February 9, 2007

Weekend of February 09, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Joshua Green on Viacom and YouTube

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Robert V. Kozinets Asks, "Death by Canon, or the Death of Canon?" from "Inno-Tribes: Star Trek as Wikimedia"--Part III of III.

--------------- 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. 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 C3 Research Director Joshua Green, who writes about the recent action by Viacom pulling content from YouTube, while C3 Affiliated Faculty Robert V. Kozinets presents the thirdof a three-part preview from the forthcoming book Consumer Tribes, for which Kozinets is a co-editor.

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

Viacom to Pick and Flick

By: Joshua Green

Viacom's decision to send DMCA notices to YouTube to have somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 videos taken down sent a ripple through the user-generated media community last week. Concern was voiced about the somewhat scattergun nature in which these notices were issued. Caught up in the claims were a number of clearly non-Viacom related videos, one of the most infamous being footage of Harvard School of Law Berkman Fellow Jim Moore having dinner at Redbones in Somerville, MA. In response, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation has launched a campaign to examine the validity of many of these claims and protest DMCA-abuse where necessary.

Spamigation aisde, the thrust of current debate over the action seems to concern the wisdom of this apparent step away from the large number of eyeballs YouTube attracts, the right of Viacom to exert control over the distribution of its content, and the ethics of doing business in Web 2.0. Greg Sandoval, writing for CNet News.com from last week's Media Summit Conference, reports Viacom has been hinting at producing a "work around" to YouTube. Replicating some of YouTube's functionality, clips available on ComedyCentral.com allow fans to embed clips offered there in their own websites and blogs. Enabling fans to continue to use Viacom content would make the decision to pull the content from YouTube seem a sideways rather than backwards step. As Mike from techdirt points out, however, by leaving YouTube, Viacom loses the discoverability the site provides. As a centralized, general-focused site, YouTube is a good space to provide exposure to content, which could then be offered in a higher quality format on a home site. It is the discoverability that YouTube provides, as much as its embed code, that makes it a prime launching ground for viral content such as the Lazy Sunday and Dick-in-a-box videos (the former of which almost disappeared altogether when it was yanked by NBC).

Forgoing this promotional platform seems driven by a sense that YouTube is poaching business from content producers such as Viacom. Erik Flannigan, senior vice president of digital media at Comedy Central, suggested YouTube had "thrown down the gauntlet," effectively challenging content producers to build better web distribution services. CEO of InterActiveCorp, Barry Diller, is quoted in Sandoval's article promoting a much tougher line, suggesting he would have told YouTube "You are not going to take the stuff that we made in our house and control it for other people." Taking their material in-house would cut YouTube (and hence Google) out of the advertising loop, presuming, of course, that videos on Viacom's site can generate the sort of demand content posted on YouTube does.

Phrasing the issue in these terms seems to miss the significance of YouTube, however. Discussing YouTube in these terms casts it as inherently a distribution channel. Viacom's concerns to regulate the quality of the content its name is put against, and Diller's notion YouTube is 'squatting' on the profits of the entertainment industry, fail to recognize the success of YouTube is related to the audience behaviors it enables. YouTube provides productive consumers with tools to quote from popular culture. It is a site where viral success break as it both encourages and enables consumers to highlight and share cultural touchstones. The emphasis on short content on YouTube causes people to be selective, singling out moments of significant meaning; this is one of the reasons the fan-made video clip honoring favorite properties such a popular form.

This is different to the delivery of high-quality content. Moving its material in-house, and petitioning YouTube to remove any Viacom content, makes Viacom the master not only of distribution but also selection. Like trying to engineer a viral event (witness the short run of 'dick-in-a-box' compared to Lazy Sunday), predicting what will be cultural touchstones for the audience will only produce more misses than hits.


Elinor Mills (2006) "NBC blasts Google's YouTube over copyright", CNet News.com, Tuesday, 6 Feb.

Mike (2006) "Can Viacom Build Its Own YouTube?,"Techdirt, Friday, 9 Feb.

Mike (2006) "Viacom Says No More YouTube Clips," Techdirt, Friday, 2 Feb.

Greg Sandoval (2006) "Viacom moves on without YouTube," CNet News.com, Friday, 9 Feb.

Joshua Green is the research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. His current research interests include television branding strategies, the history and future of broadcast television, co-created media production and the knowledge produced by passionate amateurs.

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

Access vs. Censorship, Part III: Is DOPA Last Year's Concern? With a new Congress, what is the likelihood of DOPA or similar legislation to reappear?

Access vs. Censorship, Part II: The Deleting Online Predators Act. The second of this six-part series examines last year's DOPA, aimed at restricting student access to social networking sites.

Access vs. Censorship, Part I: Avoiding Schizophrenia in U.S. Media Policy. With the government making significant legislation toward censoring content while also being concerned with increasing access, this series emphasizes the need to prioritize access issues such as bridging the digital divide and ensuring net neutrality.

Comcast/Facebook Pair for TV Show Featuring User-Generated Content, While Leichtman Finds Online Video Viewing Growing Slowly. A new Facebook feature requests user videos to air on Comcast VOD, Ziddio, and Facebook. Meanwhile, Internet video use among adults remain a small market.

Caveman's Crib: Developing Branded Entertainment for an Insurance Company. This Geico transmedia extension proves that even the most unlikely of brands can develop narrative worlds surrounding their content. Does it lead to more people buying insurance?

Wal-Mart Downloads and TiVo/Amazon Unbox Connection Making Industry Headlines. While the largest DVD retailer creates its own television and movie video store online, Amazon Unbox forms a deal with TiVo to make content bought on Amazon available on TiVo boxes.

Three-Way Second Life, Virtual World Debate from C3's Jenkins, Coleman, and Clay Shirkey. A unique three-way debate on the blogs of Henry Jenkins, Beth Coleman, and Shirkey debates the importance of Second Life and the futures of virtual worlds.

Soap Operas in Convergence Culture and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy "a Genre in Decline." If the industry talks about a genre as if it is inevitably going to disappear, how can we expect anything else?

C3 Affiliated Researcher van der Graaf Studying Valve. Shenja provides information about her survey regarding game developer Valve and asking for any interested participants to take part.

In the Heat of Battle, Viacom and YouTube Are Forgetting Something Important--The Consumer. With the squabbling over who will get a cut of the profits, Google and Viacom should keep in mind that both companies are only in business because of the people who consumer their products/services.

With Dems in Power, Congress Replaces Constant Indecency Talk with...More of the Same. A new Congress brings about the same old rhetoric, as Sen. Rockefeller talks indecency fines for cable with the FCC.

In a Bold Move, Lime Moves Operations to VOD and Web--and Away from Linear Model. The health network's move to VOD and online distribution is largely unprecedented for a cable network.

AOL Pointe Getting Strong Reviews in Second Life. The company's foray into the virtual world has been well-received by fans for providing a theme-park style online experience.

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

Inno-Tribes: Star Trek as Wikimedia, Part III: Death by Canon, or the Death of Canon?

By: Robert V. Kozinets

The following is the third of a three-part series that is an adapted portion of Kozinets' essay "Inno-Tribes: Star Trek as Wikimedia," from Consumer Tribes, forthcoming this year from Elsevier Press and edited by Bernard Cova, Kozinets, and Avi Shankar.

Aporia is a term meaning an impassable or insoluble contradiction, a paradox in a text's meanings. Ultimately, the fannish act of interpretation exists through the grace of the aporia of the text; the text's intertextual complexity and subsequent openness begets the ambiguity enabling the tribe to settle into the space, but the settling of the ambiguity begets controversy and ideological turf wars. Should gay males be 'swapping spit' in the hallowed halls of starship corridors? Should a rigorously scientific show like Star Trek be linked with outlandishly occultish unreality such as alien abductions and crop circles?

Should new episodes of Star Trek be used to critique the old Star Trek? Fans' already well-developed creative proclivity has now been married to abhorrence for manifestations of Star Trek. The fans hated, despised even, the ridiculous and confusing Shatner-directed fifth Star Trek movie, and many also were disgusted by the three most recent television series (particularly Enterprise). Their animosity creates considerable fan activity aimed at expunging the influence of this movie and these series and dissociating it from the official lore of Star Trek. That official lore, called "canon" and described elsewhere in several texts (Jenkins 1992, Jindra 1994, Kozinets 2001) is the body of work that fandom socially constructs and collectively agrees to consider the legitimate narrative of the culture of consumption. Think of it as analogous to various sects of the Jewish faith that consider the Old Testament, but not the Talmud or the Zohar, as their core text. And it is the constituent elements and control over that canon--and consequently over much of Star Trek's fan-negotiated brand DNA--that is being drawn into ambiguous terrain and contested through Star Trek's descent/ascent into wikimedia.

Is it worth considering the implications of these fan creations? What indications of their impact upon Star Trek's brand and community do we have? Consider first that Star Trek: Enterprise--the last Star Trek television series--garnered an average audience of 3 million people in 2005 its final season, making it a dismal 150th among television series that year. This viewership was drastically depleted from its 2002 premiere episode that was watched by 12 million viewers. Enterprise's dismal rating led pundits to speculate that Star Trek's social meanings were burnt out, used up, spent. The results prompted a lawsuit from affiliated videogame maker Activision alleging that the once proud Star Trek franchise had been allowed to stagnate and decay. As Entertainment Weekly writer Russo (2003) poignantly put it: "Are things really this dire for the 37-year-old, multibillion- dollar-generating granddaddy of all entertainment franchises? ... It's dead, Jim. Almost."

Mr. Russo spoke too soon. Consider next this amazing fact. Star Trek: New Voyages is a fan-created series based in Ticonderoga, N.Y. that boasts that one of its episodes has been downloaded over 30 million times. The success of fanmade series such as New Voyages indicates that Star Trek's large and enthusiastic fan base continues to live long and prospect online for good material. Such an impressive number suggests the major impact that these productions can potentially have on the Star Trek brand.

The key informant for my dissertation informed me that in science fiction, filk, and Star Trek fandom "egoboo is the coin of the realm." Egoboo is a sense of ephemeral pleasure that comes from the public recognition of one's own efforts, the joy of seeing one's own name as author, or in the credits, spoken by others, celebrated as a creator, a maker, a player. It is a short-form and expansion of the term ego boost. Significantly, this is a term that migrated from the science fiction community into the open source programming community--the term was a useful appellation of the motivation of both fans and open source programmers. Yet recent interviews and postings by the main force behind Star Trek: New Voyages, indicate that these fan-actors are hoping for Paramount and the fans, at some point, to show them the money. These are consumer tribes acting firmly as entrepreneurs.

The continuing wikimediated voyages of starships Enterprise, Excelsior, Farragut, Intrepid and others pose an exponentially enlarged opportunity for fan ego boosts (and if they can ever be monetized, for fan wallet boosting). New Voyages continues the 5-year mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with her crew of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and other others, played by new (fan) actors with the as-yet unfamiliar names James Cawley, Jeffery Quinn, and John Kelley. With an audience of millions, these fan actors are elevated into a localized stardom. Stars from the series are now revered guests at the Star Trek conventions they once attended as fans. Moreover, the New Voyages series is so popular it has attracted the attention and support of original writers and actors from the television series. Screenwriter Dorothy Fontana, who wrote such original Star Trek classics as "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and "Journey to Babel" in the 1960s recently wrote a new episode for Star Trek: New Voyages. Walter Koenig, the actor who played Ensign Chekov in Star Trek's original series has reprised his classic role, and George Takei, who played Lieutenant Sulu will star in another episode airing later this year. The quality of these shows is gratifying. Trust me, if you can stomach the original Trek, you won't find these new versions difficult to watch. And, best of all for some, its 100% Shatner-free.

Imagine the possibilities of starring as your own role model in a new version of the show you loved as a child, working with original actors from that series. This is a fantastic bridge crossing the boundaries between fictional and real worlds. Like modern Eleusian rites or Macumba possessions, the participant enacts and embodies the god. In the rest of the chapter from this book, I broaden out from these phenomena to suggest and explore their implications through a theorization of "inno-tribes," where innotribes are different bands and tribes of consumers united in their novel creation of an expanded universe of culturally centered consumption.

For the complete version of this essay and a variety of related work, Consumer Tribes will be available later this year.

Robert V. Kozinets is a Faculty Advisor for the Convergence Culture Consortium and Associate Professor of Marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. His research areas include branding, virtual communities, technology consumption, communal markets, themed retail, entertainment marketing, new product development, and postmodern consumer behavior.


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

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