Welcome to another edition edition of the C3 Weekly
This week we're all about TV and identification. In our first piece, Gail De Kosnik explores the American Dream as a trasnational phenomenon through Filipino online protests. In our second article, Amanda Lotz studies the difficulties behind effectively constructing a channel targeted towards men.
We were very happy to be able to spend some time with both authors at our recent Futures of Entertainment 3 Conference, where they participated as panelists. We are even happier now, to see that the conversations surrounding FoE 3 still continues, here and in the #foe3 Twitter feed!
As always, we hope that you enjoy these articles. This week's newsletter was compiled and edited by Ana Domb (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the Convergence Culture Consortium. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any suggestions or comments.
In This Issue
Opening Note: Gail De Kosnik on Filipino Anti-Fandom (1 of 2)
Glancing at the C3
Closing Note: Amanda Lotz on TV channels directed to men
Performing Transnational Anti-Fandom:
Filipinos Protesting The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives Online (1 of 2)
On September 18, 2007, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, an Emmy Award-winning "fake news" program that airs four nights a week on the Comedy Central cable network, featured a five-minute "investigative report" by senior correspondent Samantha Bee entitled, "Is America Ready for a Woman President?" In the segment, Bee states, "Other countries have had girl leaders for years. And while Golda Meir fended off Egypt, Corazon Aquino faced down dictators and Margaret Thatcher kicked communism's ass....Still, they are women." While Bee mentioned each of the three female former heads-of-state, photos of the leaders were shown with captions scrawled across them, in a style made popular on the celebrity gossip blog PerezHilton.com. The photo of Golda Meir had "Oy!" scribbled across it, the photo of Margaret Thatcher had "Oops" written on it, and Corazon Aquino's photo had "Slut!" written on it, as if the former heads of state were Hollywood starlets caught in embarrassing candid moments.
On September 30, 2007, ABC aired the first episode of the fourth season of hit drama Desperate Housewives. In the episode, one of the primary characters, Susan Mayer, portrayed by Teri Hatcher, says to her OB-GYN, before the doctor presents her with some test results, "Okay, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Because I just want to make sure they're not from some med school in the Philippines."
These two jokes, one referring to a Filipino icon and the other to the Philippine's system of higher education, appearing in two U.S. television programs 12 days apart, provoked an immediate and widespread response from Filipinos around the world. A great deal of the response was organized and published online. In an eight-day period, between October 2 and October 9, 2007, 13 news stories and numerous reader comments about the so-called slurs appeared on Philippine news sites Inquirer.net and GMANews.tv. The story was then reported by online Western news services, including CBC.ca, the Internet portal of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; BBC News' bbc.co.uk; eonline.com; SFGate.com, the online portal of The San Francisco Chronicle; the Internet edition of The Los Angeles Times; and the Associated Press, whose write-up of the matter was run on well-trafficked political blog The Huffington Post and Variety.com. On October 4, Inquirer.net ran a letter from a reader addressed "To all Filipinos in the Philippines & Abroad," which implored Filipinos across the globe to object to the DH episode. Calls for two forms of digital protest - signing an onilne petition and bombarding DH's producers and network with e-mails - were issued by more than 100 blogs in the days following the September 30 episode. By October 9, the number of signatures on the online petition protesting ABC reached 112,789, and despite conciliatory gestures from ABC, demonstrations against the network took place in front of Disney stores (Disney is ABC's parent company) in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
The online controversy generated by the Daily Show Aquino line was far less intense, but was sufficient to prompt Comedy Central to send an e-mail to news outlets on October 7 explaining that "'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' is a comedy show and the reference to former President Aquino was a joke." GMANews.tv reported on the e-mail, adding, "No apology can be found in Comedy Central's website though," hinting that a statement posted to the official website would have been interpreted as more formal and, hence, more legitimate than the e-mail apology.
That a wave of objections to alleged anti-Filipino slurs made by American television shows became a hot topic for Filipino and Western Internet news outlets for slightly more than a week may strike the average American as extreme. However, another set of interpretations of Filipinos' digital activism in response to U.S. television is possible. I draw upon Graham Murdock's concept of "cultural citizenship" to frame Filipinos' protests last fall as a plea for better representation in the U.S. cultural sphere, a sphere distinct from, though closely linked to, the U.S. political and economic spheres. The Filipinos who objected to throwaway jokes deriding Philippine institutions and icons were mobilizing as netizens - competent users of digital technologies who gather and disseminate information rapidly through communication networks - in order to be more fully recognized as cultural citizens, not political citizens, of the United States.
Abigail (Gail) De Kosnik is an Assistant Professor in The Berkeley Center for New Media and the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies. She researches intersections of minority discourse with artistic appropriations.She is currently co-editing a volume on soap operas, How to Save Soap Opera: Histories and Futures of an Iconic Genre, with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington.
Glancing at the C3 Blog
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Further Dilemmas of the Narrowcast Era: Spike's Search for Men
In the midst of a recent course lecture discussing narrowcasting and the strategies cable channels use to establish their brands, I caught a student looking confused. I was explaining some of the shifts evident in the programming Spike has offered since announcing itself as the "first television network for men" in 2003. When I asked the student if I could clarify something, she replied, "No, I just didn't realize Spike was a men's network. My mom watches it all the time."
And thus, we transitioned into a discussion of some of the challenges of cable branding. As it turns out, her mother is a big CSI fan, and sure enough, Spike is the destination for viewing the cable run of the CBS hit.
For those unfamiliar, let me offer a brief history of Spike. Spike launched midway through 2003 as a rebrand of Viacom-owned TNN. In its last incarnation, TNN was "The National Network" and had been branded with the slogan "We've got pop" and programmed as a general pop culture channel with off-net fare such as Miami Vice. TNN originated in 1983 as The Nashville Network, and at launch offered six hours of country music performances replayed three times a day. Between 1983 and the 1999 purchase of TNN by Viacom the channel evolved into a country lifestyle channel. So, Spike is just the latest identity of one of the oldest cable channels (and consequently one of the best distributed and located in a prime position on many cable systems). It is also one of the MTV Networks, arguably an industry-leader in connecting cable channels with particular demographic groups, evident in the status of other channels such as Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central.
So how is it that a middle-aged woman in the Midwest might find a "network for men" as a favorite viewing destination? The challenges Spike has faced in establishing its brand and identifying its audience over its five-year existence offer considerable lessons in the trials of developing a viable brand identity in the current cable environment. One of the lessons evident from successful media brands is that there is a considerable advantage to having programming reaffirm the identity announced in channel promotion and self-advertising (this, admittedly seems obvious, yet it must be stated to contextualize some of Spike's struggles). Spike's difficulty in becoming a clear destination for men--half of humanity after all--very much results from the ongoing uncertainty between the identity it announces in its press releases and promotion and that actually offered by its programming.
Being a channel for men is first made difficult because existing off-net shows--a staple of most cable channel schedules--are not created with a male skewing audience in mind. The fact that women watch more television than men and therefore constitute a greater percentage of the broadcast audience has led broadcasters to attend to female viewers' preferences. Faced with the economic need to populate much of its schedule with off-net programming appealing to men, Spike faces few options, and to its credit, has ended up with very popular off-net programming, but shows as attractive to women as men.
Given the percentage of the schedule taken up by off-net programming, this means that in many hours of the day, the marketing identity Spike communicates is dissonant with what it aspires to be, and more over, communicates that identity to an audience it does not actually seek. Original programming provides cable channels an ideal space to achieve consonance in brand identity and program offering. In tracing the evolution of Spike through its original programming a new challenge emerges--that of figuring out which men the channel targets. On one hand, narrowing your market to half of humanity is quite wise, after all, it is a pretty big "niche." In practice though, this breadth quickly becomes meaningless, because men aren't all the same or attracted to the same programming.
In Spike's brief history, it has arguably offered three different versions. Spike 1.0 was a laddish, young guy who sought to be the cable version of Maxim. Embodied in the original animated series Stripperella, Spike was crude, sophomoric, and failed in cultivating the sophistication necessary to pull off such retrosexism without appearing downscale. Spike 2.0 attempted to leverage insight gained from internal Spike research on men that revealed men's anxieties and complexity. This incarnation, evident in I Hate My Job and American Start-Up, played not to men's sexual fantasies, but their desire for greater control over their lives.
Spike 3.0 (the current version) has been developing since the retooling of the channel logo and new tagline announced in March 2006. "Get more action" throws back to Spike 1.0 in double entendre, but is meant literally. With Ultimate Fighter as the centerpiece in its original programming, Spike now seeks to be a network for men who want to watch action.
Spike continues to be a very successful network in terms of viewership, however, this success does not result from tight connection between brand and programming. During the same years Spike struggled through versions 1 and 2, FX arguably out programmed it with sophisticated dramas about men (The Shield, Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck, Over There, Thief) that, although they also appeal to women, made FX seem like a network for men. More recently, the "real men" cable reality shows (Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch, and all they've spawned) curiously originate from the History and Discovery Channels. Although these channels skew toward men, these programs seem a much more comfortable fit for a channel for men than history.
This exploration is meant to illustrate the complexity of current narrowcast space. Spike's stumbles in connecting brand and programming originate from many causes and should give pause to those considering launching new entities or rebranding those that continue to perform reasonably well. Without deep pockets dedicated to market research and programming, channels rely on programming created for other entities. While any channel might be able to pay for popular off-net fare, not every channel receives the brand reinforcement from that programming that makes those expenditures worthwhile. Further, the range of players competing in the contemporary cable environment makes it ever more difficult to be the brand destination. It seems much easier for a single breakout show to put a channel on viewers' radar than the reverse.
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
Will Be Revolutionized, as well as the 2006 University of Illinois
Press book, Redesigning Women: Television after
the Network Era.