June 8, 2007

Weekend of June 08, 2007

*Editor's Note

*Opening Note: Aswin Punathambekar on the Importance of Understanding the Impact of Spatial Logics on the Media Industry

*Glancing at the C3 Blog

*Closing Note: An Excerpt from Robert V. Kozinets' New Blog, Part I of II

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

Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.

First off, congratulations to the four graduating graduate workers from the Convergence Culture Consortium. Ivan Askwith, Geoffrey Long, Alec Austin, and myself have all officially finished their time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working as a graduate student with the Convergence Culture Consortium and will be moving on to the next phase of their careers. We plan to feature some final thoughts from each of them over the next few weeks here in the newsletter and on the blog, as they enter the next phase of their career.

I will remain working with C3 as a project manager and will continue to oversee the C3 Weekly Update.

Congratulations to my colleagues on ending their tenures as researchers on C3 with last weekend's graduations, and best of luck in the next phase of your careers. We look forward to continuing to follow your work and hope you stay in contact with the consortium.

As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.

The opening note comes from C3 Affiliated Faculty Aswin Punathambekar, who looks at how an understanding of media convergence must take into account how spatial logics help form relationships between media industries.

The closing note features work from the new blog of C3 Affiliated Faculty Rob Kozinets, who wanted to introduce everyone to this new forum for Rob's latest work and analysis. Considering the amount of interest his talk generated at Collaboration 2.0 recently, as well as his previous writing here in the newsletter regarding Star Trek as a preview to his new book Consumer Tribes, I hope that this two-part series from his blog is of interest to our readers. The conclusion will appear as the opening note in next week's C3 Weekly Update.

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

Location Matters: Geography and Media Convergence

By: Aswin Punathambekar

In this piece, Aswin Punathambekar argues that we cannot understand media convergence without taking into account the spatial logics that shape relationships between media industries.

In an effort to understand how dot-com companies forged relationships with Bollywood, I conducted interviews with an array of executives and producers in companies based in India and abroad. Without exception, every conversation began with the idea that new media had made geography irrelevant and acquiring content had nothing to do with location. But after half an hour or so, my interviewees would begin talking about how important it was to have a presence in Mumbai!

As I spent more time hanging around and talking to journalists/content producers at leading companies like rediff.com, movies.indiatimes.com, and indiafm.com, I began to see that proximity was, in fact, the most important variable that shaped dot-com companies' success in Bollywood. Proximity explains why Mumbai-based dot-com companies have a clear edge over those based outside India, and why prominent U.S.-based companies like wahindia.com and sulekha.com have set up operations in Mumbai this past year.

The production and flow of content on the Internet is a direct function of dot-com companies' proximity to Bollywood and dot-com professionals' ability to forge connections and establish themselves within existing social networks in Mumbai. And this, in turn, is why Mumbai-based dot-coms were able to attract and maintain a large user-base.

Here's how:

1. In explaining the success of Mumbai-based companies such as indiafm.com and movies.indiatimes.com compared to websites like wahindia.com that operate outside India, we have to begin by acknowledging their advantage in terms of economies of scale and reach.

Being larger companies with deep financial pockets meant that the Mumbai-based dot-com companies were in a position offer PROs, marketing executives, filmmakers, and stars in Bollywood a more comprehensive "transmedia" package. For example, movies.indiatimes.com offers not only a large diasporic user-base, but also the opportunity to publicize the film and its stars across other properties owned by the Times group including a nationwide network of FM radio stations (Radio Mirchi), an entertainment and lifestyle television channel (Zoom), and a number of print publications including Bombay Times, The Times of India, and Mumbai Mirror.

2. Promotional material in the form of trailers, behind-the-scenes stills and other images of film stars, gossip, and interviews with stars and film directors was available to websites regardless of their location. Where Mumbai-based dot-com companies distinguished themselves is in the domain of film journalism. Mumbai-based dot-com companies correctly recognized the importance of hiring experienced film journalists with well-established connections in the film industry.

By recruiting and retaining established film journalists in Mumbai, movies.indiatimes.com, indiafm.com, and rediff.com were able to create "exclusive" content that overseas audiences could not access elsewhere. And websites based abroad syndicated the content that these journalists were producing. While websites based abroad received the standard set of promotional materials that they could re-package, dot-com companies operating out of Mumbai were able to take advantage of their connections to set up interviews or chat sessions with stars and filmmakers and create exclusive content that enhanced their credibility among overseas audiences.

As Raja Sen of rediff.com explained, "someone in the U.S. can write a good review, or piece together quotes from here and there to come up with a news item, or re-print gossip, but a reader knows that this author cannot sit across a star or a director and actually talk to them. When it comes to rediff, I am there, at the scene, and the reader knows this."

3. This sense of proximity, of being "at the scene" of press conferences, awards ceremonies, and film sets is constantly signaled in these websites and is what attracted audiences and enhanced "stickiness." Sites like indiafm.com offered overseas audiences a sense of immediacy, i.e., these websites ensure that overseas audiences' participation in Bollywood culture is as direct and immediate as it was for audiences in India. In other words, proximity translates into a sense of "dailiness" and belonging for overseas audiences consuming Bollywood content online.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that we ignore the fact transnational flows of ideas and finance shape new media landscapes in important ways. Parmesh's account of the TIECon was a wonderful reminder of how American NRIs (non-resident Indians) continue to shape business development in India. But it is also worth understanding why Silicon Valley and not some other part of the U.S. emerged as the pre-eminent region of innovation in the U.S. Location matters.

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 http://bollyspace.blogspot.com.

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

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part III of V. The third part of this series looks at the history of the soap opera press and how various soaps-specific publications have filled--and neglected--the desires of many soaps fans.

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part II of V. The second part of this series looks at the history of interaction between producers and consumers of American soap operas through fan clubs and fan mail, both to the popular press and directly to shows.

Soap Operas and the History of Fan Discussion: Part I of V. This introductory post to a five-part series on the history of fan discussion and interaction between soaps fans and soap opera producers looks at the social aspects of soap opera viewing.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part VI of VI. The concluding piece of this six-part series examines what the trajectory of World Wrestling Entertainment's business in Japan in the last few years means both for the company's continued Asian expansion and for the concept of pop cosmopolitanism.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part V of VI. The fifth part of this series looks briefly at the history of Japanese stereotypes in American wrestling and particularly how the WWE's recent success in Japan has existed alongside wrestling's use of racial caricatures.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part IV of V. The fourth part of this series looks at WWE's business in 2004, 2005, and 2006 and both how and why tours of American wrestling drew the numbers they did in Japan.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part III of VI. The third part of this series examines WWE's history in Japan prior to the 21st Century and and the initial successes of touring the country in 2002 and 2003.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part II of VI. The second part of this six-part series looks at a brief history of scholarly interest in American pro wrestling and the role that Americans have played in Japanese pro wrestling history.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Japanese Culture, and Pop Cosmopolitanism--Part I of VI. The introduction to this six-part series looks at the WWE's popularity in Japan and what this means in relation to pop cosmopolitanism, a concept that C3 has examined on several occasions.

Thinking Outside the Box and Understanding the History of Television Studies. This piece looks at a recent Journal of Popular Culture review of a television reader that looks into, among other things, the history of television studies, featuring work from the likes of C3's own Jason Mittell.

First Round of Discussion on Gender Issues and Fan Communities. C3's Jason Mittell and Karen Hellekson started off Henry Jenkins' series of posts regarding gender issues in relation to studying fan communities that will run throughout the summer.

Networks Emphasize Commercial Viewing on the DVR. Some shows receive a higher commercial rating when comparing live plus three days viewing of commercials versus the live viewing of the show.

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

Star Trek Fan Films: Prosuming's Final Frontier?
A Preview of Brandthropoposophy, Part I of II

By: Robert V. Kozinets

The following piece was recently featured on Rob Kozinets' new blog Brandthroposophy, which is subtitled "Robert Kozinets on Marketing, Media, and Techniculture. With Rob's previous pieces here in the newsletter about his work on Star Trek in preview of his co-edited book Consumer Tribes, and the strong interest in his recent talk at Collaboration 2.0, I wanted to introduce everyone to Rob's new blog in hopes that C3 Weekly Update readers might check it out. The conclusion of this particular piece will be featured as the Opening Note in next week's Weekly Update.

One of the hottest topics in management and marketing this year has to do with something that I originally began studying in the context of fans cultures. I'm going to go back into a discussion of fandom to talk about that topic of participatory consumer communities.

From 1966-1969, the three original seasons of Star Trek were telecast on NBC's peacock network. The show was cancelled in the third season (1967-1968), then revived by a historic fan-letter writing campaign for one more season. But that certainly is not the whole story.

Before the series even hit the air, there was community involvement of the highest order. Gene Roddenberry, the series' creator, was promoting the series to the existing science fiction fan network in person, showing it to them through the organized network of science fiction conventions and fan clubs that existing in the United States of the 1960s. At that forward-looking time, in the full-on heat of the Space Race and the Cold War, those fan networks had a distinctly technologically utopian orientation. Star Trek fit into their worldview perfectly. They saw it as a breakthrough--quality science fiction on the networks, mass media that really said and meant something.

Because of this communal interconnection, the fans, from the beginning, were involved with Roddenberry and with the show. So when Roddenberry recruited them and encouraged them to help him save the show in 1968, the letter-writing campaign didn't come out of nowhere, but already had a strong institutional base to go along with the strong, emotional, communal ties that had been built.

Now, flash forward a few years. Star Trek is in syndication. Even more than this, Roddenberry continues to work with the fan network that was courted and captured by him before the series even aired. The stars are involved. The fans are using the text, working it like Biblical hermeneuticians. After the first moon landing, and as the space program progressed, Star Trek looked even more relevant.

What did fans do? Not just watch the show. But, as Henry Jenkins, Camille Bacon-Smith, Constance Penley and others have written about, they used it as the basis for their creativity. They opened up its universe and used it to write stories with, to base songs upon, to pen and paint pictures, make sculptures, sew uniforms and other garb, mount plays, hold conventions, and start businesses. Star Trek, the text, the ideology, the figures, the personalities, the look, the feel, became woven into the fabric of people's communal existence and daily lives.

Dressing in Star Trek uniforms ("garb") is one way that fans expressed their devotion to the text and its lofty utopian ideologies. Fan could enhance their experience with books and texts and manifest it physically with collectibles such as these attractive (to me, at least) limited collector edition plates. Fans also became dealers of the proliferating multitude of Star Trek products. Through buying and selling, being a member of the expansive, generous, acquisitive and middle class Star Trek community could now become a type of lifestyle.

In all, over a ten year period starting around Star Trek's cancellation, went from being a TV show that people audienced and discussed to being a social text that people worked with and expanded in small and large groups. As a cultural phenomenon, I believe that this was largely unprecedented.

But we see that pattern of behavior more and more today. It's becoming the topic of some new and important books. For example, in 2005 Alex Wipperf├╝rth published his book Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing. In it he argues that "Marketing managers aren't in charge anymore. Consumers are. Across the globe, millions of insightful, passionate, and creative people are helping optimize and endorse breakthrough products and services..." (page 6).

Isn't this exactly what happened with Star Trek back in the 1960s and 1970s? With the permission of the series creator and owner, organized fan networks built the show's universe and promoted it. They added the community. They added all their creations. They turned into marketers for the show.

Alex Wipperf├╝rth doesn't actually mention Star Trek, but he draws on many recent examples, including Starbucks, Palm, Red Bull, the Blair Witch Project, Krispy Kreme, Apple, Seven for All Mankind, Viagra, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. He offers a great "Brand Hijack Manifesto" which includes the advice that marketers should "co-create" their brands by collaborating with consumers. This idea of co-creation has been around consumer research and marketing for a while, but the nuts and bolts behind it are still fairly mysterious.

Brand Hijack talks a lot of about meaning and promotion in terms of relating to co-creating the brand. A lot of this has become subsumed under the rubric of Word of Mouth Marketing, of which the industry group WOMMA is becoming a major player and information resources.

But the next step up is consumers actually creating the product or service, or altering it. Eric von Hippel at MIT has been writing about lead users doing such things for over three decade. His 1974 thesis looked at the role of user input in corporate venturing, and he has amazing things to say on the topic.

Another excellent recent book that looks at this topic of consumers actually co-creating products and services, as well is Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. In this book, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams argue that "the growing ease with which people can collaborate opens up the economy to new Linux-like products everyday. People increasingly self-organize to design goods or services, create knowledge, or simply produce dynamic, shared experiences."

Tapscott and Williams offer an impressive range of current examples like retail Best Buy's Geek Squad, the Toronto-based mining company Goldcorp, the scientific endeavor Human Genome Project, the movie Snakes on a Plane, the toy company Lego, the CPG company Procter & Gamble, as well as tech companies like Skype, eBay, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, and in Virtual Worlds like Second Life. All of these examples show how networked consumer turn into producers, into "prosumers" (Toffler's old term, modeled after McLuhan's old idea) who use contemporary technology to create huge amounts of value for companies and other institutions at high tech and traditional companies.

Star Trek fans are amazing examples of these active prosumers. Star Trek fans were among the earliest adopters of the Internet (there's the evolutionary payback of being a technological utopian in a technologically utopian world, where that belief and its accompanying potential skillsets have definite survival value). And so their skilled use of networked collaboration tools combined with their existing community and its passion for active presuming of the Star Trek cultural universe.

The result is that Star Trek fans are the creators of the new Star Trek series. Serieses. Many series. Star Trek fans worldwide are creating their own new series that take off in interesting directions from the old series.

The conclusion will be featured in the Opening Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.

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.

His new blog, Brandthroposophy, can be found at http://www.kozinets.net/.

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

You are receiving this update as a member of MIT C3.

To subscribe or unsubscribe, send a request to samford@mit.edu.