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.
Also this spring, Nancy contributed one of the first C3 Research Memos distributed to C3 Consortium Members. This C3 Research will be made publicly available via the C3 blog in late November of this year.
While here in Cambridge, Nancy was asked to speak at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. Her talk (in the embedded video below) entitled "Changing Relationships, Changing Industries" addresses her thinking on notions of exchange (economic and social) between fans, audiences, the music industry and the independent music scene - specifically in the case of independent Swedish artists and music labels.
Nancy's insights into how the independent music scene by necessity has embraced new media distribution channels and the audience embrace of these new channels, as well as her insights and metrics on the major label music industry as an inadvertent 'loss leader' in the swift dismantling of the top down corporate music hierarchy (which we are now seeing manifest in film and television) were an early influence on what became 2008 - 2009 C3 research on new consumption patterns, new patterns of value exchange, along with innovative ideas surrounding value and worth - specifically the 2008 C3 White Paper on Spreadability, Xiaochang Li's 2009 C3 White Paper More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media, Ana Domb's 2009 White Paper Tacky and Proud: Exploring Technobrega's Value Network and the CMS C3 FOE4 Panel, Moderated by Prof. Jenkins entitled "Consumption, Value and Worth" (panel video here, liveblogging archive here).
When Fans Become Advertisers: Smallville Becomes Legendary
When we hear that fans are rallying support behind a favorite television series, we might imagine the letter writing campaign in the late 1960s which kept Star Trek on the air; we might imagine fans of Jericho sending crates of peanuts to network executives; we might even picture fans of Chuck organizing a large scale "buycot," getting people to purchase foot long sandwiches at Subways to show their enthusiasm for the series. What we probably do not picture is fans raising the money to support and air their own commercial paying tribute to the star of their favorite series. So, I was impressed when I received this press release the other week:
Smallville fans have funded a professionally-filmed tribute commercial for the CW leading lady Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, to air this Spring in Los Angeles before this season concludes. Starring on Smallville since 2001, Ms. Mack has gained a large and devoted fan base as one of the CW's most beloved stars. For the completion of her 9th year on the series, Smallville fans decided to celebrate Allison Mack and her tv character, Chloe Sullivan, with a commercial project entitled Legendary. Scripted and funded entirely by fans, this first of its kind tribute ad was filmed in Los Angeles in late February. In the capable hands of the director, Jon Michael Kondrath, cast and crew created a tribute ad focusing on who Chloe Sullivan is and what she means to Smallville fans. The ad highlights milestones in Chloe Sullivan's journey from her introduction as a high school student in Smallville to being hired at the Daily Planet as well as becoming Clark Kent's confidante
I wanted to know more of the story behind this project and reached out to Maggie Bridger, who is one of the organizers, to learn more about how fans have been able to mount such an ambitious undertaking and to explore with her what it's implications might be for future forms of fan activism.
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.
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."
Back in January, Sheila wrote a solid post about the Conan O'Brien v. Jay Leno controversy taking place on NBC. Her third point, about the rallying of fans behind Conan, known as the "Team Coco" movement, has interestingly taken a turn for the best: Conan will be touring the States and putting on live events for his newly-optimistic fanbase.
The Facebook group acted as a space for anti-fan (Leno) and fan activity, even spurring massive rallies in major cities across America.
The fan support has been so astounding that Conan O'Brien teamed up with American Express to produce live shows in thirty cities across the country, which Conan is calling "The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour" (the details of which can be viewed at http://teamcoco.com/).
Fan support for media or celebrities is not a new phenomenon: it's one of many examples of engagement that has produced beneficial results for television series, movies, etc. (such as Firefly, which saw a DVD release and a movie, Serenity, after the show's cancellation on FOX).
But Team Coco, having increased in size due to rapid communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook, seems to be the first that achieved results in such a short period of time. Will this expeditious trend continue with other fandoms as the Internet slowly connects people with similar interests online? And will we see similar trends with future examples of civic engagement and fan activism?
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.
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.
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.
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.
It's that time of year. Festive lights cover windows and lawns. People buy trees to put in their living rooms and unpack fake versions from boxes in their basements. Holiday specials are on TV. Lists are made for Santa. Family visits and travel plans start to take shape.
Popular culture often provides a secular interpretation of the meaning and celebration of Christmas, emphasizing its significance as a time of peace, goodwill, friends and consumption. Whether in the form of movies or malls, these interpretations have made Christmas more accessible to people by not requiring a connection to Christianity.
In that spirit, I've compiled my top 10 list of representations of Christmas in popular culture. Read on, then leave a comment and tell us what's on your pop culture Christmas Top 10.
Fans reject the idea of a definitive version produced, authorized, and regulated by some media conglomerate. Instead, fans envision a world where all of us can participate in the creation and circulation of central cultural myths... Media conglomerates often respond to these new forms of participatory culture by seeking to shut them down or reigning in their free play with cultural material. If the media industries understand the new cultural and technological environment as demanding greater audience participation within what one media analyst calls the "experience economy," they seek to tightly structure the terms by which we may interact with their intellectual property, preferring the pre-programmed activities offered by computer games or commercial Web sites, to the free-form participation represented by fan culture. The conflict between these two paradigms -- the corporate-based concept of media convergence and the grassroots-based concept of participatory culture -- will determine the long-term cultural consequences of our current moment of media in transition.
Henry wrote up a revised version of this essay (which appears on his website, linked above) in his Convergence Culture book, which is obviously an important read if you've never picked it up before.
But coming away from this excerpt above, I can't help but feel that the first sentence suggests a very intense feeling, given what I assume to be a more subdued general viewership that constitutes a given show's (or movie's, or band's, etc.'s) fan base. Given that the modes of "participatory culture" are pervading the contemporary media landscape almost everywhere today, I still hesitate to state outright that fans "reject the idea of a definitive version" of any kind of narrative or media. Fans certainly work inside the construct provided by the "media conglomerate" and participate by interacting with the established narrative or media form.
What these initial thoughts are really leading up to is my attempt to spout a bit about Glee.
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.
Xiaochang and I just got back from Turner Networks where we did a presentation on spreadability and many other convergence culture-y things. One of the first requests we received was to address the issue of transmedia narratives across borders, in my case, specifically across Latin America. My first, very silly, reaction was to say "sorry guys, there is nothing there" and then proceeded to obsessively look for evidence to prove me wrong. Of course, there is much transmedia storytelling in Latin America, I just hadn't read these properties as such. In these two posts, I'd like to share with you the three cases I presented to our partners in Atlanta.
First, "El Chavo del Ocho" (The Kid from Apartment 8), this sitcom grew out of a comedy sketch in 1971. It tells the story of an homeless boy that lives in a barrel in the middle of a low-income housing complex surrounded by un-empathic yet comedic children and adults. The children are all played by adults and in fact Roberto Gomez, the show's creator and protagonist, played "El Chavo" until his mid-sixties when he thought it might be "grotesque" to play a boy.
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.
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.
Last week Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania posted an excellent in-depth interview with Joss Whedon that is one of the best pieces of from-the-trenches insight that I've read in ages - especially in how Whedon digs into the emerging business model of independently-produced Internet content. Whedon is best known as the creator of the transmedia franchises Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the upcoming sci-fi/drama Dollhouse, but it's his recent experiment with independently producing (and monetizing) the superhero-romantic-comedy-musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog that has us currently sitting up and taking notes.
Created during the writer's strike and produced on a shoestring budget (approximately $200,000 and a lot of favors), Dr. Horrible was initially released for free online, then strategically taken down and put up for purchase on iTunes and finally released on DVD (complete with extras including fan-generated videos and Commentary: The Musical!) through Amazon's on-demand DVD authoring system. Although Whedon doesn't divulge actual numbers, he does admit that the project has now earned back over twice its original cost - and he's working on how to make it scale.
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.
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.
Global Media and Niche Audiences: Introducing Dramafever.com
On of the fascinating results of the increasing speed and accessibility of the present media landscape is that as the global reach of media content broadens, companies are becoming aware of increasingly fragmented, niched, and narrow audience segments. Such as the case with a new online VOD platform, dramafever.com, a hulu-esque service dedicated to providing high-quality streams of television content from East Asia to US audiences with small commercial interruptions from sponsoring advertisers. What makes this site a particularly interesting case to follow, beyond the explicitly transnational dynamic of the media content and audience (though due to licensing, dramafever.com can currently only provide content to users in the US), is the site's ability and willingness to engage in the fandom as well as the history of the circulation of Asian drama content itself in relation to IP.
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.
On Soap Operas and "Strategic Forgetting and Remembering"
C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell spent some time in June a little out of his element, presenting at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, for The Society for Cognitive Study of the Moving Image. Jason gives an outsider's perspective on the work being done in the field of cognitive film studies, as well as the slides from his own work, on his blog, Just TV.
His presentation was entitled "Previously On: Prime Time Serials & the Poetics of Memory," addressing questions of how American television storytelling has shifted in the past two decades and issues of "historical poetics." His slides bring up some intriguing points, one of which deals with how the longtime complex and serialized storytelling nature of daytime serial dramas (soap operas) intersect with primetime dramas. Jason and I have discussed these issues through the blogosphere in the past (Look here and here.)
Back in that prior post, I wrote about some discussion that broke out in the comments section of Jason's blog.
I said regarding redundancy in soaps that:
But people outside the genre often greatly overstate the amount of redundancy in soaps, I think. Reader StinkyLuLu makes this point, writing, "My basic feeling is that what you call redundancy is actually a pivotal soap pleasure--revisiting key moments from the recent and distant past--not unlike the narrative data mining you describe in contemporary prime time serial drama." I'd like to develop that thought a little further.
At their worst, soaps are recap-laden. I've seen Days of Our Lives have episodes a few years ago, for instance, that seemed more flashback to earlier in the week than current. That's not good soap, and we have to distinguish between good and bad practices in the genre. However, with five episodes a week and little in terms of reruns, the redundancy is necessary. That's why REaction is so important in soaps. The redundancy becomes a central part of the story. It matters not as much that X happens as it does seeing how everyone in town responds to finding out about X. In that case, the plot is a driver for character-driven stories. Anyone who missed X will find out about it during various scenes retelling and reaction to parts of it, but that retelling process IS the show; it's about interpersonal relationships, not the what. (By the way, my guess is that some of the fans who fast-forward are also some of the ones who archive; fans often pick out particular characters or stories they follow on a show that they actively consume, even while skipping others...)
Culture Wars and Cultural Hierarchies: New York Times on ATWT's Nuke
Lynn Liccardo suggested to Lee Harrington, Gail Derecho, and me that one of us should respond to the recent article in The New York Timesby Gina Bellafante about the soap opera and specifically the popularity of the Luke and Noah couple on As the World Turns, because of the work we are doing on putting together a contemporary anthology of work on U.S. soap operas. Unfortunately, the article had to run right as I was moving into a new apartment, just the worst time to try to organize my thoughts, especially in a way that limited them to 150 words.
Instead, now that most of my furniture is in order and most of the boxes are unpacked, I wanted to return to Bellafante's article last week. First of all, as is no surprise, the article is beautifully written and a great bit of publicity for soap operas, which remain culturally ignored by most mainstream arts and entertainment publications. Scholars I know, including myself, would argue that there's a combination of cultural biases, geographic and economic stereotypes, and gender discrepancies that would explain why soap operas aren't covered as "entertainment" by publications that cover most else, just as one of my other areas of interest--pro wrestling--is ignored by Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker alike. Rather, both get relegated to their own ghettoized press, separate and certainly not equal.
In reading Bellafante's piece, I'm reminded of Victoria Johnson's work on Friday Night Lights, in which she pointed out how critics had to justify and qualify why they liked the show and distance themselves from the stereotypes inherent with being a viewer or, God forbid, a fan. Johnson's best example came from a New Yorker review, I believe it was, in which the author had to explain that she started watching the show when an artist in Manhattan at a museum told her she should watch FNL, overcoding almost to extremes the situation in which she decided to watch the show and playing off the cultural stereotypes of what a show about football in a small West Texas town would be like.
See also this piece from yesterday about my lunch in which a fellow professional seemed somewhat taken aback about my enthusiasm about the creativity and potential for artistry in pro wrestling and soaps.
I have written some in the past about the continued development of the Luke Snyder coming out storyline on As the World Turns, a story which has engaged new viewers to that portion of the soap opera audience and attracted some mainstream attention due to ongoing controversies about the way the show has handled the gay storyline and resistance from conservative groups. The story started with Luke's coming out, complete with an online transmedia extension in which fans could read Luke's blog.
From the beginning, there was a broader audience who started watching the soap specifically through Luke's scenes, as I wrote about back in June 2006. That energy grew significantly when Luke eventually met and had his first gay relationship, with Noah Mayer. For instance, back in August, considerable attention was given to the first kiss between the couple (see here).
Then, there was no kissing for quite a while, and the show started getting protests, not from conservative groups but rather from online fans who were impatient to see the couple kiss again. First, there was the scene under the mistletoe at Christmas, in which the couple looked to be about to kiss, only to have the cameras pan out. Then, there was Valentine's Day, when Luke and Noah were the only couple featured on the episode not to lock lips.
One of my greatest frustrations from Console-ing Passions was that my workshop was scheduled directly against some of the panels most directly relevant to my interests. Now, this is not meant as an attack on the conference planners; I'm keenly aware that there's just no way to avoid this when you're launching a media studies and fandom conference, but it was hard knowing that, next door, there were four interesting research presentations occurring while I was boring audiences with all my blabbing.
Ironically, while I was talking about soap opera audiences outside the target demographic and the ways in which those audiences are devalued in the commodification of audiences, Elana Levine was in the next room, talking about how the masculinization of television in recent years has further devalued more "ephemeral" programming, such as U.S. soaps. Elana was kind enough to forward her research my way, and I found her approach--to look at the increasingly masculine rhetoric surrounding the removal of the television from the domestic and the increasing focus on the technology of television as we move into a flat-panel, digital world--a fresh way to understand how television has begun to overcome many of the cultural biases that have long existed against the products that are broadcast on television and provided through cable.
Foremost, I find it interesting that Elana's compelling argument that television has become increasingly masculinized in rhetoric through emphasis on technology and the escape of domestic spaces exists alongside the growing trend for primetime television to adopt many of the storytelling tactics of daytime soaps. For instance, I was talking with Ivan Askwith about some of the rhetoric surrounding Lost, marveling at the existence of such a large ensemble cast and purporting that there's never been such a large ensemble cast on television. That is, of course, except for the soap operas that have been an hour in length since the mid-1970s and which have featured hundreds, even thousands, of characters in several decades on the air, many of which still have the potential to come and go fluently from the show.
In addition to the piece I ran on the C3 blog from Kevin Driscoll earlier today, I wanted to share another piece from my blog by C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li.
Here, Li interweaves her reflections on the Spy genre, especially Get Smart and Alias, and her own personal and family history. This distinctly cold war genre is deployed in an effort to understand her own identity as a Chinese-American. (Of course, though this will make sense to few outside our circle, but the most fannish gesture in this essay may be, in Xiaochang's case, the opening reference to Marcel Proust!)
by Xiaochang Li
Marcel Proust, working from the sinking grave of his bed, tells us that we are creatures assembled from faulty memory, the eager sum of our desperate retellings, frantic optimists. Autobiography is not the province of excavation but construction, and even the most honest of us are careful architects of repetition and forgetfulness, deliberate amnesiacs working to amass reasonable explanations for what we have become. Recollection, I learned, is just another form of secrecy.
In the 60s spy satire, Get Smart, Maxwell Smart is a haphazard agent engaged in a long-term stand-off with an organization called KAOS, an epic battle against the perpetrators of general disarray. He fumbled his way through disarming death rays and and foiling assassination plots, assured in his aptitude even as he walked into the obvious traps and locked himself inside phone booths. This he taught me too: we are not always what we appear, even to ourselves.
Another recent book from a Convergence Culture Consortium consulting researcher that might be of interest to a variety of the blog readers is Amanda Lotz' The Television Will Be Revolutionized, from NYU Press. According to the official description:
After occupying a central space in American living rooms for the past fifty years, is television, as we've known it, dead? The capabilities and features of that simple box have been so radically redefined that it's now nearly unrecognizable. Today, viewers with digital video recorders such as TiVo may elect to circumvent scheduling constraints and commercials. Owners of iPods and other portable viewing devices are able to download the latest episodes of their favorite shows and watch them whenever and wherever they want. Still others rent television shows on DVD, or download them through legal and illegal sources online. But these changes have not been hastening the demise of the medium. They are revolutionizing it.
Console-ing Passions: Abigail Derecho on Filipino Viewer Protests
Unfortunately, the only other person affiliated with the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium presenting at this year's Console-ing Passions conference was scheduled to present at the same time as the workshop I participated in. Abigail Derecho--whose work can be found at her Minority Fandom blog--is one of our C3 Consulting Researchers (bio here), and she and I are currently co-editing a collection of essays on the U.S. soap opera with fellow C3 Consulting Researcher Lee Harrington.
Gail participated in a panel called "'Most Wired' in a Globalized Arena: Asian Americans, Asia, and New Media," with a presentation called "Performing Transnational Anti-Fandom: Filipinos Protesting The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives Online.
Gail's presentation started with two incidents on U.S. television last fall that drew a digitally mobilized protest from Filipinos, with The Daily Show making a joke about an icon of The Philippines--Corazon Aquino--and Desperate Housewives making a joke about Filipino medical degrees being worth less than U.S. degrees. While the Desperate Housewives reference seemed to draw the greater ire (not surprising, considering The Daily Show comment was positioned as more tongue-in-cheek alongside similar insults to Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir), both garnered specific media attention outside The Philippines, in part because of the prominence of digital tools in the process.
Gail breaks the situation down and looks at the history of U.S. cultural products in Filipino culture, alongside political and economic links between the two countries, to better understand the cultural tensions that made these two jokes so politically charged for some Filipino viewers.
Console-ing Passions: Heather Hendershot, Abortion, House, and BSG
One of the panels I was only able to catch part of at this year's Console-ing Passions dealt with the critically acclaimed Sci Fi series Battlestar Galactica. Since I came in only at the end of the panel, I went in afterward in hopes to get caught up on some of the presentation. I was particularly interested in hearing more about the work of Heather Hendershot, one of the presenters in the session.
Heather and I first had the chance to meet when she came up to MIT last November to attend our MIT Futures of Entertainment 2 conference and to participate in Unboxing Television, a gathering of television studies scholars for a small retreat-like session to discuss the current state and future of TV studies and share our current work with one another. I'd long been interested in Heather's work on Christian media and representations of U.S. protestant religion, so the work she presented at Console-ing Passions was particularly fascinating for me.
Luckily, Heather had a copy of the draft of her paper she had with her for the presentation, and I had a chance to read it on my flight back to Boston. Her presentation was entitled "'You Have Your Pound of Flesh': Religion, Battlestar Galactica, and Television's Sacred/Secular Fetuses." Turns out, Heather's work here was on looking at modern representations of abortion in not only BSG but likewise the popular FOX series House. Her work further focuses on BSG as an innovative show in part because of the nuanced way in tackles issues of religious difference and the politicizing of religious beliefs.
PCA/ACA: Clayton Childress on Daytime Television and Pro-Anorexic Groups Online
I never actually got the chance to meet up with Clayton Childress at the National Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association joint annual conference in San Francisco last month. I became aware of Clayton's work because of a piece he and Denise Bielby are contributing to the anthology on soap operas I am co-editing with Gail Derecho and Lee Harrington. But we'd never met.
After several failed attempts, we eventually came to accept it wasn't going to happen in San Francisco. But I was lucky enough to have Clayton pass the two papers he presented at the PCA/ACA conference this year along. Apparently, he wasn't aware that you are only supposed to present one round of work at the conference, and he wa allowed to go forward with presenting both. I was also lucky to have him be agreeable to pass both projects along to me, since I wasn't able to attend his panels.
Clayton chaired a panel on meaning-making and Internet culture, presenting on "pro-anorexic journaling." He also presented on "Variations in Talk from Trash to Simulated Courtrooms," as part of a larger project looking at changes in daytime television. That project, Childress' thesis at the University of California-Santa Barbara, is entitled "Ordering the Court: Morality, Power and Play in Daytime Television." Childress is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology.
The television panel I wrote about in my previous post also included a presentation from Victoria Johnson, who discussed Friday Night Lights and the ways in which the show's promotion, and the difficulties the network has had in promoting the show, can be tied to tensions at the network in how to promote the show and tensions among critics on how the should should be received.
As many of you know (see here, here, and here, among others), FNL is a favorite show among a couple of us here in the Consortium, and I am particularly passionate about what many call "flyover country" and thus was particularly interested in Johnson's research about how the idea of a "quality television" show based on high school football in Texas presented a variety of challenges in how to promote and receive the show.
For the network, it was promoted at first alongside football shows and later as a show not really about football. On the reception side, Johnson presented quite a bit of evidence that critics who liked the show was troubled at liking it and continually felt the need to validate their enjoying the show. I'm hoping to discuss this more with Victoria in coming months and perhaps center more work on this topic in particular. But her SCMS presentation was among the most interesting I heard.
SCMS: Amanda Lotz, Max Dawson, and Laurie Ouelette
One of the most enjoyable full panels I attended at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia earlier this month looked at the construction of television from a variety of angles. I was fortunate enough to know the work of each of the panelists, several of whom I met at the Unboxing Television event at MIT last November.
The panel began with Laurie Ouelette, who looked at ABC's public service initiative encouraging volunteerism amongst its viewers and establishing the network as a site of extended community serving the public good through bringing citizens together outside the constraints of government to be pro-active consumer/citizens. She looked in particular at how these public service initiatives not only existed as a campaign through the Web site and during commercial breaks on the network but also how these initiatives showed up on a variety of shows, including a storyline on ABC Daytime's All My Children, in which the characters on the show volunteered for Pine Valley's Habitat for Humanity and the projects on Extreme Makeover Home Edition.
SCMS: Kevin Sandler on Production Studies and Censorship
At the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia earlier this month, C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler presented the latest in his continuing work on censorship and managing concerns with regulatory powers, through a compelling project in which Kevin spent time looking at the negotiation between the creators and standards and practices.
From this presentation, my understanding is that Kevin is using this study of standards and practices to build on the work of others like Elana Levine to create a more robust body of work on what is being called "production studies," better understanding the ways in which these shows are being put together and the many creative and regulatory forces that are involved with the creative product.
MIT Communications Forum on Global Television (2 of 2)
This followup to yesterday evening's post comes from CMS graduate student Lan Le, who is reporting on the MIT Communications Forum called Global Television. An audio version of the event is available here. The previous post from Lan summarized the comments of C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio. This post looks at the comments of Roberta Pearson and Eggo Müller.
Roberta Pearson (University of Nottingham)
Pearson began her talk with a billboard advertisement for American television in the UK. The slogan is "Who says nothing good ever came out of America," and features "respectable" television actors and producers like Spike Lee or William H. Macy. This example shows the way American television is framed and positioned in the UK.
MIT Communications Forum on Global Television (1 of 2)
The following post comes from CMS graduate student Lan Le, who attended the recent MIT Communications Forum called Global Television. An audio version of the event is available here.
A feature of emerging television is the increasing global profile of programs appealing more widely across national boundaries, a kind of global programming. Big Brother is an example of the wide appeal of this competition-based reality programming, which has been adapted to different national contexts. Fiction shows like Ugly Betty require only a small amount of adaptation before release in the US. And a great deal of American television, like Lost or Desperate Housewives, now finds enthusiastic audiences in other countries.
These global flows of television are accompanied by country specific promotion strategies to frame the show for national contexts. But are we moving beyond nationally specific interests to a global village of television? This forum will also consider the impact of American programming on the world, especially how the world reacts, adapts to, and utilizes American TV formats.
The following are summaries of the speaker's remarks for the forum.
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.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (2 of 2)
Questions from the Audience
Question: Given the rich spectrum of human drama that's available, I've always thought that cops and robbers as the least common denominator. Is the obsession with crime drama a feature of the TV industry, the audience, or some combo of the two?
John Romano: I think it's hardwired in the human being. The question of whether or not you're breaking the law is central to Antigone. Prof. David Thorburn told my class at Yale that a cop stands at the junction of social forces, and yet has to go home and be a person. The great foundational works of narrative fiction found cops very interesting, and the odd social place they occupy as perfect for a narrative exploration for our social issues. The fundamental question of how we can stand each other, how we can live with each other.
MIT Communications Forum: Prime Time in Transition (1 of 2)
Here are notes from Thursday night's MIT Communications Forum presentation called "Prime Time in Transition", focusing on transformations of narrative storytelling in the last 20 years in light of cultural, social, and political events, as well as the recent writer's strike and changes in the media landscape with the rise of video online. I'm including notes from the presentation itself here, and I will also includes some notes on the Q&A portion of the event tomorrow.
The speaker is John Romano, writer and producer on more than a dozen shows including Hill Street Blues, Party of Five, and Monk as well as creator of Class of '96, Sweet Justice, and Michael Hayes. His screenwriting credits include The Third Miracle, the Coen Bros.'s Intolerable Cruelty, and the forthcoming Nights in Rodanthe. In a previous life, Romano taught English literature at Columbia University and wrote a critical study of the novelist Charles Dickens.
The talk was moderated by David Thorburn, a professor of literature and television at MIT and John Romano's former professor at Yale.
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.
GL Makes Major Shift in Soap Opera Production This Week
One industry many have come to expect the Consortium blog to post on, per my entries, over the past couple of years is American soap operas, the area in which I've done my thesis work and continue to write about substantially. In fact, my particular areas of interest and my acting as the primary contributor to this blog explains why there are robust categories of entries on soap operas and professional wrestling. (NOTE: We have not completely tagged all the posts in our archives, so these categories often do not include a significant number of the posts we've done on a subject.)
I'm actually teaching a course on the American soap opera this spring here at MIT for the Program in Comparative Media Studies, and my students and I are in the process of launching a class blog about soaps and particularly about the soap opera we are following for the semester, Procter & Gamble Productions' As the World Turns. We'd love to have you stop by and join in the conversation here. The good news is that comments actually work over at that site! We've also been invited to run regular class updates at the official blog for Procter & Gamble Productions, located here.
But one of the most significant stories in soaps this year is set to take place this week, when Guiding Light switches over to a new taping format that uses handheld cameras and four-walled sets.
Light Bulbs and Eye Drops: FNL Fan Care Packages for NBC
In my previous post, I wrote about the fan campaign surrounding the effort to keep FNL on the air. With some further searching this afternoon, I've found a couple of other campaigns focusing on keeping this NBC drama on the air.
While the group I wrote about earlier are focusing on sending mini-footballs to the network, other groups are sending related household and health items related to the show.
Considering the writing we've done here at the Consortium of late about Friday Night Lights (see here, here, and here), as well as fan campaigns (see here and here), I wanted to spend some time looking at the rise of fan energy surrounding attempts to get NBC to renew or find a new home for one of the best American primetime dramas I've seen.
News came over the weekend that the WGA strike seemed to be reaching an end, with the Guild approving a tentative contract and rumors that the writers could be back at their keyboards as early as Wednesday. It seems that both the studios and many writers, not to mention television viewers, are delighted at the prospect of new episodes, after the endless stretch of reruns and reality shows that has been dominating TV in recent months.
At C3, we've been following the strike fairly closely, with a discussion of its historical context in the blog last November and continuing discussions with striking writers and producers in class and at the FoE2 conference.
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 part of some blog catch-up this Sunday, I wanted to pick back up on a story I wrote about last month about fan response to the firing of actor Scott Bryce on As the World Turns. Fan campaigns have launched Web sites, petitions, and mailing campaigns, as soap fans are so quick to do when they dislike a decisions made by soap opera producers.
Now, with Bryce doing a fairly candid interview with well-known soap opera columnist Michael Logan about the situation for TV Guide, fans have had much of their sentiment confirmed by the actor himself.
Passions Cancelled Again...But Rumors of Its Continuation Persist
Last April, I wrote about the intriguing deal NBC struck with DirecTV to move its soap opera Passions over to the satellite provider as exclusive content, after the network had decided to cut the soap opera from its daytime schedule to make room for another hour of The Today Show.
The show ended up getting a run that lasted from Fall 2007 until Summer 2008, when the last episode of Passions is currently set to air. Fans and critics alike knew the deal struck with DirecTV was an experiment from the start.
WWE's Departure from The CW a Situation Worth Watching
Significant news broke this week for the CW Network and World Wrestling Entertainment, as the WWE announced on its Web site Friday that, at the end of the current television season, Friday Night Smackdown will no longer air on the CW Network.
The move raises significant questions for what will happen to one of the two major WWE wrestling brands, but it also gives us a chance to consider what programming with a strong base like the WWE's might be able to seek out as alternatives. The WWE has proven in the past few years to be willing to experiment and change the nature of its programming, from its launch of defunct brand ECW as its "C-show" on Sci Fi (a move that was controversial in itself, especially due to tensions between wrestling fans and sci fi fans over its placement on the network) to its use of the Internet for distribution of shows in the past when they were moved off the network (see here).
Measuring Consumer Awareness about the Digital Deadline
When it comes to measuring phenomena, there are a variety of things one can look at, but at the heart of any question is whether your goal is to measure how much of something exists or the quality of that phenomena where it does exist. These are two fundamentally different research questions, yet it often feels that the goals of both get confused.
We've spent considerable time over the past year talking about audience measurement--online, for advertisers, for the television industry, for technological adoption, and so on. Several of those pieces are available here, and you can watch to a whole panel on the topic from our Futures of Entertainment 2 conference back in November.
In my previous post on the topic, I voiced my frustration about Virginia Heffernan's combining a variety of "convergence culture" activities that I feel can't be so easily conflated in her recent piece on Friday Night Lights for The New York Times Magazine. Heffernan devotes a lot of attention to the lack of fanfiction in particular, and her take has been both praised and derided in fanfiction communities. While I think that some of her speculations on why Friday Night Lights doesn't have a lot of fanfiction do make sense, the way they are presented, and the reasonings behind them, are somewhat flawed and speak to a somewhat shaky grasp of fanfiction as both a social and artistic practice.
I finally started watching Friday Night Lights over Thanksgiving. Several people, including C3's own Sam Ford (see his post on FNL) had been hounding me to give the show a shot for months, but I had been resolute in my resistance. I had so little time for TV as it was, so why would I spend it on a show about high school sports? What did I know about football, or even Texas, for that matter? It wasn't until someone literally shoved the DVDs in front of me that I gave it a chance and immediately fell for the way it's able to convey with such astute, human tenderness a culture that had once seemed to me so alien and unwelcoming.
So I count myself amongst the "fans, critics, and even network suits" Virginia Hefferman mentioned in her New York Times Magazine article who had come to think of Friday Night Lights as necessary television. And, as a member of C3, a fan of many media properties, a consumer of transmedia content, a blogger, and a once-reader of fanfiction (back when I had time to read any form of fiction), I agree in general that entertainment and art are becoming increasingly collaborative and that fan engagement is gaining greater prominence as a marker for success.
I've had the pleasure recently of having several conversations and exchanges with Bernard Timberg, a professor at East Carolina University. Bernard wrote a piece on soap operas more than 20 years ago that dealt with production, and Abigail Derecho and I are interviewing him for the collection we are putting together on soaps, looking at the rhetoric of the camera in American soaps today, compared to the early 1980s.
Timberg has written on a variety of subjects, including a substantial amount of work on talk shows, and he is passionate about fair use as well, which is where our most recent conversations were targeted.
Soap Fans and Veteran Actors: Jesse & Angie, Scott Bryce
For those of you who have followed my writing about soaps here on the C3 blog, you likely know that I feel one of the strongest thing the current daytime serial dramas have on their side is their history. As such, historical characters on the show today provide those contemporary ties to that deep history which I believe helps strengthen the transgenerational viewing patterns necessary to gain and maintain viewership for these shows in the long term.
ABC seems to hope this is the case, especially with the sagging ratings of longtime ABC Daytime fixture All My Children has been experiencing. Racquel Gonzales, one of the contributors to the book Abigail Derecho at Columbia College Chicago and I are putting together on the current state of soap operas, wrote me recently about how ABC Daytime is using the SOAPnet channel in a strategic way for both AMC and General Hospital. For GH, the cable network has planned to air a "Robin Unwrapped" episode marathon which helps catch viewers up on the history that more fully explains a pivotal story on the show, which is the first HIV pregnancy storyline in television, according to the promotion.
I've followed the story for a long time, but as of this Monday night, World Wrestling Entertainment has converted its programming over to HD.
WWE RAW on the USA Network, ECW on Sci Fi, and Friday Night Smackdown on The CW will all now be aired with high-definition feeds, as well as WWE pay-per-view events, starting with Sunday's Royal Rumble. The CW had been looking to upgrade Smackdown for a while, in its effort to transition all its programming to HD. Meanwhile, both USA and Sci Fi are using the transition amidst their creation of dedicated HD channels.
WWE provides an FAQ section on HD, as well as a story on their site detailing some of the last minute struggles for the production team to get prepared for the first HD broadcast of WWE television.
Before the holidays, we published a couple of posts dealing with the writer's strike. As you know, a lot has changed over the past couple of months when the Heroes writers visited MIT while the strike was young. We've seen the late night shows disappear, only to come back in the new year. Letterman and Ferguson have returned with an interim deal in place, while the other late night shows--including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have come back sans writers.
For me, soap operas are in the most interesting place, as they are the one narrative that is especially built on a "world without end." Strike don't stop soaps, and whether you call the writers "interim," "scabs," or "fi core," there are a group of unnamed people churning out scripts for the nine American daytime soaps. Most of those scripts haven't made it on air yet, but fans are wondering what this will mean for the respective shows.
WGA Strike in Context: A Brief History of Labor Conflicts within Changing Media Landscapes
On Monday, the Writer's Guild of America finally went on strike. The WGA and the AMPTP spent just over three months mired in unsuccessful negotiations this time around, C3 has been following the conflict over Internet residuals since 2006, with posts from Sam Ford here, here and here. Also see Jason Mittell's post from earlier today.
But even beyond that, these sort of debates have been at the center of battles between the guilds and the studios for decades, and anyone familiar with the ongoing struggles over structures of compensation in the changing media marketplace would have seen this strike coming a long way off.
Last Sunday, I published a piece on my blog on the upcoming writer's strike. In light of C3's postings about the situation in the past and C3 graduate student Xiaochang Li's post that will appear here later today, I thought it might be of interest to the Consortium's readers. On Sunday, after I wrote this, the WGA pulled their DVD residual request, which means that the new media question is really the only sticking point right now.
The big news in the world of American television is the upcoming strike of the Writer's Guild of America, planned to start Monday, November 5. While I'm not an expert on the convoluted world of Hollywood labor policies, I thought I'd blog a bit about what's going on and offer a bit of analysis from the perspective of a TV scholar -- if you want up-to-date news on the strike, check Variety.
The theory is that Friday Night Lights just hasn't grown a bigger audience because most people have never watched it. More than most shows, it does seem that I don't find people peripherally familiar with it; the people I talk to who have seen it absolutely love it, and everyone else says they have never watched. The show feels real in a way that few primetime shows have, and there's one element in particular that FNL does better than any other show on television: product placement and integration.
The Applebee's integration into FNL is the best use of product integration I've ever seen. The restaurant is a prominent part of the story at many points, as one of the key characters works as a waitress there and it's the de facto place to stop in town for a nicer meal, if players or their parents aren't going to the local burger shop or the "Alamo Freeze." Actually, the "Alamo Freeze" is a Dairy Queen, and you can easily tell that's the case, complete with partial shots of the Dairy Queen sign and Blizzards on the menu. My understanding is that it is even filmed at a Dairy Queen in Austin, Texas, but that they've chosen to make it a localized restaurant instead.
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."
It's retro marketing at its most direct, and since it is intended to appeal directly to my demographic, it fascinates me: it's NBC's plans for the return of American Gladiators. For those who don't remember the original, it was over-the-top television spectacle at its most ridiculous, often to the point of absurdity. Of course, it was coupled by many stations in syndication alongside professional wrestling content, hoping to appeal to the same demographic.
In the early-1990s, when I was in elementary school, I watched American Gladiators among my Saturday morning television favorites. Without the narrative development and greater story world of the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE), American Gladiators seemed to pale in comparison, but it served as an acceptable appetizer for wrestling content.
Peacock on the Block? NBC Universal Faces a Post-Olympic Sale
Yesterday, a number of media outlets reported that General Electric (GE) was thinking about selling NBC Universal following the anticipated ad sales bonanza of the Beijing Olympics.
In this post, I'd like to explore why GE would sell NBC and who might have an interest in buying it.
What's on offer?
Just like its parent, NBC Universal is a big and diverse conglomerate. Although we often think of "NBC" as the television network, it also has businesses that span the media and entertainment industries. There is Universal Studios in the film space, Universal Parks and resorts covering tourism, and iVillage, among others, in new media. NBC's most notable expansion lately has been into cable; it owns a slew of cable networks from Telemundo to the USA Network to MSNBC.
TV Sponsorship Model Becoming Increasingly Prevalent
Earlier today, I wrote about the new Live with Regis and Kelly promotion with Walgreens for a 3D episode on Halloween. In that case, Walgreens was not planned to circumvent the usual advertising for the show but rather to help promote and provide the glasses for 3D viewing for that special event. In many other cases, though, a sponsorship model increasingly means limited advertising for a show.
The latest to get some attention for moving toward a sponsorship model is Mad Men, the AMC series actually focusing on the advertising industry. The season finale of the critical hit show will be commercial-free branded as being brought to us by DirecTV.
As high-definitiion becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the new frontier of experimentation continues to be 3D TV. Whle sports organizations and networks have been the predominant experimenters with 3D technology and television content, the latest tinkerer looking to add a dimension to his show is one that American daytime audiences might know well: the shy TV producer at the sidelines, Michael Gelman.
Gelman is the not-so-behind-the-scenes executive producer of Live with Regis and Kelly, the daytime talk show featuring longtime TV personality Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, a daytime TV star in multiple genres. The 3D experiment will be featured as a stunt for Halloween. As longtime viewers of Live will know, Halloween has long been a featured episode on the show, stretching back to the days that it was Kathy Lee Gifford instead of Kelly Ripa.
This is more than just an experiment with 3D technology, though: it is also an experiment in sponsorship, as the special 3D Halloween episode will be brought to viewers by Walgreens pharmacy. As soon as the episode was planned, Disney-ABC went forward to find a sponsor willing to take part in playing 3D to the home viewing audience.
Jericho Fans in Waiting to See How Season Plays Out
When are we going to see the next chapter in the Jericho saga? As most of you know, Jericho was the CBS serial primetime drama cancelled at the end of last season that raised substantial fan outrage, which manifested itself in fans sending a large amount of peanuts to the CBS offices, among other things. CBS has decided to bring the series back for a seven-episode run in its second season. The only question is when that mini-season will run.
Jericho was planned as a replacement series once one of the newcomers to the CBS lineup fails, with the idea that it would launch after the first several weeks and give viewers either a chance to support the show for a longer run or to get a better resolution of the plot with seven episodes to wrap up lingering questions.
The "Cluttered" TV Screen in the Context of Screen History
A recent article in the New York Times reports on the concern about snipes, bugs, and crawls that increasingly appear on TV screens and the degree to which they compete for attention with "primary" content
At stake is the industry's effort to shape the expectations of viewers and to test their tolerance of multiple areas of content on a single screen. At what point does promotion become distraction, and at what point does distraction generate backlash? How many different points of content can exist comfortably on the same screen? How effective is multiple layers of content in generating attention?
A historical consideration of screen entertainment can help sort out some of the issues at stake. As this article emphasizes, the first and most obvious comparison of the cluttered TV screen is to a newer medium, that of the computer. This implies, of course, that TV is attempting, perhaps a bit desperately and clumsily, to catch up to a newer and slicker way to display content on a screen. However a more productive comparison might be to older media, especially those that thrived before the dominance of the screen.
The Fall Season Approaches: Pimp Your New Favorites
Last Fall, I asked readers of my blog to "pimp their favorite television show," and we had a truly inspiring set of responses. Indeed, I discovered Supernatural through a groundswell of responses I received there, and it has emerged as one of my very favorite programs and belatedly, this summer, I finally have started to catch up with Battlestar Galactica (I'm now half way through Season 2), another series which was a favorite among readers of my blog.
Since this topic is of interest to the Convergence Culture Consortium as well, and since Sam Ford wrote about the Extratextuals recently, I thought I would cross-post this entry to the C3 blog as well.
This year, I want to start the process earlier. Many of us are checking out the new fall line-up which is starting in earnest this week. So I thought I'd invite you to share with other blog readers your impressions of the new series, over at my site or here.
Discovery/Starcom Study Finds HD Ads Sigificantly More Successful
A new study that's been making its rounds finds that high-definition advertising content, at this stage, is a much more successful way to reach audiences.
The study, which was conducted in correlation with the upfront deal struck between the Discovery HD Theater channel and Starcom USA, found a lot of interesting points: that recall of brands was three times higher for HD users as compared to those watching commercials in standard-definition; that advertising was considered more enjoyable in HD; and that the "intent-to-purchase" was 55 percent higher comparing high-definition ads to standard-definition ads. The study looked at SD and HD viewers of Discovery programming and their ad recall rates.
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.
The Disney Channel: Educating Children for a Transmediated World
The Disney Channel has provided an interesting case study throughout cable television history. From its early launch on cable in 1983, to its switch from a premium cable channel to a basic cable channel, to its continued reinventions and rebranding with each new generation of viewers, the outline provides yet another interesting form of study into one of the most important players in the entertainment and media industries, not just in the United States, but around the world.
In Disney TV, J.P. Telotte examines the history of Disney on television, particularly focusing on Walt Disney's early television shows and their relationship to the theme park. The book was required reading in Henry Jenkins' class on the media industries that I took back in 2005, and I found it to be a great model for an intense, narrowly focused, and concise take on a media company.
NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (2 of 2)
So, what's NBC to do, in light of what I wrote about earlier today?
The domestic and international markets are crowded with American programming, which is incredibly diverse. Even though NBC is the oldest American network, it did not enjoy a monopoly on American popular culture on television as the BBC did for many years, making an overall brand building exercise easier.
At the same time, NBC grew much more like the BBC, with interests in network TV and radio with a bigger and more general audience than Turner networks had, at least initially. As such, it is caught in an interesting situation: build out the overall brand, or concentrate on known "sub-brands" as it expands internationally.
NBC Acquires Sparrowhawk: Conglomeration Marches On, But Where's the Brand Going? (1 of 2)
Yesterday NBC Universal announced that it acquired Sparrowhawk Holdings, a global portfolio of cable television channels that will give NBCU a greater presence in markets in the US, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East with the Hallmark Channel.
Although the exact amount of money changing hands was not disclosed, one report put the figure around 175 million pounds, or just under $353 million. As you may have read in my post earlier this month about New Site, the joint venture between NBC and FOX to create a legal aggregator video streaming site for their content, Providence Equity Partners also has a 10% stake, worth about $100 million, in that project as well.
Those who follow the blog even with casual interest probably know that the world of soap opera is the site of a significant amount of my research and writing. I'm currently in the early stages of preparing a course here at MIT in the spring on soap operas, and my Master's thesis work was on the subject as well.
I'm also really interested in the topic of surplus audiences, those that rest outside the "target demographic" but who still create a valid and significant audience portion. The fact that pro wrestling is sometimes among the most popular content for young adult women, according to some numbers I've seen, or that 25 percent of gamers are over 50, as I wrote about earlier today, are key examples of this.
Perhaps most interesting to me, then, is male soap opera fans, a group I fit into. There are many male soap opera fans, and that's nothing new, but soaps have always been about the 18-49 female demo. Some have gone so far as to say that anyone else simply doesn't matter or doesn't exist, since that's not who shows are selling to advertisers.
More news has surfaced regarding the move of professional wrestling to high-definition, something that has interested me and that I've written about here a few times in the past few months.
World Wrestling Entertainment has been among the top rated shows on the three channels that its three brands air: USA Network, the Sci Fi Channel, and The CW Network. The company has been toying with a transfer to high-definition for some time, but this culminated with the decision by the CW Network to move to broadcasting in all HD.
At first, it looked as if wrestling would be left out of the picture. As Richard Lawler writes, the CW announced that all its other shows would be going HD at the launch of the new TV season, aside from its Friday evening wrestling programming.
However, word is circulating now that WWE will make the transition to high-definition in January.
Looks like we've made one step forward in the planned digital deadline, the switch from analog broadcasting signals to digital television broadcasting in February 2009. That comes with the recent naming of IBM as the outsourced group in control of the coupon program the federal government will institute to help pay for converter boxes which will translate digital signals to be read by the analog televisions.
According to Ira Teinowitz's recent report on the decision, the National Telecommunications Information Administration awarded "IBM a contract worth up to $120 million. IBM will design a Web site, phone center and fulfillment procedures to track the issuing and redemption of the $40 coupons the government is offering to households without cable."
The converter boxes are expected to cost a maximum of $70, while the coupons will be for $40 off.
Checking Out Their Alibis: Do Viewers Remember What They've Seen?
Sometimes, you have news you just really don't want to report. That's probably how Nielsen feels about its engagement panel. In short, Nielsen was interviewing folks who formerly participated as Nielsen households about their television viewing. When news started circulating about the Nielsen engagement panel earlier this month, the result was that a great number of the 918 people they had interviewed so far not only couldn't name advertising they had seen while serving as a Nielsen household but television programs as well.
According to a story from MediaPost's MediaDailyNews by Joe Mandese, only a third of those interviewed could recall a television commercial, and 21 percent of viewers could not "correctly recall" at least one TV show they had viewed. The reason it is titled "correctly" is that the interviews were then compared to their viewer data, as some of those who named a show they had watched had not--in fact--watched it, or at least not in their home on a television being monitored by Nielsen. They are going to be comparing those who claim they could remember a commercial with the commercials they actually watched from the Nielsen tracking data.
MTVN, Second-by-Second Measurement, and Accountability
A few interesting stories have came out in the past couple of weeks relating to shifting advertising structures. First, for those who love the idea of quantifying things down to the nth degree, you might be interested in the story that circulated earlier this month about MTVN's decision to break viewership down to "second-by-second" measurement.
As you all know, MTV Networks is a partner in the Convergence Culture Consortium, so we like to think that might be evidence that they are interested in reconceptualizing the way the industry works, since much of the work we do is about understanding new ways of organizing the system, new ways to tell stories, and new ways to understand, interact with, and respect viewers. Second-by-second measurements are intended to create really deep ways of understanding viewership patterns, partiuclarly during advertising breaks.
C3 Team: DRM, Hypermasculine Soaps, and Gender and Fan Studies
In addition to all that we've been covering here on the Convergence Culture Consortium blog, there have been some interesting pieces written recently on the blogs of some of our consulting researchers as well that I'd like to point the way toward.
First is a recent post from C3 Consulting Researcher Rob Kozinets, over at Brandthroposophy, his blog on "marketing, media, and technoculture." In a post entitled What Does DRM Really Stand For? Whack-a-Mole!, Kozinets thinks back to a conversation with an executive from the music industry in a class he taught back in 1999, talking about early MP3 players, and his own conversations with students over the years about file sharing and digital rights management, for both music and movies. He concludes that "entertainment companies haven't even come close to getting it. When they do, they'll learn to work with the trends and not against them. That's going to be an interesting day."
C3 Updates: Flash Gordon, ATWT Inturn, and Ten Day Take
Hope the C3 readers got something valuable out of the interview with Parry Aftab. It's Wednesday morning now, and I wanted to update everyone on a few extensions of issues we've been following here at the C3 blog over the past year.
1.) Flash Gordon. I first wrote about Flash Gordon in a post from January on fan communities based on historical comic strips, such as Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon, as well as the historical Yellow Kid of much older fame. Some fans wrote in response to me, questioning whether Tracy and Gordon could really be considered historical properties, and the scope of this changed when I learned through Warren Ellis' blog that Sci Fi was planning on making a television movie featuring Gordon.
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."
FCC Preparing to Educate Public on Digital Deadline
The FCC is moving forward on finding ways to educate the public about the coming digital deadline, the Feb. 17, 2009, date when over-the-air analog broadcasts will be replaced by digital. For a number of Americans who only have analog television sets and no cable or satellite subscription, this will be a pivotal date without a digital-to-analog converter box or a new digital television, since they will no longer be able to watch TV.
Of course, this only comes after a wide variety of folks have criticized the government and the industry for not doing enough to inform Americans about such a big change being well under two years away. In response, the FCC has finally laid out a number of ideas, including public service announcements, notices that come with new television sets, and inserts in cable bills. However, although a digital deadline has been discussed for some time, a great number of Americans don't seem to know about the digital deadline.
Daytime and Primetime Serial Dramas: The Question of Complexity
One final post for the day. I have been meaning to post links to the latest two rounds in Henry Jenkins' fan studies and gender discussions, and I also wanted to respond to some detailed comments from Jason Mittell over at his blog, Just TV. Jason is one of our consulting researchers here in the consortium.
First, see the posts and debate surrounding a round of posts from Kristina Busse and Cornel Sandvoss here and here.
This week's posts are from Abigail Derecho and Christian McCrea, here and here.
The first round of Abigail and Christian's debate brought up a lot of issues about soap operas and pro wrestling and other massive narratives which exist on the "margins" of popular culture, which of course got me particularly interested in the discussion. Be sure to look through the comments there for more.
Mittell's post on these issues particularly interested me, as he addresses his own works on narrative complexity in primetime television. I have often credited Jason with being one of the few scholars who does not try and hide the ties to daytime serial drama that primetime complexity has, but some in a recent conversation criticized his essay for not going very in-depth with that connection. He brings up quite a valid point in his blog--that many scholars have pointed out that it's hard to understand soaps from the outside and that it's best not to try and analyze them without intimate knowledge of them. Of course, that makes folks who aren't looking particularly at soaps at a loss for how to cover them, since many of their visual and storytelling markers have been so stereotyped, and are often misunderstood.
Producers, Writers, and Advertisers Harmed by the Hype
How is the hype and bluster surrounding "branded entertainment," "transmedia storytelling," and "product placement" endangering real and meaningful developments in actually making these concepts a real part of the industry?
People who read our blog here regularly know that we are quite keen on these concepts. But, of course, we come at it primarily from a fan-centered perspective, and that fannishness has a lot to do with artistry as well. We are excited to know about how product placement might help escape from the confines of the simple-minded advertising models currently in place; how transmedia storytelling might help media properties better tell their stories without the confines of a particular medium; and so on.
But the over-hyping of some of these ideas cause great problems. See Wayne Friedman's take on product placement. He talks with producers about product integration, and he points out that many of them are sour on it? Why? Because of the instant desire of the industry to turn everything into a stream. You can't just have something appear on a show; it has to take over the show. We still haven't tackled the art of subtlety. And if you can't make a quick and simple metric out of it, what use is it?
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (V of V)
Pro wrestling is an appropriate avenue for researching broader themes in American culture because wrestling allows its fans a close involvement in writing and defining the text. Through the instant feedback available in wrestling shows, fans can directly influence the pacing of a show and can rewrite its meaning. Those viewing televised wrestling can mediate its meaning through their own interpretation of wrestling's often ambiguous messages and through their viewing patterns, around which the shows are written. Promoters and performers alter their fictional characters to change the character's meaning, similar to how musicians such as Prince, Pat Boone, and David Bowie "redefine" themselves for a new generation.
Meanwhile, fans alter fictional characters through their perceptions and interpretations, similar to the ways that another liminal star, Elvis Presley, has been appropriated to represent a variety of American values. As Doss (1999: 259) concludes in her study of Elvis, "Elvis, after all, is an American emblem, and debates and conflicts over who Elvis is and what he means are comparable to the debates and conflicts over what America is and what America means." Rodman (1996: 1) writes that Elvis surfaces "in ways that defy common-sense notions of how dead stars are supposed to behave," popping up not only in for-profit creations but in very personal ways in fans' lives--such as my editor at the Ohio County Times-News newspaper in Hartford, Ky., who jokingly refers to his former "Skinny Elvis" days and his current "Fat Elvis" days, in which Elvis' personal trajectory becomes a metaphor for my editor's own aging and physical change.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (IV of V)
Gender/Masculinity: Brains vs. Brawn
The criticism of wrestling's narrow definition of manhood and its vilifying of any opposing views of what constitutes manliness has been covered by many critics (i.e., Lincoln 1989, Berger 1990). The critical concern about the effects of such confining representations of masculinity has been waged most broadly by Jhally and Katz (2002), who indict WWE as purveyors of damaging stereotypes and narrow codes of masculine behavior. Jhally and Katz attempt to connect wrestling's definition of gender roles with broad social problems relating to domestic violence. Jenkins (2005: 306-307) refutes these arguments by claiming that by oversimplifying their subjects, such narrow readings of wrestling participate in the very "anti-intellectualism" for which these critics often condemn wrestling. He particularly attacks their unsubstantiated attempts to liken the ignoring of wrestling's ill effects to the ignoring of Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany.
Wrestling has become a battleground for an argument that involves methodology (whether an examination of wrestling content can have only one possible reading), mediation (a singular writing of wrestling shows by Vince McMahon and his writing team or a communal definition of the product mediated by writers, performers, and fans), and gender roles (wrestling as one definition of masculinity or wrestling as a battle among conflicting masculinities). While wrestling glorifies certain aspects of the traditional hero, its treatment of masculinity is more nuanced than a simplistic reading would find. For instance, Jhally and Katz, in their analysis, do not consider the context of scenes they analyze in the overall narrative or whether the person perpetrating a certain action is a hero or a villain. The contradictions in Foley's character and its affirming and denying of traditional masculine attributes are a fitting example for Jenkins' argument of a more layered reading of pro wrestling. A reading of a character such as Foley's in unambiguous terms ignores the importance of his many contradictions.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (III of V)
The Star Image of Mick Foley
Mick Foley's character developed over the course of twenty years in pro wrestling. Following the definition provided by Ellis (1999: 539) of the star as "a performer in a particular medium whose figure enters into subsidiary forms of circulation, and then feeds back into future performances," Foley's star image emerges out of his various fictional personas and the public dissemination of information about his private life that is incorporated into his star image. The image in wrestling is the fictional character depicted on the screen. These fictional characters are usually either heroes or villains, although they may change freely between the two extremes. Pro wrestling thrives on the relationship between these heroes and villains to build toward eventual grudge matches that fans want to see. Wrestling heroes and villains are defined chiefly through their opposition, as a villain can become a hero by engaging in a feud with one even more villainous than he or she. Similarly, a hero can become a villain by coming into conflict with a hero more popular than he or she. In the case of a change, the star image usually only alters slightly, as wrestlers generally retain their same basic characters. The chief difference is their view of the fans, as the hero-turned-villain usually abandons his or her supporters, while the villain-turned-hero embraces the fans he or she once despised.
In pro wrestling, the wrestler is the commodity. As Birrell and Turowetz (1979: 220) point out, then, every appearance is an opportunity to sell his or her character identity. This commodification process likens wrestling to another form of public discourse, politics. For instance, as Roper (2004) analyzes, the selling of President George W. Bush's heroic persona during his "War on Terror" led to the cultivation of a protector-figure to respond to the terrorist attacks on America. Wrestling's connection to political life has often been articulated by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (2004), who admitted that his understanding of marketing himself as a pro wrestler greatly informed his successful campaign for the governorship in 1998.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (II of V)
A growing body of scholarship has formed to analyze professional wrestling; however, this preliminary collection of work into wrestling's close connection with American society, past and present, has only scratched the surface of an art form that provides an inexhaustible wealth of research material. Wrestling is a particularly apt way to study the culture of a particular time and place and an exaggerated visual text that provides many potential avenues to study the hero-making process in American culture. Pro wrestling is liminal, existing both as sport and drama, fact and fiction, all mediated through a web of complex relationships within the larger construct of the promoter, the media, the actors, and the fans. Furthermore, wrestling is a text that draws on a variety of dramatic conventions and a unique blending of "high" and "low" culture, reflecting what Levine (1988) identifies as a contemporary questioning of distinctions between "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in American art.
Wrestling has been examined from a myriad of critical perspectives because of the rich possibilities its complicated narrative structure offers for various disciplines. Barthes (1972: 21) claims that pro wrestling is "a spectacle of excess" involving a symbolic show of suffering and justice through the hero's struggle with the rule-breaking villain. Goffman (1974) further identifies this spectacular element of wrestling's central narrative, the hero's appropriation of rule-breaking to retaliate against an opponent who has broken the agreement of a fair fight between the two. Goffman (1974: 418) claims wrestling's excitement comes through this breaking of the audience's perceived frame of fair play in sports.
Mick Foley: Pro Wrestling and the Contradictions of a Contemporary American Hero (I of V)
I am finishing up the final version of an essay about three years in the making, that I actually got accepted for publication in my final days as an undergraduate back at Western Kentucky University. After a few holdups here and there, the piece will be going into a collection edited by Cornel Sandvoss, Michael Real, and Alina Bernstein called Bodies of Discourse: Sport Stars, Globalization, and the Public Sphere. As I am tidying the essay up, I wanted to see if there were any relevant thoughts from C3 readers on the implications "real" characters like those in pro wrestling have on the meaning of masculinity in the modern media.
When professional wrestler Mick Foley won the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly WWF) World Heavyweight Title on Monday Night RAW at the end of 1998, he became a heroic character in the realm of pro wrestling, then at its height of popularity on cable television. Many considered Foley an unusual hero. His character blended masculine heroic qualities of tenacity, endurance, and hard work with characteristics not usually seen in the American hero: a need for communal acceptance, a desire for intellectual growth, and an unattractive aesthetic, with Foley's missing teeth, severed ear, unkempt hair, pear-shaped figure, and lack of the muscular definition usually expected in the wrestling hero.
Mick Foley is a paradox, as his character both embraces and defies elements of the traditional masculine hero. This redefinition of the heroic figure in wrestling, according to Dalbir Singh Sehmby (2000: 202), stems from wrestling's complex relationship among fans, promoters, the media, and Foley himself. Sammond (2005) writes that "whether professional wrestling is progressive, transgressive, or regressive (or all these at different moments) depends on how it serves the social goals of its producers, performers, audiences, and its critics." Because of wrestling's participatory nature, allowing fans to directly influence the product, wrestling heroes may perhaps be more indicative of the paradoxes in defining masculinity and American heroism than the heroes created through many other media products. The construction of Foley as hero reveals America's changing and conflicting values regarding its traditions and its definition of masculinity.
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?
The upfronts may have wrapped last week, but the discussion they highlighted, on the demand for measuring and monetizing television content on air and online, looks like it will continue for the forseeable future. So, now that the dust is beginning to clear (a little) what can we make of what's transpired and what's ahead?
In short, a lot of options, a lot of speculation, and nothing really conclusive. I want to examine this issue in depth in a couple of posts here on the blog today.
I would argue that this uncertainty is reflected in the revenue from this year's upfront. After all the haggling over, claims of a small victory were made when it was revealed that the nets brought in 3% more ad revenue than they did at last year's up front, excluding syndication. Yet, inflation was also 3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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.
How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?
While thinking today about how this issue between the Writer's Guild of America and television producers seems to have been stretching on for quite a while now, I began to realize that a lot of the issues I've been covering for the Consortium since we started our blog a little under two years ago, and especially since I've been the primary contributor to the blog since last summer have not changed that much.
So, while people talk sometimes about how fast change happens, it is important to realize that the falsity that nothing is ever going to change is often countered by an equally tall tale, that things are changing extremely quickly. The truth is that industry practices, corporate infrastructure, technological lagtime, and an endless variety of factors causes everything to move slowly.
I was told by an industry executive not too long ago that the upfronts this year didn't feel that much different, as if this person were somehow disappointed. I think that's how we all feel when we realize that the new environment feels only slightly removed from yesterday's...and that's because we as human beings can only move in steps. The first cars really did resemble horseless carriages, and the first mobile phones looked quite like landline phones. Change necessarily comes one step at a time.
That being the case, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the stories that were posted here on the blog during this same week last year. You'll see a few stories that have fallen by the wayside but a few more that could quite possibly be easily plugged into this week's headlines and still seem right at home.
WGA Negotiations Begin; What Will Be the Future of Transmedia Storytelling?
Tensions between the Writer's Guild of America and the entertainment industry show no signs of being any less heated than predicted, as a few news stories from last week emphasize. The negotiations began yesterday. TV Week has been my media coverage site of choice to follow the developments.
For instance, there was the bulletin sent around to WGA members emphasizing the need to stand strong for a piece of the profit on new-media ventures and to ensure what they consider proper compensation.
On the other hand the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers propose a three-year study of new media to help determine the conditions for compensation for this ancillary content, trying to determine the differences between models set up for television that would need to be built differently for online projects.
These tensions are about very important industry issues that must be worked out, since the teams that produce and create the content for these projects should certainly be justly compensated. Yet, while I understand that this is a complex issue not easy to resolve, the continued delays and lack of leadership in working through these issues only mean that the reality of transmedia storytelling will have to lag behind these longstanding stubborn positions within the industry.
Cadillac/Damages Latest Example of FX Single-Sponsor Model
FX continues their interesting model of single-sponsored shows, the latest of which will be for the premiere of their newest series starring Glenn Close, Damages.
Close, coming off a heralded performance in season four of The Shield as Captain Monica Rawling, will star in a show about lawyers.
This time, the sponsor will be Cadillac, who will not only be the sole sponsor of the show and provide a commercial-free season premiere, but whose cars will also be integrated through the series.
This combination of product placement/integration with single-sponsor content is yet another hybrid of a model that seems to be fairly consist for FX season and series premieres. It seems to be a model that works well enough to continue returning to it as special events for important episodes, but we have not seen it port over to whole season deals for any FX shows of yet.
Immersive Story Worlds and "How Not to Wreck a Show"
In my work on soap opera fandom, I keep encountering a document that I think deals with some questions that are at the heart of much of what we are talking about in working with fandoms, especially in thinking toward longstanding media properties with long and complicated histories.
I have written quite a bit lately about a particular form of narrative universe of this type, which I call immersive story worlds. As I have written about here on the blog before (see here and here), immersive story worlds are fictional universes whose characteristics include seriality, multiple creators, long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence.
In my own research, I have identified soap opera narratives (once a show has passed a certain number of years), comic books, and professional wrestling texts as being the best examples of these sorts of narratives, but the principles--and potential benefits of thinking toward developing and maintaining immersive story worlds--apply to a wide range of products which have some similar characteristics to these massive serial (social) texts.
To return to my point, however, I think that my writing about serial texts is underpinned by a set of creative criteria and an industry perspective perhaps best articulated by the late Douglas Marland, known by a variety of soap opera fan communities as one of the best soaps creators of all time, in particular in his relationship to the fan community and in respecting the continuity and history of soaps, and the nature of serialized storytelling for an immersive story world.
Gender and Fan Studies (Round Six, Part One): C. Lee Harrington and Sam Ford
This is the first of a two-part series being posted on Henry Jenkins' blog and discussed through a LiveJournal community site, the latest in the rounds of posts featuring a male and female fan studies scholar looking at issues of gender in relation to the study of fan communities. This round features my discussion with C. Lee Harrington, who has been a key scholar in the history of the study of soap opera fandom. Both parts will be posted here on the C3 blog as well.
C. Lee Harrington: Hi everyone. This has been an interesting set of discussions thus far -- Sam and I are happy to contribute. We'll follow the general norm by beginning with introductions. I've been engaged in audience/fan studies since the early 1990s, with most of my work co-authored with Denise Bielby.
Our interest in fan studies grew out of our long term soap opera-watching habit. I don't remember how long Denise has been watching, but I started watching soaps in the late 1970s and have been an enthusiastic follower ever since (mostly ABC soaps, with some years watching DOOL).
When I was in grad school at UCSB in the late 1980s (Denise is on the faculty there), we went to a General Hospital fan club luncheon, were fascinated by the entire experience, and decided to study the soap fan culture. Our book Soap Fans was published a few years after Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers and Camille Bacon- Smith's Enterprising Women, among other important work of the late 80s/early 90s, which heavily influenced the way I thought about audience/fans.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part VI of VI
To trace the character of Tom Hughes is to trace the trajectory of the American soap opera and, to a degree, American television. The character demonstrates the soap opera genre's use of SORASing and the supercouple and the constant tug at soap storytelling between the three major strands of soap opera plots--family and workplace drama, tackling social issues, and escapist romance fare.
A part of the soap canvas for 45 years now, Tom Hughes is, in a sense, the history of ATWT, and the treatment of his character marks changes in performers, changes in writing staffs, and changes in audience reception and in American society. From tackling divorce to drug culture and Vietnam to living wills and AIDS, Tom's character has been involved with many of the controversies that have defined American public discourse over the past few decades. And for fan communities with lasting memories, his current character serves as a monument to those social changes and plot turns.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part V of VI
Tom's Maturity--Scott Holmes Takes the Role
At this point, Scott Holmes took over the role of Tom Hughes. Tom was out of Oakdale for some time in Washington D.C., where he was heavily involved in a massive FBI case that the Oakdale Police Force was also involved in. With Holmes portraying Tom, he returned to Oakdale to put his marriage back together and began working with Margo on the Falcon case. The couple was eventually reunited.
The central character in the defining family of Oakdale, Holmes' Tom once again became a part of several storylines that sought to renew focus on social issues through personal drama, similar to the stories Tom was part of in the late 1960s. This mid-1980s to early-1990s time period is often celebrated by ATWT fans as a glory period of the show, with head writer Douglas Marland blending social relevance into a strong writing emphasis on workspace tension and family drama.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part IV of VI
Childhood and Adolescence--The SORASing of Tom Hughes
Tom Hughes was immediately a central focus on ATWT because he was born to the central couple of the show at the time, Bob and Lisa. The show's writers recognized that only a minimal amount of storytelling could be accomplished with Tom as a young child.
Therefore, Tom became one of the first victims of SORAS, a disease that now regularly strikes children in soap opera towns. SORAS, which stands for Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, is a term popularized in the soap opera press and in online fan communities, in response to the trend to age soap opera characters, almost always children, much more rapidly than real time would allow.
The early development of Tommy Hughes is one of the most blatant examples of SORASing, as the character was born in 1961 and, by the end of the decade, was in Vietnam. The character's birth and early existence was largely as a plot device in the dissolution of Bob and Lisa's marriage.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part III of VI
Shifting Portrayals: The Many Men Who Are Tom Hughes
One important aspect of daytime television is that characters, even as they become so entwined with their portrayers, are also bigger than those actors. It is quite common in American soap opera for a character to be recast if an actor leaves the show, especially when the character is linked to several others. Because the power of soap operas lies in character relationships rather than plot development, an essential character must stay on the show, whether the actor who portrays him or her does or not. The duration of actors such as Wagner, Fulton, or Hastings is impressive because such long-term performances are relatively rare.
Tom Hughes, excluding his time as a baby, has been portrayed by 13 different actors. Starting in 1963, Tom was old enough to have dialogue on the show and began being portrayed consistently by one child actor at a time. The character was aged more rapidly than real time would allow, and his birth date was revised significantly as the show progressed so that the character would be aged enough to allow for certain stories.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part II of VI
As the World Turns
However, As the World Turns changed the conception of the television soap opera. Under the supervision of Irna Phillips, one of the "auteurs" of television rarely discussed in "mainstream" accounts of television history, As the World Turns (ATWT) popularized many of what are now considered defining elements of the genre.
The program aired daily for 30 minutes, breaking away from the shorter 15-minute increments of shows like Guiding Light. Slow pacing, an emphasis on dialogue, and the now-stereotyped camera angles were all part of the ATWT conception. For that reason, many soap historians would consider ATWT the most significant soap opera in American television history.
From 1958 until 1978, ATWT was unchallenged as the top rated soap opera, until growing competition in the 1970s unseated it. Throughout its now 50-year run on CBS, ATWT has survived important changes--the switch to color, the conversion from live to taped television in the early 1970s, the shift from 30 minutes to an hour in the late 1970s, and fluctuating ideas about what topics the genre should cover, oscillating from family drama to romantic escapist fare to tackling controversial social issues or some combination of the three.
Today, ATWT remains an award-winning soap, often recognized with writing and production awards at the Daytime Emmy awards. While Guiding Light has phased out many of its long-term characters (most characters considered "veterans" on the show today debuted with Guiding Light in the late 1970s or early 1980s), ATWT has retained not only the greatest number of long-term characters but also many of the actors who have defined those characters.
Growing Old Together: Following As the World Turns' Tom Hughes Through the Years, Part I of VI
Next week, Lee Harrington and I will be presenting the latest in Henry Jenkins' series of discussions about gender and fan studies. Since Lee has been a pioneer in research on soap opera fan communities and since much of my recent focus have been on fans of daytime drama, I wanted to return to a paper that I presented at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association's conference here in Boston back in April. It was a great conference, with a followup discussion about the present and future of soaps with a variety of interesting and interested scholars who have written and presented on soaps. I thought I would present the content of that paper, sans the footnotes, as I prepare for next week.
Television is an actor's medium. While budgets and schedules have often given movies a greater mastery of grand visual spectacle than television (a divide between film and television that is growing increasingly thin), the actor has always remained the currency of television fiction. Even today, with television series consistently raising the bar for production values, the actor still holds the most power in connecting with the audience.
The smaller screen of (most) television sets values the close-up, the study of human emotion (and especially the human face), in a way that the grand vistas and elaborate cinematography of most Hollywood films seem to miss. The value placed on the actor and the exploration of character is more suited to the seriality of television as well. While films visit a character's life for a short time, a television series visits characters on a regular basis, over a number of seasons.
Just a quick post to highlight a few announcements NBC made during yesterday's upfront presentation to advertisers in NYC. Of particular interest from an audience engagement perspective:
1. Rather than introducing a slate of new shows, NBC is opting for the "more of a good thing" approach. Heroes will get its own six-episode spin-off, Heroes: Origins, with each episode being used to introduce a new character who has not yet appeared on the series. Viewers will get to vote on their favorite, and the character with the most support will then be written into the show as a regular. (Art imitates life: there's an eery resemblance here to Stan Lee's recent reality venture, Who Wants To Be A Superhero? Only in this case, it seems the stakes are a lot higher -- this time, the winner joins the ensemble of one of NBC's biggest hits.)
2. Encouraged by the success of Heroes 360, an expansive transmedia campaign to enable viewer interaction with Heroes (via an "interactive" graphic novel, an ARGesque campaign, and so on), NBC is expanding their 360-approach to television to another of their biggest hits... The Office. There aren't too many details on the specifics yet, but I like what I've heard so far:
In addition to making extra content available on digital platforms, "The Office 360" will allow online users of NBC's Web site to create their own branches of the comedy's fictional Dunder-Mifflin paper company with different challenges to complete. The branches could be integrated into a network episode of the show.
I'll be curious to see how this plays out. I have to admit, I was in the middle of writing yesterday when I got a phone call from Heroes' would-be Senator, Nathan Petrelli, asking me to visit his campaign website... and even though the phone-calls-from-fictional-characters thing will get old soon, it made me smile.
And, while it's not related to NBC, I'll throw in an ABC-related announcement for good measure: starting this summer, ABC has announced, several of their most popular shows will be available for online streaming in full HD resolution (1280x720).
There's always a lot to discuss during the upfronts, so I expect I'll be back several times over the next week with more points of interest. Feel free to post in comments if you catch something interesting, though -- there's a lot to keep up with!
Well, I guess this depends on how you do your math, but if you count each hour-long installment of Lost as an episode, 119 will be the final episode of Lost when it goes off the air in May 2010, after six seasons.
To the best of my knowledge, the decision to end a show three years in advance, regardless of its ratings, is unprecedented in network history. Sci-fi saga Babylon 5 was theoretically structured for a 5-year narrative arc, a plan which went to hell near the end of the fourth season when the remaining plot points were wrapped up in anticipation of the show's cancellation... leaving the show in need of a new plot when it returned for a fifth season after all. Of course, ABC's announcement doesn't indicate what would happen if the show were to tank, ratings-wise, before the anticipated end-date -- but since Lost, even at its worst moments, has never dropped far below the Top 25 shows on television, it seems like a reasonable bet that the show will make it until the end of its run.
As one friend pointed out to me this morning, Lost will not be the first show to leave television while it still has a strong audience; when Seinfeld wrapped up, the series was doing well enough to have guaranteed it at least another season. The difference, of course, is that as one of the pioneers in television's current wave of complex serialized drams, Lost is attempting a structural feat that is almost impossible under the normal confines of network television.
(The prolific Sam Ford has discussed the challenges and difficulties that serial narratives face on network television in several past entries: see here, here, and here for a more detailed discussion of the topic. )
Lost's co-EPs, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, announced several months ago that they had approached ABC about setting an end-date for the show, an unorthodox request that would allow them to plan a specific timeline for addressing the various mysteries and puzzles that lie at the heart of the show. In particular, a firm end-date would allow Lost to address the rising concern among viewers -- common to all heavily serialized mysteries -- that the show was "making things up" as it went along, and posing questions for which it had no answers.
According to this morning's Variety, however, this was not a casual request: in their recent contract negotiations, Lindelof and Cuse demanded an end date as one of their unnegotiable terms.
It will be interesting to see whether this decision results in a noticeable upturn in the show's ratings, as exasperated viewers return to the fold, or a further decline, as more fans opt to wait until the show's 2010 conclusion to decide whether to invest another 48 hours of their time on DVD.
Wright's essay, "Welcome to the Jungle of the Real: Simulation, Commoditization, and Survivor," details the way in which television shows become not just content to drive marketing but are marketed themselves. This marketing includes the ancillary products that are sold based around the television show, which seem obvious to anyone who has studied the creative industries in great detail, but also--especially--the marketing of the show's past seasons as Survivor progresses and the commoditizing of people who appear on the reality show--as Wright points out, "these days even people can be commodities" (170). I would say "especially" people can be commodities and that it's no recent phenomenon, as the immense amount of scholarship on the marketing of early mass sports stars or Hollywood star images proves.
However, Wright points out the hyperreality of reality television shows, meaning that the line between "real" and "fictional" becomes blurred so that "real" events play into the fictional world. I've found this concept immensely helpful in understanding immersive story world that try to blend reality and fantasy, including both alternate reality gaming (ARGs) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Thanks to Ben Wright for his Master's thesis study of hyperreality in pro wrestling for helping me solidify those thoughts.
Christopher J.. Wright studies how the repeated process of a Survivor episode both commodifies the past and teaches viewers about the show's rituals, so that the Tribal Council portion of the show that originally seemed comical and absurd to some of the first season's contestants has been so effectively built in the show's production that contestants by the second season felt there was an aura around the contrived event that was created by their own viewing of the first season.
This coincides in the pro wrestling world with the development of the Wrestlemania PPV event. For the first several years, WWE promoters tried to bill Wrestlemania as the most important card of the year, as an event that would transcend time with performances that would be remembered forever. Many of the early wrestlers probably didn't view it as that much more special than other paydays...but, through the years and repeated marketing of the images from the early Wrestlemanias, most of today's performers who grew up as fans watching Wrestlemania have bought into this myth to the point that they themselves see Wrestlemania as a sacred event.
Wright's piece goes on to examine how other reality shows and Survivor itself has effectively built on itself and created the "reality television" genre that remains so prevalent today. He also gives a small amount of space to Survivor spoiler fan communities online.
For those who are interested in reading about how Survivor has developed such a passionate fan following, Henry Jenkins has a chapter dedicated to Survivor spoiler communities in his upcoming book Convergence Culture. But Wright's essay provides some key insights about how Survivor has built its history and its myths that are worth checking out.
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.
Reader Skwid compares the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon with what happened to Serenity. He notes:
I'm looking forward to this movie as much as the next net.geek, but I don't expect as much of a box-office surprise as many seem to be anticipating, because I've seen it before.
What am I referring to? Serenity. It would be hard to beat the online buzz Serenity was getting, and sometimes it seems like it's difficult to find a blogger who isn't a fan of the prematurely cancelled series Firefly, but all of that buzz and a good deal of critical acclaim still couldn't get people into the theaters.
He may well be right--it is very easy living at the hub of digital culture to imagine that all of the buzz we are hearing is generalizable across the population as a whole. But let's look for a moment at what happened with Firefly/Serenity and then, I will try to explain why I think Snakes on a Plane is in a somewhat different situation.
Praise Be the Whedon
Let's be clear that I am a big fan of Firefly and of Joss Whedon's other work in television and in comics. I think he's one of the smartest and most creative people operating within the media industry today. He has enormous respect for his fans and he has earned our respect in return. He had constructed a television series he really believed in.
He was watching a very dedicated, very resourceful fan community form around a television series which either got canceled because a)the ratings were low and it was not seen as having a broad general appeal or b)the ratings were low because the network had not successfully targeted its most likely audiences and given it a chance to develop the word of mouth needed to expand its core viewership. We may never know which of these explanations is the correct one--I suspect some combination of the two.
Whedon still wanted to produce the content; there was a group of people clammering for the content; but the networks didn't think there's a large enough audience to sustain a prime time broadcast series. This is a situation we've seen again and again in the history of broadcast media. I think it's about time we rewrote the rules.
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.
Google Research Making Waves with Social Intereactive Television Proposal
By this point, some of you have probably heard about the new technology proposed by Google researchers Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja, in association with Michael Fink of the Center for Neural Computation at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Siddiq Bello from Turner Broadcasting, one of our partners, made me aware of the study's availability, and I've been reading and thinking about it since he first contacted me about it a couple of weeks ago. In short, the proposed system would create mass personalization, meaning that the traditional mass media would become personalized to a degree never accomplished before.
I'm not talking about having a fireside chat where you make the American people feel like you are coming in your home. This is more than changing one's tone-of-voice. The researchers write that "mass-media channels typically provide limited content to many people; the Web provides vast amounts of information, most of interest to few." They propose to use their technology to make television and radio as personalized as Web content, while still providing the ability to be a somewhat passive consumer.
How to do this? The system would use a computer's microphone to pick up on what programs a person is watching on television and would then provide relevant data online to help enrich the viewer's experience. The report breaks this down into four categories:
The latest announcement by OMD indicates a further shift toward considering viewer/reader engagement as a factor.
OMD, a media agency, announced that it would use these metrics in its decisions on which programs to buy after studying the engagement that people have with Web sites, television and magazine titles. Their studies found massive differences in the degree to which people engaged in certain television shows versus others, which comes as no real surprise.
Television, as with radio, can serve both as background noise at some points but as the focal point at others, depending on if people are "watching television" or "watching a particular program." My wife is a zapper who is known for "watching television," but I almost always only turn the TV on if I have the intent of watching something in particular.
And that type of viewing definitely carries a more focused involvement with programs that the industry has known it should take into account for a while--no one likes to talk about it, though, because qualitative measurements are a little harder to do than just counting eyeballs as all being equal.
However, study after study demonstrates how much more valuable involved viewing can be.
OMD claims that they are going to be able to create a "standard engagement currency" based on their study that would be comparative in nature, branching across multiple media forms.
To me, this should invariably take advertisers back to thinking more closely about natural product placement as an important alternative. DVR and TiVo viewers are the most dedicated viewers of all, since they've singled a program out for special viewing. Of course they're going to skip the regular commercial spots because they want to continue with the dramatic run of the show, but advertisers and producers alike should be considering product placement alternatives and sponsoring alternatives that do not interfere with the quality of programming and diminish viewer involvement while capitalizing on the deep involvement these consumers have with the product.
Ratings-wise, we've gotten our answer. ECW blows away anything else that airs regularly on Sci Fi in the ratings. Before ECW's debut, according to Dave Meltzer, the highest rated show on the network was Ghost Hunters, which regualrly draws about a 1.2 rating. In its first week, ECW drew a 2.8 rating, more than double the highest rated regular Sci Fi program. The second week, in opposition with the NBA finals, the show drew a 2.4, and Sci-Fi and NBC Universal are ecstatic.
But that doesn't mean that ECW is still a particularly good fit on Sci-Fi. The regular Sci Fi fans are resentful. Fans on both sides seem ignorant of any aesthetic value in the other side's entertainment. Wrestling fans have no interest in what they perceive as any "sci-fi" influence creeping onto their show, and the sentiments of the fan who posted here, saying that Sci Fi is a refuge from terrible programming like wrestling, sums up how many sci-fi fans feel about wrestling.
So, let's establish this: neither Sci Fi programming nor pro wrestling is inherently bad, but trying to mix the two could be. The wrestling fans don't particularly care what network a show comes on, as long as it's true to what it's supposed to be: wrestling. But Sci Fi marketing people, according to Dave Meltzer, made suggestions that Martians and vampires appear on the ECW show in the arena and that ECW wrestlers should go into other dimensions. Well, you can imagine how regular ECW fans, and even WWE fans, felt about a suggestion like that. The WWE made fun of the very idea on the initial ECW episode, with a wrestler named The Zombie coming down to the ring, only to get caned by The Sandman, an old ECW regular. From WWE's perspective, Sci Fi probably was not their top choice (I'm sure that would have been USA), but they knew they wanted to launch an ECW show, and their exclusivity deal with NBC Universal dictated that it could only be on one of the conglomerate's networks...Sci Fi was the only network that displayed a strong interest.
While the sci-fi community has been vocally upset about the wrestling influence, wrestling fans were incensed by these suggestions and happy that the Sci Fi Channel got their answer with the caning. It was a joint statement by WWE and Sci Fi to wrestling fans that ECW would not be mired by such silly gimmicks. Consessions to the sci-fi sentiment, at least in the network's eyes, include a set of vampire cultish wrestlers in ECW, as well as pushing Paul Heyman's character as a cultish leader of ECW.
The only thing at this point that's hurting ECW with the wrestling fanbase are the hardcore ECW fans who can't see the new version of ECW as being true to the original, which WWE purchased the rights to. The first episode, while doing "extremely" well in the ratings, was considered a disappointment aesthetically by most fans and many with the company. But the following week introduced some new characters and started to reveal the direction the show will be going. And wrestling fans must realize that ECW can't be a reunion show and remain a vibrant weekly television program, so there has to be a new version that draws in the wider WWE fan base, in addition to the hardcore fans.
USA Network and Sci Fi are working hard to make the two wrestling shows cross-promote each other, but both networks have come to realize something about wrestling fans: they feel little loyalty to the network, so that WWE fans are most likely to tune in when their show comes on and tune back out as soon as the show is over. The only value WWE adds to the network, then, is increasing the ratings of the network substantially, especially since wrestling draws lower advertising rates than many other shows, despite its high ratings, because of the unfair stereotypes against its fanbase. For USA, this means that it more consistently wins its war to top the weekly cable ratings because WWE inflates its numbers. For Sci Fi, this means that they have a show that, ratings-wise, is their biggest hit. And, with ECW and Monday Night RAW cross-promoting each other, the two networks are at least giving wrestling fans more to tune into and trying to keep those flagship shows high.
So, at this point, that appears to be the impasse. If Sci Fi fans will support or at least ignore ECW's presence, it will be a boon to the network's numbers. Conversely, if Sci Fi stays out of ECW's programming, wrestling fans care little what network their show airs on. And it's a win-win...unless the fan communities have to come into contact again; then it turns into another battle royal.
For those who have not already read this story on Paid Content, the latest news in examining the success of online distribution of television shows comes from Weeds, the Showtime situation comedy which features a single mother who must sell marijuana to support her family.
The show, produced by Lion's Gate, has produced an income of more than $600,000 on iTunes at this point, yet producers reveal that the show is providing high numbers (pun intended) in pre-orders for the DVD of the first season.
This success is leading to Lion's Gate further expandng their online distribution options, in addition to iTunes. So far, the company has found that these online sales are not cutting into DVD distribution, which means at this point that there is no downside to online distribution and that, with TV shows on DVD, at least, there is still a value to owning the actual official DVD set of the show.
As more companies seem to be finding this lesson to be the case, iTunes will likely continue getting a substantial influx of television programming and producers will be a little less scared of providing its content through even more media platforms.
The lesson seems suprrising yet full of common sense at the same time. After all, DVDs sets of television shows are expensive--it comes as no surprise that they are for collectors in particular. And those collectors may be well willing to pay to download episodes to see them early and still purchase the DVD set. Again, it all hinges on creating a quality product that people will want to own and/or finding a niche audience willing to pay first for convience of viewing and later for collecting purposes.
Coming from a wrestling standpoint, a similar phenomenon is when wrestling fans are willing to buy a wrestling pay-per-view program live as it happens for $40 and then buy the DVD of the same event a month later. Sure, there are plenty of fans who don't buy the DVD and wouldn't under any circumstances, and there are some that wait until the DVD comes out and who care less about the exclusivity, but the two products appeal to different types of customers--and many customers fall in both camps--and thus really do not compete with one another.
Instead, by providing its products in multiple arenas, the companies seem to be reaching more customers by providing their products in ways that are convenient for different types of consumers. Basically, a show like Weeds has a large group of potential consumers. The Showtime airing of the weekly show would not reach many of these people who do not have timeshifting capabilities and who cannot watch it when it's on or who do not pay to have Showtime. Those who do timeshift may never find the program unless they watch Showtime often enough to see promotions for the program.
By making the product available on DVD and online, the producers have been able to expand the Weeds fan base considerably, not hamper their own sales. Sure, customers are not willing to buy the same product over and over again, but a show downloaded from iTunes and a show to collect on DVD are vastly different products, even if they are two releases of the same programming.
Thanks to David Edery for passing this along as well.
Henry Jenkins asked that I also pass along this post about Robot Chicken to this blog from his blog promoting his new book, Convergence Culture:
I recently had a chance to catch up with the first season DVD of The Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken series and found it an interesting illustration of some of the trends I discuss in Convergence Culture. For those of you not in the know, Robot Chicken is a fifteen minute long, fast-paced and tightly-edited, stop motion animation series, produced by Seth Green (formerly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Austin Powers) and Matthew Senreich: think of it as a sketch comedy series where all of the parts of played by action figures. The show spoofs popular culture--vintage and contemporary--mixing and matching characters with the same reckless abandon as a kid playing on the floor with his favorite collectibles.
For example, the first episode I ever saw included a Real World: Metropolis segment where Superman, Aquaman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, the Hulk, and other superheroes share an apartment and deal with real life issues, such as struggles for access to the bathroom or conflicts about who is going to do household chores. The same episode also included an outrageous parody of Kill Bil l, in which Jesus does battle with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and George Burns (as God). And a spoof of American Idol where the contestants are zombies of dead rock stars and the judges are breakfast cereal icons--Frankenberry (as Randy), Booberry (as Paula) and Count Chocula (as Simon).
The humor is sometimes sophomoric (in the best and worst senses of the word)--lots of jokes about masturbation, farting, vomiting, and random violence--an entire "nutcracker suite" sequence consists of nothing but various characters getting hit or kicked in the groin. Yet, at its best, it manages to force us to look at the familiar icons of popular culture from a fresh perspective: one of my favorite segments features a series of breakfast cereal icons (Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Captain Crunch, The Trix Rabbit, and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun) as forming an international drug cartel smuggling "sugar" into the country. Many of the sketches depend on the juxtaposition of toys remembered fondly from childhood with adult realities (such as a segment which restages the violent murders of S7even within the Smurf kingdom): it has all of the transgressive appeal of cross-dressing a G.I. doll or staging a ritual hanging of Barney the Dinosaur, speaking to a generation which has only partially outgrown its childhood obsessions.
On the heels of Nielsen announcing the move away from paper and into completely digital media consumption measurements, including counts of media consumption away from the home, over the next few years comes the news of ratings for commercials.
By this fall, the media research company will be providing ratings for braodcast networks showing the average ratings of their commercials playing nationwide. The data will provide not only live viewers but those who watch the programs on digital recorders within a week.
In a story on Nielsen's announcement yesterday, Jon Lafayette of TelevisionWeek quoted David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS, as saying that the ratings would play a part in price negotiations for the next season but would not affect this year's deals. Poltrack warned that commercial avoidance will definitely be noticeable in the numbers but that the number has remained steady for years and that new techologies have not increased commercial avoidance. Instead, he "questioned the sincerity" of ad buyers for why they wanted the information and figured that it might be a negotiation ploy to lower the cost of national ads.
Whatever the case, accountability for commercials, in as accurate as Nielsen data is going to be, is a positive thing for measuring where the 30-second spot is at. David Poltrack came to MIT this past semester and spoke about changes in the media industry. As you can imagine, he was well-versed and very forward-thinking about CBS' role, but it is still a company invested in the 30-second spot system. There must have been some pretty heavy pressure from advertisers to succeed in getting a push like this, for Nielsen numbers for their ads.
If Nielsen continues with their push for active/passive viewer measurement as well, I wonder if we will eventually be able to also have attempts to measure the level of engagement people have during certain ads. We might find that particularly creative ads catch people's attention and ads placed right before a show comes back from commercial break, etc. But, even though I still question the validity of many Nielsen numbers, I think this will provide some basis for discussion.
According to a press release on the Web site TV Shows on DVD, Warner Home Video has finally announced that they will be releasing the first season of the 1980s sitcom Mama's Family on DVD this September.
Last December, I blogged about this Web site and the potential power it gives for communication between fan communities and content distributors when it comes to the potential market for releasing a product from the archives. On the site, people vote for their favorite shows that have not yet been released on DVD, and fan communities often lobby actively to move their show higher up the rating, with the feeling that companies are taking notice at the popularity shows have on this site.
I had participated actively in getting Mama's Family released on DVD, a childhood favorite. Later that month, I blogged about the potential success we were having.
However, for the past six months, there was no news after Warner first said that it was considering releasing the show. Mama's Family despite last airing 16 years ago, maintains a few active online sites dedicated to discussing the show, still in reruns on TBS, including some that have continued daily postings from fans.
In the press release, WHV VP Rosemary Markson says that, "For years fans have anxiously been asking us to release it on DVD and we are delighted to bring it to consumers at last."
The show only lasted on network television for two yeras before moving to syndication, where it continued to prosper throughout the 1980s. In reruns, the show has gained more continued popularity among the fan community than in its initial airing. For those of us who are in that community, it's a great victory. And we would like to think that our vote on TV Shows on DVD made a difference in showing how the power of fan communities can benefit both fans and producers alike.
Oxygen has once again launched an on-demand preview for an original movie it will be airing on its main channel this week, marking the third time the channel has used on-demand to hype both the airing of a new movie and the channel itself.
The movie, called Banshee, has been previewed since last Thursday and will continue to be until Wednesday. The linear debut of Banshee will be next Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.
The on-demand option seems to be a good way both to experiment with shifts in distribution and also to catch those flipping through on-demand options with a strong piece of programming tied to Oxygen. This way, those who might consider Oxygen programming as inferior or who may never even give the channel a shot can get a taste of sample programming.
Since Oxygen has tried this tactic twice before and continues to do so, it is an indication that the network does not consider making the movie available before its release to have substantial damage to its initial rating as a network premiere. In fact, it's likely--if the product is good--that allowing previews and making the launch date clear on the previews will cause word-of-mouth to increase the number for the network debut.
And, as a marketing tool, a strong product available on-demand may create new viewers for Oxygen.
The Greatest Five Mintues of L. Brent Bozell's Year
The Book of Job reminds us all that bad things often happen to very good people. And, if that's the case, it must be conversely true that, very often, great things happen to pretty crummy people.
And that's the case this week for the pit bull attacking the leg of free speech, The Parents Television Council, when our heralded leader President George W. Bush signed into law the raising of fines for television indecency from $32,500 to $325,000.
For those of you who want to know more, never fear--the PTC has included a complete transcript of what President Bush said for those five minutes when he signed the bill into law. And, for anyone who can't read, they also provide video. Hey, the PTC may not be fans of almost everything about what we call "convergence culture," since they consider shows like According to Jim to be heavily offensive to moral sensibilities (learned that one from Stephen Colbert)...But they sure do know how to be pretty media savvy. And, surprise! The video they show comes from Fox News Network.
Go look around the PTC Web site. They have difinitive proof about how free speech on television is destroying our country. Watching MTV for an hour makes kids more lkely to approve of pre-marital sex (just imagine what watching every day might do!) I guess we should be ashamed of our partners here at C3. And, in their press release celebrating victory, Bozell said this, which has been quoted in numerous news articles about the story, "They (the public) are fed up with the sexually raunchy and gratuitously violent content that's broadcast over the public airwaves, particularly during hours when millions of children are in the viewing audience."
In a subsequent online column about this issue, Bozell asks, "How can our media elite find so much pessimism in our society about our future in Iraq, or our future planetary health, or our future economic success, and totally ignore the public's pessimism about how Hollywood -- that is to say, they -- are polluting the culture?" This shows how powerful rhetoric can be when you turn a whole industry of creative people into one mass evil body..."they." More a propos to the "they" are groups like the PTC who directly tell people what they think, send out form letters to be mailed to people, and then claim how many people have spoken.
This site is dedicated to the vibrant possibilities that a new media landscape affords to us through convergence culture, but censorship initiatives like this endanger public expression by lumping everyone in the media industry into a "they" seeking to corrupt children...and, of course, anytime a group wants to attack an industry, the "children" line is always the infallible answer.
Bozell concludes with the point that "the four largest networks and 800 oftheir affiliates quietly have gone to court demanding the right to air the F-word and the S-word on the public airwaves any time and anywhere they wish, no matter how many children are watching."
And this is a guy who is consistently quoted in newspapers as an expert. An expert in rhetoric and distortion, maybe. Sure, there are plenty of things on television that I think is just done for sex, violence, or language's sake that is too "shock TV' in nature. And I wish every program had quality writing and imagination, but that isn't the way creativity works...you get a lot of bad stuff when you let people be free, but you also get a lot of quality.
In short, I believe that there's nothing more dangerous to American values than L. Brent Bozell, and continued initiatives like this can dampen the spirit of convergence culture like nothing else...
Last night, I set my DVR (gasp!) to record The Colbert Report to my hard drive. I watched it a few hours ago and was surprised when his popular "The Word" segment featured a current Congressional debate that was the topic of one of my posts here last week: the push to raise indecency fines for television broadcasters by adding a zero to the end.
For those who haven't seen Colbert's "The Word" segment, he goes through a verbal diatribe while a graphic beside him displays one-liners that either contradict or further illustrates points that he's making. On this particular episode, he was discussing the current drive by conservative Christian "family" groups like the Parents Television Council to define what's indecent on television.
Colbert mocked how the group's encouragement of free speech and citizen voice was really nothing more than ventriloquism, as a recent drive to protest the show Without a Trace containing a scene simulating an orgy resulted in a massive numbers of form letters computer-generated by members of a group like this through their Web site.
Colbert's main complaint with this proposal is both that this type of encouragement of censorship is outside the purview of what our government should be doing in the first place, which I wholeheartedly agree with, but also that raising the fees will cause networks to become more and more gun shy of airing any new or potentially controversial types of programming, lest the PTC have its sensibilities offended. That's the point that I made in my blog post last week, that these initiatives could greatly hinder the autonomy of show creators and writers to create meaningful, interesting, artistic, and challenging content. In other words, censorship is hardly ever a good thing.
On Colbert's "snippet" preview of his show on The Daily Show, he spoofed product placement by bringing us his pre-show, sponsored by Coca-Cola, in which he did nothing but drink a Coke and then advertise his post-show, sponsored by Budweiser, with a huge Budweiser graphic. This coincides with the drive we've had since this blog's beginning toward understanding the difference between product placement and product integration, which I posted about a couple of weeks ago.
But, could these be coincidences? Maybe Mr. Colbert is reading this blog every night after his show airs. If so, Stephen Colbert deserves a "tip of the hat."
(By the way, if you're interested in watching this particular episode of The Colbert Report, it's available on iTunes).
Considering my previous post about what has been labeled "gated" channel distribution, such as is the case with the SoapNetic series only being available on Verizon, comes something more along the line of the model I'm thinking of--Sundance will be launching a new series on the AOL Black Voices Web site before it debuts on its show.
Of course, AOL helped pioneer the "gated" channel concept on television, as I can remember the stress one had in the mid-1990s if some of their favorite media content was available exclusively to AOL members and others were available exclusively to Prodigy members.
But this newest initiative shows how much their thinking has switched. Sundance will be launching its new series House of Boateng, which is based on fashion designer Ozwald Boateng launching his first clothing line in America. The series will debut on the AOL site on June 20 and will play that Tuesday and Wednesday before debuting at 9 p.m. next Thursday night.
AOL Black Voices is a major online initiative to reach African-American audiences.
I think this is just the right idea to create buzz for a new show among a target audience. Of course, that type of approach only works if the show you have is worth creating the right kind of buzz for. Sometimes, movies that don't release their films early for reviewers have the right idea--they don't want to kill any buzz for their release. In this case, though, I think Sundance has the right idea, as long as they believe in their product.
It will be interesting to see how many downloads it gets in the two days prior to the series premiere on television with the numbers the show brings in. Will the exposure on Black Voices create a grassroots word-of-mouth for the target audience in time to get more views for the program's opening on television?
And, if so, will the Nielsen numbers be able to reflect that word-of-mouth, which depends on your faith in current measurement systems, I guess.
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.
I was watching a rerun of CSI last week when Gil Grissom made the joke, one of his usual one-liners, that there were way too many crime investigation shows on TV. For fans of diversity in broadcast network programming, there's probably a lot of consensus at that dig at the prevalence of a genre that CSI has led the drive for in many ways. But, of course, we've always had these trends (Westerns in the late 1950s being one of the best examples).
Some have made the claim that shows like this aren't destined to do as well in downloads and such because they are so episodic in nature and don't have the seriality that drives the need to watch and own that shows that build on themselves from week to week do.
However, both Law and Order and CSI seems to do well in DVD boxed sets, which seems to destroy some of that. There is a tendency among television historians and critics, at least those of us here at MIT, to dismiss these more episodic shows as not taking enough advantage of the seriality of television, but there is at least enough character development or at least interesting characters that it continues to interest people.
And, as all the crime investigation shows invade iTunes with these newest moves, it serves as a strong reminder that episodic television has its place and its power in the digital world as well as on cable and broadcast television. Those who claim that these shows only work because they are push media that just offer an episode to people flipping through channels don't realize how much these become "pull" media that people seek out--and, if iTunes are any indication, episodes that people are willing to download, even if they deny much of the serial power of television.
2006 appears more and more to be the Year of the Telenovela in America, as network executives have already turned their eye toward the power of telenovelas and soap operas to garner a continued audience. The American soap industry has had a fall from grace and dwindling ratings due to the increase of so many new programming choices over the past 20 years, but few--if any--types of programming are better at garnering continued viewing from its ardent fan base. And few programs are more ripe for timeshifting of various sorts. After all, a whole cable channel--SOAPnet--is currently being powered by providing nighttime viewing of daytime soaps, and many of today's soap viewers--for instance, me--are timeshifting soaps using digital recorders because they are working during the time they officially air.
Telenovelas are an interesting branch from the soap opera, as short-term soaps that examine one particular storyline with a smaller cast and then end when that storyline is over.
News came out earlier this week that Lifetime has ordered a 20-episode run of the telenovela Bianca, based on a popular German program that had the same name.
This comes on the heels of the development of a sixth broadcast network called My Network TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The network, which is planning to pick up many of the stations that are losing network affiliation in the fall with the merger of UPN and The WB into the CW Network, will be powered, at least initially, on soap operas and telenovelas.
The network launched from several FOX-owned UPN affiliates who were losing their network and has expanded into various other major markets already; New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Antonio and many others. Overall, the network already has 150 affiliates or more at this point.
Right now, programming will focus on only two shows, airing 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. EST, but the two soaps will air six days a week. The stations will fill up the rest of the day with syndicated programming. Both soaps will be telenovelas, named Desire and Secret Obsessions. After 13 weeks, each soap will begin a new story unrelated to the prior focus. Therefore, the overall program is just a blanket name for the telenovela series, while each 13-week show will have its own title.
While my home city of Boston has yet to find an affiliate, FOX is going to carry the network from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. so that Bostonians do not miss out on Desire and Secret Obsessions. (Thanks to the Wikipedia page for providing some of that information.)
How powerful will the telenovela form be? Because of its 13-week structure, the shows may be able to garner a powerful audience during each 13-week run. However, unlike American daytime soap operas, the storylines from one 13-week arc to the next will be unrelated. Will Desire and Secret Obsessions carry any long-term vitality without that ability to depict the lives of characters on a daily basis over a number of years?
Those party poopers at TiVo are trying to cause more problems for tradition-lovers. First, they had to mess with the idea of live programming, and now they're getting desperate enough to try and further blur the lines between what is Internet programming and what is television.
TiVo announced on Wednesday that they are launching the new TiVoCast. For the 400,000 TiVo boxes that have high-speed Internet, the boxes will allow them to watch Internet video on their television set.
But...wait....if this program can be viewed on the television set...what is television, anyway? Most people have moved past the antenna phase, so it's not broadcast. And services like TiVo and DVRs (and even that dreaded VCR of yesteryear) have already done all they could to obliterate the liveness and the scheduling power of television networks.
TiVo's feeling enough pressure from all the DVR services provided by cable companies and DVRs with hard drives that many people value over the TiVo service.
We had a class at MIT this past semester in which a few of my colleagues and I debated at length what television really is, anyway. If it's not defined by its broadcasting or its liveness or screen size, what makes television different than any other video material? Or does it really matter anymore?
Seeing that the announcement came on Wednesday, I'm sure that, by the time I've posted this, there's already a group of lawyers ready to issue a statement from someone about the latest lawsuit to try and stop TiVo. But, again...it's like trying to hold a tsunami back with toilet paper.
Is It The Tonight Show if You Watch It the Next Morning?
Network wars seem to be battled as often online as on television these days. Previous posts have outlined issues such as the expansion of news content online by NBC and ABC. However, now the deals for ways in which content can be accessed on iTunes are increasing experimentation.
Case in point: the new distribution deal for Jay Leno's Tonight Show, which airs on NBC. The network's staple late show was launched on iTunes in December with sample episodes lasting less than five minutes in length, according to Michele Greppi's article in TelevisionWeek. Now, Leno's complete monologue will be made available for download, as well as comedy bits from the show.
Each set of clips will cost the traditional $1.99, but a 20-monologue mutipass will cost $9.99.
Will avid Leno fans be willing to download episodes, or will fans choose to cash in on a multipass? And, if Leno is successful, maybe we'll see an online reprisal of the Letterman vs. Leno wars. Perhaps an even better question--how does the loss of timeliness affect the entire idea of a "late show?" In the end, is programming that suggests its temporality such as news or daily variety shows as easy to turn into paid downloadable content, stripped of its "airing time"? How will shows like The Tonight Show perform alongside more serial fare such as Lost or Desperate Housewives?
According to Jon Lafayette of TelevisionWeek, CBS is taking over the lead in advertising deals with significant increases, moving past main competitor ABC, with CBS ranging a 2 percent to 4 percent price increase.
This comes on the heels of Lafayette's story yesterday detailing ABC's decision to back off of counting DVR viewers in overall numbers for advertisers and instead concentrate only on live ratings. The network originally claimed it would only do deals that counted viewing on digital video recorders, but advertisers had strong concerns that those recording on DVRs would be very unlikely to watch commercial breaks.
ABC's statement issued about rescinding the demand for inclusion of DVR numbers included the following comment: "While the majority of the advertising community has reached a consensus on the Nielsen DVR ratings issue, and has concluded that that commercials seen during a DVR-recorded programming have no value, the ABC Television Network continues to believe strongly in the worth of the 'Live Plus' viewer, and will continue its efforts to include this audience." Lafayette's story today indicated his belief that this drive for DVR inclusion is what caused ABC to drop from its perch, while every other network continued conducting business based only on live viewers.
What amazes me about the whole discussion is how vehemently everyone is holding to the traditional 30-second spot, when more and more people are moving to DVRs. It may not be that shocking to see the crowd around a "technology" school like MIT raving about DVRs, but more and more of them are cropping up around Kentucky, where I'm staying this summer.
I'll be interested in seeing how long people will hold to the non-DVR numbers. Hopefully, we won't get to the point where the nation's ad rate will be determined by a few households somewhere in the hills of North Dakota.
In the meantime, ABC's failed system doesn't seem to address the problem. Skeptics were right in that people are likely not watching commercials on their DVR. It's instead an indication that we need to have a major reconceptualization of how the industry obtains its profits, maybe even something along the lines of Erick Schonfeld's recommendations for Time-Warner.
As Schonfeld says, media companies are "groping for ways to fix their businesses before all content goes digital and their financial assumptions go out the window." Maybe Schonfeld's recommendations--such as an emphasis on content and fans instead of distribution and products--are a propos for the major networks as well.
Meanwhile, most of the experimentation continues to happen in the cable industry, such as WE's decision to let John Frieda's Luminous Color Glaze and the film The Devil Wears Prada to sponsor its hit show Bridezillas. Moving to these types of arrangements seem to cause fewer problems in the long-run than all the continued haggling to hang on to the vestiges of the 30-second spot.
After a nostalgia DVD about ECW exceeded expectations and a reunion pay-per-view sold really well, the company has seen the profitability in bringing this brand back. In fact, the company's demise actually seems to have played into its mythic status, as the WWE content about ECW sold far more than ECW ever did. After all, low ratings on TNN was one of the contributing factors to the original demise of the company.
It remains to be seen how fans will react to this re-launching and if they will buy WWE's version of ECW as a valid descendant of the original. WWE has assigned the former owner of ECW, Paul Heyman, to oversee this incarnation, which may buy the project quite a bit of credibility with fans. One thing's for sure--the company has gained a surge in stock price after adding ECW to its already successful RAW brand on USA and Smackdown brand on what will soon be the CW Network.
However, one major question that fans have--how will ECW fit in with the Sci Fi Network? It was assigned there because WWE is only allowed to air its products on NBC-affiliated networks, and Sci Fi was the only network significantly interested. However, many Sci Fi fans are, shall we say, skeptical as to whether a pro wrestling show can really fit in with the mantra of the network, since wrestling ostensibly has only loose connections at best with science fiction (and The Undertaker won't even be in ECW!) But Sci Fi President Bonnie Hammer has worked with WWE in the past and feels confident that ECW will fit in well with Sci Fi.
The ECW weekly show will debut on Tuesday, June 13. Dave Meltzer reports that some rumors have circulated that the network may require ECW to have a science fiction storyline at any given time, a move that would likely anger hardcore ECW fans while doing nothing to appease the Sci Fi fans, since it would obviously not be a natural part of the wrestling product. However, Meltzer has found that the only current plans are to include a group of wrestlers that are vampirish, something that actually has a history in the WWE with The Brood.
USA Network will air a special on Wednesday night related to ECW, and the next reunion PPV is next Sunday, all leading up to the program's debut the following Tuesday. WWE has already moved one of its bigger RAW stars, Rob Van Dam, and arguably the greatest wrestler on Smackdown, Kurt Angle, to ECW full-time, in an attempt to bring a significant number of new fans to the ECW brand. But what will be the repercussions of airing the program on the Sci Fi Network? Will their be a backlash among hardcore Sci-Fi fans to the wrestling programming? How will hardcore ECW fans react to the reincarnation? And can ECW attract new fans on a full-time basis?
Since WWE only had the Sci Fi Network to choose from, it seems worth the risk to explore the selling power of the ECW name and to use the brand to create new stars and another alternative brand to its RAW and Smackdown shows. If the brand remains viable, it will be great for the wrestling business, with three WWE full rosters in addition to the TNA wrestling promotion airing on Spike TV and owned by Panda Energy.
But will it be successful? We'll begin to find out next week.
Study Released on Television Viewing Among Infants, Young Children
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61 percent of infants watch an hour of "screen media," primarily television, a day, while 90 percent of children 4-6 watch an average of about two hours of television.
The results of this study highlights recent developments in the television industry, such as the creation of BabyFirst TV, the first television network for infants, coming off the popularity of the Baby Einstein products.
My cousin and his wife regularly babysit for their friends and claim that Baby Einstein is intellectual crack for babies, as it almost always captivates the child. This phenomenon is undeniable. However, camps are divided about what that means. On the one hand, there are media effects theorists who cringe at the very thought of infants being subjected to the evil dumbing down of America and exposed to commercialism at such a young age. For instance, I have a couple in my extended family, both of whom are doctors, who will not allow their child near a television for her first few years of intellectual development.
Then, there's our director Henry Jenkins, once quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying that not allowing children to watch television is a form of child abuse. (The comment was meant a little tongue-in-cheek, of course, but that context was lost in the quotation.) But the theme is essentially close to how I feel. Media literacy is important, and television that appeals to the learning patterns of infants is not harmful and potentially very helpful in the conceptual process, since we live in such a media-saturated environment. Learning how to understand and cope with that media is important, and media has truly become the way we communicate as a culture. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are moving television intiatives into even an infant market.
As you all have probably heard by now, half of the big studios and networks are suing Cablevision for their DVR service, due to copyright issues. The disagreement here relates to how the service that Cablevision offers is defined. By Cablevision's definition, the company is offering a DVR service, with the only difference being that, instead of allowing customers to record shows onto a digital hard drive or a disc, it is stored on secure customer space within Cablevision.
All the companies who file the suit say that this is not DVR but instead video-on-demand because the "recorded" material remains in the hands of the company instead of recorded directly by the consumer. They claim that such movements will cause damage to all the new and innovative services that they are offering, such as mobisodes, iTunes downloads, web streaming, video on-demand, etc.
To me, though, this just seems like displaying insecurity with their own technology. If they are confident that viewers want web streaming or mobisodes or any of these other products, then Cablevision's technology won't be a major factor. True innovation won't be protected by stifling the innovation of others. Of course, I may not be grasping the whole story here, but it seems like yet another prohibitionist move motivated by scared companies who are worried about giving up too much control.
Turner Classic Movies Reaching for Younger Audience
Turner Classic Movies will be reaching out to a younger audience with an attempt to refine its brand. According to announcements last week, the network will begin airing programming including a cult movie feature that will come on late at night, hosted by Rob Zombie.
Zombie's show is one of several recent ventures by TCM to reach out to younger viewers. I personally don't see any conflicts with these types of projects, as long as they retain the overall intent of TCM. When brands try to stretch themselves so far that they lose any sense of their raison d'etre, they run the risk of losing their key constituency.
While some of their other original projects may be taking some of the focus away from the "classic" part of Turner Classic Movies, the idea of using current cult stars to look into former cult film favorites is perfect, especially considering that Zombie's own films have been greatly influenced by cult classics of the past. The project should attract new and younger viewers while not straying so far from the focus of TCM that it would anger the fans of classic movies that support the network.
It will be interesting to see how well the show is received by new fans and by the existing TCM fan base.
Not that long ago, I had a discussion with a seasoned veteran of television writing who was not happy with orders from above of blatant product integration in the show that person was writing for.
It's been a common and growing complaint, so much so that the Writers Guild of America East recently released a statement calling for regluations of integration and inclusion of actors and writers both on the process of deciding appropriate uses of product integration and also to be included in the benefits.
According to a story by Jon Lafayette for TelevisionWeek, the writers called for a distinction to be made between "product placement" and "product integration." In this case, they are arguing against the use of blatant product placement versus natural product placement, an issue that has been close to our reserach over the past year, particularly through the research of my C3 colleague Alec Austin.
Some television programs allow for product integration, using the WGA distinction, more than others. Particularly, it seems that reality television shows or sporting events are not as badly hurt by the extensive use of sponsor names because it doesn't seem as absurd. Both are already controlled environments and in fact gain their narrative drive from that contrived situation, whether it be a game or a reality competition.
However, in fictional dramatic or comedy series, product integration can easily destroy the viewer's suspension of disbelief in a way that detracts from viewer involvement and the perceived aristry of a show.
Yet, episodes of Seinfeld and Sex and the City prove that episodes can have a particular brand name or product involved deeply in an episode without detracting from the power of the show, if it is not something imposed on the writers but instead something the creative team is a part of from the conception.
So, I don't see the WGA's call for inclusion as a threat but rather a great benefit to the future of effective product placement. When creative teams are saying that they see the economic reality of product placement but only object to it being done poorly, it seems they've found a mantra that the entire industry should get behind.
Convergence Brings Old Companies to New Media, Reverse Effect
In the past week or two, we've seen major moves by established "old media" corporations to further in-roads in digital technology. But, of course, I use the designator "old media" for television networks only loosely because it's becoming increasingly difficult to define networks as "television oriented," considering how rapidly almost every major name is moving content in different directions.
For instance, there's our partner here at C3, MTV Networks, and their new URGE product, cashing in on the cultural cache of MTV, CMT, and VH1 with a digital downloading service that offers exclusive content from the established "old media" names.
Or look at ABC's initial success with streaming ad-supported content online, annoucing that tests with streaming content to 2.5 million views in under three weeks led to an 86 percent recall rate for advertising. Each ABC program downloaded included three advertisements.
Conversely, Google has now expanded into video ads online, and CBS and AOL have announced an unprecedented plan for a transmedia reality television experience with their fall Gold Rush, a reality show that will be launched among multiple platforms and will allow people across the country to participate in a search for piles of gold. For those interested in alterative reality gaming, Mark Burnett's Gold Rush should be a fascinating experiment.
With new experiments being announced almost every day, the power of "old media" or established "new media" companies is obvious, and companies should be applauded for taking the risks to see what consumers will and will not respond to. Sure, ABC's dumping of content is a lot safer of a move than Gold Rush, but both are indicative of a trend across the industry.
Will the value of various MTV Networks carry Urge to success, and will ABC capitalize on their discovery of initial success with streaming by offering more content, original content, archived content? Media companies are realizing that those that discover the most successful new formulas for transmedia storytelling and new platform distribution will be standing strongest once we eventually reach a point of convergence stabilization. But, in the meantime, we have an exciting job trying to make heads or tails of what's happening in the midst of this age of media transition.
Forget Gold Rush. It seems that it's the moves by the company themselves that's the most fascinting multiplayer reality game of all...We've just yet to see who leaves with the stacks of gold.
A quick look through the top news items for TelevisionWeek this week reveals that fury with which the industry is moving toward the adoption of new delivery services and just how hard it is to keep track of what moves everyone is making.
For instance, CBS will be offering the finale of Survivor free on-demand through a few Comcast markets, with General Motors sponsoring the episode, marking the first instance of a major network show being sponsored and offered for free on-demand. Fox, meanwhile, is beginning to launch some of its most popular series for download on iTunes. And NBC Universal is restructuring its corporate hierarchy to make the push for digital distribution more seamless.
Meanwhile, Bravo is launching BrilliantButCancelled.com, a broadband channel which will air short-lived series that had cult followings, while VH1 is unleashing an online gaming site dedicated to VH1-branded games, in addition to a package of classic games.
CEO Eric Schmidt has announced a refining of video-sharing capabilities and improved search options for Google, while Yahoo en Espanol and Telemundo are combining their online sites to create Yahoo Telemundo, in an effort to better target Hispanic consumers.
Warner Brothers is now teaming up with BitTorrent to offer Web-based downloads of its television shows and movies, available for a fee the same day Warner Brothers properties are released in retail stores. The downloads will be able to be burned onto DVD but must remain on the hard drive of the computer it was downloaded on.
The moves within the industry are coming daily now, and the partnerships of Yahoo and Telemundo, for instance, or BItTorrent and Warner Brothers show how many top companies are beginning to think further and further outside the box and through new linkages in order to come out of the rush to new platforms and new distribution methods on top.
Volvo has launched a new television spot parodying a broadcast news report about how the population is expanding and people are living longer. What's to blame? Volvo, of course, becuase of the safety features of their cars.
I first saw the ad while watching a rerun episode of Saturday Night Live and thought it was an SNL-produced commercial for a little while until I realized that it was from Volvo.
I personally found it pretty engaging and creative, a great way to catch the viewer with an entertaining commercial clearly linked the product, so as to avoid the problem that shows like this often run into by having a creative commercial that people remember without the product itself being an essential part of the message.
On the downside--I've always considered Volvo a car whose price isn't accessible to everyone, so the idea that people are living longer becuase Volvo is protecting the life of the population does undermine one message that Volvo has often sent--that of being a car to aspire to, a car that not everyone can own. Maybe they are trying to change their image in that regard, to be considered a more mainstream car than before.
But, overall, an effective campaign. Anyone else have any thoughts on it?
Talk Shows and Soap Operas Make You Stupid? Or Do They Just Indicate That You Are Losing Your Cognitive Abilities?
For those of you who follow my posts here on the C3 site regarding soap opera, and for those of you who care about the way television is viewed in general, you'll love this gem that was published yesterday evening in a story by Amy Norton on Reuters about an upcoming study to be published in the Southern Medical Journal.
A test proves that watching talk shows and soap operas is somehow tied to "poorer mental scores" in the elderly. Although a causal relationship can not yet be identified, the test indicates that those elderly people who chose "talk shows and soap operas" as their favorite programs tended to have lower cognative abilities than those who chose news programs, for instance.
I don't even think I have to respond for you to know what I think, but I wonder how "talk shows and soap operas" can be considered a category of television in the first place, or if a lot of other factors should be taken into consideration--for instance, as has happened with wrestling in the past, many viewers with a higher education level are less likely to admit their passion for genres like soap opera and talk shows (two separate genres, again, which the study does not distinguish between), even if they are, in actuality, one of their favorite shows.
Among my favorite quotes:
Dr. Fogel, who led the study, says that a preference for talk shows and soap operas "is a marker of something suspicious" in the health of patients and encourages doctors to ask elderly female patients about what might be their favorite TV shows as a way to indicate potential cognitive decline.
Considering, the constant switches, the intricate plots, and the sheer number of characters you have to keep up with, I have a hard time believing that mastering a soap opera can lead to cognitive decline. But I guess we should be happy that people have found such a great new use for television--as a way of proving a lack of brainpower depending on what people's favorite programs are.
Dr. Fogel hypothesizes that elderly people who are losing their thinking power watch soaps and talk shows because of the "parasocial relationships" that the shows encourage, so that people who can't think as clearly can revel in the emotional connection they feel with soap characters and talk shows and can thus pay attention, despite their diminished mental capabilities.
Fogel says that this doesn't mean these shows are bad for you but rather than they could signal "a possible problem."
But don't worry. Fogel finds that, while watching talk shows and soap operas might indicate diminished mental capacities, there might be some television programming out there that can benefit the intellect and help viewers manage stress.
Good. I was starting to get concerned that all our studies were for naught.
The essay, "Mister Sparkle Meets the Yakuza: Depictions of Japan in The Simpsons, written by Hugo Dobson from the University of Sheffield in England, provides an intriguing case study into some of the very aspects of pop cosmopolitanism my colleagues and I have mentioned here on this site before. The Simpsons actually seems very interested in depictions of international culture throughout its run, and its an international popular culture phenomenon.
For Dobson, this means that tracking the way Japan has been depicted throughout the run of the show has all sorts of implications, on images of Japan in America. Considering the influx of Japanese animation in America, how might this relationship to Japanese characters in American animation be compared?
Pop cosmopolitanism has multi-directional flow, both import and export, and these have implications that are not always directly economic, although everything is an economic factor it seems. Hugo Dobson, a self-admitted Simpsons fan and a scholar on Japanese culture, is interested in the cultural implications and accusations of racism in The Simpsons, but his insights have a wide variety of implications on pop cosmopolitanism (especially juxtaposed with all the articles several months ago about The Simpsons' launch into Arabic-speaking countries).
It's well worth a look if you're interested in these issues, and I would love to spark up some debate about the essay here, if anyone else has a chance to look it over.
The big news in the entertainment industry today (well, technically yesterday now) has been the announced merger of the two newest American television networks, the WB and UPN. Both groups, who have competed consistently for the "number five" spot among Nielsen ratings, have had a few successes over the years but have lacked the ability to pull themselves far enough into success to avoid constant concern about folding.
The stations obviously hope that the merger will strenghen the lineup and make a fifth network alternative a permanent reality. At this point, the two stations will be taking the best shows in their lineup to put on the merged network in the fall.
Already, fan communities invovled in the various WB and UPN shows are concerned as to how this might affect their shows. The negatives is that some shows will have to be dropped when the networks are chosen. On the other hand, the positive is that the lineup for the new network--which will be called the CW Network--should be a much stronger contender.
How should the executives interact with the fan bases to decide what to keep and what to discard from the network lineup? What are the futures of shows that don't make the cut? Is this a place where transmedia could come in, where the network could promote shows that can't make the television lineup through the Internet?
Should the network think about branding itself in choosing content or instead choose the top shows from both networks, even if they don't fall into a consistent brand?
Oldie television ads continue to prove how powerful retroactive advertising and appealing to fans along the lines of history can be.
The use of vintage footage featuring Orville Redenbacher in advertisements is the focus of Brian Steinberg's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal entitled "Why Oldie TV Ads Make Comeback."
Sure, part of this is a drive on the part of advertisers, but the more important question is whether this is advertisers trying to create a trend or something that fans desire, and it seems to me that retro advertising and reviving old advertising lines remains very much in style and in demand from fans of brand communities.
What is the appeal of retro branding? There have been some great minds, including one of our partners Rob Kozinets and others, who have examined some of these very issues...It seems that honoring history is an important part of many fan communities and that such ads both reward longterm fans who have a memory of the brand at the point retro commercials initially aired and that newer members of brand community might feel rewarded with understanding the brand more by seeing its roots, so to speak...where it came from.
Fellow C3 member Ivan Askwith accompanied my wife and me to dinner last night, where we had a heckuva time getting the attention of the parking attendant, who was busy watching Telemundo. The incident made me think back to a news brief I read in The New York Times on Wednesday, written by Kate Aurthur.
Beginning next week, Nielsen Media Research as announced that it will begin measuring the national numbers for Spanish-language Univision. The companies announced this decision jointly on Monday. A story by Katy Bachman in MediaWeek this week covers the announcement in more detail.
According to The Times, Univision is the first Spanish-language network to subscribe to the Nielsen tracking numbers and hope to be able to get a better idea of the viewing practices of Hispanic viewers.
Then, on Wednesday, Telemundo announced that they would be joining the Nielsen National Television Index along with Univision.
Considering the growing importance of the Hispanic market, the move might make a change in how Hispanic consumers and Spanish-language channels are viewed in American culture. Most television programmers are still quite unsure how to handle the Hispanic market. For instance, Vince McMahon's WWE has, at times, produced some of the top-rated English language programming among Spanish-speaking viewers but the company still seems unsure of how to tap into that market completely while retaining their overall audience.
Nielsen has a National Hispanic Television Index, which Univision and Telemundo were subscribers to, but that index only calculates the Hispanic audience of the networks. The new move could have major long-term implications on the measurement of audiences of Spanish-speaking programming, an audience that is likely to continue growing heavily in the coming years. And, from our point of interest, how might acknowleding this Hispanic audience change the scope of television programming to reflect this audience? Should be interesting to see what happens...
I've been keeping you up-to-date about my participation in an Internet effort in trying to get the television show Mama's Family released on DVD. I have signed petitions and joined the online effort on the Web site TV Shows on DVD to try and get Warner Brothers to release the show.
Right now, the only place to watch the show is through its daily airing on our partner Turner Broadcasting's TBS Network. However, fans are increasingly wanting to own these shows themselves as a sign of support, a lovemark for the brand. So it is with Mama's Family.
A "news story" from the TV Shows on DVD Web site indicates that the move to put the show on DVD may have come from the heavy show of support for Mama's Family on the Web site, where it remained #11 of the most requested shows yet to be released on DVD.
With fans continuing to request so adamantly these archived TV shows, one has to wonder how powerful the market of looking at fans as reviving retro shows and brands can really be.
And keep your fingers crossed for me on my quest to bring the Harpers closer to my DVD shelf.
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 short article by Jeff Jensen, focused on the success of Whedon's cancelled TV series Firefly being released on DVD and the disappointing box-office performance of Whedon's Serenity but also examined some of Whedon's upcoming projects.
He declares the comic book series he is currently working with to be "the eighth season we never made," which has interesting implications for transmedia storytelling.
Furthermore, they pbriefly mention the possibility of straight-to-DVD films featuring characters from the Buffy universe, such as Spike.
Whether you're a fan of Buffy or not, do you think there is some promise in extending the life of the Buffy property through these DVD films and the comic book series? Whedon seems to be on the cutting edge of mainstream cultural producers who are experimenting with what transmedia can do, but what do you all think?
An excellent article from The Hollywood Reporter covers Viacom's rapid adaptation to the transmedia mentality. Viacom CEO and President Tom Freston has had a lot of forward-thinking soundbites lately, a few of which are worth repeating here:
"'It's really so fantastic. The audience has been leading this life we have been baiting them with for 25 years with more fragmented media,' Freston says. 'They are into multicasting, and now they are having more and more control over what they want to do. So they are driving the process. Simultaneously, the advertisers, because of the technology, are able to be much more creative and efficient about what they can do. We can be much more accountable to advertisers and can sell to them on that basis.'
The cable networks that wrote the rule book on targeting niche markets are setting a new pace for exploiting the power of the MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures brands in new places -- from ringtones and cell phone features to integrating video clips in e-mails and compiling electronic scrapbooks.
'Content providers are like arms dealers today,' Freston says. 'We can sell pieces of what we do to a lot of places. We don't want to impinge on the integrity of the 24-hour cable service where it all starts.'"
From the article: "As originally adopted, the FCC's new children's advertising rule would have forced broadcasters to start counting program promotions in shows aimed at children under 13 against commercial limits of 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends, essentially reducing available ad time. In addition, media companies would have been banned from showing Web addresses linking to pages in which program characters sold products. Finally, the rule would have limited broadcasters' ability to pre-empt children's programming. Broadcasters are required to provide three hours of children's programming a week."
The new agreement introduces some key exceptions, among which are:
Broadcasters can run program promotions in children's shows without counting against commercial time - if the promotions are for other children's shows
Program characters can sell products on websites as long as those individual pages are not mentioned during the television show
The 16 December 2005 Entertainment Weekly has a great piece of coverage on all of the changes in the television industry for mainstream readers, introducing them to all the rapid changes in technology, what is driving it, and what this might mean for advertising, for the way shows are promoted and distributed, etc.
The article, "The Revolution Will Be Televised," by Jennifer Armstrong, provides a list of the 10 things readers should know about changes in the television industry, including a prediction that most of these changes will be in full effect by 2010 and a savvy comment that this differs from WebTV because, with TV on demand and new digital technologies, the market has been driven by consumer demand instead of companies trying to show off new gadgets.
In my opinion, these types of articles are major steps toward seeing these changes take hold for mainstream America. And the article reflects the networks' ambivalence and producers' ambivalence about these changes quite accurately for a short and broad piece like this.
However, new research suggests that consumers are purchasing DVR devices because of their ability to time-shift and their ability to skip commercials. The president of the group that performed the study states "...the consumers want to control not just what they watch and when they watch, but also the ability to avoid commercial placements."
Twenty-three percent of all consumers polled said that they planned to buy a DVR in the next six months. So the networks may be right: the audience for network programming is increasing...but the audience for network advertising isn't.
"Last year, the use of products in filmed entertainment increased 44 percent and generated revenues in excess of $1 billion. In television alone, product-related revenues skyrocketed a whopping 84 percent."
The proposed Code of Conduct would include rules about disclosure of product integration deals and restrictions on product placement in children's media; but also at issue is compensation for writers and actors. Guild members believe that incorporating products into their stories is beyond their job description: "...along with being asked to create memorable stories and characters, our writers are being told to perform the function of ad copywriter." The whitepaper available with the press release calls for negotiation between producers and writers about additional compensation.
If their demands are not met, the Writer's Guild threatens to involve the FCC because broadcasters are bound by law to make sponsors public.
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.
Because of some recent frustration in company performance, some feel this will at least be the most successful attempt at a buyout in VNU's history.
Several of us from the consortium recently participated in VNU's "The Next Big Idea" conference in NYC. Seeing the power that VNU holds in the media industry through its various partners, it's still unclear as to what effect a buyout might have on the media industry as a whole. I'm sure, though, that everyone will have their eye on what's happening here as we enter 2006.
For wrestling, music and entertainment has been a long-term cross-promotional vehicle, as a different band's song is the "official theme" of each month's PPV. For instance, for the WWE show that just happened a couple of weeks ago, "WWE Survivor Series 2005", POD's single "Lights Out" was the official music.
What's different here is that WWE original music is being used to promote other television series? What does this mean in terms of cross-promotion? What might be the advantage here for both WWE and The Shield? I'm not sure, but does anyone else have any thoughts?
The site is a listing for people to lobby for the shows they enjoy the most to be released on DVD. I originally became aware of the site when I joined a group of fans of the 1980s TV show Mama's Family that have been rallying for the show on the Web site.
Basically, people join and list all of the shows that they would buy on DVD if they were released. So far, the Mama's Family rallying has gotten it up to number 12 of all unreleased shows with almost 3,000 households voting for it, from what I understand. And, it will be moving up farther because three shows ahead of it on the list, which I believe are Wings,"SeaQuest, and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., are all being released on DVD.
The Web site reminded me very much of Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory that has gained so much attention in the entertainment industry. I voted for less popular shows, such as Benson, that I would buy if they were released on DVD, yet there was no show that I voted for that didn't already have votes. Sites like this prove that there are markets for all types of shows, and the Long Tail theory is beautifully shown through the rankings on TVshowsonDVD.com. If you haven't checked out the site, you should do so, and vote for whatever strange favorite you might have.
And, while you're there, feel free to vote for Thelma Harper. If you help me get the show released, we'll all take a trip to Raytown, stop at the Bigger Jigger, and I'll buy.
The question of off-network TV models (subscription TV, straight to DVD TV, and so on) has been really hot in the last few weeks. A few weeks ago, Lost Remote proposed a multi-part model for cancelled shows (specifically Arrested Development) which seems to be getting some press. Here are some of their suggestions for the show:
* Offer the show online and on VOD every week for free.
* Make it a free video podcast.
* Seed BitTorrent with it.
* Set up a site that has all the shows right there, along with shorter-form content, ready to watch or download in all formats.
* Have the cast blog - in character. Have them do video blogs and even live webcasts in character, too.
* After each show, have viewers comment and then address their comments. Invite the best commenters to have a guest spot on the show.
* Heck - invite fans to shoot their own fan-fic shows. Celebrate "AD" as the first open-source sitcom.
According to the article, the soap may soon have to consider other distribution options. The President of NBC Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, addressed the cast and crew at the meeting, claiming that Corday Productions and their partner Sony Pictures Television should consider other options, like Video iPod feeds, mobile phones for distribution, etc.
"We're going to be working very hard trying to figure out how we will keep this great franchise alive," Reilly said, noting the constant flux of the main networks these days in trying to keep content fresh that involved constantly shifting lineups.
NBC indicated that they were in constant conversation with Sony about alternate distribution methods should the show be taken off the network but said it was Sony's decision, since NBC doesn't own the show.
Ken Corday signed with NBC in 2003 for a three year deal with a two-year option, meaning that the end of 2006 may see DAYS attempting these new forms of distributions we have been discussing in the consortium.
These rumors come at a time when soaps have settled into a much lower ratings than they had 20 years or even a decade ago, as cable competition for daytime programming proliferates. DAYS remains a fairly popular soap in comparison with its competitors and almost always does better than most in the key young female demographics.
However, these threats reflect an overall downsizing of the soap opera industry with lower ratings than in former times and what many perceive as a major drop in quality of the DAYS show in particular.
What do you all think? What are the implications if a major TV franchise like DAYS, with a 40-year history, starts using the iPod or mobile phones as the primary means of distribution?
A couple weeks ago, when the producers of Lost announced a deal to offer exclusive mobisodes through Verizon, I guessed that I wouldn't get a chance to see them until they surfaced (inevitably) as extras on the next set of DVDs.
If 24: The Conspiracy is anything to go by, it looks like that will indeed be the trend; the 24 1-minute mobisodes will be included as part of the Season 4 boxed set when it hits shelves next Tuesday.
Variety article reports that the producers of Fox's hit Prison Breakare experimenting with some transmedia tactics similar to those that were used in the failed Majestic... but with a TV show, it seems like a reasonable way to keep fans engaged and emotionally invested.
In recent weeks, as the show worked up to Monday night's fall finale, viewers might have noticed that a cell-phone number used by character Nika Volek (Holly Valance) wasn't of the typical "555" variety. Instead, it was a working phone number, (312) 909-3529. When called by viewers, it leads to a cryptic voicemail message from Luca.
Earlier in the season, producers also dropped an actual email address used by another character, LJ Burrows (Marshall Allman). Send an email to the address -- LJ@ign.com -- and you'll get a coded response back.
Apparently they've had a good deal of response from fans, some of whom even leave "in character" voice mail messages which the the creative team listen to at work. Now what would be fascinating is if a new character got introduced to the show on the basis of an idea that a fan developed through these interaction channels.
Lost, for better and for worse, is doing its best to push the boundaries of transmedia experimentation: a few weeks ago they announced plans to publish a book, which would figure into the show's plot(s) later this season. Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, they plan to launch Lost Video Diaries, a series of 20 cell-phone exclusive episodes:
"Titled 'Lost Video Diaries,' the series will introduce two characters said to be stranded alongside the cast featured on the primetime version. As fans of the series know, not all of the dozens of survivors of the fictional plane crash depicted on the series get screen time. While the story lines of the pair will be new to 'Lost' viewers, the events depicted in the primetime version will inform their story lines... A tie-in connecting broadcast and mobile versions also is being considered."
I'd be excited, except that (a) I'm still not convinced that people are chomping at the bit to watch television on screens the size of post-it notes, and (b) none of the cast or crew from the network program seem to be "directly involved." (Cuse and Lindelof "have oversight," which I find less-than-reassuring.)
As the New York Times reported a few weeks ago in relation to the mobile episodes of 24, I suspect that most viewers aren't going to get excited about watching no-name actors stand in for the stars they've grown attached to... unless they're clever enough to occasionally emphasize crossover, with plots from one series emerging in the other.
At the very least, I look forward to watching these when they surface as extras on future sets of Lost DVDs.
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.
Another in a series of WWE related posts, but this one deals with the WWE's other program (they are considered separate divisions), Smackdown on the broadcast network UPN.
WWE started airing Smackdown on Thursday nights on UPN in 1999, and it has been consistently the most popular or second most popular show on the network, which has struggled at points to survive. WWE usually finished fourth and occaisionally third for the evening in its timeslot amongst the six networks, which is fairly successful considering UPN's penetration and the stiff Thursday lineup.
However, UPN decided to change its lineup around and dedicate its Thursday lineup to a comedy block, thus moving its longest-term most popular show to Friday nights from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., what most people would consider a death sentence. The WWE was not happy about it, and wrestling fans thought it showed a lack of disrespect from UPN.
However, becuase Smackdown only draws in $30,000 per 30-second ad since advertisers have a stereotyped view of who the wrestling audience is, the network wanted to have the chance to bring in larger ad revenue for Thursday nights. So, they created a new lineup based around the Chris Rock show, Everybody Hates Chris.
What most people believed was a dumb move, moving their most popular long-term show to Friday nights, has proven to be brilliant so far. Barring several big pre-emptions due to baseball playoffs in Boston, New York, and a few other key big market cities, the Friday version of Smackdown is drawing identical ratings of the Thursday version. So, UPN is now faring very well with Friday programming, while the Thursday lineup has been more successful than anyone could imagine.
Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting demonstration that the Friday night death slot may not always be so, especially since they are moving a programming in that has such a dedicated following. It looks like what many media critics were criticizing UPN for turned out to be a stroke of genius.
I have several examples I'm going to post today of some interesting things relating to branding and promotion. The first comes with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)'s switch from Spike TV to USA. For those who don't know, which may be all of you, WWE was on USA network from the early 1980s on and grew up with the cable industry in a lot of ways.
Five years ago, Viacom gave the WWE a better deal, so they switched their show to TNN, once The Nashville Network and then The National Network.
Eventually, the executives decided that, with RAW as their highest-rated show, they should focus their whole network around the young male demographic, so they created Spike TV.
The WWE's deal was recently up, though, and they had soured somewhat on Spike, so they are now returning "home" to USA.
This Monday's live RAW broadcast was the final one on Spike TV. WWE has been promoting next week's homecoming show for several weeks but have not mentioned that it would be on the USA Network. This being the last, week, though, WWE decided to formally announce that they were moving to USA.
Vince McMahon, the WWE's owner, came out at the beginning of the program and said that the WWE and Spike TV had been good tag team partners and had grown up together and thanked them for their time together but that it was time to go home. At that point, Spike TV cut RAW's audio feed.
An infuriated McMahon had his announcers go off on Spike TV in subtle jabs throughout the night, slipping in several references to USA, with Spike trying to mute the audio at every chance it got.
Starting next week, Spike TV will counter USA's RAW with UFC and another wrestling group called TNA. But I thought Monday night's show was a surreal battle between content producers and the network and shows the power Spike TV believed even mentioning the other network would have.