October 06, 2006


- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Ivan Askwith on Failed Studio 60Blog, Part Two
- Announcement: C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT in Nov.
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Stacy L. Wood Sends Us "Postcards from Orlando"

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.This week'supdate features an opening note from C3graduate student media analyst Ivan Askwith, who concludes last week's look at the failures of the Defakerblog for the new Aaron Sorkin show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on NBC in this second part.

The closing note iswrittenby Stacy L. Wood, one of our C3 faculty affiliates, who shares some of the more interesting academic sites after her recent attendance of a conference for the Association of Consumer Research, particularly focusing on areas of academic publishing on consumer research issues that aim to be widely relevant and readable.

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.

And this week's newsletter also features information about the upcoming Futures of Entertainment Conference here at MIT sponsored by the Convergence Culture Consortium, along with the Comparative Media Studies program, that all faculty and corporate partners are invited to. The meeting is also open to the public, so we would appreciate your passing it along to any interested parties.

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 samford@mit.edu.

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

Online Content Experiments: The Fate of Defaker, Part Two

By: Ivan Askwith

Last week, I described Defaker, a fictional "in-character" gossip blog developed by NBC to help promote this fall's new series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Similar experiments have proven effective in engaging audiences for shows ranging from ABC's Lost, to NBC's The Office, to HBO's Big Love. Defaker, by contrast, was met with a wave of harsh criticism, with some visitors going so far as to insist that they would stop watching the show altogether if the blog didn't either improve, or take itself offline.

So, where did Defaker go wrong?

Well, as one of the most astute commenters pointed out, Defaker "is a laughably bad attempt at viral marketing. Not since the Flinstones rappin' about Fruity Pebbles has a major corporation so completely misunderstood the phenomenon they're trying to cash in on." Despite the apparent assumptions of the show's promoters, a show cannot simply go online and expect fans to be impressed -- it has to offer visitors something new, and create opportunities for engagement that the show alone can't offer.

Many of the posts were proactive, offering clear advice to help improve the project.

One viewer wrote, "if you want to make a fake blog like this, don't just give us a summary of a show we already saw, with lame screen shots right from the show... give us stuff NOT on the show we just got finished watching, and make it worth our while to come back."

Another was even more articulate, pointing out that "this blog isn't giving us any new perspective on the show. It's just rehashing everything we already saw on the show. Take a page from HBO, their blog for Big Love wasn't much to write home about but they posted a blog from one of their character's point of view. It gave some insight on her character which wasn't portrayed in the show. You could do a blog from [a PA's] point of view. Now that would be something worth reading."

So what lessons are we supposed to take away from this?

1) Know who you're developing online content for, and design it accordingly.

In the case of Defaker, NBC failed to recognize that the most likely audience for the blog would be the viewers who were most invested in the show -- and as such, the viewers who would be the most knowledgeable and critical.

2) Online content should add something new to the experience.

Successful online content -- as so many commenters pointed out -- has to offer the audience something new. It's tempting to see this as a hassle, since it requires additional time, effort and thought. Instead, I think we need to understand it as an opportunity: online content gives us the ability to expand and deepen the narrative world depicted on television, which in turn allows viewers to immerse themselves far more completely in the show and the characters. Online content extensions should help transform a show from passive viewing into an immersive experience.

3) Listen to what your audience is telling you.

The comments posted to Defaker, harsh as they were, offered direct, articulate advice that the blog's author(s) could have followed to improve the site. Instead, however, they chose to post a second (and final) entry, which included this tragically misguided response:

"To my detractors... who think that this is 'viral marketing bull' for NBS, viral marketing (I just looked up what this means on Wikipedia!) only works if people with nothing better to do jabber on about the thing in question, so apparently, the more you talk, the more I grow stronger.... insert evil laughter here."

...which leads us to a fourth important lesson...

4) Don't ever insult your audience or try to tell them they're wrong.

The response posted above simply blows my mind: the writer is not only dismissing the (admittedly harsh) criticism from the site's visitors, but insinuating that the show's most invested viewers have "nothing better to do [than] jabber" about the show. This response all but dares the viewer to stop watching the show. If someone didn't lose their job for posting this, I'd be surprised; in any event, the blog was taken offline the day after this entry was posted.


One final detail worth noting: while Defaker illustrates precisely what not to do when developing online television extensions, Studio 60 has had more success with a second blog, launched at the same time.

On this "official" non-fiction behind-the-scenes blog, writer-director duo Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme have been posting interesting (if short) responses to viewer-submitted questions, as well as occasional entries hinting at their own thoughts on the evolution of the show. Eschewing the half-baked gimmick of Defaker, the official Studio 60 blog re-affirms that the best online offerings don't need to be clever; they simply need to add something new, and help transform television watching into an engaging experience.

Ivan Askwith is a media analyst with the Convergence Culture Consortium and a graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. His research areas include television and alternate reality gaming. He has published for Salon and was a researcher for Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You.

---------- ANNOUNCEMENTS ----------

C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT Nov. 17 and 18

The Comparative Media Studies Program is proud to announce an exciting forthcoming conference, The Futures of Entertainment, to be held at MIT on Nov. 17 and 18. The event is designed to bring together leading thinkers from across the entertainment industry to speak about core issues around media convergence, transmedia storytelling, user-generated content, and participatory culture. Speakers confirmed so far include The Long Tail's Chris Anderson, Flickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comic's Paul Levitz, Warner Brother's Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell, and many others, including representatives from MTV, Cartoon Network, Bioware, and other leading companies in this space. The event is free and open to the public but we ask that you preregister since seating will be limited. The event is being hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium.

Here's a more detailed description of the themes for the scheduled panels:

Television Futures

New distribution methods, new revenue strategies and changing modes of audience engagement are transforming how television works. Off- and post-broadcast markets make 'old' television valuable as a continuing source of income and suggest new ways to reach viewers. Digital video recorders threaten the 30-second commercial but offer the possibility of more detailed information about audience members. Some television producers may reach out to consumers directly rather than going through the networks and networks are using online distribution to generate buzz about new shows before they reach the air. Creative responses to these challenges are re-writing how we understand what was once just the box in the corner.

User-Generated Content

Media culture is becoming more participatory, rewriting the relations between media producers and consumers. New tools and distribution platforms, a changing cultural ethos, and innovative corporate approaches to user-generated content are turning viewers into active participants. Innovation may occur at the grassroots level yet influence decisions made within corporate media. Yet, are media companies ready for the grassroots creativity they are unleashing? What challenges does greater user-participation pose to both producers and audiences? What corporate policies enable or retard the growth of user-generated content?

Transmedia Properties

The cultural logic of convergence lends itself to a flow of narratives, characters, and worlds across media platforms. Moving beyond older models based on liscensed ancillary products, transmedia extensions are now seen as expanding the opportunities for storytelling, enabling new kinds of entertainment experiences, building up secondary characters or backstory. Transmedia extension may also create alternative openings for different market segments and enable more extensive contact with brands. The great potential of transmediation is to deepen audience engagement, but this requires greater awareness of the specific benefits of working within different platforms. How are media companies organizing the development of transmedia properties? How are storytellers taking advantage of the "expanded canvas" such an approach offers? How do transmedia strategies impact the new integration between brands and entertainment properties? What new expectations do transmedia properties place on consumers?

Fan Cultures

Once seen as marginal or niche consumers, Fan communities look more 'mainstream' than ever before. Some have argued that the practices of web 2.0 are really those of fan culture without the stigma. Courted, encouraged, engaged and acknowledged, fans are more and more frequently being recognized as trendsetters, viral marketers, and grassroots intermediaries. Fan affinity is being seized as a form of grassroots marketing, representing the bleeding edge of brand and property commitment. The sophistication of fan-created products rivals the professional products they honor, sometimes keeping defunct properties alive long after their shelf life might otherwise have expired. How is the increasing importance of fan behavior re-writing the media landscape? What kinds of accountability should media companies have to their most committed consumers? What kinds of value do fans create through their activities? What are the sources of tension that still exist between media producers, advertisers, and fans? Not the Real World Anymore

Virtual spaces are more than sites for emulating the real world. They are becoming platforms for thought experiments -- some of which involve fantasies we would not like to enact in the real world, others involve possibilities that we may want to test market before putting into practice. Much more than simulacra of Real Life or a 3D version of text-based Internet communities, online worlds represent new sites for considering questions of community and connectivity. Marked by user- creativity, online worlds balance, sometimes precariously, the rights of users with the rights of sponsoring organizations. As we move closer to the cyberpunk vision of a wholly parallel 'metaverse', questions of power, community, and property are coming to the fore.

More information is forthcoming but for some provisional information and to register for the event, check out this website. I hope to see many readers of the blog at this event which promises a front line perspective on many of the trends I discuss in the books.

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

ACC Select Brings Sports to Niche Audiences. The online site for the Atlantic Coast Conference college sports division gives fans of sporting events that are often not covered by mainstream media outlets a chance to follow their favorite teams.


Jellyfish an Interesting New Media Business Model. The online retail site only charges stores available on the site when a sale is made, and customers get part of the site's commission.


UHD Further Developing Its Brand. Universal's high-definition channel is trying to develop a brand identity of its own instead of merely being a repository for NBC-Universal television content from other networks.


Interesting Book: The Commodification of Childhood. This study by Daniel Thomas Cook examines the development of children's clothing lines throughout the 20th Century and how positioning children as consumers have changed the conception of childhood in various ways.


From a "Must Culture" to a "Can Culture": Legos and Lead Users. Henry Jenkins writes about GSD&M's Joel Greenberg's Friends Talking podcast, which featured a recent installment looking at the development of the new Lego Mindstorms NXT product.


The Flow Television Poll. Henry Jenkins writes about a ranking of media scholars' favorite television shows from an online zine of academic scholarship on television. At the top of the list? Lost, followed by Arrested Development, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show.


Netflix Embraces the Wisdom of the Crowd. The through-the-mail DVD rental company has developed a million-dollar contest to encourage users and interested parties to improve their system for recommending films to users.


Fox On Demand Service on MySpace. Fox's television network is beginning to further utilize its relationship with MySpace by streaming popular shows on MySpace every week, through the Fox Full Throttle video player.


PureVideo Launches Beta Meta Video Search Engine. The search engine includes Top 10 lists of the most popular videos on various sites, as well as a master video search across the Web.


The Two Publics: Wall Street vs. The Readers. A recent New York Timespiece looks at how the current economic structure of the newspaper industries is starting to work counter to how a paper should be run in the current convergence culture.


India's Growing Soft Power. Parmesh Shahani writes about the development of cultural reach by India through its pop culture and the importance of the tracking soft power for businesses interested in the international reach of media products.


PS3 Region-Free Gaming, Wii Flip-Flopping Generates Discussion. The PS3 console is garnering a lot of attention by not placing regional blocks on games, while Nintendo's new gaming system has released contradictory information that apparently means Wii will have regional lockout.


The Emergence of Citizens' Media. Sam Ford explores a recent MIT Communications Forum event with We the Mediaauthor Dan Gillmor, the Boston Globe's Alex Beam, and the Wisconsin State Journal's Ellen Foley regarding the future of the newspaper industry, in addition to subsequent correspondence with Foley.


FoxFaith Launching First Theater Release with Love's Abiding Joy.The religious division of Fox puts its first film in theaters after having some success in the DVD market, with the adaptation of a popular inspirational fiction novel by Janette Oke.


Guiding Light's Springfield Burns an Interesting Transmedia Storytelling Experiment. The PGP soap opera is promoted with an online gossip site that is worked into the show as well, complete with links to Web sites of restaurants and town points of interest from across the fictional city of the soap opera.


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

Postcards from Orlando

By: Stacy L. Wood

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Association for Consumer Research (in sunny Orlando!) which is generally regarded as the premier international conference for academics who study consumer behavior. It was fantastic! Just imagine hundreds of smart and passionate researchers presenting scores of intriguing findings on a myriad of important consumer topics. Sometime in the middle of day two, it struck me—do marketing practitioners know about this wealth of (FREE) consumer knowledge??

Maybe not. Academics everywhere are often considered a bit removed from real life and business professors are no exception. We study real markets and real consumers but commonly (sadly? strangely?) spend little time trying to disseminate our findings beyond the academic audience. Once published, the work is in the public domain and most of us blindly trust that interested firms, consulting groups, governmental agencies, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. will somehow stumble upon and use our work. Yet, we give our articles obscure titles (for example, a friend’s recent publication is titled “Spoken and Typed Expressions of Repeated Attitudes: Matching Response Modes Leads to Attitude Retrieval versus Construction”), devote most of our discussion to important, but tedious research validation issues, and still wonder why nobody seems that interested.

Recently there have been two initiatives to get cutting-edge academic research to the marketplace. The first is the Marketing Science Institute (www.msi.org ), a nonprofit institution dedicated to building a bridge between academic research and marketing practice. Their approach to dissemination is largely through conferences on hot topics. The other is the website of the Association for Consumer Research which now asks researchers to write practical “executive summaries” of their research. You can check these out at http://www.acrwebsite.org/fop/index.asp?itemID=107. Finally, you can go right to the source and browse the top marketing research journals (Journal of Consumer Research at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JCR/home.html , Journal of Marketing at http://www.marketingpower.com/content1053.php , Journal of Marketing Research at http://www.marketingpower.com/content1054.php , Marketing Science at http://bear.cba.ufl.edu/CENTERS/MKS/ ). At the ACR site, you can also peruse the Orlando conference proceedings. I think the sessions on priming would be especially interesting to this community. But, whatever your interests, you’ll be surprised at the cool insights that are out there for the taking!

Stacy L. Wood is an affiliated faculty member with the Convergence Culture Consortium and the Moore Research Fellow and Association Professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on how consumers react and adapt to change, individuals' processing of new product information, drivers of individual innovativeness, and consumers' emotional reactions to new innovations, media, trends, and rituals.


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


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