June 2, 2006


- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Joshua Green on "Television By the People, For the People."
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Beth Coleman's "Media on Media Roundup"

--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. We encourage you to send any comments or questions you have on the pieces by Joshua Green and Beth Coleman to me for future inclusion in newsletters so we can create the newsletter as a discussion place among our C3 team, both corporate, faculty and graduate student members. Also, be sure to check out and even participate in our weekly blog, as many of you are already doing. If you have any questions or comments, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at samford@mit.edu.

--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------

Television by the People, For the People
By: Joshua Green

“The Lego School of Dramatic Arts is not too far away”. So began Michael Kanellos’ discussion of the deal signed by TiVo to deliver online content to viewers at home. From specialist content produced by narrow focussed sites such as Farmer’s Almanac TV, short independent films and informational spots produced for Kraft and Ford, Kanellos’ reports TiVo is moving swiftly towards a status as content provider. Or perhaps content aggregator is a better term. Noting that E! Networks have signed a deal to include content from YouTube in some programs, Kanellos’ imagines a future featuring ‘a whole network dedicated to classic films remade with Lego people, plastic dinosaurs and household appliances. You’d never leave home’. While I’m not sure about the particularly compelling nature of Lego remakes of classic films, though there is some charm in Spite Your Face’s Lego flick Spiderman: The Peril of Doc-Ock, the TiVo deal offers a good opportunity to consider the possible futures for both user-created content and the symbiotic relationship between television and the internet.

Neither video on the internet nor user-created content on television are anything new. Long before the rise of sites such as YouTube, Google Video, Metacafe and Break.com, videos of Ghyslain Raza, the ‘Star Wars Kid’, demonstrated the capacity of the internet as a medium for the rapid circulation of high demand user-created video (though there is a darker element of harassment surrounding the Raza video – see Stonehouse 2003). So too, Bob Saget brought user-created content into the home in 1989 with the America’s Funniest Home Videos, based loosely on the Japanese program Fun TV with Kato-chan and Ken-chan. So too, Fox proved the value of home videos which it included in a spate of 1990s World’s Worst/Most Extreme/Most Shocking Moments: Caught On Tape.

The launch of dedicated video hosting sites like YouTube and Google Video have facilitated a veritable explosion of user-creativity, by providing citizen-consumers with an easy way to make video content available online. Suddenly, two guys lip syncing to Backstreet Boys songs, parkour practioneers or fans wanting to get in on the numa numa craze, don’t have to wait for their exploits to be judged America’s Funniest to broadcast them to the masses. As YouTube’s motto proclaims – Broadcast Yourself. And sometimes you can get paid. Break.com offers cash to acquire the rights to content and while not the norm, stories like that of David Lehre, who’s MySpace: The Movie parody got him a hearing with Hollywood, are not complete fantasy (Lee 2006). It is this user freedom to publish their content that has some commentators labelling video sharing sites an alternative to television (Termen 2006; Quinn 2006).

Network response to these video sites has been mixed. Both NBC and C-SPAN have requested content posted but not created by users to be removed on the grounds of copyright. NBC earned itself some infamy by later reposting the content on its own site, while C-SPAN caused confusion by reposting the content on Google Video. ‘Official’ relationships have been quick to develop, with Google Video launching with an official ‘Featured’ section that includes college basketball, Survivor episodes and movie trailers. MTV2 has become an ‘official partner’ of YouTube, offering clips of content to promote upcoming DVD releases (The Andy Milonakis Show), advertising the return of content with teaser clips (Wonder Showzen, Celebrity Deathmatch) and promoting debuting programming (Chico & Guapo).

All of which makes the TiVo deal that bit more interesting. At the moment the deal seems to include principally infomercial material produced by big corporates (Kraft and Ford) and professionally produced content such as that provided by Farmer’s Almanac. The TiVo on demand infomercial service is touted as a solution to users skipping ads with DVRs by putting users in charge of scheduling. However, the deal does potentially offer to invert the traditional relationship between the two mediums. Were TiVo to sign with a provider such as YouTube or Google Video, then access to user-created content in the home may not inconceivable. And neither is a station filled with home movies, user-created fan films and viral videos, especially if subscribers could pull content from YouTube, or get TiVo to connect with the tagging system YouTube implements. With tailored stations, targeted advertising could be ported along with the content, perhaps in the form of a pre–roll.

More than the promise of targeted advertising, however, providing viewers with the choice to write as well read promises greater engagement between viewers and the medium. While there may be a limit to the extent to which a ‘network’ could be sustained built on videos of BMX accidents or startled kittens, offering users the option to create content can be beneficial for brands, as Grant McCraken’s discussion of the Chevy Tahoe venture in the May 5 newsletter outlined. And YouTube and Google Video offer a glimpse of the potential activity and audience interest in user-creation.

Lee, Ellen (2006) ‘Online video sites blend the bizarre with the mundane to reshape visual entertainment’, San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, San Francisco: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/03/23/MNGSDHSPK71.DTL

Lombardi, Candace (2006) ‘TiVo launches on-demand commercial content’, CNET News.com, May 8: http://news.com.com/TiVo+launches+on-demand+commercial+content/2100-1024_3-6069753.html?tag=nl

Kanellos, Michael (2006) ‘TiVo and do-it-yourself television’, CNET News.com, May 15: http://news.com.com/TiVo+and+do-it-yourself+television/2010-1026_3-6070955.html

Quinn, Michelle (2006) ‘The new must-see on your PC: YouTube’, The Mercury News, May 30, San Jose: http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/14697348.htm

Spiderman: The Peril of Doc-Ock: http://www.spiteyourface.com/download.php

Stonehouse, David (2003) ‘Price of glory’, Sydney Morning Herald, July 12, Sydney: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/07/11/1057783344140.html

Termen, Amanda (2006) ‘Is the Web the new Hollywood?’, CNET News.com, May 3: http://news.com.com/Is+the+Web+the+new+Hollywood/2100-1025_3-6068218.html

Dr Joshua Green is a Research Associate at the ARC Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology. He will be coming to C3 in the Fall.

----------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------

Fenway Park and Fan Tourism. A new essay in The Journal of Popular Culturelooks at Fenway Park as a public symbol. Sam Ford looks at the part in terms of the narrative of the Red Sox and the concept of the "experience economy."

Convergence Brings Old Companies to New Media, Reverse Effect. In the past week, multiple shifts in the entertainment industry, such as MTV Networks' URGE product, Google's addition of video ads online, and ABC's success with streaming online, have shown how quickly industries are adapting. Further, the plan for Gold Rushis a starting map for a transmedia television experience that directly involves the viewer in competition.

Product Placement vs. Product Integration. The Writers Guild of America East are demanding the regulation of integration and make a distinction between product placement and product integration, the one being natural and the other forced.

ABC and NBC Expand Transmedia News. ABC will be offering content from the BBC online, while NBC is mining its news archives to provide content for iTunes.

Album Review Leads to Fascinating Debate about Fan Sites. A review of a fan site for Cunninlynguists' A Piece of Strangeleads to an engaging conversation between the reviewer, the creator of the fan site, and an artist from the group itself.

Turner Classic Movies Reaching Out to Younger Audiences. TCM brings on Rob Zombie to host a new cult movie feature in hopes of bringing in younger viewers to watch its classics.

Major Media Conglomerates Sue Cablevision Over DVRs. Many industry leaders are suing Cablevision for their proposed DVR service that would allow viewers to record shows and save them on the company's servers instead of a device in the customer's home.

Gay Storyline Bringing In New "Surplus" Audience. As the World Turns' story about the coming out of teenager Luke Snyder has brought attention of the show to online gay discussion groups and may potentially draw in this audience outside the 18-49 female target demographic.

--------------- FOLLOW THE BLOG ---------------

Don't forget - you can always post, read, and carry out online conversations with the C3 team at our blog: http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/

--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------

Media on Media Round-Up
By: Beth Coleman

Change is hard, but advice seems pretty cheap

Success of a device or service is not decided upon engineering prowess but rather the conditions of adoption. This is the conclusion of dotcom repenter Pip Coburn, whose new book The Change Function <<http://coburnventures.com>> is vetted by MIT Technology Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin (May/June). During the heady days of Web 1.0 venture capital, Coburn was the managing director of the UBS Investment Research technology group, i.e. he was a New Economy don. When that bubble burst, Coburn had some accounting to do. As Pontin points out, in a world of a strongly “corrected” technology industry ratings and the shift in focus with Web 2.0, The Change Function expresses two strong revisions of Coburn’s world view.

First, as with the laws of physics, the ebullience of the ‘90s-style Being Digital is now matched with an equal and opposite dose of caution. In effect, change is hard and that is why so many smart new tech developments fail. They do not fail because they are bad ideas but because no one wants new ideas.

“The commercial failure rate of nominally great new technologies is troublingly high,” writes Coburn in the introduction to the book. “That failure rate is consistent with the hatred and distrust most normal human beings —which I like to call Earthlings —tend to have of high technology.”

The second Coburn tenant for change in the new New Economy is the primary lesson of Web 2.0: change happens when users dictate it happens. The adoption of technological change is not a pyramid where the masses inherit what the Microsoft says is needed. No, indeed, the new logic is that the “wisdom of crowds” makes the Microsofts kneel to the people’s bidding. It is the new scripture that collective wisdom moves the wheel of progress. To this effect Coburn states:
“Adopting a new technology requires changing the habits of users. The industry acts as if change is easy when it ’s actually quite difficult. Users will change their habits when the pain of their current situation is greater than their perceived pain of adopting a possible solution.”

Pontin, who was editor-in-chief of Red Herring at the time of the Internet boom, leaves his review of Coburn’s book to the categories of apologia (defense of past actions) and mea culpa (my bad, I’ve got a new perspective now). In essence, what we are looking at in our C3 research is a third and more complex category. To wit, what is the analysis of ecosystem in which one finds the most productive system? Like beauty, productive in this case is often defined in the eye of the beholder. As opposed to a simple reversal of terms, what we are looking at is the symbiotic relationship between traditional makers and new users. Yes, we are experiencing a course correction in industries that are trying to work out what participatory culture might mean for them. But the flip side of this sea change is that users in many cases such as machinima, game mods, social networks are “modding” existing engines…not creating them from zero. Machinima is clear example, as it is made explicitly from existent architecture. But the same logic applies, with a bit of modulation, to social networks like Facebook, etc. The super structure for meta-data has to be designed for the users to demand what they want. The brand still works, just differently.

As Grant McCracken writes in his May 24 “This Blog Sits At The…” entry, “As we seek to give brands newly robust and dynamic meanings, I think we will be obliged to resort to new meaning management strategies that are not at first true to marketing orthodoxy. Ah, but that's one of the reasons marketing has become so newly interesting and difficult. I think.”

T-Pain, ringtones and the idea of modding

We are now in the period of growing pains when the Alien Vs. Predator contest between media models has commenced. It will be protracted and ugly. Let’s call it for the sake of brevity Microsoft vs. Google. Following the Change Function theorem, the new commodity is not what comes in a box (PC paradigm) but the UbiCom standard of portable, all-access computing that is on the ascendant. It’s the network (and your data) that matter, as the new Verizon national campaign declares. Forget proprietary software. Forget dedicated hardware. It’s the services and the community that matter, not the “stuff,” which is transitory in importance and finite it value. But let’s star with ringtones.

Miami rap star T-Pain is this month’s download king for the ringtone version of “I’m N LUv (wit a Stripper),” which can conveniently be purchased from Jamster on the Monthly Value Plan of $5.99. In Make (Volume 6), Editor Dale Dougherty writes about why this might suck. Or at least what the limits are in regard to 1) truth in advertising and 2) the idea of personalization. At a recent Web 2.0 conference Dougherty attended, the truism was reiterated to him that teenagers of this generation never pay for music…but they do pay premium rates for personalized ring tones. To the tune of $50 a month depending on the habit. The more friends a teen has the more “personalized” tones he will need on the phone to represent his social network. It is the audio equivalent of how many friends you have on your My Space page. The aggressive marketing of ringtones certainly reflects this relatively new U.S. market. Dougherty goes on to lambaste industry trickery in representing offers that appear “free” to teen users, having them sign on, then having mom and dad take care of the embedded cost. (Jamster, who advertises on MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network, is named explicitly as an offender in what looks like false advertising.) But the heart of the matter for Dougherty is the porous boarder between the made and the “modded,” the manufactured and the idea of the personalized. He writes, “Why would anyone pay more for a 30-second ringtone than for a song on iTunes? One answer is that teens see ringtones ads personalizing their phones while music downloads are just pure entertainment. Isn’t this a terribly shoddy view of personalization?” His tone is a bit sanctimonious, but the sentiment is worth investigation. Is 2.0 DIY culture as a popular phenomenon closer to TV dinners than to zines?

Da Vinci Code kaffeeklatsch

In the May 18 issue of The Economist, it was noted that U.S. churches have been giving away tickets to the heretical Da Vinci Code along with Starbucks vouchers “to encourage post-film discussion.” This seems like an excellent cross-branding opportunity for Starbucks. Everyone likes coffee. Perhaps their ‘06 Christmas campaign will dispense with the eggnog lattes and go straight for the jugular: Coffee, the next temptation of Christ. Starbucks had previously run into criticism from church groups and conservatives that there were too many gay authors represented in the pithy sayings printed on their disposable cups. These church-sponsored kaffeeklatsches serendipitously help to dispel the idea that the company is a typical liberal Seattle group. The Economist item goes on to point out that the “churches did roaring business on the back of The Passion of Christ and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” How is it that they missed the resurrection of Jean Grey in the summer-season start hit, X-Men: The Last Stand. Oh, right, she’s a witch…or something that rhymes with that.

WoW adhocracy

In the Wired Rave Issue (06/2006), hot blogger Joi Ito writes about his World of Warcraft obsession and adds to the hue and cry about how the MMORPG is the emergent model for new New Economy success. It’s a mass medium (thus the “massively”), it’s diverse in its participants (thus the new golf without the old golf attitude) and it rocks (‘nuff said). “What we’re experiencing with this game,” Ito states, “is similar to the ‘adhocracy’ of many successful open source software projects. It represents the future of real-time collaborative teams and leadership in an always-on, diversity-intensive, real-time environment. World of Warcraft is a glimpse into our future.” In the same issue Jeff Howe writes about “The Rise of Crowd Sourcing,” arguing that corporations instead of outsourcing are with greater frequency looking to aggregate groups of semi-pros, hobbiest, and micro-time workers to solve problems.

Beth Coleman is one of the principal faculty investigators with the Convergence Culture Consortium and serves as faculty director for C3 on game culture and mobile media initiatives. She is an Assistant Professor of Writing and New Media, in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and Comparative Media Studies at MIT.


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (samford@mit.edu)

You are receiving this update as a member of the MIT C3 Consortium.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send a request to samford@mit.edu.