Welcome to a new edition of C3's Weekly Update.
This week our Opening Note features a piece by our consulting researcher Jason Mittell on the dangerous implications of media abandoning physical platforms in favor of all-electronic solutions. As you all know, Jason's a long time collaborator of C3 and we are happy to announce that his latest book Television and American Culture has just hit the shelves. Get it while you can!
Our second piece is by Dutch media scholar Mark Deuze. In the midst of the current employment crisis, he discusses the strategies brought forth to make shadow media, meaning the professional journalists, writers, editors and thought leaders who have been displaced either by choice or necessity, visible.
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In This Issue
Opening Note: Jason Mittell on libraries and electronic media
Glancing at the C3
Closing Note: Mark Deuze on the shadow media economy
The media library in a post-disc world
I’ve read a number of articles like this one, speculating on the potential future of the Blu-ray disc as media platform in the wake of online delivery of HD content. As a consumer and viewer, I’m heartened by this, as I’ve not jumped on the Blu-ray train yet. Moreover, I see a lot of potential in subscription-based downloads for allowing and nurturing alternative content - much like HBO, a subscription based model allows innovative creators a chance to let a series develop without ratings-driven scheduling and promotion becoming the central question for sustainability. What might you pay monthly for a subscription to the Joss Whedon Channel - not with a constant schedule of content like a TV channel, but on-demand access to any new productions or archived work?
But as an educator, I’m fearful. At Middlebury, we have a collection of thousands of DVDs to be viewed on-site or checked out for teaching and research. While physical media are fragile, I know what we have and can generally depend on being able to access it for years. The same is true for CDs, books, magazines, and any hard copy publications or releases. This has been shifting in the print world, as journal subscriptions make less and less sense in the era of JSTOR and other full-text databases. While it’s true that we might not be guaranteed future access to such titles electronically, academic publishers recognize the needs of libraries as the primary market and thus I feel more or less confident that there will be a reliable way to gain access to necessary titles for decades to come.
Moving image media are completely different, however. The library market is not only an afterthought for film and TV distributors, it’s an impediment to marketization. The first sale doctrine allows libraries to lend physical items that have been purchased, which also enables the video rental aftermarket. Hollywood has never seen this as a benefit, as the library and rental market provides potential consumers with videos without direct renumeration (although I’d argue that the majority of these renters/borrowers would never purchase the item, and that many might discover a title via loan that then spurs future purchases). So for the media industries, a way to avoid first sale and require licensing, purchase, or subscription for each viewer is a huge upgrade - and thus there is a direct incentive to find profitable models not dependent on physical media like DVDs and Blu-rays.
In many ways, the current DVD era is an exception to the traditional role of media libraries. When I started grad school in 1994, our official library was the archive, with a good but semi-random collection of film prints that may or may not be able to be screened in class. The video collection of television programs was a gray market hodgepodge of over-the-air recordings and film transfers with a few commercially-released VHS and Laserdic titles, plus the faculty’s personal collections. Today, nearly everything I might want to screen is available on DVD at my library, and I own almost nothing myself (although certainly the scope of the field is shaped by the gaps and absences that don’t get official release). My entire pedagogical approach is enabled and based on the relatively new notion that a library can provide access to the history of American television and media, even at a small college in rural Vermont. What would change if this access were tied to online streams not physical objects? A whole lot.
And how might a library deal with this? First sale doesn’t apply to downloaded files, as it requires “copying” to transfer it to another computer, even if its via a secure stream or encoded with protections to avoid further copying. So if I ask my library to purchase a video download, what do they do with it? How can they make it accessible to students and faculty as we do with DVDs? And how might an institution deal with video on-demand or other subscription systems that are designed solely with the individual consumer in mind? How can we know that titles that we purchase or subscribe to today will be accessible when we need them in class? Questions abound.
Plus DRM can interfere with legitimate fair use and educational practices - for instance, I wanted to show Dr. Horrible to my class this past fall before the DVD was released. I’d purchased the show on iTunes, and thus “own” it. But Apple’s DRM prevents me from making a DVD copy of it, meaning that I can only screen the program through my computer and thus cannot make it accessible to students who miss class. As an alternative, I decided to just point students to Hulu to watch the series on their own. This solution is obviously convenient and flexible for students - but it also means I’m mandating that students watch advertising and turn themselves into commodities. Additionally, it avoids the group-viewing big-screen experience which I find important pedagogically.
All of this is just to say that it’s important that educators and libraries get involved with the policy making and decisions that are shaping the future delivery, access, and archiving of digital media. A number of us are involved in pushing for exemptions to copyright laws to allow us to do our jobs - but the future business model for Blu-ray and online video won’t be decided with rulemaking procedures unless the educational community somehow pushes legislators to ensure archival and educational access. Perhaps this is already happening, and I welcome any links or pointers to show me how to get involved. But from where I sit, I’m concerned that the next technological wave might drown my discipline.
Jason Mittell is a consulting researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and an Assistant Professor of American Civilization and Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College. His book - Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture (Routledge, 2004) - offers a new approach to exploring television genres as cultural categories as utilized by television industries and audiences. He recently published Television and American Culture which focuses on television narratives and how they intersect with shifts in the television industry, media technology, and audience practices.
Glancing at the C3 Blog
Don't forget –
post, read, and
online conversations with the C3 team at our blog.
Shadow Media, Creative Work and Organized Networks
Media professionals are, like everyone else, hit hard by the economic downturn - but not just that. In an age of egocasting, consumers turning mediators and producers (or: produsers/prosumers), and behaviors of media firms signaling those of the people formerly known as the employers, mass layoffs, outsourcing and other forms of contingency have great impact on the employment, morale, and creative process in media work.
All of this is particularly problematic if one assumes work to take place in the specific context of media firms and companies – if one understands media work in the traditional sense of employment. That model for media work is (and has been for quite a while) not very realistic for many professionals across the media industries, as their work relationships can best be described as contingent and "atypical", which means: work takes place often without contract, without any kind of formal responsibility or accountability system, is dependent on fluctuations (for example in the market, consumer demand, pricing and financing arrangements) beyond the control of the professional(s) involved.
In 2009 we can add to this caveat on media work the emergence of what Businesweek’s Jon Fine predicts as a shadow media, consisting of
“properties created and staffed by those pink-slipped in '08 and '09. This sets the stage for epic clashes with existing players in '10 and beyond.”
Indeed – clashes with those still under some form of employment. Yet those numbers are declining fast, according to a brief but powerful overview in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Layoffs in the media industry, which includes film and TV companies, amounted to 28,083 last year, the highest since 43,420 staffers were let go in 2001 following the bursting of the dot-com bubble.”
The question is: how can we make the shadow media economy (or rather: ecosystem, if we do not necessarily assume the creative work involved is done to further commercial enterprise) visible?
One way is through the emergence of formal, semi-formal, and informal organized networks (see the work of Ned Rossiter, Vincent Mosco and Catherine McKercher in this context) of creatives (in advertising, film/TV, journalism, games, and so on). These are often not unions, but rather loosely integrated collectives, often local yet increasingly transnational in nature that act as some kind of bulwark against the intimidating nature of the global marketplace for media/cultural/creative industries.
Examples of formal global media professional networks: the International Federation of Journalists, Global Unions, and the Media/Culture/Graphical sector of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Examples of semi-formal global networks are the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), and Artbox.
Examples of informal networks: any and all nodes and hubs online where media workers come together, such as at numerous Facebook groups and Twitterfeeds (at Twitter I warmly recommend following themediaisdying).
Some personal favorites on Facebook are: "Don't tell my mum I'm in advertising - she thinks I play piano in a brothel” (5,162 members as of 10 January 2009), the Newspaper Escape Plan (2,413 members on Jan.10), "Trust me, I’m a Journalist" (with 18,230 members on Jan.10), the Film Industry Network (18,051 members on Jan.10), and the "People who have had their souls broken by working in the games industry" group (with 513 members on Jan.10).
It should be fascinating to follow these initiatives or "spaces of flows" as Castells uses the concept. How this all translates to better conditions for creative work to flourish and professionals to be rewarded for their expertise, I do not know. But the inspiration is certainly there, and our research should follow suit.
Mark Deuze holds a joint appointment at Indiana University's Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington, United States, and as Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He is the author of Media Work and publishes regularly on http://deuze.blogspot.com/