I watch majority of my TV through Netflix, or streamed online, or any number of options that aren’t network television broadcasts. Ratings (at least, those which determine a show’s survival) are taken by a count of individuals watching a show during it’s original broadcast. This excludes a wide breadth of viewers and cuts their input from the playing field entirely. This has led to many shows with a very strong fan following being canceled before their prime and therefore subject to extreme fan backlash. Shows like Firefly come to mind in that respect, whose fans prompted the creation of the sequel film, Serenity. Rarely, some shows (like Community) are able to escape the clutches of cancellation due to the savvy online presence of their cast and creators, and a powerful cult following.
The ratings system is fueled entirely by advertising revenue and the show’s potential to pull in viewers to the network. Today, this seems fundamentally flawed. While online streaming systems are being inundated with ads, the viewers of these formats are still underrepresented and underutilized. My impression is that television is behind the times and a dying medium. These networks need to figure out how to tap into the larger viewer base on the internet and produce content that suits their interests, and, as is a necessarily evil, figure out an effective way to monetize it. Otherwise, these archaic network systems face certain demise, and there won’t be a loyal fan-base around to fight for their resurgence.
An ongoing discussion about authorized and unauthorized access to media content stood out to me. They highlight that piracy is often thought of as more of a moral issue than a legal issue. They quote Andrew Keen on page 55 as suggesting 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.” So— by pirating media we are immorally killing the creatives, and stealing from the industry.
However, the authors take a stance on this “moral economy” and urge us to consider the reasons why we share and consume media as a collective.“The social motives for sharing media are also varied and cannot be reduced to the idea of ‘stealing content’” (61). Perhaps, as they suggest, piracy isn’t an inditement on the audience as much as it is a marketing failure to meet consumer’s needs. Consider this:
Remember this anti-piracy campaign ad? I know it sure scared the pants off me when I was in middle school (sarcasm?). This ad is definitely reducing media sharing through pirating as “stealing”. They are also tying them in with other “morally wrong” acts such as stealing a handbag…something physical and “real”— stealing can also be committed on a digital, non-tangible platform.
Is piracy a form of stealing or media sharing and how could market strategists combat the issue?
A passage from Spreadable Media by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green states that “the spread of [media] demonstrates how content not designed to circulate beyond a contained market or timed for rapid global distribution can gain much greater visibility than ever before, thanks to the active circulation of various grassroots agents, while television networks and production companies struggle to keep up with such unexpected, rapidly escalating demand.”
Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and a variety of other late-night talk-show entertainers have caught on to this idea of repackaging full-length broadcast media into bite-sized segments. Consumers are able to digest any number of current and past interviews, contests and special reports without being required to sit through the original broadcast in its entirety. As content is no longer a focal point in a system where audiences are corralled into circulation platforms, audiences are free to generate conversations by easily sharing media across networks.
The authors continue to note that “for mass audiences, broadcast, cable and satellite television still dominate and network content will continue to feed these streams. And I suspect that for many audiences, network content – new or old – still drives users to YouTube, and amateur content is discovered along the way.”
What I find interesting, if not ironic, are the broadcast clip shows such as Tosh.0 or Ridiculousness. Production-heavy cable and satellite programs take the idea of American Home Videos into the 21st century by simply repackaging content already found online, which is then segmented into bit sized clips and re-shared on the original platforms from which its content originated.
As I read through Spreadable Media this week one concept jumped out at me: the notion of fandoms as publics. It makes sense from an academic standpoint that audiences which already organize themselves around certain content make an obvious target for media industries, but I had never before considered the effects of content created through these communities of fans in the larger industry. To better understand, I applied it to myself.
I am a Harry Potter nerd. I have always considered myself a fan, but until now I had never considered myself a member of a “fandom.” Further thought proves I definitely am. I can name a number of my friends I initially identified with at school because they had HP tattoos or other items. I’ve never been the type to create and post my own content to others online, but I’ve had countless conversations with my childhood friends about the books and the movies, debating the shortcomings of certain characters, the biology of House Elves, and movie failures. I’ve shared the books with my former students, I have a Pottermore account, and I finished top 3 at HP bar trivia. It turns out I’m not just a single fan, I’m a part of the community creating demand for more content, and J.K. just announced 3 new films. Would she have done so without the demand created by the fandom?
Do any of you identify with a particular fandom? How meaningful is your participation?
Those of us familiar with Twitter think of retweeting as simply clicking a button to re-share an article or observation that we find interesting or noteworthy. Sometimes we do this before even completely reading the article. Not me, of course. I try to be more responsible than that.
So, courtesy of this week’s reading assignment in “Spreadable Media,” the reality of Twitter and social media use dropped upon me like the immensity of Simon Cowell’s ego.
With studies showing more and more people getting their news from friends, family and even total strangers via social media, the potential for a news story to spread is immense and powerful. As is, in the case of Susan Boyle, the intimidating potential for an entertainment star to be minted in rapid, supernova-like fashion. We are all the star-makers and news reporters. Through our use of social media, we can influence what makes the headlines in ‘traditional media.’ While at the time considered “timely and disposable” (pg 39), individual tweets about a topic can together form a much larger, global and long lasting impact.
Suddenly, I’m not just one insignificant Twitter user in my mom’s basement retweeting a link, but rather an important part of a new participatory culture that has the power to inform, entertain and influence society on a global scale.
Many of you may be familiar with Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest which was a major campaign for PepsiCo. The contest first launched in 2012 sought to bridge the gap and increase audience engagement with their consumers via social media platforms. The rules were simple. Fans were asked to pick the next great potato chip flavor, pitching off the wall flavor combination ideas, with the hopes of being 1 out of 3 finalist who would have their flavor produced, brought to store shelves around the world. From there consumers had the opportunity to taste the creations and cast their vote on their favorite fan made flavor. The winner would have their flavor added to the Lay’s family and take home the $1 million grand prize.
In chapter 4 of Spreadable Media, the concept of Hearing vs. Listening (175-182) was explored within the media environment and digital age. PepsiCo had great success strengthening its brand and interacting with their community of fans by including them in the process. Nearly 4 million flavors were submitted with a majority of them being millennials who practically live and breathe on social media, a demographic that PepsiCo struggled to connect with in previous years.
The success can be explained by fully understanding the concept and difference between Hearing vs. Listening. PepsiCo made a strategic decision to listen to their consumers prioritizing the ways media audiences participate to drive consumer generated interest, conversations, and play a role in their success.
“The community benefits when each member’s economic needs are protected.” So say the authors of Spreadable Media (64). The context is a discussion of the 19th century ritual of barn raising, in which a community welcomed a newcomer by collectively raising a barn on his property, an act that implied expected reciprocity for the benefit of future newcomers.
Jenkins, et al, compare the transaction of a barn raising to the less scrupulous practices of companies operating in the Web 2.0 business model, holding the former up as an example of the “moral economy”, and the latter as an example of the exploitation that corrodes that economy.
For me it comes down to one rather overused word: “sustainability.” Are business practices sustainable? The barn raising is sustainable because it injects new energy into the economy that will pay future dividends. Mining my personal data and selling it without my informed consent, however, is unsustainable because it undermines my trust in the company and doesn’t benefit me in a tangible way (or does it?). Yet that data mining happens every time I use one of the many apps on my phone.
This raises a question for discussion: what are the benefits and drawbacks of my sharing personal data with a company in exchange for the useful features of its app?
While you’re mulling that over, please enjoy this mesmerizing video of an Amish community barn raising, all shot on a single day earlier this year:
The rise of digital media has allowed old content from past generations to recirculate and reinvent itself for newer generations.
In Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, Henry Jenkins and his co-authors reference the Hanna-Barbara cartoon character Scooby-Doo and how the Great Dane detective has been able to transform himself to reflect children’s taste today while also staying relevant to older fans who watched him in the past.
This bodes well for the Mystery Gang who have spanned “more than four decades of television programming from 1969 to the present” (105), but what about characters like Snoopy, who now appears in commercials as MetLife’s brand ambassador? Do we still feel the same nostalgia for this loveable canine while he’s trying sell us life insurance?
Probably not. But, MetLife finds Snoopy’s demeanor, “Charming, warm, approachable, loyal,” fitting with their brand message, and in return we should still feel that way about him, right?
Then there’s Bill Watterson, the artist and author of the “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip, who refused to merchandise any of his work, fearing it would “cheapen his comic.” Yet, Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, remain beloved characters to many—in 2010 it was reported that the “Calvin and Hobbes” compilations’ total sales were nearing 45 million—15 years after the comic strip’s exit from the newspapers.
(Streaming on Netflix)
Reintroducing characters as brand advocates, staying completely anonymous, or remaining the same “meddling kids” working for snacks—what’s the strategy to keeping our childhood cartoon characters “alive?”
In their book Spreadable Media, Jenkins, Ford, and Green (2013) use metaphors to describe the way media is communicated. They make the argument for a “participatory model of culture,” and they iterate “perhaps nothing is more human than sharing stories” (p. 2). Technology is just another means of sharing – or “spreading” – these stories. Perhaps that is why entertainment (primarily image, song, video) is the most easily “spreadable” form of media (p. 9) and this content often goes “viral.”
Many filmmakers recognize the contributions fans make to the value of stories and work to increase audience’s emotional investment by allowing them to own the story. In a sense, they are “farming” or “sowing seeds” among audience members. How do they do this? By letting audiences live the story. In an online article featuring “things to do in London,” the top three suggestions had to do with Harry Potter-related locations. Similarly, fans of the movie Frozen can participate in a Disney tour of Norway. Another example is simply to Google search for “Lord of the Rings tours,” which returns dozens of options in New Zealand.
Going a step further, storytellers want “total engagement” (p. 139), which is collaboration between storyteller and audience to create the story in real time. This is a relationship; the storytelling is essentially “courting” the audience to let them know their perspectives are important. When the audience knows that they are a contributor to the story, it will effectively drive them to the show week after week.