video clip released of him, off-the-air, waiting for a segment on breast milk donors.
Chris Allen, the news personality, was standing at a screen, juxtaposed against a quite large illustration of the female figure, with the figure's breast next to him. Allen, in an attempt at humor toward his fellow colleagues, started feigning that he was suckling at the breast of the figure, and then reached out to do a grab, complete with "honk, honk" noises.
Streaming Cinema: Contemplating Hollywood and the New VOD
If the stories about Apple's recent talks with Hollywood studios around providing streaming video "rentals" are accurate, the industry seems to be taking another step toward models of temporary access over ownership of digital film. Does this signal an end (or abatement) of the digital distribution-related fears of the film industry? Will digital video-on-demand become a widespread reality, given the recent series of deals and acquisitions?
Beyond the much ballyhooed need to "do something" in digital distribution channels, particularly in streaming movies over the internet lately, it's already proven to be a profitable way to make money on films post-theatrical release. According to the Wall Street Journal, the DVD sale market is worth about $16B, but it is in decline. Meanwhile, margins on cable VOD are 60-70%, compared to 15-20% on video store rentals. If one assumes that going through iTunes carries a similar per unit cost, likewise without the unease about unauthorized copying, it seems like a very worthwhile route.
A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Pontus Bergdahi, the CEO of Swedish television measurement company MMS. Pontus, a regular reader of the C3 blog, wrote to say that his company had produced a study that might be of interest to our focus here at the Consortium. Unfortunately, the 100-pp. study is not available in English, but I got a chance to look through a summary of the findings, which revealed a few interesting trends.
For instance, the study emphasized above all else that viewers today are watching more television than ever, but it is complicated by the fact that there are a variety of new channels in which they are viewing. In a media environment which values views equally, without bias to which platform they are viewed on, the television industry is stronger than ever, then. As examples like the CBS/Jericho situation reveal, however, the system is not equipped to deal with views on video-on-demand, DVRs, online streaming, downloading or other sources equally, meaning that a viewer really does "count more" when watching on television at the regular time, than they do otherwise...Well, let me amend that: as long as they have a Nielsen box, that is.
Quarterlife and the Rise of the Online Video Series
What will be the impact of Quarterlife on the future of online video? It's hard to say, but one thing is for certain: the evolution of online video series continue to move forward. In short, the creators of My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, are releasing a new television series on the Web, through MySpace. The show, which will debut on Nov. 11 and run for 18 weeks, with two new eight-minute episodes a week, will focus on a group of characters in their 20s.
Daisy Whitney at TelevisionWeekpoints out that this news is particularly relevant coming after the announcement from Warner Bros. Television Group for the production of 23 new series produced for online video, all short-form content. The business model will be through ad revenue sharing with MySpace.
The background for the show? It was originally a pilot for ABC, which was ultimately not picked up.
Catching Up: Net Neutrality, Online Video Ads, and Nielsen
In my efforts to play a little catchup tonight with a week that has largely gotten away from me, I wanted to catch up on a few developments on stories the Consortium has followed quite regularly here on the blog.
First, there is network neutrality. The latest comes from the Justice Department, which has written to the Federal Communications Commission with official comments opposing net neutrality. While, at the time Ira Teinowitz wrote her piece for TelevisionWeek, the FCC had received almost 28,000 comments on the issue, most of which supported net neutrality being upheld, the Justice Department said that neutrality "could in fact prevent, rather than promote, optimal investment and innovation in the Internet." The comments have sparked some controversy, and it's not yet clear whether the pressure from the Justice Department will have a significant effect on the FCC's decision-making process.
Would You Hulu? New Site Gets a New Name, But the Old Brands Are Conspicuously Absent
Earlier this month, I wrote a series of posts about what was then titled "New Site," the joint NewsCorp/NBCU online video venture.
As of late last week, New Site's real name was announced: Hulu. "Why Hulu?" asked the President and CEO of Hulu in an open letter posted on the site. "Hulu is short, easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and rhymes with itself...strikes us as an inherently fun name, one that captures the spirit of the service we're building." Funnily enough, I've heard similar things said about network branding campaigns. What's going on?
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators, Part IV of IV
Here is the final part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here, the second part here, and the third part here.
JM: Zack mentioned that you decided you didn't want advertising - why not? I can think of a lot of reasons that might play into it, but I'm curious how it particularly shaped your plan. And given that, are you by default investing a ton of time and a bit of money into a project that cannot be "monetized" (to use an industry buzz word), at least initially?
ZL: We decided that we didn't want advertising for a few hard-to-explain reasons, but primarily because we wanted people to know we weren't making this for the money and that is a labor of love for both of us. So to answer your question, we are indeed sinking a ton of time and money into something that we're not trying to monetize. Whether it finds itself monetized in the end remains to be seen...
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (3 of 4)
Here is the third part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here and the second part here.
JM: What drew you specifically to the serialized format? And how much in advance have you produced & scripted? Is there room for change in the story and style based on feedback, or do you feel pretty locked in to your vision of where it's going?
ZL: We spent a long time in preproduction. We thought a lot about the themes we wanted to explore and went through several major rewrites. It was pretty painful sometimes, but we always made the decision to go back and rewrite when something didn't feel right, which retrospectively was always the right decision. I say always because it happened more than we'd probably like to admit; we took a lot of time to craft our ideas and to really pare them down to the best they could be.
AOL Truveo Developing a Reputation in Online Video Search
As the growth in online video proliferates, despite some people's unsatisfactory experiences with downloading as mentioned here, video search becomes a more and more important function. With powerhouses like Google providing less-than-satisfactory results for video search, there is a gap in the field that several companies have been looking to fill.
Of late, most of the attention has been going to AOL's Truveo. Truveo, which has been powering a variety of online video sites with search functions, has now relaunched as its own more boldly branded site, hoping to fill the dearth of reliable online video search options by putting greater emphasis on its presence in online video search.
Survey Says Downloading Video an Unsatisfactory Experience
Sure it's cool, but will the general population do it? That's the question that a recent survey asked about consumption of online video. And this particular study found that a wide variety of those who said they had downloaded online video didn't really plan to do it again in the future.
According to the Parks Associates study, only one out of every five Americans who have downloaded video plan to do it again, according to their sample. Their analysis points to the fact that there are a lot of technological barriers in place that impede viewers from getting an enjoyable experience from online video. The lag in download time, lower-quality video, smaller screen sizes for those who don't have the technology to easily transport the video to their television sets, selection of what's commercially available, and a variety of other issues are among the problems people have with online video.
There are a variety of issues to keep in mind. Internet connection is a major one. I don't have details on Parks Associates' study, but one would think that a study of places in which higher-speed Internet connectivity is less prevalent probably makes those who have tried downloading video particularly frustrated.
YouTube Creates New Ad Models as Viacom Woes Move Forward
A little bit of interesting wrap-up on the YouTube front as well, based on some unfolding stories throughout the month. I was interested in the continuing fallout from the Viacom/Google lawsuit based around YouTube, as I've blogged about several times.
When I first wrote about the topic, I was concerned with the ways in which the community of YouTube was getting lost in the corporate structure for the business model as the lawsuit moved on, with no distinguishing between YouTube the group of users and YouTube the business. I wrote, "What's missing is the fact that YouTube is not the entity posting this content--it's the fans, fans who see quoting from these shows and sharing their favorite moments with each other as part of expressing their love for these programs." See more here, here, and here.
In trying to push forward with some much-needed updates to the blog this week, something else caught my eye: Kimberly D. Williams' in-depth article from Advertising Age on the season finale of Lonelygirl. The article is not openly available from Ad Age, but TelevisionWeek has the story available here.
Don't click on the article, though, if you don't want to read spoilers, because they give away a pretty big chunk of information on the online video series. Guess they aren't quite as sensitive to the spoiler issues we've been discussing here recently. If you missed it, see our posting from last month on the Harry Potter book spoiler controversy here and here.
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (2 of 4)
Here is the second part of the inteview with The West Side creators Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman that ran in our internal C3 Weekly Update newsletter last weekend. I am posting the interview sections here on the C3 blog a week after they run in our newsletter. You can see the first part of this interview here.
JM: So why an "urban western?" What brought you to that genre mixture, and where there specific films, programs, or other media that inspired you to try to create such a fictional world? The threads of influence that I see weaving through the project are The Wire (in part because I know Ryan's devotion to the series), early Spike Lee, Firefly, and of course classic John Ford/Howard Hawks/spaghetti Western films. What else helped shape your aesthetic?
RBK: Zack had been talking about writing a Western--I'll let him talk about his influences there--and I'd had an idea in college for a thesis on "hip-hop as the new American Western." In terms of ownership of property, personal freedom, living by the gun, disregard of the law, etc., I felt that hip-hop's relationship with American culture today was very similar to that of the Western fifty years ago (or thirty years ago with the Spaghetti Western). I never wrote that thesis--I wasn't alive during either of those eras anyway, so I couldn't really speak to the cultural climate--but once Zack and I started talking about internet video and Westerns, the idea came right back.
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators (1 of 4)
This July, Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman launched an ambitious online serialized film called The West Sidehere. Rather than trying to generate attention on YouTube, these two young filmmakers, who met at their day jobs at MTV, are trying to offer something distinctive on their own terms, creating a visually rich and leisurely-paced genre mixture of the urban Western. The first episode has been up for around a month, and due to some technical challenges of no-budget filmmaking, the next episode won't be out for a few weeks.
To fill the gap, I conducted an online interview with Ryan, who is a former student of mine, and Zack, discussing how they see their project fitting into the online video moment and broader possibilities of independent filmmaking. The filmmakers speak to many of the issues surrounding convergent media--serialized storytelling, innovative distribution strategies, viral promotion--but places them within the context of ambitious creators trying to make something new rather than make a quick splash. Be sure watch the first episode to get a sense of the project and their combination of ambition and imagination - and keep an eye on these emerging filmmakers!
I am running four weekly installments of the interview in the Consortium's C3 Weekly Update, but I thought I would put the interview segments here after they appear in the newsletter as well.
New Site: To Aggregate or Not to Aggregate? (4 of 4)
Why partner with FOX, a competing network with weaker web traffic, but consistently strong TV ratings, particularly for reality programs? It may be partly circumstantial; Viacom was originally in talks to join "new site", but pulled out and brought the $1 billion suit against YouTube.
As the Times article mentioned in the first part of this series cited , it may make the project more palatable for the giant conglomerates behind the media companies to be partnered with another conglomerate and an equity firm. But it also signals a willingness of traditional rivals to work together in digital distribution, perhaps a sign of consensus on how concerned the industry is for its long-term health.
To aggregate or not to aggregate? Producers know that content has a way of appearing on the web, whether or not they intend it to be there, as demonstrated by the recent discovery of new pilots circulating on the torrents, and that people want to access content online quickly and conveniently.
New Site: To Aggregate or Not to Aggregate? (3 of 4)
So, what could all of this mean in terms of strategy for NBC? I think the removal of Heroes from the site is a somewhat misguided attempt to get people to buy the DVDs or go to iTunes, when putting them online free of charge weeks before the fall lineup premiers might actually encourage people to join the series in season two and help the programs ratings and following in the longer term.
And people who really want to watch Heroes may now turn to the torrents. A recent study found that most Americans don't like downloading video, so the actions with Heroes may also be a bid to get people who would have watched online in the habit of paying for content directly.
New Site: To Aggregate or Not to Aggregate? (2 of 4)
"New site" may not be a YouTube killer. However, there are two problems facing the networks, in my opinion, that are bigger than YouTube, two-fold, and relate back to an essay I wrote earlier this year about network television branding.
The first problem is that the way that consumer habits and technology have evolved have pushed content advertising to a variety of sources, on-and-off-line.
NBC, which I will focus on because it has a strong network-branded online presence, cross-promotes and airs programs on its cable networks (USA, Bravo, Sci Fi), and has agreements with iTunes, YouTube, MSN and AOL and sells programs on DVD, which are also circulated through Netflix. (See this story from Jon Lafayette in TelevisionWeek last September.)
New Site: To Aggregate or Not to Aggregate? (1 of 4)
"New Site" is not new. The joint, billion-dollar, working-titled venture between NBC Universal and News Corp. was announced almost six months ago. Late last week, however, The New York Timesreported that Providence Equity Partners, a "media investment firm," bought a 10% stake in "new site" for $100 million.
In the next four posts, I will first do a quick analysis of NBC's current distribution strategy, then look at each of the two problems facing the networks, and finally examine why NBC has partnered with FOX to ultimately address the question: "To Aggregate or not to aggregate?"
So, why is NBC, which already has a popular network website partnering with FOX, which doesn't, to spend $1 billion (now effectively $900m) on "new site," and why is Providence contributing $100 million dollars to the effort?
Tomorrow, Eleanor Baird will be providing an in-depth look at NBC's current repositioning of its online content, through its launch of the New Site venture in particular. I wanted to preface that earlier today by pointing toward what we've written about previously regarding New Site, as well as pointing out another new venture launched by NBC that has been getting some press lately.
That new venture is an online channel made up entirely of advertising, where the ads are not just something to support the content, but content themselves. Our partners over at Turner Broadcasting were trendsetters in this regard, with their channel focuses particularly on humorous commercials called Very Funny Ads.
The Battle of the Business Models - Subscription versus Ad-Supported
Yesterday Veronis Suhler Stevenson and PQ Media released a report that predicts that internet or "alternative" ad spending will become the "leading ad medium", surpassing newspapers by 2011. There were a number of interesting findings and projections in this report, such as huge expected growth in blog, podcast and RSS advertising; growth in advertising on so-called "pure-play" sites; record communications spending in 2006 and beyond; and a slight decline in time spent with media and the consumption patterns of audiences.
However, because I am primarily interested in television networks, one finding in particular peaked my interest. The report was that audiences are "migrating away" from ad-supported media, spent less 6.8% less time with this type of product (ie. networks, newspapers) in 2006 than they did in 2001, and more 19.8% more time with products they support directly (video games, and (I presume) subscription based Internet service), while overall media usage declined in the period by about half a percent in that period.
CBS' Schizophrenic Response to the Jericho Situation
Seems like CBS has been sending a lot of mixed messages lately. Or else just demonstrating the confused nature across the television landscape. CBS is just a particularly good example, given all the fervor surrounding the cancellation, then renewal of Jericho. (See Nancy Baym's following of the Jericho phenomenon; I link to her here and here.
I've been e-mailing with Lynn Liccardo lately, who pointed out an interesting distinction in the CBS timeline. It was back on June 07 when CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told The New York Times, "We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock, and we need them to recruit viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."
For those who are interested in the mixing of brand planning and content distribution, brand exemplar Harley-Davidson shows once again how to make open content a meaningful part of the brand experience and to engage proselytism in the process.
It all hinges around the big bike rally in Sturgis, which--despite my uber-masculine lifestyle--I had forgotten was even coming up until a storyline on As the World Turns saw a kidnapping plot move toward Sturgis, as the kidnappers might be headed to the big bike rally.
Of course I should have remembered that this time of year equalled Sturgis from those terrible Road Wild pay-per-view wrestling events that WCW used to put on, held live from Sturgis and featuring a crowd full of bikers who both didn't pay to be there and didn't really have any product knowledge...Oh, and the 1998 Road Wild was one of the worst PPV events I've ever seen, especially with Jay Leno in the main event.
But that's a tangent. My point is that, while WCW didn't seem to get anything about Sturgis culture at all, Harley-Davidson has found another way to tap into that American cultural milestone in a way that meaningfully extends its brand.
Harley created a gadget that can be incorporated onto anyone's Web site that both featured a live feed from Sturgis, with the window branded by Harley-Davidson, as well as a variety of packaged videos from the motorcycle rally as well.
Another Proposed Metric: Tabulating Engagement Online
And there's yet another way to measure the value of viewers online, tied into the magic industry word of the year: engagement.
The prize goes to WebTrends, the analytics firm which has created a tabulation method that can give you a score on the spot for a specific visitor. That's right, the qualitative processes of engagements can just be narrowed down to a simple metric that you can add up.
While the sarcasm here is directed at how misguided this intense obsession with making everything boil down to some simple number, there are some important points...the site tracks how deep they go into the site, weighting various pages on the site depending on how engaged with the content you are likely to be to view them. More time spent on these pages might help weed out those who are on the phone or involved in other activities while they are on the site.
Skype/Metacafe Deal Expands Video Sharing Site's Reach
VIdeo sharing site Metacafe has made the news in the past week by striking a deal with Skype to provide its videos to Skype users, integrated in the newest Skype launch. Among the features are options to allow users to include a video in a chat or as part of their profile. There is also a deal in place for Dailymotion.
What does this mean? It's the latest in a continuing number of cross-platform distribution deals, as more and more it is online channels finding an increasing number of avenues to promote their content. Metacafe, in its effort to be more than just a one-stop destination for Web videos, is trying to extend the Metacafe reach outward, and that includes syndicating into programs like Skype that are becoming more and more mainstream for broadband Internet users.
Pirates vs. Ninjas: Valuing Fans and YouTube Users
Is copyright infringement enforcement across the board the best strategy for content producers? Or, would enabling some illegal sharing actually provide a benefit? The developments in the last week or two in the various lawsuits are indicating to me that a desire to stamp out and punish piracy is trumping the potential benefits letting users push content quickly and unfettered through social networks and other "web 2.0" sites, the most compelling benefit of these sites and a key means for fans to add value to media properties. The desire to adhere to traditional revenue models, boilerplate rights agreements and, perhaps most of all, an inability to qualify the value added by YouTube users, may ultimately be more of a hindrance than a help to producers in promoting their product.
Startling revelation? Perhaps not, but it's worth considering in the context of this week's developments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How do you launch a TV show based on an obscure cult comic which itself parodies a fairly obscure cult genre? Let it go viral.
In another example of the emerging trend C3 has been exploring in how online video is changing the nature of television production and distribution, Sci Fi Channel has taken a cue from the online distribution of failed pilots like Global Frequency and Nobody's Watching by pre-empting failure: The Amazing Screw-On Head pilot has debuted on its online video site Sci-Fi Pulse before the channel has decided its televisual fate.
Head is quite a delight - based on a cult comic by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, the show parodies the steampunk genre of sci-fi set in the 19th Century. The hero works at the pleasure of President Lincoln fighting threats to America (and to quote the show, "and by America, I mean the world") from undead zombies and ancient demon technology; for some as-yet-unspecified reason, he is a screw-on head. The animation is vivid and unique in its visual style, and features strong voice acting by established stars like Paul Giamatti and David Hyde Pierce. It's a show that could easily gain a dedicated audience in sufficient numbers for a cable channel - it most reminds me of the classic 1990s cartoon The Tick, which is high praise in my animation canon.
But Sci-Fi recognizes that it will take some doing to build its audience. Fans of Mignola are vocal and passionate, but far too small in number to guarantee success. So they've put the pilot online two weeks before its TV debut. But more importantly, they have attached a viewer survey to the pilot to gauge reactions and help judge the potential for extending the pilot into a series. This design takes advantages of two great opportunities of online video - the video can go viral through blogging and reviews much more quickly and legitimately than other "official" online videos, and instant feedback gives frustrated fans a way to feel like their voices matter. I have no investment in steampunk or Mignola's comics, but reading an online review made me want to watch the show. I liked it, gave my feedback, and now am blogging about it. Someone reading this blog will probably do the same. Thus Sci-Fi has taken their market research out of the shadows, tracking reactions not only through the official survey but by mapping the blogosphere.
The power of TV 2.0 is that your voice matters if you opt-in to the viral stream, while TV 1.0 depends on a woefully inadequate ratings system to estimate viewership. It is especially gratifying that by embracing this model, a vision of the future seems to be coming from a likely suspect: Sci-Fi.
One of our C3 team members from MIT's Sloan School of Management, Tim Crosby, alerted me to a fascinating site last week that shows the power of convergence culture and how the Internet can serve to incorporate the style and work of another medium--an online television series, updated at regular intervals and with a continued story-arc from episode to episode.
While other series have been done online, few have captured the cohesive feel of Soup of the Day, an ongoing Web-based situation comedy that builds on ongoing storylines. The site calls itself "a relation entertainment series," with the storyline of a central male protagonist who has three girlfriends--"one man, split pea-tween three girlfriends." The show features Brandon's struggle in trying to maintain these multiple relationships and also features male supporting characters.
Soup of the Day has already made it to the 18th installment, and all the episodes are available through the archives now. All the previous shows are available in the show's archives, with the content distributed through YouTube.
The show is likely done with a meager budget, without major name talent, but has gained a following through clever transmedial marketing, through its being a unique venture in the first place, and Iron Sink Media's ability to make compelling episodes that people want to follow--and with pretty impressive production values for a small independent project like this.
When Tim e-mailed me about this venture, he pointed out that the site is perhaps the best example of how video distribution costs have dropped immensely, through the video hosting power of YouTube. And it becomes further evidence of other models of distribution that does not require a traditional broadcasting network to produce a compelling television series. Through video-sharing, grassroots networking among the growing fan community, and clever transmedial marketing by the producers, Soup of the Day could be come the hit de jour of Summer 2006.
In terms of transmedia, the site features a video log for one of the characters, and several characters have their own MySpace pages that extend the storyworld into another online space. Viewers can check out protagonist Brandon's MySpace page for continued interaction and thoughts that feed back into the series, as well as to interact with the show's characters. Their are also sites set up for Brandon's three girlfriends: Monique, and Wendy. Pretty shrewd marketing, if you ask me.
The only thing that neither Tim nor I am sure of is where revenue for the show is coming from, as the site doesn't feature significant advertising and is not a pay-for-content distribution system. But, regardless of the financial situation of the show, it's popularity demonstrates much of what we hope to see in the future for convergence culture, in terms of allowing an unprecedented number of voices to participate in production in the creative industries.
Major Moves to Online Content--But How Will Congress' Upcoming Decision Affect Convergence Culture?
Moving into a major holiday four-day weekend, there were a lot of major announcements and events in the industry at the end of last week that affect old media companies moving their content online.
For instance, CBS announced a deal with its affiliates to help gain further network-wide support for a drive to new media content related to CBS programming. According to Michele Greppi of TelevisionWeek, the deal resembles FOX's agreement with its affiliates, in which stations receive 12.5 percent of what the network receives, after deducting various expenses, for on-demand repurposing of already-aired content and 25 percent of any content being available online before it airs on television.
CBS's deal will allow those stations who promote digital content on broadcasts to share in the revenue that results from the on-demand Web content. The affiliates are also slated to receive a fee for generating hits on CBS-owned Web sites with content supported by advertising revenues.
Finally, also on Thursday, Google announced that its video service will now allow users to rate clips, as Google tries to continue competing with the immensely popular YouTube in the video sharing market.
But all this news of content moving online comes amidst growing fear that content providers will lose the battle on Capitol Hill with Internet service providers over what has been labeled "net neutrality," which I've written about in the past. The Senate Commerce Committee rejected the addition of a "net neutrality" clause to the current legislation aimed at easing restrictions for telephone companies to get involved in pay television...As usual, it's hard to figure out how the one thing has to do with the other when it comes to bills being put together.
Regardless, net neutrality (as is currently in place, for the most part) has already been rejected by the House and is now on the Senate floor. Online content providers and "Internet equality" types are all protesting and organizing lobbying efforts to get net neutrality onto the agenda for the bill to pass.
The debate right now is, one the one side, that net neutrality is essential to allow everyone equal access to Internet content, and, on the other side, that service providers need to be able to get extra compensation for expenses required in updating lines for increased video content, etc., and that they should be able to work out deals and charge sites for preferential treatment.
Just as we have a strong movement toward equal access online, these proposals to eliminate net neutrality--along with moves toward online gated content--damages the ability of consumers to find products. And any move that ultimately takes power away from consumers is, to me, detrimental to convergence culture.
Two new announcements of mutli-platform promotion and distribution of television programs was announced this week, including NBC's new deal with YouTube and MTV Networks' The N distributing the debut of its new series both on television and on the Web simultaneously.
NBC will market its fall lineup on YouTube and will also purchase advertising and give on-air promotion to the video sharing Web site that has helped transform user generated content and fan control of television clips and which has burgeoning popularity over the past year.
NBC's is the first comprehensive deal with the online video provider among the broadcast networks, probably explained by the fact that NBC is currently fourth among the six broadcast networks for marketing to 18-49s according to TelevisionWeek, and more willing to experiment with new ways to reach young viewers. As part of the deal, NBC is sponsoring a contest for amateur videos to be made promoting The Office, with the winning spot running on the network.
Cable networks, such as E! and MTV 2, have done similar promotions of television programs through YouTube.
For NBC, which has pulled out its legal eagles as much as anyone else in the past, it's a major step in the right direction.
As for our research partner MTVN's new teen series Whistler, the program will both air on their primetime teen network The N but also on their Click media player online simultaneously, in what is being called a "simulcast" (which always makes me think of that surreal moment when Vince McMahon bought WCW and a 15-minute segment aired simultaneously on both TNN and TNT, cable competitors).
Two more moves in the right direction when it comes to networks being more open about promoting content in multiple media forms.
University of Chicago law professor Randy Picker was nice enough to pass along a link to what he has written -- from a legal perspective -- about the potential threat which the RIAA may pose to those folks who want to post lip-sync or karaoke songvids on YouTube:
For the music industry, this is a not-so-golden oldie and the conflict illustrates the persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and, frequently, perceptions of fairness. On these facts, far from being crazy or somehow a misuse of copyright, I think that music copyright holders have a straight-forward action against YouTube.... this is how we pay for music in the real world: different uses, different prices, and until we change the law and come up with a better way to pay for music, you should assume that the music industry is going to show up one day and knock on YouTube's door.
I don't pretend to be a lawyer so my views on the law should be taken with a grain of salt. I am pretty sure though that Picker is correct that the RIAA is almost certainly well within its legal rights to take action to shut down this use of its music via YouTube.
That said, I feel that we should be paying closer attention to that "persistent gap between actual law and the public's knowledge of that law and frequently, perceptions of fairness." True, ignorance of the law is no excuse but a democratic state should always be concerned if the gap between the law and the public's perception of fairness grows too great. (And I would suggest that gap is growing hourly at the present moment).
This is another in a series of posts highlighting trends which threaten our rights to participate in our culture.
According to a report published in the Boston Phoenix this week, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may soon take aim at the amateur lip syncing and Karaoke videos which circulate on YouTube. Spokespeople from the RIAA, which has never been slow to assert the broadest possible claims on intellectual property, have so far not confirmed the claims that they will be using their power to force YouTube to take down such videos.
Participatory Culture's Most Powerful Distribution System YouTube represents perhaps the most powerful distribution channel so far for amateur media content. More than 6 million visitors watch a total of 40 million clips per day and upload another 50,000 more, according to the Phoenix. Some of that traffic is no doubt generated by content grabbed from commercial media -- including a fair number of commercials which are virally circulated, music videos and segments from late night comedy shows, strange clips from reality television, and the like. But a good deal of the content is user generated and this content is generating wide interest.
Many people will have seen the footage of the guy who went a little extreme with his Christmas tree lights last year or, in regards to this current issue, some of the videos of pasty-faced and overweight people singing off key versions of their favorite pop songs -- often with demonstrably limited comprehension of the lyrics. Many of us had argued that earlier file-sharing services such as Napster provided an infrastructure for garage bands and the like to get their music into broader circulation but there, the illegal content swamped the legal and made it hard to support this case. With YouTube, there is no question that some of the most interesting content comes from grassroots creators. Via YouTube, what were once home movies are finding a public -- some coming to appreciate real creativity, some there to gawk.
Henry Jenkins, Director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, wrote the following on his own blog this past week, which I thought was pretty relevant to the topics covered here on the C3 blog, especially since I have followed the Snakes on a Plane fan following here as well. Henry's blog is in preparation for his new book, aptly titled Convergence Culture:
I am watching with great interest the growing hubbub about the new suspense/disaster film, Snakes on a Plane, scheduled for release later this summer and expected by many to yield some of the strongest opening weekend grosses of the season. In many ways, we can see the ever expanding cult following of this predictably awful movie as an example of the new power audiences are exerting over entertainment content.
Here's what I think is going on here:
Enter the Grassroots Intermediaries.
First, the Snakes on a Planephenomenon has been building momentum for well over a year now. In the old days, the public would never have known about a film this far out of the gate. They might have learned about it when the previews hit the theatre -- a phenomenon which itself is occurring earlier and earlier in the production cycle -- or even given the fairly low-brow aspirations of this particular title -- when the film actually hit the theatre. In the old days, this would have been an exploitation movie of the kind that Roger Corman used to crank out in the 1950s and 1960s and destined to play on the second bill at the local drive-in.
The company has adopted two simultaneous revenue streams, by receiving paid advertising content from a broader online site available to everyone in some projects, while only allowing other services to be accessed through what Daisy Whitney in the TV Week piece refers to as "gated" channels. For instance, the second approach is embodied by SoapNet's project called SoapNetic, offering content only to those who Verizon high-speed internet customers who pay to see it. But, companies should be careful by locking up content in gates that some people cannot access it even if they were willing to pay to...
According to Disney's strategy, this approach strengthens the relationship between Verizon and SOAPnet and encourages fans of SOAPnet to use Verizon to gain access to SoapNetic, while Disney gains fees from Verizon for offering this exclusive content.
The company is celebrating this two-pronged approach, offering both content exclusive to gated channels while also offering shows that are available for download by all. Experts quoted in the story indicate that this proves that the right idea is still up in the air and that Disney is trying to diversify by launching several different approaches simultaneously.
For SoapNetic, launching content in online forms helps it overcome the fact that the channel is not yet available in many cable markets. Daisy Whitney says that SOAPnet has been "among the vanguard of networks offering shows online." The SoapNetic site will include content not available anywhere else.
I'm interested in seeing which of Disney's dual approaches seems to gain the most legs. The problem with the "gated" approach appears to be the company-specific restrictions that causes many problems of platform. If, as a fan of soap opera and pro wrestling and classic country music (using me as an example, you see), soap opera content is available to me exclusively on Verizon, wrestling exclusively on RCN, and country exclusively on BellSouth, then I'm going to be extremely upset as a fan that I'm blocked from being able to enjoy the content I want to see the most because it's locked up in such company-specific deals. Of course, these deals mentioned above are hypothetical, but--while staying in Kentucky--I can't see the SoapNetic content if I wanted to, since Verizon Internet service is not offered here.
I would much rather see companies taking the approach of charging subscription prices or pay-per-view webcasts to get content directly from their site, such as WWE does with its content. Of course, with network neutrality itself hanging in the balance, more and more of these "gated" channel distribution deals may be in our future. But I think companies, including Disney, should think more about what they may be costing themselves with "gated" deals in alienating fans and shutting them off from content they love.
In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten.
Thanks to C3's David Edery for pointing me toward this development.
Digital Push Leads to Greater Transmedia Potential
Various networks have made announcements over the past week indicating that, even if there hasn't necessarily been a complete digital plunge, companies are at least getting their feet wet.
According to some TelevisionWeek stories today and over the weekend, new networks are popping up exclusively on the Internet, while several old dogs are trying some new digital tricks.
For instance, there's the new Code Networks, the online network that's aimed at the social life of the affluent, with a programming list that reads a lot like the sections of an elite magazine, focusing on the nightlife and arts of New York City. Reporter Daisy Whitney writes that the program was started by two ex-MTV executives, aimed at 25-to-49-year olds who make six figures.
Then, there's the new initiative from CBS Digital Media, ShowBuzz, an online product for entertainment news with broadband video and interactive content. The site will be ad-supported and will include content from various other established entertainment entities, such as Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. According to reporter Christopher Lisotta, the advertising will be session-based, "meaning that the only one advertiser will be featured throughout the site for any given user session or visit."
Then, Lifetime Networks has hired a new digital media executive vice-president to handle the development of the company's Web site, wireless initiatives, DVD releases and interactive components of television programming. Dan Suratt, who was hired from NBC Olympics, was responsible for new media development opportunities there, according to reporter Jon Lafayette.
With the exception of Code Networks, the initiatives offer many new opportunities for transmedia, with online reporting that both supplements and adds to content from traditional media forms, such as using content from the Lifetime television networks or from Hollywood Reporter. This may still be baby steps, but they're baby steps in the right direction, as long as these don't just become a place to dump repurposed content but explores the abilities of the digital to supplement and increase storytelling potential.
Slater Just Can't Quit The Preppie: A Brokeback Spoof on Saved by the Bell
After blogging about The Skeletor Show and 10 Things I Hate About Commandments over the past couple of weeks, my cousin and future doctor Steven Ford directed me toward another YouTube phenomenon--the Brokeback Mountain style parody of the relationship between characters Zach Morris and A.C. Slater on that teen situation comedy my generation grew up captivated by, Saved by the Bell.
Apparently, this fan, in true slash fiction fashion, searched out the many scenes of mutual admiration between Slater and Zach in the show's archives and edited together this video, "Saved by the Bell: Brokeback Style," as a tribute to their love, set to the great soundtrack from the award-winning cowboy gay love story. The show, marketed on DVD as nostalgia for those that remembered it fondly but largely unwatchable for anyone who didn't grow up watching it, is considered a marker of childhood for the generation that watched it on a regular basis.
For those who remember the show and the two masculine leads, the tribute video works almost as well as Kirk/Spock slash fiction--(such as the "Perhaps" video tribute to their love aboard the Starship Enterprise). And, considering the constant focus on Slater's body in the show and the rather cheesy dialogue, I believe there was probably a wealth of material that can seem pretty homoerotic once it's strung together.
The tribute is yet another illustration of the degree to which fans have gained the tools necessary to create fairly complex and well-edited videos using texts from the show's archives. In this case, this fan has created, in particular, an alternative reading of the show, so to speak, that largely only has appeal to other fans who will understand the various scenes depicted. In other words, these videos invite fellow fans to deconstruct the editing process.
Of course, in my mind, nothing will top the classic fan-reworked movie trailer for The Shining. If you have never checked it out, it remains a must-see.
The Boston Globe covers transmedia... twice in one day!
Two interesting transmedia-related articles in The Boston Globe today...
In "The plot thickens" (Subtitle: "Now it's not enough to watch your favorite TV show -- you may soon have to pay to get the full story"), Matt Gilbert offers a good survey of the current experiments in transmedia extensions for television properties:
In the coming months, you and your TV addiction are going to be reeled into an expanded ''environment" of your favorite network show, one that may require a cover charge for entry into certain exclusive zones.
In other words, your relationship is starting to get complicated. Network TV is becoming only the first step in what is known as a "TV series." It's becoming an entry point to show-o-spheres, where you not only watch "24" on Mondays on Fox but you purchase a "24" DVD set that contains clues to the season's big mysteries.
It's a good article which includes most of the new examples that have been surfacing here and in other blogs over the last month or two, and which illustrates the tension between creative and economic motives I've been tracking since the Year of the Matrix.
"As holiday shoppers evaluate Apple's new $299 video-capable iPod, the question hanging over the entertainment industry is whether the iPod can do for motion pictures what it did for music. Does its arrival signal a transition from the era of scheduled TV, DVDs, and videotapes to the age of Internet downloads?
Nice to see the mainstream press giving this trend some well-due consideration.
The New York Times has an article today about video blogs (vlogs, or video podcasts on the iTunes music store), calling them "new media's favorite new medium." The article profiles several vlog creators - Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom formats her videos like news reports, while Michael Verdi and Charlene Rule (of Scratch Video) create intensely personal movies that are almost like journal entries.
The advertising opportunities with vlogs are mentioned briefly. While most do not have enough viewers to warrant advertising, the most popular vlogs may prove to be very lucrative when advertisers warm up to the idea. Recently TiVo began listing select vlogs in its directory, allowing users to record vlogs to their television sets and the vlog producers to profit from advertising before and after their content.
The article is fairly comprehensive and a good resource for someone who wants an introduction to popular vlogs. However, I think the article is overstating the mass appeal of vlogs when it says that "the rapid expansion in the number of vlogs and Web sites offering video podcasts strongly suggests how bored viewers are getting with standard commercial TV." The problem is that vlogs and commercial TV are very different. Vlogs are shorter, produced with a significantly lower budget or no budget at all, and are created by individuals (often just one or two people) rather than corporations. Most vlogs - like most blogs - are personal, created to keep in touch with friends, discuss a hobby, or document daily life; thus they appeal to a niche audience. It seems to me that (for now) people enjoy both commercial television and vlogs, and the growth of vlogging doesn't suggest a shift from a different medium.
The first attempts to create interactive TV may have flopped, but the idea keeps cropping up. This time it's being tried by Norwegian broadcaster NRK and Swedish wireless equipment maker LM Ericsson. According to Yahoo! News:
During the six-week test, which started Monday, users can download a program for watching and interacting with the Norwegian youth music program "Svisj" on their mobile phones.
Users can vote for the next music video by pressing a mobile phone key, and chat in writing with each other or the program leaders while watching the show.
Espen Torgersen, a telecommunications analyst with the Carnegie Investment Bank AB, said the extent of interaction of the system may be new, but that many similar projects are under way.
I have to confess I was hoping for something more impressive than the ability to vote on the next TRL video. So far, the killer app of "interactive" TV has been the easy time-shifting enabled by TiVo and the DVR.
35 to 54 year olds are 20% more likely to watch online video than the average internet user, according to a recent study by ComScore, and accounted for more than 45% of the online video audience in August 2005. As ComScore's Erin Hunter notes, "it's not just college kids or bleeding-edge internet users who are streaming videos."
While the bulk of the study is behind a pay wall, the following findings were summarized in the press release:
* More than 100 million users consume online digital media (streams and downloads) in the U.S. in a month, which represents almost 60 percent of the U.S. online population (97.5 million computers).
* Video consumption crosses all dayparts and demographics, with the primetime and daytime dayparts showing particular strength.
* Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. Internet users in August streamed audio or video through a Portal and almost 50 percent did so from an Entertainment site
* More than 17 percent of U.S. Internet users streamed content from a Music site and 15 percent streamed from a Retail site.
All this data is interesting, of course, although it would more useful it it was put in context. For instance, what kinds of content do users watch through streaming video, and what do they prefer to download to their hard drive or DVR? Will people pay for streamed content, or is advertising a more effective means of monetizing the media form? Obviously, some popular streaming videos are advertisments, such as the now-defunct BMW Films and Apple's movie trailers, which presumably more than pay for themselves.
The iTunes music store has move than 3,000 videos available for download (including music videos, Pixar shorts, and television shows). Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, asserts in the press release that Apple has sold more than three million videos in the first two months of the service alone.
Advertising will play a role in determining VOD cost
Programming shouldn't be limited to the VOD itself but include extra content for new and dedicated downloaders. Extra content will also provide opportunities for imaginative advertisers to reach a "finely-tuned" audience.
Right now, the iTunes music store is the highest-profile provider of online VOD content and has so far resisted including advertising. When Apple does begin to include advertising (and I think it's a matter of "when," not "if"), it will be interesting to see how it is implemented - before the content in the style of movie previews, or during the content in the style of television? Who will benefit: the producer of the content, or Apple itself? And most importantly, how much advertising will viewers tolerate before they move on to the next product that allows them to skip advertising?
Cinematical reports that IFC Films is collaborating with the iTunes Music Store to make the first 10 minutes of Lars Von Trier's upcoming film Mandalay available for free download. I'd expect to see a lot more of this in the near future, but I'm glad that IFC was the first one to make this move.
CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB hold a rare joint press conference to inform advertisers that the DVR isn't death incarnate for conventional TV commercials. One of the tenuous linchpins of their argument: DVR users pay more attention to what's flashing on-screen, even if it's a commercial that's being fast-forwarded at 10 times normal speed, so if something catches their eye, they'll rewind back to see it.
Does anyone who's not drinking the networks' kool-aid believe this?
Let me be blunt: The conventional TV commercial is going the way of the dinosaur. We don't know what will replace it yet, but it's an open secret that even as the price of prime-time advertising goes up, its impact is dropping like a stone. Although there are only an estimated 8 million DVRs in homes and playback viewing is less than 5% of the total viewing audience (numbers via adweek), it's indisputable that DVR viewing is on the rise (to say nothing of other recent ad-free trends, like people BitTorrenting TV shows to watch on their computers and ABC's recent partnership with Apple).
The major networks appear to be in complete denial about the impending demise of the TV commercial. That's the first of the 5 stages of grief. Personally, I can't wait until we hit anger and bargaining.
Update: Ilya takes issue with some of my conclusions in comments. Come join the fun.
Well, you all may have noticed that I trumped USA Today by about a week, posting about WWE moving two of its shows to exclusive Web-only content.
WWE has been a revolutionary Internet provider for a while. At first, it established a relationship with AOL and was one of their hottest "in-house" sites, with WWE chats from time to time even crashing the server and with a lot of downloads of themes, photos, etc.
Later, WWE.com became one of the most innovative Web sites. Vince McMahon's son Shane works with global expansion and new media, and he has pushed to take content and put it on the Web. The great move here is that the first hour of Smackdown mentioned in the article that got 500,000 views and the Velocity and HeatTV shows were not featuring a lot of big name stars. But, because there is an interest in Web programming, there is a good chance that moving them to the Internet could eventually make them MORE popular than they were.
On TV, these shows were the "B" shows. Now, they are the flagship shows of the Internet, giving fans a chance to see some of the smaller stars in wrestling matches that don't make it to the big show. The company is aggressively promoting its Internet now in a way that would fall right into the business practices suggested by the Pokemon movement, to make other flows of information coincide with and complement the main narrative.
By providing articles that give context to the main show, exclusive programming that complements the main show, etc., the WWE's Web site begins to function much like the Web site for Dawson's Creek did....It allows viewers the chance to choose what information they want to consume and to become lost in the fictional universe of the characters.