Kill Screen's Jamin Warren on the Futures of Gaming
At the Futures of Entertainment, we've always been big proponents of gaming and gamers. I was thrilled to be able to interview Jamin Warren, Founder of gaming magazine Kill Screen. Kill Screen has some of the best game writing out there, and they're constantly proving the importance of games as a cultural form. Jamin Warren told me about why he founded Kill Screen, where Kill Screen's going next and the (lack of) interactions between gamemakers and fans.
Sheila Murphy Seles: Can you tell me a little about your background and why you founded Kill Screen?
Jamin Warren: I started as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, covering arts and entertainment there. I wanted to have my own niche, and besides reading, videogames were the only other thing I had done my entire life. But when I started writing about games, I quickly discovered two things. First, large media institutions like the Journal were not interested in games for either their commercial or cultural import. Second, the type of content for gamers was geared at teens and college-student. As someone in my 20s, there was little for me to express the type of game culture that fit into my life as someone interested, not just in games, but the intersections between play and art/design/music etc.
Other popular movements have had a gatekeeper that ushered them into maturity. Rock had Rolling Stone and then MTV. The Internet had Wired. Indie rock had Pitchfork and VICE had hipsters. That was the impetus for Kill Screen -- to embody this new, older videogame player. Gamers have grown-up, but their culture hasn't.
SMS: What are your biggest initiatives currently at Kill Screen?
JW: Currently, our biggest project is the production arm. My partner Tavit came from Atari and the Primary Wave the music publisher. Brands and agencies are looking for better interactive, game projects, but they don't necessarily have the know-how or experience building those. We know games so we can both build and guide them to create better branded experiences. This summer, for example, we built a project from scratch for Sony Music for Incubus to reinvigorate their fan-base. The game saw tremendous engagement (more than 6 min. of avg. playtime) and sparked a conversation.
On the cultural side, there's a big gap for indie gamemakers in terms of their economic ecosystem. If you're an independent photographer, filmmaker etc., you balance your creative work with your commercial obligations. Game designers have no such system as the games industry writ large is organized like Hollywood before the landmark Supreme Court case against Paramount. Gamemakers either have to work for traditional publishers or hope for their indie project to score a hit. By connecting agencies and brands with game designers, we're expanding their ecosystem to allow them to have a project-based system akin to the one enjoyed by other creatives.
SMS: What kinds of collaboration do you see in the game industry between fans/gamers and content creators?
JW: Traditionally, the videogame industry has done a poor job of engaging fans on their own terms. Nintendo is great example of this failure -- the Wii, for example, made it nearly impossible to connect with others online. Facebook integration on XBox Live and PlayStation Network is woeful. Those lack of dialogic tools is emblematic of a larger rift between those who play games and those who make.
One odd example is FarmVille, which perhaps represents an extreme. They A/B test every user experience and that game is in fact a perfect reflection of the desires of the community. This, of course, sucks the fun out, but it is a conversation they are actively having with their community.
I'm most interested in the user tools that are emerging to make it easier to make games. Microsoft's Kodu is designed for kids and Scratch is another "easy" programming language for game devs. There will be a day where game creation tools will be as commonplace as word processing software.
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.
Audience behavior across television platforms is networked, instantaneous, and visible like never before. To maximize the value of the digital television audience, the industry needs to recognize and quantify the cultural value of content—they need to evaluate the reasons people watch TV in the first place. Unfortunately, current business models aren’t up to this challenge. While digital networked culture presents tremendous opportunities to engage with audiences, digital data allows us to see how poorly television ratings reflect actual audience behavior. In this white paper, we’ll see that the ratings system is ultimately responsible for the growing division between the financial value of the audience and the cultural value of content. As long as ratings exist in their current state, publishers and advertisers will miss out on innovative revenue opportunities, and they won’t be able to create programming that reflects real audience demand.
Television ratings are meant to make audiences valuable to publishers and advertisers, but ratings are too narrowly constructed to represent the diverse sites of value embodied in the contemporary television audience. This white paper suggests three key areas that should be re-imagined to maximize the value of the television audience for the digital age.
PART I: Structural Relationships Among Industry Players
• This section argues that the economic structure of the television industry has prevented industry players from maximizing the value of increasingly fragmented television audiences.
• We consider evidence of how industry players are caught in a codependent relationship that privileges the status quo to the detriment of true innovation.
• These relationships functioned best when audiences and programs were aggregated because there was only one way to watch TV—when it was on.
• Today, there are many ways to watch TV—live, recorded on a DVR, online, downloaded—but audiences are still measured like linear television audiences. This method of audience measurement fails to leverage the affordances of the medium and allows a lot of viewers to slip through the cracks. Sometimes viewers take it upon themselves to make sure this doesn’t happen, but most of the time networks and advertisers are guided by their dependence on outmoded conceptions of audience value.
PART II: The Changing Value of Television Audiences
• The second section argues for a system of audience measurement that maintains the value of audience exposure while accounting for the value of audience expression.
• Here, we resist the temptation to look at fans as a model for measuring expression both because fan behavior is anomalous, and because we can measure digital expressions as simple as clicking a mouse or changing the channel on a digital TV.
• Finally, this section deals with the value of viewing context. There are also different behaviors associated with different platforms and different content. Understanding the implications of viewing context makes the television audience even more valuable to advertisers and publishers. Context provides an opportunity to expand advertising strategies beyond showing the same ads on every platform.
PART III: Leveraging Digital Affordances to Maximize Audience Value
• The last section explains how the logic of successful digital companies can be applied to the television business. Both the methodologies and corporate ethos of successful online companies can serve as a model for the television industry, or they can be its undoing. This section uses mini-studies of several Internet companies to argue for the increasing importance of experimentation, networking, taste, organization, and interface in the television business for the purposes of better understanding audience engagement and audience value.
• First, we explore how Google is the leader in online advertising sales by making sense of data and making user behavior valuable.
• Next, Netflix provides an instructive example of how networked culture and progressive corporate culture can lead to success in digital business.
• Finally, Demand Media shows us how digital data can make visible manifestations of user taste valuable.
• Publishers, advertisers, and measurement companies have historically been able to get around the limitations of their codependency, but they are faced with increasing competition from digital companies that understand how to make fragmented audiences valuable.
Finally, this paper concludes that the industry can move beyond its problems by embracing emergent sites of audience value. Digital distribution affords significant opportunities for the television industry to make audiences valuable. By continuing to explore digital data, targeted advertising, behavioral use patterns, and audience engagement, the television industry can revolutionize its ailing business.
Sheila Murphy Selesgraduated with a Master of Science in Comparative Media Studies from MIT in 2010. Her graduate thesis focused on the television ratings industry and the changing value of television audiences. Seles also holds a BA in American Studies and Theatre from Middlebury College. Her work at The Convergence Culture Consortium examined the television industry with a concentration on the changing business of television research. Seles is currently the Director of Digital and Social Media at the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). Sheila can be reached directly at email@example.com
I love movies, and I don't want to see anyone lose a job, but I have a problem with Dodd's assertion that "movie theft" is the biggest threat to the movie industry. Perhaps the fact that people are choosing to illegally acquire and watch feature films in the comfort of their own homes is partially responsible for the decline in movie attendance, but even if it is, Dodd is missing the point. It's not movie theft that's the problem--it's the opportunities moviegoers have to watch content when, how, and where they want to. People have grown accustomed to getting all kinds of content on-demand, and they're probably not going to change their behavior on moral grounds. Instead of seeing piracy as a threat, we have to learn how to use what we know about file sharing to drive business innovation.
The marketing industry has been whipped into a frenzy by a 17-year-old Canadian pop star. Justin Bieber has been hailed as Master of the Twitterverse while most brands are still trying to figure out what a Twitterverse is. A quick tour of Google yields pages and pages on social media marketing a la Bieber, creating Bieber-based marketing strategies, and adulations of Justin Bieber as an "Internet Marketing Guru." While many of these articles contain not entirely un-useful platitudes along the lines of "listen to your customers" and "respond to your fans," the fact is that brands simply shouldn't try to out-Bieber Bieber.
This is the fourth installment in a series on TV retransmission fees. Previous installments focused on introducing the series,PR and television audiences, and regulation. In brief Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a per-subscriber retransmission fee from New York area cable provider, Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, night before the Oscars. If you want to learn more about retrans in general, check out this great article from Broadcasting & Cable.
The latest public battles over retransmission consent are a clear indication that television business models are becoming increasingly unstable. Retrans has always been an easy way for national networks to get things they want--like carriage for their cable stations, but until recently, retransmission fees were not part of national networks' business models for owned and operated (O&O) local stations. So, what's changed? Business models are up in the air because of digital distribution, network culture, and new players--like Google--entering the TV market. This is scary and some bad things could happen:
Hulu, cord cutters, and piracy will ruin the TV industry.
The economy and declining ad revenues will ruin the TV industry.
The ratings industry's failure to measure digital audiences will ruin the TV industry.
This is all to say that networks know they're leaving money on the digital table, as it were. While they're scrambling to adapt their business models, it's easy to grab some low hanging fruit and collect a few extra million in retransmission fees.
Why We Should Care About Retrans Part III: Regulation
This is the third installment in a series on TV retransmission fees. The introduction and first installment ran last week. In brief Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a per-subscriber retransmission fee from New York area cable provider, Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, night before the Oscars. If you want to learn more about retrans in general, check out this great article from Broadcasting & Cable.
Battles over retransmission consent are happening because federal regulations give broadcast TV stations the right to negotiate with cable providers for carriage. Must-carry and retrans are among those sticky legal issues--like copyright-- that were meant to protect individual, but have come in the digital age to be used as a tool against consumers.
There's some explanation required here. I'll try to make it as brief as possible and get to the good stuff.
Brief history of Must-Carry and Retransmission Regulations
"Must-Carry" regulations were first created in the 1970s to help smaller broadcasters survive against as cable TV came on the scene. These regulations made it mandatory for cable operators to dedicate channels for most major over-the-air stations in their designated market area (DMA).
The Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 addressed must carry laws, allowing cable operators to drop redundant signals in their DMA. For example, cable providers wouldn't be required to carry two NBC affiliate stations in the same DMA.
In 1994, The FCC added the concept of "retransmission consent" to the mix. This meant that broadcasters had to agree to be carried by cable providers. This gave broadcasters the power to negotiate with cable providers.
Must-carry laws and retrans consent are two federal regulations that were originally created to protect small television broadcasters. While these laws still protect small broadcasters, they've also given more power to national networks and large holding companies.
This is because broadcast networks are owned by different entities in different markets across the country. Some stations are considered owned and operated (O&O) by national networks. This means that the stations are um... owned and operated by the national networks. Currently, O&Os are allowed to reach only 39% of the country. The remainder of the US is served by network affiliates, stations owned by independent parties who negotiate with national networks for programming.
The market isn't the same as it was when these regulations were passed. These regulations were created to level the playing field for stations and cable providers, but the balance of power has shifted toward networks for several reasons.
Why We Should Care About Retrans Part II: Battles for the TV Audience
This is the second installment in a series on TV retransmission fees. The introduction ran yesterday. In brief Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a per-subscriber retransmission fee from New York area cable provider, Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, night before the Oscars. If you want to learn more about retrans in general, check out this great article from Broadcasting & Cable.
WABC and Cablevision had already been engaged in a nasty fight to win the hearts and minds of Cablevision subscribers before WABC went black at midnight on March 7. ABC and Cablevision each ran a series of ads blasting the other. Check out the two ads below. Both are propaganda its best and most manipulative, but they each present a very different picture of why audiences should care about TV and the retrans battle.
In case you missed it, the Oscars were on March 7. The show was pretty good, but there weren't many surprises (except Ben Stiller dressed as one of the Navi from Avatar .) As a TV geek, the Oscar races were almost upstaged by a way more interesting battle going on between WABC--the local ABC station in New York--and cable provider, Cablevision. WABC and Cablevision were stuck in negotiations about retransmission fees, and when they couldn't reach an agreement, WABC pulled its station from Cablevision's lineup. The result: you may have missed The Oscars--or at least the first few minutes of the telecast--if you were among Cablevision's 3 million subscribers in the greater New York City metropolitan area.
So, what are retransmission fees? The 1992 Cable Act allows local broadcasters to negotiate carriage contracts with cable operators every three years. Broadcasters can either demand that the cable operator "must carry" their station or they can negotiate for a per-subscriber fee from the cable operators--this fee is knows as a retransmission fee. If broadcasters demand a retrans fee and cable operators don't agree to it, broadcasters can pull their station from the cable operator's lineup. That's what happened in the case of WABC. Disney, WABC's parent company demanded a retrans fee from Cablevision. Cablevision thought the fee was too much. A really messy public battle ensued and WABC disappeared from Cablevision at midnight on Sunday, March 7, the night before the Oscars. Right before it went black, WABC aired a message reading, "Cablevision has betrayed you again."
The Oscars are on ABC this Sunday. I love award shows, I love complaining about award shows, and I love blogging about award shows. In the past, I've written a few diatribes about why TV networks and award-giving entities should make shows as participatory as possible, but this time, I think ABC and the Academy have tried very hard to create a strong social media presence. We'll see how it works out during the ceremony. And for the record, I'm still not sure if you'll be able to watch the entire Oscar telecast online, but you can catch the red carpet.
In case you're still ambivalent about the fashion, fabulousness, and boredom that is the Oscars, here are my top five reasons to watch the Oscars this year.
A few weeks ago I attended C3 affiliate Grant McCracken's Chief Culture Officer Boot Camp in New York. The boot camp was a day long session on McCracken's new book Chief Culture Officer, which you should definitely check out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago I saw Up in the Air, the new film directed by Jason Reitman. It's a great movie, worthy of the hype it's been getting, but I was most intrigued not by the acting or the topical themes, but by the very obvious product placement from Hilton hotels and American Airlines.
In fact, Hilton and American are more than just product placements in Up in the Air. According to a recent article in Advertising Age, Hilton and American Airlines are integrated-marketing partners for the film. This allows the film to promote the brands and vice versa: both Hilton and American are currently running sweepstakes related to the film and Up in the Air's website has a prominent section devoted to its partners.
The Thing about The Emmys that Even NPH Coudn't Save
This year's Emmy Awards opened with the divine Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) singing a song that begs viewers to "put down the remote" and watch the ceremony--and commercials--live, without interruptions of any kind. You can watch the video of NPH's song below or read the lyrics.
As the song moves on, it warns viewers to stay away from all the things that have historically worried television broadcasters: remote controls, cable, cell phones, computers. The song was funny and topical, but it revealed what most of us have known for a while: TV networks are very aware of the threats to their business model, but they haven't figured out many viable alternatives.
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.
Kompare argues that while US television was once organized around textual reception, it now functions on a logic of versioning, which is based on mobility, scalability, and creativity. Media texts, like Star Trek and Doctor Who, are released in as many versions as the market will tolerate. Versioning does not refer to remakes or adaptations of original series, but instead refers to the ways a single text is remastered, repackaged, and ultimately re-sold to fans.
The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 2 of 2)
Last Friday, we ran the first part of a piece I wrote about Maureen Murphy, Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI). The second part of this piece deals with the challenges journalism faces in a spreadable media environment. Murphy explains how being an online-only publication has forced EI to address issues of credibility, crediting, activism, and bias.
Though the internet allows EI to reach--and possibly enlighten--a very large audience, Murphy also has some frustrations when thinking about the internet as a medium. "I think people take web media a little less seriously," she says. This is especially frustrating because the brand of journalism EI offers readers is much more complex--and arguably more serious--than much of what's found in the mainstream press. Still, the internet as an aggregate isn't governed by standards as strict as EI's editorial policy, so the same Google search can direct a reader to EI as well as other sites with varying levels of journalistic credibility. Of course it can be argued that many major newsrooms may have questionable journalistic standards, but there is an implicit level of trust that comes with the colophon of say, the New York Times or the Washington Post.
The Electronic Intifada and the Challenges of Online Journalism (Part 1 of 2)
With the recent announcement that the Boston Globe might fold if it can't cut $20 million in union costs, the state of print journalism seems to be in a state of flux. The print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer also folded to budget concerns, but the paper has continued to publish as an online-only news source. Are online editions the future of journalism? And how does online publishing differ from print journalism? As part of an assignment for Henry Jenkins's Theories and Methods class, I recently interviewed the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada, an online-only news source dedicated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to get her opinion on the state of online journalism. Below, you'll find portion of my report.
Maureen Murphy is the Managing Editor of The Electronic Intifada (EI), a nonprofit online publication--found at electronicintifada.net-- that features news, opinion, and analysis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Disclosure: Maureen Murphy is also my cousin.) EI was founded in early 2001 by Ali Abunimah, Nigel Parry, Arjan El Fassed, and Laurie King--four activists who had never met in person. Murphy explains: "The Electronic Intifada project started as a reaction to the corporate media narration of the second Palestinian Intifada. It was started by a bunch of activists who didn't know each other, but who were able to find each other through the internet." EI was originally conceived as a supplement to the mainstream news media's coverage of the conflict, but it has quickly grown to a news source in its own right. EI averages 3000-5000 unique visitors daily, and they got as many as 30,000 visitors a day during the recent crisis in Gaza.
Wrapping up SXSW: Jenkins, De Kosnik, and Askwith on Fans
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest Interactive in Austin. Between panels, parties, and the constant stream of Tweets, I'm still processing everything I took in at the conference.
For those of you who couldn't make it to Austin last month--and even for those of you who could--I wanted to share the slides from one of the best panels I attended: "Engagement 1.0: Understanding the History of Fan Interactivity," featuring Ivan Askwith, Henry Jenkins and Abigail De Kosnik. Since these three are affiliated with C3, I may be a little biased, but I am sincere when I say that this panel was the most useful discussion fan practices saw at SXSW. I left the presentation with a basic but broad understanding of how fan communities create value and worth. The slides:
Research Update: Platforms, Audience, and Television's Shifting Landscape
Lately, my research at C3 has been making me think of that Nissan commercial with the tagline, "A shift has been made." Thanks to the passive voice, we don't know who made the shift or why. We only know that it happened and that it's trying to sell us a car. Of course, I'm thinking about television.
The way we understand the "time and space" of the television viewing experience has shifted. Networks once dictated when viewers saw television content, but new technologies now allow viewers to "watch TV" on their own schedules. Similarly, content once existed only on television sets, but now "watching TV" can happen on a phone or computer just as easily.
Our research at C3 tends to focus on "new" ways to watch TV. We think about platforms, time-shifting, and online video, but we rarely think about that outmoded concept of turning on the television set and watching what's on.
This Sunday's Academy Awards telecast was an example of that "old" way of watching. An average of 36.2 million viewers tuned in to watch the ceremony in real time. Event television--like the Oscars or the Superbowl--seems to be the one type of programming that still makes sense in terms of staid industry models: advertisers don't have to worry about time-shifting audience missing commercials because live viewers can't scan commercials; there isn't a DVD market because people don't want to see the show again; and audiences similarly don't want to watch the ceremony online after it airs because the (only) joy of watching comes from learning who won. In fact, the Academy offered no online streaming video of the Oscars, so broadcast television was the only way to see the whole show.
In my last post, I introduced Gawker and New York Magazine's coverage of the TV show Gossip Girl. I'll continue the discussion in this post and consider the value of non-network sites of TV fandom.
New York Magazine and Gawker both include a lot of non-Gossip Girl content, so it's likely that some readers who come for the Gossip will stay to browse the site. It's also possible that readers who go to New York Magazine or Gawker for other reasons will stumble across Gossip Girl coverage. The entertaining material on both these sites should make the people at the CW, which broadcasts Gossip Girl, very pleased because reading recaps and participating in discussions encourages viewers to stay involved with Gossip Girl long after it airs. Further, Gossip Girl is frequently among the top time-shifted TV shows and in light of these communities that makes sense: viewers who are immersed in the culture of recaps and forums are likely to watch the show early and often.
Our work at C3 has focused a lot lately on online video platforms as recent blog posts indicate. We also think a lot about fans and the communities they create. But we rarely examine how these two things relate--probably because in most cases they don't. The discussion boards on most streaming video sites are relative ghost towns while hoards of television fans congregate in online spaces that don't stream content (like Television Without Pity ). What can producers, networks, and advertisers learn about their audiences from these online spaces? A particularly rich example of an active non-network fan site lives at New York Magazine's website and is dedicated to none other than The Greatest Show of Our Time: Gossip Girl.
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.
I love my DVR for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it allows me to watch more TV and fewer commercials. Using my DVR to fast-forward through commercials turns a 30-minute sitcom into a 22-minute sitcom. Those extra 8 minutes mean I can watch four sitcoms in the time it used to take to watch three. And all without having to sit through a single ad.
I scanned through all the commercials during the November 6 episode of NBC's My Name is Earl, but I still had to watch an advertisement. An entire story line in the episode centers on Joy's (Jaime Pressly) desire for a necklace designed by Jane Seymour and sold at Kay Jewelers. Joy sees the necklace in a television commercial and embarks on a ridiculous quest--involving rockets-- to raise the money necessary to purchase it. Zany antics ensue, and Joy is eventually rewarded when her husband presents her with an "Open Hearts" necklace at the end of the episode.
The C3 team has been looking closely at how media spread in our current digital landscape, so it's only fitting to examine mechanisms that prohibit media from spreading, namely digital rights management (DRM). Tech blogs have been buzzing in the past month about the announcement of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), an organization of content, hardware, and software providers who have promised to unveil a universal digital rights management system at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Reuters reports that the DECE consortium is comprised of NBC Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, Sony, Paramount Pictures, Microsoft, Philips, Toshiba, Cisco, Best Buy, Comcast and Verisign. Apple and Disney are notably missing, but that's most likely because DECE wants a piece of iTunes' mammoth market share.
This "ecosystem" would allow people to watch video from any DECE producer on any DECE device. For example, consumers will ostensibly be able to transfer NBC Universal TV shows from a Comcast Toshiba DVR to a Microsoft Zune. The proposed model would also allow users to keep purchases in a cloud-based "digital rights locker" and make unlimited disc copies of any media they buy. DECE seems to make sharing and inter-operability easier than with Apple's iTunes, which allows DRM-protected media to be used on only five unique devices.
But the kinds of sharing DECE allows are not exactly productive for creating spreadable media. In the end, DECE still relies on DRM and consequently (probably) still prohibits some valuable opportunities for consumer engagement. Though no announcements have been made, it stands to reason that this DRM will function like any other DRM: it will bar user-generated appropriations of content and it will prohibit sharing protected content in social networks. Of course, DRM can usually be broken, but that kind of piracy is exactly what DECE is trying to prevent.
Looking a Gift Economy in the Mouth: Michael Moore's SLACKER UPRISING
A few weeks ago, I got an email from Michael Moore with the subject "'Slacker Uprising' Now Belongs to You (Down/Load, Rise/Up!)." I've spent my first month with the Consortium examining the principles of spreadable media with a special focus on internet distribution of TV and film, so I was more than a little excited to see that Moore made his latest film, Slacker Uprising available to download for free without advertising.
Moore's email goes on to espouse some of the most important tenets of spreadable media--gifting and sharing: "[Slacker Uprising] is available for free as a gift from me to all of you. And you have my permission to share it or show it in any way you see fit." This seems like quite a boon for spreadable media, especially considering the film is available in a variety of formats including streaming video, iTunes download, Amazon VoD, and even BitTorrent.
The film itself is a joint venture between Moore's production company, Dog Eat Dog Films; independent internet TV site, blip.tv; and Robert Greenwald's activist film site, Brave New Films. Slacker Uprising chronicles Moore's 62-city tour to get out the vote before the 2004 presidential election. While Moore's efforts in this campaign are certainly noble, Slacker Uprising has none of Moore's signature liberal message hidden beneath man-on-the-street folksiness. This film meanders through long segments of Moore and various celebrities taking the stage before stadiums of screaming fans; I doubt it has the power to change anyone's mind about politics, but that's not Moore's aim.