April 17, 2009
Locating Value in Spreadable Media
By: Xiaochang Li
In our white paper If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead: Creating Value in a Spreadable Marketplace* we propose that information and cultural materials - such as brands and advertisements - now circulate within a media landscape that is governed by both "commodity" market exchanges and non-market "gift" exchanges. Stemming from that work, the central goal of this white paper is map out and compare the social and cultural mechanisms that regulate these different systems of exchange. In doing so, I hope to provide insights on how to think about what value means in a spreadable media environment.
This research challenges the recent buzz around so-called "free" economies, led by wired editor Chris Anderson. I suggest that these examples of "free" goods and services available online are in fact, not free at all. They are only free if we continue to operate on the assumption that the only thing of value is the money exchanged in a transaction. Moreover, this type of language is precisely what causes misunderstandings and controversy between companies and their user- base, such as the recent blow-up over Facebook's Terms of Service. If we continue to talk about these systems as "free," we perpetuate the perception that there is no transaction taking place and overlook the forms of value that users are returning to companies in exchange for services. We must stop speaking as if social worth, brand goodwill, and fan advocacy are lucky byproducts and begin to examine what the new standards and regulations of value is in these emergent systems.
Central to this paper is a careful breakdown of the different forms of value present in every system of exchange - use-value, exchange- value, and symbolic value - as well as how these values operate differently and are worth different things and carry different meanings in market and non-market regulated exchanges. I outline some of the defining social logics of market exchanges beyond the use of money in order to better understand the potential affordances and challenges in trying to operate between market and non-market systems.
From there, the paper discusses models of what I've come to call "divergence" economies that characterize the Spreadable Media environment. Here, the use of "divergence" instead of "hybrid" is deliberate. It is meant to signal that we are looking at systems of exchange that move media and value back and forth between market and non-market systems, rather than fusing the two seamlessly. I seek to make the point that we must consider how to accommodate and transform the different types of value involved and satisfy the terms of both systems of exchange. Finally, through case studies, outline how - and perhaps more importantly where - we can find value in the spreadable media landscape.
Xiaochang Li is a graduate student in the MIT's Comparative Media Studies program and a researcher with Convergence Culture Consortium. Her current research looks at the circulation and consumption of East Asian television drama in online fan communities and the ways networked media culture intervene upon established discourses surrounding diaspora and representation. The work focuses on how participatory audience practices and the increased visibility and consumer control of transnational media flows complicate and reshape thinking around diasporic audienceship and cultural negotiation in an increasingly global media landscape. *If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead: Creating Value in a Spreadable MarketplaceThis paper, like all our research papers is available from the back-end of the C3 website. If you're looking for a copy, head over to Convergence Culture.org and log in.
Ana Domb Krauskopf
Globoperipheral Music: The Case of Tecnobrega
By: Ana Domb Krauskopf
Media industries are in a transitional state: power structures, control over content and the relationships with audiences and consumers are in constant flux. At the core of these shifts lie questions concerning where and how is value generated and who retains control over it. Taking Tecnobrega (Brazil's "cheesy techno") as a case study, I explore how audiences can and do add value to the industry beyond the act of consumption.
This rhythm originates in Pará, a state in the North of Brazil, where a grassroots industry has emerged around Tecnobrega's commercialization challenging many of the mainstream music industry's conventions: it incorporates "pirates" and street vendors into its legitimate structure, bypassing "official" stores and labels almost completely; musicians willingly forgo royalties from their recorded music, favoring live concerts as their main source of income; the musician or even DJ-curated album has been replaced by "pirate" compilations sold on the street or found in selections promoted through MP3 blogs. Tecnobrega has established an industry where music circulates freely, at no point is the audience chastised for the way they choose to relate with the content. This sets the grounds for horizontal relationships that make visible ways in which audiences choose to participate when their limitations are monetary but not structural.
Tecnobrega's approach is not the response to an industry in crisis, but to the way that its potential audiences already behaved. Rather than pretending to "create communities," this ecosystem leaves broad open spaces for self-expression and participation. So while traditionally conceived fan-clubs initially arose, the groups that have grown stronger are the self-named teams, in some cases they might just be groups of friends that attend brega parties, but generally they belong to other communities that have found a space for themselves within the Tecnobrega scene: soccer teammates turned dance mavens, a motorcycle gang that loves music, a group of neighborhood friends who compete for women's kisses, they all have their place, and in fact, they all proudly display their own logos on banners, t- shirts, decals or beer buckets for the world to see. As these teams' engagement and creative participation increases, so does the perception of their contribution to the value of what is an essentially social experience.
Understanding this phenomenon through the lens of a conventional value chain seems insufficient and Tecnobrega, along with other media industries, might be better expressed through a value network. Whereas in a value chain all the links are fixed and work towards a predetermined outcome, the network is a dynamic concept that allows for greater agency from each of its nodes; it retains the basic idea that value increases as products circulate through the network, but the paths are not necessarily preordained and value might not be set on the product but on the process of circulation itself. This type of analysis accounts for the audienceâ€™s generation of value not only by way of fan production but also through their presence and participation.
This case study also looks at the technological affordances as well as the characteristics of the music itself that facilitate the circulation of content both on and off-line. The range of avenues embraced by Tecnobrega's audience underlines the value of creating diverse spaces for content circulation, from bikes attached with speakers to internet radio stations, all are equally responsible for this rhythm's success.
This local success by no means indicates that Tecnobrega has found a secret formula to be followed, but it does is provide a somewhat lopsided mirror for the mainstream music industry, and by extension, one for the ever-shifting media world. It's a mirror that is both the same and different, equal and inverse. And as such it is equally right and equally flawed, but by looking in this mirror, possibilities for change and innovation will hopefully apparent.
Ana Domb Krauskopf is a journalist and film and music producer. Her work has always revolved around the creative industries. Currently, she is researcher and graduate student at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT where she works with the Convergence Culture Consortium. In her native Costa Rica, she co-founded Cinergia, the first film production fund designed to stimulate media activity in Central America and Cuba. There, she also worked with the Papaya Music label where she co-produced the Papaya Fest, an eclectic large-scale Central American music festival. She is working on her thesis on alternative film distribution as it is conceived in Latin America and in the US.
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It's (not) the end of TV as we know it: Understanding Online Television and its Audience
By: Sheila Seles
The relationship between "television" and the audience is shifting. The network capabilities of the online space necessitate changes in distribution, measurement, and our understanding of the audience, but they do not require a complete overhaul of broadcast logics. Instead, to understand success in the contemporary television space, we must explore the continuums created as the broadcast space converges with the online space.
Though people are watching more TV content online, most people still watch TV on a TV set. In fact, TV viewership is increasing across the board on all platforms. Online video isn't replacing the TV set; it's both supplementing and complementing it. Content is no longer tied to a network schedule in the online space, so viewers can use online platforms in conjunction with their offline viewing to catch episodes they missed, re-watch episodes, or discover new series. Further, online distribution capabilities have opened new possibilities to engage audiences through programming. Programming in the broadcast- dominated era functioned on a model of scarcity - programs ran once, in real-time with a possibility for reruns or syndication months or even years after the first airing. Online television and video on- demand services function on a model of plenitude - many episodes of television shows can be available for viewers to watch at their leisure. The online space is inherently different from the broadcast space specifically because of its potential for plentitude. This paper will examine a variety of platforms to reveal how platforms are leveraging plentitude to attract viewers. It will also evaluate platforms that attempt to replicate the broadcast model's logic of scarcity in the online space.
Just as our understanding of distribution has expanded to include both broadcast and online spaces, the concept of audience must expand to include audience behavior offline and online. It is important to realize that these are not two separate audiences. Viewers move between online and offline platforms. As television content expands into transmedia spaces, the audience also expands to include more than just television viewers. People become audiences when they watch a show, but they also become audience when they visit the show's website, read a recap of the show, comment about the show on an online forum, or post a clip of the show to Facebook. This paper will explore the ways people engage with content online and offline to propose several genres of audiences: event audiences, social audiences, subcultural audiences, incidental audiences, and reconnaissance audiences. Each of these audience categories interacts with content in different ways and for different purposes, but they all function both online and offline. Audience types are not exclusive, either. Viewers can move fluidly between audience genres as their interaction with content changes. Once we understand how these audiences function, we can develop mindsets for appealing to them.
Measuring audiences has also become more complicated precisely because audiences engage with content in a variety of way across a variety of platforms. Accordingly, the practices of measuring and valuing audiences has to change to accommodate the affordances of online television. The ratings structure still works in offline television - at least as well as it ever did - but the online space requires a different mindset. Offline ratings are based on a finite audience: programs and networks compete for a limited number of viewers. We can see this in the concept of ratings share: the percentage of televisions in use tuned to a particular program constitutes that program's "share" of the television audience. Online, that logic doesn't make sense. Because online content is plentiful and freed from the network schedule, viewers can watch any time they want. There are immeasurable numbers of potential viewers for online content at any given time, so it makes sense to measure who is actually watching rather than what percentage of a finite audience is watching. This proposition becomes more complicated when we factor in the way advertising works in the online space. Online measurement has capability to measure not only "impressions" (how many people see an ad) but it can also measure how people interact and respond to the ad. Further, ads can be better targeted to viewers online given their viewing habits and profiles. Thus, the online audiences arenâ€™t necessarily more or less valuable than offline audiences, but the online audience represents a range of practices that need to be measured and valued accordingly.
Television scholars have called the current television environment "post-network." The term itself can be confusing out of context: "post- network" does not mean that the network model no longer exists, nor does it mean that the logics that govern the network-dominated era have become obsolete. Instead, "post-network" means that though broadcast television may still be the dominant way people view content, it is no longer the only they can view content. This paper will use the term "post-network" to historically situate the layering of the different distribution, audience, and measurement practices that typify the convergence of offline and online television. By exploring the structural changes in distribution, audience, and measurement necessitated by post-network era, this paper will articulate how existing mindsets can complement the expanding opportunities of the online space.
Sheila Seles is a first year CMS graduate student. She received a BA in American Civilization and Theatre from Middlebury College where she studied television and popular culture under Jason Mittell and completed a senior thesis project centered on the American television industry's relationship to the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. Before coming to MIT, Seles did an internship with the writers of The Shield in Los Angeles, getting a first hand glimpse of television production. Seles's current research interests are focused on commercial non-broadcast television distribution.