May 18, 2010
The Process of Sharing: Uncovering the Cultural Logic of the Media Franchise
By: Derek Johnson
In most scholarly, industrial, and popular accounts, the media franchise is an effect. Whether figured as a product of corporate conglomeration, intellectual property management, or convergent transmedia storytelling, the frequently invoked franchise nevertheless attracts little interrogation in its own right, explained by and in relation to these other important cultural forces. This research aims instead to uncover the under explored cultural logic of media franchising, examining the franchise not as an effected product, but as a process and set of relationships that produce culture. In developing a detailed, historical portrait of what franchising is and how it works, we will deepen our understanding of how culture is collaboratively produced and consumed across decentralized networks of interest.
To that end, this inquiry combines current research trajectories in media and cultural studies with conceptual models drawn from the fields of business and organizational communication to make sense of franchising as a social practice. This approach demands we consider franchising not solely in terms of texts, products, brands, or properties, but in terms of power-laden, networked relationships between franchisors and franchisees, each with distinct interests in shared resources. With a cultural understanding of franchising in place, this project examines how shared resources have been deployed, managed, and sustained in specific historical instances by media institutions, creative personnel, and even consumers invested in them. These examinations combine interviews with contemporary media producers and executives with archival sources that make it possible to contextualize the cultural logic of franchising within an historical framework.
This study delivers five key findings to demonstrate the significance of franchising as a structure for organizing collaborative cultural production. First, franchising has depended on ongoing, strategic relationships between parties with unequal interest in shared cultural resources; franchises are not reflective of intellectual property monopolies, but an increasing potential since the 1980s for culture to be shared across multiple, imperfectly aligned sites of production (sometimes across media, sometimes within a single sector; franchising is not inherently a transmedia phenomenon). Second, the cultural networks constituted by franchising have not merely bolstered the power of “big media” institutions, but rather have created tensions, cleavages and challenges to be negotiated by conglomerates and upstarts alike. Companies like Marvel Comics have historically adapted business practices and corporate structures in response to shared franchise use. Third, franchising has enabled co-creation and collaboration through the “over design” of story worlds packed with enough detail to support decentralized, emergent creative uses. Use of worlds like Battlestar Galactica, however, remains structured by creative hierarchies in which producers alternately defer to or differentiate from one another based on the power they wield. Fourth, as shared cultural resources, franchised worlds have supported the investment not just of media institutions, but also enfranchised consumers. Consumers act as de facto franchisees, pursuing their own economic and political interests in the resources offered by franchises like 24. Fifth, franchises generate and support transnational processes of exchange, transformation, and reinvestment. Franchises like Transformers can be most productively understood not in terms of American and Japanese versions, but as cultural processes in which local innovations feed global networks of production. From these findings, this project as a whole theorizes the culture of media franchising to uncover the forces and tensions by which collaborative production has historically operated in the entertainment industries.
Derek Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas, Department of Radio, Television, and Film. His dissertation examined the historical development of the media "franchise" as a form based on shared intellectual property networks, as a specific set of production and consumption practices, and as a discourse used to make sense of media culture. Interested in the organization of culture across media platforms, his research spans a wide range of industries (including film, television, video games, comics, and licensed merchandising) and encompasses issues of narrative theory, audience reception, public sphere discourse, as well as media economics and policy. His recent publications include "Inviting Audiences In: The Spatial Reorganization of Production and Consumption in 'TVIII'" (New Review of Film and Television, 2007), "Fan-tagonism: Factions, Institutions, and Constitutive Hegemonies of Fandom" (Fandom: Identities and Communities in Mediated Culture, edited by Gray, Harrington, and Sandvoss, 2007), and "Will the Real Wolverine Please Stand Up?: Marvel's Mutation from Monthlies to Movies" (Film and Comic Books, edited by Gordon, Jancovich, and McAllister, 2007).
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Virtual Seminar: Advertising - Now Available Online; 2009 Retreat (audio) and 2010 Retreat (audio and video) available soon
On April 1st, the Consortium team hosted our first virtual seminar, to connect directly about the ideas and concepts presented in our research papers. Our turnout was higher than expected: over forty members of the Consortium participated!
If you unfortunately missed the event, it is now available online via the Consortium website (access via your Consortium username/password required). The discussion is available in audio (.mp3) format along with the slides in Powerpoint (.ppt) format, and you can access all of these materials here
CMS 10th Anniversary
A Brief History of C3
By: Daniel T. Pereira
The Convergence Culture Consortium (C3) research project is one of the program’s most direct applications of CMS theory and practice in the areas of corporate media, digital media, and the creative industries.
Launched in 2005 by Henry Jenkins, William Uricchio, and CMS alum Parmesh Shahani, ’05, the Consortium built on previous research projects at CMS that sought to directly engage the media industries. Building on the work of alums such as Aswin Punathambekar, ’03, Shahani and a group of CMS graduate students (Alec Austin, ’07; Ivan Askwith, ’07; Sam Ford, ’07; Geoffrey Long, ’07; and Ilya Vedrashko, ’06) worked with Sloan School alumnus David Edery, ’05, and a variety of consulting researchers at CMS and partner institutions around the world to develop a partnership consortium between media studies researchers and media companies and brands. C3’s goal for the past five years has been to investigate the changing relationship between media producers and their audiences, new modes of advertising and branding, the conglomeration of media properties, and the implications of participatory culture. The project launched with three founding partners: GSD&M Idea City, MTV Networks, and Turner Broadcasting.
The CMS/C3 research collaboration was launched amidst the hardcover release in 2006 of Jenkins’ Convergence Culture—Where Old and New Media Collide, now a highly influential text in both media industries and media studies circles.
By 2006, the Consortium expanded from three to five corporate partners, adding Fidelity Investments and Yahoo! to the community. In 2008, Brazilian companies Petrobras and Internet Grupo (iG) joined. Today, iG, Petrobras, and founding partner Turner Broadcasting join new 2010 partners The Alchemists (a transmedia storytelling company from Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro) and Nagravision SA (Kudelski Group).
Building on the influence of Convergence Culture, Jenkins and the 2007-2008 C3 research team led by research manager Joshua Green and project manager Sam Ford released a well-received white paper entitled Spreadability: If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead.
Spreadable media focuses on understanding how and why people spread content and emphasizes that the spread of content requires moving beyond the mentality of stickiness and the mindset of creating content that will “go viral” and infect those who come into contact with it, building instead on a model that emphasizes the active role of the audience in shaping the circulation and contextualization of media content. Jenkins, Green, and Ford are currently working on a book project that brings together research from throughout the consortium community to flesh out this idea and its implications for the media industries, brands, academics, and active audiences.
April 2009 saw the release of YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture by Green (with Jean Burgess). Green collaborated with C3 researchers Ana Domb and Xiaochang Li, Sam Ford, and MIT Sloan School graduate student and C3 researcher Eleanor Baird on the content analysis and a resulting white paper, entitled YouTube: Online Video and Co-Created Value, leading up to the release of the book. In spring 2009, three more C3 white papers were released to Consortium sponsor companies:
Tacky and Proud: Exploring Tecnobrega’s Value Network by Ana Domb
More Than Money Can Buy: Locating Value in Spreadable Media by Xiaochang Li
It’s (Not) the End of TV as We Know It: Understanding Online Television and Its Audience by Sheila Seles
While the C3 books and white papers have been widely influential—both in corporate media as well as independent media circles—the series of C3-sponsored events since 2006 have garnered the most passionate response. In April 2006, CMS and C3 presented Convergence 2006: THERE IS NO BOX, with Jenkins playing the role of the spoon-bending child from The Matrix. In a mix of public and private sessions, conference attendees discussed topics including media history, brand loyalty, fan productivity, patterns of multime¬dia use, online community formation, the global television trade, marketing in videogames, and the experience economy. Drawing together consortium members, faculty, and affiliated researchers, this inaugural C3 retreat served as a fitting end to the first year of C3, providing an opportunity for the diversity of perspectives the consortium draws upon to be appreciated.
In April 2007, C3 presented Convergence 2007: Collaboration 2.0. The working premise of this event was “Collaboration Marks Convergence Culture.” Collaboration 2.0 explored models of collaboration, co-creation and the opportunities for brand revival within convergence culture. It brought together researchers from both national and international universities to explore best practices for mobilizing user-generated content and activating audiences as co-creators, to look at the impact active audiences can have on brands, and to consider new modes for engaging the audience. The event provided an opportunity for members of the Consortium to talk to C3 researchers, academics, and other consortium members about the reshaping of the industry.
November 2006 was the first Futures of Entertainment (FOE) conference. With Jenkins and Green sharing duties as moderators on each panel, FOE1 introduced long form, “deep dive” panels (two hours or more in length) that have become the trademark of the annual FOE event. Futures of Entertainment brings together key industry leaders who are shaping the new directions in our culture. As advertisers look for new ways to engage audiences, content creators search for new audiences, and audiences’ quest for new ways to connect with culture, the nature of what counts as “entertainment” is rapidly changing. We are seeing the blurring of aesthetic and technological distinctions among media platforms, in the difference between “advertising” and “content” and of the roles of “creator” and “consumer.” The inaugural Futures of Entertainment conference considered developments such as user-generated content, transmedia storytelling, the rise of mobile media, and the emergence of social networking.
By Futures of Entertainment 2 (FOE2) in 2007, the logics of convergence culture were quickly becoming ubiquitous within the media world. FOE2 brought together key industry players who are shaping these new directions in our culture with academics exploring their implications. The conference considered developments in advertising, cult media, metrics, measurement, and accounting for audiences, cultural labor and audience relations, and mobile platform development.
Futures of Entertainment 3 and 4 in 2008 and 2009 saw a steady growth of the event—with a great mix of new FOE attendees—as well the “FOE fanatics” who attend the event every year. FOE4 integrated a transmedia theme into day one of the conference. Since the event, C3 and the transmedia storytelling movement have received a huge amount of press worldwide, and transmedia continues to gain currency within the creative industries. FOE is now what some consider the best annual conference of its size and subject matter anywhere in the country. Looking forward, the current C3 research team consists of CMS graduate student Sheila Seles—who is working on a C3 white paper for 2010 tentatively titled Something Old, Something New: Understanding the Value of Television’s Disaggregated Audiences. Sloan School graduate student Ravi Inukonda is contributing research in the area of online advertising, specifically online advertising networks and exchanges; and C3 Research Specialist Alex Leavitt is working on a research memo entitled More Cerebral Gelatinizing Shows Anytime, Anywhere: Constructing Audiences for Online Television in the Media Ecology. A variety of the C3 consulting researchers outside MIT are working on research memos based on their current academic work. In 2010 and beyond, CMS thought leadership continues in the form of C3 and its ever-expanding network of scholars and practitioners. Stay tuned!