October 19, 2007
MIT C3 WEEKLY UPDATE
Weekend of October 19, 2007
*Opening Note: Sam Ford on WWE as a Transmedia Business Model
*Glancing at the C3 Blog
*Closing Note: William Uriccho Provides a Media Historian's Look at the Current Media Environment, II of II
--------------- EDITOR'S NOTE ---------------
Hello, and thanks for reading the latest edition of the C3 Weekly Update here at the Convergence Culture Consortium. We've had a busy week, as the C3 team continues forward with its YouTube content analysis project, including rounds of intercoder reliability. We have also started discussing the theoretical and conceptual ideas behind our upcoming project on viral media, and how concepts such as the viral spread of marketing and media content, word-of-mouth, and memes relate to the idea of spreadable media content that we are discussing here in the Consortium. As always, we would love to engage with any of you all on these ideas and look forward to your feedback and thoughts.
We are excited to add Alice Kim to our list of speakers for MIT's Futures of Entertainment 2. Kim, who is Senior Vice President of Digital Distribution and Partner Relations for our partner MTV Networks, will be participating on our mobile media panel at the event. There are still a few tickets left, and we hope as many Consortium members as possible will be able to join us, so if any of you at our corporate partners still plan to attend or know of others who might be interested, please send them our way and let us know. We are also looking forward to having some of our consulting researchers present that weekend as well.
We are also excited to announce that Stacey Lynn Schulman, who is teaching a class here at the Program in Comparative Media Studies this fall with C3 Consulting Researcher Alex Chisholm, and who will be participating in the metrics and measurement panel at FoE2 has taken a position as senior vice-president of ad sales research with C3 partner Turner Broadcasting.
This week's Opening Note builds on last week's work I presented, based on my honors thesis work at Western Kentucky University on professional wrestling. While last week's piece looked at wrestling fans in the live arena setting as a way for understanding better the multiple modes through which fans engage with media texts and how those modes intersect with one another, this piece looks at the World Wrestling Entertainment business model as an exemplar of how to take a product that has lost overall popularity compared yet kept the bottom line steady and even increasing revenue through providing multiple new ways to engage the most active portion of the fan community. Both of these pieces have informed white papers that I lead, most notably the Fandemonium! paper produced earlier this year, and last week's piece was also a precursor to the work Eleanor Baird has been presenting in recent weeks here in the newsletter. Baird will return with the fourth and fifth parts of her series in two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Closing Note this week wraps up William Urrichio's look at the current media environment with an examination of how the history and trends he examined last week might impact the future of the media industries, as well as providing some concluding remarks.
As usual, the newsletter this week features all the entries published during the week on the Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog. Also, please let me know as usual if you are having any trouble receiving the newsletter.
Next week's C3 Weekly Update will be a special Halloween edition.
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 ---------------
The McMahons: Creating a Synergistic Pro Wrestling Media Empire
By: Sam Ford
As an undergraduate in the School of Journalism and Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University, we started talking in 2004 about a buzzword that was starting to change the way journalists thought about their craft and conducted their business: convergence. Convergence, and synergy, were changing the dynamics of how people consumed news and entertainment. Meanwhile, I was immersed in a study of the world of professional wrestling, planning a cross-disciplinary study of wrestling's popularity and the unique relationship between text and audience of wrestling. Last week, I presented some of the results of the interview portion of my work. This week, I wanted to present a case study that I also conducted as part of my thesis, looking at how the WWE remained profitable and even increased profits even as ratings fell from a turn-of-the-century high.
I have continued updating this work and am currently preparing for academic publication with it, but I wanted to share it with the Consortium. I want to provide an overview of the study here in the opening note, with the full study available on the members-only section of the site. If you have trouble finding it, please contact me directly for a copy of the PDF.
The professional wrestling industry entered the 21st century led a billion-dollar synergistic multimedia empire controlled by a visionary, Vince McMahon, and his company, World Wrestling Entertainment, in the wake of one of the most turbulent decades of change in the history of American wrestling, the 1990s. At this point, it appears that McMahon's media wrestling company will continue to have a major impact on the entertainment industry for the foreseeable future. The WWE's continued success has come, in part, from the company making its product available in multiple media forms, so that, even when the total number of consumers of the WWE product stays the same, the company finds a variety of new ways to get the remaining audience to purchase its entertainment.
Pro wrestling and television have matured together, with wrestling airing on all four major networks during television's infancy and being syndicated on local affiliates across the country in the 1960s and 1970s. The tag team of wrestling and cable television solidified in the 1980s and 1990s. WWE was the most consistently popular show on cable at many points, as the industry continued on its road to eventual conglomeration in the hands of Vince McMahon. If McMahon's wrestling empire grew through his relationship with cable television, the wrestling product's dissemination in multiple media forms has been instrumental in the company's now being the only major wrestling enterprise in America. The media forms that the WWE currently uses include books, magazines, compact discs, the Internet, WWE Films, and video and DVD sales. Such synergy has allowed the WWE to form a monopoly over the wrestling business. World Wrestling Entertainment serves as a textbook example of the power of media synergy and as a tool for assessing the benefits and problems associated with that power.
Synergy in the media involves a product being marketed in multiple media forms and often involves cooperation among several media entities or, in an increasingly conglomerated mass media industry, complementary departments within an umbrella company that work together but with each specializing in a particular media form. In his 1998 article in American Journalism Review, media analyst Ken Auletta defines synergy using the media model of the Tribune Company, where that one company distributes the same content through multiple television outlets, "'extends its brand' by appearing in different media," uses a sports team to help recreate one of its television networks, airs movies from WB through its television network, etc. Auletta concludes that "synergy has its limits, but at Tribune they're not business limits."
Vince McMahon's WWE empire is much different in nature from the Tribune Company Auletta was referring to, as it is completely in the entertainment industry. The WWE presents a more focused--and therefore a more salient--example of media synergy. Since McMahon's empire revolves around his wrestling product, questions that Auletta and others face--such as a loss of journalistic integrity in media conglomerates--are not a concern here. Rather, the study I am making available to the Consortium examines the effects that McMahon's media control and synergistic operations have on the marketing of his product.
Examining the rise of the WWE over the past 20 years is a crucial step in understanding its current role in various mass media and in providing background on the ways the company created its media synergy. By marrying its live events with television to a degree never before accomplished by a wrestling company and by constantly expanding its brand into other media forms, the WWE has gradually positioned itself into the synergistic power that it is today, moving from a regional business in the Northeast to becoming a worldwide entertainment conglomerate. The WWE's use of media synergy, in combination with cuts in the corporate infrastructure, has led to this past few years being among the WWE's most profitable, even with its smaller audience.
Sam Ford is the Project Manager of the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT and a graduate of the Program in Comparative Media Studies. He is editor of the C3 Weekly Update and is currently doing further work on the soap opera industry, including preparing his thesis for publication, co-editing a collection of essays on the current state and future of the soap opera industry, and teaching a class in the spring on American soaps.
---------- NEWS FROM THE C3 BLOG -----------
Significant Changes for Procter & Gamble Daytime Shows. The two PGP soap operas, As the World Turns and Guiding Light, are undergoing major production changes, leaving fans to question how audience relations and creative might shift as well.
Porn 2.0. Henry Jenkins provides a post from his blog that looks at the historical and current place pornography has in media transition.
iPods Behind a Crime Wave? Someone Is Missing the Point. C3 graduate researcher Ana Domb looks at recent reports of crime driven by iPod theft and a very different form of media effects, dealing with hardware rather than content.
Live Viewing + 3 Days via DVR + Visiting Transmedia Brand Extensions = More Questions about Engagement. C3 graduate researcher Eleanor Baird looks at new engagement questions raised for audience measurement by C3 numbers and other recent measurement conversations.
"Meet me at my crib...": Reading the official "Crank That" video. C3 graduate researcher Xiaochang Li provides a reading of the text of the "Crank That" video from a "convergence culture" perspective.
Punathambekar on Showtime!, Askwith in Slate, and the McCracken/Anderson Debate. This post highlights and points toward an interesting post from consulting researcher Aswin Punathambekar on his BollySpace 2.0 blog, as well as Ivan Askwith's recent Slate article about the future for television on iTunes and a fascinating discussion between C3 consulting researcher Grant McCracken and Chris Anderson from Long Tail fame.
Babel: Understanding Online Video Trends Is a Messy Process. Tracking the trends in how people use online video is confusing, and it's just as confusing to figure out who all is involved in the conversation. This post from Sam Ford looks at the latest news about online video viewing, in light of a variety of other recent studies.
Pragmatically Challenged: Where Do Quotes Fit in the YouTube Copyright Solution? Sam Ford questions how the new copyright solution from YouTube handles fair use questions, particularly the wide variety of quoting and mash-up practices online, both from the standpoint of the audience's rights but also from a pragmatic point-of-view.
Online TV Affects TV Viewing; It Affects It Not; It Affects It... More people are watching online television than they were a year ago, but Sam Ford looks further at what that means for the current state and future of the media industries.
Best and Worst Practice in Online Narrative Extensions. Sam Ford responds to a recent challenge from Jonathan Gray at The Extratextuals to name some best practice examples of online extensions of television narratives. Not surprisingly, the WWE Web site is atop his list.
Around the Consortium: Monetizing Third-Party Content, Vanity Zip Codes, and Gender and Fan Studies. This post highlights David Edery's debate with Microsoft co-worker Kim Pallister about tapping niche markets through Flight Simulator, while C3 alum Ilya Vedrashko writes about vanity zip codes on his Advertising Lab site and the latest round of the Gender and Fan Studies discussion on Henry Jenkins' blog features Lori Hitchcock Morimoto and David Surman.
Going Retro: NBC Revitalizing American Gladiators. Sam Ford writes about the revitalization of the American Gladiators brand, complete with Hulk Hogan as the host, and how it might balance playing off nostalgia for the early 1990s program versus garnering a new audience today.
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--------------- CLOSING NOTE ---------------
A Media Historian's Look at the Current Media Environment
II of II: A Look at Tomorrow and Concluding Remarks
By: William Uricchio
In last week's Closing Note, Urrichio introduced this piece by looking at former early stages of new media forms and how that might inform today's new media landscape, including the importance of valuing today's online archives. This week, he looks toward what these insights might mean for the future and provides some concluding remarks.
tomorrow: the law of unintended consequences
Social media differ fundamentally from the media around which our archival policies have been constructed. Their rootedness in community and collaborative interactions, and their responsiveness to an ever-shifting present, gives them a unique quality as Zeitdokumenten, finely grained embodiments of culture. But although heritage and cultural memory are certainly worthy goals, these artifacts offer something more.
This is where the law of unintended consequences factors in...Consider the typewriter -- originally designed to permit the blind to write; or the telephone -- developed by Bell to help the deaf to 'hear'. Both technologies found their most significant use far from their originally intended target users, and both went on to transform society in profound and unimagined (let alone unintended) ways.
A current example is fast taking form as smart (RFID) cards replace tickets in urban transportation systems. London's Oyster card, Amsterdam's OV-kaart and New York's SmartLink card are slowly implementing what Singapore and Tokyo have long had in place: an chip-based technology to replace the labor intensive sale and control of individual tickets and paper passes. But what started as a simple profit-enhancing measure has in fact offered unintended advantages. In place of expensive data gathering and poor results, transportation companies now have cheap and highly accurate data regarding their customers' travel activities.
It's increasingly clear that linking the chips to cell phones will permit new forms of location specific promotion as well as such innovations as on-demand announcements (when is the next bus due? How should I re-route to avoid a temporary street closure?). And it would not at all be surprising if new business opportunities emerge permitting travelers modify their chips and phones in order to connect with one another, coordinating travel plans or alerting one another to shared presence in a subway.
These examples all point to the ways in which socially deployed systems develop beyond their original expectations, as users generate unintended applications. Innovation scenarios of course sometimes run head to head with traditional organizational schemes, as the music industry is discovering to its dismay. In this case, it is increasingly clear that networked communities of listeners have effectively routed themselves around a recalcitrant music industry, and the business must fundamentally rethink its paradigm if it is to have any hope of surviving (a look back to the film industry in the very early teens, when the Motion Picture Patents Company exhausted itself in endless rounds of litigation, opening the door to the innovative practices of film 'pirates' like Fox, Warners and others might be instructive).
Still other unintended consequences can greatly enhance existing media properties and business models. Sam Ford, for example, has in this newsletter put forward a number of compelling scenarios in which soap opera archives could be used to stimulate viewer interest, strengthen fan communities, and generally enhance the bottom line. Ford's scenarios all depart from normal television archiving practice, yet clearly reveal the benefits of a particular set of novel uses of the archive to both soap producers and viewers.
As debates rage over the logics and ethics of social labor, whereby 'users' or 'customers' reposition themselves as collaborators and co-producers, the unexpected potentials -- and problems -- of these developments are increasingly clear. In this context, the data generated by use patterns will be extraordinarily important as we try to assess how these new formations emerge, and through which logics they can best be understood. Only with data can we move beyond the anecdotal and learn.
There are of course, very real privacy concerns, and if we are not vigilant, opportunities for misusing this information. But at the same time, if we simply ignore it as the past, relegating it to the dustbin of history, we risk repeating the mistakes of the film industry one hundred years ago, and depriving ourselves (and the future) an opportunity to reflect and understand.
Digital media have blurred relations between the once clearly demarcated realms of producers and consumers. As these digital technologies have become networked and entered a state of high connectivity, a process that is roughly a decade old, we have seen the fast emergence of new social media forms. Social media have enabled new forms of collaboration, and they provide what Pierre Levy describes as a collective intelligence. In so doing, they have rapidly intensified the erosion of traditional and highly centralized organizations through a process of redefinition.
Collaborative news networks compete with established journalism, in the process redefining the news from an institutional assertion of facticity to an act of critical engagement and a struggle for meaning. Music file exchanges such as KaZaa compete with the established recording industry, in the process transforming music from a commodity to be bought and sold, into communities of taste built upon distributed sharing. And open source software developers compete with the Microsofts of the world, in the process redefining software from a commodity to a collaborative language and community tool.
So, too, the world of the archive. The traditional archive has served as a social agent active in the reproduction of culture. By serving as a repository of what key institutions deem valuable, archives preserve cultural values and sustain hierarchies of social and cultural power. Given the very real limits of space and resources, difficult decisions have been made regarding whose letters to keep, which newspapers to store, and which sort of artifactual ephemera to hold. Not surprisingly, these decisions reflect an institutional sense of importance and relevance, which in turn largely maps onto the vision of the dominant classes.
Little wonder that researchers seeking traces of immigrant life in the US at the turn of the century or marginal political and social movements of the present have such difficulty in finding relevant archival sources. But new archival practices that attempt to account for social media forms such as blogs, wikis, social networking sites, chat spaces, games, etc., enabled through distributed logics, enhanced storage capacity and accelerated transmission speeds, can redefine the archive from social agent to social practice.
By embracing bottom up dynamics, they will better reflect a wide range of social values and innovative practices, not just the views of the ruling elite, whether cultural or business. By addressing cultural production that takes place outside of confines of corporate media, they will assume a much wider range of social granularity. And by taking advantage of the new affordances of digitally networked culture, they will encourage widespread participation.
Self-interest is nothing to be ashamed of, but failing to learn from experience certainly is. A partnership between media businesses and a new generation of archives, sensitive to the unique character and challenges of the digitally networked era, offers a clear way to not only learn from the past, but to stimulate the 'unintended consequences' so taken-for-granted in technologies like the telephone and typewriter.
William Uricchio is a faculty investigator for the Convergence Culture Consortium and is also Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, in addition to professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Uricchio studies comparative national constructions of media, trans-national content flows, the way the media are drawn upon for identity purposes, and the transfirmation of media technologies into cultural practices.
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