August 10, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of August 10, 2007
*Editor's Note: Alec Austin's Thesis, Futures of Entertainment, and This Week's Newsletter
*Opening Note: Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins on Convergence, Part II of IV
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Jason Mittell Interviews the Creators of The West Side, Part II of IV
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3.
Alec Austin's "Expectations Across Entertainment Media"
C3 alum Alec Austin, who is now working for Electronic Arts in Los Angeles, has finished his work with the Convergence Culture Consortium and the Master's program in the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. He has shared his work on fan expectations and implicit contracts with the consortium in the past, but his thesis is now available in full online. It can be found here and will also be put up on the internal Convergence Culture Consortium site for our partners later this week. For those interested in knowing more about Alec's work, here is the abstract for his thesis:
"An audience's satisfaction with an entertainment product is dependent on how well their expectations are fulfilled. This study delves into the implicit contract that is formed between the purveyor of an entertainment property and their audience, as well as the consequences of frustrating audience expectations. Building on this model of the implicit contract, the creation of expectations through marketing, character and world development, and the invocation of genre discourses are examined through the lens of the television shows House M.D. and Veronica Mars.
The issues surrounding the dynamic equilibrium between novelty and stability in serial entertainment and entertainment franchises brought up by these initial case studies are examined in further detail through the collectible card game Magic: the Gathering, and the complexity of the interactions between different types of expectations are demonstrated via a study of the superhero comics serials 52 and Civil War."
Futures of Entertainment
C3's second annual Futures of Entertainment conference was announced this past week. The event, which will be held on Nov. 16-17, will feature panels on advertising, cult media, measuring audiences, cultural labor, and mobile platform development. More information is available at the Futures of Entertainment site.
This Week's Newsletter
This week's opening note is the next installment of the essay that C3 Director Henry Jenkins and Research Manager Joshua Green will be publishing soon in the forthcoming Media Industry Studies from Blackwell Publishing edited by Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren. This week's portion of the essay looks at participatory audiences.
Jason Mittell presents the second part of his interview with the creators of online serial urban Western film The West Side in the Closing Note this week, focusing on the choice of both the content and the method of distribution for the online series.
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 email@example.com.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Participatory Culture, Lead Use(r)s, and Moral Economy:
How Convergence Culture Is Changing the Relations between Producers and Consumers
Part II of IV: Produsers and Other Participatory Audiences
By: Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins
Produsers and Other Participatory Audiences
"The term multiplier may help marketers acknowledge more forthrightly that whether our work is a success is in fact out of our control. All we can do is to invite the multiplier to participate in the construction of the brand by putting it to work for their own purposes in their own world. When we called them 'consumers' we could think of our creations as an end game and their responses as an end state. The term 'multiplier' or something like it makes it clear that we depend on them to complete the work." -- Grant McCracken (2005)
How audiences are imagined is crucial to the organization of media industries (see Ien Ang's Desperately Seeking the Audience and John Hartley's essay "Invisible Fictions: Television Audiences, Pacdocracy, Pleasure"), which rely on such mental models to shape their interface with their public. Convergence culture brings with it a re-conceptualization of the audience -- how it is comprised, how it is courted, what it wants, and how to generate value from it. Increasingly, audiences are valued not simply based on what they consume but also on what they produce. The audience is no longer the end point along an industrial chain, and as Axel Bruns argues, they no longer need to "resort to auxiliary media forms." (For more on Axel's work, look here and here.)
There are many new labels for "those people formerly known as the audience," as Jay Rosen puts it. Some call them (us, really) "loyals," as Henry Jenkins writes about in Convergence Culture, stressing the value of consumer commitment in an era of channel zapping. Some are calling them "media-actives," such as Betsy Frank, stressing a generational shift with young people expecting greater opportunities to reshape media content than their parents did. Some are calling them "prosumers," from Alvin Toffler's 1980 book The Third Wave, suggesting that as consumers produce and circulate media, they are blurring the line between amateur and professional. Some are calling them "inspirational consumers" such as Kevin Roberts does in Lovemarks, or else "connectors" or "influencers," suggesting that some people play a more active role than others in shaping media flows. Grant McCracken calls them "multipliers", stressing their role in proliferating the values and meanings that get attached to particular brands. Each label describes audience practices related to, but significantly different from, the construction of the active audience within media and cultural studies' discussions in the 1970s and 1980s. To talk about participatory audiences now is to talk about how differently-abled, differently resourced, and differently motivated media producers work in the same space. Consumption in a networked culture is a social rather than individualized practice.
Describing the productive consumption within collaborative projects such as the Wikipedia and online news sites, Axel Bruns introduces the concept of the 'produser', a "hybrid user/producer" involved in "the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in the pursuit of further improvement." Produsers contribute to the iterative improvement of goods and services, whether explicitly, in the form of online news sites (Slashdot, Digg) or knowledge projects (Wikipedia), or perhaps without their conscious knowledge, as happens when user purchase decisions contribute to Amazon's recommendation services. Bruns outlines four characteristics of produsage:
Produsage is community based, relying on the belief that, with enough size and diversity, the community can achieve "more than a closed team of professionals."This is particularly evident in Free and Open Source Software communities, where collective engineering has produced entire operating systems (such as the various flavors of Linux) able to compete with multi-million dollar products from Microsoft (Windows) and Apple (OS X).
Produsage affords fluid roles - users participate as much as they are able to, depending on their skill, time, desire, interest, and knowledge. As a result, participatory projects can be flexibly but sophisticatedly organized. This fluidity in roles reflects the "ad-hoc" basis of collective intelligence and the ways participatory audiences self-organize to achieve complex tasks. In research into Alternate Reality Games, Ivan Askwith (2006) points to four types of players - Organizers, Hunters, Detectives, and Lurkers - whose interactions shape the community's game play experience. For more on this, see Askwith's white paper with Henry Jenkins, Joshua Green, and Tim Crosby, entitled This Is Not (Just) an Advertisement: Understanding Alternate Reality Games.
- Organizers network with other players, collecting and redistributing resources and keeping track of progress.
- Hunters uncover new clues, often spending hours scanning game resources for fresh hints.
- Detectives break code, solve riddles and determine the meaning of clues.
- Lurkers observe the community's progress, often providing statistical evidence of interest in the game.
These players represent four positions along a spectrum of produsage: each contributes to the community's success in unravelling the ARG's mystery.
Produsage creates "unfinished artifacts" - Unlike professional media production, the fruits of produsage are always open to iterative development. Writers like T. L. Taylor in the 2006 Games and Society essay "Does WoW Change Everything?" looking at the case of World of Warcraft, and Christy Dena's current research (not yet published) in the case of Alternate Reality Games discuss the ways players augment the original content to enhance their community's experience, and these augmentations are in turn subject to further modifications by other users.
Finally, produsage offers individualized rewards and recognition - in the form of increased cultural capital or social standing - for contributions to the common good. The game industry talks about"bragging rights," allowing players to improve their avatars, say, based on their commitment to and accomplishments within the game world.
Just as Bruns' category of the produser suggests a blurring of the role of producer and user, these trends also suggest a blurring of the historic distinction between fan and "average" consumer. As the web has made fan culture more accessible to a larger public and as digital tools have made it easier to perform such activities, a growing portion of the population now engages in what might once have been described as fannish modes of consumption. Describing pyramids of participation, some commentators note that the most labor intensive activities are still performed by a self-selected few, while more casual modes of participation extend to a larger population, as Bradley Horowitz and Raph Koster both write about. It matters that these more casual consumers have the option of a more intensified engagement even if they choose not to participate at that level. But research needs to extend beyond the most visible members of fan communities to encompass more mundane and casual modes of consumption.
While Bruns links produsage to collaborative news gathering, citizen journalism, and the FOSS movement, these core characteristics also describe fan behaviors around branded entertainment. In Consumer Tribes, Robert Kozinets uses the phrase "'wikimedia' production" to describe the behavior of Star Trek fan filmmakers, who, in backyards, basements, and home-made studios, have been creating and distributing unofficial "episodes" using high quality equipment and state of the art special effects. Star Trek: New Voyages, for example, hopes to complete the original Enterprise's intended five-year mission (cut short after three seasons) while others raise questions not addressed on the air (including, for example, satisfying a long standing but never fulfilled promise of explicitly queer characters). Kozinets compares this production process where fans add not only to the original text but also correct, comment on and contribute to other fan productions to the collaborative process that is generating Wikipedia, a user-built online encyclopedia.
Wikimedia is the application of an open source model to branded entertainment -- often operating outside but in dialogue with the processes that generate commercial culture (Kozinets 2007: 198). These "collaborative media creators," like produsers, are motivated by a desire to enrich the community of fellow fans. In doing so, Kozinets argues they are also promoting the Star Trek brand, strengthening and prolonging its market value. Looking towards the future, these amateur productions are also providing a training ground from which writers, directors, and producers of any future Star Trek series might be recruited. Something similar occurred around the British television series, Doctor Who, which was off the air for more than a decade but rebounded, in part, based on talent recruited from the fan community, which will be focused on by the likes of Matt Hills and Neil Perryman.
Several of these fan media productions have involved active collaboration with the original creators (actors, writers, and technical crew) from the official Star Trek franchise. Kozinets' description of Star Trek fan cinema challenges the ways that fans have been depicted both within the political economy tradition (as passive consumers of mass generated content rather than as active participants in cultural production and circulation) and within the cultural studies tradition (as autonomous or resistant subcultures rather than as collaborators with commercial shareholders).
The roles of producer and consumer are being blurred within the new media landscape. Mark Deuze's Media Work traces these shifts in the relations between media producers and consumers across the advertising, film and television, news, and games industries as part of a larger pattern of changes in the ways creative work is organized and monetized. Deuze notes, however, that companies often feel threatened by the ways this shift of power and responsibility towards consumers disrupts older practices; many companies limit participation, even as they recognize its potential for generating revenue.
The third part of this four-part series will appear in the Opening Note of 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.
Dr. 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 blog is available at http://www.henryjenkins.org.
----------NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG-----------
An Interview with Parry Aftab (2 of 4). The second part of this four-part series featuring Sam Ford's interview with lawyer and child safety advocate Parry Aftab from WiredSafety focuses on the development of WiredSafety's work on social networks.
An Interview with Parry Aftab (1 of 4). WiredSafety's Parry Aftab, a children's safety advocate who focuses particularly on social networking sites, conducts a four-part interview with Sam Ford, with the first part focusing on what started her work in the field.
Answering Questions from a Snowman: The YouTube Debate and Its Aftermath. Henry Jenkins shares a post from earlier in the month with the C3 blog, focusing on the recent presidential debate featuring citizen questions submitted in the form of online video.
Social Networking and Social Marketing. Our partners at GSD&M have written further about social networking on the Idea City blog, tying into the recent work C3 has been doing on social networking.
Futures of Entertainment 2 Planned for Nov. 16-17. C3 announces the second annual conference for this November, featuring leading industry voices alongside academic voices looking at the media industries.
The Battle of the Business Models--Subscription versus Ad-Supported. C3's Eleanor Baird looks at the Veronis Suhler Stevenson/PQ Media report which predicts that online and "alternative" ad spending will surpass newspapers by 2011, looking at the battle between online monetizing models.
The Problem with Measuring Reputation in the PR Industry. Peppercom's Ed Moed recently wrote about a study released about public relations equating positive media coverage from a company with a positive reputation, asking whether we can really conflate the two. Sam Ford examines these issues further.
People Are Consuming Less Media? But What Does That Mean? A new study finds that people are consuming slightly less media than they used to, but people are debating what this actually means, and how we can make any assumptions based on the data collected.
CBS' Schizophrenic Response to the Jericho Situation. CBS officials seem to be sending mixed messages regarding fan response and alternative ways of viewing network television shows, leading to confusion from the fan community about how much support they have from the network.
Harley-Davidson Provides a Window into Sturgis. Harley finds an interesting way to brand online video, providing a live window into the Sturgis motorcycle festivities that can be shared on various sites.
Another Proposed Metric: Tabulating Engagement Online. WebTrends will be issuing scores for Web sites, with time spent on certain pages weighted in terms of how engaged the reader is to be spending time at that destination.
FCC Preparing to Educate Public on Digital Deadline. The government entity is responding to criticism from Rep. John Dingell by pushing forward with campaigns to prepare for the February 2009 move to digital broadcast television in the U.S.
--------------- 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 ---------------
The West Side: An Interview with the Creators
Part II of IV
By: Jason Mittell
Last week, Jason started an interview with Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman, the creators of an online serialized film called The West Side. These two, who met on the job at MTV, have collaborated on this online urban Western which will be rolling out in episodes over the next several months.
JM: So why an "urban western?" What brought you to that genre mixture, and where there specific films, programs, or other media that inspired you to try to create such a fictional world? The threads of influence that I see weaving through the project are The Wire (in part because I know Ryan's devotion to the series), early Spike Lee, Firefly, and of course classic John Ford/Howard Hawks/spaghetti Western films. What else helped shape your aesthetic?
RBK: Zack had been talking about writing a Western--I'll let him talk about his influences there--and I'd had an idea in college for a thesis on "hip-hop as the new American Western." In terms of ownership of property, personal freedom, living by the gun, disregard of the law, etc., I felt that hip-hop's relationship with American culture today was very similar to that of the Western fifty years ago (or thirty years ago with the Spaghetti Western). I never wrote that thesis--I wasn't alive during either of those eras anyway, so I couldn't really speak to the cultural climate--but once Zack and I started talking about internet video and Westerns, the idea came right back.
ZL: I've wanted to do a western since I became interested in making movies. The idea of an ambiguous character getting involved in something beyond himself fascinated me by its limitless potential; you have this sense that anything can happen but it's also tied down to the reality of the social situation and set of injustices in which the characters or the society find themselves. And since frontier characters are necessarily solitary, you can have these rich and nuanced portraits of characters trying to cope what it takes to survive in a chaotic world.
While the Urban may seem counter to the Frontier, I think there are definitely parallels to the isolation one can feel in the chaos of the city; it can also provide a drastic magnification of injustice. And being a passionate and interested observer of my daily urban life, I can't help but feel the need to portray some of what I see.
RBK: In terms of aesthetics, we went with black-and-white for both creative and practical reasons. Creatively, The West Side is a harsh world, and high-contrast black and white brings out that edge. Also, some of my favorite black-and-white Westerns--High Noon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--have more of an "urban" feel compared to the typical frontier-set Western, and I think the black-and-white aesthetic contributes to that feeling. Practically, we knew that creating an alternate universe out of New York City meant obscuring immediately recognizable details like street signs and advertisements, and in order to suspend disbelief we wanted to shoot The West Side as if it were another time and place.
JM: I've seen you refer to the project as an "online television program." How do you see it relating to TV, film, or other media? What makes it television per se, or is it just a label of convenience for episodic storytelling?
RBK: I see it as a label of convenience--we've also referred to The West Side as a serialized novel, and I also like to think of it as a version of the old Western comic books my father read as a kid. Neither of us watches much TV--I don't even have one--so I think both of us would rather think of it as a feature film in chapters, instead of as a TV show. But the landscape of television is also changing--in the past several years continual story lines have become more common in mainstream TV, wherein a season consists of one long yarn instead of every episode functioning as a standalone chunk of entertainment. This is partially due to audiences getting more sophisticated, and it's also reasonable nowadays to expect loyal viewers to catch every episode thanks to TiVo and rebroadcasts online. But I also think it's just naturally more rewarding to audiences to have more continuity across episodes and seasons, ultimately enabling more meaningful storytelling. Growing up, I remember watching The X-Files and wishing that every episode would be part of the aliens-being-covered-up-by-the-government storyline, but the majority of episodes in each season were mere standalone cases that ended with Scully's filing away a manila folder. As a viewer, you were entertained for the episode's running time, but you didn't go to sleep reflecting on how that episode fit into the larger puzzle, and other than the show's quickly-cut teaser at the end, you had no inkling of what would happen next. Today, shows like 24, Lost, and The Wire do away with the filler episodes and reward the viewer with an experience akin to a 15-hour movie in chapters. So while I'd love to take credit for the idea of serializing a feature film, it's been done plenty of times before, and I also think we're merely fitting into a larger movement towards more tightly-woven, serialized visual storytelling.
The third part of this interview will be featured in the Closing Note of next week's 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 consulting researcher 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. See his blog at http://justtv.wordpress.com/.
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