June 2, 2008

Editor's Note

Welcome to another edition of the C3 Weekly Update. With our students dispersing for new jobs, summer internships, and international travel, the Consortium team is hard at work finalizing the research presented at the recent C3 Spring Retreat for a round of white papers that will be distributed around the Consortium this summer. Look here for continuing updates. Many from the Consortium are fresh off a trip to Montreal, where C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins, C3 Research Manager Joshua Green, and a variety of our consulting researchers were presenting at the International Communication Association conference. Henry will be presenting this week at the Games for Change festival in New York City, delivering a keynote conversation with Jim Gee at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, June 2.

Meanwhile, this marks my last e-mail out as editor of the MIT C3 Weekly Update. As noted in previous issues, I am taking a new role as Director of Customer Insights at PR agency Peppercom in New York City. However, I will still run occasional pieces in this publication and will likewise be making a couple of posts each week to the Consortium's blog, under my new title with C3, "research affiliate."

C3 Research Manager Joshua Green will be serving as interim editor for our weekly mailout, so be sure to adjust any settings to make sure the newsletter doesn't get caught in your spam filter, since it will now be coming from his address, located at the bottom of this note. For the summer, as the Consortium is in the process of hiring a new Research Director, we will be moving the newsletter to the rotation of every two weeks.

This week's Weekly Update features an Opening Note from C3 Consulting Researcher Aswin Punathambekar, who writes his own take on YouTube's latest localized site, this time for India. Our Closing Note features the work of C3 Consulting Researcher C. Lee Harrington, who writes about aging issues surrounding television, based on a research project looking at soap opera actors, staff members, and fans who are aging around a text that depicts characters who age over years and decades.

If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the Update, direct them to Joshua Green, interim editor of the C3 Weekly Update, at jbgreen at


In This Issue


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

A Corner of the Digital Bazaar: YouTube India

By: Aswin Punathambekar

On May 7, 2008, YouTube announced the launch of another "localized" version - YouTube India ( What's the difference? According to press releases and reports, YouTube India is different in that it will: (a) feature a localized home page, and (b) discover and highlight videos popular and relevant in the Indian context.

As Sakina Arsiwala, international manager of YouTube, put it, "this site contains all the videos found on YouTube's global site, except we've applied an "Indian lens" to the content, meaning that the video charts you see reflect what Indians are watching now, the featured videos are programmed to cater to an Indian audience, and we've signed up dozens of local partners who are proud to distribute their content through YouTube."

Further, given the popularity of YouTube's global (read American) site - YouTube has 5 million unique users in India, and has added 200,000 news users every month from India last year - there is no doubt that other India-specific sites such as iShare, meravideo, videodubba, etc. will face stiff competition over the coming months. Given its cachet, YouTube has already managed to strike deals with a number of prominent film and television production companies in India and ensured that will be the site where sought-after content will be available.

At first glance, this seems rather familiar and in fact, brings to mind an earlier moment of "localization" - the mid-1990s when television channels like MTV and Channel [V] went about fashioning Indian avatars in order to make their content/programming more relevant to audiences and advertisers within India (Def Leppard and Guns 'n Roses could not, at the end of the day, help MTV attract youth across the country). While this is a useful parallel to draw, there are some important differences to note. I wish to suggest that the launch of YouTube India highlights two major struggles in the Indian digital bazaar and, more importantly, signals a shift in the way we think about localization and national communities.

1. A "Trans-national community"

The idea of a "national community," as we know, has always been central to the workings of film and television industries around the world. In the Indian context, the Bombay film industry (now Bollywood) has always positioned itself as speaking to and for a national community and so have several major television networks. Even today, emerging networks such as NDTV ( seek to position themselves as catering to a national community (albeit one that includes diasporic audiences). We also know that this has always been a difficult task for film and television industries.

Given that the Internet allows us to transgress local and national boundaries with even greater ease, how do we go about drawing national boundaries around YouTube or, more broadly, online communities that cohere around an astonishing range of videos? This is the problem that India-specific sites continue to struggle with. Sites like,, and defined themselves as national (and nationalist, in some cases) alternatives, in opposition to a global YouTube.

YouTube, however, has managed to position YouTube-India as a site where Indian audiences get to participate in the ongoing production of a global online video community and not just in a narrowly defined national space. In fact, when you visit, there is nothing on the front page that suggests that the site is a "local" or "regional" version of a more global YouTube.

2. Making money in the bazaar

The second major problem that new media companies in India (and other comparable markets like Brazil) continue to struggle with is monetization. Internet use and broadband penetration remains low compared to other parts of the world and as a consequence, Internet advertising has not emerged as a key component of business models for new media initiatives (in 2007-08, Internet advertising in India was estimated at Rs. 225 crores/Rs. 2.25 billion). Here, the fact that YouTube's India strategy is part of Google India's larger ambitions represents a major advantage over competitors.

Instead of focusing on a short-term goal of generating advertising revenues, Google India executives have decided to perform the role of consultants who will, over the next 5-10 years, work closely with advertising and marketing agencies and advise media professionals on how online advertising can become a major element of their media planning.

As Shailesh Rao, managing director of Google India, explained, the company has already set up five "verticals" (financial services, local and classifieds, travel, media & entertainment, and technology & health communication) with experts who will "educate, train and guide businesses to leverage the most out of online advertising." It is this evangelizing mission that may, in the long run, prove to be the most important dimension of YouTube's localization.

Aswin Punathambekar is professor of international and comparative media at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's Department of Communication Studies and is an alumnus of the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, in addition to being a Convergence Culture Consortium consulting researcher. He is co-editor of the 2007 Bollywood Reader from NYU Press and also writes at BollySpace 2.0.

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Conflicting Images of WWE's The Great Khali from U.S. and Indian Cultural Perspectives.

Sam Ford writes about an exchange he had recently with former C3 manager Parmesh Shahani about pro wrestler The Great Khali, hated by many dedicated wrestling fans in the U.S. for being more spectacle than talented athlete and loved by a growing number of Indian fans who see him as a Hindi hero.

Soap Fans Looking for a New Home: The General Hospital Nomads.

Fans of the ABC Daytime show from the official forums are unhappy with what they feel is neglect and have taken to invading the boards for other shows and taking over forums for now-defunct shows, such as Notes from the Underbelly.

Around the Consortium: ICA, IMR, and Online Music Promotion.

Sam Ford writes about Jon Gray's recap of the ICA conference that many academics affiliated with the Consortium recently presented at, Nancy Baym's recent post on best practices in online music promotion, and entries from Henry Jenkins and Derek Johnson on In Media Res.

In Memory of Erlene Zierke.

The Consortium team passes along its sympathies to the family and friends of Erlene Zierke, who worked with Turner Brodcasting's Super Deluxe. She was a wonderful person with a great mind for entertainment and humor, and she will be greatly missed.

The Future of TV and Public Academic Work.

Sam Ford writes about the use of academic blogs to expand on quotes in the popular press, citing Geoffrey Long's recent post expanding on a quote that appeared in a CNN story about online video.

Links of the Day: A Few Interesting Random Recent Sites and Stories.

Sam Ford links to a post about the Jack Myers Future of Media discussion, a Campbell's/AHA marketing campaign involving ABC Daytime, a post about the new MTV show The Paper, an Orbitz standalone advergaming site, and more.

Youth and Civic Engagement.

Sam Ford writes about the recent MIT Communications Forum from the Program in Comparative Media Studies and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media on youth and democracy.

Interesting Soaps Links: Liccardo, Bibel, and Muslim Representation on ATWT.

Sam Ford links to new blogs from soap opera critic Lynn Liccardo and daytime writer Sara Bibel, as well as a recent blog entry on the Ameera Ali Aziz character on ATWT as the lone representation of being Iraqi in U.S. daytime drama.

Talking Transmedia: An Interview With Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez.

C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins presents the second part of his interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez, focusing on the challenges of generating content for a dedicated niche audience and more mainstream appeal simultaneously, the trade-offs involved in trying to bring a larger audience in, and the risks of alienating a property's base group of fans.

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

C3 Principal Investigator Henry Jenkins presents the first part of his interview with Starlight Runner's Jeff Gomez, focusing on what cult media is and the mainstreaming of what was previously seen as niche media.

Culture Wars and Cultural Hierarchies: New York Times on ATWT's Nuke.

Sam Ford responds to a recent New York Times piece on the Luke and Noah and writes about cultural taste issues that might influence how a reporter from the Times chooses to write about a soap opera.

The Continuing Controversy of ATWT's Nuke.

Sam Ford writes about the popular gay couple on As the World Turns and the ongoing controversy surrounding the pair, from the group of fans who are rallying to see them kiss more often to the reaction from a conservative values group who has started a campaign against the couple and Procter & Gamble.

Don't forget: you can read and respond to our daily articles and conversations on the C3 blog.

Closing Note

Age and Aging on Television

By: C. Lee Harrington

At last year's FoE, I pointed to an important demographic milestone reached in 2007 -- the first cohort of Baby Boomers becoming eligible for Social Security -- and remarked that at a national level we seem fascinated by the Boomers' potential economic and political power in virtually every context except media engagement. The U.S. population is rapidly aging (as is the global population), which has obvious implications for media consumption. I'd like to follow up on this a bit, drawing on an ongoing project with my colleague Denise Brothers- McPhail on representations of, and audience reception of, age and aging on daytime soap operas.

As a long-time soaps watcher (26 years) and soaps researcher (18 years), I became fascinated by actors' experiences playing the same character over the long haul and viewers' experiences watching the same soap opera long term. What is it like to grow up and grow older taking a fictional character along for the ride? How might televised fictional narratives serve as a cultural resource to help both actors and viewers negotiate the varied meanings of aging? Long praised for intergenerational storytelling, how are soaps currently representing issues of age and aging on-screen? Our interest is rooted in both social psychological issues (what it means for actors and viewers to engage long-term with fictional texts) and the challenges an aging audience present to the daytime industry. We spoke with veteran daytime actors, long-term daytime viewers, and other industry professionals as part of our project.

One of the things we were told repeatedly is that the industry operates on an assumption that viewers want to see characters like themselves (including the same age range) on-screen -- hence the marginalization on daytime of older (50-plus) characters and storylines and the rapid aging of child characters/actors to young adulthood and the target 18-49 demographic. Anecdotally this is somewhat surprising, as some of the most popular actors in daytime are at the edge of (or past) 49 themselves, and viewers in their teens and 20s regularly post/write to on-line and print soap sites about their devotion to older couples (such as General Hospital's Luke and Tracy, Days of Our Lives' John and Marlena, and Guiding Light's Josh and Reva). When asked if there is an empirical basis (through market research) for this assumption, none of our participants seemed to know. This could indicate that such empirical grounding doesn't exist, that it exists but isn't distributed at all industry levels, that it exists but those we spoke with are unaware of it, or that it exists but is kept confidential (among other possibilities). (See Lynn Liccardo's prior posts featured on the Consortium blog here and here.)

Academic research offers partial confirmation for this claim. Scholars who examine links between media choices and social group identity find that, in general, child, young adult, and older adult TV viewers prefer watching characters their own age. However, one of the most sought-after demos, young (college-aged) adults, say they enjoy watching older characters as long as they're depicted in non- romantic (explicit) contexts. Overall, the crucial relational functions that older characters might serve in soap narratives -- as parent, grandparent, advisor, mentor, employer, friend, etc. -- are generally welcomed by viewers across the age span, as are older couples whose intimacy is not portrayed explicitly on-screen.

Most of the participants in our study -- actors, viewers, and industry insiders -- believe that storylines relevant to older adults' lives are important for soap narratives, including issues of retirement, long-term care, menopause and frailty/dependence. If soaps are meant to engage the broad realities of viewers' lives, the demographic transitions underway in the U.S. (and globally) necessitate stories focused on later-life issues. As The Bold & The Beautiful's Kay Alden (headwriter) cautions, however, the entertainment value of such narratives is questionable in an era of declining ratings:

Here is where one runs into the inevitable "business vs. art"…I think it's hard to figure out how to appeal to that [18-49] age group by telling stories that focus so much on the other end of life…They are very difficult to tell in daytime [because] you're asking people to tune in…day after day, and some of these stories are just too painful. People are living this. They don't want to tune in to see somebody having to care for their parent…(personal interview). The actors and viewers that we spoke with believe that as long as such stories aren't scripted as "depressing" (admittedly a challenge for soap writers), there is definitely a place for them on-screen.

Older audiences are historically less desirable to advertisers due to limited buying power and entrenched brand loyalty. But since at least the early 1990s, both market and academic research has pointed to the rise of discretionary income and increasing experimentation or flexibility regarding brand preferences and shopping patterns (e.g. on-line shopping) among older adults. Not targeting this audience is widely agreed to be economically illogical by both marketers and academics -- yet the marginalization both on- and off-screen persists.

A key concern of academic gerontologists is how people today are negotiating normative timetables, a term referring to shared expectations about the times/ages that important life transitions should occur. While these timetables in the U.S. have been remarkably consistent over the last half of the 20th century, gerontological research has begun to document the "dissolution" of traditional timetables, the "lack of synchrony among age-related roles" and an "absence of clear life scripts" (Settersten, 2007). The fall-out of this dramatic life-course restructuring goes far beyond "50 is the new 40" or "40 is the new 30." What these new identities mean for media engagement and consumer behavior is yet to be determined…

C. Lee Harrington is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and professor of sociology and affiliate of the women's studies program at Miami University. Her areas of research include television studies, fan studies, and the sociology of law. She is co-author of Soap Fans and Global TV and co-editor of Popular Culture: Production and Consumption and Fandom.

This issue of the C3 Weekly Update compiled and edited by Sam Ford and Alex Leavitt ( for the Convergence Culture Consortium.


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