C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

First off, apologies for the C3 Weekly Update getting out so late this week, as we've been busy with preparing white papers for the end of our academic year, seeing our courses through at the end of the semester, and follow-up from what we felt was a great C3 Spring Retreat last Thursday and Friday. We appreciate the great contributions from our consulting researchers, as well as the great ideas and energy shared by the representatives from our partner companies who were in attendance. Our invited guests and speakers seemed to have a great time and enjoyed being a part of an internal Consortium event, as part of Friday's panels.

For those who weren't able to join us, we spent Thursday going through a series of presentations in which the core C3 team here at MIT presented the research we've been working on for the previous academic year. This started with an introduction from C3 Principal Investigator William Uricchio who explained the history of media industries research at MIT, where the Convergence Culture Consortium falls into that tradition, and how C3 is situated within the work of the Program in Comparative Media Studies, as one of its six research groups.

In addition, William discussed his own research interests and how they coincide with his role as co-principal investigator with the Consortium, alongside Henry Jenkins. He discussed some of his most recent research projects, as well as his interest on moments of media in transition and how taking an historical perspective in understanding changes in the media industry gives us great perspective at the current moment. In particular, William talked about early understandings and imaginings of television and how that correlates with much of the more recent rhetoric surrounding the Internet.

This led into a presentation from C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins and graduate student researchers Ana Domb and Xiaochang Li, who talked about the Consortium's academic-year project on the concept of spreadable media. In particular, their work looked at how the concept of "spreadability" might help offset some of the misconceptions created by a media industry that encourages the concept of "stickiness" as the primary measure of success, as well as the dangers of using biological metaphors such as "viral" to explain the spread of cultural products such as online video. This work is a major part of the Consortium's work in the past year and will result in a white paper authored by the three co-presenters at the retreat, due to be made available within the Consortium in the coming weeks.

The second presentation came from C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, who presented on a second major strand of the Consortium's research over the previous academic year, a large project seeking to dig into the content available on YouTube and better map out some of the most prevalent uses of the video sharing site. In short, the Consortium's project seeks to look at what type of content generates the most views, the most responses, the most comments, and so on, so as to better understand the types of content that thrives on the site. Through the coding process and the subsequent analysis, this has been a major undertaking for our small team, in conjunction with two researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, and the resulting analysis will be available in a white paper within the Consortium in the coming weeks.

Finally, C3 Graduate Student Researcher Eleanor Baird presented her work on promotion for summer blockbusters on YouTube and how many assumptions about trends on the popular video sharing site does not necessarily bear out when you measure the popularity of particular views against box office numbers for opening weekends. Baird's research marries the concepts of the other two studies, looking at the spreadable video trends focused on in the first presentation and combining it with data from the Consortium's YouTube sample. This project will likewise be released within the Consortium as a white paper in the coming weeks.

Thursday night featured a public event hosted by C3 Research Manager Joshua Green looking at other MIT-based research projects on YouTube, featuring MIT's Kevin Driscoll and Nathan Greenslit, and we concluded with a reception that gave the opportunity for many of the Consortium's consulting researchers in attendance and representatives from partner companies to have the chance to talk informally about interests surrounding the core C3 team's research.

Friday focused on work around the Consortium more broadly, showcasing a few invited guests and the work of C3's team of consulting researchers. The morning transmedia panel combined the insights of Double Twenty Productions' Matt Wolf and Xenophile's Keith Clarkson with C3 consulting researchers Abigail Derecho and Derek Johnson, with consulting researcher Jonathan Gray moderating. The second panel analyzed the value in looking at audience members as part of a community, as well as the dangers in how that community might be defined. Communispace's Judy Walklet and Forrester's Brian Haven joined C3 consulting researchers Robert V. Kozinets and Aswin Punathambekar, with consulting researcher Nancy Baym moderating.

The afternoon was spent first with an opening discussion from a panel of C3 consulting researchers, featuring C. Lee Harrington, Grant McCracken, Jason Mittell, and Kevin Sandler, moderated by me. We discussed what academics have to offer industry practitioners, what academics have to gain from conversing with the industry, and the inherent tensions between the differing goals of academic and industry research. This morphed into a series of breakout sessions which saw a mix of consulting researchers, members of partner companies, C3's core team, and invited guests break into five groups to discuss specific topics. At least in my group, on audience measurement and metrics, I felt that some of the most valuable discussion from the retreat came from the resulting conversations.

With the retreat come and gone, the Consortium is now focusing on rounding up our research from this academic year and then look forward to the reaction from our consulting researchers and partner companies, based on the resulting white papers, especially as we plan the research agenda for the 2008-2009 academic year. In addition, as you will see from our upcoming calendar, we have several upcoming academic conferences that will feature speakers from the Consortium, and we look forward to having further conversations about C3's work and the development of our community in the academic sphere at those events.

This week's C3 Weekly Update features an Opening Note that is the first section of a two-part series on online video sites such as Hulu and iTunes and questions about the value of attention. The Closing Note this week is from the research of C3 Consulting Researcher Amanda Lotz, the first of a two-part series looking at women and cable channels. This marks Lotz' first contribution to the C3 Weekly Update as a new consulting researcher. The conclusion to both pieces will run as the opening and closing notes in next week's C3 Weekly Update.

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: Joshua Green on the Value of Attention (1 of 2)

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Closing Note: Amanda Lotz on Women and Cable Channels (1 of 2)


Thursday, May 22
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Consulting Researcher Amanda Lotz will talk about traditions of theory and research and directions as part of "Analysing Media Industries and Media Production: An Emerging Key Area for Communication Research, in a session from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Friday, May 23
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.: C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar will make a presentation entitled "Imagining the NRI Audience: Bollywood, Overseas Markets, and Dot-com Companies," as part of the "Global Communication and Social Change" panel.
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.: C3 Consulting Researcher Nancy Baym chairs a panel entitled "When Music Goes Online: Dissemination, Acquisition, Meaning, and Place," during which she will make a presentation with Robert Burnett entitled "Constructing an International Collaborative Music Network: Swedish Indie Fans and the Internet."
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.: A panel entitled "Unboxing Television: TV and TV Studies in 2008" includes a presentation from C3 Research Manager Joshua Green entitled "Whither Viewers? Imagining the Unbound Television Audience;" a presentation from C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray entitled "A Transmedia Television Studies for a Transmediated Television;" a presentation from C3 Consulting Researcher Amanda Lotz entitled "The Television Will Be Revolutionized;" and a presentation from C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar, entitled "What Brown Can (not) Do for You: MTV-Desi and the Limits of Diasporic Programming."
4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.: C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray will make a presentation entitled "Real (and) Funny: Animated TV Comedy's Political Voice," as part of a panel entitled "Satire's Second Dimension: Political Critique in Animated TV Comedy."

Saturday, May 24
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray will be chairing a panel entitled "Flow, Intertextuality, and Overflow: The Changing Nature of Mediated Textuality."
3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will be presenting with Jean Burgess on "The Uses of YouTube," as part of the panel entitled "Engaging with YouTube: Methodologies, Practices, Publics."

Sunday, May 25
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins will make a presentation entitled "How I Learned to Love Moby Dick, or When Fan Studies Meets High Culture," as part of a panel entitled "New Concepts, New Methods: The Challenges of Popular Communication Research in the 21st Century"
3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., C3 Consulting Researcher Jonathan Gray will serve as respondent to a panel entitled "Digital Dissent, User-Generated Content, and Web-Based Publics: Reconceptualizing Citizenship, Resistance, and Political Media."

Monday, May 26
Communicating for Social Impact, Conference of the Interntional Communication Association
C3 Consulting Researcher C. Lee Harrington will chair a panel entitled "Celebrity Culture: From Stars to Fans," from 9 a.m. until 10:15 a.m.

Saturday, June 21
Consumer Culture Theory Conference 2008
C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and C3 Research Affiliate Sam Ford are going to be panelists for a plenary session at this Suffolk University event here in Boston entitled "The Great CCT vs. CMS Smackdown," featuring consumer culture theorists pitted against MIT C3 media studies researchers, moderated by C3 Consulting Researcher Robert V. Kozinets.

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

"Why in the World Won't They Take My Money?" Hulu, iTunes, and the Value of Attention, (1 of 2)

Since cutting the cable a few months ago, I have been relying a lot on Hulu, the recently launched joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp., to make up the content deficit. Designed as a central distribution site to deliver "premium content" online, it draws together programming from NBC and Fox stables, as well as a smattering of material from Sony and Warner Brothers, and wraps it all up in a reasonably easy to navigate and simple to operate interface. A solution to having to pick through individual network sites in order to catch up on content, the service also provides a reasonably large and seemingly rapidly developing catalog of older material, meaning Saturday afternoons can be spent with back-to-back episodes of The A-Team and under-appreciated wonders like Total Recall 2070 (a Canadian/German co-production).

As the online video market in the US becomes a little crowded, Hulu is impressive in both its simplicity and catalog, including full and regularly updated seasons of many current and past programs. But the site also reveals some of the frictions caused by the lumpy move of television towards a service more and more defined by first-order commodity relations, and the adjustment of television's organizational and audience modes in turn. A brief glance across the comments left on the service point to some of the expectations audiences bring about the value of attention and viewership outside of the broadcast sphere.

Hulu sits somewhere between broadcast and video-on-demand models of television. Advertiser supported, the service inserts usually a single 15-second advert into each of the commercial breaks structured into American programming. Each program is presented as sponsored by a particular advertiser, meaning one advertiser per program appear in these breaks (often, annoyingly the same commercial). This porting of the advertising model of broadcast television, however reduced, is an attraction for companies such as General Motors, who see Hulu as something of an extension of their broadcast spend (Dana and Steel 2008). The service provides advertisers with a 'safe' space, an antithesis to sites that rely on user-created video, which brings with it risks in terms of quality and appropriateness of content -- on Hulu there are guarantees the materials won't offend any more than prime-time television. (See here.)

This advertising model also provides the kind of direct connection between television content and online advertising dollars some media companies, NBC among them, found lacking on YouTube. Much like Viacom (see here), NBC it seems became convinced the promotional value of having content on YouTube did not outweigh the financial returns gleaned from the revenue-sharing deals Google was offering (see here, here, and here).

Frustrated at having to police content and seeing ad dollars not coming exclusively back to the rights holder, NBC committed to developing Hulu as an "official" alternative, where rights holders have complete control over the appearance of clips (rather than needing to take responsibility for their disappearance) and where third parties don't intersect the revenue streams -- an issue that also contributed to NBC severing its relationship with Apple's iTunes service in 2007. (For more on this, see this New York Times article.) These three factors -- the perception Hulu is an official alternative to YouTube, that rights holders are responsible for the distribution of content across the service, and that the service might fill the void left by NBC's withdrawal from iTunes -- seem to influence the perceptions some viewers bring to the site, and the value they ascribe to their attention.

Organized around an on-demand model, viewing the advertisements is often seen by viewers as direct payment for access to programming on the site. Television audiences have, of course, long been aware of viewing ads as the 'payment' for television content, but this relationship seems foregrounded on Hulu. Many of those commenting point out they would happily offer more attention in exchange for content, particularly anywhere seasons are incomplete. Writes one viewer:

ill put up with more ads if it means getting this content [previous seasons] added. You should create a ad watch vs. rating for show system. Just dont overload the ads.

Similarly, some viewers point to their attention as an indicator of a market force that should be acknowledged, especially where little more than a collection of 'clips' from programs appear:

why would we want to see a fraction of our favorite shows when we can download them for free? the reason i use your service is convenience, and clips are not convenient. if you want to sustain your advertising revenue i suggest you get more full episodes. THE USERS HAVE SPOKEN!

Regularly, viewers point out that Hulu is competing with 'free,' and that the bargaining chip Hulu possesses is access to official copies. While the content offered might be of higher quality and assuredly legal, the real point of differentiation for the service is episode duration:

No full episodes = bad. If I wanted to see excerpts, I'd go to youtube.

Remarks such as these turn up regularly, although they don't dominate the comments on the service, many of which review or discuss the respective programs (the only place to leave a comment is a section labeled "User Reviews"), or offer some praise to the service for making content available. It is also not uncommon to find a commenter pointing to the market logics of DVD distribution as a reason only a limited amount of content is available, though it is usually in a tone that suggests Hulu is ultimately under serving the audience, in this case, in order to preserve another, more valuable market.

This suggestion emerges again as viewers respond on the site to the availability of content on iTunes. Here viewers bemoan the fact that Bravo, a US cable channel owned by NBC Universal, posts such little content and offers few alternative options in order to preserve the value of a cable subscription. Writes one:

I can afford cable monetarily, but simply won't spend 20 minutes of every hour watching commercials-- its simply not worth it. I'm happy, though to pay $1.99 to watch an episode without commercials. Happy, that is, until Bravo yanked Project Runway off of iTunes. Seriously, how much does Bravo make off of a single viewer? Why in the world won't they take my money to watch a show?

Next week, in the conclusion to this piece, Green looks at these user comments, their underlying logics, and confusion in industry rhetoric about the value of various audiences.

Joshua Green is the research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

C3 Spring Retreat: Wrap-Up. In his final post about this year's internal retreat, Sam Ford provides some general notes on the intersection between industry and academia as well as a couple of blog reactions to the retreat.

C3 Spring Retreat Discussion on Audience/Community. Sam Ford writes about the C3 Spring Retreat panel on understanding audiences as a community and the work of C3 consulting researchers, as well as special guests Brian Haven from Forrester and Judy Walklet from Communispace.

C3 Spring Retreat Discussion on Transmedia. Sam Ford writes about the Friday morning panel on transmedia at the C3 Spring Retreat and the Consortium's two invited guests for the event, Matt Wolf and Keith Clarkson.

Notes on Thursday's Events at the C3 Spring Retreat. Sam Ford writes about the Consortium's recent internal retreat and gives a broad overview of the first day's festivities.

C3 Work in 2007-2008: 10 Most Popular Posts (RSS Feed). Sam Ford writes about the most popular entries this year on RSS, with most of the posts focusing on last November's FoE2.

C3 Work in 2007-2008: 10 Most Popular Posts (Page Visits). Sam Ford writes about the most popular C3 posts from this academic year, according to Google Analytics, including work on Soulja Boy, pornography, soap operas, Futures of Entertainment, and a range of other topics.


From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (IV of IV). In the final part of this interview with QUT's Axel Bruns, C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins talks with Bruns about capacities and the nature of media studies research at QUT.

From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (III of IV). In the third part of this interview, C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins talks to QUT's Bruns about his produsage model and Wikipedia.

From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (II of IV). In the second part of this interview series, Henry Jenkins' talks with QUT's Bruns about unfinished artifacts.

From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (I of IV). C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins cross-posts the first part of his interview with Queensland University of Technology's Axel Bruns.

Potentials of YouTube Event Thursday Night. C3 Research Manager Joshua Green moderated a discussion on YouTube with MIT's Kevin Driscoll and Nathan Greenslit in the public colloquium portion of the C3 Spring Retreat.

Product Placement and Soap Operas. Sam Ford shares some of his research on product placement in U.S. soap operas, from his ongoing research project entitled "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture."

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

Rethinking "Women's" Cable Channels in 2008: From the Future of Project Runway to Generation O, (Part 1 of 2)

Television industry trade press have been full of interesting developments in what might be considered the "women's" cable space in recent weeks. Lifetime has made headlines with the news that it has "stolen" Project Runway from Bravo, a story that we likely haven't heard the end of given threatened litigation. Then, as adding this particular and high-profile series might suggest, Lifetime followed with news of a new younger target, which comes a few years after jettisoning its long identified tagline of "Television for Women," that it adopted over a decade before.

Such shifts at the veteran gendercaster occurred in between significant developments at another femme-centered channel, Oxygen. First, NBCUniversal completed its purchase of the long independent channel in November 2007. Five months later, the conglomerate announced a rebranding of Oxygen to audience members in "Generation O" who connect with its new tagline of "live out loud."

In both cases, the channels are shifting their brand message from one that clearly identified them as a destination for women--although the actual substance of the channels' programming seems as gendered-targeted as ever. Additionally, the announced brand adjustments position these channels as closer competitors as both set their sights on an elusive and narrow segment of female audience members.

What do these brand shifts tell us about categories such as "gender" in an ever-fragmenting cable environment? Are these changes suggestive of lessons about the viability of the gender niche? Are these adjustments lessons about consolidated cable ownership? And, what parallels might be found in the similarly awkward "men's" channel space? The ample explicit and subtle rebranding in the cable space in recent years reminds us of how fluid this sector of media remains. Despite much attention to what some conceive as a "next generation" of television platforms, such as those available online, cable channels remain an important component of the contemporary and future television industry.

The Recent Past of "Women's" Cable Channels

By all counts, when Oxygen announced its plans to launch in 1998, and even after it appeared on some cable systems in February 2000, it seemed unlikely to succeed. Developed as an "independent" cable network--meaning it lacked ties to a cable service provider such as Comcast or media conglomerate with other content to leverage, as perceived as somewhat essential in order to gain access to enough subscribers to court advertisers at launch--there was little to suggest Oxygen would survive other than the curious array of funders and partners that included some of the most accomplished names: Oprah, Geraldine Laybourne, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, Paul Allen.

But the early 2000s, though they seem like just yesterday, were a very different time in the cable industry and in terms of convergence among media industries. The two crucial aspects of Oxygen's identity at its launch were its planned identity as a "thinking" women's network--offering an alternative to the middle brow melodramatic identity identified with the established player in this space--Lifetime, and its identity as an integrated web and cable brand. These were heady days of online optimism before much meaningful conceptualization of convergence. Oxygen launched before the dotcom crash and even though its web/cable integration often amounted to little more than featuring advertisers' web addresses in a black bar at the bottom of the program screen or posting real time chatting in that same black bar, this was all very innovative at the time.

Another critical piece of context--the same year Oxygen launched, Lifetime began a twenty-six month reign as the most watched cable channel in prime time. Not just among women, but THE most watched channel. This was the era before USA established itself with its "Characters Welcome" original series and TNT and TBS rebranded with their respective drama and comedy identities.

But this is the ancient past of Oxygen (particularly if we measure in web years). In its first incarnation, the channel succeeded in achieving its thinking women's fare fundamentally different from anything else on the screen at the time, and its web integration was obvious and even "organic." The size of audience apparently desiring and able to find a channel with this identity, however, was too scant (even factoring in limited distribution) and the brand evolution began. Oxygen steered clear of Lifetime's established melodramatic identity by shifting from "thinking" fare to funny fare and offered "outrageous" comedy. Although it did not amass a large audience, both its original fare (such as its femme-fronted take on Candid Camera called Girls Behaving Badly) and its off-net content such as Roseanne and Cybill, marked this focus clearly. Despite some critical praise for its original comedy Campus Ladies, Oxygen never managed to capture lightening in a bottle with a series in the manner that has proven so crucial for bringing cable channels from the ranks of relative obscurity to mainstream attention. Oxygen has attempted many reality series that feature some combination of celebrity, outlandishness, and competition that have succeeded elsewhere, but never found a bonafide hit.

Rumors of a possible NBCUniversal purchase appeared in August 2007, and normally such suggestion of conglomeration or the loss of an "independent" cable voice would lead me to criticism. But the truth is that Oxygen lost its independent edge eighteen short months after its launch and steadily devolved into a less interesting viewing destination long before NBCU acquired it. It even seemed possible that the new ownership might help the channel create an original narrative series that might garner some attention--in a manner similar to the success of FX--as Lifetime has created many original series, but for some reason not offered anything since its first efforts in the late 1990s for women with the innovation or excellence common on FX. This brings us to the new brand campaigns announced by both networks in the past few months that position them as targeting the same sub-segment of the women's audience.

Amanda Lotz is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan. Lotz is the author of the 2007 NYU Press Bbook The Television Will Be Revolutionized, as well as the 2006 University of Illinois Press book, Redesigning Women: Television after the Network Era.

The Fine Print

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


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