December 1, 2006
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
December 1, 2006
*Opening Note: Henry Jenkins on How Transmedia Storytelling Begat Transmedia Planning, Part II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Jason Mittell Calls for Greater C3 Dialogue in Relation to Discussions of Fair Use
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. As usual, this week's update includes links to all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Some of you have previously contributed to the blog or read and even occasionally comment. We would encourage everyone to follow the blog for daily commentary on current events in the media industry from the C3 team and to become more actively involved in conversation in that space, echoing Jason Mittell's message in this issue. Also, the site now features tools to favorite the blog on Technorati, so be sure to do so if you read on a regular basis.
This week's update features an opening note from Convergence Culture Consortium Director Henry Jenkins, who follows up his piece last week on the background in the idea of transmedia planning when it comes to marketing with this concluding piece.
A Call for Greater Interactivity within C3
The closing note this week is from C3 affiliated faculty member Jason Mittell, who writes about fair use and the need for both industry voices and media educators to come together to discuss this issue, both within C3 and in public. Through his piece, Mittell calls for C3 members to find ways to engage with each other, either through the newsletter or the blog or in some other way through the site. We are currently updating and finalizing a private back-end to the Web site to help facilitate this dialogue and certainly want to help in any way we can to make the blog and the newsletter be better poised as a location for such dialogue.
Profiles for Student Authors Last Week
Also, Kevin Sandler's piece in last week's newsletter featuring the work of his two students in relation to the NBC show Heroes. He has since sent me additional information on the two students who contributed to that piece, which I wanted to pass along to everyone.
Nicole Walther is a Media Arts Senior with a Marketing minor at the University of Arizona and an Equestrian. She grew up in the southwest of Germany and moved to the United States in 2000. Her drive to become involved in film and television was initiated when watching The NeverEnding Story for the first time. After ten years experience in the field of film, music and journalism she decided to work at a Bachelors degree in order to pursue a career in film or television publicity. She currently works on an experiment that tests the human ability of sleeping only four hours a night while going to school, working, interning, walking the dog, training two horses and feeding two big-headed fish at the same time.
Jennifer Cady is a Media Arts senior who likes to spend her time organizing her Bloglines feeds and reading old media print magazines. She hopes to secure an internship next semester in either new media marketing or online editorial, if you know of any good leads, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Christmas, she would like a MacBook.
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 ---------------
How Transmedia Storytelling Begat Transmedia Planning... Part II
By: Henry Jenkins
Last week, Henry Jenkins wrote about how the idea of transmedia that he wrote about in Convergence Culture has evolved into the concept of transmedia planning when it comes to branding. He looked at Grant McCracken's writing about Mr. Clean's backstory, comparing it to a Folgers Coffee ad campaign and BMW's "The Hire." He also looked at Faris Yacob's writing about transmedia and branding. The second half of that piece appears here.
THE (BURGER) KING IS CONTENT
Yacob's post has generated a range of other responses across the blogosphere. Here's some of the advantages which Jason Oke of the Toronto based Leo Burnett agency sees in the transmedia model:
"I think it addresses those two weaknesses of media-neutral planning: ignoring that different media are better at different things, and that people are social beings. And by putting a brand community in the middle, it also forces us to think about whether we are in fact making brands and communications which are interesting enough for a community to form, and for people to want to talk about our communications.... [We] have talked about the power of complexity in communication - that people generally find complex, nuanced, layered things more interesting than simple straightforward things. But when we talk about this stuff, we still usually talk about people processing it individually - so each one person is rewarded for spending more time or if they see it again. But what if we looked at it through the lens of a brand community? Each different layer or detail could appeal to a different group of people, who could compare stories, and thus continually be getting new perspectives on the same thing....
"The idea of brand communities solves one issue that we sometimes run into when attempting to create complex and layered communications - the pushback that we shouldn't put details that everyone (or at least most people) won't or can't get. This is often combined with research findings that indeed, "most people didn't get this reference you were trying to make." This kind of thinking dumbs down communication into the lowest common denominator. But with the brand community model, that ceases to apply - as long as someone, somewhere will get it, then lots of details and references can work. Whoever notices it will likely tell others about it, because the fact that they figured something out reinforces their ego, status and self-image, and because the tools to widely spread that knowledge are now readily available. So instead of talking down to everybody, we can talk up to everybody, by giving many different groups something that makes them feel intelligent for getting a subtle reference. And we give them a reason to have multiple conversations about the brand."
Oke's version moves us even further away from the idea that transmedia centers only on narrative and instead focuses on this notion of layering. Oke discusses for example a particular Burger King spot which circulates on YouTube:
"On the surface, it's a jingle about the new Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch chicken sandwich. But you might also notice that the guy singing the song is Darius Rucker from 90's band (and pop culture trivia item) Hootie & the Blowfish. Or that the jingle itself is based on the old hobo ballad and Burl Ives classic "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Or that it was directed by iconic photographer David LaChapelle with all kinds of sexual imagery, both hetero and homo. Or that model and TV host Brooke Burke makes a cameo at the end (she's often used in BK ads). But you probably wouldn't notice all of those things, and in fact I'd be surprised if the same people who know who David LaChapelle is are also into turn-of-the century hobo ballads (I'm guessing those circles don't tend to overlap much). But more to the point, not getting some or all of the references doesn't detract from the main brand message (there's a new chicken sandwich), because each bit also stands on its own. By having lots of detail, though, it gives fans of the brand something to notice and talk about and deconstruct. So you might have missed some of the details but someone else can point them out, and this gives you a deeper appreciation of it, and completes your picture of the whole a bit more."
Oke seems to be describing something close to what game designer Neal Young describes in Convergence Culture as "additive comprehension." Young uses the example of the "origami unicorn" featured in the director's cut version of Bladerunner, a detail which led many to speculate that Deckard, the protagonist, may be a replicant. At the Futures of Entertainment conference, Alex Chisholm provided another example of additive comprehension drawn from one of the Heroes comics tie-ins, where the information that Hiro's grandfather survive Hiroshima adds new significance to both his name and to his response to the challenge of saving the world from what appears to be a threat of nuclear destruction.
Additive comprehension is a key aspect of transmedia entertainment/branding since it allows some viewers to have a richer experience (depending on what they know or which other media they have consumed) without in any way diminishing the experience of someone who only encounters the story on a single media platform. In this case, the same advertisement may support multiple interpretations depending on what kind of knowledge consumers bring to the encounter. If one can convey to the readers that there are secrets there to be uncovered, you can potentially motivate more conversation and engagement as online discussion forums rally to mutually decode the layered content.
IS TRANSMEDIA BRANDING REDUNDANT?
Not everyone has embraced this idea of transmedia branding, though. In a post called "Transmedia Planning My Arse," Giles Rhys Jones argues that transmedia branding simply represents an expansion of the existing 360 branding model: there is still a need for redundancy in the messaging if the branding efforts are to be successful. Citing the Art of the Heist example, Jones suggests that each element "surely required multiple channel exposure for full impact, rather than each channel living in its own right." I would argue that redundancy is an essential aspect of the transmedia experience. If every element were truly autonomous, one would have no way to recognize the distinctive contributions of each medium to the media mix strategy. Indeed, much must remain the same across media for people to feel the strong sense of connection between the different installments and for communities to feel like the parts will add up to a meaningful whole if they work together to map the larger fictional universe. What we still need to explore -- whether we are talking about entertainment content or brands -- is the ballance between redundancy and originality, between familiarity and difference.
Will transmedia branding make a lasting contribution to contemporary marketing theory? It's too early to say. As an author, I am delighted to see some of my ideas are generating such discussion. As someone interested in marketing my own intellectual property, these discussions are themselves a kind of transmedia branding: after all, the more people talk about my book, the more people are likely to buy it. I don't have to control the conversation to benefit from their interest in my product. The key is to produce something that both pulls people together and gives them something to do. In that regard, the book may have had greater impact on the discussions of branding because I didn't fill in all of the links between branding and transmedia entertainment, leaving the blogosphere something to puzzle through together.
FULL LIST OF REFERENCES (INCLUDING FOR LAST WEEK'S SECTION)
Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006).
Grant McCracken, "Transmedia: Branding's Next New Thing," This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics, December 07 2005, http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2005/12/transmedia_bran.html;
December 08 2005, http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2005/12/transmedia_bran_1.html;
December 09 2005, http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2005/12/transmedia_bran_2.html
Faris Yacob, "Transmedia Planning," Talent Imitates, Genius Steals, October 03 2006, http://farisyakob.typepad.com/blog/2006/10/transmedia_plan.html.
Michael Karn, "Transmedia Planning -- Interview with Faris Yakob," janaprakorn, November 16 2006, http://blog.mikekarnj.com/?p=161.
Steven Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005).
Jason Mittell, "Narrative Complexity in American Television," The Velvet Light Trap, 58.1 (2006) 29-40
Mizuko Ito, "Technologies of the Childhood Imagination: Media Mixes, Hypersociality, and The Recombinant Cultural Form,"
Jason Oke, "Transmedia Planning and Brand Communities," The Fruits of Imagination, October 24 2006, http://blog.mikekarnj.com/?p=161.
Alex Chisholm, remarks on "Transmedia Entertainment," at the Futures of Entertainment Conference.
Giles Rhys Jones, "Transmedia Planning My Arse," Interactive Marketing Trends, November 07 2006,
Henry Jenkins is the chief faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is Director of the Comparative Media Studies program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. His book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, is a seminal text that describes the foundations of C3. His blog is available at http://www.henryjenkins.org.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Your Cell Phone Could Be Spying on You. Alec Austin looks into a judge's ruling that it's legal to turn cell phones into "roving bugs" whose microphones can be activated remotely even when they're powered down.
The Internet Plays Rough: Fan Support in Peter Jackson's Directing The Hobbit. Jackson decided to take his position to his fan community with a letter to a fan site, as Jackson supporters across the world lobby New Line Entertainment to settle the lawsuit with Jackson and make him a part of the next Tolkien film.
Wal-Mart Offering Digital Downloads for Movies--If You Buy the DVD First. One of the world's retailing powerhouse tips its toes in the movie download business with Superman Returns, but only for customers who have bought the movie on DVD from Wal-Mart first.
Google Offering Nine Figures to Copyright Owners: The Negotiation of YouTube's Power. Google's plan to bargain with major copyright holders to gain some time to work out copyright issues has left everyone questioning who exactly holds the power in these types of negotiations.
FCC FU: Guess the Title Makes Their Message Clear. This anti-censorship organization isn't shy about their dislike for the FCC's recent rulings and the power of the Parents Television Council, and their new anthem is getting quite a bit of Internet play.
South Park in HD? The cartoon has been testing in high-definition, leaving people asking not just how it will go but why and for what distribution?
YouTube/V CAST Deal a Natural Extension for Cross-Platform Distribution, But Do Users Feel It Is Overpriced? A deal between the online video sharing site and the mobile service provider provides a great chance for cross-platform distribution, but do fans feel that they aren't getting enough video for their buck?
FOE: SpellCast--Episode 11. This edition of the Harry Potter fancast features interviews from the Futures of Entertainment conference.
Lost Planet Demo Newest Casualty in the Push for HD. Alec Austin notes the confusion in the video game industry among game designers during the slow period of transition from standard-definition to high-definition.
Upcoming Emmy Business Reporting Awards Made Available Online for First Time. One of the sets of Emmy awards less likely to garner mainstream interest can finally reach its niche audience by making the awards ceremony available through a Webcast.
BitTorrent Signs Major Deals to Distribute Download-for-Pay Content. Is BitTorrent going a little too legitimate to retain its power with users? The new BitTorrent services include both download-to-rent and download-to-own features, as well as free content, debuting in February.
Yahoo! TV Relaunch Jazzes Up Graphics--But Some Question Whether It Fully Utilizes the Power of Web 2.0. Users are debating whether the new TV search site from one of C3's partners is more sizzle than it is steak, as a variety of voices, both professional journalists and users, debate every minute detail of the site's overhaul.
A Transmedia Project You Never Thought You Would See...Mr. McMahon's Ass. The WWE has pulled out a cartoon that has to be one of the most bizarre product extensions in entertainment history, featuring the backside of the owner of the company (which, for some reason, has its own set of arms).
Lincoln Charter Advertiser for Gospel Music Channel's VOD Services. The Ford brand has signed on to promote the service, continuing its relationship with Christian programming despite a rocky road for the company at this time last year in balancing an appeal to Christian consumers with attempts to advertise to gay consumers.
2007 Conference on Media Brands: Their Management, Effects, and Social Implications, in Sweden. A September 2007 workshop in Stockholm will look at management, customer, and socio-cultural issues surrounding brand management.
Be "the King"...on Xbox Live. Alec Austin writes about Burger King's new offering which allows gamers to promote the fast food franchise through their online userpic.
A Few Good Men (and Women): The Front Line in the Big Media Battle to Understand Its Digital Future. A New York Times piece by Richard Siklos looks at the shifts by big media to adapt to new digital demands and the daunting job of the executives leading the way.
Targeting Those Surplus Audiences: Teenage Girls and Graphic Novels. DC Comics is making plans to attract female fans through graphic novels aimed at teenage girls outside of its traditional super hero genre.
Blu-ray Unnecessary for PS3 Launch Games? Alec Austin writes about the controversy surrounding the built-in Blu-ray drive for the PS3 and feelings from some that the measure is just to "push their newest proprietary media format" on users.
--------------- 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 ---------------
Seeking Common Ground Between Media Educators & Industry on Fair Use
By: Jason Mittell
C3 provides a great opportunity to develop dialogue between media scholars and media professionals, something that has thrived in face-to-face meetings at MIT and elsewhere. While neither this newsletter nor the C3 blog seems to have generated much dialogue and interaction across this divide (at least that I’ve seen), I offer the following commentary (both here and cross-posted on the blog at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2006/12/seeking_common_ground_between.php) to provoke discussion, as it’s a topic that needs input from multiple sides, and thus I encourage feedback and commentary to flow from these thoughts:
If there is one issue where I feel the perspectives of academic researchers and educators greatly diverge with the interests and policies of the media industries (at least as publicly stated), it is copyright. The media industries have been aggressively framing their copyrights as owned property, demanding control over all uses and successfully lobbying for legislation to protect ownership rights over all others. Media scholars are typically both copyright holders and active users of copywritten materials, so we can (ideally) see the perspectives of both creators and users - I certainly want to protect some rights to my writings, ensuring proper credit and (modest) compensation for using my work. But I am a dependent practitioner of fair use, the right to use copywritten material without permission for certain purposes such as criticism, parody, and education. Without fair use, I could not quote a book in my own research, show a clip from a television show in class, or assign students to make parodies of movie trailers, all practices that I see as integral parts of my role as a media scholar.
Traditionally, courts have protected such fair use rights over industry objections, but Congress managed to legislate around these rights in 1998 with the DMCA - this act mandated that users could not legally circumvent copy protections (like the DRM system on all commercial DVDs), even if the purpose was protected by fair use. As the film and television industries have switched to DVD as their only format, consumers were denied our fair use rights to make clips for educational use, backup discs in a personal collection, and create parody videos, escalating the hostility between media users and owners. As an educator, this restriction effectively says I can only teach material following the limits dictated by DVD technology. Thankfully, the U.S. Copyright Office last week issued a ruling (which I blogged about) allowing film & media faculty to override DVD protections to make in-class clips - a great allowance, but still one much more limited than fair use.
It has always struck me as exceedingly short-sighted for the industry to push for such clamping down of educational fair use, as media educators train the next generation of filmmakers, television programmers, advertising executives, and (most importantly) media consumers. Why would the industry want to restrict educational practices that primarily teach students how to consume and create the very products that they wish to sell? I see two potential explanations: the more distressing explanation is that the industry’s lawyers & owners believe that copywritten material is truly property that must be protected from all non-paying intruders, controlled at every turn, and consumers abilities to assert control of any potential uses is merely an inconvenience to be overcome via legislation, DRM, or litigious intimidation. The more generous explanation is that the industry recognizes that many uses promote consumer engagement, education, and investment, but that they see the danger of circumvention software as too powerful to allow it to be legitimized no matter the use. The industry actively argued against the request made on behalf of film professors to be able to clip DVDs, so clearly nobody is unaware of the potential benefits and legitimacy of such usage - but I’m not sure if it’s a case of paranoid protectionism or fear of a slippery slope.
So I turn the question to our industry partners in C3 - your participation in this group suggests that you recognize the ways that media scholars and producers can cooperate and work toward common goals. We preach the power of active audiences and participatory culture, practices that depend on fair use and productive consumers. So how do you view fair use within your business models? Do the strategies of lobbying and litigation pursued at the top of your industries represent more broadly held attitudes toward copyright, or is there dissent and diversity of opinions within the media industries that do not come to light in a public forum? Do you see strategies by which media educators can better make the case for the importance of fair use not only to our own efforts, but to fuel media consumption, audience engagement, and the education of future creators? I would like to see our partnership generate productive and innovative solutions to these problems and I look forward to hearing any thoughts you might have.
(Please email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or contribute to the comments on the C3 blog at http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2006/12/seeking_common_ground_between.php, or else send responses to Sam Ford at email@example.com for inclusion in a future edition of the C3 Weekly Update.)
Jason Mittell is an affiliated faculty member with the Convergence Culture Consortium and assistant professor of American Civilization and Film and Media Culture at Middlebury College in Vermont and faculty adviser with the Convergence Culture Consortium. His research areas include television history and criticism, animation and children's media, genre and narrative theory, taste cultures and media, and new media studies and technological convergence.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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