March 9, 2007

Weekend of March 09, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Aswin Punathambekar on Lessons from the MTV-Desi Experiment

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: Ilya Vedrashko on Creating Brandmarks (Branded Landmarks)

--------------- 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 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 Affiliated Faculty Aswin Punathambekar, who uses MTV-Desi as a case study of the potential challenges of creating a media channel targeting a specific niche ethnic market . We have invited MTV's Nusrat Durrani to respond in next week's Weekly Update.

The closing note is from C3 alum Ilya Vedrashko, now with Hill-Holiday, who shares a piece with us on creating brandmarks--branded landmarks.

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

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

Lessons from the MTV-Desi Experiment

By: Aswin Punathambekar

In this piece, Aswin Punathambekar looks at MTV-Desi to consider some of the challenges faced by television corporations in targeting niche ethnic markets.

When MTV Networks announced that they were pulling the plug on MTV-Desi, a channel targeting South Asian-Americans, no one reacted with great surprise or shock. In fact, comments on prominent South Asian blogs like Sepia Mutiny indicated that this was inevitable and that it was only a matter of time. Comments also indicated that over a period of 18 months, MTV-Desi had offered little of interest to South Asian-Americans. As Amardeep Singh wrote, "at the current moment there isn't truly a need for a channel like MTV Desi, especially if you have to pay for something a dedicated blogger/video podcaster could do in her basement for free."

In a press release, MTV Networks admitted that the "premium distribution model for MTV World proved more challenging than anticipated." And as one journalist commented, "we published next to nothing on the channel, because I couldn't find anyone who watched the satellite channel: no college students, no twenty-somethings with spare change. And it wasn't just me. All the tastemakers I interviewed - DJs, other music types - said they didn't know any MTV Desi subscribers either."

Everyone blames pricing and poor marketing. But I would argue that MTV-Desi did nothing wrong in identifying its niche market. Its focus on the South Asian market stems from: (1) the success of Indian satellite channels through DISH network's distribution system, (2) estimates that South Asians (currently numbering 3.4 million) are one of the fastest growing minorities in the U.S., (3) market research which consistently harps about the South Asian community being affluent and possessing incredible purchasing power, and (4) the logics of the television marketplace in the U.S. where niche marketing to racial and ethnic minorities is seen as sound business strategy.

People of South Asian origin use term "desi" to refer to each other - it means "from the homeland," but also also positions one as South Asian who is outside the geographic area of South Asia. By using the term "desi," MTV-Desi differentiated itself from Indian satellite networks such as STAR, ZEE, SUN, and ETV. It seemed a terrific start. So where did MTV-Desi go wrong?

I would argue that pricing, distribution, and poor marketing aside, MTV-Desi misread South Asian-American youth culture. And in testing the waters, MTV-Desi may have done a tremendous favor to future initiatives targeting the South Asian American market.

Here are four things that we can take away from the MTV-Desi experiment:

1. Bollywood and Indi-pop are already Global

A combination of Bollywood music, Bhangra, and Indi-pop artists like M.I.A. is terrific but not new. Not only is this content available on other satellite television channels, it is easy to keep up with this content via YouTube.

2. Don't forget the "American" part of "Indian-American"

Bollywood or Bhangra music are only a subset of a very vibrant youth culture. At a fundamental level, it is important to recognize that desi identity has been shaped as much by mainstream American popular culture as by "Indian" influences. While remix music may serve as a resource for desi youth to define their identity in relation to ethnic and racial categories in the U.S., it is not all-encompassing.

3. "Desi" does not involve Nostalgia for the Homeland

MTV-Desi, at the end of the day, may have appealed more to an expatriate Indian who grew up with MTV-India than to an Indian-American audience. There is no nostalgia for the homeland where desi youth are concerned. In fact, in an MTV-Desi video clip that circulated widely, Parag Khanna said as much: "you are not an are desi. You are of South Asia, not from South don't speak Hindi or Gujarati or don't know the backstreets of Karachi or Bombay..."

4. The Long Tail is Migratory and Mostly Online

In terms of strategy, then, perhaps MTV-Desi would have done better by going on-demand or online and testing the waters before launching as a full-fledged channel.

In this case, The Long Tail, comprising graduate students, software programmers, and business consultants on short-term assignments from India, is not only migratory but also more likely to use the Internet for entertainment purposes.

MTV-Desi - a mix of content from MTV-India and home-made videos that provide a glimpse into Indian-American youth culture - may have appealed more to this audience segment than an "Indian-American" television audience with very different needs and tastes.

Also see: and

Nusrat Durrani, MTV Desi's creator and General Manager, informs us the channel will hopefully return in the future as a broadband offering. We hope Aswin's observations are useful as plans develop for any future incarnation. Also, Durrani has been invited to write a response for next week's Weekly Update.

Aswin Punathambekar will be the the new professor of international and comparative media at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's Department of Communication Studies and is an alumnus of the Comparative Media Studies program here at MIT, in addition to being a Convergence Culture Consortium research affiliate. He is co-editor of the 2007 Bollywood Reader from NYU Press and also writes at

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

Two Small Steps Made in Effort to Transition from Analog to Digital Broadcast Television. International and interstate shipping of analog TV sets is now banned as the government moves one step closer to a standard for digital converter boxes for analog TV owners.

WWE Expands Mobile Content in Exclusive Cingular Deal. WWE offers approximately 100 video clips to subscribers of its premium mobile service through an exclusive deal with Cingular.

First South Park Episode in HD Available to Xbox Live Members. The rumors about a high-definition episode of South Park for months leads to an exclusive deal for Best Buy and Xbox Live members.

Next New Networks the Newest Online Video Competitor. The newest competitor in the online video space markets itself through providing "micro-networks" of branded content.

George Lucas Declares the Future as Television, Forging Ahead with 3D Animated Star Wars Series. The famed director hopes to launch multiple Star Wars TV projects and successfully create a 3D series in the coming years, according to comments made at the Museum of Television and Radio.

BBC Deal with YouTube Raises Questions About Quoting, "Damaging the Brand." The new BBC deal with YouTube has many people arguing about how progressive the BBC deal is, how much user-quoted content they will allow to stay up, and what exactly is meant by concerns that user clips could "damage the brand."

Electronic Arts Releases Music from Its Games on iTunes. EA is actively marketing the music from its games, opening up new possibilities for music distribution in the process.

Sony vs. Kotaku, Edery vs. Ramsay, and Important Ethical Questions about Journalists in the Blogosphere. When Web site Kotaku revealed unconfirmed news about a new Sony announcement, Sony vowed to cut all ties with the blog, leaving critics to debate the ethical issues involved with both Kotaku's decision to reveal an unconfirmed rumor and Sony's attempt to cut all ties with them.

V CAST Mobile TV Launches in 20 Markets. The mobile TV offering will offer eight channels of television content from traditional content providers, including several of the big networks.

Fox Plans to Open Up Fox On Demand to All Affiliate Web Sites. The company is developing ways to drive online content to local affiliate Web sites and open up a market for Internet-based local advertising, leaving many to question the validity of getting people to visit local affiliate sites for national programming.

MGM Moves Its Brand, Video Archives into the HD TV Market. MGM will launch its sizable film and television archive onto its own branded channel later this year, with no plans at this point for original content.

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

Creating Brandmarks

By: Ilya Vedrashko

A group of Sloan MBA students go on a field trip to New York each fall to visit future employers. Their entire schedule and walking plan are built around a certain coffee chain. This ubiquitous chain functions as a landmark in the older sense of the word: a "placemark" or "a geographic feature used by explorers and others to find their way back or through an area". While waiting for their colleagues to assemble, the students usually buy a drink or a cookie depending on the time of day; that's twenty students making at least five purchases throughout the day, largely on impulse and out of boredom.

Brands that become landmarks (or - buzz, buzz - brandmarks) are guaranteed a place in the daily routines of thousands and perhaps even popular culture. A few thoughts on what it takes for a place to become a landmark:

1. Physical presence. Fairly obvious; I can't think of an example of a non-physical landmark. It doesn't have to be a restaurant or a store, though, and can take many shapes: a billboard, a clock, a bus shelter.

2. Persistence. People need to be sure the landmark won't go away by the time they or the other party reaches it. People also need to get used to the object's presence before they begin referencing it as a landmark. Name permanence is as important as the physical presence. It's still pretty awkward to refer to the recently renamed Fleet Center as Banknorth Garden.

3. Location. Good landmarks are easy to get to and fit into the general traffic flow. The ideal location must be next to the natural flow breaks such as bus stops or intersections. Intersections also work well because they function as secondary landmarks and are easier to refer to than mid-block locations. They are easier to spot from afar, too, especially if equipped with traffic lights.

Landmarks also need to be easy to get close to. You don't tell someone, "I'll meet you two hundred yards from that restaurant" because then you'd need to specify the direction, and the path to destination can be obstructed. Unless it's a landmark for drivers, like the Citgo sign here in Boston, the landmark also needs to be close to the ground. Few people ever look that far up.

4. Space. Popular landmarks have ample space to accommodate large groups of people. There's one caveat, though. People who've never met before would go to a less crowded place where they can easily recognize each other.

5. Distinctiveness. The landmark needs to stand out from its immediate surrounding. It could be a different type of object, or have a different characteristic, such as size or color. In some cases, this distinctiveness can be intangible and derived through a unique meaning shared by a particular group "I'll meet you on that bridge where we had our first date" would make perfect sense to the people who were on that date but not to anyone else.

6. Visibility. People need to be able to recognize the object for what it is. Post-modernist sculptures probably make lousy landmarks for everyone except experts in post-modernist sculptures. These objects are often hard to describe and to match with their description, unless the sculpture can simply be described as "that weird thing" and it's the only obviously weird thing around.

7. Convenience. Given choice, people tend to gather around places that provide shelter from rain or sun and have other amenities such as payphones (less relevant now that everyone has a cell), things to look at while waiting, and benches.

Ilya Vedrashko is a graduate of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT and current research affiliate with the Convergence Culture Consortium. He now works as emerging media strategist at Hill Holliday ad agency in Boston. This article has been published simultaneously on the HHCC blog at


Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (

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