October 18, 2012

FOE6 - Registration still open/Videos from Transmedia Hollywood 3: Rethinking Creative Relations

Registation for FOE6 is still open. Please join us in a few weeks in Cambridge!


Nov. 9-10, 2012

Bartos Theater (Wiesner Building)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Cambridge, MA

Registration is available here. Also, note there is a pre-conference MIT Communications Forum free and open to the public on Thursday, Nov. 8.

At the two-day conference, each morning will be spent discussing key issues faced by media producers, marketers, and audiences alike, at the heart of the futures of entertainment. Each afternoon, we will look into how some of those issues are manifesting themselves in specific media industries.

More information will be released regularly from @futuresof on Twitter.

Also, in anticipation of FOE6, we are finally archiving the video from Transmedia Hollywood 3 here at the FOE site. Transmedia Hollywood is our sister event, held annually in the spring at the USC or UCLA campus. A description of Transmedia Hollywood and the videos can be found below.

Transmedia Hollywood 3: Rethinking Creative Relations

As transmedia models become more central to the ways that the entertainment industry operates, the result has been some dramatic shifts within production culture, shifts in the ways labor gets organized, in how productions get financed and distributed, in the relations between media industries, and in the locations from which creative decisions are being made.

This year’s Transmedia, Hollywood examines the ways that transmedia approaches are forcing the media industry to reconsider old production logics and practices, paving the way for new kinds of creative output. Our hope is to capture these transitions by bringing together established players from mainstream media industries and independent producers trying new routes to the market. We also hope to bring a global perspective to the conversation, looking closely at the ways transmedia operates in a range of different creative economies and how these different imperatives result in different understandings of what transmedia can contribute to the storytelling process – for traditional Hollywood, the global media industries, and for all the independent media-makers who are taking up the challenge to reinvent traditional media-making for a “connected” audience of collaborators.

Many of Hollywood’s entrenched business and creative practices remain deeply mired in the past, weighed down by rigid hierarchies, interlocking bureaucracies, and institutionalized gatekeepers (e.g. the corporate executives, agents, managers, and lawyers). In this volatile moment of crisis and opportunity, as Hollywood shifts from an analog to a digital industry, one which embraces collaboration, collectivity, and compelling uses of social media, a number of powerful independent voices have emerged. These include high-profile transmedia production companies such as Jeff Gomez’s Starlight Runner Entertainment as well as less well-funded and well-staffed solo artists who are coming together virtually from various locations across the globe. What these top-down and bottom-up developments have in common is a desire to buck tradition and to help invent the future of entertainment. One of the issues we hope to address today is the social, cultural, and industrial impact of these new forms of international collaboration and mixtures of old and new work cultures.

Another topic is the future of independent film. Will creative commons replace copyright? Will crowdsourcing replace the antiquated foreign sales model? Will the guilds be able to protect the rights of digital laborers who work for peanuts? What about audiences who work for free? Given that most people today spend the bulk of their leisure time online, why aren’t independent artists going online and connecting with their community before committing their hard-earned dollars on a speculative project designed for the smallest group of people imaginable – those that frequent art-house theaters?

Fearing obsolescence in the near future, many of Hollywood’s traditional studios and networks are looking increasingly to outsiders – often from Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue – to teach these old dogs some new tricks. Many current studio and network executives are overseeing in-house agencies, whose names – Sony Interactive Imageworks, NBC Digital, and Disney Interactive Media Group – are meant to describe their cutting-edge activities and differentiate themselves from Hollywood’s old guard.

Creating media in the digital age is “nice work if you can get it,” according to labor scholar Andrew Ross in a recent book of the same name. Frequently situated in park-like “campuses,” many of these new, experimental companies and divisions are hiring large numbers of next generation workers, offering them attractive amenities ranging from coffee bars to well-prepared organic food to basketball courts. However, even though these perks help to humanize the workplace, several labor scholars (e.g. Andrew Ross, Mark Deuze, Rosalind Gill) see them as glittering distractions, obscuring a looming problem on the horizon – a new workforce of “temps, freelancers, adjuncts, and migrants.”

While the analog model still dominates in Hollywood, the digital hand-writing is on the wall; therefore, the labor guilds, lawyers, and agent/managers must intervene to find ways to restore the eroding power/leverage of creators. In addition, shouldn’t the guilds be mindful of the new generation of digital laborers working inside these in-house agencies? What about the creative talent that emerges from Madison Avenue ad agencies like Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, makers of the Asylum 626 first-person horror experience for Doritos; or Grey’s Advertising, makers of the Behind the Still collective campaign for Canon? Google has not only put the networks’ 30-second ad to shame using Adword, but its Creative Labs has taken marketing to new aesthetic heights with its breathtaking Johnny Cash [collective] Project. Furthermore, Google’s evocative Parisian Love campaign reminds us just how intimately intertwined our real and virtual lives have become.

Shouldn’t Hollywood take note that many of its most powerful writers, directors, and producers are starting to embrace transmedia in direct and meaningful ways by inviting artists from the worlds of comic books, gaming, and web design to collaborate? These collaborations enhance the storytelling and aesthetic worlds tenfold, enriching “worlds” as diverse as The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and cable’s The Walking Dead. Hopefully, this conference will leave all of us with a broader understanding of what it means to be a media maker today – by revealing new and expansive ways for artists to collaborate with Hollywood media managers, audiences, advertisers, members of the tech culture, and with one another.

Once the dominant player in the content industry, Hollywood today is having to look as far away as Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue for collaborators in the 2.0 space.

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA


Nick Childs, Executive Creative Director, Fleishman Hillard

Jennifer Holt, co-Director, Media Industries Project, UCSB

Lee Hunter, Global Head of Marketing, YouTube

Jordan Levin, CEO, Generate

In countries with strong state support for media production, alternative forms of transmedia are taking shape. How has transmedia fit within the effort of nation-states to promote and expand their creative economies?

Moderator: Laurie Baird, Strategic Consultant – Media and Entertainment at Georgia Tech Institute for People and Technology.


Jesse Albert, Producer & Consultant in Film, Television, Digital Media, Live Events & Branded Content

Morgan Bouchet, Vice-President, Transmedia and Social Media, Content Division, Orange

Christy Dena, Director, Universe Creation 101

Sara DIamond, President, Ontario College of Art and Design University

Mauricio Mota, Chief Storytelling Officer, Co-founder of The Alchemists

A new generation of media makers are taking art out of the rarefied world of crumbling art-house theaters, museums, and galleries and putting it back in the hands of the masses, creating immersive, interactive, and collaborative works of transmedia entertainment, made for and by the people who enjoy it most.

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA.


Tara Tiger Brown, Freelance Interactive Producer/Product Manager

Mike Farah, President of Production, Funny Or DIe

Ted Hope, Producer/Partner/Founder, Double Hope Films

Sheila C. Murphy, Associate Professor, University of Michigan

By many accounts, the comics industry is failing. Yet, comics have never played a more central role in the entertainment industry, seeding more and more film and television franchises. What advantages does audience-tested content bring to other media? What do the producers owe to those die-hard fans as they translate comic book mythology to screen? And why have so many TV series expanded their narrative through graphic novels in recent years?

Moderator: Geoffrey Long, Lead Narrative Producer for the Narrative Design Team at Microsoft Studios.


Katherine Keller, Culture Vultures Editrix at Sequential Tart

Joe LeFavi, Quixotic Transmedia

Mike Richardson, President, Dark Horse Comics

Mark Verheiden, Writer (Falling Skies, Heroes)

Mary Vogt, Costume Designer (Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Men In Black)

April 7, 2011

Transmedia Hollywood 2 - Registration Still Open!

Transmedia Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design can takes place tomorrow (Friday, April 8th). Prof. Jenkins is hosting and moderating the event - along with Denise Mann of UCLA - and many CMS C3 alumni, consulting researchers, practitioners and affiliates will be in attendance.

It promises to be an important event as "Transmedia' fights its way out of its early adoption/evangelist stage - into a broader discourse on what works, what doesn't, what the future language of the medium is and will be - as well as an exploration of the artistic, creative and market-driven pros and cons of transmedia narrative structures.

Registration is still open and is available through:

Visual Culture and Design

A UCLA/USC/Industry Symposium
Co-sponsored by
UCLA Producers Program,
UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
USC School of Cinematic Arts

Friday, April 8, 2011
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
9:45 AM - 7 PM

Event Co-Directors:
Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School of Communication


Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood 2 turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and media research centers in the nation, Transmedia, Hollywood 2 builds on the foundations established at last year's Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story. This year's topic: Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design is meant to move from an abstract discussion of transmedia storytelling in all its permutations to a more concrete consideration of what is involved in designing for transmedia.

The past year has seen the Producer's Guild of America (PGA) embrace the concept of the transmedia producer. The other Guilds have begun discussing the implications of these developments for their membership. A growing number of small production units are springing up across the film, games, web, and television sectors to try to create and distribute transmedia content. Many of today's new transmedia producers are helmed by one-time studio or network insiders who are eager to "reinvent" themselves. Inside the studios, the executives tasked with top-down management of large media franchises are partnering with once marginalized film directors, comic book creators, game designers, and other creative personnel.

The underlying premise of this conference is that while the traditional studios and networks are hanging onto many of their outdated practices, they are also starting to engage creative personnel who are working outside the system to help them re-imagine their business. With crisis and change comes the opportunity for the next generation of maverick, independent-minded producers--the next Walt Disney and George Lucas-- to significantly challenge the old and to make way for the new. So, now, it is time to start examining lessons learned from these early experiments. Each of the issues outlined below impact the day-to-day design decisions that go into developing transmedia franchises. We hope to break down the project of developing transmedia content into four basic design challenges:

  • What does it mean to structure a franchise around the exploration of a world rather than a narrative? How are these worlds moving from the film and television screen into other media, such as comics, games, and location based entertainment?

  • What does it mean to design a character that will play well across a range of different media platforms? How might transmedia content re-center familiar stories around compelling secondary characters, adding depth to our understanding of the depicted events and relationships?

  • What does it mean to develop a sequence of events across a range of different media? How do we make sure that the spectator understands the relationship between events when they are piecing together information from different platforms and trying to make sense of a mythology that may span multiple epochs?

  • What does it take to motivate consumers to invest deeply enough into a transmedia franchise that they are eager to track down new installments and create buzz around a new property? How is transmedia linked to a push towards interactivity and participatory culture?

As with the first event, Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture & Design will bring together comic book writers, game designers, "imagineers," filmmakers, television show runners, and other media professionals in a conversation with leading academic thinkers on these topics. Each of our speakers will be asked to focus on the unique challenges they faced while working on a specific production and detail how their understanding of transmedia helped them resolve those issues. From there, we will ask all our speakers to compare notes across projects and platforms with the hopes of starting to develop some basic design principles that will help us translate theories of transmedia entertainment into pragmatic reality.

The creative personnel we have assembled include many of the key individuals responsible for masterminding the fundamental changes in the way traditional media operates and engages audiences by altering the way stories are told temporally, by exploring how graphic design translates from one medium to another, and by explaining how these visually-stunning worlds are being conceived in today's "connected" entertainment arena.

Conference Schedule

Friday, April 8, 2011

9:15--9:45 am

9:45--10:00 am
Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Teri Schwartz, Dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
  • Denise Mann, Associate Professor/Head, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
  • Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC

10:00--11:50 AM
Panel 1: "Come Out 2 Play": Designing Virtual Worlds--From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond
Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox--Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless "virtual spaces" of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.

Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers--aka "transmedia producers"--charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.

The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a "you are there" effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience's tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida.

Today's panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios' virtual sandboxes.

Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists will include:

  • Alex McDowell, Production Designer for Tim Burton and Zack Snyder (Corpse Bride, Watchmen)

  • Thierry Coup, Art Designer, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, Australia (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)

  • Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering

12:00--1:50 PM
Panel 2: "We're Looking For Characters": Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms

How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms?

Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the "mothership" often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures?

How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination?

Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists will include:

  • Joseph Ferencz, Strategy and Marketing Manager, Ubisoft

  • Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment

  • Alisa Perren, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University

  • Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, Executive Producers of Smallville

2:00--3:00 PM
Lunch Break

3:00--4:50 PM
Panel 3: Fan Interfaces: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?

Once relegated to the margins of society, today's media fans are often considered the "advance guard" that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Given the complexities and contradictions involved in negotiating between industry and audience interests, we will ask the game designers to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their fan interfaces. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand either by wearing logo T-shirts or by dressing a favorite Madman avatar in the 1960s clothing, accessories and backgrounds on display on the "Madmen Yourself" and then spreading the content through Facebook and Twitter.

What is the design philosophy behind a video game like Spore, which allows fans free range to create their own creatures and worlds but then limits their rights over this digital content? Who owns these virtual creations once they appear for sale on E-bay? These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging fan interfaces.

Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists include:

  • Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer

  • Avi Santos, Assistant Professor, Dominican College and Co-editor, and In Media

5:00--6:50 PM
Panel 4: "It's About Time!" Structuring Transmedia Narratives

The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media -- the four-act structure of theater, the hero's quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.

We might think of such stories as hyperserials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms.

So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience's attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres -- science fiction and fantasy -- embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristoltelian unities of time and space?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists include:

  • Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment

  • Abigail DeKosnik, Assistant Professor, University of California-Berkeley (Co-Editor, The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Discourse and Censorship of Digital Remix)

  • Jane Espensen, Writer/Producer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood.

  • John Platt, Co-Executive Producer, Big Brother, The Surreal Life

  • Tracey Robertson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Hoodlum

  • Lance Weiler, Founder, Wordbook Project

  • Justin Wyatt, Executive Director, Research at at NBCUniversal, Inc (High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood).

7:00 PM
Lobby, James Bridges Theater

James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

Tickets are $5 for faculty and students of accredited institutions and will only be sold at the box-office of the UCLA Central Ticket Office and at the door on the day of the event (prior registration required). Valid university I.D. is required. Registration includes admission to conference and reception.

General Public:
Tickets for the general public are $30. Registration includes admission to conference and reception. Please register:

Directions to UCLA:

Campus Map:

Parking Info:

Bus Info:

UCLA Producers Program
UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media
203 East Melnitz
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Phone: (310) 206-3761
Fax: (310) 825-3383

March 3, 2011

"Tony" Screening from Invisible Children

"Tony" Screening from Invisible Children

Thursday March 3, 2011 | 7:00pm | 34-101

On the whole, Invisible Children looks to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons in northern, war-torn Uganda who have suffered from Africa's longest-running civil war. Moreover, they aim to provide shelter, safety, and education to children who were or would otherwise be child soldiers in the rebel army (the LRA, or the Lord's Resistance Army.)

This next chapter of Invisible Children's Bracelet Campaign is about Tony, and the struggles he faces as a child in this harsh region of the world.

The trailer for the film is embedded below.

For more information, visit the Invisible Children website.

This event is sponsored by the MIT UA funding board.

Tony Bracelet: Trailer from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.

Jedidiah Jenkins--Director of Public & Media Relations, Invisible Children-- is a panelist on the following "Transmedia and Social Change" panel from FOE4.


March 1, 2011

Announcing Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design

Transmedia registration can now be done through

Visual Culture and Design

A UCLA/USC/Industry Symposium
Co-sponsored by
UCLA Producers Program,
UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
USC School of Cinematic Arts

Friday, April 8, 2011
James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
9:45 AM - 7 PM

Event Co-Directors:
Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School of Communication


Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood 2 turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and media research centers in the nation, Transmedia, Hollywood 2 builds on the foundations established at last year's Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story. This year's topic: Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design is meant to move from an abstract discussion of transmedia storytelling in all its permutations to a more concrete consideration of what is involved in designing for transmedia.

The past year has seen the Producer's Guild of America (PGA) embrace the concept of the transmedia producer. The other Guilds have begun discussing the implications of these developments for their membership. A growing number of small production units are springing up across the film, games, web, and television sectors to try to create and distribute transmedia content. Many of today's new transmedia producers are helmed by one-time studio or network insiders who are eager to "reinvent" themselves. Inside the studios, the executives tasked with top-down management of large media franchises are partnering with once marginalized film directors, comic book creators, game designers, and other creative personnel.

The underlying premise of this conference is that while the traditional studios and networks are hanging onto many of their outdated practices, they are also starting to engage creative personnel who are working outside the system to help them re-imagine their business. With crisis and change comes the opportunity for the next generation of maverick, independent-minded producers--the next Walt Disney and George Lucas-- to significantly challenge the old and to make way for the new. So, now, it is time to start examining lessons learned from these early experiments. Each of the issues outlined below impact the day-to-day design decisions that go into developing transmedia franchises. We hope to break down the project of developing transmedia content into four basic design challenges:

  • What does it mean to structure a franchise around the exploration of a world rather than a narrative? How are these worlds moving from the film and television screen into other media, such as comics, games, and location based entertainment?

  • What does it mean to design a character that will play well across a range of different media platforms? How might transmedia content re-center familiar stories around compelling secondary characters, adding depth to our understanding of the depicted events and relationships?

  • What does it mean to develop a sequence of events across a range of different media? How do we make sure that the spectator understands the relationship between events when they are piecing together information from different platforms and trying to make sense of a mythology that may span multiple epochs?

  • What does it take to motivate consumers to invest deeply enough into a transmedia franchise that they are eager to track down new installments and create buzz around a new property? How is transmedia linked to a push towards interactivity and participatory culture?

As with the first event, Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture & Design will bring together comic book writers, game designers, "imagineers," filmmakers, television show runners, and other media professionals in a conversation with leading academic thinkers on these topics. Each of our speakers will be asked to focus on the unique challenges they faced while working on a specific production and detail how their understanding of transmedia helped them resolve those issues. From there, we will ask all our speakers to compare notes across projects and platforms with the hopes of starting to develop some basic design principles that will help us translate theories of transmedia entertainment into pragmatic reality.

The creative personnel we have assembled include many of the key individuals responsible for masterminding the fundamental changes in the way traditional media operates and engages audiences by altering the way stories are told temporally, by exploring how graphic design translates from one medium to another, and by explaining how these visually-stunning worlds are being conceived in today's "connected" entertainment arena.

Conference Schedule

Friday, April 8, 2011

9:15--9:45 am

9:45--10:00 am
Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Teri Schwartz, Dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
  • Denise Mann, Associate Professor/Head, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
  • Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC

10:00--11:50 AM
Panel 1: "Come Out 2 Play": Designing Virtual Worlds--From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond
Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox--Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless "virtual spaces" of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.

Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers--aka "transmedia producers"--charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.

The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a "you are there" effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience's tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida.

Today's panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios' virtual sandboxes.

Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists will include:

  • Alex McDowell, Production Designer for Tim Burton and Zack Snyder (Corpse Bride, Watchmen)

  • Thierry Coup, Art Designer, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, Australia (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)

  • Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering

12:00--1:50 PM
Panel 2: "We're Looking For Characters": Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms

How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms?

Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the "mothership" often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures?

How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination?

Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists will include:

  • Joseph Ferencz, Strategy and Marketing Manager, Ubisoft

  • Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment

  • Alisa Perren, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University

  • Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, Executive Producers of Smallville

2:00--3:00 PM
Lunch Break

3:00--4:50 PM
Panel 3: Fan Interfaces: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?

Once relegated to the margins of society, today's media fans are often considered the "advance guard" that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Given the complexities and contradictions involved in negotiating between industry and audience interests, we will ask the game designers to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their fan interfaces. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand either by wearing logo T-shirts or by dressing a favorite Madman avatar in the 1960s clothing, accessories and backgrounds on display on the "Madmen Yourself" and then spreading the content through Facebook and Twitter.

What is the design philosophy behind a video game like Spore, which allows fans free range to create their own creatures and worlds but then limits their rights over this digital content? Who owns these virtual creations once they appear for sale on E-bay? These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging fan interfaces.

Moderator: Denise Mann
Panelists include:

  • Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer

  • Avi Santos, Assistant Professor, Dominican College and Co-editor, and In Media

5:00--6:50 PM
Panel 4: "It's About Time!" Structuring Transmedia Narratives

The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media -- the four-act structure of theater, the hero's quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.

We might think of such stories as hyperserials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms.

So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience's attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres -- science fiction and fantasy -- embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristoltelian unities of time and space?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins
Panelists include:

  • Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment

  • Abigail DeKosnik, Assistant Professor, University of California-Berkeley (Co-Editor, The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Discourse and Censorship of Digital Remix)

  • Jane Espensen, Writer/Producer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood.

  • John Platt, Co-Executive Producer, Big Brother, The Surreal Life

  • Tracey Robertson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Hoodlum

  • Lance Weiler, Founder, Wordbook Project

  • Justin Wyatt, Executive Director, Research at at NBCUniversal, Inc (High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood).

7:00 PM
Lobby, James Bridges Theater

James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

Tickets are $5 for faculty and students of accredited institutions and will only be sold at the box-office of the UCLA Central Ticket Office and at the door on the day of the event (prior registration required). Valid university I.D. is required. Registration includes admission to conference and reception.

General Public:
Tickets for the general public are $30. Registration includes admission to conference and reception. Please register:

Directions to UCLA:

Campus Map:

Parking Info:

Bus Info:

UCLA Producers Program
UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media
203 East Melnitz
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Phone: (310) 206-3761
Fax: (310) 825-3383

September 22, 2010

C3 Thinking, Transmedia Worldbuilding and The Deep World of Avatar

Many media studies scholars and creative professionals depend on the C3 blog (as well as Prof. Jenkins' blog, the CMS Program website and the blogs of our fellow CMS research projects) for the ideas which they can then apply to the intellectual, creative or market problem they are trying to get to the "next level". As I think everyone who has been on the team of this research project would agree, Prof. Jenkins' "framing and naming" of otherwise complex concepts into remarkably accessible written language and his always inspiring and engaging speaking style are at the core of his pedagogical style and intellectual modeling of how we do what we do here at C3 and CMS.

It is this C3 early warning system and pattern recognition of emergent cultural patterns, logics and phenomenology (in our case surrounding the circulation and distribution of old and new media) on which the success of the C3 research project is built.

Of course, because we frame it or name it, that does not mean we own it. In his opening remarks at last year's FOE4, Prof. Jenkins was quick to make this very point, specifically regarding the discourse on Transmedia:

"Transmedia seems to be a word that means lots of different things to lots of different we may refer to "cross-platform entertainment" or... "Deep Media" which is Frank Rose's term. As far as I am concerned, I don't care what you call it. What we're involved in is a shift in the way entertainment operates in our culture, but a shift that's been long term and I'll explain that it has a deeper history and I think the focus on newness maybe misleads us. But I am interested in the phenomenon and each of these words talks about different aspects of the phenomenon in different ways. They get at it in different ways. Maybe we should have a discussion about what those differences are. But I am not invested in a vocabulary war about what we christen this thing. I think it's much more interesting that we talk about it and try to figure out what is going on."

We know there is a remarkably passionate and loyal C3 blog community who is very appreciative of the way "C3 Thinking" inspires them, assists them and moves forward their media industries scholarship and creative projects to a whole new level. Call it what you want - brainstorming, ideation, praxis, pre-production, concept phase, theory and practice, research, outlining, strategic design, storyboarding, index card/post-it note hell, development or pre-visualization - "C3 Thinking" intervenes on and contributes to all of these early-stage project design processes (books, films, games, television programming, etc).

This blog entry is an effort to embrace Prof. Jenkins' most recent framing and naming endeavor - now known as the Seven Core Principles of Transmedia Storytelling. I thought it would be helpful to our readership to organize occasional blog entries in a very specific fashion around each of these core principles (Spreadability vs. Drillability; Continuity vs. Multiplicity; Immersion vs. Extractability; Worldbuilding; Seriality; Subjectivity; and Performance). I will also try to strike a balance in presenting the information for those who are internalizing core concepts surrounding transmedia for the first time and seasoned transmedia veterans.

I begin here with Worldbuilding (back story, story development, production design or concept development - again, call it what you will): it is easy when writing a script, designing a film or conceiving of a game to flinch on a true commitment to the design of and deployment of a deeply textured world filled with detail that does not directly service the core narrative or primary narrative objectives. Time and budget are usually the biggest elements working against building a deep world.

The reality is great worldbuilding must precede the storytelling. An early commitment to detail will communicate information beyond the purely functional elements required for the primary narrative - allowing entries points for transmediated narrative extensions of the primary media text and for the other core principles of transmedia to take further root.

With this primacy of a commitment to worldbuilding in mind, the following worldbuilding discussion is in the form of a video case study. First, two Charlie Rose interviews with James Cameron: Dec. 17, 2009 and Feb 10, 2010 where he discusses in detail the challenges of worldbuilding and a CBS 60 Minutes video segment (embedded below) about James Cameron and the production of Avatar - which depicts what was done with the unlimited creative, time, fiscal and human resources to build the deep, textured, detailed world of the primary cinematic text that is the 3D Film Avatar.

After this video piece, find two streaming videos of a conversation between Prof. Jenkins and Tron creator Steve Lisberger from back in February 2010. We include these 2 videos (of a total of 21) in this case study because the first video sets up a discussion of worldbuilding. The next video follows up with a discussion of the basic functions of transmedia extensions, what they might add to the upcoming Disney release Tron Legacy and ends with why Avatar is less successful at deploying transmedia than, say, District 9.

The hope here is that this overall discussion of the mode of production of Hollywood motion pictures at the level of the 'big tent pole' production will inform narrative best practices and economies of scale for other transmedia project in various other creative industries.

Most importantly, there are some interesting missed opportunities contextualized in this discussion which should be seized upon by transmedia theorists and producers both for further theoretical exploration and creative deployment.

For further brainstorming, see:

Prof. Jenkins' FOE4 Keynote entitled "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling", along with Henry's essay explaining each principle.

All 21 Videos, produced by Mike Bonifer, of Prof. Jenkins conversation with Tron creator Steve Lisberger:

Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger

More Talk of TRONSmedia

September 17, 2010

Changing Relationships, Changing Industries (Nancy Baym, University of Kansas)

C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym (University of Kansas) had a busy 2010.

Her new book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, was released by Polity Press in the Spring.

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.

This summer, Nancy was here in Cambridge as a visiting researcher at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Danah Boyd's Social Media Research Collective.

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).

Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported
Copyright Holder
The President and Fellows of Harvard College

September 13, 2010

What Prof. Jenkins Did This Summer (Comic-Con and Transmedia Brazil)

Both the MIT and USC 2010-2011 academic year are now well underway, allowing the C3 founders, consulting researchers and practitioners (as well the CMS C3 team here @ MIT) time to finally get back to the C3 blog (after our usual summer hiatus).

Our last entry was on May 14, 2010, so let's get right to our first blog entry of this academic year.

In a variation on the traditional "What I Did This Summer" essay schoolchildren are usually asked to write on their first day of school, we feature a video assemblage of what Prof. Jenkins did this summer.

To start: a panel he moderated at Comic-Con in July of this year.

The panel, entitled Red Faction Armageddon: How to Build a Transmedia Universe features Prof. Jenkins moderating, with panelists Danny Bilson (EVP Core Games, THQ), Lenny Brown (director IP development, THQ), Hollywood's leading Transmedia producer Jeff Gomez (Avatar, Transformers, Tron Legacy, Men In Black 3D), Alan Seiffert (SVP, Syfy Ventures), and Erika Kennair (director, development, Syfy).

A written recap of the panel can also be found here.

(NOTE: the sound recording on this video is a bit faint, but turn up the volume and it should be fine).

In May, Prof. Jenkins was the guest of The Alchemists, a C3 sponsor company, at a series of events and speaking engagements in Rio de Janeiro. Below you will find a series of interviews with Prof. Jenkins (in English with Portuguese subtitles) which were first posted at the Brazilian site Rede Globo (Prof. Jenkins also provided his own blog entry on his time in Brazil entitled My Brazilian Adventure which we will cross post here at the C3 site in the weeks ahead, but if you are anxious to read it can be found here at Prof. Jenkins blog).

May 12, 2010

Post-Story, Post-Promotion, Post-Education: Archiving ARGs

Way back in mid-March, I posted a collection of tweets from the Transmedia, Hollywood event out at the University of Southern California entitled Transmedia, Hollywood: The Spreadsheet. If you didn't check that out, it current houses 1489 messages posted to Twitter by participants and off-site audiences following the conference through whatever means they could manage. As one of those folk, I voiced a few thoughts myself, one of which I will return to today:

[637] Something I'd love to hear more about: Must ARGs be ephemeral? If so how do you archive an ARG? #TransH [@alexleavitt - 10584590976]

Today, I will explore a bit about the implications on storytelling that alternate reality games present as a form of narrative (or advertising; or teaching tool) and how conceptualizing the documentation of ARGs lends insight into understanding that form better.

More after the jump.

Continue reading "Post-Story, Post-Promotion, Post-Education: Archiving ARGs" »

May 4, 2010

Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?

Back in April, I attended the MIT Business in Gaming conference, where I sat in on a panel called Hollywood, Music, & Games, from which I posted my notes here: The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood.

Chris Weaver, one of the panelists and a consulting researcher with the Consortium, made an interesting and critical comment that I've been thinking about for the past few weeks: We have not yet seen our transmedia Mozart. What he figuratively stated was that in the (American) entertainment industry, especially in the professional studios of Hollywood (here, a word that both evokes the geographical filmscape and also represents a metonymical substitution for the major players in each industry of film, gaming, etc.), there have been no creators of transmedia works that have been able to successfully construct a unified project that harnesses the power of each medium (whether through the producer's skills or collaboration with other creatives) to its largest potential.

Since I last read Convergence Culture a few years ago, especially Henry's chapter on transmedia storytelling, I have always explained the concept of transmedia with the example of the Wachowski Brother's The Matrix (1999 - 2005).

Henry writes, "No film franchise has ever made such demands on its consumers" (94). The remainder of this statement's paragraph elucidates the complex plot of the film trilogy, which bleeds out into a video game, animated shorts, and comics. What Henry pinpoints yet concurrently avoids discussing is the involved chain of media with which consumers are required to interact. Yes, they must understand all of these story arcs, but they must also be able to consume them. While Henry explains, "The Matrix is entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium," he might also have highlighted that The Matrix is entertainment in an age of media literacy: audience members must possess the capabilities of dealing with texts across mediums.

And, the most important goal of the transmedia producer: the audience member must enjoy the product.

However, the trend in the industry that we are seeing right now is thus: transmedia franchises are profiting, not from the praise of fans for the creativity of the franchise, but from the money of fans purchasing uninspiring cross-platform tie-ins. Similarly, we are seeing more and more peripheral media of an initial text not act as related-but-separate story arcs, but capitalize on the extended experience of the audience.

Engaged your interest? Read more after the jump.

Continue reading "Where Is Our Transmedia Mozart?" »

May 3, 2010

Ludic Narrans: Drew Davidson Talks Crossmedia Communication

One of my first classes at USC was in transmedia entertainment and storytelling and I plan to be teaching a large lecture hall class on transmedia in the Cinema School starting in the 2011-2012 academic year. My growing interest in transmedia is one of many reasons I have ended up here. I want to be closer to the entertainment industry to be able to watch some of the changes that are unfolding as this emerging conception of popular entertainment really takes root and I want to be in a position to influence the entertainment workers in training.

Think about how the generation of "movie brats," such as Spielberg and Lucas, influenced the American media. For generations, directors emerged from one or another of the guilds, bringing with them specialized skill sets. Robert Wise was an editor; William Cameron Menzies was an art director; most of them knew how to work with actors, but few of them had an integrated perspective on all of the technical skills required to produce a movie. With the rise of film schools, we got directors who knew the full vocabulary of their medium, who knew how to speak to workers with more specialized skills (who often trained alongside them and spoke a shared language) and who knew the history and genres that constituted their tradition. As Hollywood begins to embrace transmedia, a common concern is that there are few people who fully understand how to tell stories or create entertainment experiences in more than one medium: comic book people don't know how to think about games, say, or television people have limited grasp of the web. My own hope is that the Film Schools will once again be the space where future media makers get exposed to a broader range of different kinds of media and also develop the social relations and vocabulary to meaningfully collaborate with others who have specialized in different modes of expression.

For this to happen, transmedia entertainment needs to emerge as a subject not simply at USC but at film schools all over the country. And, indeed, I am hearing more and more from other faculty who are starting to teach such classes at their own institutions. That's why it is such good news that Drew Davidson, Director of the Entertainment Technology Center Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University, has produced a new textbook designed to introduce undergraduate critical studies and production students alike to the world of what he calls "crossmedia entertainment." (Full disclosure: the book includes a short piece by me which offers my definition of transmedia.) I have long admired Drew Davidson's contributions to the space of games studies, especially through the Well Played books, which offer smart, engaging criticisms of specific games by some of the top games scholars in the world, and his earlier book, Stories in Between is a hidden gem which already poses important questions about new and emerging forms of storytelling.

This new book, Cross-Media Communications: an Introduction to the Art of Creating Integrated Media Experiences will play a central role in shaping how concepts of "cross-media" or "transmedia" expression get taught, encouraging educators around the world to explore some of these intriguing concepts in their classrooms. Over the next two installments, I will be sharing this interview with Davidson about the book and about his thoughts on all things crossmedia.

Continue reading "Ludic Narrans: Drew Davidson Talks Crossmedia Communication" »

April 26, 2010

Hip Hop Goes Transmedia

Transmedia Entertainment keeps getting more and more buzz these days -- and so over the next handful of installments, I am going to be sharing with you a range of different perspectives on the concept.

Today, I am running the first of two installments showcasing the work of Marguerite de Bourgoing, one of the USC students who took my transmedia entertainment class last fall. de Bourgoing has been developing a grassroots media franchise,, which deploys YouTube and social network sites to showcase the Los Angeles hip hop scene. de Bourgoing represents the Trojan spirit at its best -- a social and cultural entrepreneur who is taking what she's learned as a media maker and deploying it to serve her larger community. de Bourgoing shared some of this work with us during the class and I've wanted her to talk about it for my blog since. In this account which follows, she both shares some of the videos she's been producing and also talks about the way LA Hip Hop artists are using new media to expand the community around their live performances. It's a perspective on transmedia we don't hear very often here and further helps us think about the impact of media convergence on our culture.

Continue reading "Hip Hop Goes Transmedia" »

April 23, 2010

Transmedia Hollywood: Videos Now Available

A convenient announcement from the West Coast to follow up after yesterday's video post:

The panel videos from the TRANSMEDIA, HOLLYWOOD: S/Telling the Story conference are now available. Find them here or watch them embedded after the jump! You can also check out our previous post containing all of the tweets from the Transmedia, Hollywood event here.

Continue reading "Transmedia Hollywood: Videos Now Available" »

April 22, 2010

Intriguing Videos of Notable Worth

Since we're spending the end of this week helping to organize the CMS 10th Anniversary, I figured that I'd write up a short article highlighting some relevant videos with which Consortium blog readers could relax during the weekend.

The above video was presented at DICE (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) 2010, by Carnegie Mellon University Professor, Jesse Schell, as the "Design Outside the Box" keynote lecture. Although the video was posted and I saw this back in February, I feel like Schell's talk, Beyond Facebook, is still extremely pertinent and engaging (in fact, I heard it mentioned at both the MIT Business in Gaming conference as well as BarCamp Boston 5 this past weekend). Schell discusses the future of gaming beyond social games (that is, games taking advantage and facilitated across social networks, like Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook), when game elements will become integrated into the tiny facets of our daily lives.

The second video in today's post was present at TEDxEdmonton by Sean Stewart, who has led companies such as 42 Entertainment and Fourth Wall Studios and has helped produced major alternate reality games (ARGs) such as I Love Bees (an ARG for Halo 2). In Bard 5.0: The Evolution of Storytelling, Stewart explains the steps in which storytelling has changed in terms of interactivity and sociability. He illustrates modern examples of interactive storytelling through transmedia properties, drawing particular attention to how the form and function of each media platform affects the consumption of the story by the audience.

Finally, let me end with a compilation of videos that recently appeared on Henry Jenkins' website, in his article, Thinkers Welcome: New Resources on Participatory Culture and Learning. Henry links to videos from two events, TEDxNYED and the Digital Media and Learning Conference.

Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010 Closing Keynote and Closing Remarks from UCHRI Video on Vimeo.

Sonia Livingstone, Closing Keynote: "Youthful Participation - what have we learned, what shall we ask next?"

These videos take a look at media engagement by youth with media at home, with friends, and in the classroom, and they cover a large breadth of topics.

April 16, 2010

The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood

Today, I'm sitting at Microsoft NERD attending the MIT Business in Games conference. This morning, I attended a presentation called Hollywood, Music, & Games (which skewed toward just "Hollywood & Games"). The panel included:

Chris Weaver (MIT & Consulting Researcher for C3)

Mike Dornbrook (Harmonix)
Paul Neurath (Floodgate Entertainment)
Mark Blecher (Hasbro Digital Media & Gaming)
Ian Davis (Rockstar Games)

The panel talked about cross-platform narratives, how franchises span games and movies, and the problems that game creators have faced dealing with Hollywood executives and movie producers (as well as the implications that these problems have had on "good games").

My notes follow after the jump!

Continue reading "The Now and Future of Games in Hollywood" »

April 5, 2010

Transmedia Generation

Participatory culture is a global phenomenon. Young people all over the world are embracing the expressive and distribution resources of the computer to create and share their own cultural materials with each other. In countries all over the planet, they are mixing together local traditions of folk culture with the now globally accessible forms of digital expression in ways which could not have been imagined by previous generations. And as they do so, educators and parents are starting to recognize these creative communities as sites of informal learning which are transforming the ways these teens see themselves and the world. In every country, it is different. In every country, it is the same.

I was delighted to hear recently from a young scholar, Felipe G. Gil, from Sevilla, Spain, who shared with me some of his thoughts about new media literacy and education. In particular, he wanted me to read this account of his young cousin, whose filmmaking activities he had come to understand in relation to some of my writings. I am delighted to reproduce this blog post, originally written in Spanish, here for my readers in hopes that it may spark other international reactions around these important topics. Gil is justly proud of the range of different kinds of media productions this young man engages with in the course of his everyday life, and has sought ways to place them in a larger context.

Continue reading "Transmedia Generation" »

March 29, 2010

Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger

A few weeks ago, I sat down for a conversation with Steven Lisberger, director of the original Tron, to discuss our shared passions for science fiction cinema and transmedia entertainment. Mike Bonifer organized the meeting, filmed the exchange, and edited the footage. He has gradually been rolling it out in short three to four minute chunks via YouTube ever since.

I have to say that it was thrilling to me to meet Lisberger -- having long admired how far forward the thinking behind Tron had been about the directions games and digital culture might take. In the first few installments of this conversation, Lisberger shares with me some of his experiences in making Tron and also considers the current project to re-engage with these characters, their world, and their stories for the next generation. In case you've missed the news, a new Tron movie is going to hit the theaters later this year, and we are already seeing a fair amount of buzz build around it.

Continue reading "Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger" »

March 23, 2010

Transmedia, Hollywood: The Spreadsheet

So, I was unfortunate enough to have to miss Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story, which happened a week from today, but I swear we were hard at work last Tuesday here at the Consortium!

Anyway, if you were like me and had to miss this event, here's the description:

Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today's entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and research centers in Los Angeles, Transmedia, Hollywood will take place Tuesday, March 16, 2010, on the eve of the annual Society of Cinema & Media Studies conference, the field's most distinguished gathering of film and media scholars and academics (March 17--21, 2010) in Los Angeles.

Now, it's becoming more and more common to attend conferences and other events virtually (like I did last week with South by Southwest, utilizing the #sxsw hashtag on Twitter). Putting confidence on your "fellow" physical attendees, you can sit back while they tweet all the important or interesting information for you to enjoy from your desk at work or dinner table at home. And given that most conferences don't record their panels in video form (unlike some events such as Futures of Entertainment 4 or ROFLcon), Twitter has been a convenient way to glean content.

Mimi Ito (@mizuko) set up an archive via TwapperKeeper for the Transmedia Hollywood tweets, from which I compiled a public spreadsheet (after deleting irrelevant tweets that were also picked up) for everyone to read and/or search to see what went down at the event last week.

You can access the spreadsheet here.

If you're new to looking at archives of Twitter messages in table form, I recommend Google's Chrome browser, which uses a new highlighting feature when you search for terms. Have fun!

We'll also be featuring a few articles related to topics that came up during the conference. Check them out here soon!

March 12, 2010

The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band

With the uneven future of the music industry and its models, I've become really interested in exploring the potential that music has by integrating these old tactics into transmedia storytelling and cross-platform distribution frameworks.

Previously, I've gushed about how the hit television show Glee has experimented with these methods with respectable success. The Glee model takes advantage of the ease of cross-platform distribution as a business model; however, it's a bit difficult to discuss the transmedia storytelling elements of its story. In my Glee article, I attempted to speak to the idea of affective economics, "which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions" (Henry Jenkins, in Convergence Culture). Glee's story extends beyond its original narrative when expressed by its consumers and especially its fans, by understanding characters better through playing their songs, or by performing favorite dance routines.

Unfortunately, what I can't argue is that the producers of Glee have themselves extended the story across mediums. In response to this basic fact, I've been trying to look for the appearance of other types of stories that span multiple forms of media. Today, I want to discuss the band OK Go and how the story of not the songs but the band has succeeded in with a transmedia model.

And now the story continues... On Wednesday, OK Go announced that they will be leaving EMI to set up their own independent label.

Continue reading "The Transmedia Potential of Music Videos, Part 1: The Band" »

March 5, 2010

Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"

Picture 11.png

A sequel to the smash hit PC video game, Portal, is coming in 2010. Portal, produced by Valve, was released in 2007 in The Orange Box, for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The unique gameplay and interaction with the game's environment brought Portal to immediate popularity among gaming communities.

Over the past week or so, Valve took an interesting transmedial approach to announce Portal 2.

Continue reading "Innovating the Medium for Transmedia: The Case Study of Valve's "Portal"" »

February 24, 2010

More Events: Online Video, Giant Robots, and a Personal Talk About Japanese Popular Culture

Today, I'd like to call your attention to a number of interesting, upcoming events that fall into the topic of convergence culture.

Picture 48.png
First, the inaugural Wireside Chat w/ Lawrence Lessig at Harvard Law School.

Second, a talk by Ian Condry about anime and transmedia.

And finally, I'm giving a talk at Ignite Boston 7 about fan engagement with animated characters.

Continue reading "More Events: Online Video, Giant Robots, and a Personal Talk About Japanese Popular Culture" »

February 17, 2010

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:

  1. Explains the strategies needed to manage viewer expectations of scarcity in the broadcast space and plenitude in the online space.

  2. Categorizes types of online content in terms of their appeal to viewers.

  3. Outlines strategies for appealing to different types of online viewers.

Download the executive summary or the entire paper and let me know what you think in the comments or tweet @shelila.

February 8, 2010

The Last Airbender or The Last Straw?, or How Loraine Became a Fan Activist

This is another installment in our ongoing series about fan-activism and the ways certain kinds of groups are bridging between our experiences with interest-driven networks in participatory culture and public participation. This chapter tells the story of Loraine Sammy and the Racebender campaign, which challenged the white-washed casting of the feature film version of The Last Airbender. Thanks to the production chops of Anna Van Someren, we are able to share much of Sammy's story in her own words, so do take time to watch the video segments attached to this piece.

As I have been working with Van Someren and Shesthova, two members of our research team, to prepare this piece for publication, I am reminded of work I did more than a decade ago around the Gaylaxians, a gay-lesbian-bi-trans science fiction fan group which made a concerted effort to get a sympathetic queer character on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The campaign failed in the short run in that the producers ultimately deflected or misdirected their requests, continually rephrasing them into how Star Trek might deal with the "issue" of gay rights, while the group wanted to show a future where being gay was not an issue. I am struck now by the growing number of science fiction series, British and American, which have matter of fact portrayals of same sex relationships, including Battlestar Galactica (whose show runner Ron Moore cut his teeth working on the Star Trek franchise.) I've never seen any one directly trace these shifts in the representation of sexuality in science fiction back to the Gaylaxians, but I have a sense that in the end, the campaign had some impact on our culture, even when its initial goal was lost. I hope the same can be said for the efforts of the Racebending efforts -- they have lost the battle but will they win the war? (For more on the Gaylaxians, see Science Fiction Audiences or Fans, Bloggers and Gamers.)

Our connection to Racebending and Loraine Sammy came through a member of the research group Lori Kido Lopez, a doctoral student at Annenberg.... who is including Racebending in her Ph.D. research.

Continue reading "The Last Airbender or The Last Straw?, or How Loraine Became a Fan Activist" »

January 27, 2010

Three Awesome Events: Transmedia/Hollywood, Free Culture X, and ROFLcon 2

Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story


Continue reading "Three Awesome Events: Transmedia/Hollywood, Free Culture X, and ROFLcon 2" »

January 4, 2010

On Chuck and Carrot Mobs: Mapping the Connections Between Participatory Culture and Public Participation

One of my proudest moments at the Futures of the Entertainment 4 conference was moderating a session on Transmedia for Social Change, which closed off the first day of the event. This panel brought together a number of people who I have encounter recently through my research on the relations between participatory culture and public participation: Stephen Duncombe - NYU, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy (The New Press); Andrew Slack - The Harry Potter Alliance; Noessa Higa - Visionaire Media; Lorraine Sammy - Co-creator Racebending; and Jedidiah Jenkins-Director of Public & Media Relations, Invisible Children.

For many attending this event, their discussion of new forms of activism that have emerged around the borders of transmedia entertainment were particularly eye opening While we were able to draw connections across these various projects, none of the panelists had met before and most did not know what the others were doing. It was exciting to see the shift in tone at the conference as we moved from talking about business plans to talking about human rights and social justice. I wanted to share the video of this session with you here.

During my introduction to the panel, I referenced the research we've begun to do trying to better understand how engagement with participatory culture, especially with fandom, may be teaching the skills and creating identities which can be applied to campaigns for social change. This project has launched since my move to California and is being conducted jointly with researchers at USC, MIT, and Tufts. What follows is the first of a series of reports on this still new research initiative, written by members of my team. Anna Van Someren, who wrote this first installment, joined the team having already served as the production manager on Project New Media Literacies, and with a background in media production, media literacy instruction, and social activism. Here, she gives an overview of what we are trying to do.

On Chuck and Carrot Mobs: Mapping the Connections Between Participatory Culture and Public Participation
by Anna Van Someren

I was on my 8th (excruciating) rep, struggling with some kind of bowflex-looking machine when my personal trainer asked what I do for work. As usual, I had the fleeting wish that I could say something short and concrete, something like "preschool teacher" or "novelist". Because really, did this woman care any more than the typical dentist who asks such questions with both hands inside your mouth? Could I finally come up with something a little less opaque than "researcher at MIT"? If I did, could I for once muster the self-discipline it takes not to ramble incomprehensibly?

I tried a new approach, and asked if she had a favorite television show. "Battlestar Galactica!" - her face lit up as she described the Starbuck costume her friend was helping her create for Halloween. "Well, say a Battlestar Galactica fan group became interested in doing some work for social change, work that maybe addresses an issue brought up by the show. The group I'm working with is looking at how people who organize around a story they love, and then decide to take some kind of public action." She seemed genuinely interested, so I continued with more detail during front lunges. I think I may have gotten a bit rambly, but I'll try not to here.

As readers of this blog know, Henry has moved to LA and is now the Provost's Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Art at the University of Southern California. Although he has relinquished his role as principal investigator at MIT's Center for Future Civic Media (funded by the Knight Foundation), his work on participatory culture and civic engagement has spawned a new research project supported in part by the center. This project is bi-coastal; on the east coast we have myself, research advisor Clement Chau and research assistant Flourish Klink. Representing the west coast out at USC with Henry we have research director Sangita Shresthova (CMS alum '03) along with more than a dozen Annenberg School students whose work relates directly to our research interests.

Our early conversations circled around the skills needed to become involved in public discourse. We discussed emerging forms of engagement, such as the Carrotmob project, which might be considered civic because of its socially beneficial goal of protecting the environment. Carrotmob organizes competitions in which local businesses pledge to make ecological improvements to their practices. The business with the best pledge enjoys an environmentally-motivated flash mob: 'carrotmobbers' receive instructions via blog posts and twitter about where and when to show up and spend.

The 'Finale & a Footlong' Save Chuck campaign is another recent initiative working to leverage consumer power. In April 2009, organizers mobilized fans of the television show Chuck to buy footlong sandwiches at Subway, a main sponsor, on the night of the show's finale. Fans were instructed to leave a note in the Subway suggestion box mentioning the campaign, and Chuck star Zach Levi described it as "a way for non-Nielson fans to show their love of the show by directly supporting one of Chuck's key advertisers".

These two projects have entirely different goals, and some might say Save Chuck is a far cry from civic engagement, but it's interesting to note that the skills and strategies being used are so similar. We began to wonder if participants in campaigns like Save Chuck might stand to gain some of the skills and knowledge needed to become active citizens. With so many young people so engaged with popular culture, this potential is critical to understand. In Convergence Culture, Henry describes how popular culture can function as a civic playground, where lower stakes allow for a greater diversity of opinions than tolerated in political arenas. "One way that popular culture can enable a more engaged citizenry is by allowing people to play with power on a microlevel ...popular culture may be preparing the way for a more meaningful public culture."

Of course, there are differing definitions of what an 'engaged citizenry' looks like. CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Engagement, works with three primary categories: civic activities, electoral activities, and political voice activities. In Civic Life Online, Kate Raynes-Goldie and Luke Walker define civic engagement broadly and simply as "any activity aimed at improving one's community". In his book Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putnam considers civic engagement to be on the decline, and bemoans the social ties we've lost now that we spend more time "isolated" in front of the television. Some share his pessimism, worrying that the millennial generation lacks an interest in the workings of government, but it's important to remember that we're not talking about something static or stabilized. In their paper Young Citizens and Civic Learning: Two Paradigms of Citizenship in the Digital Age Lance Bennett, Alison Rank and Christopher Wells remind us that "citizenship is a dynamic social construction that reflects changing social and political conditions."

So how does the dimension of popular culture fit into our understanding of citizenship? Voting, joining a political party, or doing community service are concrete, measurable activities that have long been defined as civic. What does loving a television show have to do with any of this? It's helpful here to consider two opposing views of democracy described by Stephen Coleman in Civic Life Online. Although he's talking specifically about youth e-citizenship here, he offers a useful model, describing the conflict between democracy viewed as "an established and reasonably just system, with which young people should be encouraged to engage" and as "a political as well as cultural aspiration, most likely to be realized through networks in which young people engage with one another". The second view is expansive; it describes a realm where citizens are empowered not only to participate in the public arena, but to shape it. It's a view that does not contain activity within a strictly political sphere, but embraces cultural citizenship. This aligns well with Peter Levine's definition of civic engagement as not only political activism, deliberation, and problem-solving, but also cultural production, or participation in shaping a culture.

If we want to see how engagement with popular culture can fuel social action, Loraine Sammy and her activities with provide a rich case study. Fans of Nickelodeon's Avatar: the Last Airbender animation series were frustrated and disappointed by the casting process for the live-action movie version. Paramount cast the main characters, who are Asian in the original series, with white actors. Avatar fans came together to create the LiveJournal-based Aang Ain't White campaign, which attempted to pressure Paramount with a letter-writing campaign. Loraine, who spoke on the Transmedia for Social Change panel at Futures of Entertainment 4, helped grow Aang Ain't White into the racebending movement, "a coalition and community dedicated to encouraging fair casting practices". She and other participants volunteer their time, talents and skills to advocate on behalf of this cause, which has now reached beyond the Avatar movie and may begin to play a watchdog role in Hollywood.

There are so many aspects we want to explore about the racebending community, and others like it. It's intriguing to think about how fiction and fantasy can captivate us on an emotional level, providing a narrative structure that can motivate us to seek change in the real world. We're also curious about how individuals develop their identities as citizens - is it possible that participants in the Save Chuck campaign were developing a sense of empowerment and efficacy in the world - exercising their civic muscles, as it were? Our primary interest right now lies with the nature of participatory culture communities, like racebending.

We consider a participatory culture to be one where:

  1. there are relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. there is strong support for creating and sharing one's creations with others
  3. there is some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices

  4. members believe their contributions matter

  5. members feel some degree of social connection with one another

How do these characteristics work together to encourage and support civic engagement? To find out, we'll be looking at participatory culture communities engaged in some type of social or public action. We're specifically interested in groups which originally gelled around shared interest in popular culture and then become somehow involved in public discourse. Racebending is an excellent example, and is one of our planned case studies, along with the Harry Potter Alliance, Invisible Children, Browncoats, Anonymous, and possibly the hacktivism inspired by Cory Doctorow's novel Little Brother.

This winter we'll be conducting interviews with members and founders of these groups, asking questions about their operations, their membership, and their activities. By spring we hope to have a stronger grasp on our research question, how do the characteristics of participatory culture environments support the kinds of social learning, deliberation, debate, and advocacy practices that allow entry into a shared public discourse? In order to share our thoughts and findings in advance of our white paper, we'll be posting updates here. This introduction marks the start of our series, so stay tuned for more from our team, and please share your ideas, critiques, and comments.

If you know of other groups or projects who are deploying fan culture/popular culture as a springboard for social change, please let us know. We are trying to cast a wide net right now to identify examples which might help us better understand these emerging forms of activism. We are especially interested in examples from outside the United States.

If you are interested in this discussion of civic engagement and participatory culture, you might also want to check out this video produced by the MacArthur Foundation and showcasing the thinkin of Joe Kahne, who is part of the new research hub MacArthur is creating to think about these issues.

Joe Kahne on Civic Participation Online and Off from Spotlight on Vimeo.

December 29, 2009

Harry Potter: The Exhibition, or What Location Entertainment Adds to a Transmedia Franchise

This article has been cross-posted from Henry Jenkins' blog, Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

While in Cambridge for the Futures of Entertainment conference, my wife and I stopped over at the Boston Museum of Science which is currently playing host to Harry Potter: The Exhibition. We had both attended a fascinating presentation about the design and development of this exhibit during last Summer's Azkatraz convention in San Francisco and so we had high anticipations for the show and were not disappointed.

If you live anywhere near Boston, you should definitely try to make it there for the exhibit which runs through Feb. 21. The exhibit is pricy since you have to pay a fee above and beyond the price of admission to the museum itself, but we found it more than worth it.

After the jump, Henry applies the concepts of transmedia from his Futures of Entertainment 4 keynote to the Harry Potter exhibit.

Continue reading "Harry Potter: The Exhibition, or What Location Entertainment Adds to a Transmedia Franchise" »

December 21, 2009

The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling

If you have yet to check out the videos from the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, we hope that you'll take at least an hour of the upcoming holiday to sit down and listen to Henry Jenkin's keynote on transmedia storytelling. Above, we've embedded the video of his talk, and after the jump you can find Henry's essay explaining the key concepts of his thinking (cross-posted from his blog). Enjoy!

Continue reading "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling" »

December 17, 2009

Video: What is Transmedia?

Kevin Lim, one of our wonderful Futures of Entertainment volunteers, made this video. In the video Lim asks, "What is transmedia?" Check it out to see answers from C3's own William Uricchio and Xiaochang Li.

December 14, 2009

Futures of Entertainment 4: Videos, Shwag and More Thoughts on Transmedia

Point, the First:

If you were not able to attend the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference back in November, you're in luck: the videos are now available thanks to MIT TechTV. You can view the aggregation of videos here, or check out the individual talks and panels linked with their respective videos after the jump.

Point, the Second

If you were able to attend the FoE4 conference, you're probably in post-con withdrawal by now. So, why not push your FoE experience into the transmedia realm? Luis, our excellent artist and designer, has made FoE4 mugs -- featuring the cosplaying girls -- available for purchase here.

Her Excellency, Ana, pimping the FoE4 mug

Point, the Third

Last week, I published to the blog an article entitled Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee, which examines the music of Glee as a transmedia experience and how transmedia factors into Glee's business model. I sent out the link to Nancy Baym via Twitter (@nancybaym), who had questioned the relationship between transmedia and music while at the FoE4 conference. Along with Ana Domb Krauskopf (@anadk) and Xiaochang Li (@xiaochang), Nancy and I (@alexleavitt) responded in quick succession about our thoughts on approaching new and old aspects of transmedia that might inform future approaches to franchise studies. I found the discourse interesting and exploratory, so I've reproduced the conversation after the jump below!

Continue reading "Futures of Entertainment 4: Videos, Shwag and More Thoughts on Transmedia" »

December 10, 2009

Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee

Warning: This article on Glee might tend toward the meta, as while I write this article, I will be listening to the first Glee Soundtrack*: seventeen songs from Ryan Murphy's hit show on FOX. And the songs are exactly what I wish to discuss: the transmedia of music.

* The second soundtrack was actually released for sale two days ago on December 8th. If you want to listen to and/or purchase the first soundtrack, you can find it on iTunes or Amazon.


During the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference, as Henry Jenkins comments on his blog, "Nancy Baym asked us to think about when and how music has gone transmedia. We struggled to come up with examples - everyone of course immediately latched onto the ARG created around the Nine Inch Nails; I proposed the comic book Tattoo where artists and writers used Tori Amos songs as their inspiration." What I wish to bring into the limelight is that we've been participating in a musical transmedia experience of epic proportions for the past few months, on TV, on Hulu, on our iPods, and even in our living rooms: the rockin' music of Glee.

Before I continue to discuss how exactly Glee works as transmedia, let me discuss the concept of the fan experience. Henry also writes in the same paragraph, "The question looks different, though, if we ask about transmedia performance, because most contemporary musical artists perform across multiple media - minimally live and recorded performance, but also video and social network sites and Twitter..." Back in October, I wrote an article for the Consortium blog, Performing with Glee, which examines the fan (re-)production that has emerged on YouTube from reenacting scenes from Glee's television episodes. While this fan performance has pushed the Glee experience into a transmedial mode -- the total experience of interacting with the Glee "franchise" spreads across mediums, regardless of its production origins -- the fan activity obviously is not the same as the actual artists or content producers performing across mediums. I try to make the distinction obvious, especially by putting quotation marks around franchise, above, because when we consider transmedia, usually we apply the term franchise to the complete production consumed by the audience without taking into account the extensive continual experience that moves beyond the original production (think: Star Trek conventions, anime cosplayers, or even Superbowl celebration parades).

So I wish, in examining why Glee's business model has been so successful, to explain how Glee's business model has been so successful. And this is due to the fan experience.

Read more after the jump.

Continue reading "Singing in the Living Room: Fueling the Business Model of FOX's Glee" »

November 21, 2009

Transmedia as Archontic texts: Multiplicity, Subjectivity, and Social Change

I meant to cross-post this yesterday, but got so caught up in the panels that it slipped my mind. This was originally posted at

Multiplicity has been transformed into quite the buzzword this morning. Henry featured the concept of multiple and conceptually-varied versions of popular franchises -- Indian versions of Spiderman, for instance, or the story told by Mary Jane -- as one of his 7 key concepts for transmedia. In short, re-imaginings or re-visions of existing texts that both challenge and compliment one another. In traditional media, the emphasis was on continuity and control, ensuring that stories maintained consistency through controlled authorship. In transmedia storytelling, however, the emphasis is on multiplicity, the emergence of multiple authors telling or re-tellings in order to build a rich, varied story world.

This ties into another of Henry's 7 concepts. Subjectivity. In short, transmedia provides the opportunity to tell stories from different viewpoints, to include in the narrative voices that are typically not heard. This notion is politically provocative, since it suggests transmedia's very narrative structures makes room for the production of unheard or background subjects and perspectives. In other words, it allows for the telling of stories and experience and character voices that would not otherwise be told.

Continue reading "Transmedia as Archontic texts: Multiplicity, Subjectivity, and Social Change" »

November 19, 2009

Free Public Lecture Tonight: Jeff Vandermeer on Transmedia

Jeff VanderMeer

In the Boston area tonight for Futures of Entertainment, or a C3-minded local who can't make it to the conference? This evening from 5-7, the novelist, anthologist and cross-media storyteller Jeff VanderMeer is giving a free, open-to-the-public talk as part of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Colloquium lecture series and the unofficial kickoff to Futures of Entertainment! The talk will last about 45 minutes, after which the anthologist, essayist, NPR commentator and CEO Kevin Smokler will lead the Q&A session.

Here’s the rundown:

Booklife: The Private and the Public in Transmedia Storytelling and Self-Promotion
Jeff VanderMeer with Kevin Smokler

Fictional experiments in emerging media like Twitter and Facebook are influencing traditional printed novels and stories in interesting ways, but another intriguing new narrative is also emerging: the rise of “artifacts” that, although they support a writer’s career, have their own intrinsic creative value. What are the benefits and dangers of a confusion between the private creativity and the public career elements of a writer’s life caused by new media and a proliferation of “open channels”? What protective measures must a writer take to preserve his or her “self” in this environment? In addition to the guerilla tactics implicit in storytelling through social media and other unconventional platforms, in what ways is a writer’s life now itself a story irrespective of intentional fictive storytelling? Examining these issues leads naturally to a discussion on the tension and cross-pollination between the private and public lives of writers in our transmedia age, including the strategies and tactics that best serve those who want to survive and flourish in this new environment. What are we losing in the emerging new paradigm, and what do we stand to gain?

A writer for the New York Times Book Review, Huffington Post, and Washington Post, Jeff VanderMeer is also the award-winning author of the metafictional City of Saints & Madmen, the noir fantasy Finch, and Booklife: Strategies & Survival Tips for 21st-Century Writers. His website can be found at

Kevin Smokler is the editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times (Basic Books) which was a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of 2005. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Fast Company and on National Public Radio. He lives in San Francisco, blogs for the Huffington Post and at, and is the CEO of

Presented in conjunction with Futures of Entertainment 4.

The event is, again, free and open to the public – registration for Futures of Entertainment is not required. It begins at 5 PM, runs until 7, and is going down at room 4-231 (building 4, room 231) on the MIT campus. Parking on-campus is a little wonky, but there are multiple parking garages around; a better bet is likely to take public transportation. The Red Line in Boston comes straight to Kendall Square, which is right on the edge of the MIT campus. The lecture location is only a few minutes’ walk from there.


Jeff is currently on tour supporting his new book Booklife, which he describes as “a unique writing guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity, the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers”. I just finished reading my copy this afternoon and I can personally testify that it’s full of a wide range of great stuff. Jeff splits the book into two distinct sections, one on the author’s Public Booklife (marketing, PR, social interactions and other public engagements) and Private Booklife (the actions, philosophies, emotions and other internal struggles of the actual act of writing) and both halves - plus the appendices - are packed with thoughtful insights and useful advice. For example, how do writers deal with envy - and what does Francis Bacon have to say about that? To steal a line from an old tomato sauce commercial, “It’s in there!”

5 o’clock PM tonight, Thursday, November 19th, in room 4-231 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - I’ll see you there!

October 28, 2009

Futures of Entertainment 4 - Transmedia Tacos? You Bet!

Continuing with the weekly Futures of Entertainment theme of transmedia, we'd like to call your attention to the most recent essay posted to Henry's blog, "Transmedia Tacos? You Bet!"

Written for Henry's Transmedia Entertainment & Storytelling class, this essay was composed by Ben Burroughs, a current student in the Masters program at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, USC.

Burroughs, as Henry puts it, writes about how "transmedia tactics are moving from the entertainment industry to other sectors - in this case, the food industry." Whether we can consider the Kogi taco truck to be a transmedia experience in itself or if the truck merely represents similar strategies employed to a non-entertainment industry, this essay represents original thought on the topic, which helps us at least understand how to craft transmedia design in novel ways. As Burroughs explains, "It is important to note that we are not looking at a mature transmedia franchise but are looking for where this my take us in an attempt to synchronize the transmedia model to more seamlessly sew together online and offline disjunctures as well as multiple media platforms."

Perhaps one of the novel takeaways from this essay is the clash and combination of culture and technology:

Kogi's uses of new mediated technology and multiple platforms of this technology have attempted to bridge the gulf between the producer and consumer. No longer is the chef a distant 'other' in the back of a large restaurant but is now in close proximity and spatially there is the perception of closeness...

The truck is speaking to an age of increased mobility, flexibility (flexible specialization), and fluidity in our culture. Can we not read the taco as a text that speaks to the hybridity of a culture and society where Korean kim chi and Latino tacos are representative of larger forces of cultural fusion?

If you're interested in taking a look at Burrough's essay, we've reproduced Henry's original post after the jump. Enjoy!

Continue reading "Futures of Entertainment 4 - Transmedia Tacos? You Bet!" »

October 27, 2009

World Building as Design: Exploratory Video Games

Recently, I've been trying to think about the aesthetic and emotional balance of transmedia works. Many have written before that transmedia flourishes when each individual part of a transmedia experience utilizes the strengths of its respective medium. For example, if a movie is paired with a video game, is it beneficial to incorporate cinematic aesthetics into the video game, or should the producers focus on the interactivity that video games afford (and most films do not)? There are certainly arguments for both sides. Whatever the final decisions of the production team, the individual parts of the transmedia experience will affect and impact the transmedia narrative's audience in specific ways.

Henry has written before that "the core aesthetic impulses behind good transmedia works are world building and seriality" (The Aesthetic of Transmedia [Part 2]). Although Henry states that he wishes to see transmedia narratives flourish in genres beyond "fantasy and science fiction franchises", he concedes, "[T]he transmedia approach enhances certain kinds of works that have been udged [sic?] harshly by traditional aesthetic criteria because they are less concentrated on plot or even character than more classically constructed narratives."

While this article will avoid issues of transmedia, I want to explore more the idea of world building (Henry's first core aesthetic of transmedia works) as possessing successful emotional potential for an audience.

In the same article, Henry writes, "It's long been a charge directed against science fiction works that they are more interested in mapping complex environments than in telling compelling stories," but I would argue that complex environments can give rise to a well of emotional response that in turn create the foundations for compelling stories.

After the jump, I'll be exploring three video games that utilize world building and exploratory participation to craft complex stories out of very simple aesthetics.

Continue reading "World Building as Design: Exploratory Video Games" »

October 22, 2009

Futures of Entertainment 4 - How "Dumbledore's Army" Is Transforming Our World: An Interview with the HP Alliance's Andrew Slack (Parts 1-2)

The Consortium team's moving strongly into November as we gear up for the Futures of Entertainment 4 conference. Of course, registration is still open for the two-day event on November 20 & 21.

As we've said before, Friday will be dedicated to issues of transmedia entertainment. The final panel presentation of the day, Transmedia for Social Change, moderated by Henry Jenkins, will feature Stephen Duncombe (NYU, author of Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in the Age of Fantasy), Andrew Slack (The Harry Potter Alliance), Noessa Higa (Visionaire Media), and Lorraine Sammy (Co-creator, Racebending).

Asking how transmedia can move beyond promotional and commercial interests, this panel will inquire about the potentials for transmedia to affect social change. What parallels can we draw between the activities fan communities and other sites of collective activity? How does participation in the collectives that emerge around transmedia properties equip young people with skills as citizens? What responsibilities should corporations bear, if any, as they try to court fan communities and deep engagement?

This panel will also consider the cross-over between the forms of collective activity that mark participation in transmedia narratives and other forms of collective activities that harness entertainment media for social good. Fan communities are increasingly aware of their power as social networks. With the ability to mobilize (often) large and passionate groups of people quickly in response to actions that threaten their values and practices, fan communities constitute collective bargaining units acting on the behalf of consumers. These communities may deploy this power to try to protect a favorite program from cancellation (thus working hand and hand with the interests of producers); they may deploy it to challenge a decision they feel hurts the integrity of the franchise (thus pushing back against a producer's perceived interests); or to resist cease and desist letters which threaten their activities. How do buy-cotts, the tactical deployment of consumption that has emerged as a key strategies for fans to have their voices heard, resemble other forms of consumer activism?

To talk a bit more to the content of the Transmedia for Social Change panel, we have reproduced an interview conducted by Henry with Andrew Slack (on the Board of Directors for the HP Alliance), who will speak on Friday afternoon. Henry posted this interview to his blog over the summer. You can read it in full after the jump!

Continue reading "Futures of Entertainment 4 - How "Dumbledore's Army" Is Transforming Our World: An Interview with the HP Alliance's Andrew Slack (Parts 1-2)" »

October 15, 2009

Futures of Entertainment 4 - Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives: An Interview with Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Parts 1-3)

The Futures of Entertainment 4 conference is slowly drawing closer, and registration is still open!

As the entirety of Friday will focus on projects and issues of transmedia, we decided to bring you an interview that Henry posted to his blog back in May with Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, the editors of Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. The third of a set of three books exploring studies of media, Third Person gathers dozens of essays discussing and debating topics surrounding "vast narratives" that draws from the perspectives of artists and academics alike.

Henry is currently using Third Person as a central resource in his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment course at USC, so if you would like an introduction to the text or more details about issues of transmedia, francising, branding, etc., we have reproduced the full interview after the jump.

Continue reading "Futures of Entertainment 4 - Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives: An Interview with Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Parts 1-3)" »

October 2, 2009

Thoughts on Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation

I originally had another topic planned for this article, but I decided haphazardly to change it at the last minute, because one video made such an impression on me yesterday morning.

My morning routine consists of a few primary objectives, one of which is to browse my Twitter stream to find anything of note or something missed during the night. I noticed that Henry had posted a link to a YouTube video late Wednesday night under the guise of:

Susan Boyle's Legacy?: Winning performance from Ukraine's Got Talent has Drawn more than 2 Million views.

The link sent me to the video embedded below. While the clip lasts 8 minutes and 33 seconds, I highly recommend taking the time to watch through the entire video. This is storytelling at its finest.

The astounding ability of a hand to shape a story is purely evidenced by Kseniya's work. It's simply awe-inspiring at how simple movements of addition and subtraction, how curves and lines and cuts can craft such simple yet refined art. I find it more beautiful because the scenes flow and crash (literally) into each other. Metaphors become real images. After the planes enter the scene, at 1:47 Simonova scrambles the bench-sitting couple into a blur of sand, a blur that represents fear, but a physical swirl that becomes the scared face of the female onlooker. When the bombs hit at 3:08, Simonova throws a handful of dust onto the baby, eliminating him symbolically and literally from the picture.

This video represents a piece of wondrous art and fanciful storytelling. And by the posting of this article, it has probably reached over 3 million views on YouTube. After the jump, I'll examine some more implications that this video presents about YouTube, transmedia, and cross-platform distribution; how we explain our understanding of popularity online; and how the Internet complicates our comprehension of foreign cultures.

Continue reading "Thoughts on Kseniya Simonova's Sand Animation" »

September 29, 2009

District 9 (Part One): Can a Bench Be a Transmedia Extension?

Yesterday, Daniel wrote Part 1 of an article (International Development Enterprises India: Can a Mobile Cinema Truck be a Transmedia Extension?) relating his personal impressions and applications of a recent post written by Henry over at Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Henry provides a comprehensive introduction to the wildly-successful marketing strategy conceived by the production staff of Neill Blomkamp's recent film, District 9. Benches, bus stops, and phone booths plastered in "propaganda" -- ultimately a marketing scheme for the film -- were scattered throughout major U.S. cities this summer before the release of the movie and seemed to impress (or confuse) enough people into buying a movie ticket. In case you didn't get the chance to pop over to Henry's blog to peruse the article, we've reproduced it in full after the jump (you can also visit Henry's blog to read Part 2).

Continue reading "District 9 (Part One): Can a Bench Be a Transmedia Extension?" »

September 28, 2009

International Development Enterprises India: Can a Mobile Cinema Truck Be a Transmedia Extension? (Part 1 of 2)

So, can a park bench be a transmedia extension? I would vote yes -- at least in this case. It may be a small piece of a larger system of information about the film but it moves beyond simple branding and already situates us emotionally and intellectually inside the fiction.
Prof. Henry Jenkins, on District 9 and transmedia
If people see a picture of mine and then sit down and talk about it for 15 minutes, that is a very fine reward, I think. That's good enough for me.
Billy Wilder, Film Director (Sunset Boulevard & Double Indemnity)

Building on Prof. Jenkins recent entry on District 9 and transmedia in the first week of the inaugural offering of his Transmedia Storytelling & Entertainment class at USC (full text available here), his discussion reminds me that it is a false assumption that the opportunity to 'situate' the audience and fan community "emotionally and intellectually inside the fiction" always occurs prior to the release of a film or television show.

Continue reading "International Development Enterprises India: Can a Mobile Cinema Truck Be a Transmedia Extension? (Part 1 of 2)" »

September 22, 2009

Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus

In anticipation of Futures of Entertainment 4, which will focus on transmedia, we at C3 wanted to share the syllabus for Henry's Transmedia course at USC for anyone who wants to brush up on their reading.

The readings and speakers heavily feature C3 alum and affiliates, as well as previous FOE presenters. So those not fortunate enough to catch Henry's class will have a chance to meet with some of the featured thinkers at FOE4.

The following post originally appeared at on August 11th, but it's reposted in its entirety below for anyone who might have missed it.

Continue reading "Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A Syllabus" »

August 27, 2009

The Futures Are Near... Don't Miss Them!

It might only be August now, but here at C3 we are all about November these days; more specifically November 20th and 21st when we'll be hosting our fourth annual Futures of Entertainment Conference (FOE) in the Bartos Theater right here at MIT. This is our biggest public event of the year and a unique opportunity to bring together some of the most influential minds in media industries and academia.

FOE is neither an academic or an industry conference, it is not a place for pitches or for presenting a paper, but rather, it's a space for in depth discussion about issues that are of interest to us all, a place for us to imagine together what diverse futures might look like. Drawing industry and academic speakers together with researchers from the Convergence Culture Consortium, Futures of Entertainment 4 provides a unique opportunity to participate in dynamic discussions about the future entertainment and media landscape. Organized around a "talk-show" style model, with panelists participating in moderated discussions about key issues affecting the future of the culture and creative industries, Futures of Entertainment 4 brings clever thinkers from both industry and the academy together for long conversations. Over the last three years this has produced deep, thorough treatments of issues ranging from the ethics of social media, effective strategies for participating in virtual worlds, the future of media metrics and measurement, and the challenges of building compelling transmedia experiences.

This year, FOE will dedicate and entire day to discussing transmedia creation. We are now beyond the point where it's necessary to define what transmedia is, rather we'd like to explore the creative and business processes behind it, engaging with questions around managing, producing, financing and positioning transmedia efforts, as well as how to identify the value they create.

On the second day of the conference we'll focus on some of the other issues that have long been part of Convergence Culture Consortium's research agenda, such as fan activism, contemporary media business models, and the progressive blurring of distinctions between communication mediums.

If you want to stay up to date on the latest FOE-related news please visit or follow us on our brand new twitter account @futuresof. And remember on November 20th and 21st Cambridge is the place to be.

May 30, 2009

Transmedia in Latin America (Part I of II)

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.

Continue reading "Transmedia in Latin America (Part I of II)" »

March 13, 2009

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.

Continue reading "Research Update: Platforms, Audience, and Television's Shifting Landscape" »

March 6, 2009

The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited): Multiplicity, Anime, and Manga

This is a post Henry wrote for his blog in early February that touches on a number of key issues the Consortium engages with. I thought it might be worth revisiting "The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited)"

The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited): Multiplicity, Anime, and Manga
by Henry Jenkins

Writing in 1991, Roberta Pearson and William Uricchio (the co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program) used the Batman as an example of the kinds of pressures being exerted on the superhero genre at a moment when older texts were continuing to circulate (and in fact, were recirculated in response to renewed interests in the characters), newer versions operated according to very different ideological and narratalogical principles, a range of auteur creators were being allowed to experiment with the character, and the character was assuming new shapes and forms to reflect the demands of different entertainment sectors and their consumers:

Whereas broad shifts in emphasis had occurred since 1939, these changes had been, for the most part, consecutive and consensual. Now, newly created Batmen, existing simultaneously with the older Batmen of the television series and comic reprints and back issues, all struggled for recognition and a share of the market. But the contradictions amongst them may threaten both the integrity of the commodity form and the coherence of the fans' lived experience of the character necessary to the Batman's continued success.

(See The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media)

The superhero comic, they suggest, may not be able to withstand "the tension between, on the one hand, the essential maintenance of a recognizable set of key character components and, on the other hand, the increasingly necessary centrifugal dispersion of those components."

Retrospectively, we can see Pearson and Uricchio as describing a moment of transition from continuity to multiplicity as the governing logic of the superhero comics realm. Rather than fragmenting or confusing the audience, this multiplicity of Batmen helped fans learn to live in a universe where there were diverse, competing images of their favorite characters and indeed, to appreciate the pleasures of seeing familiar fictions transformed in unpredicted ways.

Continue reading "The Many Lives of The Batman (Revisited): Multiplicity, Anime, and Manga" »

February 10, 2009

Whedon's New Business Model 'Horribly' Awesome

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.

Continue reading "Whedon's New Business Model 'Horribly' Awesome" »

February 5, 2009

Gossip Girl and the Value of Snark (Part I)

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.

Continue reading "Gossip Girl and the Value of Snark (Part I)" »

January 27, 2009

The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?

Man, I hate hearing about an awesome conference just after the thing's wrapped up. So it is this week with PaperCamp, which went down in London on January 17th. Here's the description of the event from its own webpage:

What is PaperCamp?
A get-together for a day to talk about, fiddle with, make and explore what's possible with paper based on a blog post ( where a lot of people seemed enthusiastic about the idea. PaperCamp is a 'fringe' event to BookCamp, in London's Kings Cross on the 17th January.

What will happen at PaperCamp?
Well, as it's a '___Camp'-type thing, that's largely up to you... we'll have a room, and a grid of timeslots for you to fill with talks, activities, discussions of your making. However, to frame that a little, the original thought behind PaperCamp was 'hacking paper and it's new possibiities'. We do have one thing organised - a 'keynote' if you like from Aaron Straup Cope from a little site called Flickr and more importantly,

Whether that's looking at material possibilities of paper itself, connecting paper to the internet and vice-versa with things like 2d-barcodes, RFIDs or exotic things like printing with conductive inks... it's about the fact that paper hasn't gone away in the digital age - it's become more useful, more abundant and in some cases gone and got itself bionic superpowers...

As I say - it's up to you what you want to make of it, please bring to the event half-formed thoughts, ideas, projects you've done or anything you would like get others exposed to, or even hacking on. These can take the form of straight-forward talks, or, things you want other people's brains and hands to help with... please bring them... along with Paper, pens, RFIDs, soldering irons, Heidelberg Lithos or any other equipment or materials you will need. We will just provide chairs, tables and a projector...

Even just reading that description, my mind is officially blown – and that's nothing compared to reading Jeremy Keith's liveblogging of the event.

Continue reading "The Future of Entertainment is... Paper?" »

November 23, 2008

FOE3 Liveblog: Session 5 - Franchising, Extensions and Worldbuilding

Moderating is C3 alum Ivan Askwith. The panel includes Lance Weiler ( (Director Head Trauma and The Last Broadcast), Tom Casiello, Tom Boland (Daytime Emmy Award-Winning former writer of As the World Turns, One Life to Live, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless), Sharon Ross (Columbia College Chicago), and Gregg Hale (from Campfire and producer of the Blair Witch Project).

Liveblogging provided by CMS grad student Flourish Klink.

IA: How many people would classify themselves as soap fans? [a few] Wrestling fans? [fewer] So it may be valuable to sketch out some of the stuff they're working on in more detail which may provide a richer foundation for us to talk.

GH: So this is the latest thing we've finished at Campfire for True Blood.

[Descriptive video about transmedia storytelling ad campaign for True Blood]

LW: Head Trauma and what we did with the actual film - the movie is about the fragmentation of memory, a guy who comes back home after 20 years to settle his grandmother's estate and finds it inhabited by squatters; he hits his head and starts having recurring nightmares that start to turn into reality. So we started to play with what's real and what isn't. We started with interactive comics and there were all kinds of easter eggs and rabbit holes as you moved through it. And that was a gateway to some of the other experiences. It was a way that we were able to build the world out. We interjected mobile experiences so when the movie had a world premiere we handed out these Jack Chick-style comics and there were ciphers and clues within them. On the back it asks "do you want to play the game?" and when you called the number that's there you'd get the nemesis of the movie; they'd hang up and then we'd call or text them back. This continued back and forth. Even when you went to the website, we could figure out that you were on there and call you during your visit to it. Throughout the premiere there was a whole give and take with phones - about 86% of the audience was engaged mobilely. And we had an online series with all these subliminal things in it, and there was a remix area, where people could remix their own fragments. At one point when people showed up somewhere based on the clues in the game for a secret movie showing I ended up calling the LAPD and they came by with the helicopter and I executed all these SMS and phone calls saying things like "We're watching you!"

TB: Before we dive in I want to explain the marketing machine behind the WWE. Trust me when I say this is very big business.

Continue reading "FOE3 Liveblog: Session 5 - Franchising, Extensions and Worldbuilding" »

October 9, 2008

Announcing: Futures of Entertainment 3

Ths site for C3's annual conference, the Futures of Entertainment, now in its third year, is now live.

Registration information will be soon to follow, and be sure to check in for updates to speaker lists as we start to finalize our panels in the upcoming weeks. This year promises to be exciting and provocative, as we push our themes of convergence and media spreadability onto the global stage, while not losing sight of central C3 issues such as transmedia storytelling and audience value.

To get an idea of what the Futures of Entertainment conference is like, check out last year's site and listen or view the podcasts.

More to come!

June 5, 2008

Jonathan Gray: Promising a Sequel, and Myths of the Hero's Becoming

Today we're featuring a piece C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray posted recently on his own blog (where Ivan Askwith and Derek Johnson also write) about sequels.

Recently, I saw both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (funny how a sequel allows you the right to such a long title, eh?) and Iron Man. I was interested by how both dealt with the prospect of a sequel, and it got me thinking about how films announce a forthcoming sequel, and how sequels work. (NO SPOILERS YET, BUT I'LL WARN YOU LATER OF A COUPLE, IN CAPS).

To start, I'd argue that if sequels so often stink, or are at least very silly and fluffy, it's because many sequels aren't really about the hero who supposedly started the franchise.

More after the fold

Continue reading "Jonathan Gray: Promising a Sequel, and Myths of the Hero's Becoming" »

June 3, 2008

More Transmedia News

I've been meaning to do another post on this topic for a while and recently posted this over on my blog. First, I was inspired by a story in Fast Company, sent to me by Jesse Alexander, which described a gathering of Hollywood's fan boy elite to talk about the futures of cross-platform storytelling:

Tim Kring, the lanky, goateed guy at the head of the table, created Heroes, NBC's hit television show about superpowered people. To his right, in a black hoodie and narrow black-framed glasses is Damon Lindelof, cocreator of Lost, ABC's island-fantasy juggernaut, as well as producer of next year's eagerly anticipated Star Trek movie, directed by J.J. Abrams. Across the way is Lindelof's buddy Jesse Alexander, co-executive producer of Heroes (formerly of Lost and the pioneering she-geek hit Alias). Nearby is Rob Letterman, the self-described nerdy director of DreamWorks' next mega-franchise movie, Monsters vs. Aliens. He's chatting up video game creator Matt Wolf, who's developing a project with Alexander....The long-haired bearded guy pouring straight bourbon is Ron Moore, creator of the new Battlestar Galactica, the Sci Fi Channel's acclaimed reimagining of the classic series. The guy eating pizza on the couch is Javier Grillo-Marxauch, a veteran producer of Lost and NBC's paranormal series Medium, who's now having his own fantasy graphic novel, Middleman, turned into a series on ABC Family.

So, how come I never get invited to parties like this?

Continue reading "More Transmedia News" »

Talking Transmedia: An Interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part III)

This is the third and final part of an interview with Jeff Gomez that I originally ran on my blog.

How important do you think hardcore fans are to the success of genre entertainment? How do such fans create value around your properties?

As exemplified by the efforts of many recent genre producers, the cultivation, validation and celebration of fandom are vital to the success of any genre rollout. It's interesting to note that two major genre releases in 2007, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising and The Golden Compass were both released with either limited or no transmedia components designed to immerse a potential fan base into the fantastical worlds of the films--no one was indoctrinated into the fiction--and both failed spectacularly.

Genre fans are passionate. Passion is the least expensive and most powerful driver behind any endeavor. Passion can punch holes through the wall of noise that is media culture, it generates curiosity and leadership, and the passion of a base of fans can help to keep producers and creatives "honest"--forcing them to remain true to the core messages, themes, mythology and characterizations of the story world. Passion generates value, because it draws attention and is often quite infectious.

What do you see as the downsides of generating such passionate consumers?

On the other hand, passion can be blind and judgmental. Fan zeal can threaten to "box in" a property, potentially stunting its growth. It can generate negative "buzz" around a project, which can leak into media coverage and plant seeds of doubt in the general audience base. Despite the attachment of a well known director in George Miller for Warner Bros. upcoming Justice League super hero production, for example, many fans have expressed doubt around casting and story issues that have leaked to the fan media. These have raised concerns in the studio strong enough to postpone the start of production until after the Writers Guild of America strike ended. The delay allowed for the production to take a lower profile and for script and casting choices to be amended. Whether or not this will help the production remains to be seen.

Continue reading "Talking Transmedia: An Interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part III)" »

May 28, 2008

Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part II)

What do you see as the challenges of generating content that appeals to both niche and mass publics at the same time?

Like any good story, content designed for genre-lovers or niche markets should contain strong characters, evocative issues and clear, accessible throughlines. Story arcs must be designed from the outset to feel complete and deliver on their promise.

Also importantly, the audience needs to be able to appreciate and enjoy the content as it is presented solely on the driving platform of the trans-media production. With Heroes, for example, the driving platform is the television series. Much of the success of the franchise hinges on the audience finding the show exciting, intelligible and complete.

What the producers of Heroes are doing quite well is in providing fans of the show with a far more expansive experience of the fictional universe of the show on the complementary or orbiting platforms of the trans-media production. This additional content is presented in the form of web sites, graphic novels, prose fiction, etc., and this material all takes place within the canon of the Heroes chronology. So fans are provided with the level of depth, verisimilitude, sophistication and complexity that they crave, but casual viewers are not required to seek it out to enjoy the show.

When the two approaches cross over, we have seen the potential for pop culture phenomena. The media's coverage of "The Lost Experience" for example, conveyed the fact that there was a greater architecture to the fictional universe of the Lost TV series than was originally suspected. The excitement generated by the transmedia components of the show helped to boost broad interest in it. The same can be said of similar approaches for both the Batman: The Dark Knight and Cloverfield feature films.

Also powerful on the home front, as families gather to watch Heroes, a teen fan of the show might recognize a peripheral character making her first appearance on a given night's episode as one he originally read about in the online comic. So our fan takes on the role of gatekeeper for the show, filling in family and friends on the backstory of the character, and giving them a greater appreciation of the show with his "exclusive" knowledge, and making the whole experience more entertaining.

In short, depth and complexity are built around the show, rather than weighing it down by presenting it front and center.

Continue reading "Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part II)" »

Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part I)

Jeff Gomez, the chief executive officer of Starlight Runner entertainment, spoke at the Futures of Entertainment 2 conference last fall as part of a panel discussion on Cult Media, which also included transmedia creator Danny Bilson, Heroes executive producer Jesse Alexander, ; and Gordon Tichell from Walden Media, the company which produces the Narnia films. Not surprisingly, given I was moderator, the session quickly became a geek out festival mostly centered around issues of transmedia entertainment. You can enjoy the podcast of the event here.

As we were preparing for the session, we distributed a set of questions to the speakers, some of which were covered during the panel, some of which were not. Gomez recently wrote to send me his further reflections on many of those questions in the hopes to continue public conversation around recent developments in transmedia entertainment. I am running this on my blog and wanted to likewise cross-post it here on the C3 blog as well. Given that the C3 blog usually runs smaller pieces than mine, I thought I'd run a couple of sections of the interview today and more later this week.

First of all, though, here's a bio on Gomez:

As the Chief Executive Officer of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Jeff Gomez is a leading creator of highly successful fictional worlds. He is an expert at cross-platform intellectual property development and transmedia storytelling, as well as at extending niche properties such as toys, animation or video game titles into the global mass market.

Continue reading "Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez (Part I)" »

May 15, 2008

C3 Spring Retreat Discussion on Transmedia

Friday's session at the C3 Spring Retreat featured a series of panels and breakout discussions amongst our consulting researchers, invited guests, and representatives from our partner companies. We mentioned back at MIT Futures of Entertainment 2 that we wanted to design that event to be a public place for industry and academic minds to come together and collaborate and brainstorm together. On a smaller scale, with those officially involved in the Consortium, we see our retreat as a chance to foster the same type of innovation and conversation among our partner companies, the academics we work with, and our core team here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies.

This got started on Friday morning with a conversation featuring C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray moderating a panel on transmedia, an issue C3 has been interested in since our launch at the beginning of 2006. Joining Jon was two more of our newest consulting researchers, Abigail Derecho and Derek Johnson, drawing on their respective work on fans and franchises to look at the phenomenon of transmedia. From the industry end, we invited two guests who are doing innovative work as transmedia practitioners: Keith Clarkson from Xenophile Media and Matt Wolf from Double Twenty Productions.

Continue reading "C3 Spring Retreat Discussion on Transmedia" »

March 26, 2008

SCMS: Jason Mittell, Jonathan Gray, and Paratexts

One of the more intriguing panels at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies dealt with paratextual material--that material outside the "main text" or "primary text" of the show--from a variety of perspectives. The idea of paratext is that it is anything surrounding the text that isn't considered the text itself, and it is most often used to give us better understanding of the primary text.

This panel featured two of the Consortium's consulting researchers--Jonathan Gray and Jason Mittell--as well as two academics I've had the pleasure of increasingly collaborating with--Louisa Stein and Kristina Busse. Kristina was responsible for helping spearhead the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussions that took place in LiveJournal and on Henry Jenkins' blog last year, and Louisa and I are participating in a workshop with others at Console-ing Passions next month to discuss that series of discussions in greater detail.

This panel was directly informed by the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion as well. All four participants were part of that discussion, and all four are involved with the new journal Transformative Works and Culture, whose first issue is coming out this fall. Here, the way the panel was laid out was in response to many of the issues raised as part of that Gender and Fan Studies/Culture discussion and the ongoing dialogue that came out of that series. In particular, the four presentations at SCMS in this session were organized based on their relativity to the source text itself.

Continue reading "SCMS: Jason Mittell, Jonathan Gray, and Paratexts" »

March 21, 2008

SCMS: Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds

For a couple of weeks now, I've been planning to include some notes here on the Consortium's blog about a few of the sessions I had the opportunity to attend at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago. The event was a great opportunity to see many friends and colleagues, and it gave me a chance to learn more about the current state of a variety of research projects, as well as hear about some new projects and meet some interesting new faces as well. In the following series of posts over the next few days, I wanted to transform some of my random notes about the conference into a recap of sorts.

I'll start with the first session of the conference, which came at noon on Thursday. I had the fortunate opportunity to present first. I know many people probably feel that isn't so fortunate in timing, especially since most of the people I know weren't even arriving at the conference until Thursday, but I was excited about the opportunity to get the stress of my own presentation out of the way so that I could concentrate instead on enjoying other panels. Despite the early start time, though, the panel was standing room only, and I have the interesting work of some of my fellow panelists to thank for that.

My presentation was about a concept I've written on here on the blog from time-to-time: vast narratives and "immersive story worlds," a concept I have drawn on beginning with my Master's thesis work here at MIT.

Continue reading "SCMS: Vast Narratives and Immersive Story Worlds" »

March 7, 2008

Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (2 of 2)

Five Key Components of Viral Marketing and ARGs

You can certainly have a viral marketing campaign without an ARG, but I've been thinking that leveraging the common elements of viral marketing with the concepts behind an ARG while executing the campaign could really engage audiences and create significant buzz in the popular press, especially when the field is becoming more crowded and the ideas less novel.

There seem to be five key components shared by successful viral marketing and ARGs:

Continue reading "Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (2 of 2)" »

Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (1 of 2)

One of the things I enjoy about working with C3 is that you actually get to see many of the concepts and tools that we study applied in practice. How I discovered a new ARG, Find the Lost Ring, made me think about four common elements of viral marketing and alternate reality games (ARGs) - two things I've been thinking about of late - and how these concepts can be used together to build a franchise or a brand.

Continue reading "Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (1 of 2)" »

February 22, 2008

Board Game Franchises Come to Film

Seems that board games based on media properties have been more prevalent than media properties based on board games. After all, it's easy to create a fairly low-maintenance ancillary product by replacing the names of various streets with venues associated with The Simpsons or Star Wars. It's a bit more challenging to turn the very brief narratives of most board games into film.

Now, news has come from Hasbro that a major deal has been signed to do just that, however, and many of the world's favorite board games are set to come to life through a partnership with Universal Pictures.

Continue reading "Board Game Franchises Come to Film" »

February 3, 2008

Fandom in the Age of Franchising (2 of 2)

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.

Continue reading "Fandom in the Age of Franchising (2 of 2)" »

Fandom in the Age of Franchising (1 of 2)

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.

Continue reading "Fandom in the Age of Franchising (1 of 2)" »

January 29, 2008

Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts

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

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

Continue reading "Bernard Timberg and "Launch" and "Rebound" Texts" »

January 14, 2008

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

Product Placement and Soap Operas

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

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

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

January 9, 2008

Tying Live Events into a Transmedia Narrative

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

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

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

Continue reading "Tying Live Events into a Transmedia Narrative" »

December 10, 2007

"We Had So Many Stories to Tell": The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling

Here is a post that I put up on my blog earlier this month that I thought might be of particular interest to C3 readers, especially in light of the recent Futures of Entertainment 2 conference:

"We had so many stories to tell and there was only so much room in the TV show -- so we decided that we could tell these alternative stories in the comics. The stories could be deeper, broader and reveal more secrets about our characters. It was also a way to tell stories that would be otherwise unproduceable on our show." -- Aron Eli Coleite and Joe Pokaski on the Heroes comics.

From time to time, I have used my blog to point towards key steps in the evolution of what I have been calling transmedia storytelling. For a good overview of the concept, check out my Transmedia Storytelling 101 post. Here's part of my definition:

Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. So, for example, in The Matrix franchise, key bits of information are conveyed through three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games. There is no one single source or ur-text where one can turn to gain all of the information needed to comprehend the Matrix universe.

This concept has been more fully developed through a series of recent CMS thesis, which you can access on line: Ivan Askwith discusses Lost as an example of how media extensions can be used to enhance audience engagement; Geoffrey Long discusses the aesthetics of transmedia entertainment with a focus on the Jim Henson corporation; Sam Ford explores how transmedia storytelling might expand the reach of contemporary soap operas; and Alec Austin develops an approach to genre conventions which helps to explain the interplay of different elements in a transmedia system.

My thoughts have returned to transmedia entertainment having recently read the graphic novel edition of the first season's comics for Heroes, which comes with a wonderful Alex Ross cover, and which includes an interesting conversation between Executive Producer Jeph Loeb and series writers Aron Eli Coleite and Joe Pkaski about the impulses which led them to use comics to build out the world of Heroes on the web. This post is also inspired by the conversation which I had with Heroes producers Jesse Alexander and Mark Warshaw at the MIT Communications Forum a few weeks ago. The webcast version of that exchange can not be found on the web and includes rich discussions of how Heroes fits within larger industry trends that stress "engagement" rather than "appointment" television.

Continue reading ""We Had So Many Stories to Tell": The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling" »

October 24, 2007

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)

This is the final section of a four-part series featuring an interview with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, who helped produce tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life.

Sam Ford: Electric Sheep is using this collaboration for the launch of OnRez, your viewer of the Second Life universe. What is it about the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration you all are producing that made this the best opportunity to launch OnRez?

Daniel Krueger: I can't speak for our software development team, but I think that it's always been something that Electric Sheep wanted to do, as far as making an easier interface for navigating Second Life. It's not traditionally a very intuitive space for new users, so we wanted to make something simple for new users to come in with. We launched it with this project because we wanted to provide the easiest way for CSI:NY viewers who have never used Second Life to be able to come into the virtual world. It's really a perfect opportunity to launch OnRez.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (4 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)

The following is the third part of an interview series being published today regarding tonight's launch of the CSI:NY television series crossover into Second Life. This interview, with Damon Taylor and Daniel Krueger from Electric Sheep, looks at the motivations, implementation, and plans for extending the popular crime drama series into a virtual world.

Sam Ford: What is Electric Sheep Company's involvement in this project?

Damon Taylor: We are the vendor working with CBS to develop this, and it all started out as a relationship between Electric Sheep and CBS, working with Anthony E. Zuiker, who has become convinced that virtual worlds provide an opportunity for television companies or entertainment companies in general to create and provide content in ways that has never been done before. This has been a six-month planning process, culminating today. Our contract with CBS is to do this for six months, so we will be operating this experience for the next half-year. With content being updated every four weeks, we will be moving this story forward, along with a second television show next year that will tie back into the whole storyline.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (3 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)

What follows is an interview with Electric Sheep Company producers Daniel Krueger and Damon Taylor about their involvement in the CSI:NY/Second Life collaboration that launches with tonight's episode of the crime scene investigation drama on CBS. For a background on the crossover, look at this post from earlier today.

Sam Ford: To start off with, what do the two of you believe are some of the most compelling aspects of the CSI:NY/Second Life crossover that's taking place tonight, and what are the benefits for CBS and CSI:NY, on the one hand, and for Second Life other other?

Damon Taylor: This experience is compelling for users from two different perspectives. One of those perspectives is new users of Second Life, who are new to virtual worlds in general. The other perspective is for existing Second Life users. Potential new users who are fans of CSI:NY will care about this crossover because it will give them the opportunity to wrestle with CSI content in a way that has never been made available to them before. We have endeavored and achieved a true cross-platform experience where these fans can watch the television show, see the storyline that began on the TV show continued in-world, and then see the storyline jump back to the TV show next February when there is a sequel show that wraps up the storyline that starts tonight.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (2 of 4)" »

Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)

For those who haven't heard, tonight is the launch of a particularly compelling transmedia experience, the first time a major television franchise has driven its viewers into a virtual world to fill in the gap of a cliffhanger mystery that will not be resolved until next February.

CSI:NY, the New York version of the Anthony E. Zuiker television franchise, will feature an episode tonight in which a murder mystery takes the crime scene investigation team deep into Linden Lab's Second Life, with the mystery not being resolved until the concluding episode next year. The activities that take place in SL will build off what happens on the show and are planned to give fans the opportunity to get acquainted with a virtual world and also to have a new place to interact with and around the television franchise.

Continue reading "Producing the CSI:NY/Second Life Crossover: An Interview with Electric Sheep's Taylor and Krueger (1 of 4)" »

October 19, 2007

Live Viewing + 3 Days via DVR + Visiting Transmedia Brand Extensions = More Questions about Engagement

This week marked some significant events in the quest for a measure of engagement with and consumption of advertising. Announcements included the first round of C3 metrics, a new ad-insertion software company backed by some major players, and a partnership between Nielsen and ESPN on total audience measurement. These new developments bring them a number of new implications, but the old questions of what really constitutes engagement, and with what, remain.

A question raised in my mind about C3 is if we should be looking at engagement with TV programming or with ads, or both, and how could we be looking at those metrics in a holistic way? Although the collective effect of content and advertising may matter, there are still no guarantees.

Continue reading "Live Viewing + 3 Days via DVR + Visiting Transmedia Brand Extensions = More Questions about Engagement" »

October 16, 2007

Best and Worst Practice in Online Narrative Extensions

I wanted to respond this morning to a piece over at The Extratextuals, the blog which C3 alum Ivan Askwith has a 1/3 stake in. This was not from Ivan, but prolific Extratextual Jonathan Gray, who had a couple of notes of interest for me.

Gray reviews two NBC-related textual extensions of their show, a character blog from My Name Is Earl and the Dunder Mifflin site for The Office. His criticisms of each are both quite strong, as they include official NBC logos, advertisements for shows, ranking favorite characters, and a whole host of things that break the illusion that this is in any way part of the narrative world. I think his criticisms here are a lesson as to how to make these extratextual extensions more meaningful and part of creating an immersive story world, a sense of deeper engagement with the characters.

He asks for examples of really good Web sites, and there's one, bar none, that deserves all the credit: WWE.

Continue reading "Best and Worst Practice in Online Narrative Extensions" »

September 16, 2007

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.

Continue reading "The Disney Channel: Educating Children for a Transmediated World" »

September 14, 2007

Jonathan's Story: Guiding Light's New Transmedia Project

A story that's been getting some press in the American daytime drama industry of late is over at Guiding Light, where the character Jonathan Randall returned for a short stint recently after having faked his death, along with his daughter's, in order to escape the domineering figure of Alan Spaulding, his daughter's great-grandfather.

A short-stint return of a popular character is always big news in daytime, but it's not particularly novel. What is perhaps more interesting is his return is yet another chance for daytime to experiment with the novel, quite literally, as Procter & Gamble Productions is promoting a book tie-in with Jonathan's return, with the upcoming release of Jonathan's Story through Simon and Schuster. See this post from A.C. Powers at The Soap Dispenser for more, and look here for more information on the character.

Continue reading "Jonathan's Story: Guiding Light's New Transmedia Project" »

August 15, 2007

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.

Continue reading "C3 Updates: Flash Gordon, ATWT Inturn, and Ten Day Take" »

July 31, 2007

Enlightened Hollywood Returns to Fandom Marketing

Marketing movies was never much of a "long term" activity for movie studios, and most historically have used broadcast to quickly hype an upcoming release. It's just how things typically worked, particularly when the financial success of a film is all about the opening weekend. As the years have passed though, this approach hasn't yielded the kind of box office receipts that a studio craves. With their young, key audience harder to reach, it's interesting to see how these marketers are getting much more inventive.

This "inventiveness", in keeping with Henry's observations of fan culture, was arguably first tinkered with when Hollywood took a mediocre, kitschy movie like Snakes on a Plane and decided to work slowly on building a fan base before the movie's release. Not all agree that this movie was truly a success and it's doubtful that it will become a cult classic. But this type of fan marketing hasn't been jettisoned, and recent activity to promote The Dark Knight demonstrates what appears to be a great case study of how to apply fan marketing to the film business.

Of course it's easier with a property as perfect as this, particularly with its enormous cult following. But kudos to Warner Brothers as they incorporate unique fan marketing, and engaging alternate reality gaming techniques into its promotional mix.

Continue reading "Enlightened Hollywood Returns to Fandom Marketing" »

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?

Continue reading "Producers, Writers, and Advertisers Harmed by the Hype" »

July 24, 2007

Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand

Over the past few days, there have been a couple of interesting ideas batted around by C3 consulting researchers and alumni on a couple of issues that I thought might be of direct interest to the wider C3 readership. With all that is happening in the fan fallout from Harry Potter, the repercussions and new business deals stemming from the upfronts, and all the issues we've been covering more regularly, I thought that pointing the way toward a couple of those pieces might be beneficial.

One is an issue that I've been following from afar. I've never been an avid Simpsons viewer, although I appreciate its place in popular culture. It's not even that I have any aversion to The Simpsons, but I've just never become a regular viewer. Nevertheless, I've been paying attention to the promotion of The Simpsons Movie, both in the transformation of 7-Eleven Stores to Kwik-E Marts and in the competition for deciding which Springfield is the home of the Simpson family.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jason Mittell had published a piece on the Springfield competition. Now, Grant McCracken has weighed in on the Kwik-E Mart cross-promotion.

Continue reading "Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand" »

July 17, 2007

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.

Continue reading "How Much Have Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year?" »

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.

Continue reading "WGA Negotiations Begin; What Will Be the Future of Transmedia Storytelling?" »

May 28, 2007

Concepts from the C3 Weblog

For the final post in wrapping up a look at the body of work the C3 team has aided me with in putting up here on the site, I wanted to point the way toward a few concepts that have been articulated publicly here on the Convergence Culture Consortium site through the blog in the past year to direct people to the posts explaining them in further detail, as well as terms or concepts from Henry Jenkins' work, and those of us at the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, that have made their way into our posts from time-to-time.

1.) Immersive Story Worlds. This is a concept that I developed in conjunction with my thesis work on looking at the current state and the future of the soap opera industry. The idea was to outline a category that explains narratives which are serial by nature, which have multiple creators, a sense of long-term continuity, a character backlog, contemporary ties to a deep history, and a sense of permanence. I included portions of my thesis outlining this concept--and how it relates to the Marvel and DC Comic Universes, the world of pro wrestling, and daytime serial dramas--here and here.

2.) Transmedia Storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is meant to indicate texts in which the story develops through multiple media platforms and in which new content in another platform is not simply a redistribution of the same content that has already appeared elsewhere. We have a whole category of posts about the topic here.

3.) Cross-Platform Distribution. As opposed to transmedia storytelling, cross-platform distribution is simply the reappearance of content from one platform in another, such as making broadcast television shows available in VOD, cable shows available on YouTube, etc. We also have a whole category of posts on this topic available here.

Continue reading "Concepts from the C3 Weblog" »

May 20, 2007

Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture

Several of the researchers in C3 have just finished or are in the process of finishing their Master's thesis projects, which means many of us now have the prospect of graduation staring us in the face. Here at C3, we have had the great opportunity to not only work academically as researchers while graduate students but also to interact with the media industry and work with folks at our corporate partners on a variety of initiatives, meaning that a majority of the people coming out of C3 are interested in maintaining a relationship to both academia and the media industry moving forward.

But, as job hunts loom on the horizons and as colleagues start to land jobs elsewhere, we all have to consider what it means, in both the industry and academia, to come away with expertise in issues such as understanding fan communities, transmedia storytelling, new advertising models, and the variety of other focuses that C3 research has taken.

Continue reading "Media Industry Jobs in a Convergence Culture" »

May 15, 2007

NBC: Putting Engagement Upfront

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!

May 12, 2007

Bones Interactive Murder Mystery

My wife is a regular viewer of Fox's procedural investigation series Bones. For those who are not familiar with the series, the show is inspired by the life of best-selling novelist and forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, in the form of Dr. Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel.

What draws my wife in, I have no doubt, is the presence of favored Joss Whedon actor David Boreanaz, who played the character of Angel on both Buffy and Angel and who plays FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth on Bones.

She told me last week that the show was launching a particularly interesting storyline and running a series of ads that this week's mystery would provide viewers the chance to begin solving the case before the show ever aired. The primary characters involved in this particular case would have their own MySpace pages that would contain some relative information and which would allow viewers the chance to start investigating the case prior to the show's beginning.

More information is available through the site Searching Bones. (There was info up on the show's official site, but it has been moved out of a prominent position now that the episode has passed.)

Continue reading "Bones Interactive Murder Mystery" »

April 28, 2007

Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom: Integrating Content and Advertising Across Multiple Media Platforms

News came out about a week-and-a-half ago as to an interesting new marketing and transmedia storytelling plan that will be launched across Warner Brothers and through the CW Network with Toyota.

John Consoli with MediaWeek reports on a marketing initiative for CW drama series Smallville which will last for five weeks across several platforms.

This marketing and storytelling initiative across platforms began with the CW episode of Smallville that aired on April 18 and will last through the show's season finale, which will air on May 17.

This cross-platform initiative is being called Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom.

The marketing part of this initiative is called a "content wrap," a model launched by CW this semester which Consoli explains is "advertiser-aligned content that takes the place of typical 30-second TV commercials during programming, targeted to appeal to specific demographic audiences." In other words, the story on the main show is supplemented by original advertiser-based content that airs during what would conventionally be commercial breaks.

However, this Toyota campaign is the first time this wrap has launched around a single advertiser across multiple media forms, driven by the online game, which relates to the final five episodes of the show this season.

Continue reading "Smallville Legends: Justice and Doom: Integrating Content and Advertising Across Multiple Media Platforms" »

April 20, 2007

Endemol and Electronic Arts Team Up for Virtual Me

An interesting deal has been struck between a major television producer and a major video games producer with the intent to create a project that will create gaming versions of various game shows and reality television products, in an attempt to create more interactive gaming experiences for extant media properties.

Endemol will be partnering with Electronic Arts to create gaming situations through which players can create avatars to participate in virtual versions of popular Endemol shows, such as Deal or No Deal and Fame Academy and will launch through one of Endemol's biggest hits, Big Brother.

The collaborative project has been initially titled Virtual Me. As Mark Hefflinger succinctly reports it on the Digital Media Wire, "The companies will form an integrated team to create entertainment for TV, online and other platforms."

The press release touts that the concept "bridges the divide between traditional TV and videogames." It goes on to say that "the two companies will create an integrated team to share expertise in their respective fields and develop entertainment formats and experiences for a wide range of platforms, including TV and online."

Continue reading "Endemol and Electronic Arts Team Up for Virtual Me" »

April 19, 2007

Ten Day Take Contest Over; Waiting for Winning Entries to Be Announced and Reality Series to Begin

As I wrote about earlier today, an increasing number of companies have been seeking user-generated content through contests to both provide online video for their platforms and also recruit potential new creative voices.

While Comedy Central's upcoming contest is one of the latest examples of this, another was announced late last year.

Back in December, I wrote about a new project between Endemol and Comcast called Ten Day Take.

At the time, I wrote:

Ten Day Take will require users to submit ideas for programs to Comcast, with a winning idea being selected to give that person a chance to work with Endemol to produce a pilot. The catch, as the name of the contest implies, is that the winning idea will only have 10 days to produce a pilot, working on a budget of $50,000. You can probably see where this is heading...The process of creating that pilot will be programming as well, as it will be a reality-style show which follows the production of that pilot. Think about the wealth of content this creates...a call for user-generated content that builds into a documentary on the making of a show by the winner of the contest.

The plan was for the reality show to be made available through Comcast's on-demand service as well as Comcast Ziddio, and the call for user-generated ideas came through Ziddio.

Apparently, however, the contest has stalled, and some of the contestants are not happy about it. An anonymous contestant posted here on the C3 site recently that the plan was to go public with the outcome of the contest, who would be the winner and would then be featured in the reality show, on March 12. Now that it's been more than a month later, the Ten Day Take Web site still features a message saying "Currently Being Judged," listing the contest as closed. Several of the submissions are still up for view.

Continue reading "Ten Day Take Contest Over; Waiting for Winning Entries to Be Announced and Reality Series to Begin" »

April 15, 2007

New York Times Previews Potential Upcoming Battle between Writers, Conglomerates

Last week, the New York Times had a great article about the potential upcoming battle between the writers guild and the entertainment industry as the writers unions for the Writes Guild of America, both East and West, will come down to what reporter MIchael Cieply calls "what are expected to be exceedingly difficult negotiations with the conglomerates that own the networks and studios."

According to the article, the major points of contention for the negotiations between the union and the industry this time around will be "the expansion of nonunion work by units of large media conglomerates like Viacom and News Corporation, and the way artists will be compensated for their work on the Web, mobile devices and other technologies still falling into place."

WGA West President Patric Verrone said that 95 percent of Hollywood's writing jobs for television and major films were covered by guild writers in the mid-1980s, as compared to about 55 percent now as companies use nonguild writers for reality television, animated TV, and other shows.

Continue reading "New York Times Previews Potential Upcoming Battle between Writers, Conglomerates" »

April 10, 2007

Fox and Hearst Team Up for Online Video Content for Popular Magazine Titles

News broke yesterday that Hearst Magazines has formed a deal with Fox Television Studio to create a variety of video series that would initially launch online and that might eventually filter onto network television. The television content will be based on popular Hearst magazine titles.

The first two of these projects will feature video content under the titles Popular Mechanics and Cosmo Girl, perhaps unsurprisingly two fairly explicitly gendered magazines. After first reading this, I envisioned a news-oriented or features-oriented magazine-style show bearing the name of the magazine, but it appears that, at least for the initial Cosmo Girl offering, the plan is quite different.

The Cosmo Girl Internet video content will be a series of 2-3 minute Webisodes featuring a serialized drama, called a soap opera by press coverage of the idea. However, the plan is to make interactivity key to the Webisode series, as fans will have the chance to submit ideas for the next direction for the narrative between episodes that may then affect the fate of the series.

Both shows will be featured in short Webisodes in this first version of the project and will be pushed through each magazine's Web site as well as through popular video sites like AOL and Yahoo!

Continue reading "Fox and Hearst Team Up for Online Video Content for Popular Magazine Titles" »

April 5, 2007

Transmedia Journalism: A Story-Based Approach to Convergence

For more than a year now, I've written about taking a transmedia approach to journalism and how that approach can be best accomplished. I'm not talking in this sense about giving conglomerates the chance to squeeze more blood from the stone, to get three times as much work from half as many journalists, or else the myth of the uberjournalist, where one person should be sent into the field to take the pictures, do the story, get video, and then come back to write the story, publish the photographs, put the video up on the Web, appear on the TV station, and so on. Instead, what I mean is finding the best platform possible to tell the story in, to use each medium to its strengths.

As I wrote back in that July post linked to above, "The problem is simply that convergence, as a buzzword, is too broad. As the word is sometimes legitimately used to mean the jack-of-all-trades journalists that would look awfully good on a spreadsheet of human resources expenses, I understand why so many professors were intractable in their opposition to even discussing convergence as a department."

The latest issue of The Convergence Newsletter features a piece by Randy Covington that originally ran in the Winter 2006 issue of Nieman Reports. The essay, entitled Myths and Realities of Convergence, focuses on just these questions. Covington, who is the director of the famed Newsplex at the University of South Carolina, writes this piece to dispel some of the convergence myths out there.

Continue reading "Transmedia Journalism: A Story-Based Approach to Convergence" »

March 26, 2007

Sheamus O'Shaunessy: Great Example of Transmedia Personality Promotion

Dr. Anthony Lioi, a professor here at MIT who has mentored me in the course I'm teaching on the cultural history of American professional wrestling (Web site here), recently referred me to a Web site he had stumbled upon and paid special attention to due to his recent involvement in my planning the class here at MIT.

It's the Web site of Sheamus O'Shaunessy.

This "Irish Curse" is a pro wrestler from Ireland looking to use the Web as a way to get significant attention for his character from an international wrestling audience.

Anthony called it a "walking cultural studies article waiting to happen," and while I don't have time for that right now, I was intrigued with how the Web site and various transmedia extensions are used by an independent wrestler in this regard to sell his persona. While Anthony is probably right that some people of Irish ethnicity might not be so crazy about the blatant use of Irish stereotypes, the site includes a lot of extremely interesting promotional materials.

Continue reading "Sheamus O'Shaunessy: Great Example of Transmedia Personality Promotion" »

March 18, 2007

William Morris/Narrowstep Deal to Create Branded Channels for Each Star

This past week, the William Morris talent agency announced that it would be forming a partnership with UK-based online TV group Narrowstep to give William Morris clients Internet channels. The programming on these channels would be free to view and supported by advertising content.

The partnership with Narrowstep includes creating mobile content as well.

Steve Safran with Lost Remote points out that such deals "could mean a web channel for every star," what he terms "another disruption in the traditional media mold."

Interestingly, Safran questions that, if talents were going to create their own channels and bypass traditional media in reaching the audience with entertainment properties, why would they need the agents, either? "Agents, after all, are the ultimate middle-men."

Of course, Steve's being facetious, and this digital deal with Narrowstep is only a minute part of what William Morris purports to offer its talents.

Continue reading "William Morris/Narrowstep Deal to Create Branded Channels for Each Star" »

March 9, 2007

WWE Expands Mobile Content in Exclusive Cingular Deal

World Wrestling Entertainment has launched a significant mobile platform deal this week with Cingular Wireless. According to the WWE's announcement yesterday on, by Noah Starr, the WWE will be launching significant media content for Cingular customers.

The service launched yesterday, and fans who have third-generation capable video phones and the Cingular video package, which costs $19.99 a month can automatically receive previews for upcoming WWE pay-per-view events, a collection of WWE News, and video clips like WWE's Slam of the Week, featuring a significant event from one of the WWE's three major weekly television shows.

What's more, the WWE is launching a service called WWE Premium Video that will cost an extra $4.99 per month. According to Starr's story for WWE, the service will include "exclusive videos, interviews, classic clips, hot Diva action and more," particularly a series of "Wrestlemania Magic Moments" right now, as they build for their biggest pay-per-view event of the year.

The Cingular service also allows for the chance to shop for various WWE multimedia offerings for the phone.

The WWE will provide approximately 100 video clips per month to Cingular customers through the premium service.

Continue reading "WWE Expands Mobile Content in Exclusive Cingular Deal" »

March 1, 2007

First Round of Decisions in NBC Universal and WGA Spat Over Webisodes

The Webisode battles continue. Mark February 2007 as the first round of decisions in the battle between the Writers Guild of America and NBC Universal over how compensation should be handled in regard to Webisode product for the writing team that has to develop these new platform shows.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board announced that it was rejecting an official complaint filed by NBC, as the company had complained that the decision by the writers to quit working on the Webisodes until a compensation agreement could be reached was unfair business practice.

Apparently, the NLRB finds the decision of the writers not to write ancillary content until the way they will be compensated is worked out to be on the up-and-up, so it looks like these decisions will be ongoing. In the meantime, the content for the Web platform has not significantly explored the viability of Webisodes for NBC because of this ongoing skirmish.

In the meantime, other shows have been more successful with getting Webisodes out, most recently CBS innertube's L.A. Diaries, a crossover between CBS soap operas As the World Turns and The Young and the Restless which I will write more about soon.

Over at TV Squad, Joel Keller points out that reports are conflicting, however, as to whether this is a "victory" for the WGA or not. "So, while NBCU technically lost, all they wanted from this case was for the WGA to admit that they didn't presure anyone, which is what they got."

Continue reading "First Round of Decisions in NBC Universal and WGA Spat Over Webisodes" »

February 15, 2007

Formation of CBS Mobile a Further Indication of a Commitment to Mobile Media Extensions

One big piece of news I neglected to mention on the blog over the past couple of weeks is news that CBS Interactive is creating a new division to focus particularly on wireless entertainment. The division, given the no-frills title CBS Mobile, will help direct the links the company has built with a variety of mobile distributors, such as Verizon V CAST.

Plans for the new cell service includes original mini-soap operas for mobile distribution, which will launch this year.

I don't know the specifics of the soap opera related plan, but the shift of CBS indicates that companies are getting more and more serious about formulating a definite mobile media plan.

CBS has been very forward-thinking in regard to some of the series and cross-platform distribution through CBS innertube for Web content, and this move more boldly into mobile media indicates the company is forwarding a multi-platform distribution model for its future.

This drive stems from the formation of CBS Interactive, which I wrote about back in November. Quincy Smith, formerly with the investment bank Allen & Co., came to CBS to help formulate a more aggressive approach to the company's new media efforts.

Continue reading "Formation of CBS Mobile a Further Indication of a Commitment to Mobile Media Extensions" »

February 12, 2007

Ubisoft Blurs Distinction Between Films and Games by Branching into CGI

Here's another interesting--and natural--step in the world of convergence, this time from a video game company. For those who haven't seen the news this weekend, Ubisoft has announced that it will be entering the movie business, making its own animated CGI films based on the type of animation used for the company's games.

The company announced Friday that it would be adding a thousand people to its staff as part of a larger initiatives to expand game development. The plan is for this increase to take place over the next six years.

The company's announcement was that it would be investing as much as $383.9 million over that time to bring in those new people to Monreal, with half working on developing films while the other half works on traditional game development. The film division will initially make shorts that will be distributed online, some of them based on their video game properties, such as initial plans for an 8-minute film based on Assassin's Creed.

This would expand the size of the company's workforce in Montreal substantially, with 1,600 employees currently located in the city, according to a story from John Gaudiosi of Hollywood Reporter.

Continue reading "Ubisoft Blurs Distinction Between Films and Games by Branching into CGI" »

February 7, 2007

Caveman's Crib: Developing Branded Entertainment for an Insurance Company

I've never seen a site quite like this one. If you haven't checked out Caveman's Crib, it's definitely worth a look, especially if you've enjoyed the recent Geico advertising campaign.

It's a visual indication of one of the oddest success stories in recent television advertising. It's the story of the Geico plans for a one-time commercial that has turned into a continued advertising campaign for the company that has now developed into transmedia extensons taking on a life of their own.

It all reminds me of an argument we've had about the 30-second spot for a long time and its assured demise. That hyperbole, some of which I've taken part in myself, exists alongside ad campaigns that are more vibrant than ever. But it emphasizes a message--people are still interested in commercials that are exceptionally compelling, that build a brand-based entertainment property, in this case, that entertains, that you stop your DVR for.

Insurance has always been a particularly tough nut to crack when it comes to creativity. The service companies like Geico provides is, first of all, one that most Americans despise having to pay and that many feel is a leach on their wallets, sucking money for no return. After all, the only way your car insurance is of great use to you is if you have a lot of wrecks...and if you have a lot of wrecks, no one wants to give you insurance.

Nonetheless, Geico has built its brand by emphasizing its low prices while creating ads that, while they don't completely take the focus away from the insurance, are entertainment-based rather than service-based.

Continue reading "Caveman's Crib: Developing Branded Entertainment for an Insurance Company" »

February 5, 2007

Yahoo! Brand Universe and OurCity

While C3 partners MTV Networks and Turner Broadcasting have made our news this past week, there's also been some interesting developments with Yahoo!, another partner in the consortium.

The company's plan to create a new approach to linking sites called "Brand Universe" broke during the week, with the company publicly discussing a new strategy to create more efficient links to entertainment content that stretch across the various Yahoo! services and Web sites.

The plan is to pick 100 "high-profile" contemporary entertainment properties and create sites dedicated to them. This will include movie properties and popular television shows and video games, as well as video game platforms, as well as particular celebrities. In particular, the company is hoping to target properties that appeal to 13-to-34s.

The idea is that Yahoo! content has been fragmented in the past, divided by media format and without any content links. Instead of dividing media information in flickr and Yahoo TV and fan forums, the idea is to create a site that will link all of that content together so that people can access the info by entertainment property across all of Yahoo!'s platforms.

Continue reading "Yahoo! Brand Universe and OurCity" »

February 3, 2007

WSX on MTV a New Pro Wrestling Transmedia Property with a Non-Traditional Product

Earlier today, I wrote about how UFC's launch to high-definition continues to raise questions of whether professional wrestling will be launched on HD, particularly the WWE. Meanwhile, I also wrote about WWE's creation of a broadband video channel earlier this week in order to solidify its online video offerings.

However, there's another bit of interesting news from the wrestling world that intrigues me in much the same way the soap opera Passions intrigued me with its animated scenes and Bollywood episode.

MTV, the namesake of C3 partner MTV Networks, has launched a 30-minute weekly pro wrestling show called Wrestling Society X, which now becomes the third company to have pro wrestling aired nationally in America, alongside TNA on Spike TV and the three WWE brands that air on USA Network, Sci Fi, and the CW.

The program blends an MTV aesthetic with "extreme" pro wrestling matches, a club atmosphere with models hired to sit in the crowd to make it seem more "hip." A band opens up each 30-minute show, and obviously it has to be paced differently than any other wrestling program with 30 minutes a week and a band performing within that 30 minutes on top of that.

It's not going to be a product that satisfies current pro wrestling fan, as the organization has to deal with the fact that top performers are already in one of WWE's three leagues or on TNA. Without the big names, the company is obviously taking their product a different direction and reaching out to new potential fans with a rock/wrestling hybrid.

Continue reading "WSX on MTV a New Pro Wrestling Transmedia Property with a Non-Traditional Product" »

January 29, 2007

Low-Cost Tools in Media Production - Hype or Hope?

After acclaimed film editor Walter Murch's proof-of-concept use of Apple's Final Cut Pro for editing Return to Cold Mountain in 2003, a second, more bizarre attempt at using commercial off-the-shelf software for professional media production has come to public attention: guitarist and producer Ry Cooder mastering his latest album using the 'sound enhancer' feature built into iTunes. While both stories have much news value, a factor that should not be neglected after all, these episodes allow for a critical look at the perceived 'democratization' of professional media production and changes in workflow and production rationales.

Continue reading "Low-Cost Tools in Media Production - Hype or Hope?" »

January 24, 2007

Broadband Video Sites Veoh and Brightcove Continue to Expand

Two online video sites I've written about several times here at C3 are Veoh and Brightcove, and both made new announcements this past week regarding an expansion of content, in Veoh's case, and significant new funding for Brightcove.

Veoh has formed a partnership with Us Weekly magazine to create an online celebrity news and entertainment show that will be available on the Us Web site and Veoh's site as well. The initiative will launch in February with the intent of also including user-generated content.

For another look at a broadband celebrity destination, see my November post, "The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner". At the time, I wrote about TMZ, the Three Mile Zone product being launched by Warner Brothers and AOL. At the time, I wrote:

But, while TMZ is not my cup of tea, I think that it touches on the ability of the Web to do something others don't and to prove that synergistic relationships, even as that buzzword has gotten a negative connotation, are the building blocks of convergence and transmedia approaches. The success of this site shows that there is still power in these types of partnerships. The problem is in the thinking that they work irrespective to how they are executed.

It will be interesting to see how this Veoh/Us product compares to the TMZ project.

Meanwhile, Veoh has also partnered with the United Talent Agency to create "an online resource for digital content submissions," according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek.

Continue reading "Broadband Video Sites Veoh and Brightcove Continue to Expand" »

January 20, 2007

The Power of Reality Television to Inspire Political Debate in the Blogosphere, Commented on by...A Blogger from The Apprentice

Now here's a surreal moment that could only be provided to us by reality television, and one that reeks of the type of interconnectivity that happens in a convergence culture. Allegations of racism directed toward Shilpa Shetty, an Indian actress appearing on Celebrity Big Brother UK have led to a horde of complaints throughout the blogosphere, including a variety of rumors about language directed toward Shetty during the taping of the reality show. Yet, what fascinates me most is that one of the bloggers who has written a commentary on this incident is brand-manager-turned-reality-television star Surya Yalamanchili of The Apprentice fame.

Yalamanchili, who I've gotten to know through some similar interests in trying to navigate the current media environment, launched his blog not long ago and has already made some astute media-related observations in the short time his blog has been active. But he pointed this post in particular out to me, which piqued my interest because of the mere idea of a reality star commenting on the treatment of another reality star in the blogosphere, while both are still stars on their respective programs. Add to that the fact that both are ethnically South Asian stars appearing on "Western" reality shows and the story gets even more confusing.

These layers of "reality" add an awfully fascinating dimension to their respective shows. The fact that these people, who are both television personas and simultaneously "real," make their public blogs a really interesting source, especially when a character from one reality show becomes a commentator for another.

Continue reading "The Power of Reality Television to Inspire Political Debate in the Blogosphere, Commented on by...A Blogger from The Apprentice" »

January 19, 2007

The Convergence Manifesto II: The Journalism Industry

This is the second part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

Let's take an industry that I have written about extensively in the past few months: journalism. Convergence has become a major point of discussion for news sources and J-schools alike. I have worked for several years as a professional journalist and know these arguments from both ends.

The naysayers--and there are plenty--see the idea of convergence in journalism (particularly telling a story in multiple media forms) as being the uberjournalist, the corporate dream in which one journalist is hired to write a story for print and for broadcast and for the Web and for the radio and take the pictures and on and on. In other words, there is a belief that journalism produces a jack of all trades but a master of none, to borrow a common idiom.

That's not what convergence is. For those who believe that the concept is a corporate-driven capitalist ploy, they are looking at a much too narrow slice of convergence.

Continue reading "The Convergence Manifesto II: The Journalism Industry" »

The Convergence Manifesto I: Convergence--The Buzzword

This is the first part of a piece that originally appeared in the 01 September 2006 edition of the Convergence Culture Consortium's Weekly Update, an internal newsletter for affiliated researchers and corporate members of C3.

The word convergence is getting a lot of buzz. In fact, since I am a researcher for the Convergence Culture Consortium and the primary operator of its blog, I guess I am capitalizing on that buzz quite a bit myself, so this is no criticism of the convergence buzzword. We took our name from the book by the director of our research group, Henry Jenkins, entitled Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

All of us working within C3 wholeheartedly believe that, with the advent of new media forms and the potential for cross-platform and transmedia storytelling, that we truly are in a drastically altered media environment that both users and content producers are still plumbing and mapping out.

Continue reading "The Convergence Manifesto I: Convergence--The Buzzword" »

January 18, 2007

New Statistics and Initiatives Meant to Revitalize Syndicated Programming's Relationship with Affiliates, Advertisers

Syndicated content may have a stronger connection with its audience, a new piece of advocacy research finds, while syndicators are striving to find new ways to reach a majority of Americans, including using broadband video to help hook new viewers.

The week has certainly been full of news for syndicated program producers, particularly with the release of a new study from the Syndicated Network Television Association that finds that the stars of syndicated shows have a more developed connection with their viewers than stars on corresponding network television series. The survey found reports of viewers claiming a higher degree of "trust" in the stars of syndicated programming and also found that those with digital video recorders were less likely to skip commercials while watching syndicated programing and also that the shows have higher same-day viewership on DVR than network viewers, with 95 percent of adults watching a show the same day it aired, while it takes up to four days after airing for 95 percent of DVR audiences to watch network shows. The statistics were for viewers 18-49.

Continue reading "New Statistics and Initiatives Meant to Revitalize Syndicated Programming's Relationship with Affiliates, Advertisers" »

Replacing Viewing Fees with Advertising Leads to Huge Growth in Web, Mobile Big Brother Views in UK

Are ad-supported models becoming the definite winner in terms of mobile content? Endemol UK has reported increasing its audience for mobile video clips of Big Brother in the United Kingdom when it started making the clips advertising supported instead of pay-per-download.

If last year's generated 100,000 paid downloads, my math skills inform me that it means the show has reached the million mark for the current season with free ad-supported video clips instead.

The discussion was part of the "Mobile ++ Conference" from the NATPE in Las Vegas. Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek reports that the show also received a significant boost in broadband downloads, jumping to 24 million downloads of ad-supported content, as opposed to 5,000 to 10,000 downloads of clips online in 2005.

Continue reading "Replacing Viewing Fees with Advertising Leads to Huge Growth in Web, Mobile Big Brother Views in UK" »

24/Sprint Deal Provides 24 with Ancillary Content, Sprint with Substantial Product Placement

A new mobile phone deal struck between Sprint and the hit television series 24 will bring episode previews to cell users, according to a deal announced a little over a week ago. After each episode airs on Monday night, clips from the next week's episode are made available for those who use the Sprint video services Sprint Power Vision or Sprint TV.

A variety of other planned cell activities will help promote the link with 24 as well including trivia games in which a prize will be offered--a trip to a Florida "covert ops" training camp.

In return for the deal, Sprint receives product placement, as Sprint products will appear on episodes of 24 throughout the season.

Continue reading "24/Sprint Deal Provides 24 with Ancillary Content, Sprint with Substantial Product Placement" »

January 14, 2007

Interactivity and Television Viewing Connected, While People Don't Know About 2009 Digital Deadline

Here's a pre-CES news story that I forgot to mention. CBS released the results of a new study which indicate that people who have a digital television and a broadband Internet connection are also the most likely people to watch the biggest of broadcast network television. In other words, connectivity is linked to viewing.

The study also indicates that this same segment that are connected with both technologies are likely to visit the Web sites for networks often and to stream clips or episodes on the Web in addition to their watching on the television. With the new Apple TV product, these two activities may be increasingly becoming blurred.

Perhaps not surprisingly, "These people tend to be upscale, better educated and more engaged with programs," according to the CBS study. However, I think an important caveat to also include is location, since I've written before about scores of Americans who have both the desire and the capital to have this degree of high connectivity but who are not currently being well-served by Internet providers.

Not to stray too far off subject, though. Connectivity is shown to have a link with primetime television viewing? David Poltrack was quoted by Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek as saying, "Consumers who embrace the new media are the heaviest viewers of the top network prime-time programs, and this sector of the audience is growing. By offering them new ways to connect to their favorite shows ... we're able to deepen the bond these fully connected viewers have with our programming."

However, not nearly as surprising to me is that the survey found that less than 30 percent of Americans are aware of the 2009 deadline for broadcasters to switch to a digital signal, but even half of those people who are unaware have already purchased a digital set, and another 30 percent plan to by 2009. According to the survey, 40 percent of those who were told about the upcoming change said they would upgrade to digital by 2009.

Continue reading "Interactivity and Television Viewing Connected, While People Don't Know About 2009 Digital Deadline" »

Implied Interactivity in Fan Site Toolkits

I recently wrote a newsletter piece on 'implied interactivity', i.e. decentralized forms of strategies involving the encouragement and indirect pre-structuring of user-generated content through structural properties of the media artifacts themselves.

An interesting case in point are toolkits, i.e. structured collections of materials to facilitate (and shape) the creation of fan sites. I will try to use the toolkit offered for the decent tactical shooter Close Combat - First to Fight (2005), a game focusing on and endorsed by the US Marines as 'brand' that is allegedly also used as training tool.

Continue reading "Implied Interactivity in Fan Site Toolkits" »

December 30, 2006

The Game Show Network, Transmedia Extensions, and Brand Building

The Game Show Network is attempting to expand its reach through a transmedia approach to games, making its Web site not just a destination for a different type of gaming experience but a place in which the network can further develop a brand identity that may be lacking from its game show lineup in the traditional channel alone.

The online site for the network has launched a series of games in recent months that has gotten the attention of the users of its Web site. The first such game was launched late this summer, when an animated online game that provided little in the way of intriguing game play but much in the way of commentary and parody of current events, spiking traffic from 444,000 in August to 654,000 unique viewers in September, according to information reported by Daisy Whitney in TelevisionWeek from Nielsen's online ratings.

That animated game mocked Mel Gibson's drinking, entitled "So You Think You Can Drive, Mel?" The object of the game? Why to "collect tequila bottles while avoiding Stars of David and Troopers."

Continue reading "The Game Show Network, Transmedia Extensions, and Brand Building" »

December 15, 2006

Bendis on Transmedia and Continuity in the Marvel Universe: Thinking About Comics Vis-a-Vis Television

My colleague here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, Geoffrey Long, sent me a great interview with Marvel comics writer and all-around prolific creator Brian Michael Bendis. The interview, conducted by Danny Fingeroth and transcribed by Steven Tice at Newsarama, was conducted back in October, focusing on the comic writer's success in the super hero world of Marvel but also the ways in which he has become a transmedia creator (as many comic books writers have.) But perhaps what interested me as much was his discussion of continuity in a universe that has built up a substantial backlog of history through all the comic books over the years.

Bendis writes about his experiences working on films and television shows, as compared to the time he spends in comics. For instance, he writes about the time he spent working on the Spider-Man show on MTV, as compared to his experience writing the Ultimate Spider-Man series for Marvel. At Marvel, he basically took over the character of Spider-Man and recreated the story, starting at square one in a contemporary setting with the character and telling new versions of the events that first happened back in the 1960s to Spidey. Since launching that series from the very first issue, he's already made it now to more than 100 issues. He writes, "I was writing the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, and it's the greatest job I'd ever had in my life. It's completely fulfilling on every conceivable level. So I figured that writing the TV show in addition would be twice as good. And when I started working on the show, immediately it was not fun." As an example, he shares a story of meeting with an executive who questions "why does it have to be a spider."

Bendis spends his time talking about transmedia experience to emphasize the artistry of comic books and why he prefers working in what has been considered by many to be a fringe media form.

Continue reading "Bendis on Transmedia and Continuity in the Marvel Universe: Thinking About Comics Vis-a-Vis Television" »

December 12, 2006

Internet Television a Reserve for Independent TV Producers?

My inbox has been flooded with people pointing the way to a variety of interesting articles appearing in the New York Times over the past couple of days. I guess that, as they enter their end-of-the-year run, they've been spending quite a bit of time thinking about convergence culture since...well...the newpaper of record is starting to realize that 2006 was the year of Convergence Culture (cheap plug).

On Sunday, I wrote about Jon Pareles's article in that same paper about the rise of user-generated content as a concept in the past year.

However, Lynn Liccardo passed along a short piece from Sunday's paper by David Haskell which writes about the potential rise of independent television using the Web as a distribution model.

Continue reading "Internet Television a Reserve for Independent TV Producers?" »

December 9, 2006

Mobile Content Expected to Gain Major Ground in Next Five Years, Juniper Says

According to new research released this week by UK-based Juniper Research, a boom in mobile content is expected to take place over the next five years, with estimations that the global mobile entertainment market, currently valued at $17.3 billion, will reach $76.9 billion by that time.

This large upswing in content will come along with a shift in the types of mobile entertainment people are consuming over the next five years, their report estimates. While, for now, the majority of mobile content focuses on music, and principally on ringtones (More than 80 percent of mobile music revenues are for ringtones, according to Ben Macklin with eMarketer.), the shift will come with revenue from mobile television and mobile games, which they estimate will exceed the money generated by mobile music by that time.

Continue reading "Mobile Content Expected to Gain Major Ground in Next Five Years, Juniper Says" »

December 6, 2006

Gil Thelen on Journalism, Profit Margins, and the Language of Convergence

Today marked the release of the December edition of The Convergence Newsletter, the journalism-focused collection of essays released by the University of South Carolina's College of Mass Communications and Information Studies every month. Of particular interest in this month's edition is the essay titled "Rogues, Rascals, Nostrums and Hard Truths," written by Gil Thelen, who is a former publisher for the Tampa Tribune. Thelen was involved in the converged newsroom in Tampa that combines a radio station, newspaper, and television station that was an inspiration for the Newsplex at the University of South Carolina that also has a converged newsroom.

Thelen joins in on a debate that I've been participating in as well about journalism's future at a time when the newspaper's obligation to the public is coming into direct opposition to its obligation to investors. Thelen writes:

The cost-cutting that is reaching muscle and bone in many news organizations is due in large part to unreasonable profit growth demands by the investor community. My former AP colleague Conrad Fink, now at the University of Georgia, calculates that newspapers average about double the 11% profit of Fortune 500 companies but are hammered by what he calls 'completely unreasonable' investor demands. 'Wall Street knows only one mantra,' he says, 'more, please, more.' I agree with his assessment.

Continue reading "Gil Thelen on Journalism, Profit Margins, and the Language of Convergence" »

December 5, 2006

Ninja Tune Launches Music Video Channel in Second Life

Here's another interesting bit of news forwarded from my colleague Geoffrey Long via Macworld UK: a British record label is finalizing plans to launch a virtual music video channel through the immensely popular virtual world Second Life. The channel will be called Ninja TV, launched by independent record label Ninja Tune. The channel will feature multiple hours' worth of content from a variety of UK artists, and any Second Life inhabitant can watch the TV station free, as well as purchasing the release through the digital shop for Ninja Tune.

Ninja Tune will launch its virtual music video channel as part of a new TV network from the UK design agency Rivers Run Red, which will be called Virtual Life.TV. According to their story, "The Ninja TV channel will be supported by leading UK digital music research firm Music Ally, which will be hosting an event in London in December to profile how Second Life can benefit the music industry."

Continue reading "Ninja Tune Launches Music Video Channel in Second Life" »

December 3, 2006

Two Recent Examples of Interactive Advertising in Germany

It is not surprising to see that the excitement about participatory media usage has been spilling into advertising.
Two recent examples of brands utilizing this strategy are Hugo Boss, encouraging its (German) customers to pick a 'theme song' for their campaign from the portfolio of the British Indierock band 'The Subways', and Beck's, a German brewery, encouraging customers to design a bottle label using a simple Flash web interface.
The 'deconstructed' elements of the Becks label generator were also used in print ads where they represent an uncommon, yet familiar aesthetics for people routinely exposed to interactive media.
It is a peculiar effect that the deconstruction of the label's 'syntax', e.g. the apparent distinction between 'obligatory' and 'peripheral' elements which ensures the recognizability of the label despite all artistic 'freedom' provided by the interface, does not produce a critical stance towards the ad/label itself but, on the contrary, creates immersion because it ties in with established media practices.
It would be interesting to see some data on the 'success' of the campaign according to the criterion of interactive media exposure.
At the same time, inherently 'critical forms' of media usage potentially revolving around the campaign, e.g. a semi-public blog discussion concerning this matter, are discouraged by avoiding traditionally static, top-down strategies. This latter type of advertising, which McLuhan catchily described as „dunking entire populations in new imagery" („electric persuasion") in his „Understanding Media" in 1964 - interestingly in the chapter about weapons as media - appears to have been 'demonized' in current popular discourse.
Advertising as a 'media toy' in this respect offer a totally different, probably far more effective 'rhetoric'.

November 27, 2006

A Transmedia Project You Never Thought You Would See...Mr. McMahon's Ass

Okay, I can't say I've ever heard of a stranger transmedia product than this one.

Many people say that transmedia extensions of a primary media property can, among other things, give greater attention to a smaller player in a story, whose character can be expanded in some ancillary content. That's exactly what's happening right now with a figure that has played a part in some World Wrestling Entertainment storylines over the years--Vince McMahon's backside.

Only in the world of the WWE could a weekly cartoon about the CEO's butt be considered a plausible idea for a transmedia extension.

Continue reading "A Transmedia Project You Never Thought You Would See...Mr. McMahon's Ass" »

November 22, 2006

The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner

Synergy is one of those nasty buzzwords that people don't want to throw around anymore. That's why convergence and transmedia has become preferrable. Of course, synergy seems to now connote a marketing exercise that lacks artistic merit, something that's just done for pure profit and that has no substance, whereas transmedia is a word used to indicate something that crosses media platforms, that sees companies work together, but that is more than just a superficial alliance.

Earlier this week, The New York Times featured an article from David Carr on the "post-synergy success" of Time Warner, writing that, "even as the concept has been left for dead, it is being put into practice, albiet in diminutive ways, at the current version of the company." The project that Carr refers to? TMZ.

Continue reading "The Death of a Buzzword: Synergy and Time Warner" »

November 20, 2006

Babylon 5 Lives On with New Plans for DVD Releases

Last week, a major announcement was made in terms of alternate distribution of a television project and a potential future model for future transmedia ideas branching from a cancelled television show to a film: the plans for a straight-to-DVD film from Babylon 5. While last year, it was Firefly that showed the power of fandoms to resurrect a cancelled television property and breathe new life into it, it is the economic success of Babylon 5 on DVD that has inspired plans for a new product from the fictional world, in hopes to create a product that will both be lucrative to the dedicated niche market of Babylon 5 fans while not making the mistake of overestimating the widespread interest in the film by giving it enhanced expectations with a widespread theatrical release. Some were disappointed with the performance of Serenity, just as others were disappointed with the success of Snakes in the Plane earlier this year because some optimists had inflated the degree to which the cult promotion of the film would bring in audiences. In the case of all three products, it is taking grassroots initiatives to appeal to fans in a non-traditional manner, thus costing less to promote but not necessarily gaining great mainstream appeal.

Continue reading "Babylon 5 Lives On with New Plans for DVD Releases" »

November 17, 2006

FOE: Transmedia Properties

Transmedia Properties
Paul Levitz, President and Publisher of DC Comics. Paul's early comments focus on the tools that are available now which open whole new realms of storytelling. To paraphrase, his opening remarks were that, "for cartoonists and comic book writers and artists, the potential of using our tool set and forms for a wider range of people and for evolving forms of transmedia has been something that has been a minute away for the last decade, it seems, and appears to be here now." He also traced direct forms of transmedia storytelling in America back to James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy, which appeared in 1821 as a novel and 1822 as a play, as well as the history of The Wizard of Oz through its various book, play, and film forms over the years. "You have people building Troy on top of Troy on top of Troy, 100 years of creative development layered on top of each other. That's the process of transmedia." Alex Chisholm also pointed to the development of Christianity and the spread of Jesus Christ as a figure in the early years as, in many ways, a transmedia project. He also made the comment that the idea of a mass media form that reaches everyone on two or three channels "don't work so good no more." "If you are an advertiser searching to get a large audience, you can either build out of big blocks that aren't as big as they used to be or you can start breaking away from the tyranny of 30-second messages and find cool new creative things people have been responding to. And you'll see combinations of the two, both 30-second spots and transmedia pieces."

Alex Chisholm, Founder of Ice Cub3d Studios. Chisholm, who has an ongoing relationship with the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, discussed the vocabulary and modes of thinking he learned from the time he has spent working with Henry Jenkins and others in the CMS department and discussed his work with NBC, who he said is trying to figure out a variety of new ways to reach audiences and to develop content across multiple channels. He particularly discussed his work around Heroes and understanding how audiences are interacting with that media property across various media forms, a concept he also encountered when working with the Olympics.

Michael Lebowitz, CEO and Co-Founder of Big Spaceship. Michael said that his company is in the fortunate position to work with major media properties such as television shows and feature films and sees his role as helping these content owners form new dialogues with consumers and to tell new aspects of stories through as many different means as possible. "We are thinking about everything from interactive experience development to branded game development across all digital platforms." He said that the job gets most interesting is when you start with crossover potential to lead and create development in types of convergence that hasn't formerly existed, expanding the transmedia storytelling format. He particularly discussed moving his work into an increasingly digital space, along with the help of his "team of 50 mad scientists in Brooklyn."

Also, check into Rachel Clarke's transcription of the panel here and here. Also, see Erica George's notes at Writing in Clay. Adrian at wrote this entry about the transmedia panel as well.

Continue reading "FOE: Transmedia Properties" »

FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction

The following is the C3 team's note from Henry Jenkins' introduction to the C3 Futures of Entertainment conference. For the conference's details, look toward its main page.

To open the conference, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Convergence Culture Consortium, gave some background information on what is being described as "convergence culture," to borrow the term from his book, that sets the stage for the various panels taking place here at Futures of Entertainment over the next two days. Also, see Steve Garfield's links over on Off on a Tangent.

Continue reading "FOE: Henry Jenkins' Introduction" »

November 15, 2006

Nobody's Watching Continues Its Survival Online While in Limbo

Do you really need a TV network after all? It was back in July when we first wrote about Nobody's Watching, the TV series that didn't make it past a pilot. The series was to be a faux reality show about two guys making a sitcom, joke being, of course, that the reality show about making a sitcom is, in reality, a sitcom itself. But the pilot was leaked on YouTube, and it suddenly became a phenomenon.

Eventually, NBC showed interest in the show once again but has taken a more cautious approach, as the show has only been doing short pieces on the Web at this point.

Continue reading "Nobody's Watching Continues Its Survival Online While in Limbo" »

November 12, 2006

Friends with Benefit from One Tree Hill a Great Example of Transmedia Product Used for a Fundraiser

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the public service announcement for As the World Turns that was woven into the dialogue of a show. While programming was becoming more adept with making sure that viewers didn't skip ads with DVRs by working product placements into the show, this did the same with the PSA, as longtime characters Dr. Bob Hughes and his wife, Kim, had a discussion about AIDS in Africa and the need to do something about it while at the hospital, in a way that would have made it hard to skip through.

I haven't seen shows develop more of those in-dialogue PSAs in quite the same way, but One Tree Hill took it a step further earlier this year. Just as All My Children sold perfume from the show in stores and Katie Peretti's book Oakdale Confidential made it onto real bookstore shelves, a soundtrack that was organized and put together online was released in the consumer's world. And, what's better, the album--a benefit for breast cancer on the show--is an actual benefit for breast cancer as well, with a portion of the proceeds for this, the show's second soundtrack, going to breast cancer research and awareness.

The soundtrack was a joint venture for One Tree Hill and The WB Network (now merged into the CW Network), the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and sponsor Sunkist. The goal of the project, according to a press release from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, "is part of an ongoing project for awareness and early detection" to help promote breast cancer awareness to fans.

Called Friends with Benefit, the soundtrack was released back in February.

Erin McMaster with Blogcritics Magazine writes that "those who watch the show will definitely enjoy it, as the album is put together by artists who are heard, and sometimes appear as guest stars, on One Tree Hill. And unlike so many TV soundtracks out there, every track reflects the emotions and feel of One Tree Hill in such a way that it truly is a successful soundtrack."

She also points out that one of the character's clothing lines on the show, Clothes Over Bros, was really selling pink T-shirts with the Friends with Benefit logo on it as well. The promotion also included a tour of major cities.

November 11, 2006

Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material

One interesting online development worth noting is a new venture by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, Turner Broadcasting. In the past two weeks, Turner has made headlines with its plans for a new broadband channel launched for comedy content, Super Deluxe. The project will be cross-platform, with plans to launch the content from the online broadband channel onto video-on-demand, mobile platforms (phones and portable players) and video game consoles. There are also plans to cross content from Super Deluxe into video sharing sites like MySpace and YouTube, although Turner promises to strictly monitor user-generated content on its site for potential copyright infringements.

Considering that this is one of the most ambitious broadband channel projects yet launched by a traditional cable company, I'm sure all eyes will be on Super Deluxe when it launches in January. It will join CNN Pipeline and GameTap, two other Turner broadband ventures.

Continue reading "Turner Super Deluxe a Promising Upcoming Venture for a Variety of Comedy Material" »

AT&T Launching Into Video Services and Mobile Entertainment with Latest Plans

Will AT&T play a major role in the future of mobile content? Going back to some Halloween news, a USA Today story from Leslie Cauley focuses on the new moves by the major telephone company to move into position to challenge cable companies, as telephone and cable providers line up against each other to provide services. This has been a battle that has been a long time coming, and it will likely be a war waged over the next several years, with service and pricing in play on the field.

Cauley's story focuses on how AT&T plays to deploy one of the greatest tools that may be in its arsenal--wireless content. With AT&T eyeing a purchase of BellSouth and thus gaining complete control of Cingular Wireless (which it would change to AT&T), it would have a major cellular company at its disposal, allowing the company to move forward with its major plan to increase entertainment content.

Cauley points out that, while the current plans with other cable operators with Sprint for wireless entertainment services, for instance, have not led to any profit, AT&T would benefit from having a wireles service provider in-house along with U-verse, bolstering recent attempts like the U-verse, AT&T's new video service that could serve as sharp competition to cable and satellite providers. According to the story, plans include integrating wireless and "wired" products, "including high-speed Internet and U-verse TV," creating a package that "blurs the line between wired and wireless." These plans also include greater technology to fuel integrated advertising and an expansion of advertising on cell phones.

U-verse is being tested with AT&T users in San Antonio right now, with plans to offer it in 15 to 20 markets by the end of the year. It offers both Internet and video service that includes up to three digital receivers per home, as well as a DVR and on-demand service. The deal right now includes three months of free television through U-verse. They are also launching a voice over IP service, as UverseUsers wrote about last month. Plans are also being made to make service high-definition by the end of the month, according to MSNBC.

November 8, 2006

New President of CBS Interactive Division Making the News

Does the hiring of a new president of what is now being called CBS interactive mean an even more aggressive charge into digital media for the major network?

News came out Monday that Quincy Smith has been named to lead a newly named interactive division, coming to the company from investment bank Allen & Co. James Hibberd with TelevisionWeek reports that Allen was a major dealmaker there, including transactions for Google, AOL, and Yahoo, and speculates "the hiring of Mr. Smith could signal more aggressive growth for the new media division."

Smith's job will be to oversee CBS innertube, the online platform for redistribution of CBS shows and original Internet-only programming, as well as the various CBS Web sites. His job will also be to oversee the general trajectory of CBS' digital efforts and to forge partnerships for the network in expanding this area.

CBS, of course, is confident that a dealbreaker for major companies is the way to go. Others are more critical. Take these comments from Mathew Ingram, for instance, who writes, "So CBS wants to find and buy the next YouTube before it gegts big. Gee, I wonder why no one else has thought of that? Way to go. And so they've hired a guy who at age 35 is described as a 'veteran' of the industry, and of the takeover game. Why--because he helped advise Viacom to buy Neopets? Wow."

While Ingram questions whether there is a longterm strategy at CBS Interactive, the recent interview with Ingram at paidContent emphasizes that Smith is trying to get his bearings in this new role and proceed strategically. Staci D. Kramer writes that he is "a man full of ideas and details but wary of sounding too glib or all-knowing."

The interview is worth looking at for the man who will help lead the immediate future of one of the major television forces in entering more aggressively in digital distribution and original online content.

October 22, 2006

Showtime Launching Significant Content on Amazon Unbox

It's a partnership that makes perfect sense. You have Showtime, a network that has proven in the past that it isn't afraid of digital downloads. And you have Amazon's new digital video distribution service, now labeled Unbox.

Showtime got some attention earlier this year with its making whole episodes of Weeds available on iTunes before it was released on DVD, with the ultimate discovery being that making digital downloads available didn't cut into the profits of the DVD sales. While I never saw any data about how many people might have purchased it both off iTunes and then again from the DVD set, it wouldn't surprise me because non-Showtime subscribers who wanted to check out the show through iTunes may have wanted a more permanent "official" copy, leading to purchasing the DVD set.

Whatever the case, Showtime will move into the Unbox system, with content including Weeds, The L Word, Sleeper Cell, Fat Actress, Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. As with iTunes, these will be made available for $1.99, and Dexter will be distributed simultaneously for one cent to encourage people to check out the new show.

The TelevisionWeek article from James Hibberd said, "The move is the latest in a series of digital content expansions for Showtime, which is seeking to distinguish itself from fellow premium network HBO in the new media space by making whole episodes widely available in streaming and download formats." This distinction--to establish itself as separate from the more elusive HBO series, could yield good results for the company by making its programs more widely available (helps when you have good shows, which is the case with Weeds.

The announcement was made last Wednesday. Unbox is also offering several top CBS shows, a variety of MTV Networks programming, and other shows, with its visibility on Amazon giving the service a potential advantage, as I've written about before.

October 17, 2006

Reuters Bureau in Second Life

Here at C3, one of our major research focuses has been online spaces and gaming spaces that allow for new engagement opportunity, not the least of which is Second Life. For instance, one of our affiliated research members here at C3--Ilya Vedrashko--spent more time in his second life than his first life these past few months while wrapping up his thesis worker for his Master's degree here at MIT.

But we've also focused a lot here on journalism, which makes the new Reuters announcement even more intriguing. For those who may not have heard, Reuters has opened up its own bureau within the online gaming space of Second Life, bringing coverage of real-world events into Second Life but also covering the people and stories in Second Life as well.

Currently, the top story from Reuter's Second Life News Center focuses on the U.S. congressional committee's discussion of online taxation for transactions that take place within virtual worlds like Second Life. But news also includes information from the CEO of Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life; various Reuters videos from Second Life, and stories covering issues throughout the Second Life world.

There are also a number of Second Life blogs that are linked to, as well as a link directly to Reuter's site within the game.

This virtual bureau is run by Adam Reuters, who is actually veteran tech journalist Adam Pasick--he has a calendar with regular hours that his online bureau is open.

In yesterday's New York Times, Andrew Adam Newman wrote about this phenomenon, which caught many in the journalism world by surprise. He quotes Pasick as saying, "It's not any different than when Reuters opens up a bureau in a part of the world that has a fast-growing economy that we weren't in before. The laws of supply and demand hold true, it has a currency exchange, people open businesses and get paid for goods and services."

Reuter's CEO says that, this "shows Reuters has a certain with-it-ness." While that statement may put its cool factor in jeopardy, his point isn't completely off-base, and it's an interesting experiment to retain the validity of a traditional trusted news source. It will be interesting to see what type of content Reuters' online bureau focuses on and whether it develops a reputation as being a serious source of news within Second Life or simply a fun extension--the questions will be what this virtual bureau means for quality journalism and what it means for the brand of a traditional journalism source.

We will see.

Thanks to Margaret Wiegel for passing information along.

October 15, 2006

When Transmedia Goes Wrong: Studio 60 and DeFaker

Through the work of our Convergence Culture Consortium, CMS faculty and students have been monitoring ongoing experiments in transmedia storytelling, trying to help our client companies to better understand when entertainment producers are creating something valuable for their consumers and when they are antagonizing them. In a recent newsletter, CMS student Ivan Askwith wrote about Studio 60 on Sunset Strip's failed attempt to build a fictional blog set in the world of the series -- an experiment which was shut down in only a few days time. I asked Ivan if I could share this post with the readers of my blog and thought I would cross-post it here as well.

I am reminded here of the long-standing complaint from fans that official websites are often less satisfying than fan-generated sites: for one thing, they tend to be relatively static, built once and rarely updated, even on shows that have fairly dynamic character development or elaborate and unfolding story arcs. Kurt Lancaster made some of these points contrasting the official and fan websites for Babylon 5 in his book about the series, for example. For another, those who produce official content often do not pay attention to the details which matter most to fans. Janet Murray and I wrote an essay some years ago (published in Greg Smith's On a Silver Platter) which compared the kinds of details included in the early cd-roms about Star Trek with those which cropped up most often in fanzine stories. We found that the official materials supported some kinds of fan interests (those of male technologically inclined fans) and not others (those of women fanzine writers interested in the relationships between the characters.)

Those official sites which have broken out of this trap -- such as Dawson's Desktop, which I discuss in Convergence Culture -- have been real labors of love, often created by tapping the fan community for potential collaborators in their production.

Of course, those of us who have regularly watched Aaron Sorkin's series through the year know that his characters wage a running battle against online fan communities: Josh Lyman ran into trouble with a discussion list on The West Wing and we've already heard the characters opine negatively about bloggers on Studio 60. So, the conflict Askwith describes here seems almost inevitable.

Continue reading "When Transmedia Goes Wrong: Studio 60 and DeFaker" »

October 12, 2006

Olbermann's Rising Fortunes & Transmedia Newsmaking

I just read this article about the rising ratings of Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Countdown. Olbermann has emerged from his sportscaster past (he's still the best ESPN anchor of all time) to serve as an alternative to the conservative punditocracy popularized on Fox News (& cloned across the channel grid), offering the most strident and erudite critiques of the Bush Administration to be found on television. The article rightly suggests that one of Olbermann's strengths has been counter-programming, showing that when it comes to Fox News, the reverse logic of "if you can't join 'em, beat 'em" holds - as Olbermann says in the article, "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety. As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years." (Feel free to assign your own links between pundits and particular kinds of fruit...)

What is only alluded to in the article seems to be just as central of a factor in Olbermann's rising success, especially among "quality" demographics vs. Fox: Olbermann & MSNBC have been forward-thinking in embracing the transmedia distribution of the program and Olbermann's persona. For years, Olbermann blogged on MSNBC as Bloggermann, allowing for quick linking & dissemination of his stories, especially around potential voter fraud in the 2004 elections. MSNBC clips the best of each night's show into a brief daily audio podcast, as well as posting numerous video clips online to allow viewers to watch and share on demand. When he delivers one of his "special comments," they shoot to the top of YouTube charts and generate heat on lefty blogs like Crooks & Liars and Salon's VideoDog, rivalling only the online repurposing frenzy toward Daily Show and Colbert Report. MSNBC even allows him to moonlight as a cohost for ESPN Radio, teaming with his former Sportscenter partner Dan Patrick each day to talk sports & promote his nightly show.

This transmedia dissemination of an otherwise ephemeral nightly newscast suggests the importance of old media institutions allowing new forms to use & reuse content - it is gratifying that MSNBC is reaping rewards in the old ratings system in part due to its willingness to allow the web to generate attention for its program, rather than trying to control and restrict its intellectual property. Thus while many decry the demise of quality television journalism, the online circulation of such public affairs television guides our attention via a viewer-driven filtering process salvaging the specific moments that break through the facade and transcend the endless high-decibel monotony that typifies cable news.

October 8, 2006

Lost as a Transmedia Storytelling Property

Lorne Manley's examination of Lost, Inc. in last Sunday's New York Times provides a fascinating understanding of the realities of a transmedia property, focusing particularly on the ABC phenomenon Lost and its subsequent branching into alternate reality games, video games, mobisodes, and various other storytelling forms and comparing that with various other current transmedia expiereinces, such as the use of Web comics to supplement the new series Heroes.

Manley writes, "Podcasts, blogs, cellphone episodes, Web-only content, DVD extras: they all mean more work for already harried show runners. But many of them wouldn't have it any other way." And many actors and writers are calling foul when they are expected to do more work for the same amount of pay or only a limited amount of extra money. Manley attempts to use various examples to break down the troubles that the two sides are having at this point, particularly because the value of new media experiences are not completely understood at this point, so that producrs are reluctant to give actors and writers significant extra funding for a project that might be a flop, as shows are still balancing how to create significant transmedia content.

Manely looks at The Office Webisodes, Battlestar GallacticaWebisodes, an an alternate plot on the DVD of My Name is Earl. She writes that "exploring the storytelling possibilities in these nontraditional forms is an intellectual and creative challenge," but it's increasingly becoming a legal one as well.

The Times piece gives a stronger overall picture of the complications currently plaguing the industry, as people want to move forward despite the fact that the system is structured in ways to hold innovation back. The promise of transmedia storytelling is demonstrated powerfully by this piece, in other words, even as the legal realities seem daunting.

October 2, 2006

The Emergence of Citizens' Media

A couple of weeks ago, we had a really interesting panel related to convergence and its effects particularly on the journalism industry. The panel was entitlted The Emergence of Citizens' Media, the first of a three-part series in the MIT Communication Forum's Will Newspapers Survive? series.

Dan Gillmor, the author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, was joined by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam and Wisconsin State Journal editor Ellen Foley, for a group discussion about the fate of newspapers.

I've written about Gillmor's work before, and while I'm not one to call for the end of newspapers at all, I do agree that papers have to shift their purpose and their focus when new media forms come along. In this case, as Gillmor emphasizes, citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to augment it, as is the case with situations I've written about here in the past such as the James Frey incident back in January or the shrinking distance from producer to consumer.

Foley's perspective most fascinated me, however. Several students took contention with her claims that newspapers do indeed "get it," and felt that she was suggesting her paper was already doing all it could to adapt to new media. The problem seemed to be that many of these additions to the newsroom seemed superficial more than organic, possibly out of a misunderstanding of what convergence really means, the form rather than the content. And that's not to say that Foley's paper hasn't done some really innovative things as well, as you can see here.

Dan Gillmor says that not every journalist should blog. And so it is with convergence in journalism as well. As I've written about before, part of the problem is that convergence in journalism is defined much too narrowly. Another is the struggle of an industry already built one way to adapt to thinking in another. We had a lot of discussion about the setup of the newspaper industry right now, most being a news monopoly with very large profits. Newspapers may survive, but they may not be able to survive in the same way and with the same profits.

I still contend that it is much more valuable to think of a transmedia approach to journalism, since that term doesn't carry nearly as much baggage. What does that mean? It may mean blogging or a video camera in the newsroom, or it may not. It simply means telling the story to the best of a particular medium's ability and forming partnerships with other media outlets or hiring people within a newspaper to provide the means to do a transmedia approach...but it doesn't simply mean cross-platforming everything, or giving everyone a blog, or any other superficial attempt at "convergence." Basically, if it doesn't add to the story, it's a waste of time, aside from some initial gee-whiz factor that wears off very quickly.

Foley also said during the forum that the newspaper couldn't digitize its content and disposed of electronic versions of all their stories every day because they didn't have room to store the pages, instead creating microfishe, which caused an outcry from MIT students about how cheap storage space is, considering how little space text takes up.

Foley and Gillmor joined several students for a luncheon the next day before leaving the Cambridge area, and I've had the priviledge of an e-mail exchange with Foley for a while. I think it's safe to say that we still don't see eye-to-eye, but I am glad that she is thinking about these issues and was glad that she came to MIT to share her perspective and also to hear what the people here had to say.

Nevertheless, there was certainly a disconnect between Foley and the people here, a lack of communication that I think exists throughout the journalism industry, in a period of great flux. How do you adapt new technologies in organic and meaningful ways? How do you keep reader interest and profit flowing into the newspaper? These are questions that journalists like Foley are trying to answer while also getting out a new paper everyday and trying to turn a profit for stockholders.

The answer is going to have to come in the reconceptualization of the business model, a shift in traditional advertising focus, and innovative new ways to make the newspaper's brand house a community forum in one way or another.

October 1, 2006

FoxFaith Launching First Theater Release with Love's Abiding Joy

Back in April, I wrote a post about the formation and promotion of FoxFaith, the division of the Fox broadcasting company aiming particularly at a Christian niche market. This division includes a lot of famous films in its list, repurposed content that is more family-friendly or considered "classic," such as Oklahoma!, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cheaper by the Dozen...okay so the last one may not be destined for quite as revered a status.

The division has a listing of "family films," "kids films," and "Christian based" films and has already released some titles to DVD (some of which were originally television movies) such as End of the Spear, a story of a man investigating the death of his father and four other missionaries when he was a child; Mother Teresa, a biopic of the famed missionary's life; and Love's Long Journey, a story of a woman's travel to the western frontier. The division lists their offerings as "family and Christian films everyone can enjoy!" and include the stamp of approval from The Dove Foundation, which bills itself as "the reliable symbol of family-friendly entertainment."

However, the big move for their company is their first theater release this month of a film adaptation of Janette Oke's Love's Abiding Joy, focusing on the same protagonist as the earlier DVD release Love's Long Journey.

This Love series foregrounded Oke as a "pioneer" of inspirational fiction, according to her own site, and her first novel sold her one million copies, and her work has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than 22 million copies worldwide.

FoxFaith, building on its earlier DVD releases and the build-in audience for Oke's product, is hoping to have success launching the new film, set to open Oct. 6 and appearing paticularly in Carmike and AMC theaters.

The hope is to bring in Christian movie viewers who may be turned off by many Hollywood offerings, and the company is hoping to be successful in theater runs as well as straight-to-DVD releases.

The film has another built-in major name in family entertainment, with the director and writer being Michael Landon Jr., whose father has been seen by many as a standard bearer in family television through Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

The movie's official site features not only trailers and clips and directions of how to find a theater that is playing it, but it also includes various church resources as well, including Web baners, postcards, and a discussion guide for church groups.

According to the site, this is the first film released by the company into theaters but the fourth of the Love series on film. All of the previous three were written and directed by Michael Landon Jr. as well and "ranked as the 3 highest rated films in the history of the Hallmark channel."

Will that built-in niche audience lead to a successful theater run for Love's Abiding Joy and FoxFaith? We will find out soon...

Thanks to Henry Jenkins IV for passing this along.

September 26, 2006

ABC Expanding Transmedia News Opportunities

Every top American television network has been flooding headlines about intersting cross-platform and new media experiments over the past month. While these competitors have been running neck-and-neck to enter new platforms and distribution spaces, ABC has introduced a number of new initatives in the past week.

Already, the Disney-owned network has introduced a million free iPod downloads of season finales from popular shows to help build audience interest in the launch of these shows' new seasons, streaming shows through its own site, debuting a podcast for its daytime show All My Children, all in the past month.

News has already broken this week that ABC is now going to be offering an online player that will offer a stream of ABC News to the sites of its network of more than 200 affiliates. These will include pieces from both the evening news and Good Morning America, with the ultimate plan being to make the player also accessible for the stations to load their own content as well. The players will initially be used by affiliates just to channel national programming but should start to feature local content within a few months in areas in which affiliates take advantage of the opportunity. This comes on the heels of the story mentioned above, in which local networks are making their streaming of shows available for affiliate sites, with local advertising added in.

This is part of the continued effort to drop temporality from ABC News, aside from its morning show. The campaign began this summer and is part of the continued effort from network news divisions to move their content into transmedia spaces.

Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek also has information on a number of national advertisers who have signed on for interactive advertising for shows being streamed online for ABC.

September 24, 2006

Comics and Convergence, Part Four

This is the final in a series of outtakes from Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide dealing with the ways that the comics industry is responding to shifts in the media landscape that was originally posted on my blog. This segment deals with how we pay for digital content. Reading back through this, this section felt less au current than the other excerpts on comics I have posted here. When he spoke at MIT last week, Scott McCloud, himself, conceded that micropayments have not so far taken off in the ways that he had hoped and that other business models were emerging to support online content. To bring us up to speed on the latest developments in this area, I have arranged to run an interview tomorrow with industry observer Todd Allen, about recent trends in the digital distribution of comics.

Continue reading "Comics and Convergence, Part Four" »

September 23, 2006

The Office Mobile Content Through I-Play

The very popular NBC show The Office is breaking into mobile format, with the announcement last week that NBC Universal would be partnering with I-play, a mobile entertainment company, to offer short scenes from the workplace comedy on-demand for mobile customers.

These episodes, which will be one-to-two minutes in length, is an attempt to help "extend our audiences' experience with the brand," according to Universal Mobile Entertainment's Senior VP Jeremy Laws.

The payment model has not been released yet, although recent initiatives for mobile movie content by Sprint have offered both a subscription option and a pay-per-view on-demand option.

As Henry Jenkins wrote about earlier this month, NBC is already offering mobisodes of the popular comedy through its own site, so this deal with I-play indicates an even stronger presence in providing a cross-platform reach for its show.

However, while Laws indicates that the strength of this show is to extend the extant audience's "experience" with the Office brand, i think that doesn't mean much more than the standard quote for press releases like this. The power of this is not particularly in extending the reach of The Office, especially since this is not original content but repurposed one-or-two-minute segments from the show as it airs on television.

Instead, the power of a product like this is how it empowers the audience to proselytize, to recruit others into the fold. For Office fans who want to attract others to begin watching, who want to spread the word about the quality of the show, what better way than to have a clip from the show easily able to pull up on a mobile device? Nothing convinces someone of a show's humor better than a first-hand example.

Networks need to start thinking about framing these types of mobile products in this light, emphasizing the social side of mobile content and the ability it gives users to share their lovemarks with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

September 20, 2006

Mr. McMahon Says, "This Site Sucks!"

When it comes to World Wrestling Entertainment, the line between fiction and fantasy is always blurred. There are economic incentives to blurring this line, especially as it deepens fan relationships with the product through spoiling communities as fans attempt to discern "real" rivalries from scripted ones.

That's why, when a wrestler's girlfriend (who is a female wrestler) actually cheats on him with another wrestler, it eventually becomes a storyline for their characters as well, with fans trying to decide how much is show and how much is real.

And Vince McMahon is a master at this, to both his benefit and detriment. It's to his benefit when fans want to know who the real CEO of the company is, versus the over-the-top Mr. McMahon character, and are willing to buy the McMahon DVD, one of the company's top sellers, to examine just this question. It's to his detriment when he can't escape his wrestling character in public appearances for the company, especially on news programs.

Nevertheless, the WWE has blurred that line again in relation to its decision to continue revamping its Web site, turning their plans for further innovation on the Web site into a mini-rivalry between McMahon and a WWE announcer. Although this rivalry has not come out on the air, the intention on the site is to again blur the lines. Is WWE announcer Michael Cole, who also serves as editor of the Web site in addition to being the play-by-play man for Friday Night Smackdown, really upset with Mr. McMahon's comments?

To give you a little bit of background, McMahon said at an investor's conference last Thursday that "this site sucks." And, if you don't believe it, the WWE has provided the link to a video proving it. An investor is actually praising the WWE for their work in transmedia and their expanding profit through the site, to which McMahon responds that his "people" still thinks the site "sucks."

A defensive Cole then retorts, emphasizing that the WWE is releasing a new broadband network in October, complete with Webisodes, new mobile offerings in addition to their mobile alert system, as well as "a re-vamped subscription site and more exclusive videos and photos than ever before."

Cole finishes it out by saying "the web site does suck, compared to where we are going to take it, but it won't suck for long. Wish I could say the same for the boss" and then resorts to a sophomoric reference to Vince and roosters that plays into a current storyline.

This strikes me as a unique way to handle several issues, both acknowledging McMahon's public comment about the Web site while also using it as a Web-only mini-storyline that explains and promotes improvements to the sites in an innovative way. Fans may have never bothered to read "exciting news about updates to the WWE site," but the controversy over Mr. McMahon criticizing his own site at an investor's conference is more likely to capture a fan's attention.

And now fans can wonder if there really is some hostility in Cole's words, why McMahon would make such a crude statement about his site at an investor's conference, where he is not supposed to be in character as "Mr. McMahon," etc.

In the meantime, the WWE continues to demonstrate its potential as an immersive narrative universe to really explore transmedia storytelling in a way few other companies can or will be able to.

September 16, 2006

Multiplatform Entertainment: A View from China

The following post originally appeared on on my blog earlier this week, featuring a response to one of my previous writings from a graduate student here in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.

Last week, I posted about the rapid speed with which television content has moved into new channels of distribution and the degree to which the American public seems to have embraced the ideal of rerun on demand, television for download, call it what you will. One of the key lessons of media studies is that the same technology may get adopted in different ways and at different speeds in different cultures around the world. This is one of the real value of taking a global perspective on media change.

My post inspired one of the Comparative Media Studies graduate students, Rena Huang, to post some thoughts on her blog about how this same process is playing itself out in China and I asked her if I could repost these remarks here. Huang is a second year Masters student who is doing a thesis on the growth of the Chinese animation industry and is working with CMS faculty memberJing Wang, the Chair of the MIT Foreign Languages and Literatures Section, to construct a digital archive of Chinese animation in collaboration with the Beijing Film Academy. She was also part of the team from our Convergence Culture Consortium who participated in Project Good Luck this summer helping to document mobile culture in China. For those who haven't checked that site in a bit, they are still uploading pictures and interviews from the trip, including an interesting exchange with the Back Dorm Boys, the Chinese students who became famous for their lip-sincing video at YouTube.

The following was written by Rena Huang:

Henry's "television goes multiplatform" interests me a lot since when I was back in China for the summer, I heard a lot of talks about and saw some real happenings of TV on other platforms, but not quite the same kind of platform as described in Henry's article. There are less downloading (the legal kind) of TV programs in China for various reasons. The broadcasting system, which features an overabundance of similar TV channels and a relative shortage of original content, has made frequent program rerun on different channels a common practice. One who misses his or her favorite episodes can soon catch it up on other channels. I couldn't believe that during the summer, the Westward Journey series (which was premiered 20 years ago and I really love it), is being aired to audiences old and new, on at least ten different channels. It keeps you safe in the competition to show what others are showing if you don't have better things to show.

Continue reading "Multiplatform Entertainment: A View from China" »

September 12, 2006

9/11 Documentary to be Streamed Online for Second Viewing, Viewers Who Missed the Documentary

CBS is making the re-airing of its award-winning documentary special 9/11 available through its Web site for one week for free, after the special aired Sunday night on the network's evening lineup.

The network has indicated that one of its decisions to make the program available in this format as well is that approximately some network affiliates across the country chose not to run the special in their lineup or delaying it to a later time slot, chiefly over some concerns of potentially offensive language in the broadcast.

The special, hosted by Robert DeNiro, included several new interviews not featured in the previous broadcasts of the documentary.

The special first aired in March 2002 and was replayed on Sept. 11 that year, the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. CBS decided to run the two-hour special again on the five-year anniversary of the event.

The documentary was originally meant to be a profile of a a group of New York City firefighters, and documentary-makers were able to capture the 9/11 events as they were happening due to already being on the scene for this documentary. The network was and some of its affiliates, especially those who chose not to air the re-broadcast, were concerned that groups like the Parents Television Council or the FCC itself might raise questions about the language used by some of the firefighters in the documentary but chose to run that risk anyway.

This sets up an interesting way that networks can avoid such censorship in the future, though, by bypassing affiliates who refuse to run a show and broadcasting it online as well. As high-speed Internet becomes more prevalent, networks can do this more often. I can remember that, in Kentucky, our local ABC affiliate used to refuse to run NYPD Blue in its first season, instead replacing it with that gritty realist cop show, The Andy Griffith Show every week.

And, when affiliates across the country have to preempt a program, instead of playing it at 2 a.m. that particular affiliate or CBS itself could run the episode online for viewers to catch up (this is particularly important for soap opera fans, whose content is preempted all the time and never re-shown.)

The key point here is that it might have taken a weighty subject like the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to allow these precedents to be set, but they could help broaden the scope of what is possible for networks and their affiliates in the future to both have more creative freedom, when the situation calls for it (as some profane language in the 9/11 documentary may be fairly easily justified) and as creating a way to bypass logistical problems with affiliates by allowing viewers access to content through other methods as well.

And it will be interesting to see if the usual suspects--like James Dobson, for instance, would criticize television for using profane language in this instance.

September 8, 2006

Television Goes Multiplatform

I originally posted this on my blog, but I thought it would also be of interest to C3 readers because of the heavy focus here on multiplatform television extensions:

It's hard to believe that it was less than a year ago that Apple launched the video Ipod and the ABC television group was the first to announce a serious commitment to make its top rated television shows accessible to consumers via legal downloads. Within a few weeks time, the other networks were forced to cut their own deals with Apple paving the way of a new era of rerun on demand.

A document shared with me recently from one of our corporate research partners gave me a glimpse into just how dramatically the landscape of American television has changed, providing a breakdown network by network of the various platforms through which one could access their content.

Continue reading "Television Goes Multiplatform" »

Battlestar Galactica Launching Webisodes

A great example of transmedia storytelling, or at least what promises to be, started earlier this week through The Sci Fi Channel's online distribution of mini-episodes of Battlestar Galactica, leading up to the launch of the show's new season on Sci Fi Oct. 6.

The online episodes will be only a few minutes in length, and Sci Fi will feature 10 of them in all, with a new episode made available each Tuesday and Thursday night until the show's first episode on Sci Fi.

An article by Jonathan D. Glater appeared in Tuesday's New York Times about the launch of the new online series, which will "focus on two soldiers in a new city built by humans fleeing Cylons, a race of machines that has wiped out human civilization everywhere."

According to the network's plans, the webisodes will provide information to viewers about the narrative in the fall and will help provide context and motive for decisions characters make when the show launches on television once again in October.

Glater writes, "These Web segments are a bit of a gamble. Sci Fi executives are betting that people who are only glancingly familiar with the series--whose storyline may be too complicated to follow for those who don't know what happened in the first two seasons--will be able to follow the story told online."

The network will also be launching a show called "The Story So Far," a one-hour recap of what has happened on Battlestar Galactica in the first two seasons, to air on Sci Fi, USA Network, Bravo, Sleuth, and Universal HD, all NBC Universal channels, and also be available on the Sci Fi Web site, You Tube, iTunes, Yahoo, and on United Airlines flights and Universal theme parks, according to Glater.

Glater ties this into the problems between NBC Universal and the WGA over webisodes, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

I'm interested in seeing how much of a success these episodes are and if they add any new viewers to Battlestar and/or strengthen the connection with existing fans.

Thanks to William Uricchio for passing the Times article along to me.

September 2, 2006

Olbermann News Clip Getting Major Circulation on YouTube

One of the most popular new clips making its way around YouTube is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's commentary last week against Donald Rumsfeld and the current administration for what he views as their continued use of lies and fears to create an environment of fear in this country to allow the administration to continually make and cover up bad decisions.

Olbermann likens this administration to the 1930s British administration that ignored the Nazi threat and claimed Winston Churchill was wrong in his assertions, reversing a claim from Rumsfeld that they were like Churchill in the 30s. Of course, Rumsfeld was claiming that they could see a threat when everyone else could not, but Olbermann's comparison is to the faulty logic and lack of facts from Rumsfeld in being much like the British administration of Neville Chamberlain in the 30s.

Olbermann channels the spirit of Edward R. Murrow and even ends the clip with a direct quote from the famed journalist, which you will recognize from Good Night and Good Luck, transforming the quote as a direct warning against Rumsfeld instead of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

C3 Director Henry Jenkins sent me this clip, noting that, since the MSNBC program is not particularly higher rated, "this is one of those clips that is being seen by far more people digitally than saw it via broadcast."

Although I feel the political message is powerful here and cannot be ignored, despite how you feel about the current administration, the implications of this clip's popularity on YouTube shows how quality broadcast journalism or powerful journalistic commentary can have continued life in the blogosphere and in the current convergence culture.

In an environment of transient 24-hour news programming, where most comments come and go into the ether without anyone ever paying lasting attention, YouTube and similar video sharing sites are a place in which these types of comments retain and actually even grow in relevance over time.

So, for all those journalists who fear convergence culture, they should realize that this type of archiving gives added, not diminished, relevance to their work.

August 29, 2006

WWE 24/7 On Demand

While I've alluded to this product before, I want to examine the WWE 24/7 On Demand feature in a little bit more detail, since it alludes to another important aspect of Long Tail programming and the ability of convergence culture to supply niche products to various audiences.

Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment is the largest pro wrestling operation in the country these days. Vince was known in his youth for expanding his New York-based territory nationally and competing with various other promoters in their own regional spaces to create one wrestling company that toured from coast to coast, rather than there being a territory based in Memphis, another in Nashville, another in St. Louis, another in Indiana, another in Minneapolis/St. Paul, etc.

Now, however, since Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling has gone out of business, there are no immediate serious challenges to WWE's rule over the wrestling industry, with the TNA wrestling program that airs on Spike TV being considered a clear second company behind WWE's three major brands: RAW, Smackdown, and ECW.

At this point, Vince has remembered pro wrestling's history, a history the company often used to strategically ignore unless it was their own because they were in the process of building a WWE mythology, one that made its characters and its history seem larger than those of other companies.

When the WWE became the only big company left, however, they began to realize and utilize other wrestling histories. Vince had inherited the WCW/NWA tape library from Ted Turner when he purchased WCW in 2001. And, when ECW folded, he purchased not only the rights to its names but also its archive.

Continue reading "WWE 24/7 On Demand" »

August 27, 2006

Online Content for Emmy Awards

I'm in the process of relocating, so I watched the Emmys in quite a hurry tonight. Nevertheless, I found the show to be fairly compelling for an awards show, especially an awards show that actually ended on time (I guess putting Bob Newhart's life on the line really did work wonders. By the way, he still has the best comedic facial expressions I've ever seen).

However, compelling content was not just made available on the awards show itself, as the Emmy Awards joined the transmedia process by featuring companion content on the Web site tonight, coinciding with the rest of the show.

NBC's Web site provided real-time interactive features on its site, including polls and television trivia questions. Since the show was so rushed on television, the online content also was able to show more backstage interviews and the kinds of features that could not be crammed on the three-hour television event.

Polls were only mentioned one time on the actual awards show, when Bob Newhart was told that 52 percent of the voters wanted him to live. Newhart was not as much dismayed by all the people who wanted him not to survive but by the 6 percent of voters who signed on to say they had no opinion either way.

I'm assuming those numbers were fabricated, if a poll existed about Newhart's plight at all. Because I was packing, I didn't get a chance to catch any of the transmedia content.

The online content was funded through sponsorship from Target.

Nevertheless, the 58th version of the Emmy Awards may have been proof that a transmedia approach to an awards program may help alleviate any future concerns about going overtime, especially if they could go the WWE Unlimited route and have some of the minor transitory events happen during commercial breaks, to be streamed online. Tandberg Television's interactive content this time around displayed a glimpse of the transmedia promise for these types of special events that are somewhat rooted in temporality.

Tandberg may have only scratched the surface at this point, but they did include the video feeds from behind-the-scenes online. The online site also featured a chance to both predict winners and rate both the fashion of Emmy attendees and presenters and the acceptance speeches.

But I think this is a great example of how transmedia approaches can further benefit special events programming in a way that makes it more compelling to watch while it is happening and to encourage viewers to immerse themselves in the experience by using the online content simultaneously.

August 17, 2006

CBS News Joins Cross Platform Competition with Simulcast

With all the innovations put in place with ABC and NBC's news divisions over the past few months, it's no surprise that CBS would fire back with plans to further transform its cross-platform news distribution. CBS has now announced earlier today that the new CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will debut next month as a simulcasted news broadcast, streamed through their Web site as well in its regular televised time slot.

CBS's cornerstone broadcast is the first foray of one of the major networks into simulcasting a major news broadcast in this manner, giving CBS a chance to gain some ground in the race the three major American broadcast networks have been in to stake their claims as online broadcast news innovators.

After the initial simulcast, the program will remain available anytime through their on-demand video service. Viewers must register with the site to be able to view the news, and the news will be available when it airs in each area's time zone.

WIth ABC's new 24/7 approach to news and NBC's new Web updates with videos and blogs every morning about what will be on the nightly newscast, CBS's simulcast shows that the industry is continuing to move forward in cross-platform news delivery. CBS' spin is that it wants to make its news available to people who are not in front of a television set when their news airs, hence both the live streaming of the news and the archiving of the episode for later viewing.

And they are smart to unveil the simulcast with the beginning of Couric's version of the news, providing the feeling that she will be ushering in a new era for the broadcast network once associated with the best news coverage of the three big broadcast networks. This seems to be a case of competition creating the best possible environment for the viewers, as the big three have certainly gotten into a war for best transmedia news coverage.

Now, if they can all put this much energy into content...

August 10, 2006

My Name is Earl on MySpace

MySpace has been making headlines a lot lately, what with news of its continued climb in popularity alongside the development of governmental controls on how and when MySpace can be accessed. Although some have questioned whether the social networking site can sustain the continued attacks on its development, the site continues to collect controversy--and hordes of new users.

Some of those new MySpace users aren't just individuals, as we've seen in the past with The Carver from Nip/Tuck and the U.S. Marines, as well as the characters from the Web-based Soup of the Day show. And bands have found particular success in promoting themselves through the site.

Now, the popular NBC situation comedy My Name is Earl, starring Jason Lee, is launching onto MySpace as well.

NBC will be partering with the site to allow users the chance to have their photo in the closing credits of the show during one of the first episodes of the upcoming season. Each episode contians references to friends of the show's creator, Greg Garcia, with the Amigos de Garcia logo.

Now, through the MySpace promotion, viewers will have a chance to be one of these friends of Garcia's. The Earl MySpace page is also offering user-generated content and sneak peaks for the release of the show's first season release on DVD, as well as mobile content and other merchandising offers.

I have to admit that, although I haven't been a regular viewer of the My Name is Earl show, I feel a close kinship to Jason Lee's character is plight, since I suffer the social stigma of's my middle name. So, for all of us Earls who have had to suffer through it, I may extend my friendship to him on my next foray into MySpace.

And, as this show's site and former examples have shown, MySpace has great potential for creating transmedia content and distributing cross-platform content.

TNT DramaVision

Earlier this week, we covered the new video distribution deal by one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, MTV Networks, with Google Video, where the company will syndicate video content through the pervasive Internet company.

Now, another one of our partners here at C3 is pouring content into a new online distribution platform. Turner Broadcasting will be using content from its drama cable network TNT on its new DramaVision Web site, which will launch next Tuesday.

The first content planned to be used on the site will be the popular TNT series Into the West, and the site will also include many of TNT's original films and events such as the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The site will also help distribute a co-production between TNT and Court TV called Ripped from the Headlines, Web-only episodes that will also be distributed on the program's own site, true-life crime stories.

TNT's development of a new broadband distribution platform will help provide transmedia potential for the Turner network and will also encourage the further development of original content for the cable network, which largely distributes previously aired episodes of various dramas from network television.

August 9, 2006

Google Video and MTV Networks

We've written before about Google's ramping up its video Web content, but the company has taken it a step further now, with new plans to become a content distributor for one of our partners here in the Convergence Culture Consortium, MTV Networks.

This new feature from Google's video feature turns the company into a new form of syndication for networks and opens up a new form of distribution on the Web. According to early reports of the plan, videos will be distrubted supported by advertising, all going to companies that use the Google Adsense network.

Whereas YouTube provides user-generated content and iTunes and Amazon offer content for download, this distribution platform promises to use Google's pervasiveness to syndicate television content and to have it adveritising supported, as AOL's new video feature will be.

Google currently both gives users the chance to view free video and also to buy full downloads. This project is yet another in-road into the development of Web content as companies expand their reach onto the Web. For proponents of transmedia storytelling, this development is yet another example of the expanded potential being made possible by companies willing to experiment.

August 8, 2006

Bravo Launching Mobile Content

We've written before about Bravo's interesting developments on the Web platform, such as its site for unaired or short-run shows Brilliant But Cancelled.

Now, Bravo is branching into the mobile platform, with the network's offering of modified versions of a few of its major programs on Amp'd Mobile cell phones starting Wednesday. The deal is the first NBC Entertainment cable network deal with a mobile provider.

The cell phone users can access short one-minute or three-minute sets of clips from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Project Runway, as well as content from Inside the Actors Studio and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List.

Episode summaries from Project Runway and Hip Tips from Queer Eye will also be available for viewing.

I like the idea of expanding media products into other platforms, and as I'm sure fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long agrees, the mobile platform is ripe for major experimentation. On the other hand, I've expressed my issues with gated content in the past, and I think that the development of content locked into a specific content provider is as dangerous as net neutrality for developing strong transmedia potential.

However, I am glad to see Bravo and other channels continuing to experiment. When these more conservative projects are tested and when users become acclimated to the idea of consuming mobile content, I'm hoping to see the transmedia projects expand and become even more interesting.

August 3, 2006

Convergence and Transmedia in the News Industry

In the August edition of The Convergence Newsletter, the e-mail newsletter dedicated to issues of convergence in the journalism industry that I wrote about here last month, David Hazinski writes a lengthy and provokative piece on what he sees to be the overreliance on convergence in the journalism industry.

Hazinski, who is not only the head of the broadcast news tract of Grady College at the University of Georgia but who is also a principal at Intelligent Media Consultants, starts his piece with an anecdote about discussing convergence with a high-ranking CNN executive who said that the word made him sick and was "yesterday's trend."

Of course, we here at C3 would argue to the death about convergence being yesterday's news. And I would especially argue it with someone at CNN, one of our corporate partners through Turner Broadcasting.

But the problem is how the word is used. As I made my way through Hazinski's piece, I realized that his focus was not really on what we call convergence--which has a transmedia focus that doesn't see everything converge into one black box. Instead, he's still stuck in this mode of thinking of convergence solely as this "uberjournalist" perspective that we discussed in J-school, where one journalist would be expected to perform in every media form.

Hazinski begs journalism programs around the country to stop trying to teach journalists to report in all media forms which "will result in them having little market value." Instead, he says that "it would be like training a doctor to know a lot about different kinds of health but not equip him or her with the skills to cure anyone." And I agree with him. This is precisely not what journalism programs should do. But that doesn't mean convergence doesn't work, merely that it can't be defined so narrowly.

Continue reading "Convergence and Transmedia in the News Industry" »

August 2, 2006

MTV Purchases College Online News Publisher

Could MTV be well on its way to creating a converged media operation of its own for its colllege coverage?

I've written a lot lately about how issues of transmedia are affecting the news environment at the big network guns like ABC and NBC and how print journalists and J-schools alike are debating the role of convergence in creating better news coverage for the audience/citizens.

Now, it appears that our partners at MTV Networks may be heading in a more converged direction for their college channel, mtvU...or at least they are putting all the tools in place to do so.

This week, news broke that the company has purchased Youth Media & Marketing Networks, or Y2M, which owns the College Publisher tool that 450 online campus newspapers use. The program reaches approximately 5 million college students. I'm familiar with College Publisher through the short time I spent with the WKU College Heights Herald in Kentucky.

Unfortunately, most of the focus at this point about the potential of creating a transmedia corporation is the advertising packages that can be put together. Sure, that's exciting for the bottom line, but if owning both the college television network and the college publishing tools only leads to better packages to sell, it seems to me that MTVN will be missing some of the potential of this deal.

How much better coverage can mtvU give college campuses if it works in tandem with the newspapers who use College Publisher to focus on stories that might be of interest to campuses across the country? While mtvU focuses on a variety of programming, it seems that they this acquirement could aid them in solidifying their reputation as a responsible member of campuses across the country by providing cross-media coverage, where mtvU could help create awareness of stories written by student journalists across the country by giving them play in their own programming and thus making people more interested in mtvU in the process.

Will creating some synergy between their new print division and their already established television network increase the bottom line further? I can't be sure, but creating more compelling programming for colleges and taking advantage of the tools available can only be a boon for the reputations of both College Publisher and mtvU if the company chooses to take advantage to what is now available through this acquisition.

July 22, 2006

ABC to Drop Temporality from Title of Flagship News Show

NBC isn't the only network news division that's embracing a transmedia approach to the news-reporting process that takes advantage of the "convergence culture" we're always writing about here at C3. Last week, I wrote about NBC's current changes to better reflect a transmedia approach to its nightly news program.

But, as I wrote about a couple of months ago, ABC News has also pushed aggressively into the transmedia market, first with working in tandem with BBC News in bringing more international news to its Web site and now, this week, with making great alterations to its approach to news, even changing the name of its flagship news program, the evening news broadcast.

ABC News' news program, which has been called World News Tonight for almost three full decades, will be taking the "tonight" from its program to better reflect a transmedia news process which incorporates more than just the 30-minute evening news broadcast. The new program, which will be called World News with Charles Gibson, both attempts to highlight the personality of the host while also diminishing the connotation of the show's temporality. And, as news shows have found in the past and as HDNet is hoping is the case with Dan Rather, highlighting the personality of the anchor almost always helps develop a flavor for the show. Now that ABC has chosen a steady anchor, it hopes to drive forward with its new direction in a multiplatform news approach.

The news producers are already offering an afternoon Web cast in addition to the nightly news broadcast and offers continuous news updates through its online site, similar to that of other news networks. However, the news division is pushing the envelope even further in creating a 24-hour online news presence.

The news site offers a great volume of videos and segments from prior broadcasts, as well as constant streaming of the ABC News Now channel, a 24-hour news network that is also being pushed to be made available on cable and satellite. ABC is also pushing the envelope in developing news for the mobile platform.

I've written about it quite a bit in the past week, but this push just further strengthens the ability of the television news facilities to give better coverage to viewers. Sure, there are plenty of anti-convergence people out there in journalism, and I've encountered many of them. But the true best use of a transmedia, multi-platform approach to covering news isn't to diminish the quality and increase the quantity of product but rather to give citizens the best news coverage possible, using as many different platforms as possible and fully utilizing the strengths of each.

And, while the changes in ABC's approach may not the be the only attributable factor, the network's approach to news is causing a rising improvement. For the past few weeks, Gibson has taken the thrown from Brian Williams and NBC as having the top-rated evening news show. If this is any indication, making these extra products available to keep viewers informed heightens instead of diminishes the support and loyalty of evening news viewers.

So What Happened to Star Wars Galaxies?

I posted this yesterday at my blog and thought I would cross-post it here, considering its relevance to prior discussions we've had in the consortium:

Earlier this week, Next Generation published a short excerpt from my much longer discussion of Star Wars Galaxies and user-generated content in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. The publication seems to have prompted game designer and theorist Raph Koster to blog about what he learned by adopting a more collaborationist approach to his fans. Here's some of what he had to say:

Continue reading "So What Happened to Star Wars Galaxies?" »

July 20, 2006

The Lost Experience - Act II

I've previously written about the challenges that The Lost Experience has had in reconciling the demands of the two storytelling modes of serialized television narrative and immersive alternate reality games (ARG). One of the challenges for analysts writing about such serialized storytelling examples is that they are moving targets, evolving and changing as they are created. In looking back at my article, I realize that I discussed only Act I in what is shaping out to be a three act story, as provocatively suggested by Jeff Jensen. Thus, here is my own update on Act II of The Lost Experience (TLE) and how it points to the challenges of transmedia storytelling.

Continue reading "The Lost Experience - Act II" »

July 18, 2006

NBC Launches Transmedia News Content

NBC News continues leading the charge to transmedia news content with its announcement earlier today that the anchor for the nightly news will be launching a daily video blog that will be released every day several hours before the nightly newscast.

NBC's star news anchor, Brian Williams, will air his on-camera video blog--The Early Nightly by late morning every day on the show's MSNBC site, shortly after the editors of the nightly newscast have their initial editorial conference call. The blog will also be available through NBC Mobile and affiliate Web sites.

NBC plans to launch the blog several hours before other network news operations release previews. ABC and CBS release short newscasts on their Web sites in the afternoon.

Williams already participates in a daily blog called The Daily Nightly that appears each afternoon previewing the night's newscast. The use of the personality of news anchors to help drive transmedia content and the use of new technologies appears to be the plan of the hour, after the announcement of Dan Rather's new show on HDNet got a lot of attention last week for a network viewed by many for their technology rather than their content, as I wrote about last week.

Back in May, NBC became the first news division to launch into iTunes, with Williams hosting a time capsule program that utilizes the news division's extensive archives, as well as making available old episodes of the long-running Meet the Press.

This video blog seems to further utilize what Aayush Iyer has written about several times: the importance of utilizing specific mediums for their particular strengths. While the nightly news is scheduled at a certain time, and the flagship show is a tradition, the video blog is a great way to give viewers a preview and break stories earlier in the day. And, with journalists debating convergence on a regular basis and J-Schools trying to decide what new media technologies can and should mean for the journalism industry, NBC's newest example will provide another interesting test--both to see the popularity of the video blog and whether journalists perceive it as adding anything to the news service offered by the network.

July 14, 2006

ABC Family Transmedia Project Launches Next Week

Next week will see the launch of an interesting experiment for the ABC Family Channel, which will be launching a transmedia experience for viewers of its two-hour television movie Fallen.

The movie itself is an adaptation of a popular series of books by author Tom Sniegoski, so the project begins with a transmedia focus in terms of adaptation. But the true nature of transmedia storytelling isn't just telling the same story in multiple platforms--rather, it is to have a story in which various parts or chapters reveal themselves in different media forms.

That's what the Fallen project hopes to do. Producers have already planned to air four more hours of Fallen next year and wanted to create a storytelling platform that would keep viewers invested in the Fallen story between installments of the television movies. Which is why they are launching an online game of Fallen that will continue throughout the summer.

The game is planned to be in real-time. It will launch after the movie airs next Sunday and will last throughout the summer, with participants being given new clues as they continue through the story. The project contains elements of an alternate reality game (ARG).

The movie will launch the game by giving a clue to the online game. All of this will propel viewers to go to the Web site, where the game will focus on the story of a character named Faith.

According to a press release on the show, the game will travel "between fantasy and reality," made possible through "a carefully designed combination of gameplay, video-rich media and online story telling which revolves around a girl embroiled in a mystery so compelling, it will shake the very foundation of humanity."

Okay. I think there could be some hyperbole there, but I will bite on the line that this is an innovative idea. ABC Family will be teaming with game producer and director Matt Wolf and online game studio Xenophile Media for this project.

I think the transmedia format sounds like a great way to keep viewer interest alive during installments of programs like this, which come very infrequently. In some ways, the project may be informed by the Matrix experiments. The key here is to make the Faith mystery be relevant to the movie experience without simply recreating too many elements of the original story. It needs to be different but involved.

In order to make this as rewarding an experience as possible, it would make sense for the Faith game to build into the television content that will launch in 2007. Events and characters introduced in the game should end up appearing to or referred to in the television content as a reward to those who participated in this transmedia product.

The jury's out until the content starts appearing, but the project certainly has merit.

Thanks to Henry Jenkins for making me aware of this project.

July 12, 2006

Fan Club: Reality Baseball

Earlier today, I wrote about the couple from my hometown who participated in the baseball wedding at the Field of Dreams, and, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how Fenway Park has driven fans to Beantown over the years to visit the famed home of the Red Sox.

However, fan tourism isn't all that baseball is driving these days. The new interactive reality baseball show that is launching online is yet another example of how America's favorite sport continues to drive innovation. This regards MSN's new interactive reality show based on the sport.

Microsoft will be launching this online series, called Fan Club: Reality Baseball. The series will be interactive, offering users the chance to help manage a minor league baseball team. The series will use real minor league team the Schaumburg Flyers in Illinois. The interactive suggestions from the fans will then be collected and used in the team's decision-making process in practice and during games. The online content for the show will include game highlights and behind-the-scenes footage from the first half of the team's season.

Also connected with the show, family members and players themselves will be blogging on MSN Spaces to help promote both the show and the team. For a minor league team, particpating in the show could be a major boon. If the show's interactivity proves not to be superficial, fans may be attracted to following the team...and, for minor league teams, convincing some of those fans to make the travel to watch their games could be nothing but a help. With tourism dollars awfully tight, minor league baseball teams can often struggle to fill arenas.

What this decision may hinge on, however, is how authentic the interactivity is. Henry Jenkins, our director, has been known to write about the "collective intelligence" of fan communities. Here is a particularly good example to test that theory, with fans helping the team make strategic decisions. But, I am sure many remain fairly dubious as to whether this chance for fans to give advice to the players and coaching staff is anything more than a publicity stunt. Will the fan advice even really be taken into account?

The program will be created by LivePlanet and will be ad-supported. LivePlanet prides itself on creating entertainment properties "that seamlessly integrate traditional media, new media and the physical world."

And, if this show works, that's what it will do. It's the perfect example of the potential of the mass media to interact with direct fan participation. Fans can interact with players, read their blogs, follow their actual games, visit the team and their home field, etc. If the Schaumburg Flyers fully accept the idea...if MSN gets behind marketing the reality show...and if LivePlanet is able to reach and interest baseball fans, it could make a major difference.

Cable television helped change sports, as it developed a chance for fans to regularly follow other teams and somewhat changed the geographic distribution of how local sports teams are supported, although it is still largely based on home areas. The Internet fully integrated these "outlying" fans into the fold through online fan communities. This reality series has a chance to take it one step further. And, if successful, it could provide the precursor to how sports franchises regularly interact with their fan communities.

July 10, 2006

Convergence in Journalism

My previous post about issues of convergence in journalism led to some contemplation of my journalism background that has brought me to the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT.

When I was a student at Western Kentucky University, graduating in Spring 2005, we had a special topics class which brought together a couple of students from all six tracks within the university's School of Journalism and Broadcasting to discuss and demonstrate projects and issues of convergence in journalism.

For those who know anything about journalism and particularly about the organization of J-Schools, it should come as no surprise that the suggestion of starting a class like this sent shock waves throughout the department. Some professors were trenchant, doing everything in their power to hold on to the sanctity of their individual discplines. Others made the claim that convergence shouldn't be happening in a separate course or a certificate program but rather should be incorporated throughout the curriculum--rather, that it already was.

Convergence as a principle was seen as the domain of the uberjournalist, an economic threat by the continuous conglomeration of the mass media to force fewer and fewer reporters to do more and more things by developing the ability to write a story for publication, post extra content online, do a radio broadcast about it, speak on television about it, carry a camera with them, etc...basically, it would eliminate the need for individual professions.

While the department was in turmoil at times trying to discuss this and ill feelings sometimes popped up, it was exactly the kind of discussion that journalism professors--and especially students need to be having--considering these are real issues. Convergence is just a buzzword, somewhat meaningless, as buzzwords tend to be, other than providing a lightning rod for discussion. But the issues that surrounded this word provoked important discussions and fears.

The fears were primarily among students finishing their training in a particular discipline, that their training would make them unqualified in a few years because they were specifically print journalists and hadn't honed their skills in other news delivery forms. Faculty fears ranged from having to work with other tracks which were viewed as inferior, being forced to dramatically alter content and, most of all, a fear that trying to create students who would be jacks-of-all-trades would make them masters of none.

And these are all legitimate fears about a very real market out there. I found the actual projects that we did to be much less valuable than just having this debate as a department, a debate I imagine still wages on at the bottom of the Hill back at WKU. But I think that previous discussions here about transmedia issues in journalism begin to get at the heart of what was trying to be expressed in our discussions about convergence--that the crux of the argument is that each medium should deliver what it is best at and that journalists in various mediums should work together--CONVERGE--to create a better news product. The truth is that, when journalists do this, it probably requires MORE people working, not fewer, to be done well.

The problem is simply that convergence, as a buzzword, is too broad. As the word is sometimes legitimately used to mean the jack-of-all-trades journalists that would look awfully good on a spreadsheet of human resources expenses, I understand why so many professors were intractable in their opposition to even discussing convergence as a department. On the other hand, as I've written about before, the best thing that could happen to academia is breaking a few of those barriers that artificially divide disciplines and people--and this extends to the journalism world as well.

Convergence culture, in the larger sense that we study, isn't about watering down content but rather expanding it. And, for journalism, convergence done well leads to a better informed public and a news world where each medium is used to its full potential. The trouble is that many things done in the name of convergence are, in reality, against the very principles of what we are calling convergence culture. And, until the society adopts a more sophisticated language to discuss these issues, debates like the one we had at WKU are going to continue.

July 7, 2006

Nobody's Watching? I Beg to Differ

A few days ago, I wrote about the development of a new Internet-only television show called Soup of the Day. This week, however, the television show only available online that's getting the most attention is Bill Lawrence's Nobody's Watching, the rejected WB show whose pilot surfaced on YouTube a few weeks ago and has currently received several hundred thousand downloads.

Wait a minute...a show with great artistic promise dumped by the WB Network at the last minute whose pilot later surfaces online and gains a grassroots cult following. Switch YouTube for BitTorrent and you've got a story similar to the tale of Global Frequency, the show based on the Warren Ellis comic book that was leaked online and gained support, only for the WB to send out letters denouncing watching and downloading WB intellectual property that was not supposed to be released.

But will there be a happier ending for Nobody's Watching? Lawrence, creator of Scrubs and Spin City, created the show as both a commentary on the deplorable state of most situation comedies on the networks today and as an attempt to return quality to the situation comedy genre. The show's meaning: two guys are unhappy with the current state of television and pitch writing their own sitcom to the networks. The WB accepts and decides to create a reality show based on these two guys who think they can write a show better than the WB airs. The sitcom we watch is the reality show of these two guys trying to write a sitcom. Something right out of the Larry David playbook...except these guys are aware of the camera, and the show is treated just as a reality show would be.

The premise--especially under Lawrence--has the potential to provide commentary on the current state of both situation comedy and reality television, be self-reflexive, poke fun at television creators and executives alike, and also really entertain its audience in the process, if the pilot is any indication. On the other hand, there was a fear among executives that the show was just too confusing for viewers--that this degree of self-reflexivity would be too much for the average Joe to handle.

Or at least that's the reason they claimed to pass on the show. NBC had passed it on to the WB, who passed on it for the lineup. But now, with its grassroots support, Lawrence claimed that it was being revisited by NBC and that he had had calls from both ABC and Comedy Central. And one has to wonder if the CW Network, after WB passed on the show, might now be interested in having a show with such a grassroots following built into its debut.

However, Lawrence sums up the reason why this experiment is successful and why the networks are stupid not to release their pilots more often when trying to decide how to formulate a future lineup. According to reporter Bill Carter in Monday's New York Times story, Lawrence "said he believed this was exactly the kind of development that television needed to break all kinds of hidebound traditions, including presumptions about what people will and won't watch as comedy, and decisions that are made based on small organized focus groups."

If the masses are willing to participate as a test audience, why not launch a legion of pilots on YouTube or allow people to BitTorrent them? Not only do you end up with shows developing strong grassroots potential before they ever hit the air, but you get a wider response to the show in a situation where viral marketing and word-of-mouth give the feedback as to which shows will generate the most popularity based on number of downloads.

Of course, the only shows that would be hurt with a system like this one are shows that are low in viewer interest, that are not appealing...but those are the shows that would hit the air and get cancelled soon, anyway. And, for more complicated concepts like the one in Nobody's Watching, releasing the show on YouTube ahead of time allows fans to become educated on the concept and prepared for the premise before the show is ever broadcast.

For those interested in watching the pilot episode of Nobody's Watching, it's available here.

July 4, 2006

Soup of the Day

One of our C3 team members from MIT's Sloan School of Management, Tim Crosby, alerted me to a fascinating site last week that shows the power of convergence culture and how the Internet can serve to incorporate the style and work of another medium--an online television series, updated at regular intervals and with a continued story-arc from episode to episode.

While other series have been done online, few have captured the cohesive feel of Soup of the Day, an ongoing Web-based situation comedy that builds on ongoing storylines. The site calls itself "a relation entertainment series," with the storyline of a central male protagonist who has three girlfriends--"one man, split pea-tween three girlfriends." The show features Brandon's struggle in trying to maintain these multiple relationships and also features male supporting characters.

Soup of the Day has already made it to the 18th installment, and all the episodes are available through the archives now. All the previous shows are available in the show's archives, with the content distributed through YouTube.

The show is likely done with a meager budget, without major name talent, but has gained a following through clever transmedial marketing, through its being a unique venture in the first place, and Iron Sink Media's ability to make compelling episodes that people want to follow--and with pretty impressive production values for a small independent project like this.

When Tim e-mailed me about this venture, he pointed out that the site is perhaps the best example of how video distribution costs have dropped immensely, through the video hosting power of YouTube. And it becomes further evidence of other models of distribution that does not require a traditional broadcasting network to produce a compelling television series. Through video-sharing, grassroots networking among the growing fan community, and clever transmedial marketing by the producers, Soup of the Day could be come the hit de jour of Summer 2006.

In terms of transmedia, the site features a video log for one of the characters, and several characters have their own MySpace pages that extend the storyworld into another online space. Viewers can check out protagonist Brandon's MySpace page for continued interaction and thoughts that feed back into the series, as well as to interact with the show's characters. Their are also sites set up for Brandon's three girlfriends: Monique, and Wendy. Pretty shrewd marketing, if you ask me.

The only thing that neither Tim nor I am sure of is where revenue for the show is coming from, as the site doesn't feature significant advertising and is not a pay-for-content distribution system. But, regardless of the financial situation of the show, it's popularity demonstrates much of what we hope to see in the future for convergence culture, in terms of allowing an unprecedented number of voices to participate in production in the creative industries.

July 3, 2006

The Plight of Weekly Newspapers

The majority of the people who visit our site may live in areas where these issues aren't quite as pressing because there are healthy daily newspapers available and vibrant alternative papers that push the underground of the journalism world. But, for anyone who is familiar with the weekly newspaper industry or who may have grown up in a rural area where the only paper of record is a local weekly, the plight of weekly newspapers is an important one.

In a lot of communities, these small-operation newspapers are the only major source of local history, the only form of accountability for local elected officials, and the only means of communication for major news stories that aren't so big that they get picked up by regional or national dailies.

In short, it's called the Wal-Martization of local communities that puts community journalism in danger. A lot of people know about the effects of Wal-Mart moving in on a lot of locally owned business that compete with the superstore, especially considering all the anti Wal-Mart documentaries that have been made about the phenomenon.

But few people acknowledge the effect Wal-Martization has had on community journalism. The local businesses that are either impoverished or slaughtered by the low-priced juggernaut are what formerly gave the newspapers the bulk of its revenue. Locally owned small-town newspapers are funded by advertising revenue from local businesses. And Wal-Mart does not run ads in newspapers, neither inserts nor paid ads on pages, except in rare cases.

While some growing communities have maintained ad support, the number of businesses that advertise are dwindling for many places...and the hopes of attracting businesses from bigger towns to advertise in the small papers of distant communities is getting more bleak when television, radio, billboard, direct mail, and other forms of advertising are joined by Web advertising. There's only so much of the advertising budget for these local businesses to give to the print media. I had a friend in the weekly newspaper business tell me recently of a prominent regional car dealer who was dropping all of his print ads for the rest of the year.

Many people are thinking about how to empower weekly journalists, such as former Society of Professional Journalists national president Al Cross at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues through the University of Kentucky.

As I've mentioned, I'm back in Kentucky working for a couple of weeklies this summer "getting back to my journalism roots," and I've been putting a lot of thought to how the long-term integrity of community journalism can be protected. And I think that, while the Web provides many potential dangers for the print media because of the emphasis it takes off the building of local community in favor of national communities built around common interests instead of geographical space, the Web also provides the potential saving grace for community journalism.

The Web may be a contributing factor to the diminished power of a sense of local community, but it also provides the only means for people in our increasingly mobile society to stay in touch with "where they are from." This phenomenon is one of the things that have fueled the popularity of sites like MySpace, as people use the social networking tool to stay in touch with friends back home.

Community journalism may be able to flourish by moving their operations increasingly into this online space and becoming a meeting place for people interested in their small town, not just among the local residents but among the so-called "diaspora" as well...those will are likely never to return to the area due to lack of good employment options but who care about what's happening in the area. Local newspapers can only gain so many readers in a small geographical space, but there are hundreds of kids moving out of these communities every year to college, many likely never to return as a resident. Sites that attract these former residents may be able to draw advertising revenue not just from local businesses but from regional or even national ones as well.

It's something worth looking into and something I'm contemplating spending significant more time researching and writing about. Do any readers have any thoughts while I'm still trying to conceptualize this?

July 1, 2006

WWE's Big Apple Takedown

World Wrestling Entertainment has launched a new transmedia product--of sorts. The new WWE Books novel, Big Apple Take Down, is a fantasy book in no way related to the fictional world of the wrestling company--it's a fiction based on a fictional work but which is acknowledged as fiction even within the wrestling world.

The premise of the book is that the federal government is trying to take down a dangerous drug operation and enlists the help of WWE wrestlers to infiltrate the drug ring. WWE writers may be trying to create a new line of books, with the premise that wrestlers would make perfect undercover agents because they travel from town to town constantly for wrestling cards and could plan their wrestling schedule around the government's agenda, with no one ever suspecting a thing.

In this case, an elite group of WWE wrestlers, led by Vince McMahon, are given the mission. According to the WWE's own story about the book in its Smackdown Magazine, Big Apple Take Down is "the first book that takes the Superstars out of their usual element and places them in an entirely new genre" (60).

The book is actually the second novel released by the WWE, the first being Michael Chiappetta's novel Journey Into Darkness. That novel, however, was actually worked into the fictional universe of the WWE, being the "unauthorized biography" of a wrestling character Kane. In short, Kane is the brother of The Undertaker, was burned in a fire at birth and spent his life believing he was disfigured, staying in hiding and wearing a full body suit. Obviously, this is not a realistic background, but the book treated Kane's story as if it were a legitimate sports biography. Kane went on to star in the film See No Evil, WWE Films' first, and he was billed not at Glen Jacobs (who portrays Kane) but as "Kane."

Big Apple Take Down, as with Journey Into Darkness, were released as paperbacks and were not heavily hyped on WWE programming or the Web site, so the WWE obviously doesn't value this on the same level as it does projects more closely integrated as "transmedia," such as the Web site, the Mobile Alerts system, WWE 24/7, Web casts, DVD releases and the company's myriad other projects.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if fans react well to this fictional story that is even fantastical within the fictional universe of the WWE. The company hasn't made the project a top priority in promotion or execution, so it appears to be a pretty low-risk investment ancillary product. But, if it turns a profit for them, it might lead the WWE to consider more of these in the future, perhaps under the same general premise.

June 29, 2006

Madison and Vine Advocates a Drive to Digital Video

According to a news article/commentary yesterday from Advertising Age's Madison and Vine Web site, video consumption online has grown 18 percent over the past seven months, with the average consumer now watching slightly less than 100 minutes of video a month.

The Madison and Vine piece looks at the trend of advertising to follow this trail, with major reallocations of traditional television ad funds now going to new or integrated media. While it isn't surprising that this growth in consumption leads to an influx of advertising revenue supporting online sites with video content, the article highlighted or alluded to a few important implications that greatly affect recent discussions we've had here on this blog:

1.) Transmedia content--With digital streaming poised to become increasingly profitable, those companies who integrate online video content as part of their entertainment package are at a particular advantage. If companies have bonus content available for download or streaming online, they can easily package ad sales that include advertising or sponsorship of both the traditional content and digital content that may become increasingly attractive to advertisers, who would benefit from having a strong association with dedicated fans who follow the product across multiple platforms;

2.) Product placement--As the Madison and Vine article points out, those companies who are paying for product placement now have added incentives, since more and more television shows are becoming available for digital download or streaming. While traditional ads or the ads that run on television are not present in a lot of these digital presentations, all product placements are--indicating that placing products on a show is the smarter investment long-term.

3.) Promotional films--Creating branded video content subtly promoting a product, such as the famed BMW Films campaign, is proving itself to be an attractive option for reaching customers turned off by push advertising. Increased video streaming gives advertisers more of an impetus for creating compelling content that viewers want to stream or download and gives creative independent talents a chance to shine...It's smart marketing and less offensive to commercial-sensitive viewers.

It's hard to find much fault with Madison & Vine's final call--for marketers to "take heed" and take advantage of an audience "hungry for programming." For advertisers and for media content producers, digital video not only provides a chance for revenues and a chance to provide consumers what they want but also makes possible an environment that better enables transmedia content and new forms of storytelling.

Thanks to fellow C3 media analyst Geoffrey Long for directing me to this article.

June 22, 2006

Online Newspaper for DC Comics Series

Within the comic book medium, both DC and Marvel have proven their expertise in stretching narratives across various comic series. Occasionally, a storyline or a catastrophe is so great that it encompasses all of the fictional universes of a certain comic company, so that all characters and all monthly comic series are affected by a current event. And, for readers to get the full story, they would have to buy all the comic books that company produces in that time span, even if they are regular collectors of many of those series.

However, comic books have often used crossing media platforms simply for adaptation instead of transmedia storytelling (the difference being that transmedia requires each story to build on the other rather than simply telling the same essential story in multiple media forms). Comics have branched into film, cartoons, video games, and various other venues, but have often not utilized the storytelling potential this transmedia empire allows.

A new initiative from DC Comics proves what transmedia storytelling within the superhero genre is capable of, however. DC has launched an intriguing new comic series called 52, a weekly series produced by four of DC's best writers. The series focuses on what happened in the DC Universe that week, including the aftermath of many of the events that happen in the other comic series.

The storytelling extends to an online project, a digital version of The Daily Planet, the newspaper of fictional Metropolis. This daily newspaper mimics news sites in providing stock trackers, online ads, and other features, all utilizing companies that are part of the DC Universe. And there are several options, including a variety of news stories, updated on a regular basis.

The idea of providing a digital newspaper to cover the events happening in a fictional universe, especially as one as outlandish as the comic book genre, is a project that could extend to almost any transmedia storytelling format as an easy way to provide additional and meaningful content. For any fictional universe that is big enough to provide enough material for constant news updates, this type of project seems not only feasible but as providing meaningful extensions for fans.

This would be a more difficult fit for weekly series to pull off, but other daily series could do this as well because their fictional universe is updated often enough to make this type of product valuable. The areas I follow--such as soap operas and pro wrestling--are other potential extensions for this type of product. The WWE already has as an online newspaper of sorts in its main Web site, complemented by its magazine, which provides news on a regular basis about the WWE universe, often blending fiction and reality. WWE on-air commentator Michael Cole--a former news correspondent--has been named editor of the online news content and is working to give it a more authentic, news-oriented feel.

However, soaps have not yet branched into this area, although it's a natural extension. Most shows already have their newspaper as part of the fictional universe, so that Oakdale's City Times or The Intruder could easily become an online daily extension for As the World Turns, with AP-style reports on events that happen in Oakdale, on the show. Sure, Jack and Carly's divorce wouldn't be in the news, but it would be a fascinating way to provide background for the show and cover shocking events--murders and the like--when they happen.

I, for one, hope that the entertainment world takes notice of The Daily Planet and that the site is given enough meaningful content to realize its potential.

Thanks to Dr. Henry Jenkins for passing this along.

June 21, 2006

Two New Examples of "Convergence Culture"

Two new examples of "Convergence Culture" surfaced today (doesn't this seem to be the trend almost every day?) in two corporate partnerships that blend new media companies and concepts with traditional content providers or advertisers.

The first was a deal announced by EchoStar (Dish Network), an interactive advertising campaign for the Ford Motor Company through the company's satellite service. These ads will run for the next month, featuring the Ford Mustang on several TV screens, on which the viewer can use their remote control to view photos, for instance.

However, the project branches into transmedia, since you can download a ringtone specifically for the Mustang. And the interaction is taken to a direct consumer level, considering that the ad will allow you to find a local Ford dealer or receive more information on the product.

With our constant discussion of the slow death of the traditional advertisement, these more active and targeted advertising opportunities are coming more and more frequently.

In a different realm, longtime children's entertainment supplier DIC Entertainment has found a new partnership to launch a CBS Saturday morning programming block for kids: AOL. This new fall lineup will be called the Saturday Morning Secret Slumber Party and will have transmedia tie-ins with KOL, the AOL online site for kids. And a KOL online personality will have his own reality series on Saturday mornings.

I've yet to be convinced that the partnership will take advantage of the opportunities this type of coalition allows initially, but this could be another step in the right direction. Transmedia opportunities seem particularly vibrant here in children's programming, where convergence seems more second-hand and moving from one media platform to another is second-nature.

But both products are two examples that I found today through TelevisionWeek of new interactive and transmedia movements. Fall 2006 is shaping up to be a period of intense experimentation. Some of these concepts will probably miss their mark, and others have probably come along a little too early...but I'm interested in seeing what will become of these two intiatives in terms of viewer response.

June 14, 2006

Disney and Gated Channels: Exploring the Future of Online Distribution

A post by Rafat on paidContent has brought my attention to a TelevisionWeek piece about Disney's new digital distribution efforts through the Disney Channel Network, as well as its SOAPnet channel--a project I'm particularly interested in.

The company has adopted two simultaneous revenue streams, by receiving paid advertising content from a broader online site available to everyone in some projects, while only allowing other services to be accessed through what Daisy Whitney in the TV Week piece refers to as "gated" channels. For instance, the second approach is embodied by SoapNet's project called SoapNetic, offering content only to those who Verizon high-speed internet customers who pay to see it. But, companies should be careful by locking up content in gates that some people cannot access it even if they were willing to pay to...

According to Disney's strategy, this approach strengthens the relationship between Verizon and SOAPnet and encourages fans of SOAPnet to use Verizon to gain access to SoapNetic, while Disney gains fees from Verizon for offering this exclusive content.

The company is celebrating this two-pronged approach, offering both content exclusive to gated channels while also offering shows that are available for download by all. Experts quoted in the story indicate that this proves that the right idea is still up in the air and that Disney is trying to diversify by launching several different approaches simultaneously.

For SoapNetic, launching content in online forms helps it overcome the fact that the channel is not yet available in many cable markets. Daisy Whitney says that SOAPnet has been "among the vanguard of networks offering shows online." The SoapNetic site will include content not available anywhere else.

I'm interested in seeing which of Disney's dual approaches seems to gain the most legs. The problem with the "gated" approach appears to be the company-specific restrictions that causes many problems of platform. If, as a fan of soap opera and pro wrestling and classic country music (using me as an example, you see), soap opera content is available to me exclusively on Verizon, wrestling exclusively on RCN, and country exclusively on BellSouth, then I'm going to be extremely upset as a fan that I'm blocked from being able to enjoy the content I want to see the most because it's locked up in such company-specific deals. Of course, these deals mentioned above are hypothetical, but--while staying in Kentucky--I can't see the SoapNetic content if I wanted to, since Verizon Internet service is not offered here.

I would much rather see companies taking the approach of charging subscription prices or pay-per-view webcasts to get content directly from their site, such as WWE does with its content. Of course, with network neutrality itself hanging in the balance, more and more of these "gated" channel distribution deals may be in our future. But I think companies, including Disney, should think more about what they may be costing themselves with "gated" deals in alienating fans and shutting them off from content they love.

In the media world, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Considering the great number of choices out there, absence usually makes you forgotten.

Thanks to C3's David Edery for pointing me toward this development.

June 12, 2006

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.

June 9, 2006

Religion and Cyberspace and Echols Church

A book released last year, edited by scholars Morten T. Hojgaard and Margit Warburg, brings us a reminder that one form of popular movement that has and continues to innovate the way the Internet is being used are religious movements.

In Religion and Cyberspace, a collection of academic work on the impact the Internet has had on various religious movements focuses not on the particulars but the overall way that one of the deepest human values in all culture--faith--has expanded with new means of communication.

Few movements are more grassroots and more "fan"-driven than religious movements (if you consider the faithful "fans" of their deity). Last year at MIT, when we were instructed to conduct an in-depth interview with a media content producer, I called back to my hometown baptist church in Echols, Ky., and contacted the pastor there, Darrell Belcher.

While many people who don't follow the Christian movement closely (especially since most strictly Christian programs only appear in places like Trinity Broadcasting) don't realize how media-savvy religion can be, Darrell discussed with me the importance of an oratory performance and the art of preaching, which he believes is often lost on those who study the craft in a seminary instead of being born with that gift of reaching people. Further, Belcher talked with me at length about the transmedia experience of transferring his sermons to video and to radio, both of which he has done.

Darrell had never done any Internet-related projects but said that he saw it as yet another tool to reach people, another communication forum. And that's what attracted me to learn more about Hojsgaard and Warburg's book. According to reviewer John Shelton Lawrence, whose review in the latest Journal of American Culture is how I learned about the book, a distinction made in most scholarship about religion stems from a comment made by A. Karaflogka, who cites the difference between "'religion on cyberspace' (where a religion merely uploads its usual wares to a server) and 'religion in cyberspace' (where new forms of worship are mediated by computer networks and reside there exclusively)" (247).

Similarly, Darrell talked to me at length about what a disaster one would have if they were unable to adapt their sermon appropriately for the radio medium, yet try to recreate the atmosphere of a church meeting by learning how to address the home listener versus the live congregation.

Regardless of one's religious affiliation or lack of one, these distinctions are important for all transmedia content. As Darrell realizes with radio preaching and as scholars who distinguish between on and in cyberspace acknowledge, media content is just not that interesting if some degree of medium specificity isn't kept in mind. I mean, sure you can video tape a play and put it on screen or transport clips from a show and put it on the Internet, but it will be imagination and new concepts of content that will drive new media and transmedia opportunities. And that's one message the industry can learn from.

May 30, 2006

ABC, NBC Further Expand Transmedia News

Both ABC and NBC are greatly expanding their news programs through online content, with new projects announced last week.

For NBC News, it will be a launch onto iTunes. According to an article from TelevisionWeek, NBC will be producing time capsule programs hosted by Brian Williams from NBC Nightly News, along with former episodes of Meet the Press.

NBC's news network is the first to launch onto iTunes. Could news potentially be something that people would be willing to watch on the run or in transit, thus making it appropriate for iTunes? It will be particularly interesting to see how the "time capsule" style programs do. News has been a type of content whose archives are incredibly hard to market, particularly because of the prolific output of news deparmtents of programming that is so time-specific. For the sake of archiving, all of this news content is kept, but there's been little attempt to capitalize off these products.

NBC, however, is farm from alone in launching into online content. While the "big three" networks have been accused for years now of shying further and further away from any comprehensive look at international news, ABC is hoping to rectify that--to some degree--by making short ad-supported clips from BBC News available through the ABC News Web site.

The newest project is a longstanding continuination of the relationship between ABC and the BBC, with ABC being announced, according to an article in TelevisionWeek, as "the exclusive reprentative for on-demand broadband and wireless in North America" for the BBC.

This particular conversation seems appropriate on the heels of our discussion of transmedia in the news environment that we have had with Aayush Iyer here on this site and on his own site. For NBC, iTunes is being mined as a place to market the expansive news archives, while ABC is hoping to expand its international coverage online. Will either, or both, be successful? The BBC clips may be of great benefit to those who don't have access to BBC America, and the NBC clips could draw well both with history buffs and with students doing research. Any thoughts?

May 13, 2006

What is Transmedia?

Aayush Iyer, a regular follower of our blog and who has an intriguing blog of his own called The Voice of A, has written the beginning of a primer on transmedia. Aayush comes from a publishing background, and, since I come from a journalism background, I found his emphasis on blogging, community journalism, and the importance of print media to find its place to be pretty useful.

In Aayush's case, his definition focuses strongly on the ways in which print media, visual media, and Web media should work together. In the case of journalism, each medium must realize its own strengths and weaknesses, and the use of transmedia in journalism allows each to augment the other to create a stronger whole.

The principles here apply pretty strongly to transmedia in the entertainment industry as well and even to transmedia storytelling where, in a perfect world, transmedia storytelling experiences would fully utilize the powers of each particular medium. As I'm sure Aayush would agree, professionals in the world of journalism and in the world of storytelling (aren't those two worlds pretty similar, though?) are only beginning to scratch the surface of using transmedia to its full potential, but activities like Aayush's--spending some time thinking of exactly what we mean when we say "transmedia"--are valuable steps in the right direction.

April 27, 2006

Preparing for C3 Retreat: An Eye Toward Transmedia, Archive Distribution

Today begins our retreat for both faculty and corporate partners of the Convergence Culture Consortium (C3). We'll be discussing many of the issues that we look at in the consortium and discuss here on the weblog. A lot of the time will be spent as a private brainstorming session for partners at C3, but we hope to include some of the relevant insights available for public consumption here on the blog.

As a precursor to today's events, though, I've been traveling a lot in the past several weeks I've met with members of research and development at Turner Broadcasting and MTVN, two of our partners, along with World Wrestling Entertainment and some of the folks working with As the World Turns, at CBS and at Procter & Gamble Productions, in addition to members of the actual ATWT team.

What I've found is a growing industry awareness, at least in the areas I'm interested in, both in the importance to current story and product to promote past shows in the archives, and a related need to find more ways for fans to immerse themselves in the world of the entertainment. Herein lies the place for digital distribution of the archives in true Long Tail form, the place for transmedia storytelling, and the perfect platform to launch into new media. I've demonstrated recently here on the blog how this can work both in new media forms, such as the WWE's mobile service, and in a very old media form, such as Oakdale Confidential.

I hope what we're seeing right now is signalling a focus on these factors, that new technologies won't end up being used just to make new ancillary content that adds no real meaning to the main product or else just a dumping of old content without any thought given to how it relates to current products. If producers keep their eye on refining their goals and methods, they may serve to expand story worlds in ways that are both profitable for the company and meaningful for fans.

Do you all have any thoughts?

April 13, 2006

New Mobile Service will Further Storylines

World Wrestling Entertainment has started their own Mobile Alerts service that will send fans regular text messages of late-breaking news from the company, as well as polls and trivia. The news portion of WWE Mobile Alerts blends both legitimate updates--wrestlers who are suspended, hired, or fired, for instance--with the capability to use the service as a way to extend the storytelling world.

WWE is uniquely situated by being able to combine what many sports franchises are already doing in the realm of sports reporting--sending game score updates, for instance--with the WWE's fictional world because wrestling is one version of television entertainment that predicates on being a part of the "real world" in a way most other fiction shows don't.

The service costs $3.99 a month. We'll see in the next few months how many fans decide to plunk down the modest fee to be on the cutting edge of the WWE's storylines. If they get a hardcore fan base developed around Mobile Alerts, it could become an essential part of the storytelling device, similar to how the company is using its Web-only video programming to supplement the televised shows.

Does anybody know of similar instances where a "news reporting" mobile service is employed develop a fictional storyworld on a regular basis?

As the World Turns Novel a Success

For those of you who saw my previous post about Oakdale Confidential, here is a brief update now that the novel is out. During my recent travels, I've had a chance to read it, and I've even weighed in on the book myself on some of the soap opera message boards.

Oakdale Confidential is standard fare as a quick-read murder mystery, but the way it has been woven into the plot of the show makes it a more valuable purchase for ATWT viewers. On television, then novel is treated as a fictional story that nevertheless reveals some secrets about people in town--and people that are not exactly public figures. So the book and the identity of its author has become an Oakdale town scandal.

The mystery on the show is who wrote the book, and everyone is walking around with their copies, while viewers are also able to buy the book and read it, not just to enjoy for the sake of the story in the novel--which could be readable for a non-ATWT fan but likely not nearly as enjoyable--but even more so because the book gives you clues about who wrote the book and gives you the chance to directly own and consume an artifact from the story world.

What makes the book most intriguing is that viewers are looking through the text and examining shows carefully to get clues as to who authored it. There are several factual discrepancies in the book from what we have actually seen on screen that are illuminating for close watchers of ATWT, and my thoughts on the message board look into those parts of the text that stray from the "truth" we've seen on the screen in detail to get a better sense of who might be the author and why they may have either gotten facts wrong or deliberately chosen to omit certain things in their rendering of the story.

From a transmedia storytelling standpoint, the attempt has been a great success. Oakdale Confidential is currently ranked the #7 book on Amazon, up from #10 two days ago but down from #5 yesterday (the numbers are updated hourly). Message boards have come alive with debates about who wrote the book, and we have yet to see if Nielsen numbers reflect a surge in viewership based on part-time fans having an interest in the book or even new readers becoming interested in the show through picking the book up (and, if the Nielsen numbers don't reflect a major difference, is this really an indicator that it isn't happening?)

While the experiment shows how much more coordination is needed between the real author of the book and the television writing team to really exploit all the possibilities of taking the story from one medium to the other, the one thing that Oakdale Confidential has demonstrated quite powerfully is that such an attempt at transmedia storytelling is becoming more and more profitable and that viewers are eager to join into a deep transmedia experience. I am hoping that the experiment not only shows the people at ATWT that this was a good idea but also what to do better the next time around.

March 8, 2006

Daily Show subscriptions available through iTunes

(Via Lost Remote)

Okay, so some marketing genius decided to call it a "multi-pass", but you can now buy the next 16 episodes of the Daily Show on iTunes for $9.99, and new episodes (not including re-runs) will automatically be downloaded as they become available. Once again, MTV Networks and their subsidiaries are further ahead on the development curve than their competitors.

Update: My colleague Ivan Askwith makes some very cogent points about this decision in comments. Check them out.

February 20, 2006

Pop Secret Indie Commercials

Pop Secret, the General Mills popcorn brand, is sponsoring commercials for their popcorn made by independent directors, as a way to indirectly promote their sponsorship of the The Independent Feature Project Independent Spirit Awards. Pop Secret even sponsored a pullout "The Great American Indie Quiz" in last week's Entertainment Weekly, with the Web address to their site featuring the commercials.

It seems that this is the perfect fusion of commercialism and content, where independent directors are given a chance to produce content that is distributed by the company to help the director develop a name and film fans to get to see the work of unknowns, while also directly promoting the company. It's hardly an act of goodwill but is one step closer to a model of direct sponsorship. At this point, it seems to be a win-win situation.

Check out the Pop Secret page, and tell me what you think...

February 16, 2006

Mapping as Branding

A recent article in Ad Age desribes how HBOwill launch a Google Map to show places mentioned in The Sopranos. They're doing it to reacquaint viewers with a series that's been off the air since May, 2004. HBO says they're the first, but other brands outside the US are currently running campaigns using Google's sister technology Google Earth, including:


These examples show that transmedia storytelling opportunities are everywhere because audiences are everywhere.

But the real power comes from combining things like Google Maps with other location-based data, like what Best buy did for the Launch of the XBOX 360 from Microsoft last November. Because of limited supply, they combined Google Maps with their XBOX 360 inventory so customers could find out which Best Buy in their area had stock.

Dig a little deeper:
The Google Earth Blog is an enthusiast site dedicated to Google Earth and getting the most out of it.
The Programmableweb website is a resource for finding out about all the Web 2.0 API's available and mashups created with them.

February 15, 2006

The "Death and Transfiguration" of the Boardgame?

Philips announced in early January their prototype of the 'entertaible', a boardgame to end all boardgames, i.e. basically a touchscreen which can be used with generic, "tangible" as the claim playing pieces like pawns and dies. The idea is to tap the still existing facination for boardgames (which might be less enthusiastic in the US than in Germany but still considerable given the frequent adaptations of computer games like Diablo and even Doom as tabletop games) and combine it with the lifestyle fetishism of the ipod generation. It's a fascinating idea, emulating all conceivable kinds of board games on a reprogrammable screen with the added value of online connectivity to download new game demos (and ads?) into your 'entertaible'.
However, I'm not sure if they are not missing the point of why boardgames are still popular (and why their digital versions suck), namely the real 'tangibility' and materiality of the pieces, of the gameboard as a map which, after years of use as e.g. in the case of the 1995 Settlers of Catan, exhibits traces of its use and the fond experiences connected with such a game.
Their first test runs are supposed to take place in public spaces like bars and casinos which again might be a good idea and a clever business concept...

February 6, 2006

The Evidence

Viewers of the Super Bowl (or, more accurately, the Super Bowl ads) may have noticed a commercial for the new ABC drama The Evidence, which invites the audience to play along with the cops in the show to solve the crime. I don't know if this is actually a transmedial interaction or not. If it is, then great. If not ... it's just a trick of format to engage viewers. That reminds me of the old 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, which upon further reflection seem to be attempting to emulate some of the interactivity of a transmedial experience while still remaining within a medium. I'm interested to see if the format of The Evidence (whatever that format may be) ends up being considered a strength of the show, or just a faddish gimmick.

Luke Snyder's Blog

The soap opera As the World Turns has begun a new story arc over the past several weeks. The son of one of the prominent longtime couples on the show, Holden and Lily Snyder, is gay, and he doesn't want to tell his parents. The son--Luke Snyder--is in high school and communicates his problems over the Internet on a blog, although he does not openly admit in the blog that he is gay but rather that he has secrets that he doesn't want his parents to find out.

The blog became part of the story when Luke's father learned about it and snuck onto his laptop while he was gone one day and stumbled upon the main page of Luke's blog. He then confronted his son about it, and privacy issues became an issue, as Luke did not expect his father to ever read the blog. (Holden doesn't seem to be that much of a whiz with computers.)

The same day the episode ran first mentioning the blog, a new blogger joined same Luke Snyder, who has been updating his blog every day, corresponding with some of the events happening on ATWT. The blog makes no overt reference to ATWT, and the only direct connection is that a moderator on the official Procter & Gamble Productions message board included a link to the blog in one of her messages.

So far, the blog has attracted comments from people who do not realize that Luke Snyder is a fictional character and who are reacting to his troubles. ATWT fans have found the page and have joined in on the fun as well. Now, someone is blogging as one of Luke's friends from school, and several people have assumed the identities of characters no longer on the show but who are related to Luke--Luke's biological grandmother, Luke's uncle who was a child the last time he was on the show years ago, and several other characters from ATWT, many of whom have been gone from the show for years.

Sure, there are some people who feel really sly making reference to the writers of the show or something to destroy the suspension of disbelief, but the blog is an interesting way in seeing how integrated storytelling could potentially unfold for a daily drama like any of the daytime soaps.

Would it be permissible for someone to police the blog and eliminate any references that destroy the fictionality of it? I am not really one for censorship actions, but it seems that it might make all the difference to allow this to be a space for fans to roleplay as characters they have invented that fit into Oakdale or as former characters who might read the blog.

And, again, what are the implications on transmedia storytelling with a project like this? Right now, the blog is completely ancillary--But how easy would it be to have Holden stumble onto the blog but not say anything about what it said--so that viewers would be really curious and potentially seek out further information, only available in this form?

This relates to my previous post on Oakdale Confidential, as well as past posts on As the World Turns.

What is Oakdale Confidential?

As the World Turns is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary--What can one of the longest-running shows on television do to celebrate its rich history? There is always a struggle between ratings and "doing the right thing" when it comes to anniversary shows like this...Long-time fans want to see a lot of old clips celebrating ATWT's history, while TV executives are worried about retaining newer viewers and not losing ratings on an overblown tribute to the past.

So far, ATWT head writer Jean Passanante has made it clear she wants to do more than one stand-alone episode, and two such episodes are planned--one that will be a parody or fantasy celebration of the show, while the other will include a lot of old clips, etc. There will likely be some storylines running during the spring that also feature the veteran actors a little more than usual as well.

Most interesting of all, though, is plans for Oakdale Confidential, a novel that is planned for release the week of ATWT's 50th anniversary. Apparently, the novel is going to be worked into the narrative of the show in some way.

Fans are already trying to figure out what the book might be. One of the characters on ATWT, Emily Stewart, run a tabloid-style magazine. Could the book be a novel released by her giving the dirt on all of the residents of Oakdale? Or could the character Emma Snyder, who long-term fans remember dabbling in fiction writing several years ago, release a book of some sort? Or could it be a character not even on the current canvas writing a tell-all about some of the more prominent residents of the town?

Whatever the case--this is another step in the right direction, if done well. How can a novel become a piece of transmedia? If done well, the television plot will in some way hinge on the contents of the book, so that the television show promotes the book but also requires viewers to read the book to understand the full implications of the impact the book has on the residents of Oakdale.

The show has been very tight-lipped about what Oakdale Confidential is, and Amazon's page on the book has next to no information about the contents...Which makes all of the fans all the more determined to find out what's going on. There's great potential here for an interesting experiment in transmedia storytelling.

February 1, 2006

More on Soderbergh's "Bubble"

So, in the wake of all the hype and worry about Steven Soderbergh's Bubble, Craig Mazin over at The Artful Writer concludes that (at least in this particular case) it was much ado about nothing:

B-Day happened, and shock of all shocks...Hollywood got had.

[The] Bubble strategy was clearly about hype. This is a film that, by all accounts, shouldn't have gotten a theatrical release at all. The movie grossed about $70,000 on its opening weekend. It was only in 32 theaters, but its average was a rather anemic $2200, well below what you'd hope to see for an arthouse movie.

Similarly, no one watches HD Net.

Craig goes on to argue that it's in the interests of studios to perpetuate the extant studio system for every kind of film except those they expect to bomb in the theaters:

Is there a shrinking window between [theatrical and DVD release]? Yes. Is that because of piracy? In part. You'll find that the window is much smaller for bombs. Poor theatrical runs means you can't count on much anticipation getting built for the DVD. Getting the DVD out quickly to capitalize on what little bit of cultural currency you have makes sense.

Nonetheless, it's suicidal to really consider day-and-date for studio films...unless you know ahead of time that your movie's a bomb. Even then, day-and-date may kill you overseas, where films that have been released in a true theatrical pattern are worth far more for rebroadcast than direct-to-video films.

If Bubble were the sort of film that the financial backers had real faith in, they wouldn't have done this. At least, I don't think they would have. An arthouse film with a chance for success needs a theatrical arthouse run, starting on as few as 2 screens. It needs critical acclaim, and then a few nominations for awards. Then you build your theatrical release, and cash in on the ensuing DVD release.

Until people start rejecting theaters (and a 6% downtick doesn't mean rejection, it just means a 6% downtick), to go day-and-date is to kill your chance for real success. Let the handwringers keep wringing. War, television, VHS...all touted as the death knell for movie theaters... I give Soderbergh and Cuban a lot of credit for finding some way to hype their movie, but there's nothing to fear here.

Personally, I think Craig's mostly right about this, although a multi-tiered model may emerge with DVD release overlapping the tail of a theatrical release, or DVDs being sold in theater lobbies. Hollywood's desire for instant financial gratification (and the desire of consumers to avoid nasty movie theatres by using their home theater systems instead) shouldn't be underestimated.

January 30, 2006

A Film Company Uses the Internet for Activism

Why would a film production company try to develop an audience for their films instead of letting the distributor do it? The answer to that question explains the importance of Participant Productions and their website If the primary purpose of a film is to get seen, then it's no surprise that the Internet becomes a great place to help develop an audience. At least one film production company has realized this and taken it to the next level of activism.

Participant Productions has brought us films such as Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, North Country, MurderBall, and the forthcoming The World According to Sesame Street.

On, you can...well...participate along the themes of each of the films. Each film becomes a centerpiece for a grassroots campaign to change the wrong discussed in the film.

Participant Productions understands the power of all media--not just the Internet and not just cinema--to bring people together and prompt them to take action. Watch Syriana in the theater and learn how to cut your oil consumption on Watch Good Night and Good Luck on DVD; demand the news once again report in the public interest on Watch North Country on Cable and learn how to implement a sexual harrassment policy in your school; it's on

"Convergence is in the mind of the beholder." Participant Productions creates movies with a purpose and tries to move people to action to make their world a better place to live. A nice example of transmedia.

NOTE: As of December 2007, has become

January 17, 2006

iTunes Network Ratings Boost and the State of IPTV

Good news for those of us living in the 21st century! NBC is crediting the iTunes Store with boosting their ratings:

NBC's "The Office" delivered a 5.1-its highest ratings ever-last Thursday among adults 18 to 49, a bump the network credits in large part to the show's popularity as an iPod download.

In fact, the series is NBC's top-performing video podcast available on Apple's iTunes, where it has been available since Dec. 6.

Such a connection between podcast success and broadcast ratings success is particularly significant because the NBC data is among the first available evidence of what network executives have been gambling on when striking their new media deals-that the new video platforms are additive because they provide more entry points into a show for consumers.

I've been relatively silent on the IPTV front lately because, to be honest, my primary feeling on the matter right now isn't excitement but fear. Right now both the IPTV and portable video markets are suffering from serious overfragmentation. The iTunes store proved that downloaded music is an extremely viable business model because they managed to get almost every record company on board. Sure, there are still some holdouts, but for the most part whenever I'm struck with the urge to hear new music from popular artists like U2 or obscure and underrated artists like Great Big Sea or Eddie from Ohio I can pop on there and $.99 to ten bucks later I'm a happy customer.

Alas, not so with the video market. Not only is each network offering up only a paltry few shows for downloading, but with so many competitors jumping into the space all at once and each staking out an exclusive claim on different shows, it's getting almost impossible to be an IPTV or mobile video enthusiast. My weekly dedicated TV diet consists of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, The West Wing, Mythbusters, 24, and House. (No emails about how I should be watching Battlestar Galactica or Lost, please – I'm plowing through both shows on DVD whenever I get a chance.) None of these are available yet on the iTunes store, and very few are available anywhere else. Even if I wanted to extend my media diet to shows like How I Met Your Mother and Desperate Housewives, then I would have to use iTunes for one and Yahoo! for the other. Extend this to the one show I watch that did make early moves into the mobile space, 24, and I'd have to switch cellphone providers just to pay more money to watch a halfhearted mobisode spinoff of the show!

People, this is dumb.

My forecast for 2006: media pundits will turn on mobile TV and bemoan how few people use it, completely ignoring the massive barriers to entry that are being thrown up between the fans and the content they want. Imagine if Ben and Jerry's tried to branch out into a new soy-based ice cream, but only offered three obscure flavors or made their customers switch from VISA to MasterCard in order to get the new soy version of Chubby Hubby – then cancelled the line because of "low customer interest." To overextend this analogy, imagine if a third party then began providing a DIY soy ice cream maker and people began posting recipes on the Internet using materials from your local grocery store. That ice cream maker? That's BitTorrent, and I for one am discovering the joys of DIY Phish Food. I don't like having to make it myself, and I'd happily pony up the cash to get it otherwise, but it's the only way I can get exactly what I want exactly when I want it.

People like Chris Thilk at TVSquad are already making snarky comments like "I think it's more than a little funny that people are turning to the shows on TV after trying them out on iTunes. After all, you pay $1.99 a pop on iTunes to "try" an episode that, if you had watched it when it was aired, would have cost you nothing." This is an excellent example of blatantly missing the point – people like me downloaded music from Napster because we couldn't get exactly what we wanted exactly when we wanted it anywhere else. You can't find Eddie from Ohio or Great Big Sea in Wal-Mart, and the number of times I failed to find an obscure album in even megastores like Virgin or Tower Records was ridiculous – and never mind the number of times the store was closed because it was 4AM on a Sunday morning. Those problems are gone with the iTunes store for music, and when the TV companies really get their stuff together and all provide all their shows on one unified service the IPTV and mobile video markets will explode. I watched The Night Stalker on iTunes (it stunk, but it wasn't a category-killer) and I'd happily give other obscure shows a chance at random times whenever I have a free minute, but I'm not going to TiVo something randomly. If the TiVo recommends and downloads Supernatural for me, fine – but you won't see a dime of that money, and chances are good that it won't. So why not put Supernatural on the iTunes store and let me throw you two bucks for the ability to watch it at 4AM on Sunday morning?

We've said it over and over again here at C3, I've said it twice already in this post, and now I invite you to say it with me at home: people want exactly what they want exatly when they want it – and when the property owners refuse to give it to them they lose out on revenue, generate resentment from the fans and drive them to illegal alternatives. This isn't just fans! This is a whole nation of causal viewers for whom it is impossible to schedule their lives around a silly TV schedule but find themselves with bizarre little pockets of time (like 4AM on a Sunday) they want to fill with something interesting. Pick whatever metaphor you want – whether it's a peasant killing deer on the king's land or freezing up your own batch of soy Coffee! Coffee! Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!, I don't care. The bottom line is this: a huge market opportunity is being wasted in Hollywood, most of us would-be viewers already use a working model every time we buy music, and we demand to know why Hollywood is wasting time.

So there it is in a nutshell. I fear for the IPTV and mobile video market, but if there are any Hollywood execs reading this post, please – I beseech you. Make your big 2006 New Year's resolution to make me, on 4AM on Sunday, January 7th 2007, just two bucks and one click away from watching Stargate on my computer, my cell phone, or my video iPod. I'll be here waiting with my pint of Cherry Garcia.

January 6, 2006

Toys as Transmedia

Now that the gift-giving of the holidays has subsided, I can begin to reflect on what the time of year means to a lot of people. Namely, toys.

Toys of successful franchises are transmedial entertainment in a corporation-approved setting. Children use the medium of action figures and dolls to create their own stories based on the IP of others. Toy makes have succeeded where purveyors of nonphysical media are still struggling: encouraging the audience to participate in the story.

There is, at least, some hope that we all can learn from toy makers.

December 29, 2005

Technology Must Hold Up for New Media to Work

New media opportunities provide plenty of new ways to tell stories and to get fan communities interacting with media properties. However, as with any type of storytelling, the idea of convergence storytelling doesn't work if it isn't implemented well.

Sure, this seems like a no-brainer, but the fall in participation in fantasy football is proof of this. Fantasy sports, in theory, provide a great way to get fan communities actively involved in a media property, watching the actual games while strategizing and competing with their own fantasy teams.

But Kevin J. Delaney and David Kesmodel's article in last Friday's Wall Street Journal points out what happens when the technology isn't up to speed with the expectations of fans--it puts a bad taste in the mouths of fans who are starting to opt out of fantasy football, which was once the craze of many sports fan communities.

One has to wonder if fantasy football sponsored by ESPN, when the technology starts to fail, begins to have a negative impact on ESPN or on the NFL or college teams. How far does failure in one medium stretch over into negativity toward brands in general?

Transmedia's Effects on Comedy

Mark Oppenheimer's article "The Fall of Standup" in last Friday's Wall Street Journal raises an interesting point to me. While it may be debatable whether standup is a media that rich for narrativity as compared to other forms of storytelling, Andy Kaufman has raised some degree of question as to whether standup can be used as a way to further narratives in other media forms, through his Tony Clifton/Andy Kaufman performances.

In this particular article, though, Oppenheimer points out that the movement of comics like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno to television weakened the stand-up world becuase more talented comedians opted to skip the stand-up route and go straight to television writing.

This raises an interesting point in transmedia storytelling and likely provides one of the reasons why some companies are resistant to transmedia opportunities. If you know a genre well, you have control of your product. If you try to branch your product out into other storytelling forms, there is some danger in damaging the original media of the story by trying to spread it into areas that take the power more out of the hands of the "creator."

For instance, what happens when comic books inspire movies but the movie franchise becomes much more popular than the comic book. On the one hand, it may make the particular comic book more popular as fans of the films start buying the comic series. Or, is it possible that certain comic book heroes will come to be seen more as film heroes? Sure, DC or Marvel will still pocket most of the money in a situation like this, but there has to be some concern from breaking away from the medium that you've most clearly established yourself in in the first place.

I believe that transmedia done correctly will always be successful, but I wonder if this type of fear--this fear of losing the art of standup somewhere in the late night talk show or the sitcom--might be one of the reasons some companies who could benefit from transmedia storytelling have not embraced it

December 27, 2005

2006: the "Unbundled Awakening"?

Terry Heaton over at Donata Communications argues that 2006 will be the year that online video takes off, both in the form of TV shows downloaded from iTunes and video blogs like Rocketboom (now available through TiVo). Quoth Heaton:

It's a very dangerous time for any broadcaster to be making assumptions based on history.

But the biggest problem for broadcasters is their crumbling core competency and the shrinking value propositions they offer to both viewers and advertisers. The natural ability of the Internet to distribute unbundled media is disrupting broadcasting's basic business, and that will accelerate in 2006. Most broadcast companies have responded to the disruption by forcing their mass marketing value propositions into the situation (it's what they know), but most are finding that such a response-- while creating some revenue opportunities-- doesn't produce the kind of scale necessary to make up for the kinds of losses to their core business that they're facing.

He also notes that:

Unbundled media is clearly what people want, and when that kind of energy bubbles up from the bottom, media companies of all sorts have no choice but to respond. This is currently happening in the worlds of entertainment, education and information and one day will be realized in every institution of our culture.

While Heaton definitely has a point, I suspect he might be underestimating the inertia and resistance of the big media conglomerates. If experience is any guide, existing interests within the media industry will fight change because it threatens their understanding and mastery of the existing system (as well as their job security). Heck, people fought against the adoption of the modern TV advertisement system for over half a decade in the 1950s.

My (extremely conservative) prediction: 2006 will see a rapid expansion of unbundled content, as well as continued resistance to the full exploitation of its possibilities by the majors on the basis of "protecting intellectual property". The fight over which evaluation metric for product placement becomes the industry standard will continue, although the real challenge (getting advertisers to switch to-- and understand-- product placement) will be a long, slow slog. Since 2006 is an election year and has the winter Olympics, real systemic changes in broadcast media won't occur just yet, although the groundwork for future changes will be laid.

I should note that I'd be happy to be proved wrong on most of these points. But periods of transition from the dominance of one media form to another usually take a lot longer than the boosters of the revolutionary media form suggest they will.

December 23, 2005

Television and Fashion: A Two-Way Street

Not that long ago, I posted an entry about the marketing opportunities between Banana Republic and the new Sony Pictures release Memoirs of a Geisha. However, the fashion/cosmetics industry and the entertainment industry are constantly in the process of cross-promotion. For instance, my wife has the Sarah Jessica Parker perfume Lovely setting in her shelf.

And, this past week, a story and an ad really lept out at me with a message--the promotion goes both ways.

Case-in-point: Virginia Heffernan's story in Wednesday's New York Times focuses on the new Style Network talk show Isaac, featuring clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi as the host. The fashion guru-turned-Target designer is attempting to further brand his fashion products by becoming a television personality somewhere other than his ads.

On the reverse side, the inside of the cover of this past week's tabloid Life and Style features a full-page advertisement for new All My Children Fusion perfume, sold exclusively by Wal-Mart and online, the official scent of the popular ABC soap.

Is this just shameless cross-promotion to sell stuff or a spin-off of transmedia storytelling, using a broader definition of the term? A good move by Isaac Mizrahi? What about AMC? Does this encourage the trend that we're pushing for here at C3, or does it make us groan? For me, the jury is still out. Turning a soap opera into a scent borders a little close to the stench of marketing, pun intended, and the succes of Isaac depends on the quality of the show as far as building a personality.

But the broader question really is whether fashion should be seen as a form of storytelling? It seems to have very little narrativity, but we've seen a lot of moves toward moving fashion and cosmetics and storytelling into the same space...Does it work?

December 18, 2005

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.

You'll be invited to visit characters' blogs at, or pay for mobile phone episodes (known as mobisodes), or buy DVD packages and video games containing new and additional plot information. Your once-simple affair with your TV ''story" could have as much to do with your PC, your cellphone, and your DVD player as it does with your TV set.

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.

In "Make way, mainstream TV: mobile video is on the move", Scott Kirsner reviews the now-familiar questions surrounding the rise of mobile video players and content:

"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.

Continuing the World of Buffy

According to the latest Entertainment Weekly, Joss Whedon sees the Buffy universe as an ongoing property, albeit not in the broadcast television medium in particular.

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?

Product placement, branding, and Kong

The talk of product placement this past week has been centered around Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Last Wednesday's Metro featured an editorial from Dan Dunn that captures the complications of product placement in feature films.

Dunn's starting point is an e-mail from Chase requesting that he take out a Kong-themed MasterCard. He then finds that he can't escape the Kong crossover, from Toshiba to Burger King to Nestle Crunch to Kellogg's to Volkswagen to clothes and all types of merchandise.

We can sympathize with Dunn as he sarcastically makes a pitch for Trojan to launch the "Kongdom" or for Survivor: Skull Island because product tie-ins and crossovers shouldn't work along the lines of thinking the more, the better.

There is an emotional backlash that the audience feels when they start to realize that King Kong's face is stuck on products everywhere they go. Instead of clever tie-in or creative synergy, it starts to feel like...well...overbearing corporate propaganda that viewers can't get away from. That's not to criticize Universal in particular, but it seems to me that quality is much more valued than quantity when it comes to product tie-ins like this and that too much of a good thing can even make ardent supporters cringe at the sight of your brand on yet another box.

The editorial was placed across the page from of King Kong written by Dunn as well that calls the film "one of those extremely rare works of art powerful enough to change the way people view a medium," so it proves that the relationships are complicated and that annoyance on one side of the page is coupled with complete admiration on the other.

In Steve Daly's "Lexikong" in this week's Entertainment Weekly, though, he reveals that Peter Jackson wanted to recreate Times Square as accurately as possible for 1933, including a Columbia Pictures sign. However, Sony Pictures refused to allow the Columbia logo in the film without getting paid for it, so Universal just replaced it with their own logo.

So, imagine this...The producers of King Kong, a film getting massive amounts of hype and guaranteed to be seen by a huge audience, want to put a big sign for Columbia Pictures in their film, despite being competiton, but Sony refuses this prominent product placement because they want to get paid?

Am I missing something? Or are they?

December 17, 2005

Microsoft's New Media Strategy

There's been a fair amount of ink on Microsoft's moves in the field of convergence of late. Of course, there was the news that Microsoft had partnered with MTV to create a digital music service called Urge which would be packaged as a part of a new version of Windows Media Player. Then came the news that members of the Xbox staff were being positioned to direct Microsoft's media strategy versus Apple as well as Sony as part of the Entertainment and Devices division's reorganization.

This kind of move on Microsoft's part suggests that despite losing an estimated $4 billion on the Xbox in an attempt to capture market share from Sony, Redmond believes strongly in the initiatives the Xbox team has put together (like Xbox Live and microtransactions via Microsoft Points), and expects them to put together similarly innovative initiatives for going head-to-head with Apple in the field of downloadable music.

There are a lot of issues that Microsoft and MTV are going to have to confront if they want to make a go of it, but the first major stumbling block is Windows Media Player. WMP is functional, but in my opinion it's incredibly user-unfriendly compared to iTunes. (Don't even get me started on how you can't delete a file without using your mouse.) Unless Microsoft's interface designers retool Windows Media Player to make it even friendlier than iTunes already is (which isn't impossible-- I have a few nits to pick w/ iTunes's design), all the MTV content in the world won't get people to use Windows Media Player as their primary music program.

Still, the Xbox guys are pretty smart, as this interview with J. Allard (and Sony's Kaz Hirai) shows. If there's anyone at Microsoft who can pull this off, it's them.

Update: Cory Bergman over at Lost Remote is thinking along the same lines as I am re: Urge and the need to compete with iTunes on usability.

December 15, 2005

The Carver on MySpace: a social networking television marketing effort that works

Film and TV folks seem to be building on their experiences in the social networking spaces. After early experiments like Anchorman and Apprentice 2 on Friendster last season (Anchorman - bad, Apprentice - so-so), Nip Tuck on MySpace is doing pretty well for itself. This is because the FX guys seem to have got the underlying mechanics of social networking more astutely than, say, the NBC folks did for Friendster. Then, it was a site - where users could view candidate profiles, and share their opinions about them with their friends. Simple, but a complete underutilization of the power of the medium. With Nip Tuck, the guys at FX have a better model. They've created a profile page for The Carver, the show's serial rapist whose identity will be revealed on the episode airing on December 20. As a MediaWeek article about this initiative reports:

A link on the home page sends users to a message board for the series, where fans debate the identity of The Carver, drawing on a slew of real or imagined clues seeded throughout season three and on the MySpace site itself.

While some limit their comments to a guess--the popular vote would seem to implicate plastic surgeon Quentin Costas--many fans build up their hypotheses like seasoned litigators, deconstructing pertinent bits of dialogue, examining clips from the show and, in one case, using voice recognition software in an attempt to identify the man--or woman--behind the mask.

The FX guys are thinking transmedia - creating a complex multi=layered narrative and personality for The Carver, seeding clues about The Carver in a variety of places, avoiding advertising on Carver's profile page, and making the initiative predominantly about content and community, although as the MediaWeek article points out, MySpace does belong to FX's media parent, New Corp, which recently paid good money to acquire it. Still, according to me, its an example of transmedia and viral marketing well done... (The Carver's profile page has over 61,000 'friends') and a template that future experiments in this space can build upon.

Digital books and intellectual property

For those of you who have been following intellectual property issues, some of the attention is being diverted from music and film companies and toward the digitizing of books and who owns the rights to those digitized copies.

If you've been following the news this week on these issues, you may have seen that, at the beginning of the week, HarperCollins announced that it will be entering actively into the digital book market by digitizing its active backlist of an estimated 20,000 titles "and as many as 3,500 new books each year," according to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Kevin J. Delaney with The Wall Street Journal.

HarperCollins appears to see this as a preemptive strike after Amazon has already not only made money with the options for readers to search individual pages and see digital pages of a book they might potentially buy but has then charged $1.99 extra for customers to have access to digital copies of books it buys. HarperCollins questions whether retailers should have the ability to have that type of control over content owned by the publisher and are thus going to provide digital copies that will be available to Google searches, for instance, but will remain in a digital warehouse on the HarperCollins server.

This could provide great revenue opportunities for the company in the future and could be great ways to access titles long after the physical properties have gone out-of-print. In this way, there's no way that the decision won't be a benefit for all involved. However, all of the intellectual rights issues surrounding this decision are still very much left hanging in the balance, as players like Google, Amazon, and publishers continue to try and decide who has rights to what when it comes to digital print content.

December 14, 2005

Troma Entertainment: Long Tail benefits for small-time companies?

All of our talk about convergence and major transmedia crossover can sometimes overshadow the fact that there are still plenty of small-time players out there content with a smaller piece of the pie, that may not have the resources of a major conglomerate to tell their stories but also have less to lose in being experimental.

Case in point: Troma Entertainment. In this month's edition of Look Magazine from Entertainment Weekly, Dalton Ross enters the world of B-movie house Troma, the company headed by Yale graduate Lloyd Kaufman that has released classics like The Toxic Avenger and has inspired filmmakers such as the creators of South Park and horror film Cabin Fever.

The piece is well worth a read and serves as a reminder of those companies who could benefit not from the big-business potential of The Long Tail and transmedia storytelling but from the alternative distribution methods such new theories of media distribution and storytelling allow that could benefit these smaller players.

What do you think these potential shifts in media distribution models could have for B-horror producers like Troma?

December 13, 2005

The Adult Swim Channel?

Another notable post from TVSquad: the Adult Swim channel? It's a throwaway line in a holiday wishlist (and a hearty amen to his wish for complete seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000), but it raises an interesting question. Would it make sense to create a full-fledged Adult Swim network?

On the one hand, I bellow a resounding yes because I myself would love to see it happen. There just aren't enough wee hours in a week to provide homes for all the great programming that Adult Swim has trotted out over the years – Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The Venture Brothers, Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, etc. – and a full-fledged network would open up a bunch more space to pursue development of even better shows.

On the other hand, the creation of such a channel would be excruciatingly expensive, something that goes almost completely against the standard business model. The core revenue stream of Cartoon Network, like TBS, Turner Classic Movies and Boomerang, comes from rereleasing old content with an established viewer base in a perfect case study for the success of the long tail. This then enables these channels to redirect a percentage of that revenue to the development of original IP like The Venture Brothers.

A much more likely scenario would be either an online Adult Swim IPTV 'channel' or the transformation of Boomerang into the Adult Swim channel. I'm reluctant to pony up subscription fees just to watch old Yogi Bear cartoons, but if Turner were to couple them with an expanded Adult Swim lineup to cash in on the nostalgia side market instead of as a core market, then I might go for it. Couple that stable with the increasing backlog of existing Adult Swim IP and this just might work.

What do you think?

The TV Learning Curve

So here's an interesting little post from my morning's readings: TYSquad's top five shows that got much better after the first season. Their list:

  1. Seinfeld
  2. Friends
  3. The Odd Couple
  4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
  5. The Simpsons

The list is insightful (swing by for their reasons), but this makes me think even fruther about reversing the current IPTV model. Instead of sending a handful of shows out to pasture online, why not finance a whole bunch of shows on an extremely tight budget, distribute them via the iTunes store, and then bring the "winners" to broadcast TV? Let the shows get their first season's worth of kinks worked out online and then bring them out to play – kind of like drafting from a farm team?

December 12, 2005

World Creation: The Key to Collaborative Entertainment

Denis McGrath over at Dead Things on Sticks has an excellent post up in which he debunks the notion of the "killer idea" as the source of great entertainment. It's a seductive notion which has snared many people in its tendrils, but let's be frank: Ideas are cheap. Execution is what really matters. And as Denis puts it:

A television series... is all about creating a template: an ongoing landscape populated with characters from which a series of narratives can spring.

And just as we wouldn't be talking about the brilliance of Born to Run today if not for the sax work of Clarence Clemons, the guiding hand of Jon Landau, the keyboards of David Sancious and the off-kilter interjections of Miami Steve Van Zandt, series don't become series until you pull in the beautiful minds who shape the initial idea, polish it, and make it the thing it needs to be to engage an audience not for two hours, but for up to seven years. It's a job that's too big for one person, even though -- like with Springsteen -- the mythology demands that in the end it be credited to one person.

I'll go one step further than Denis and argue that not just TV, but any kind of continuing entertainment franchise (and especially a transmedia franchise) needs to create a template for itself; either as a world in which a series of similar but non-formulaic narratives can occur, or as a framework for interesting content. That world or framework has to be expansive enough for different people to put their own stamp on corners of it and still have enough space left for other members of the creative team to do their own thing, and it needs to be interesting and distinctive enough that it can set itself apart from everything else on the market.

To quote Denis again:

The idea never starts out killer. Hire the smart people, and put them together, and that's what makes it killer.

Preach on, brother.

December 11, 2005

Blog Posts, Literally


Niall Kennedy spots a blog post in its most literal sense. "Someone had posted two of their latest blog posts at a busy street corner in San Francisco. The top post introduces weblogs and the topics they cover, encouraging people to read more weblogs for the latest news about their community and the topics they care about. The bottom post talks about comments by radio host Rush Limbaugh against homosexuals."

Sprint To Offer Full-Length Movies For Cell Phones

"Sprint Nextel Corp. is expected to announce on Monday that it has begun selling a service which allows users of its mobile video phones to watch full-length movies, television shows, concerts and comedy specials."
-- Reuters

IPTV not yet a viable business model? has an interesting piece on independent online-only TV production: Aspiring TV writers get their chops together online. The piece profiles J.D. Rynzar's "Yacht Rock", an offbeat show found online at Channel 101, an IPTV outlet for LA comedy writers. However, the disturbing part of the article is as follows:

Despite their growing popularity, Channel 101 and other online video offerings don't pose a threat to established TV networks that employ phalanxes of middlemen between creator and audience, said Jupiter Research analyst Todd Chanko.

"There are some distinct advantages to being big--it's money for marketing, and it's programming resources and distribution resources, and those simply cannot be ignored," he said. "You're talking about a household name that goes back to the 1920s."

Ironically, for all their frustrations with the TV industry, Schrab and Ryznar said their main goal is still to find success within the mainstream.

Channel 101 has helped them gain visibility, they say.

Several Channel 101 alums have been hired as writers with "Saturday Night Live." Schrab said the project has helped him get work on comic Sarah Silverman's planned new TV show.

As for Ryznar, he's landed an agent and partied with the cast of "The Simpsons," though VH1 turned down an opportunity to develop Yacht Rock into a full-blown TV show.

"The fact of the matter is you cannot make a living doing Internet TV shows at this point, and you may not ever be able to," Ryznar said. "But God, it's such a great medium for making things that don't matter."

This isn't really surprising, but it does raise the question: can IPTV ever become profitable enough to stand on its own as an independent medium, or is doomed to become the video equivalent of zines or self-published novels?

Graphic novel of The Fountain v.1, film of The Fountain v.2

Well, this is a form of transmedia I hadn't considered before. We film geeks have been following Darren Arnofsky's latest project The Fountain ever since his last film wrapped. The story sounds amazing, following explorers pursuing the Fountain of Youth, only cycling through three iterations: first in conquistador-era Spain, second in the modern day, and third in the far-flung future. It's exactly the kind of bizarre dark art you'd expect from the man behind Pi and Requiem for a Dream – the only trouble is, the poor film's been stuck in developmental hell almost as long as Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote. (Okay, maybe not that long, but you get the idea.) First Brad Pitt was supposed to star, but then he dropped out and had to be replaced with Hugh Jackman. Then the project lost its funding, and the script had to be hauled in for a major cost-saving rewrite. Now the principal photography has finally wrapped but they're still in post-production, which has the studio heads tearing their hair out because they'd hoped to get it out in time for this year's Oscar noms. Oy. For more ugly details (and a bizarre exchange about infant children and Steve Gaghan's Syriana, check out this recent AICN interview.

Anyway, all is not lost for us fans. Arnofsky has partnered with DC's Vertigo comics to release an oversized hardcover graphic novel of the original story. Illustrated by Kent Williams, who some folks may know for his Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold which was based on Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, this monster clocks in at 176 pages with a $40 price tag, which is made all the more winceworthy by its being shipped in shrinkwrap, preventing potential buyers from flipping through and evaluating its quality in the shops. Luckily, DC has answered this criticism with a 14-page preview PDF available for free download on their site.

DC describes the story and edition as follows:

...The Fountain crisscrosses through three distinct time periods: 1535, during an ancient Mayan war; the present day, following one doctor's desperate search for the cure for cancer; and the far future through the vast exotic reaches of space. Interweaving these three periods, The Fountain follows Tomas -- warrior, doctor, explorer -- as he feverishly tries to beat death and prolong the life of the woman he loves.

A story so grand, one medium couldn't contain it, Aronofsky's feature film version of The Fountain will be released by Warner Bros. Pictures and Regency Enterprises, starring Tony-award winning actor Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Van Helsing, The Boy from Oz) and acclaimed actress Rachel Weisz (Constantine, The Mummy, the upcoming The Constant Gardener). But before he did, the filmmaker wanted The Fountain to be realized in the unique storytelling power and artistic beauty of the graphic novel. Together, Aronofsky and Williams deliver what might be considered the ultimate director's cut. This volume also features an afterword by Aronofsky.

So this makes me wonder: is this transmedia storytelling, adaptation, or something between the two? Further, and perhaps more interesting, which edition is the primary narrative component? If one assumes that the primary media component of any property is its original intended product (the films in Star Wars, for example; all the 'extended universe' books would be classified as secondary media components), but the comic is based on Arnofsky's original, uncompromised story and the actual film is an amended version, then we start getting into battles of intent, of import (is the story more important than the director's celluloid composition?) and all kinds of other sticky wickets. Fascinating stuff.

Amazing Race bonus round an online exclusive

TV Squad turns in another interesting report with the news that Amazing Race will post an exclusive 'bonus round' episode on after the end of the 'official' season on Dec. 13. From the official press release:

For the first time ever, the teams who finish in second and third place during the two hour season finale of THE AMAZING RACE 8 on Tuesday, Dec. 13 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) will have one final chance to win a very special prize, a brand new 2006 GMC Yukon XL. Video footage of the entire bonus mini-race will be streamed exclusively on, the official website of the CBS Television Network, immediately following the West coast broadcast of the finale (11:00 PM, PT).

In the exclusive bonus challenge, the second and third place winners of THE AMAZING RACE 8 will compete in a mini-race that will require teams to recall specific challenges and locations from this past season. The team who's first to complete the challenge correctly will drive away in their very own 2006 GMC Yukon XL.

I applaud CBS' initiative on this front, but I'm still waiting for online-exclusive content for shows I actually care about (*cough*West Wing*cough*).

Online exclusive episodes of Family Guy coming up

TV Squad reports that FOX will produce some original, web-only episodes of Family Guy. According to the post:

At some conference in New York, the head of interactive media at FOX said in a speech that they are planning to create some original episodes of Family Guy for the web. He's not sure of distribution plans yet, but now that FOX owns MySpace and IGN, those are likely places to place video content. It could also appear on Just like the other networks, FOX will charge (about $2) for each downloaded episode.

Commenters on the thread speculated that this might be tied into Apple's announcements of a new home media Mac in January – scuttlebutt has it that they'll be launching a more intense online video initiative as well.

December 10, 2005

Lifestyle Gaming + Sports Gaming = Marc Ecko's Getting Up.

Marc EckoTo take my previous post in a different direction with a real world example, MTV Films just announced plans for the movie version of fashion designer Marc Ecko's Getting Up. From the official press release at

Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure adaptation as a feature project promises to be an homage to graffiti's rich culture. Told through an alternate reality in a futuristic universe, the game represents the culmination of seven years of story and character development by fashion pioneer Marc Ecko, the visionary behind several of today's most respected youth lifestyle brands. Mr. Ecko will serve as producer on the project with MTV Films' Gregg Goldin, who brought the project to the company. Jason Weiss and David Gale will be developing on behalf of MTV Films. "Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure" will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"When I first began working on 'Getting Up' seven years ago, I wanted to create a storyline that provided a rare look inside of one of the most influential, yet often overlooked, artistic movements in recent history. Today, graffiti is a global cultural phenomenon and few understand its impact better than MTV, pioneers in its use as a motion graphics tool nearly two decades ago. I am delighted to have the ability to bring the depth of our story to life on film and look forward to working with the great team MTV has assembled," added Marc Ecko. "Getting Up" drops in Feb. 2006 for PS2, XBOX, and PC.

The response on the web has been mixed. From Joystiq's typical snarky commentary:

We won't get into the reasons why fashion designer Marc Ecko has a videogame with his name on it in the first place, why anyone would make a movie based on a game that hasn't even come out yet, and why anyone would want to see said movie. Branding has become such a singular and overwhelming force in videogames and movies that it alone can get both made (even though some don't make any money). Expect plenty of finger pointing and scapegoating once this movie comes out. Expect people to say the game's (potentially) piss-poor story is responsible for the movie's equivalent lack of narrative. But we'll know better.

The comments thread at Joystiq is pretty interesting as well, with several people touching on Sony's previous graffiti PR problem.

For my money, while there's no mention of in-game ordering or other advanced advergaming implementation, I'm still quite interested to see where this goes. The mobile version already won Best Wireless Game at the Spike TV Video Game Awards, and the game's voice talent lineup alone is enough to make the scene sit up and take notice: Sean "Diddy" Combs, George Hamilton, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam West, Andy Dick, RZA, Charlie Murphy, and Talib Kweli. Wow.

The Next Big Thing: Lifestyle Gaming?

Last week Dr. Jenkins' Creative Industries class was visited by Jon Cropper, a friend of the C3 and the man in charge of marketing Sean "Diddy" Coombs' media empire. In his lecture, Jon presented two huge photomontages evoking the 'mood' of a brand, including locations, objects and people that all fit this brand style. Looking at them, it was almost impossible not to start imagining connections between the images and quickly forming some type of brand narrative.

C3's research keeps returning over and over again to the use of storytelling as a marketing and entertainment device. We grapple with the functions that these stories serve in ads, the function that product placement for ads serve in stories, and how video gaming is developing as a narrative form. Aristotle argued that drama was all about the plot – characters are nice to have, but you can still have a story with a rousing plot and no characters. Video games, on the other hand, seem to be primarily about the setting, granting the player agency to run around in an authored world.

So why not take this one step further and let gamers slip into the world that these brands attempt to personify in their advertisements? We have racks and racks of lifestyle magazines, so why not lifestyle gaming?

Imagine a MMORPG for the Vanity Fair set that lets you be the heir or heiress to some massive business empire, providing you with nearly inexhaustible resources. In the game, you can then assemble the materialistic life of your dreams, obtaining houses and vacation homes and planes and cars or whatever, taking this life out for a spin. You can connect with your friends online and show off the newest toys that you've found, with the option of actually purchasing one in real life with real money in-game. It would be similar to a James Bond game, but playing up the shaken-not-stirred aspect instead of the Walther PPK. How would such a project succeed or fail?

On the one hand, there's something intensely sexy about the concept of a Ralph Lauren videogame, distributed via free DVD-ROM in every issue of Vanity Fair, or even an Eddie Bauer or Timberland game. Pop in the game, and you're suddenly running around a lodge in Crested Butte wearing the latest fashions, sipping Godiva cocoa, cuddling with ski bunnies and taking your Land Rover out for a spin. On the other, there's the simple solve-all-my-problems psychology trap of big ticket purchases. People tend to buy brands because they believe that their lives will radically change when they obtain that $500 Gucci bag, but their friends stay the same, their waistline stays the same, their house stays the same... Very few big-ticket purchases would offer the same kind of massive life overhaul that such a game could offer – unless each game also offered a Buy This Life button that instantly sucked $20M out of your credit account, filed divorce papers, sold your house, and booked you plane tickets.

Regardless, I think there is some interesting – and potentially lucrative – territory to be mined here. What do you think?

"Transmedia: Branding's Next New Thing?"

Grant McCracken, one of C3's distinguished advisors, has posted a detailed and thought-provoking three-part analysis exploring the possibilities for applying transmedia strategies to corporate branding. Take a look, and you'll see why we're all so proud to be working with him!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Whenever he can spare some time from working on his own blog, we look forward to having Grant throwing into the ongoing discussions here on the C3 Weblog.

December 9, 2005

Mick Foley Enters the Blogosphere

What power is the world of weblogs having on society as a whole?

Just a few days ago, I posted an entry on the commentary from the Wall Street Journal in which Lee Gomez questions whether a few blogs will become powerful, leaving the rest to float in ubiquity. As Kurt Squire has responded, I think this viewpoint has some validity.

Blogs aren't just making new names more powerful though--they are also giving a new space for already established names to enter. Case in point would be all of the journalists who are now taking to blogging...or bestselling author/pro wrestler Mick Foley.

Those who know Foley's career know that he isn't much into new technology--he speaks at college campuses about the lost art of writing by hand and prides himself on handwritten manuscripts.

Foley's entry into blogging is no different. He is currently blogging on World Wrestling Entertainment's trip to Afghanistan to entertain the troops, but swears he will only blog under two conditions--that someone else types his entries up and that he is never considered part of the blogosphere.

However, he says that the temptation to have a weblog had just become too much.

Is this going to be a trend that enters all spaces of mass media? For Foley, the blog becomes incredibly interesting, as his television character Mick Foley and the real person Mick Foley becomes very complex in this space, where he is blogging about his life. Which Mick Foley is this? What is the distinction? Can we claim to be seeing the backstage of the character, or should we consider the blog a performance as well?

Interesting questions, not just for academic concerns but for understanding how fans comprehend materials and why they are driven toward them. The celebrity blog is a space that remains quite a mystery in many ways.

And, to my friend Mick Foley, although he'll probably never read this since he claims not to use the Web--welcome to the sphere, fellow "Web log writer!"

Grappling with Video Games

I would like to direct your attention to a recent post on the Inside Video Games Weblog entitled "Midway Gets in the Wrestling Ring." Thanks to the brilliant scholar and fellow C3 media analyst Ivan Askwith for pointing this story out for me.

The posting focuses on the wrestling organization TNA which airs on Spike TV and their licensing of a new video game, to compete in the market with all the releases from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

The WWE, under Vince McMahon, is an exemplar in many ways in using various media effectively, and this posting features reasons why the WWE has made such a name for itself in the video game market in particular.

The WWE games were revolutionized in recent years by offering various modes of play, including not only the player vs. player match option and a career option, which allows the player to enter the complex area of building a WWE career, etc.

Currently, TNA offers a successful alternative to the WWE but only on a small scale. It will be interesting to see how their reputation in the video game industry develops. If their property is attempted to be constantly prepared to the WWE and their accomplished development of video games, it might not be fair.

In the meantime, though, WWE's Smackdown vs.RAW 2006 will almost certainly be a hit, shipping this week for Playstation.

Do any of you have any thoughts on the video game/wrestling crossover or have any experience of your own? Since I am the least inclined to play video games of our fellow posters, I have only experienced these games when playing with friends. After all, I know that if I ever started, it would be like eating Pringles...I'd never stop.

Film-VG Convergence On The Horizon... Again.

From the same article as the previous entry: for those following the convergence of films and video games -- it seems that we can look forward to more Year-of-the-Matrix style transmedia experiments, as the industries begin to comprehend the logic of games that are complements, rather than adaptations, of their cinematic counterparts:

Said Bruce Friend, executive vp and managing director of OTX Research: "The boxoffice has been weak, so studios will look to get more creative in their advertising."

Stocks said he also expects another form of creativity to become more important in the Hollywood-gaming relationship. Over time, video game developers will likely start working more closely with film studios when it comes to creating games tied to movies, a move that would benefit both sides, he said.

Said Stocks: "If there is more interaction between the film and the game, and the game offers expanded stories and more character development," gamers will be happier and enjoy both products more.

December 6, 2005

Robert Iger on Redirecting Disney

DisneyRobert Iger, the new CEO of Disney, is featured in an excellent interview over at The Wall Street Journal called Redirecting Disney. In it, Iger comes across as someone who definitely "gets it":

WSJ: You've previously suggested that the gap should be narrowed between a movie's theatrical release and its availability on DVD. Can you unilaterally change the DVD window?

Mr. Iger: We'd be better off as a company and an industry if we compressed that window. We could spend less money pushing the box office and get to the next window sooner where a movie has more perceived value to the consumer because it's more fresh. The problem is the theater owners threaten that if you do that, then you're not going to run your film on as many screens.

WSJ: Isn't there a way to work with the theater owners?

Mr. Iger: There are some that are interested but as you find with any industry, there are others that just want to do anything they possibly can to fight change. ... No movie studio really wants to be first because it's like going over the hill first in battle. They don't want to take the most bullets. We'll have a conversation with theater owners to see whether we can move them more peacefully. But I think in the end, it's going to have to be more by force than through negotiation or diplomacy.

One idea was to sell "Chicken Little" DVDs in the theater. So you've seen the movie and just as when you go to a play on Broadway or a concert, you can buy the DVD, that's when people are feeling best about it, and you cut the theater owner in to the video sale. But there's so much fear now about change that no one wants to sit down and have a frank discussion.

The prospect of this kind of adventurous thinking at the helm of one of the world's largest media companies is thrilling. Imagine what would happen if they took this point-of-purchase model to transmedia storytelling and started installing little shops into theaters between the arcade and the concession stand? Imagine the following scenario:

Mike has agreed to catch a movie with his friend Bobby. Bobby is a huge fan of Firefly, and so he's pushing hard to watch Serenity. Mike has never seen Firefly, but he trusts Bobby as a coolhunter, so he goes along for the ride. The movie blows him away, and on their way back to the lobby they pass by the movie shop, which is featuring the Firefly DVD box set. Still high on the excitement from the film, Mike happily goes to buy the box set, but then he notices something else.

Beside the box set is a Firefly graphic novel which bridges the TV series and the film, so Mike picks that up too. Then he notices that also on the display case is another DVD, this one of Serenity itself. Thrilled to be able to take the film home and share it with his girlfriend, Mike picks that up too – and then he notices a third DVD on the stand, which is a second Firefly movie released straight to video that picks up right where Serenity left off. As he reaches to add that to his stack, he notices something on the spine of each item: numbers. The TV series is labeled 1, the graphic novel is labeled 2, the DVD of the movie is 3, and the straight-to-DVD sequel film is 4 – and on the next display case over is a Firefly video game labeled 5 and a conventonal novel labeled 6.

Mike's mind (and his wallet) begins to reel. So many chapters! He goes to put back some of the items, then notices the big box at the top of the display case: a complete box set with all of the above labeled FIREFLY: CHAPTERS 1-6, selling for about thirty bucks cheaper than the combined cost of all the pieces. Grinning, Mike puts back everything else and makes his way to the register with the big box under his arm – the transmedia property as a single unified experience.

This scenario isn't so far-fetched – some comic shops already setting up mini-stores inside of movie theaters when big comic-based films are released, so why not make the fixture permanent and open it up to all different genres? If Mr. Iger succeeds in leading the other major studios into collapsing the DVD release window, then this kind of model will probably appear in most major theaters across the U.S. within, say, 6-9 months.

I was dubious when Mr. Iger was first announced as Eisner's successor, but if this article is any indicator of Disney's future development, the mouse may be set to roar again very, very soon. Definitely one to watch.

December 5, 2005

Gamer as Artiste: Shameless Plug Alert (but it's for a Guru cause :-)

In response to the query: "Can games be something more than games? In other words, can they move people emotionally or intellectually in the manner of great art?", a recent New York Times article features multiple responses from our very own CMS and C3 super-guru Dr. Henry Jenkins, as well as friends of CMS, like Dr. James Paul Gee and Eric Zimmerman. Here are Henry's quotes:

Henry Jenkins, director of the comparative media studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggested that they are equally close to dance, as a medium of performance, or architecture, as a medium of creating unique spaces.

"The press treats Spielberg's announcement as the second coming," said Professor Jenkins of M.I.T. "But game designers remember how the game based on 'E.T.' nearly killed Atari, and is considered the biggest failure in game history."

In its emphasis on filling games with scenes and dialogue to establish character, Professor Jenkins said, "Hollywood puts its effort into things gamers don't care about."

He compared the video game industry to Hollywood of the 1930's, when studios created standards for their products but also imposed formulas for the movies they churned out, with rising budgets and diminishing creative risk-taking.

"What you need now is a garage band aesthetic, or independent film aesthetic for games," he said. "You're building the world from scratch. Why does it have to look like the world we live in?"

Read the entire article here

November 30, 2005

Post-secret book releases: taking transmedia confession-telling to a new level

Another one of those simple and crazy little ideas that suddenly take off.... (courtesy The Cool Hunter.) Post-secret is "an ongoing community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard." These postcards are then displayed on a blog, which is viewed by literally millions of people all around the world (but not archived online), published in several alternative weeklies and newspapers, and also exhibited as a part of a travelling art show. Now on the shelves, the Post Secret book in hardcover with 288 pages of select postcard images, published by Harper Collins/Regan Books. And of course, the future possibilities for such a project are immense. Very interesting.

November 29, 2005

Mobisodes = DVD Extras

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. - '24' offers it all

Prison Break Goes Interactive

Variety article reports that the producers of Fox's hit Prison Break are 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 -- -- 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.

November 17, 2005

Lost Explores The Outer Reaches of Transmedia

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.

October 28, 2005

Star Wars and the Director's Cut

There's a short article on today (presumably inspired by the release of Revenge of the Sith DVD on Tuesday) about the changes Lucas has made to the original trilogy.

The article touches upon what we discussed in class yesterday - Lucas alters his movies because he wants them to conform to his vision, but fans may like the old interpretation or their own interpretations better. And now modern creative tools allow dissenting fans to do the same as Lucas and alter the movies to make them conform with their own idea of what Star Wars should be.

The end of the article discusses Star Wars as a transmedia property, saying

In fact, some of those stories may not be his, anyway. One of the charms of video games is that the player becomes a character in the story, and technology being what it is, the permutations are becoming endless. So, perhaps, "Star Wars" has become a classic sci-fi multiverse conundrum, with alternate histories and varied points of view.

...Of course, my cynical side is convinced that in 10 years Lucas will make the old versions available for an extra charge. Star Wars Classic, anyone?

October 14, 2005

Want to know the reason? Go to the Web site!

For those who have been following any of my postings on professional wrestling through this site, I thought this past few weeks' events have been particularly illuminating with the WWE's use of its Internet site as a storytelling tool.

The WWE's announcer for the past several years has been Jim Ross, an Oklahoman who has been in the wrestling business for many years. Rumors abounded these past few weeks that others in WWE management felt that J.R. was not the announcer for the demographic they were hoping to attract anymore and the company did enter in negotiations with the head announcer of the UFC to bring him into the pro wrestling world.

The UFC announcer decided not to take the offer, but WWE played on all this on last Monday's RAW when Vince McMahonVince McMahon's family publicly fired J.R. and humiliated him in the ring. Because of all the stories of J.R.'s being demoted in real life, there was a great fan backlash to the storyline on all the fan sites.

So far, the company has played off this in several ways. They have used the scenario to make the McMahons into greater villains, with usually straight matriarch Linda McMahon explaining why she kicked J.R. in the groin at the close of Monday's show in a Web exclusive, revealing plot lines that were not explicit on the TV programming. Then, the WWE's Web site featured an exclusive interview with J.R., where he heavily criticized the company for several of the things that Internet fans criticize it for: treatment of women as sexual objects, etc.

Then, the company muddied the waters by announcing that J.R. would be undergoing colon surgery, beginning new rumors that this was all a "work," or a storyline, to begin with and that the whole thing was concocted because J.R. needed surgery.

To further the confusion, the company posted several fan letters on the front page of their Web site denouncing the company for its treatment of J.R., including letters saying that the company was despicable and that several viewers would never watch the programming again.

Basically, by doing all this on the Web site, the company has taken a storyline that detested hardcore fans at the close of Monday's show and created a new and fascinating blurring of reality and fantasy that has fans hooked. This is the aspect of WWE programming that Henry Jenkins IV writes about in Steel Chair to the Head, what Sharon Mazer writes about in her ethnographic studies of online wrestling fans, and what Ben Wright, in his thesis at Wake Forest, called "hyperreality" in wrestling--that questionable line between reality and fantasy.

The company is starting to realize that, by using its Web site to create new ways of transmedia storytelling, the television product takes on new meanings and nuances for fans who consume the online entertainment as well.

October 4, 2005

Internet video programming

Well, you all may have noticed that I trumped USA Today by about a week, posting about WWE moving two of its shows to exclusive Web-only content.

WWE has been a revolutionary Internet provider for a while. At first, it established a relationship with AOL and was one of their hottest "in-house" sites, with WWE chats from time to time even crashing the server and with a lot of downloads of themes, photos, etc.

Later, became one of the most innovative Web sites. Vince McMahon's son Shane works with global expansion and new media, and he has pushed to take content and put it on the Web. The great move here is that the first hour of Smackdown mentioned in the article that got 500,000 views and the Velocity and HeatTV shows were not featuring a lot of big name stars. But, because there is an interest in Web programming, there is a good chance that moving them to the Internet could eventually make them MORE popular than they were.

On TV, these shows were the "B" shows. Now, they are the flagship shows of the Internet, giving fans a chance to see some of the smaller stars in wrestling matches that don't make it to the big show. The company is aggressively promoting its Internet now in a way that would fall right into the business practices suggested by the Pokemon movement, to make other flows of information coincide with and complement the main narrative.

By providing articles that give context to the main show, exclusive programming that complements the main show, etc., the WWE's Web site begins to function much like the Web site for Dawson's Creek did....It allows viewers the chance to choose what information they want to consume and to become lost in the fictional universe of the characters.

September 27, 2005

Programming to become Internet-only

With World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)'s move from Spike TV to USA that I mentioned in an earlier post, the company will be losing two programs. Spike TV aired Velocity on Saturday night and Heat on Sunday night, featuring some of the lower-level and smaller WWE wrestlers in matches each week. There was widespread rumors in the wrestling industry that the company would be letting a lot of these lower-card wrestlers go once there was no longer a weekly product to air them on, and some of those wrestlers were reportedly trying to figure out what else they could do with their lives.

However, the company instead decided to go a different direction and one that mirrors our discussion in this class--the WWE will be airing Velocity and Heat each week, as they used to, except now as programming exclusive to their Web site. Starting this weekend, fans will be able to stream both programs every weekend.

Reportedly, the WWE is wanting to do everything in its power to make its Web site a more viable property. They have already begun competing with "wrestling journalism" sites that publish insider news on the wrestling industry by providing their own backstage looks and stories on the Web site. They have fantasy game playing and a lot of secondary and background information for feuds, as well as interviews with the performers. Now, with adding a fair amount of Web-specific programming, I am wondering what effect this might have on the company's New Media division.

At the least, it is good news both for fans and performers, as they will not lose their opportunity to be showcased every week.

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