June 30, 2006


- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Shenja van der Graaf on fan-generated pop histories
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Aswin Punathambekar on India Outside Bollywood

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. This week's newsletter features pieces by two of our youngest associated faculty members: Shenja van der Graaf, who is currently obtaining her doctorate from the London School of Economics, and Aswin Punathambekar, an MIT Master's graduate currently working toward his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shenja, who spoke on Web 2.0 at our retreat a few months ago, and Aswin, who was scheduled to speak but was unable due to a death in the family, share some of their latest research related to media across the globe. Shenja describes a pop culture wiki for Dutch alternative pop music fans, while Aswin explores Indian media content outside of Bollywood.We also include our weekly update of what has appeared on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.If you have any questions or comments, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, atsamford@mit.edu.

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

Pop Wiki

By: Shenja van der Graaf

The Dutch singer Anouk was too commercial to perform at Dutch music festival Pinkpop in 1998 and therefore two camps came about. During her performance a few eggs were thrown at the artist and one was a direct hit. Anouk responded by taking her shirt off and continuing her session. The audience got wild and screamed ‘tits’, and Anouk responded, “yes, indeed, these are now tits.”

This is just one of the stories that can be found on the website of Dutch broadcaster VPRO who has recently launched a wiki ‘3voor12’ (‘3to12’). The wiki is an attempt to collectively write Dutch alternative pop music history on the basis of experiences and memories contributed by users. According to Erwin Blom, Head Digital at VPRO, “it is not supposed to become an encyclopedia rather a collection of personal stories and anecdotes that otherwise would get lost.”

VPRO wants to employ its users’ knowledge base, because “a large group of readers knows more than a small team of editors. Music fanatics browse many, many websites, they listen to MP3’s of new and upcoming bands and we can give them a platform where their expertise can be made visible, shared and appreciated by many.” (Blom). VPRO is the latest example of a media company that has been looking for ways to incorporate user-generated content by offering toolkits that allow people to produce and publish on a media-firm hosted online community.

In its very early stages the ‘3voor12’ wiki started out with stories about music festivals but soon pages were added about concert halls, music magazines and for forth. For example, one concert hall named ‘Zopo’ - or nicknamed ‘Paradiso of the south’ - in the south of the Netherlands, was very well-known (and notorious) between 1966 and 1992 (!). One user has added plenty of photographs from the 1970s and 1980s. Blom had never really given pictures any thought, on the contrary, he thinks it would be “wrong to have a priori ideas about how the wiki should be developed.”

VPRO has chosen the wiki format, because “wiki’s are less transient in comparison to blogs or forums. Discussions on blogs seem to be short-lived. Contributions to wiki’s seem to last… as such, writing on a wiki is more satisfying, like, ‘my opinion is valued’ or even, a sense of ‘I matter’.”

Looking more closely at a firm-hosted online user community and the relationship between (representatives of) the company and consumers, rich data can be gathered to study how and why individual users communicate and hereby provide a company access to an information pond from where it may gather external information, which is beneficial for continuous service and product development at a relative low cost.

Technology, organizational structure and communication patterns are tightly joined features. The locus of innovation tends today to be located in networks of interactions rather than in distinct activities in an isolated firm. Not to forget the wiki example - networked ICT technologies have emerged providing options for virtual organizing as collaborative networks of people working together, regardless of location, time or who ‘owns’ them. The importance of these informal communication networks for, for instance, the diffusion of technological information has been demonstrated. New types of communities constitute around communication of shared practices and product use offering also opportunities for collective invention to take place. Well-known examples – though only now gaining more in-depth research attention - are open source communities and (games) developer networks. If used strategically by firms, such online user communities may present a solution to the central problem of sourcing crucial external information for service and product development.

A demand-driven innovation strategy informed by various types of communication taking place in user communities has begun to draw systematic attention of economists and other social scientists. It is an exciting illustration of how informational inputs for innovation may arise from a host of sources outside the boundaries of the firm. Like mod communities where inputs for innovation are provided by individuals, and knowledge creation is undertaken by the community users, yet online communities intersecting with a hosting firm populated by individual service and product users have only mildly received particular attention. True, a marketing angle is present in many recent studies however, little work has been done on demand-side activities and business models involving individual service and product users for understanding the management of innovation.

It is therefore my argument that it is conducive for the organization to exploit not only information embodied in user inventions (i.e. product modifications and add-ons) emerging from user communities. The firm reaps important benefits from the communication embedded in the community in terms of low cost access to information provision and search performed by users with respect to discussing problem-finding, idea generation, immersion, problem-solving, and idea validation. For the firm such market information can lead to increased opportunities for gathering inputs for innovation, to be alert to novel tendencies in service and product use, markets, etc. and thus to sustain competitive advantage.

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

Congress Turns Back to Video Game Industry. It's election year, and Congress is back after the video game industry again with the FTC presenting its case. But Jon Stewart was out to expose their political games on The Daily Showthis past week.


The Drive to Digital Video. On the heels of a Madison and Vine article and editorial about the boom in digital video consumption, Sam Ford analyzes the potential affects this growing market could have on transmedia storytelling, product placement, and other issues discussed regularly in C3.


Henry Jenkins Compares Snakes and Fireflies. C3's director compares the fan response to Snakes on a Planewith the grassroots support surrounding Joss Whedon's Firefly, which led to the film Serenity.


NBC and YouTube Deal; The N's WhistlerDebut. NBC will be cross-promoting some of its shows in the fall lineup with YouTube, while MTVN's The N primetime teen network will debut its new show Whistlerin a simulcast both on the network and online.


Google Proposes Plan to Make Mass Media Consumption Personalized. Google's plan involves using the microphone on a computer to stream audio data about what a viewer is watching and then connecting them to others watching the same show at the same time, giving them supplementary information, etc. Will the public be excited about the chance to transform the viewing experience, scared of privacy risks, or a mixture of the two?


Journal of Popular CultureReminds Academics That Theory Is the Means, Not the End. The latest issue of the JPCincludes an editorial emphasizing that pop culture content is what should be studied, not empty theories. It's a message that most non-academics and responsible scholars will likely agree on.


Remembering "The Plain People" Who Abstain from Media Consumption. The Journal of American Culturefeatures a compelling article about the Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren societies who resist many forms of mass media and the reasons why they do so.


Fans React to Rumors of Historical Character Being Killed. Some longtime fans of the soap As the World Turnsare threatening mutiny when rumors began to circulate that a character who was born on the show in 1961 and who has grown up throughout the history of the show may be murdered. Although the rumor only has dubious evidence to back it up, these fans are making their displeasure clear.


Fashion Throughout Western History. A collection of essays from some of the most prominent philosophical minds of the last few centuries focus on fashion, a topic that many academics have long disregarded as trivial. Famous minds from Voltaire to Oscar Wilde weigh in on the fashion of their times.


Company Makes Plans to Measure Media Engagement. OMD is implementing standards to help measure the degree of engagement in media content. This time, the plan is to measure engagement across multiple media forms--including television, print, and the Web.


Henry Jenkins Follow-Up on YouTube. C3's director follows up on an earlier post by considering other views on the YouTube/RIAA battle.


ECW a Success So Far on Sci-Fi. The unlikely pairing of a wrestling show on the Sci-Fi Network has been successful ratings-wise to this point, even as the two fan communities--especially sci-fi fans--remain skeptical.


Henry Jenkins on YouTube vs. RIAA. C3's director looks at the current battles YouTube is having regarding copyright and regulation issues for its user-generated video content.


Alec Austin on The State of Video Game Criticism. One of C3's media analysts look at current debates regarding treating video games as serious works worthy of study and debate.


WeedsShowing High Sales on DVD Pre-Orders, Despite iTunes Availability. The Showtime series appears to have not had their DVD sales diminished by a high number of digital downloads.


Publishing 2.0 Article About the Death of Traditional Ads. Scott Karp claims that grassroots marketing via the Internet appears to be the way of the future and that advertising through the traditional media is out, so networks should start being creative advisors for advertiser-produced content. Sam Ford takes issue with this argument.


--------------- 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.net/weblog/

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

Provincializing Bollywood

By: Aswin Punathambekar

(Or, Why Academics and Media Corporations Need to Look Beyond Bollywood)

A few months back, life in the high-tech city of Bangalore came to a standstill. Within hours of the death of Kannada cinema’s superstar, Dr. Rajkumar, distraught fans went on a rampage. Stoning and setting fire to buses, destroying storefronts, and blocking roads everywhere, large crowds of riotous fans ensured no one in the city ventured out of their homes for nearly two whole days. Sounds a little extreme, doesn’t it (especially considering the accounts of fan activity we’ve grown accustomed to reading here at C3 and CMS)?

Having grown up in south India, immersed in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada language films, I can certainly provide detailed explanations of how stardom and organized fan associations extend well beyond the sphere of cinema and shape mainstream politics (for e.g., in the southern state of Tamilnadu, 5 of 6 chief ministers have been actors or directors in the film industry based in Chennai). What I want to do here instead is unsettle your sense of cinema in India, and invite you think beyond the glamour and globality that Bollywood has come to represent over the past decade. Academics have already mis-read Bollywood’s cultural reach. While more cautious, media corporations also run the risk of ignoring other media capitals in India that are in many ways ahead of Bollywood and are just as global, if not more.

#1: Scale

Let’s begin with a very common misconception, one that equates Bollywood with the Indian Film Industry. It is true that nearly 1000 films are released each year in India, but Bollywood accounts for approximately 200 of them. The Tamil and Telugu film industries (based in Chennai and Hyderabad respectively) produce nearly 500 films a year.

#2: Corporatisation

Not only do the Tamil and Telugu film industries have as long and rich a history (and thus, a terrific library of media properties) as Bollywood, they have also led the way where “corporatisation” is concerned. Venture funding, integration and the establishment of a robust studio system, well orchestrated marketing and promotions teams, corporate tie-ups, and careful monitoring of box office and audience responses have been in place in the Tamil and Telugu film sectors for over a decade now. Further, unlike Bollywood, fan activity is highly organized and stars regularly tap into their fan-base to promote films and involve them in expanding and solidifying their audience base.

#3: Discipline, Cost Control, and Professionalism

The average time frame for completion of a big-budget Tamil/Telugu film is 5-9 months, as opposed to 15-18 months in Bollywood. As several industry reports have noted, it is clear that compared to Bollywood, Tamil and Telugu filmmakers give appropriate importance to script development and pre-production. Also, leading actors and actresses tend to work on a limited number (usually 2-3) of assignments at a time. Further, the large scale of operations of studios in Chennai and Hyderabad has given them the flexibility to spread costs and risks over a much larger portfolio compared to Bollywood studios (where this trend is only now beginning to take shape).

#4: Translocal, not Regional

Tamil and Telugu films tend to be labeled “regional,” as opposed to Bollywood’s “national” and transnational status. It is important to note that the Indian diaspora is anything but homogeneous when it comes to linguistic identity. In countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and South Africa, Tamil and Telugu speaking Indians outnumber those who speak Hindi, the language of Bollywood films. Even in the U.S., where the Indian diaspora is 1.6 million strong, walk into any south Asian grocery store and you are likely to find a large selection of Tamil and Telugu DVDs jostling for space with the latest Bollywood films. In fact, every indicator that academics routinely cite to proclaim Bollywood’s entry into North America – DVDs, music shows, cinema halls screening Indian films, and so on – are in evidence in the case of Tamil and Telugu language films as well.

An example: Ramoji Film City

In the absence of verifiable analyses of the commercial potential of Tamil and Telugu language cinema, media corporations based outside India are unlikely to look beyond Bollywood anytime soon. But it is critical to recognize that cities such as Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad are already connected to the global economy because of their position as high-tech hubs of the IT industry (from call centers to high-end research). And entertainment companies are beginning to link up to this network in an effort to shed their “regional” labels and re-cast themselves as global players. Let me end this piece with a sketch of one such effort.

Ramoji Film City (RFC) is the world’s largest integrated film studio complex and one of Asia’s most popular tourism and recreation centers. As the website www.ramojifilmcity.com promises, RFC is a one-stop facility that “can offer the best of pre-production, production and post-production facilities for any kind of film or television show.” Whether it is a Japanese garden, a Mughal garden, an Arizona desert, or an exact replica of well-known tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal in Agra or the pyramids of Egypt, RFC has it all. Filmmakers are using RFC’s one-stop-shop of outdoor locations and indoor studios to produce hybrid mediascapes that resemble prominent cultural landscapes from all over the world. Since its opening in 1996, six foreign films and over 500 Indian films in languages such as English, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil have been produced at RFC (For instance, in March 2001 the director-actor duo of Sam Firstenberg and Michael Dudikoff produced an American film entitled Quick Sand entirely at RFC). RFC is part of the Ramoji group, a media empire that includes print (Eenadu – India’s largest circulated regional language dailies), satellite television (a 12-channel network serving every major language group in India), and a film distribution unit.

It is only a matter of time before RFC expands its interests and begins exploiting new media to deliver digital-quality “regional” cinema to viewers around the world. In other words, media centers like RFC are giving shape to a new transnational economy of film production and circulation as so-called “regional” cinema seeks newer markets around the world. Those with interests in India can either sit it out and watch this unfold, or choose to explore a world beyond Bollywood.


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


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