August 24, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of August 24, 2007
*Editor's Note: Sam Ford's Thesis, Aswin Punathambekar, A Correction, and This Week's Newsletter
*Opening Note: Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins on Convergence, Part IV of IV
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: Jason Mittell Interviews the Creators of The West Side, Part IV of IV
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Welcome to this week's Weekly Update from C3. I want to start of this week by pointing out the next in our series of Master's theses from the Program in Comparative Media Studies, as we share with you the work of our recent graduates from C3. This week, we are putting my thesis up on our site.
Sam Ford's "As the World Turns in a Convergence Culture"
Prior to my taking the job of project manager here for C3, my Master's work focused on the soap opera As the World Turns and how one of television's oldest genres--the American soap opera--is updating itself, or should be updating itself, in today's media environment. Since I am continuing to do work on the daytime television industry, the thesis work should point the way toward questions about business practices that extend beyond the daytime television industry. We previewed some work from my thesis in the closing note of the 06 July 2007 and 13 July 2007 C3 Weekly Update, looking at how soap operas are and should take advantage of their vast content archives.
My thesis can be found here and will also be made available on the internal Convergence Culture Consortium site for our partners later this week. Geoffrey Long's thesis, which was previewed in the Editor's Note last week, is now available in the resources section on the internal portion of our site.
Here is the abstract from my thesis:
"The American daytime serial drama is among the oldest television genres and remains a vital part of the television lineup for ABC and CBS as what this thesis calls an immersive story world. However, many within the television industry are now predicting that the genre will fade into obscurity after two decades of declining ratings. This study outlines how the soap opera industry is and could be further adapting to the technological and social changes of a convergence culture to maintain and revitalize the genre's relevance for viewers and advertisers alike.
CBS/Procter and Gamble Productions/TeleVest's As the World Turns will serve as a case study for these changes. This project examines how the existing fan base plays an active role in gaining and maintaining new fans by researching historical and contemporary examples of social relationships that fans form with other fans and the show itself. In addition to looking at how these fan communities operate, this thesis focuses on how soap operas have adapted and might adapt to alternate revenue models such as product placement, capitalize on their vast content archives, and tell stories through multiple media formats. The study concludes that soap operas should be managed as brands and not ephemeral television content because of their permanence in the television landscape, that fans outside the target advertising demographic should be empowered as proselytizers for the show, and that a transgenerational storytelling approach best utilizes the power of the genre to tell its stories."
Aswin Punathambekar's Ph.D.
We can now add "Dr." in front of Aswin Punathambekar's name. The C3 Consulting Researcher not only has a new position at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor to celebrate, teaching international and comparative media for the Department of Communication Studies, but this alumnus of the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies has successfully defended his doctoral dissertation this summer. Aswin did his doctoral work in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His dissertation, entitled "Bollystan: Bollywood, New Media, and Transnationalism in Contemporary India," focuses on how convergence with new media is altering modes of production, circulation, and consumption of Bollywood. We look forward not only to Aswin's continuing insights for C3 but also to seeing "Bollystan" in book format sometime in the future!
Last week, a paragraph of text from a pervious C3 Weekly Update related to Geoffrey Long's thesis work made its way into the editor's note. This was a typographical blunder on my part, and I hope that it didn't cause too much confusion for you. It will be removed from the archived copy when we put it up on the back end of the site. We apologize for the mistake.
This Week's Newsletter
This week, we wrap up the two series that we have been following for the past several weeks here in the C3 Weekly Update. In the opening note, we feature the final part of Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins' look at convergence culture by focusing on the prohibitionist model and questions of moral economy in relation to media content and brands.
Meanwhile, in the Closing Note, we look at the final part of Jason Mittell's interview with the creators of The West Side, an urban Western online video series. The final part of this interview focuses on advertising, distribution, and purpose for the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
--------------- OPENING NOTE ---------------
Participatory Culture, Lead Use(r)s, and Moral Economy:
How Convergence Culture Is Changing the Relations between Producers and Consumers
Part IV of IV: Prohibitionists and The Moral Economy
By: Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins
Prohibitionists and The Moral Economy
"Our entire cultural economy is in dire straights….We will live to see the bulk of our music coming from amateur garage bands, our movies and television from glorified YouTubes, and our news made up of hyperactive celebrity gossip, served up as mere dressing for advertising." -- Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur
Despite the apparent long-term necessity of the entertainment industry reshaping its relations with consumers (both in the face of new technological realities that make preserving traditional control over content difficult and in the face of new models of consumer relations which stress collaborations with users), media executives remain risk-averse. In his 2006 Journal of Economic Geography essay "Hollywood Versus the Internet," Andrew Currah argues that the reluctance of studio executives to risk short turn revenue gains accounts for their reticence to experiment with alternative content distribution models despite growing data that suggests some forms of legal file-sharing would be in the industry's long-term best interests. Many executives at public companies are paid to draw incremental increases in revenue from mature markets rather than to adopt more long-ranging or entrepreneurial perspectives. New ventures might violate agreements media producers maintain with big-box retailers, decrease revenues from established markets (DVD, PPV), or spoil the balance of release windows and the geographic management of content distribution. According to Currah, the executives best placed to authorize such changes are not likely to be around to see the long-range benefits and thus they opt for the stability and predictability of the status quo.
Both industry leaders and creative workers worry about a loss of control as they grant audiences a more active role in the design, circulation, and promotion of media content; they see relations between consumers and producers as a zero-sum game where one party gains at the expense of the other. For the creative, the fear is a corruption of their artistic integrity, according to what Deuze calls an editorial logic (where decisions are governed by the development and maintenance of reputations within the professional community). For the business side, the greatest fear is the idea that consumers might take something they made and not pay them for it, according to a market logic (where decisions are governed by the desire to expand markets and maximize profits). A series of law suits which have criminalized once normative consumer practices have further inflamed relations between consumers and producers.
If the hope that consumers will generate value around cultural properties has fueled the collaborationist logic, these tensions between producers and consumers motivate the prohibitionist approach towards so-called "disruptive technologies" and practices. If the collaborationist approach welcomes fans as potential allies, the prohibitionist approach sees fans as a threat to their control over the circulation of, and production of meaning around, their content. Consumers are read as "pirates" whose acts of repurposing and recirculation constitute theft. The prohibitionist approach seeks to restrict participation, pushing it from public view. The prohibitionist response needs to be understood in the context of a renegotiation of the moral economy which shapes relations between media producers and consumers.
In his 1971 essay "The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in 18th Century England" from Past and Present, the economic and social historian E.P. Thompson introduced the concept of "moral economy" in his work on Eighteenth century food riots, arguing that where the public challenges landowners, their actions are typically shaped by some "legitimizing notion." He explains, "the men and women in the crowd were informed by the belief that they were defending traditional rights and customs; and in general, that they were supported by the wider consensus of the community."In other words, the relations between landowners and peasants, or for that matter, between contemporary media producers and consumers, reflect the perceived moral and social value of those transactions. All participants need to feel that the involved parties behave in a morally appropriate fashion.
In Textual Poachers, Henry introduced this concept of "moral economy" into fan studies, exploring the ways that fan fiction writers legitimate their appropriation of series content. Through their online communication, fan communities develop a firm consensus about the "moral economy"; this consensus provides a strong motivation for them to speak out against media producers who they feel are "exploiting" their relationship or damaging the franchise. The growing popularity of illegal downloads amongst music consumers, for example, reflects the oft-spoken belief that the record labels are "ripping off" consumers and artists alike through inflated prices and poor contractual terms. The controversy surrounding FanLib spread so rapidly because the fan community already had a well articulated understanding of what constituted appropriate use of borrowed materials. As Henry writes about, Fans objected to profiting from fan fictions both because they saw their work as gifts which circulated freely within a community of fellow fans, and because they believed rights holders were more apt to take legal action to shut down their activities if they believed money was changing hands.
In his white paper review of the concept of the "moral economy" in the context of a discussion of digital rights management, Alec Austin, in conjunction with Henry Jenkins, Joshua Green, Ivan Askwith, and Sam Ford, writes, "Thompson's work suggested that uprisings (or audience resistance) was most likely to occur when powerful economic players try to shift from existing rights and practices and towards some new economic regime. As they do so, these players seem to take away "rights" or rework relationships which were taken for granted by others involved in those transactions." A period of abrupt technological and economic transition destabilizes relations between media producers and consumers. Consumers defend perceived rights they had long taken for granted, such as the practice of producing and circulating "mix tapes" of music, while corporations sought to police behavoir which they saw as more damaging as it moved more fully into public view, such as file trading. Both sides suspect the other of exploiting the instability created by shifts in the media infrastructure.
This moral economy includes not simply economic and social obligations between producers and consumers but also social obligations to other onsumers. As Ian Condry explains in his essay "Cultures of Music Piracy" from The International Journal of Cultural Studies, "Unlike underwear or swim suits, music falls into the category of things you are normally obligated to share with your dorm mates, family, and friends. Yet to date, people who share music files are primarily represented in media and business settings as selfish, improperly socialized people who simply want to get something -- the fruits of other people's labor -- for free." Industry discourse depicting file-sharers (or downloaders, depending on your frame of reference) as selfish doesn't fully acknowledge the willingness of supporters to spend their own time and money to facilitate the circulation of valued content, whether in the form of a "mix tape" given to one person or a website with sound files that can be downloaded by any and all. Enthusiasts face these costs in hopes their actions will generate greater interest in the music they love and that sharing music may reinforce their ties to other consumers. Condry says he finds it difficult to identify any moral argument against file sharing which young people find convincing, yet he has been able to identify a range of reasons why people might voluntarily choose to pay for certain content (to support a favorite group or increase the viability of marginalized genres of music). The solution may not be to criminalize file-sharing but rather to increase social ties between artists and fans.
Contemporary conflicts about intellectual property emerge when individual companies or industries shift abruptly between collaborationist and prohibitionist models. In his forthcoming essay in Convergence, Hector Postigo has documented growing tensions between game companies and modders when companies have sought to shut down modding projects which tread too closely on their own production plans or go in directions the right holders did not approve. Because there has been so much discussion of the economic advantages of co-creation, modders often reject the moral and legal arguments for restraining their practice.
Some recent critics of Web 2.0 models deploy labor theory to talk about the activities of consumers within this new digital economy. The discourse of "Web 2.0" provides few models for how to compensate fan communities for the value they generate. Audience members, it is assumed, participate because they get emotional and social rewards from their participation and thus neither want nor deserve economic compensation. Tiziana Terranova has offered a cogent critique of this set of economic relationships in her work on "free labor": "Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited....The fruit of collective cultural labor has been not simply appropriated, but voluntarily channeled and controversially structured within capitalist business practices."
Consider, for example, Lawrence Lessig's critique of an arrangement where LucasFilm would allow fans to "remix" Star Wars content in return for granting the company control over anything participants had generated in response to those materials. Lessig, writing in The Washington Post, described such arrangements as a modern day version of "sharecropping." Fans were embracing something like this same critique in their response to FanLib, rejecting the idea that the company should be able to profit from their creative labor.
On the other end of the spectrum fall writers like Andrew Keen, who suggests in The Cult of the Amateur that the unauthorized circulation of intellectual property through peer-to-peer networks and the free labor of fans and bloggers constitute a serious threat to the long-term viability of the creative industries. Here, it is audience activity which exceeds the moral economy. In his nightmarish scenario, professional editorial standards are giving way to mob rule and the work of professional writers, performers, and media makers is being reduced to raw materials for the masses who show growing contempt for traditional expertise and disrespect for intellectual property rights. Keen concludes his book with a call to renew our commitment to older models of the moral economy, albeit ones that recognize the new digital realities: "The way to keep the recorded-music industry vibrant and support new bands and music is to be willing to support them with our dollars -- to stop stealing the sweat of other people's creative labor." 
Lessig, Terranova, and others see the creative industries as damaging the moral economy through their expectations of "free" creative labor, while Keen sees the media audiences as destroying the moral economy through their expectations of "free" content. Read side by side, the competing visions of consumers as "sharecroppers" and "pirates" reflects the breakdown of trust on all sides. The sunny Web 2.0 rhetoric about constructing "an architecture for participation" papers over these conflicts, masking the set of choices and compromises which need to be made if a new moral economy is going to emerge.
Rebuilding this trust relationship requires embracing, rather than resisting, the changes to the economic, social, and technological infrastructure we have described. The prohibitionist stance adopted by some companies and industry bodies denies the changed conditions in which the creative industries operate, trying to force participatory culture to conform to yesterday's business practices. While prohibitionist companies want to maintain broadcast era patterns of control over content development and consumer relations, they hope to reap the benefits of the digital media space. NBC enjoyed the viral buzz that came with fans sharing the Saturday Night Live clip "Lazy Sunday" but issued a take down notice to YouTube to ensure the only copies available online came from NBC's official site (within the proximity of their branding material and advertising), as we argued in the Austin et al. white paper. The network's prohibition of file sharing reflects NBC's discomfort with YouTube drawing advertising revenue from consumer circulation of its content. While perhaps completely defensible within broadcast era business logic, the decision ignored the ways that the spread of this content generated viewer interest in the broadcast series. For the network, the primary if not soul value of the content was as a commodity which could collect rents from consumers and advertisers alike. In attempting to re-embed "Lazy Sunday" within the distribution logics of the broadcast era, locking down both the channel and context of it's distribution, NBC also attempted to re-embed the clip within an older conception of audience impressions. Many viewers responded according this same logic -- skipping both commercials and content in favor of producers who offered them more favorable terms of participation.
Navigating through participatory culture requires a negotiation of the implicit social contract between media producers and consumers, seeing creative as both commodities and culture. While this complex balance has always shaped creative industries, NBC struck down their fans in order to resolve other business matters, such as their relationships with advertisers and affiliates, sacrificing the cultural status of creative goods for their commodity value. The alternative approach is to find ways to capitalize on the creative energies of participatory audiences. Mentos' successful management of the Mentos and soda videos that emerged online in 2006 represents a more collaborative approach. Noticing a fad around dropping Mentos mints into bottles of soda and filming the resulting eruption, Mentos permitted, supported and eventually promoted the playful use of their intellectual property. Mentos could have issued cease and desist notices to regulate their brand's reputation, as FedEx did after a college student built a website featuring his dorm furniture made out of free FedEx boxes, as documented by Vranica and Terhune. Instead, Mentos capitalized on the cultural capital it's product had acquired, collaborating with audiences to construct a new brand image. Engaging and promoting fan engagement offers media companies a more positive outcome than attempting the wack-a-mole game of trying to quash grassroots appropriation wherever it arises. Doing so also brings corporations into direct contact with lead users, revealing new markets and unanticipated uses.
The renegotiation of the moral economy requires a commitment on the part of participatory audiences to respect intellectual property rights. We see the potential of rebuilding consumer's good will when anime fans cease circulating fan subbed content when it is made commercially available or when gamers support companies that offer them access to modding tools. Collaborationist approaches recognize and respect consumer engagement while demanding respect in return. Working with and listening to engaged consumers can result in audiences who help to patrol intellectual property violations; though their investment may not be measured according to the same market logics as the production company, fans are likewise invested in the success of creative content. In doing so, media companies not only acknowledge the cultural status of the commodities they create, they're in a position to harness the passionate energies of fans.
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 -----------
YouTube Creates New Ad Models as Viacom Woes Move Forward. Google has set up new plans for overlay ads for its professional content, while some of its most known personalities--Colbert and Stewart--may be called to speak in the YouTube/Viacom lawsuit.
C3 Team's Look at Fan Studies, Spock, Peer-to-Peer Ads, Consumption Studies. Henry Jenkins' blog presented two new rounds of the Gender and Fan Studies series, featuring, among others, C3's Aswin Punathambekar. Meanwhile, C3's Ilya Vedrashko writes on Google's peer-to-peer ads, while C3's Rob Kozinets looks at consumption studies.
inVerge. C3 Research Director Joshua Green writes about his upcoming speaking engagement at the Interactive Convergence Conference in Portland.
Surplus Audiences, ATWT, and the Luke/Noah Kiss. As the World Turns had a milestone moment earlier this month--the first "serious" kiss between gay male characters in American daytime. How can producers of the show use the kiss' popularity on YouTube, and in online gay communities?
Free Market and Copyright. Sam Ford reacts to a recent piece from World Poker Tour's Steven Lipscomb about the free market and the need to protect copyright rigorously, questioning the conception of what a free market really means.
Externally Located Content. A recent piece from Jeffrey Zeldman focuses on advertising's use of "externally located content." Sam Ford examines this further in relation to television complexity and advertising campaigns.
Gender Biases in the Political Blogosphere? Is there a male bias in the blogosphere? That's what a recent Boston Globe commentary asked regarding political blogs. Sam Ford looks at this in greater detail.
WWE Going to HD on The CW? As WWE moves forward to convert its wrestling to high-definition video, news has been circulating that Smackdown may join all the other CW content in HD at the beginning of 2008.
Wii and AARP: Another Example of Surplus Fans. A recent article in AARP: The Magazine points out that 25 percent of gamers are over 50 and that video games have a variety of implications for an older audience that the marketing of consoles rarely, if ever, focus on.
Lonelygirl15 and Advertising Models. With the season finale of Lonelygirl attracting a high volume of views for an online video series, questions continue to be raised about the validity of product placement and integration as a business model for online shows.
Moving Forward in Preparing for Digital Deadline. IBM has been designated as the company to handle the coupon process for the converter boxes for the digital conversion in 2009, as the government and the industries starts to gain a little steam with preparing for the switch.
Checking Out Their Alibis: Do Viewers Remember What They've Seen? A recent Nielsen report finds that 21 percnet of viewers could not "correctly recall" at least one TV show they had viewed as a Nielsen subject. What does this mean?
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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 IV of IV
By: Jason Mittell
Jason Mittell's interview with Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman, the creators of an online serialized film called The West Side, has been featured for the past three weeks in the C3 Closing Note. 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. The final installment looks at questions of advertising, distribution, and purpose for the series.
JM: Zack mentioned that you decided you didn't want advertising - why not? I can think of a lot of reasons that might play into it, but I'm curious how it particularly shaped your plan. And given that, are you by default investing a ton of time and a bit of money into a project that cannot be "monetized" (to use an industry buzz word), at least initially?
ZL: We decided that we didn't want advertising for a few hard-to-explain reasons, but primarily because we wanted people to know we weren't making this for the money and that is a labor of love for both of us. So to answer your question, we are indeed sinking a ton of time and money into something that we're not trying to monetize. Whether it finds itself monetized in the end remains to be seen…
RBK: If we were interested in making money with this project, The West Side would be a comedy wherein hot girls run around wearing nothing but gunbelts, and then proceed to take off the gunbelts. Our subject matter, our pacing, our episode release schedule--these things aren't designed to maximize pageviews on our site, but rather to allow for quality storytelling through moving images--what some might call "filmmaking." At the end of the day, no one remembers how much money you made.
JM: What do you see as the "endgame" for the series once its finished in terms of distribution? Do you have plans or ambitions for it beyond its own website?
ZL: We have ideas and we've thought plenty about revenue streams once all is said and done, but for now, we're trying not to think too much about it.
RBK: With a web serial of this nature, we're not trying to make a few bucks, we're trying to put ourselves out there and launch a film career with our bare hands. In that way, the "endgame" is, in fact, the beginning.
JM: So would it be fair to call this a "calling card" project, showcasing what you can do and inviting someone to hire you into the traditional industries? Or do you see it as a pilot for a type of creation that might invite industrial investment? If you're scripting a happy ending for the creators of The West Side, what happens over the next year once those "enablers" see the project?
RBK: I suppose I didn't mean "enabler" in the sense of one individual, necessarily--I meant that this project will open doors to further opportunities for us as filmmakers, be that in the form of starting an independent production company, producing a new series for an established media company, writing for the screen in one form or another, shooting music videos for bands that people have actually heard of... We always said throughout the writing process that this project will open doors, but there's no way of knowing which ones those will be, so we'll just see what happens. But yes, it would be fair to call this a calling card project, albeit one of those very cheap, four-cents-a-minute-to-Mexico calling cards.
JM: Finally, for anyone reading this who might have their own ambitions as an independent producer using online video to facilitate their career, what advice would you give them? What advice do you wish someone had given you a year ago--or maybe that you heard but ignored?
RBK: Not that we're savvy industry veterans by any means, but at this point I would say the most valuable lesson we've learned so far is to take your time and really put out the best quality production you can. With as much video as there is out there flooding the internet every day--and, indeed, independent producers getting picked up by talent agencies or signing production deals--it's easy to feel pressured into putting out something tomorrow. But if we'd rushed through the scripting, shooting, or post process, you wouldn't be interviewing us, because we'd be just another set of aspiring filmmakers who put out a home video that no one noticed. As an independent producer, you might not have any money, but what you do have is time, and if you spend a lot of it you can overcome many of the obstacles that normally stand in the way of getting a film project produced.
Also, on a more personal level, I would say that it's rare to be in a situation where you can make a decent film all by yourself. You need collaborators and allies, so if you're stuck in a town where you're having trouble finding talented people to work with... move.
ZL: Get out there and do it.
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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