February 12, 2010

Editor's Note

The past few weeks have been fairly uneventful in Cambridge (the total accumulation of white powder from our declared Snow Emergency this week equalled no more than 1 inch). However, the news from the entertainment and technology front have been pretty exciting, with Apple's iPad announcement, Google's venture into multiple new realms (eg., the Facebook-update-esque "Google Buzz"), and of course the Super Bowl with its many creative advertisements.

In this issue of the C3 Newsletter, C3 Consulting Researcher Abigail De Kosnik previews her research on the application of piracy practices to online television.

William Uricchio also shares some excerpts from his recent publication on YouTube's relationship to television.

As always, feel free to peruse our Convergence Culture News section, as well as our numerous new articles written by the C3 team, listed in Glancing at the C3 Blog.

This issue of the C3 Newsletter was edited by Alex Leavitt. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send an email to


In This Issue

Editor's Note

Research Memo Abstract
Piracy is the Future of Television
Abigail De Kosnik

Glancing at the C3 Blog

Convergence Culture News

Research Insights
Excerpts from The Future of the Medium Once Known as Television? (Part I)
William Uricchio

Spring 2010 Colloquium

The CMS colloquium series provides an intimate and informal exchange between a visiting speaker and CMS faculty, students, visiting scholars and friends. Each week during the term, we host a figure from academia, industry, or the art world to speak about their work and its relation to our studies. These sessions are free, open to the public, and serve as an excellent introduction to our program. We also record these and broadcast them to the world-at-large via our podcast.

Research Memo Abstract

Piracy is the Future of Television

By: Abigail De Kosnik

Why do consumers pirate television shows? Rather than watching TV productions via legitimate media, such as broadcast/cable television (including on-demand viewing), authorized websites (Hulu, iTunes, and proprietary network sites), and purchased or rented DVD or Blu-Ray disks, millions of Internet users use peer-to-peer protocols to illegally download episodes. A common misconception is that digital pirates are motivated by economic reasons; pirated copies of media are free, while cable television subscriptions, iTunes purchases, and disks cost money. However, pirates also prefer file-sharing to Hulu, network websites, and other free legal options.

This paper will argue that online piracy is the preferred means of acquiring television for large numbers of people not because it is free, but because it is the best means currently available of consuming TV.
If studios hope to combat piracy by striking deals with Internet portals that offer television content online legally, then they will have to create business and distribution models that incorporate TV pirates' best practices. These include:

  • A persistent television archive. The frustration of fans who miss one or more episodes of a TV show's season, the enduring affection for the television programs of one's youth, and TV-philes' interest in discovering older, "classic" or "lost" series, mean that there is always a demand for non-current TV content. Pirates operating over a distributed network have successfully "kept alive" TV torrents that would have been otherwise long dead, and in doing so, have proven that large segments of the television audience desire TV to be less ephemeral.
  • The facilitation of high resolution, easily stored, portable personal television archives. TV programming proved to be highly popular as an object of collection as soon as the means for home recording (VCRs and DVRs) became available to consumers. Viewers enjoy archiving their favorite shows so that they can review episodes at their leisure, months or years after the original airings. Hulu and other streaming sites do not allow shows to be collected and permanently archived by the home user; YouTube videos are typically low-resolution; iTunes downloads can only be stored on one machine (and its assigned mobile devices), and are not transferable files; DVRs have a maximum storage capacity; disks are subject to breakage and require shelf space. Online pirates have overcome all of these limitations on personal television archiving.
  • Access to global content. It is well known that English-speaking countries outside the U.S. are host to a significant number of TV pirates, who, annoyed by the delay of U.S. programs' export (a delay mandated by the economics of global syndication), download U.S. shows immediately after their broadcasts. However, piracy of foreign television programs is multidirectional: U.S. pirates consume a great deal of international content, either because shows produced in Britain, Japan, India and so on are difficult to obtain legally outside their countries of origin, or because they are members of a diaspora that stays connected with their home country and culture through viewing that nation's TV series. Piracy has created a "television without borders."

Many business challenges will arise if and when the media industries decide to incorporate some of the advantages of online television piracy into legitimate distribution models. This paper will not attempt to solve all of these issues (though it will propose some possible resolutions), but it will argue that industry cannot ignore the model constructed by pirates forever. Internet piracy has given rise to a form of television consumption so superior to existing legal forms that industry must, sooner or later, consider launching premium online TV services -- perhaps charging premium prices for them -- based on the discoveries and innovations of pirates.

Abigail De Kosnik is Assistant Professor at Berkeley Center for New Media and Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies, University of California, Berkeley. She has two books forthcoming: The Survival of Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era (essay collection, co-edited with Sam Ford and C. Lee Harrington) from the University Press of Mississippi and Illegitimate Media: Minority Discourse and the Censorship of Digital Remix Culture from the University of Georgia Press. She testified in May 2009 before the U.S. Copyright Office at their hearings regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in favor of an exemption to the DMCA's ban on the circumvention of digital copyright technologies that would allow non-Film Studies college professors to rip DVDs for the purpose of screening clips of film and television in their courses. She is organizing a conference (currently scheduled for February 2010) on Open Source and the Humanities, sponsored by the Berkeley Center for New Media. She can be reached at

Glancing at the C3 Blog

3 Lessons Conan, Leno, and NBC Taught Me
(Sheila Seles)

Why Apple Hasn't Revolutionized TV (Yet)
(Sheila Seles)

Streaming Sports: Superbowls, Olympics, and Online Video
(Alex Leavitt)

Modern Love: what Google's Superbowl ad teaches us about understanding culture
(Xiaochang Li)


Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World
(Alex Leavitt)

The Appeal to Consumer Audiences: Apple's iPad as Shift Toward Entertainment
(Alex Leavitt)

Say iWant a Revolution: Two Ways for Apple to Crack the Small Screen
(Sheila Seles)

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

Convergence Culture News

Transmedia Narratives, a slideshow deck by Leo Rayman

Tech-savvy 'iGeneration' kids multi-task, connect: Move over, Millennials. You're not the younger generation anymore. [A]s the eldest among you are fast approaching 30, there's a new group just begging for some attention.

The Transmedia Design Challenge: Technology that is Pleasurable and Satisfying, a report by Donald A. Norman

Navigating Online Communites: a basic primer (part 2/2), a blog post by Xiaochang Li

Hukilau Proposes a New Way to Produce Entertainment: Hukilau will offer services to film, video and Alternate Reality Game projects for crowdsource funding and staffing, matching funds, distribution and marketing services for aspiring and established creators and producers alike.... Hukilau is a response to the current and future predicaments facing medium to low budget film.

Super Bowl 2010 Ratings: 106 Million Watch, Top-Rated Telecast EVER, via The Huffington Post

Christy Dena's "Filmmakers That Think Outside the Film", a review by Siobhan O'Flynn

Research Insights

Excerpts from The Future of the Medium Once Known as Television? (Part I)

in Pelle Snikkars and Patrick Vonderau, ed., The YouTube Reader (London: Wallflower Press, 2009): 24-39

By: William Uricchio

The Case for Television

“We Won a Peabody! (No Joke)” read the headline on YouTube’s April 1, 2009 blog. But even had the date been different, YouTube might have been genuinely surprised to be included within the domain of the Peabody Award, which has until now focused on broadcast and cable television and radio. In making its selection, Peabody’s award committee noted that YouTube’s Speaker’s Corner, a “video-sharing Web site … where Internet users can upload, view and share clips, is an ever-expanding archive-cum-bulletin board that both embodies and promotes democracy.” The worthy cause of promoting democracy, however, neither masks Peabody’s struggles with television as a shifting set of technologies and practices (and therefore its own shifting institutional relevance) any more than it does YouTube’s relevance for the television medium’s future. Peabody may be expanding their remit, moving beyond television and radio in much the same way that Nielsen expanded their audience metrics service to include the Web, or they may finally be accepting some of YouTube’s own rhetorical positioning. Consider the discursive resonance of the ‘Tube’ in YouTube, the trademarked claim to ‘broadcast yourself’, the structuring of content into ‘channels’ and a core business that turns on the distribution of videos.

YouTube is not alone in thinking about television in terms flexible enough to include the Internet. The major American broadcasting and cable television networks all have their own on-line operations, in many cases positioned under the umbrella of their trans-media parent companies. CBS Interactive, Fox Interactive Media, Turner (CNN, TNT, TBS, Cartoon Network), and Viacom Digital (MTV, BET, Paramount), plus industry-backed portals such as Hulu (NBC Universal and News Corp.), offer a spectrum of services from providing scheduling information, to channeling fan activities, to providing various levels of access to television shows, films, and music. Other portals such as Joost provide an international assortment of television, film and music, and sites such as Mysoju take a more nation- and genre-specific approach, offering access to unlicensed Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese soaps. Although the interfaces and services provided by these various sites differ widely, two things stand out. First, the online presence of television content has been normalized and is growing steadily; second, virtually all mainstream American television programs have been spoken for by their parent companies, and at a moment of aggressive intellectual property protection, this leaves very little for outside players such as YouTube and Joost.

And yet, according to comScore Video Metrix, more than two out of every three Internet users who watched video used YouTube. During the month of January 2009, 100.9 million viewers watched 6.3 billion videos on (62.6 videos per viewer) for a 43 per cent market share. Fox Interactive Media ranked a distant second in terms of videos viewed, with 552 million videos (3.7 per cent), followed Viacom Digital with 288 million (1.9 per cent) with around 50 million and 22 million unique visitors for the month respectively. Viewed more globally, nearly 77 per cent of the total US Internet audience watched online video for an average of six hours. And although average online video duration is getting longer – from 3.2 minutes in December to 3.5 minutes in January – Megavideo, a portal whose motto is, “Your content, your money. We just charge a little fee for bandwidth and coffee”, has an average video duration of 24.9 minutes, and is growing quickly. As of January 2009, Megavideo entered the ranks of the top 10 most viewed sites with 15 per cent growth over the previous month.

These data from the start of 2009 can be interpreted in several ways. On one hand, they point to a mismatch between viewer activity and the sites of traditional television content that is easy to dismiss as a sign that television audiences are doing their viewing the old fashioned way – on television (or the new-fashioned way, through their DVRs), not on YouTube. And indeed, coincident with these Internet metrics, Nielson announced “TV Viewing Hits All-time High” (Nielsen’s numbers include broadcast, cable, DVR time shifts, mobile and Internet). The average American now watches more than 151 hours of television per month. On the other hand, we can also interpret these and other data as showing steady growth of the Internet market, steady growth of the numbers of videos viewed online, and steady growth in the length of those videos. In this regard, it is also interesting to note that cell phone video use has been growing, particularly in the 12-17 year old market where usage is nearly double that of any other age cohort (and where short form, ‘casual’ viewing is the norm). YouTube’s enormous advantage over the nearest television company Internet site may speak to an interest in elements that the competition is not providing – elements, I will argue, that are central to the future of the television medium.

If the networks are largely monopolizing their own television content, then what kind of television is on YouTube? YouTube of course has licensing deals with CBS, BBC, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, Warner Music Group, and many others, but its content skews towards music from its American partners, as can be seen from the corporate subdivisions that do the actual partnering. CBS, for example, allows access to promotional television material (interviews, previews, program headers), ephemeral material (logos, advertisements), and some historical shows, news and local affiliate coverage. YouTube has responded to the constraints in the entertainment sector by launching what it calls ‘short-form content’: clips of popular prime-time shows like Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, celebrity interviews, online-only specials. Considering these constraints, YouTube would not be a destination for the viewer seeking standard television fare or formats. But for the trans-brand or trans-network fan, the synoptic viewer, and the growing cohort of young cell-phone viewers, it is fast providing an array of alternatives from new textual forms, to annotation systems, to community-building strategies, all consistent with its user driven profile.

William Uricchio is C3 Director and Faculty Investigator, as well as Professor & Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, and professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He is also visiting professorship at Stockholm University and the University of Science and Technology in China. His work explores the comparative national constructions of media, trans-national content flows, and the ways that media are drawn upon for identity purposes in European and American cultural settings. His broader research, supported by Guggenheim, Fulbright and Humboldt research awards, considers the 'start-up' phase of media technologies and cultural practices, and their role in (re-) configuring representation, knowledge and publics. His current work takes up these issues by considering collaboration and collective identities in peer-to-peer communities, their relations to cultural citizenship, and their implications for new forms of cultural production. His recent books include Media Cultures (Heidelberg 2006), on responses to media in post 9/11 Germany and the US, and We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identities (Chicago 2008). He is completing a manuscript on the concept of the televisual from the 17th century to the present.

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


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