September 15, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Joshua Green on New Concepts for DVR Advertising
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Parmesh Shahani on Cross-Media Content and the Ganpati Festival
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.This week's update features an opening note written by our research manager, Joshua Green, who considers various new models of advertising designed specifically for digital video recorders, in light of the new FX plan to feature ads that are a 30-second static image that makes them unskippable by fast-forwarding through.
The closing note this week is from C3's former research manager and one of the international scholars on our research team, Parmesh Shahani, who looks at how new technologies and cross-media content has drastically changed a 10-day religious festival in India.
As usual, the update also includes links to all the entries from the week from the Convergence Culture Consortium blog. Some of you all are already contributors to the blog or else regular followers and even commenters on the blog. We encourage everyone who is part of the C3 team, including faculty and corporate partners, to engage in this public part of C3's work.
If you have any questions or comments or would like to request prior issues of the update, direct them to Sam Ford, Editor of the Weekly Update, at email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
On Technologically Determined ‘Creative Solutions’
By: Joshua Green
The week just gone saw FX make the interesting announcement they will roll out a 30-second commercial featuring just one static image. The advert, to premiere on September 22, is designed to be visible even when audiences use Digital Video Recorders viewers to skip commercial breaks at high speed. You can skip this ad if you want, but chances are you will still see the image; and if you still see the image, apparently the ‘sales message’ of the ad is retained, which might be true.
Jason Thorp, of Fox International Channels U.K., describes this as a ‘creative response’ to the challenges digital video recorders pose to television advertising . Indeed, it would seem to be a somewhat creative rethinking of how to use the 30-second slot, and some alternative thinking to the predominant responses by advertisers and networks to DVRs. It will be interesting to see if it’s thinking that moves in the most productive direction.
In the grand scheme of responses to the zipping and zapping of DVR viewers, I suspect FXs single frame advertisement falls on the same end of the continuum as Philips’ proposal to build a DVR that technologically prevents ad skipping .In April 2006 it was revealed Philips had patented a device preventing viewers from skipping past advertisements while watching a program recorded on a DVR or changing channels when watching live. Paying a fee directly to the network gave viewers full functionality of their DVR again. Philips’ patent filing acknowledged the likelihood the device could anger audience members, and pointed out in press they created the device with the intention of developing a ‘new paradigm’ for watching on-demand content .
Regardless of what Philips was hoping to develop, the developments by them and FX are diametrically opposed to the predominant attempts to engage viewers in a DVR world, which have revolved around, well, attempting to engage viewers. In a forthcoming C3 white paper, Ivan Askwith discusses the potentials of Alternate Reality Games to make advertising more valuable. Placing clues within real-world advertising, whether specially commissioned or not, wraps the advertising into the narrative of the game and, sometimes by extension, the program. In some ways it is an old strategy, in part building on ‘mention-this-ad-and-get-a-dollar-off’ methods of imbuing advertising with content to make it more than an interruption to your regularly scheduled program. Including commercials as part of ARGs erodes the boundaries between programming and advertising, and the discovery and problem solving these games demand mean viewers may repeatedly view, discuss and analyze advertising content.
But not everything can be a trigger for an ARG, and, as Askwith discusses, not all viewers are likely active participants in such games. NBC headed off in an interesting direction promotingThe Office, creating a series of often absurd ‘public service announcements’ featuring key cast. Mimicking NBC’s own ‘The More You Know’ series, these PSAs seem easily confused with genuine announcements. Featured on the NBC website alongside silent advertising and eventually appearing on YouTube (sans additional adverts), this model of advertising as content would seem to achieve the same ends as embedding obscure clues for an ARG – encouraging viewers to stop, watch, re-watch and share content previously seen as an interruption.
NBC’s strategy is not necessarily new. Reebok’s 2002 and 2004Terry Tate: Office Linebacker campaigns featured fictional linebacker ‘Terrible’ Terry Tate crash-tackling unsuspecting workers breaking office policies. High-concept advertising of this sort makes regular appearances inThe World’s Greatest…style compilations. Annually, such content becomes a national and international cultural event as viewers anticipate the often lavish commercials prepared for Super Bowl Sunday.
Examples such as these bear some consideration because they point to something that seems a little odd with the FX strategy. It doesn’t seem altogether reasonable to suggest all advertising rise to the high-concept level of Super Bowl adverts, nor to suggest every commercial be tied into a transmedia campaign or Alternate Reality Game, as a way for the 30-second slot to survive the mainstreaming of the DVR. However, FX’s single image strategy seems in some ways an attempt to step around the changes to viewing brought about by the DVR.
Like the VCR and the remote before it, the DVR has altered the mode of engagement audiences enjoy with television. The ability to easily program, aggregate and discover content, through online guides, tagging programs and referral systems utilizing algorithms to recognize most viewed genres, the DVR has furthered the divorce of some television from time-sensitivity the VCR began. This is not true for all television, and some genres, events and individual programs demand more immediate attention than others.
It would seem, however, that the principle innovation of the DVR over the VCR and the remote is not the ability to skip advertising, which the bathroom and the kettle facilitated before even the remote. Rather, it would seem the ability to manipulate television programming through things such as aggregation, which allows for both time-shifting and episode-binging, and digitization, that makes easy frame-by-frame analysis and instantaneous replay, is the major contribution the DVR provides to both industry and viewer.
Creating a single image advertisement seems an attempt to create an unskippable ad - if it’s only one image, chances are no matter how fast you skip through it you’re still likely to see it, especially as many DVRs (especially those from TiVo) don’t feature a full 30-second skip function. As such, regardless of a viewer’s intention, they’re going to see the advertised product. Perhaps for those viewers who have a DVR, it won’t pose that much of an issue. The duck-and-weave between advertisers and audiences seems very much a part of the television experience. With this comes a certain cynicism on the part of the viewer that creative strategies such as high-concept advertising and using ads as narrative extensions seem to negotiate. And there are always cups of tea to make.
However, strategies and attempts to create an unskippable ad seem to me to turn a blind-eye to the very changing relationship the DVR facilitates. An alternative that avoids the high-concept strategies outlined above was trialed by KFC in a recent commercial for its Buffalo Snacker Sandwich. Hidden in what appears to be a standard KFC advertisement is a single frame explaining how to receive a free product. Like advertising tied to ARGs, such an advert encourages viewers to both watch through advertising but also to re-view previously screened ads, especially if you find out about the promotion via press or through discussion. Hiding the offer in a single frame requires viewers to parse through the commercial, capitalizing on the abilities of the DVR and engaging viewers in something offering a little more fun than traditionaladvertisements.
It will be interesting how the FX strategy plays out. I’m sure it’s one strategy among many, and it may go unnoticed by viewers. But it would seem to me a less effective way to capitalize on the possibilities the DVR offers.
 Reuters (2006) FX to test new ad to combat DVR viewers, CNET News, 15 September, http://news.com.com/FX+to+test+new+ad+to+combat+DVR+viewers/2100-1024_3-6116143.html?tag=cd.top
 Lombardi, C (2006) Philips device could force TV viewers to watch ads, CNET News, 19 April, http://news.com.com/Philips+device+could+force+TV+viewers+to+watch+ads/2100-1041_3-6062861.html?tag=st.rn
Joshua Green is the new research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate in the creative industries at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.
----------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
NBC Streaming Ad-Supported Shows Through In-House Digital Player. The network will be launching its new NBC Universal Video Player on Oct. 1, playing the first eight episodes of new dramas and the first four episodes of new situation comedies online. The network will also be featuring blogs from creative personnel of every one of its shows through the NBC Web site.
Multiplatform Content: A View from China. C3 Director Henry Jenkins features writing fromMIT graduate student Rena Huang, who responds to Henry's post last week about various new examples of television "going multiplatform" by looking at multiplatform content in her home country.
Apple Announces Wireless Service to View Downloaded Content on TV Sets. The new iTV product, set to cost $300, is supposed to provide an easy-to-use way to port content from the hard drive to the television set.
iPod Branching Further into Casual Gaming. Apple has signed on for a whole slew of popular casual games, such as Tetris and Pac-Man, for download through iTunes for $4.99 per game.
New iPod Announcement--iPod Movies. One of Apple's many big announcements this week focuses on the release of feature films on iTunes, allowing movies to be viewed on video iPods as well as providing a standardized way to legally download films to the computer.
CBS Hires Ashley Hartman as Wireless Hostess. The network hopes to give its wireless content a more cohesive feel by using a familiar face with its wireless offerings.
Astroturf, Humbugs, and Lonely Girls. C3 Director Henry Jenkins analyzes the current LonelyGirl15 phenomenon in relation to Paris Hilton, alternate reality gaming, and "astroturf" as opposed to grassroots.
FX/Sony Pictures Return to Sponsorship Model. The network partnered with Sony last year for the season debut ofNip/Tuckin featuring a few Sony Pictures trailers as the only ads, and the experiment was successful enough that it was used again for this season's premiere.
TiVo's New High-Def Standalone DVR to Record Shows Simultaneously. The company that made DVR time-shifting popular is looking to retain its reputation for innovation by releasing its new product, which retails at about $800, that contains two cutting-edge functions, both in time-shifting HD content and in providing one device that can record two shows while allowing the viewer to watch a third.
9/11 Documentary Streamed Online. CBS decided that, since several affiliates refused to re-broadcast the network's 9/11 documentary, it would stream the film through the CBS Web site for free for those viewers who did not have a chance to watch it on Sept. 10.
NBC/AOL Video Deal Gives Online Sneak Preview of Debuting Shows. Studio 60 on the Sunset Stripwas available throughout the week up until its Monday debut, while 20 Good Yearswill also be made available for a week on AOL starting Oct. 4.
Sprint Begins PPV VOD Service for Mobile Phones. Sprint, which already offers a mobile movie subscription service through mSpot Movies, is now launching a VOD movie platform with several top distributors for prices between $3.99 and $5.99 per film.
WWE Tests High-Definition Waters. Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment has completed their first full show high-definition tests and are beginning the public discussion of conversion to high-definition production for DVD releases and, eventually, for television as well.
New Technology Allows for Time-Sensitive VOD Ads. Paramount Pictures is promotingJackass Number 2on MTV Networks VOD content in Lawrence, Kansas, with the ability to have the ad placed with the product at the time the viewer makes a VOD choice, giving the advertiser autonomy to change the ad's content over time.
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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
God Things and Small Sizes
By: Parmesh Shahani
God is Everywhere
Greetings from Bombay, India. I have come back here right in the middle of the Ganpati (Lord Ganesh) festival fervor – a ten-day spectacle that begins with millions of people in the city bringing statues of the elephant god to their homes and communitypandals(lavishly decorated statue stages, erected on almost every street corner in the city) – and culminates in the immersion of these statues into the ocean, accompanied by street processions, fire crackers, color, and noise, noise and more noise. It is the final day of the event, and I am walking to Chowpatty beach near my home, the biggest immersion site in the city. It's been several years since I've been in India during Ganpati time and one of the changes I notice is that eachpandalI pass is 'sponsored'. The one on the street corner near my house sports banners from Silver House (a local jewelry shop in the adjoining market) as well as ICICI bank and Britannia Tiger biscuits (huge pan-Indian brands). Just then my cellphone beeps; it’s a text message from my cellphone service provider (Hutch) about Ganpati ringtones and wallpapers that I might wish to download. This is again something I hadn't experienced before.
Flashback to one week ago. I am on a 6 am flight to Calcutta, and each TV screen in the Mumbai airport departure lounge is tuned in to Star News (Murdoch's Indian news channel), beaming the early morning Ganpati aarti (ceremonial ritual based on the lighting of oil lamps) live from the city's Siddhi Vinayak temple. I visit the temple website and am quite impressed. They have a live darshan (viewing of the aarti) webcast, online booking of pujas (prayer rituals) and prasad (sweets consumed by devotees after first being offered to the deity) delivery both within India and abroad (via FedEx or other courier services). There are several ways that patrons can make donations to the temple: Union Bank of India, IndusInd Bank, BillDesk, ICICI Bank NRI Services, Remit2India, Itz Cash, Wallet 365… There is also a service to process donations and prasad requests via SMS, or text messaging. The temple has tie-ups with most of the major cellphone companies in the country for SMS alerts of prayers and aartis, downloads of Lord Ganesh wallpapers, ring tones, logos, e-cards, and so on. Siddhivinayak is by no means the only temple to provide such extensive and intensive digital devotion possibilities – different versions of the above model are being adopted by other temples in the country (for eg: Tirumalai in south India). And it's proving to be immensely popular. Siddhivinayak's online darshan, for instance, has 4 million hits per month. In contemporary India, it seems God is not just in the details, but in the detailed choices that one has to access him with.
My mother is surprised that I want to walk all the way to the beach to see the immersion. It's so much better on TV, she urges. And she is probably right – almost every TV channel – local or national, cable or terrestrial (over 500 in the country now, and still counting) is beaming out assorted Ganpati images. Sahara News has a 4 way split screen, – showing live immersion-casts from 4 major immersion points in Maharashtra state (of which Bombay is the capital), other channels have reports from other parts of the country or abroad; there are celebrity pujas, interviews, talk shows, Ganpati teleshopping and Ganpati dance contests… I switch to MTV hoping for some variety, only to see Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan vigorously shaking his hips to the Ganpati song from his forthcoming film – Don, just as my cellphone beeps and offers me the very same music video download for 9 rupees.
I enjoy my walk, feeling the cool monsoon sea breeze on my face. In a few days, the city will become boiling hot once more as the rain season subsides. Several processions pass me by: small handcarts with baby Ganpati statues on them, being guided by 10 or 12 family members, and large trucks, with 50 and 60 foot tall statues surrounded by their giant entourages, security guards and private videographers. Just opposite the large Times of India billboards at Chowpatty beach, (featuring humongous images of Ganpati, what else?) there is a VIP entrance where special guests can view the beach proceedings from a raised platform, and on plush sofas, while sipping on delectable non alcoholic beverages. Alas, I don't have an invitation. Instead, I am squashed and squeezed with the general population (and we're talking hundreds of thousands here) as the crowd inches its way to the beach, and chants of Ganpati Bappa Morya (Lord Ganpati, come back again) fill the air. It is claustrophobic and stinky but there is electricity in the air and beaming smiles all around and I realize that despite my discomfort, I am smiling too.
No, Bombay's devotion for Ganpati has not changed in the few years that I have been away. (It might have even become stronger… and the presence of such a huge mass of people, just two months after terrible bomb blasts have ripped through the city's trains, must surely be read as an act of defiance as well as devotion.) But what has certainly changed is the experience of Ganpati. The array of choices made possible by media in the Bombay of today have enabled a qualitatively different experience of the spirit of Ganpati: a transmedia experience that is more complex, more extensive and more intensive than ever before. Secondly, all these different levels or touch points at which the Ganpati narrative can be experienced by individuals merge in and out of and influence and are influenced by what was essentially conceived as a communal spiritual experience by Indian freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak about a century ago. The experience is thereby transformed into something that more personal, more portable and more pedestrian (in both senses of the term), to borrow language from Mimi Ito. This personalization of the communal is what I find especially exciting, more so in the light of our existing C3 research, where we are studying the reverse phenomenon – the communalization of the personal – through our work on college dorm culture. In both instances, I reckon, we will find that what Grant Mcracken calls multiplicity, is taking place. People are able to experience something personally as well as communally at the same time. It is never a case of either/or; always a case of bothness, or rather, severalness.
Small is Beautiful
Ganpati is the god of wisdom, of intellect and of logical solutions, and I am sure that he is very happy to note how intelligently marketers have adapted to India's fascination with smallness and customized their products and services accordingly. What works in India is the micro, the small, the miniature, the bite sized. Microfinance initiatives (small loans of less than US$ 200 to poor entrepreneurs, mostly women) from larger Indian commercial banks like ICICI are a hit. Consumer goods companies have realized that their biggest market often lies in single serve sachets, priced at between 1 cent to 5 cents, and shampoos, biscuits, tea, or mouth fresheners have all proven to be extremely successful in this format. (Companies like Lever and P& G have quickly capitalized on this). CK Prahlad notes that today, the penetration of shampoo in India is 90% and about 70% of the shampoo sold in the country comes from single serve sachets. Similarly, the cellphone market in India largely operates on a pre-paid model – and this includes everything from monthly access and bill payment to value added services. Indians don't want the burden of regular monthly fees but are very willing to make tiny one off expenditures to try out something new. Some exciting experiments taking place in this space include:
- Ringtone scratch cards in different denominations (Users text message their pin number as well as preferred ringtone code to their cell phone company and the tone is downloaded to their phone)
- Astrology, feng shui, Bible on demand, personality tests, travel planning and other lifestyle services
- Reservation services like cinema ticket booking (where movie selection, ticket purchase as well as cinema theater entry, are all done using the cellphone screen and without any paper ticket involvement); railway ticket booking, etc.
- Creation of cellphone based communities such as book clubs
- 3D wallpapers, games of all kinds, especially based on cricket and Bollywood, videotones, text message tones, full movie trailers and videos, full songs, visual radio… the list is endless.
It may be productive for folks in the US to keep an eye on India's TV 18 group for a workable model of a 21stcentury media company that can successfully navigate the confusing waters of convergence. It's a interesting story – they began as a tiny content production house a little more than a decade ago, ramped up and launched their first cable channel via a joint venture with CNBC, and followed it up with an English news channel CNN-IBN (another JV that brought CNN to India), as well as Hindi news channels (Awaaz and Channel 7). Now they're getting into overdrive by integrating the internet into everything they do – they are the only ones to actually 'get' the spirit of citizen journalism in the country, and constantly integrate these reports within their regular programming. Their existing TV brands are supported by what I consider to be India's best news websites (live video streaming of the main channels, all kinds of interactivity and participation opportunities for viewers – seehttp://www.ibnlive.com/for instance) and these sites all have robust communities present on them. More importantly, they seem to have realized that one cant think of convergence as something you add on top of your existing media efforts, it has to be at the very root of how you conduct your day to day operations. For example: a friend of mine – Rajeev Masand – is the Entertainment editor of CNN-IBN and he also anchors the weekend film review show called 'Now Showing'. He continuously addresses his online community on the show… he checks the bulletin boards regularly and responds to the most interesting comments, both on the web as well as on TV. A lot of the innovations he's launched within the show format have come in as suggestions from the online community.
I'm pretty confident that these guys are going to give current Indian media giants – the Times of India and (Murdoch's) Star group – a pretty good run for their money. Here are some of the their latest moves:
- Launched a new technology site (http://www.tech2.com/ )
- Launched a travel site (http://www.yatra.com/ )
- Acquired edgy internet design company Urban Eye (http://www.urbaneye.com )
- Acquired a cricket site (http://www.cricketnext.com )
- Acquired a comparison shopping website (http://www.compareindia.com/ )
Well, that's it for this note, but I'll be tracking developments like these as well as the larger Indian media scene for C3 over the next year, so feel free to email me with your thoughts, or post them on the blog. It'd be wonderful to make my journey of (re)discovery a many-way dialogue!
The Siddhivinayak temple website ishttp://www.siddhivinayak.org/For coverage about its digital devotion activities, seehttp://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1050804andhttp://www.contentsutra.com/religion-goes-hi-tech-this-festive-season Several references in this note are from theContentsutrablog, which provides an excellent converge of India's media convergence scene. Check it out regularly onhttp://www.contentsutra.com/
An interesting article on satchet marketing can be found athttp://www.trendwatching.com/trends/SACHET_MARKETING.htm Also see 'The Market at the Bottom of the Pyramid' by CK Prahalad. Available online: http://www.whartonsp.com/articles/article.asp?p=389714&seqNum=4&rl=1
C3 thought leader Grant McCracken spoke about multiplicity during his visit to MIT on December 1, 2005. Visit his personal blog to follow his global adventures in meaning-making on http://www.cultureby.com/
I've borrowed the terms 'Personal, Portable, Pedestrian' from cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito's book by the same name. Check out her blog on digital media use in the US and Japan: http://www.itofisher.com/mito/
MIT Comparative Media Studies alum and former C3 research manager Parmesh Shahani has recently relocated to India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (email@example.com)
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