C3 Weekly Update

Editor's Note

Things haven't slowed down for the Consortium team after the C3 retreat earlier this month. For graduate students and professors/instructors alike here at MIT, it's been hectic here during finals week, with our graduate student researchers crunching to finish final projects. Once again, we want to congratulate Eleanor Baird, our graduate student researcher from the MIT Sloan School of Management, who has completed her MBA and is now going to work with Boston-based web analytics firm Compete as their sales strategy manager in their telecommunications and media practice. Compete is a TNS company.

Baird is in the process of completing the white paper she's been working on throughout the spring on film promotion using YouTube, looking at some summer 2007 blockbusters as her case studies. She presented a preview of this study at the retreat earlier this month, and the final version will be out in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, in addition to the end of the semester, the Program in Comparative Media Studies we are part of is sponsoring an event tonight featuring best-selling and award-winning adult and children novelist, screenwriter, comic book writer, and television writer Neil Gaiman, as part of CMS' first Julius Schwartz Lecture, named in the memory of the famed longtime DC Comics editor. The lecture is sold out, but it will be taped for DVD, so please be in touch if you are interested in knowing more, or visit here. The event will feature a short lecture from Gaiman, followed by a question-and-answer discussion with C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins.

To make the week even busier, one of the largest academic conferences for media studies for the year is taking place in Montreal over the next several days. Several C3 consulting researchers, as well as Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, will be presenting in Montreal as part of the "Communicating for Social Impact" conference for the International Communication Association. Yesterday, Amanda Lotz participated in an event looking at the need for analyzing media industries and media production. Today, Aswin Punathambekar presented on his research on global media flow entitled "Imagining the NRI Audience;" around this time Nancy Baym is chairing a panel on changes in the production and consumption of music in a digital age, including her research on Swedish indie fans online, while several C3ers are participating in a panel called "Unboxing Television: TV and TV Studies in 2008, including Joshua Green, Jon Gray, Amanda Lotz, and Aswin Punathambekar. Later today, Jon Gray is presenting on animated television comedy's political voice. For more on the rest of C3's involvement in the event, see the calendar of events.

For those who attended our C3 Spring Retreat and have responded to the follow-up survey, thanks for the feedback. It will be quite valuable to the team as we move forward in planning next year's event. If you attended and have not yet taken the survey, please do so if you have the chance. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

This week's C3 Weekly Update features conclusions to the two pieces we ran last week. In the Opening Note, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green concludes the series he began last week looking at online video sites such as Hulu and iTunes and addressing questions about the value of attention. This is work that Joshua has completed for the online television studies journal, Flow.

We are also moving forward in our job search to fill the position of C3 Research Director. As mentioned in previous weeks, I will be leaving the role of project manager and the end of this month but will continue to work with the Consortium on some projects under the title of research affiliate, and current C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will continue to work with the Conosrtium as a postdoctoral researcher for the Program in Comparative Media Studies. We are now beginning the interviewing process, so again if you know of anyone who might be interested in applying, please have them get their application in as soon as possible. See more information through the links to the C3 Weblog below.

The closing note concludes the first contribution to the C3 Weekly Update from new C3 Consulting Researcher Amanda Lotz, who writes on women and cable channels. Please refer back to last week's C3 Weekly Update if you missed the first round of these pieces; feel free to contact me if you need a new copy of last week's issue e-mailed to you.

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 (2 of 2)

Glancing at the C3 Blog

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


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, (2 of 2)

Last week, the first part of this essay ran in the Opening Note of the C3 Weekly Update. In it, Joshua focused on the Hulu business model and some user responses to the site. This week, he expands on that analysis and looks at other examples, such as CBS' Jericho.

The complaints about Hulu I highlighted at the end of last week's piece, of course, are not new, and I don't wish to suggest Hulu has in some way produced this attitude. Ratings systems and audience measurement are not democracies nor true free markets, and to a certain extent, the idea of being a slighted viewer in a marginal audience segment, the value of whose viewership is ignored, is somewhat fundamental to the television audience experience. If anything, Hulu merely makes this experience visible by providing an avenue alongside insubstantial schedules where the audience can speak back. Where previously these activities took place in lounge rooms and on Internet forums, all Hulu does is bring them into direct contact with the program itself.

At the same time, however, there seems to be a suggestion undergirding these comments that the service, given its official status, is bound to respond to the market. In his 2007 Film Quarterly essay "YouTube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge," Lucas Hilderbrand, writing about the disappointment of finding content removed from YouTube, suggests expectations for availability have been extended and exaggerated by "[t]he Internet, Google, and YouTube," such that "[e]xpectations for access have developed into a sense of access entitlement" (p. 50). While I'm not sure I would go so far as to suggest a sense of access entitlement, certainly looking at negative comments on Hulu reveal an expectation of access and demands of availability. In one sense, these viewers seem to be holding the entertainment industry to its message that digital distribution needed to be legitimated through a business model. Rather than routing around official sources, these audience members are using the currencies they've been prescribed to go through the front door and ultimately finding them lacking. Maybe had the industry not criminalized file-sharing and the redactional (see p. 112 of John Hartley's 2007 book TV Truths) activities of YouTube, some audiences would be more forgiving.

These patterns of relation reveal mixed messages about the value of audience attention and Hulu certainly isn't alone in sending them. CBS' recent decision to resurrect post-apocalyptic drama Jericho after a determined and attention-grabbing fan campaign suggested initially that perhaps non-broadcast audiences were enough to influence the economics of the industry. After all, the myth goes that Jericho had been especially popular with DVR viewers and those using CBS' Innertube service, and a fan campaign was enough for CBS to recognize they were out there. No sooner had the program been revived, however, were fans told in order to show their continued support they would need to transform into a different sort of viewer - the regularly-scheduled-at-8pm-kind planted in front of the broadcast. Not just that, but they would need to encourage others to join them. Adding insult to injury, fans were offered a somewhat compromised second season, with a smaller cast and less sophisticated production.

That Jericho didn't survive season two should come as no surprise; the program was ultimately made dependent upon none of the audiences who made it popular in the first place. Indeed, it would seem that the network itself ultimately disavowed the very modes of attention that supported the show and characterized the viewers who rallied to bring it back. Similarly, there is a sense at times on Hulu that audiences who are doing everything that they're asked are ultimately being ignored.

This is, of course, too broad a perspective on Hulu; relationships between the site and its viewers are much more complex than an ignored and demanding audience and broadcasters defending existing revenue at the expense of new. While the value of online advertising is on the increase, particularly in relation to traditional television spending, the industry is still organized according to a series of logics and practices that privilege first-run broadcast economics. This is a fact audiences are aware of; even if they don't fully appreciate the constraints such logics and conditions might place upon networks. Yet the broadcast model doesn't wholly fit the patterns of audienceship across the site, and we need to rethink the way audience attention is accounted for, and the expectations of behavior imposed by the adaptation of broadcast models to the online space.

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

Masculine Discourse Surrounding Modern Television. Sam Ford writes about the latest work from Elana Levine, who looks at how the move toward digital and high-definition brings with it a masculinization of television, and what that might mean for more feminine media discourse and content.

Supernatural and Looking at Fanvids as Media Texts. Sam Ford writes about Louisa Stein's latest work on the creation of fanvids and analyzing fan-created content as media texts themselves.

On Valuing Labor and Creativity in Industry and Academia. Sam Ford writes about Vicki Mayer's latest work on how the industry values creativity in terms of the work of the casting crew for reality shows and expands to look at biases and stereotypes about cultural labor in both industry and academia.

Soap Operas, Relative Realism, and Implicit Contracts. Sam Ford writes about Drew Beard's work on the importance of setting in developing soap opera realism and his recent experiences with the cultural biases held by non-fans of genres they don't understand the appeal of.

Lovers and Haters: But What About Ambivalence in Fan Communities? Sam Ford writes about Alexis Lothian's latest work on ambivalence in fan communities and a need for better research on and better language to articulate the fan behavior that lies between unqualified adoration and passionate loathing for media properties/texts.

Gender and Fan Studies. Sam Ford writes about Kristina Busse's recent wrap-up post looking at the past year in fan studies and the development of the Gender and Fan Studies/Culture/fandebate conversation that took place on LiveJournal and Henry's blog.


Kozinets on C3 Spring Retreat. Sam Ford links to a recent piece from C3 Consulting Researcher Rob Kozinets on his experiences from attending the Consortium event earlier this month and some of his notes he took in preparation for his participation on the "Understanding Audiences as Community" panel.

Around the Consortium: Advertising, Identity, and Ethnic Television. Sam Ford looks at a recent piece from C3 Alum Ilya Vedrashko on people bookmarking ads, C3 Consluting Researcher Jon Gray's writing about the other people with his name he competes with in search engines, and C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar's latest writing on ethnic television.

Reminder: MIT Futures of Entertainment 3 Date Set. The Consortium's third annual Futures of Entertainment event will take place Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 here at MIT. More details will be coming throughout the summer.

Reminder: Consortium Hiring Research Director. The Consortium is entering the interview phase of its Research Director position and is looking for any final potential candidates for the position to submit their application.

More News for Aca-Fen. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins reminds readers of the Transformative Works and Cultures journal launch in September, as well as the development of The International Association of Audience and Fan Studies.

Dumbledore for a Day: The Things You Can Do in Second Life. C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins shares some insights on Teen Second Life and the work of Global Kids, focusing on a recent virtual world event Jenkins participated in, focusing on Harry Potter fandom.

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 2 of 2)

Last week's Closing Note featured the first part of this essay, in which Lotz looked at the recent past of women's cable channels. This week, she concludes by looking at how distinctions among women's cable channels are lessening, as well as how the channels have all seemed to target the same demographics.

With the context of recent developments established in last week's piece, I want to begin this week with one of the most unexpected things I learned when interviewing programmers and researchers at the three women’s channels (Lifetime, Oxygen, and WE) in the early 2000s: the degree to which they didn’t see themselves as competitors.

I attributed much of this to competitive rhetoric, but there seemed a kernel of truth given their different competitive positions. Although "women’s cable networks" seems a meaningful category from the outside, the folks at Lifetime explained that they viewed TBS, TNT, and USA as their primary competition--and this was the case at the time as Lifetime was coming off twenty-six months of ranking as the most watched cable network. Similarly, the executives I spoke with at Oxygen listed VH1, E!, Comedy Central, and TLC as primary competitors, which was also a legitimate claim, as the network was likely to be considered an alternative destination for female viewers of these more generally-branded channels.

So what does it mean that Oxygen is less explicitly hailing women and calling out now instead to Generation O, and that Lifetime has dropped its "Television for Women" brand identifier and attempted to make its brand more youthful while emphasizing "escape" (which had been the domain of WE). Researching these networks in the early 2000s with my feminist media scholar hat firmly affixed, I argued that the multiplication of networks targeting women was a significant and positive development because it contributed to the increase in stories told about women and their lives and range of programming identified with women. This multiplicity is important because media offering a variety of depictions or stories about groups who’ve been less common in media or stereotyped when appearing there are the most powerful ways to combat these stereotypes. In contrast to Washington Post television columnist Lisa DeMoraes, who pejoratively dubbed WE (at the time rebranding from Romance Classics) as the "unthinking woman’s network," I suggested that the traditional femininity constructed by the channel was tempered by melodramatic attention to issues on Lifetime and the smart-fare of Oxygen’s first iteration. If WE had been the only "women’s network," its narrow construction of female identity would be a cause for greater concern than was the case in the early 2000s when other "women’s networks" constructed different identities for their audiences and a range of lead female characters could be found at the center of an unprecedented number of dramas on broadcast screens.

The recent moves by Lifetime and Oxygen leave me wondering how well my claims hold up now. Both networks are looking more and more like each other, and like WE. There is frankly little that now distinguishes the formerly women’s channels from competitors that have not relied on an explicitly gender-specific appeal in the past.

The other conundrum that emerged from my initial examination of the women’s cable sector was that despite the fact Lifetime, Oxygen, and WE were offering some really different programming, they were all fundamentally seeking to attract the same segments of the female audience deemed most valuable by advertisers. So despite real differences in programming--they all really wanted the same viewers. Lifetime took more of a big tent approach by drawing larger overall audiences, only a subset of whom were those most valuable to advertisers, while Oxygen demarcated its audience more narrowly, but with a greater proportion of the desired subgroup. The channels’ challenge remains the same, however, their strategies are becoming more similar, which reduces the range of programming and types of stories about women available and adds to the disenfranchisement of those audiences who advertisers don’t most desire.

So what will the new Oxygen look like? It will probably house off-net runs of NBC’s more female skewing content (particularly those series created by NBCU), and perhaps the NBCU ownership will afford it the budgets to create some original series that will help establish it in the manner the conglomerate has achieved with USA and Sci Fi. Although it is difficult to imagine what might be distinctive about this content, given that it targets the same demographic as most other broad-niche networks and channels.

Maybe this is just a momentary trend, but these moves may suggest changing thinking about the economics of gender-specific targeting on cable. Perhaps as a function of ongoing fragmentation, it is simply that a group once seen as a niche (women) has been identified as much more varied and complex (not entirely a bad thing for viewers), and is now seen as problematically broad--much like the general "broadcast" audience. The aspect that gives me pause, both as a feminist scholar and as someone with at least a rudimentary understanding of business, is of the increasing similarity of the identities of the former "women’s" cable channels and many other established channel brands (E!, Bravo, TLC, Style, WE) and the narrow audience that they are all targeting. It may be easy to sell a "young, trend-obsessed" audience to advertisers, but is that audience big enough to go around?

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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