July 20, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of July 20, 2007
*Opening Note: Joshua Green on What Television Means into Today's Media Environment, Part I of II
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Huma Yusuf on the Effects of Blogging on Traditional Journalism, Part I of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
The opening note this week comes from C3 Research Manager Dr. Joshua Green, who looks at traditional understandings of television and new distribution platforms what is called "television content." This is the first of a two-part series, based on work Joshua is doing for an forthcoming essay.
The closing note this week comes from MIT Comparative Media Studies Master's candidate Huma Yusuf, a professional journalist who looks at how the blogosphere has affected traditional news sources, focusing in particular on attempts to incorporate professional blogs into established news sources. The conclusion of this piece will appear in next week's Closing Note, looking at the "Override Central" blog from The Boston Globe as a case study.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Why Do They Call It TV When It's Not on the Box?
'New' Television Services and 'Old' Television Functions
Part I of II
By: Joshua Green
I have been thinking through of late the emergence of a set of 'new television' projects and their relationship to existing understandings of the project of television itself. The rise of both BitTorrent and YouTube has been surrounded by discourse about the changing nature (and perhaps decline) of broadcast television's role for content delivery and advertising revenue. Amidst discussions of the impact of 'piracy' and debates about audience reach and user-generated content, official and unofficial platforms for the distribution of content have emerged. Some of these sites, like 'Internet TV' projects such as the Participatory Culture Foundation's Democracy player (now Miro) and the Skype founders' Joost, have positioned themselves almost directly in opposition to television itself, orienting themselves as 'alternatives' or replacements for broadcast-and-cable-delivered-to-your-house model of television. Interrogating how the term 'television' succeeds or fails to describe these services helps to contextualize the object of television itself, as well as exploring the insights new services provide into questions of audiencehood and the community forming roles broadcast television has traditionally played. These questions are crucial to the way broadcast television imagines itself, how it conceptualizes it's audience, and thus how it structures it's business practices.
Television has adapted to challenges before, of course. The rise of the VCR and the cable market challenged the established industrial, structural, and representational forms of television as long as 30 years ago. The medium adapted to wrap cable into it's operating definition and make use of the DVD as a viable platform for aftermarket sales. Indeed, the current challengers to the medium, particularly online video-sharing platforms, have provided fresh fuel for very old fires about the fragmentation of the television audience and the limitations of the television advertising model, especially with regards to the metrics and measurements used to value ratings currency. Similarly, in the reaction to these challenges, the adaptation of existing services, and adoption of new ones, we see attempts to make these new sites conform to established models and logics as much as we see these logics changing swiftly.
Yet, as much as the current challengers continue previous discussions, they also seem to present television with a unique proposition by moving the medium completely beyond the box in the corner. It is this shift, the successful transition of content delivery systems away from the physical location in the living room, that I think signals something new about the current digital challengers, and it's something that provides us with an opportunity to think about what it is that television, as a conglomeration of different representational, industrial, and structural modes united by a glowing object in the lounge or bedroom, might actually be for.
The "New" New Thing
Thinking through the changes taking place, I'm drawing chiefly on three key examples that seem to best represent the variety of models of 'new television' that exist - official online video offerings, of which I think CBS' Innertube is a particularly useful example to discuss, the Democracy TV player from the PCF, and streaming aggregator sites. I'm anonymizing this latter category, and will label the site discussed "Stream Indexer". Aggregator sites occupy a legally grey area, especially with regard to contested suggestions linking to sites hosting copyright infringing content constitutes "secondary infringement". The MPAA has taken legal action against a number of similar sites, particularly those who sport page ads (see MPAA press releases dated June 27 available: http://www.mpaa.org/PressReleases.asp). The site anonymized here is particularly interesting in that not only does it feature very minimal site-advertising, but it is hosted outside of the US, complicating direct action and highlighting the influence of geographic and geolinguistic boundaries on the distribution of television content.
The uniting characteristic of each of these three sites, and I think a distinguishing characteristic of new television over old, is an emphasis on content over form. Derek Kompare (2006) argues the rise of the DVD completed the disembedding of television content from the television broadcast commenced by the VCR. The capacity and size advantages of the DVD meant television programming could be provided to audiences as "tangible media objects" (Kompare 2006: 339). Subsequently, the commodity relationships of television are altered, enabling television producers to move away from flow and towards a publishing model. The DVD provides a viable, additional after-sales market, overcoming the temporal challenges of the broadcast distribution platform and lessening the ahistorical nature of the medium. More importantly, it has restructured relationships along the television chain, moving consumers out of a position as an input in the production process of creating audiences. This has contributed to the rise of new 'television' audiences, my favorite of which is the 'Netflixer' - viewers, many based internationally, who are attracted to television programming but disinterested in being subject to the temporally-dictated, advertiser-supported model of television.
Bringing Bits Together
New television gleans much from the DVD model of television distribution. Stream Indexer particularly, which aggregates pages of links to streaming files hosted on a variety of sites across the internet, categorized by genre, program, and season. Like much released on DVD, the catalogue of content available on the site emphasizes narrative, reality, or documentary form ( e.g. Mythbusters), straying away from gameshows, news, current affairs, talk and informational programming. The site completes the disembedding of content from form, emphasizing selectability and scope.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Democracy TV player attempts to provide some sense of flow to online video. Incorporating both a media player (VLC) and a BitTorrent client, Democracy lines up content downloaded into a stream, watchable full-screen, to produce a seemless flow of content. In practice, the stream is somewhat of a torrent, devoid of the organizing logic of a scheduler, Democracy provides an experience replete with genre, quality, and stylistic jumps. Yet, this streaming ability is one of the key reasons Democracy might be considered a 'television' alternative.
Innertube, then, occupies a middle-ground. Making selected content available in an encore fashion, it fails to offer the range of content of Stream Indexer. But it does attempt to re-instate the temporality so crucial to television, as many official offerings do, and including advertising in the segment breaks (though a frustratingly limited number of ads for anyone who watches a lot), CBS' site attempts to re-embed this online content within the commodity logics of 'old' television.
Each of these sites, to a differing degree, construct 'television' fundamentally as content. Disembedding programming from the broader organizing logic of a broadcast schedule, where content functions to construct a pattern of community relations for audiences, these sites, especially Stream Indexer, in essence reduce 'television' to a series of aesthetically and formally similar texts. In this context, like the DVD, 'television' is determined as a particular type of long-form storytelling, and here we see the appropriateness of the term "online video" as a way to categorize the content these sites provide. In the second part of this essay next week, I'll explore the ramifications of this reduction of television for content, and it's affect on audience formation.
The second part of this piece will appear as the Opening Note in next week's C3 Weekly Update.
Dr. Joshua Green is the research manager for the Convergence Culture Consortium and a Postdoctoral Associate at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Why Do People Go To Search Engines Instead of the Official Site? In light of NBC's news about a third of their traffic coming from search engines, Sam Ford looks at how a focus on Web aesthetics often obscures the importance of information and utility.
Nielsen Finds Web Video Viewing Up, Not Interfering with TV Viewing. A new study finds that a third of viewers report watching more television viewing alongside online video, pointing to the importance of cross-platform distribution of serialized content.
Metrics Go Upfront (2 of 2). In the second part of this series, Eleanor Baird looks at the hype surrounding engagement in the industry and questions about any simple understanding of how to measure it.
Metrics Go Upfront (1 of 2). Eleanor Baird provides the first part of this postmortem on this year's upfronts, particularly looking at how traditional metrics are being called into question while providing any new system of metrics is problematic.
Spoilers and Special Release Events: The Case of Harry Potter. The final Harry Potter book is leaked online, leading questions of whether this harms the brand. Sam Ford looks at what this means both for overall sales and for the fan community.
NBCU Strikes Deal with Alltel, as the Company Tries to Expand Mobile Reach. With the nature of mobile service in the United States, media companies continue to make content deals company-by-company for mobile-platform distribution.
C3 Writing on Copyright and Fair Use. C3 Consulting Researcher Jason Mittell writes about the history of copyright and television, while fellow Consulting Researcher Grant McCracken examines what it means that Ani DiFranco refused to grant him copyright for some of her lyrics for an upcoming book.
The Digital Deadline, Inefficient Preparation, and a New Digital Divide? Sam Ford looks at the recent series of editorials in The Boston Globe from Nolan Bowie of the Kennedy School at Harvard, especially issues surrounding the upcoming digital deadline.
Place-Based Gaming, Romance Interactive Storytelling, and Choose-Your-Own Adventure. A new sidewalk-based stencil game in San Francisco's Mission District called "She Loves the Moon" raises interesting questions about place-based gaming and localized gaming experiences.
How Much Has Industry Developments Changed in the Past Year? A look at the 12 posts from this time last year reveals what C3 was analyzing last summer and which stories have gone away, as well as which have persisted.
WGA Negotiations Begin; What Will Be the Future of Transmedia Storytelling? With debates over transmedia content at the top of the list of points of contention between writers and producers in the negotiating process, the fallout could be central to the rate of innovation in utilizing the full capacity of narrative possibilities in the modern media space.
Collective Coping: Fan Communities Deal with Tragedy. Sam Ford looks at a conversation following the Chris Benoit tragedy on a wrestling fan board which demonstrates both the collective grieving process, and also the collective intelligence of fans, drawing links to his previous posts about the death of soap opera star Benjamin Hendrickson.
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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
Not a Case of Either/Or: Journalism and Blogging, Part I of II
By: Huma Yusuf
Champions of the Fourth Estate and advocates of the First Amendment, most professional journalists are keenly aware of the import of their civic role. Recently, however, they have seen their bylines and newsrooms trumped by the work of bloggers, amateurs who most professionals believe have no regard for ethics, objectivity, and reliability.
In this, journalists are much like advertisers, filmmakers, game designers, teachers, and others who have seen their industries revolutionized by the impact of social media and user-generated content. Initially, journalists chose to pooh-pooh the work of independent bloggers -- known variously as citizen journalists or civic media participants -- who have no journalistic training or qualifications, work on their own accord, and are not compensated for their labor.
But in the face of new media trends, resistance has once again proved to be futile. As a result, an increasing number of journalists are beginning to blog in addition to reporting for newspapers. By learning from the amateurs, such journalists may just rescue an ailing newspaper business. Unfortunately, newspapers experimenting with the blogging medium continue to impose big media standards on new media formats, leading to ineffective hybrid models. The question is, will the newspaper chains get it right before its too late?
Acknowledging the increasing conflation of journalism and blogging, CyberJournalist.net offers a helpful way in which to categorize blogs. The site subdivides its master list of blogs with journalistic properties as follows: blogs by journalists published on news sites (199 blogs are featured on this list); limited-time blogs concerned with a specific news story or ongoing event; independent blogs published by journalists that are not hosted on news sites (96 blogs are featured on this list); and, finally, the personal websites and blogs of journalists that may or may not feature news content.
The conflation of journalism and blogging in this manner is having a significant impact on the news media landscape. In January 2007, data released by Nielsen/NetRatings revealed that online newspaper readers have taken to journalistic blogs featured on publication websites. The Nielsen report showed that blogs within the top 10 online newspapers -- including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal -- drew around 3.8 million unique visitors in December 2006.
This number is more than triple the number of readers -- 1.2 million -- who came to newspaper blogs in December 2005. Interestingly, total online readership at the top 10 newspapers during that time grew by only nine percent, from 27.3 million in December 2005 to 29.9 million in December 2006. These statistics imply that an increasing number of online news readers are gravitating towards blogs sanctioned by the mainstream media, rather than merely searching for online news content.
Perhaps that is why the Project For Excellence in Journalism's annual 'State of the News Media 2007' report did not cite the popularity of blogs as one of the problems facing the American news media. "Much of the talk a few years ago -- that blogs would supplant traditional media -- seems antiquated now. The relationship between blogs and traditional media, in the end, may be more complementary, even synergistic, as time moves on," the report states.
In the spirit of synergy, most newspapers ask journalists to blog about personal interests and 'un-newsy' topics such as karaoke, travel, traffic woes, and fine dining. Often, these blogs are extensions of lifestyle and soft news columns that journalists write for their paper's Sunday editions.
For example, Mac Daniel, a columnist for The Boston Globe's Sunday edition writes a blog titled 'Starts and Stops' on commuting to and from Boston for boston.com. Similarly, Emily Sweeney -- a reporter for The Boston Globe and a blogger for boston.com -- contributes to a blog on Boston nightlife titled 'Flipside'. "People read lifestyle and hobby blogs because they're informative about everyday stuff that matters; it's like tuning in to NPR to hear the weather report," explains one journalist. For her part, Ellen Foley, editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, admits that madison.com's 'Dog Blog' and 'Mom@Life' blog are far more popular than her own blog about the paper, which she believes "doesn't entertain people on the web, who are younger and don't particularly care about the mainstream media."
Many argue that such blogs reflect the overall trend in the newspaper business to dumb down content and attract readers by entertaining rather than informing them. Seen differently, these blogs can also serve as a means by which to attract online readers to a newspaper and to discover subjects they may not learn about from the print version. Moreover, journalists who are truly committed to informing the public may learn how to impart relevant civic news through a format that is more accessible than an officious newspaper column.
While lifestyle blogs are counted on to pull in the readers, many editors such as Foley use blogs to explain a newspaper's motives, mandate, and methodology to its readers. These editorial blogs are perceived to enhance transparency and demystify the workings of newsrooms so as to regain the trust of readers. Editors have used blogs to include their readers in debates unfolding in their newsrooms as well as conversations about challenges facing the newspaper business as a whole. Increasing transparency, after all, is one of the mainstays of the Fourth Estate.
Meanwhile, the most contentious journalistic blogs are those that deal with news, public affairs, and politics. Writing in We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People, Gillmor argues that "the most successful blogs by professional journalists have shared some of the characteristics that make any blog worth reading: voice, focus, real reporting, and good writing...there's something liberating about the blog form for journalists. The format encourages informality and experimentation, not to mention the valuable interaction with the audience."
Gillmor's emphasis on what makes a blog "worth reading" -- captivating prose, unusual content and formats, dynamic debate, and, above all, opinions -- translates as the antithesis of the staid, regimented, purportedly unbiased prose of professional news reporting. Indeed, that which Gillmor celebrates about the medium is exactly what makes most journalists uncomfortable about blogging.
As a result, most news and politics blogs posted to by one or more journalists and hosted by a newspaper site amount to little more than news rosters. The so-called blogs usually comprise quick updates and short information-heavy stories that include no interviews, commentary, or news analysis. They rarely link to other online sources --relevant newspaper articles, original documents, or graphics -- and almost never to other blogs. Most importantly, these blogs maintain an objective stance on politics and public policy debates.
The conclusion of this piece will be featured in the Closing Note of next week's C3 Weekly Update.
Huma Yusuf is a graduate student in the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. After graduating from Harvard University in 2002 with a Bachelor's degree in English and American literature, Yusuf has worked as a journalist in Pakistan, winning the UNESCO/Pakistan Press Foundation 'Gender in Journalism 2005' Award and the European Commission's 2006 Natali Lorenzo Prize for Human Rights Journalism. With the support of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, she is currently launching a first-of-its kind webzine, the goal of which is to provide an alternate forum where journalists, academics, and media students can examine and critique the Pakistani media industry at large.
Compiled and Edited by Sam Ford (email@example.com)
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