October 27, 2006


- Editor's Note
- Opening Note: Ian Condry on Hip-Hop in Japan and the Long Tail Theory
- Looking Forward: C3's The Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT in Nov.
- Glancing at the C3 Blog
- Closing Note: Ted Hovet on the Introduction of Podcasting in College Education

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.This week's update features an opening note from one of our faculty advisors at C3, Ian Condry, whose book on hip-hop in Japan is just being released. Condry looks at Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory in relation to his ethnographic work forHip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization.

The closing note is from our newest affiliated faculty member with the Convergence Culture Consortium, Ted Hovet at Western Kentucky University. Ted's piece this week reminds us that the questions that content producers are facing in cross-platform content are some of the same debates being tackled right now in educational settings, with podcasts being introduced to college campuses and bringing new questions of how to do more than just transfer lectures into a podcasting form--which he calls the "comfort phase" of adapting a new technology.

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 a reminder about the upcoming Futures of Entertainment Conference here at MIT.

Also, we are in the process of switching the newsletter distribution style over to a centralized e-mail list for each partner company and a separate one for affiliated faculty. Several of you may have received invitations to accept membership to this e-mail list. If you have received an invitation, please accept it, as we work on transferring the newsletter's distribution to that format.

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 ---------------

Hip-Hop Japan: Extending the Long Tail Globally

By: Ian Condry

In light of C3’s upcoming Future of Entertainment conference November 17-18 at MIT, I thought it might be interesting to consider Chris Anderson’s idea of the “long tail” in a transnational perspective. Case in point: Japanese rap music. This commentary offers some insights related to my newly published bookHip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization(Oct. 2006, Duke University Press,www.dukeupress.edu).

If we live in a world where selling to niche audiences represents an emerging market not be ignored, what can we learn about the meaning of “niche” from the development of hip-hop in Japan? For more than 10 years, I’ve been following closely the Japanese rap scene, including a year and a half of fieldwork 1995-97, and follow-up visits once or twice a year since then. What’s striking about hip-hop in Japan is that for the first decade of Japanese hip-hoppers’ efforts, the style was a seen viewed as likely to be an unprofitable niche forever. The first breakdancers started practicing in Tokyo parks around 1984, but it wasn’t until 1994 that a few million-selling hit singles drew the attention of Japan’s record labels to the local, Japanese-language rap music scene.

What enabled Japanese rappers to hone their styles and develop their skills in a way that shifted hip-hop from an unknown underground niche to a bona-fide mass culture phenomenon influencing fashion, visual art, dance performance, and all genres of music? Put simply, in Japan, the local hip-hoppers pointed to performance spaces—public parks for dancers, nightclubs for DJs and rappers, a mile-long concrete wall in Yokohama for grafitti artists—where a competitive community of people could challenge each other at the same time they built a devoted following of fans.

They use the Japanese word “genba” to describe the places where the scene is made, and this, it seems to me, can help us expand our understanding of a media niche. “Genba” literally means “place where something is actualized” or made real. The history of Japanese hip-hop demonstrates that what makes \the long tail work is not simply reaching diverse niche scenes, but understanding how the creative potential of initially small-scale artist-fan communities can flourish. This is the story I describe in more detail in the book, showing how the paths of cultural globalization develop not only from the push of major corporate giants but through the committed efforts of networked individuals, often beginning as extremely minor scenes, but which sometimes explode in popularity.

One lesson is that extending the long tail into new, overseas markets means not only “finding the niche” but understanding how different kinds of content, different kinds of creative production and consumption, develop from art worlds defined in part by such “genba,” that is, performative or interactive spaces where a scene emerges. It seems to me we can extend some of Chris Anderson’s important insights into the long tail by paying attention to the characteristics of such emergent scenes. In my book, I examine these characteristics in terms of race, language, gender, and the differences between the underground and pop worlds of Japanese hip-hop. Taking the long tail global means recognizing that niches are not just out there to be found, but, more importantly, they are something to be cultivated, particular to the people, the languages and the settings in which the new worlds of media can take root and thrive.

Ian Condry is an associate professor in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department at MIT in addition to being an affiliated faculty member with the Convergence Culture Consortium. His book,Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization, is an ethnographic account of the hip-hop scene in Japan.

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

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

The conference, presented in conjunction with the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, will feature leading scholars and critics in the media industry, as well as industry executives. Speakers includeFlickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comics' Paul Levitz, Warner Brothers' Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell and others, including representatives from MTV Networks, The Cartoon Network, Bioware and other companies that are currently being finalized.

Panels will include: Television Futures, User-Generated Content, Transmedia Properties, Fan Cultures, and Not the Real World Anymore, a look at virtual spaces.

Registration is now closed for the free conference, but we look forward to seeing representatives from each of our partners present next month here at MIT!

For more information on the Futures of Entertainment, go tothis website.

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

Guiding LightFeaturing Marvel Comics Episode. This Wednesday's episode of the soap opera features a standalone episode featuring a storyline in conjunctions with the comic book company with a new super hero in the fictional town of Springfield, a fascinating example of a transmedia storytelling crossover with a new story with the Avengers in a comic book.


Channel One and ABC News Now Promoting Student User-Generated Content. The middle school and high school news provider is partnering with ABC's 24-hour digital news network to solicit content from students and teach them to produce journalistic work of their own using various new media tools.


TBS Wants MySpace Users to Determine Which of Them Is Funny. The social networking site is hosting a new contest for MySpace users to provide their own stand-up humor and for other users to vote on who is the funniest, with the finals appearing on TBS in November, competing for a cash prize and a developmental contract.


Number of Sets Growing Within HD Households, While Income of HD Households Increases. More and more homes with HD sets are interested in purchasing more, one of many interesting insights from a new survey of households regarding the distribution of high-definition technology.


FX Introduces Fancasting. Ivan Askwith writes about the network's use of fancasting to solicit feedback and commentary regarding various programs and what it means for encouraging fan-generated content and criticism.


Warner Music Group Signs Online Distribution Deal. While companies are cracking down on distribution of music videos that violate their copyright, WMG signs a contract for advertising-supported and pay-per-view music video distribution online.


NBC Universal Pulls Out of Commercial Ratings from Nielsen. As the commercial ratings draw more and more controversy and debate, one of the big four that originally requested the ratings have pulled out of using the data, which is now set to be released starting mid-December.


The Fallout of the Mass Exodus of Japanese Content on YouTube. After pressure from Japanese content producers, almost 30,000 videos have been pulled from YouTube for violating copyright, amidst further discussion of how to handle these disputes for the popular video sharing site.


The OCDebuting Online Early on MySpace. The Fox show is available now, in preparation for its network debut on Thursday, among continued debate about the quality of content made available on MySpace and the extent to which Fox can exploit the social networking site for its own direct marketing purposes.


Swarm-Based Collaborative Filmmaking. Stefan Werning writes about the making of A Swarm of Angels, "allegedly the first truly collaborative instance of indie filmmaking and online distribution using the Creative COmmons copyright model, thus encouraging free download and fan 'remixes.'"


The Middle Ground Gets You Cancelled: The Plight of Moderate TV Successes. Using some of the work of Grant McCracken, this piece examines Edward Wyatt's recent New York Timespiece about the cancellation of Smithand the need for instant success on network television.


Weird Al's Gettin' "White and Nerdy." Yankovic is attributing his most successful single and album to new distribution platforms such as YouTube and MySpace, as the views of his new video on YouTube keeps rising as steadily as his sales.


AOL Expanding Content with New Film, TV Digital Distribution Deals. AOL has signed a distribution deal for pay-per-download with Paramount Pictures, as well as a distribution partnership with bluegrass music provider BlueHighways TV.


CBS Ramping Up News Search Features with Answer Deal. CBS has signed a deal with Answers to create a search engine that will help users navigate the site, with a much more dynamic search engine than one would expect for a network news site, and providing new content for Answers.com in return.


--------------- 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 ---------------

Podcasting and the Instructional Imperative

By: Ted Hovet

In a sketch aired on the October 14, 2006, edition of the radio showA Prairie Home Companion, a teen with a cracking voice is confronted by a stern librarian for having his ipod in: “Take off that ipod.This isn’t fun time” (Segment Three, http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2006/10/14/).A bit later, a member of the library board comes in to try to remove the card catalog in favor of a media center, but the librarian uses Canadian martial arts to subdue him and win the day.

Just a few days before this sketch aired, an article in the student newspaper of Western Kentucky University noted a new pilot program at WKU for encouraging the use of podcasting in teaching. It opens by telling its audience (presumably, in this case, faculty): “Don’t judge.Students supporting earbuds and iPods on their campus rounds aren’t necessarily tuning out and relaxing.They may be tuning into their teachers instead” (http://www.wkuherald.com/media/storage/paper603/news/2006/10/12/News/Snazzy.Accessory.Could.Be.Classroom.Necessity-2345922.shtml?norewrite200610191045&sourcedomain=www.wkuherald.com).

These two items respond to the incursion of podcasting into traditional bastions of older technologies—print media and classrooms.As places like libraries and universities confront the spread of a new form of content delivery, a familiar battle is engaged to establish some acceptable role or function of this new form as against those who would reject it out of hand—and even fight to do so.How can a product associated by many with “fun time” or “tuning out” find a place in the halls of learning?The headline of the article in the WKU paper implicitly reveals another conflict: “Snazzy accessory could be classroom necessity.”But how can something possibly retain its status as “snazzy” if it becomes a “classroom necessity”?

These paradoxes have been a recurrent theme in the development of systems of content delivery and what might be called the instructional imperative: the need to find a utilitarian, educational function for a new system associated with fun and entertainment (and perhaps even immorality) that helps to normalize and integrate it into traditional settings.From lecturers standing beside the screen explaining movies in the early twentieth century to the introduction of television to classrooms through Channel One (http://www.channelone.com/static/about/) in the 1990s to current efforts to bring podcasts into the classroom, systems initially identified strictly with entertainment (thus non-utilitarian at best, corrupting at worst) have used various strategies to meet that instructional imperative.

Looking at this imperative as it applies to podcasting a little closer, the shift toward acceptance has already taken place once humor enters into the picture, as in the skit mentioned above, even in the realm of the “traditionalists” (here one might picture the demographics of the audience of “A Prairie Home Companion”—not only an older generation but one well represented by professions centered around books, print media, and education; the same demographic that might cast a judgmental eye on students with earbuds in).After all, if the PHC audience didn’t have some familiarity with ipods and ebooks the sketch would fall flat.In fact “A Prairie Home Companion” (just like the WKU student paper) makes some of its content available on podcasts.The question remains, though, of the shape in which the integration of podcasts (or any new technology) into educational settings (and here one might think of not just universities and libraries but museums, theater, conferences, etc.) will take and how rapidly it will expand.

Attending the initial meeting of the WKU podcast initiative, I found that nearly every example given was one of recording lectures—the most traditional of all classroom technologies—for podcasts.In short, at least here at WKU many of us are at best in the “comfort” phase of acceptance—that is, the phase in which a new format is made more familiar and more comforting by insisting that it is simply a new way to package what we already do: nothing threatening, nothing radical, nothing different.This strikes me as a disservice to both the traditional classroom (as if it is inadequate or uninteresting without some technological “snazziness”) and to a new device whose potential for innovation must be more creatively tapped.

Since that meeting, though, and even during it, other voices have come forward suggesting that rather than repackaging a traditional form of classroom content, the best function for podcasts will be to consider how they might be used to advance student learning in new and innovative ways—especially through hands-on experience with students directly working with the technology rather than just passively using it (in the PHC skit the librarian tells the kid “you are not supposed to sit inert with a lump in your ear!”).Indeed, as many pointed out some of our students will bring with them more expertise with the format than their instructors—though it is also crucial to note that all of our classes still have students who lack experience with or even access to these new forms.

So if we can see in the instructional imperative a pattern of moving from the stage of denial (this entertainment device has no relevance to an educational setting) to fear and suspicion (it’s here! What do we do now??) to humor (as in the radio sketch) to comfort (it really isn’t that different) to innovation, how might we move into that innovation phase faster?Can the sources that promote these products and their users (who would often be students) work earlier and more efficiently with institutions to meet the instructional imperative?Obviously, this must be done with an awareness of some fear (or at least the need for comfort) on the part of potential adopters in positions of authority, but if the bottom line is clearly shown to be student learning (or learning among the general public), then the divide between snazziness and necessity, between “fun time” and creativity might be more successfully and efficiently bridged.

Ted Hovet is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Film Studies at Western Kentucky University. He teaches classes on American studies, film theory, the history of narrative film, and composition and has published on early film exhibition, pedagogy, and film adaptation. His current research focuses on the ways in which various media create "lines of display" that distinguish the content from the context and the introduction of new technologies into educational settings.


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


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