C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Today and tomorrow, we are hosting several of you all here at MIT for our C3 Spring Retreat for consulting researchers and members of corporate partner companies. We're looking forward to having many of you here and to facilitating a discussion about the work we've been doing and some of the issues affecting the media industries in 2008. For those of you who aren't going to be able to join us, we will be providing recaps from the event through the C3 Weekly Update in the coming weeks. Our Thursday afternoon presentations are based on work that will be coming out in a few weeks in white paper form, so even if you aren't able to join us, be on the lookout for those reports. They will be available through the back end of our Web site, only available to Consortium partners, and we will be sending hard copies to each of our key contacts at our partner companies.

This work will come in the form of three white papers. One will focus on the Consortium's work on the most preavlent uses of YouTube based on the content analysis we've done over the previous academic year. The second will present the Consortium's critique of the idea of "viral media," our concept of spreadable media, and several case studies to further illustrate that research. Our third white paper will combine elements of the first two in specifically looking at film promotion through video sharing sites like YouTube and some of the patterns that emerge from looking at videos about summer 2007 blockbusters.

As part of the event, there will be a session this evening from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., sponsored by the Consortium. This event, entitled "Potentials of YouTube," will be introduced by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green and will feature to MIT researchers doing work on the video sharing site. Nate Greenslit, a postdoctoral scholar in MIT's Program on Emerging Technologies, will make a presentation entitled "'Nothing Sells Like Verisimilitude': YouTube Counter-Advertising and the Science of Depression," while Comparative Media Studies graduate student Kevin Driscoll will make a presentation entitled "Dancing on the Screen: Identity on the Networked Dancefloor."

This event takes place here at MIT in Building 2, Room 105. Unlike the rest of the retreat, it is open to the public. It is free of charge.

This week's C3 Weekly Update features an Opening Note from C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler, based on his recent production studies work on standards and pratices and the negotiation of how an episode of The Family Guy is negotiated from script to what eventually airs, in terms of questionable content. Sandler, who will be taking part in our C3 Spring Retreat today and tomorrow, presented some of this work at this year's Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference (See my notes here.).

The Closing Note is the conclusion of Eleanor Baird's work on her take on the concept of spreadability that the Consortium has been thinking about this academic year, in terms of participation and interactivity. For the Consortium's "official" take on spreadable media, see our forthcoming whitepaper on the subject from Henry Jenkins and graduate students Xiaochang Li and Ana Domb, as well as Baird's own forthcoming white paper on film promotion through video sharing sites like YouTube.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the Update, direct them to Sam Ford, editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Opening Note: Kevin Sandler on Production Studies and S&P

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Eleanor Baird on Participation and Interactivity Online (2 of 2)


Thursday, May 08
Potentials of YouTube
The Consortium is hosting a colloquium event open to the public this evening in Building 2, Room 105, featuring MIT's Nate Greenslit and Kevin Driscoll and introduced by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green.

Thursday, May 08, and Friday, May 09
C3's Spring Retreat

Thursday, May 15, and Friday, May 16
Berkman Center 10th Anniversary
C3 Consulting Researcher Shenja van der Graaf will be joined by researchers from MIT Comparative Media Studies' GAMBIT games lab and Harvard's Gene Koo called "The Dilemma of Games: Moral Choice in a Digital World" at this Harvard event.

Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will make two presentations at this Montreal event. Details forthcoming.

Thurs., June 19, to Sunday, June 22
Consumer Culture Theory Conference 2008
C3 Director Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and C3 Project Manager Sam Ford are going to be panelists for a plenary session at this Suffolk University event here in Boston. More information forthcoming.

Friday, Nov. 21, and Saturday, Nov. 22
MIT Futures of Entertainment 3.
The Consortium's annual public conference is scheduled for the weekend before Thanksgiving. We look forward to seeing a variety of our partners at the event and will have more information forthcoming after our Spring Retreat.

Opening Note

Productions Cultures: My Work with Fox

This past year I have been fortunate enough to gain extensive access to two of News Corp.’s subsidiaries: the Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) and the FX cable network. In June 2007, I spent two weeks observing all stages of regulation in the Standards and Practices (S & P) department at FBC. I viewed Standards "notes" and actions taking place at table reads of King of the Hill and Family Guy, rough cut viewings of American Dad and the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, run-throughs of The Lot, and live broadcasts of So You Think You Can Dance.

From August 2007 to the present day, I--together with my Arizona State University colleague Daniel Bernardi--have been embedded in the production of the seventh and final season of The Shield. We have observed story breakdown sessions, casting calls, studio and location shooting, marketing campaigns, and other elements of the creative process.

The first experience came with a caveat, though, that the other one did not: my signature on a non-disclosure agreement. Our investigation of The Shield will be published with University of California Press next year, excerpts I will share with the consortium in the coming months. However, my brief discussion here on FBC--the subject of this short piece--will be couched more in terms of methodology rather than specific production knowledge of the show for obvious reasons. All other material I have gathered likely will become that of legend.

My experience at FBC served to validate many of the models used by previous media industry researchers in understanding how the production process contributed to the meaning of texts and shaped the possibilities for audience readings. These included:

  • John Tulloch’s and Manuel’s Alvarado’s book on Doctor Who (1983) which examines the series as an "unfolding" text that subtly shifts its ground in response to institutional, professional, public, cultural, and ideological forces;
  • Tony Bennett’s and Janet Woollocott’s book on James Bond, Bond and Beyond (1987), and how the deliberations, calculations, and policies over the definition of the "Bondian" by EON Productions transformed ideologies into filmic form;
  • Julia D’Acci’s book Defining Women on Cagney and Lacey (1994) which explores how the cultural "struggle over the meanings" of "woman," "women," and "femininity" played out across networks, artists, and audiences; and
  • Elena Levine’s adoption of Richard Johnson’s "circuit of culture" model for her article on General Hospital (2001) that breaks down the distinction between production, texts, and audiences

John Caldwell maintains many of the very same arguments in his recently published book, Production Culture (2008), analyzing the entrenched interpretive frameworks and self-analysis that inform and govern production work worlds. Production cultures remain discrete acts rather than general conditions, and serve as constant sites of struggles between management and artists.

To properly study these practices Caldwell rightly calls for a cultural-industrial method of research that examines and integrates data from four modes of analysis: textual analysis of trade and worker artifacts, interviews with workers, ethnographic field work and observation of production spaces and professional gatherings, and economic/textual analysis. While media industry practices have invariably centered on the fourth mode, it has always been the three modes that have proven most difficult to scholars. The manner by which industry and academia interface and share resources has largely been one of contention and non-cooperation. The Convergence Culture Consortium has provided a solution to this gridlock by bringing together various entertainment companies, advertisers, and brands with researchers and thinkers.

However, the production cultures of various media entities still remain heavily guarded by their corporate gatekeepers. For example, little critical work has been done on the Standards and Practices area of the television business. Nevertheless, my observations of the managerial and creative aspects involved in the regulation of a Family Guy episode do indeed illustrate specific aesthetic and ideological norms that S & P executives at FBC use within their creative practices and decisionmaking process. It is this experience that has guided the method for The Shield, echoing past claims by others while hopefully also offering new models for critical industry studies.

First, a researcher needs to uncover and observe actual industry operations, finances, and practices in the first place to accurately and authoritatively identify the institutional and ideological norms of media production. Primary documentation and observation of the S and P process such as multiple script versions, various cuts, and libel concerns involving Family Guy reveal a more nuanced and complex role than has been traditionally understood. Second, without this information, one can not properly contextualize the event of interpretation or the process of negotiation by which S & P executives shape a text. With Family Guy, they sometimes incorrectly anticipated potential controversy of an episodes, requiring too many cuts or changes than was needed. Lastly, the representational norms that guide one network show only informs that series, not the entire programming schedule. S & P executives conceptualize viewers, advertisers, and the text differently for Family Guy than they do for American Idol.

What Family Guy demonstrated to me was that each television series presents a unique set of economic, political, and social variables that must be historicized and contextualized in order to fully understand how networks mediate, work over, and transform the potential meanings of their series. By teasing out these elements on a show-by-show/department-by-department basis within a given network, we will be better able to articulate a critical theory embedded within the everyday production culture of television.

Kevin S. Sandler is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University. His research specializations include contemporary U.S. Media, film and television censorship, and production cultures. Recent and forthcoming books include The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Does Not Make X-Rated Films, Scooby-Doo, and The Shield.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Product Placement: C3's Work on Implicit Contracts and Reverse Placement. In response to McCracken's post on The Riches, Sam Ford writes about Alec Austin's work on the implicit contract between producers and audience members in terms of product placement, as well as David Edery and Ilya Vedrashko's interest in reverse product placement.

The Riches and Product Placement Gone Wrong. Sam Ford writes about Grant McCracken's recent piece about offensive product placement on The Riches and Ford's own writing about what he sees as brilliantly executed product placement on Friday Night Lights.

Transformations: Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture. Information is provided on this just-released book from C3 Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken on self-reinvention. The Indiana University Press book was just released through Amazon this past week.

Spy Stories. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins shares another reflective piece from C3 Graduate Student Researcher Xiaochang Li about her fandom of the spy genre, related to stories about her own life and her family.

The Television Will Be Revolutionized. Information is provided on C3 Consulting Researcher's recent book from NYU Press entitled The Television Will Be Revolutionized, looking at television in the "post-network" era.

Bitch Ass Darius "Follow The Sound" Mixtape. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins shares a reflective piece from CMS graduate student Kevin Driscoll, in light of Driscoll's participation in tonight's C3-sponsored colloquium event "Potentials of YouTube."


Kevin Sandler's The Naked Truth. Information is provided on C3 Consulting Researcher Kevin Sandler's 2007 book The Naked Truth: Why Hollywood Doesn't Make X-Rated Movies, published through Rutgers University Press. The book focuses on the ratings system of the MPAA.

Grant McCracken's Flock and Flow. Information is provided about the 2006 book released by C3 Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken through Indiana University Press, where McCracken uses "complex adaptive theory" to track the movement of trends and new groupings of consumers.

Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Information is provided about this 2007 collection of essays from fan studies scholars, co-edited by C3 Consulting Researchers Jonathan Gray and C. Lee Harrington, as well as Cornel Sandvoss.

Rob Kozinets' Consumer Tribes. C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets was co-editor of a recently published book entitled Consumer Tribes, a collection of essays on how social relationships play a fundamental role in consumption, along with Bernard Cova and Avi Shankar.

C3 Consulting Researcher Parmesh Shahani's Gay Bombay. Former C3 Research Manager Parmesh Shahani recently published his new book, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longng in Contemporary India, through Sage Publications.

The Further Adventures of The "Henry Jenkins" Cartoon Character. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins provides another example of the use of his imagine in comic strip form through "Bitstrips," featuring a conversation between two Henry Jenkinses.

Follow the Blog

Don't forget – you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.

Closing Note

If You Build It, Would They Come? (2 of 2)

The Interplay of Interactivity and Participation, Stickiness and Spreadability<

The first part of this piece appeared in the Closing Note of last week's C3 Weekly Update, focusing on Eleanor's thoughts on the concepts of spreadability and stickiness as it relates to her ideas about participation and interactivity. This week's piece looks at the implications of those reflections.

Returning to my research project, which I am presenting on at the C3 Spring Retreat and which will be available around the Consortium in the coming weeks, my review of the official movie websites revealed that few went beyond enabling people to watch a trailer, read about the cast, download a screensaver or wallpaper, and possibly look up showtimes - designed with an invitation to interact and . Moreover, there didn’t seem to be any relationship of participatory elements on the official website to revenue. The site that I would characterize as the most participatory was for Knocked Up, which came in 9th out of the ten films in the sample. The sites for Spiderman 3, Shrek 3 and The Simpsons, - ranking #1, 2, and 8, respectively in terms of box office - were somewhere in the middle of the field. Sites for every other film in the list were quite strictly interactive and sticky.

So what does all of this mean for a brand’s marketing campaign?

Implications: Balancing Stickiness and Spreadability across the Web

There is no cookie cutter, standard issue solution for brands, and strategy depends heavily on the company’s goals for a marketing and promotional campaign. Based on the research I’ve done with C3, here are some factors that may be important to consider in designing an online strategy that leverages the sticky and the spreadable.

  • Online, it’s important to know the guest list and the invitation. This may seem obvious, but it was very unclear to me, looking at the movie site sample, what the studios’ invitation really was, whether the site was primarily interactive or if it incorporated participatory elements. Of course studios want people to see the movie, but why is there a website? Is it just a way to access promotional information? Was it intended to change minds? Facilitate discussion? Spur DVD sales later? Television, where much of a film’s advertising budget goes, has much greater reach, but it is also much more passive. Using the website to offer both information and entertainment leverages the best elements of the web and enables consumers to self-select.
  • Look beyond the microsite. The web is becoming more and more about aggregation and consumers deciding what they want to see and when - trying to push them to a microsite is probably not the most productive way to engage them, or the most productive goal for a marketing campaign. Working through the places, like social networks, that people already go to for information, or partnering with other companies to increase and directly contact a targeted audience base are likely to become more and more common tactics. Audiences will take the content to other sites.
  • Consumers should be invited to circulate promotional materials, easily. If people in the audience really want to circulate an ad or trailer, there are significant benefits to letting them do so freely throughout the web. Although it is more difficult to measure than reach and frequency in a traditional campaign, this strategy captures all of the benefits of WOM, at zero additional cost. Again, it may sound obvious, but it is surprising how many ads I have seen uploaded to YouTube that have garnered thousands of views, only to be pulled down. Making content easily accessible and spreadable will also help bring the audience to you.
  • The participatory audience for your brand may be small, but powerful. Everyone I’ve talked to who is in the business of creating participatory campaigns for a product has acknowledged that the core audience tends to be small - for now. What these audiences can do, however, is generate interest from individuals and the press that in turn spreads the message to a much larger pool of potential customers. Reach and frequency are still good metrics, but not at every stage of the campaign.
  • Goals and community are the foundations of sticky and spreadable. Popular sites are both information and entertainment, but they have another important shared characteristic: they are platforms for community and goals. For a brand, designing an online game is probably the most common and most restrictive type of application, but Nike’s branded utility to help runners track their progress and the campaign around the film Cloverfield that encouraged the audience to search for clues that surrounding the film are examples of very different initiatives that embrace goals and community that keep people coming back and recommending the site(s) to friends.

Perhaps the most important learning I have done in C3 is how difficult it is to unlearn marketing as a push tactic owned by a company to re-conceptualize it as a pull tactic and a partnership between companies and consumers. Stickiness is not about disruption and compelling the audience to look, but about making them want to come back to interact with a brand. Spreadability is not about just distribution, but about building and maintaining relationships between the company, its customers, and their networks. There are many virtual ballparks; it will be the fans and proselytizers of brands are what will invite new audiences in.

Eleanor Baird has been a Graduate Student Researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium since early 2007. This June, after graduating with an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, she will be taking on the role of Sales Strategy Manager in the Telecommunications and Media practice of the Boston-based web analytics firm Compete. Eleanor is completing her Master's thesis on targeted online advertising, which she writes about on her blog.

The Fine Print

Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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