Posted by: bburatti | October 1, 2011

Consuming media on all platforms

Thomas E. Ruggiero’s work on uses and gratifications theory pointed out that the very method of researching how people use media had to evolve.  Early methods of self-reporting gave way to more data-driven methods. Whether people are interviewed in a focus group or their habits measured by an A.C. Nielsen box on their set, we want to know what drives people to consume media.

New media provides additional ways to gratify people who then develop an attachment to the medium itself. Some are gratified by seeking information, others entertainment. The vast range of online communities provides a path to make connections, to converse, to feel a sense of belonging. In the quest for a sense of belonging, people hunt for information with which they already agree. We still “talk” at the water cooler. We’re just doing it with strangers who are all like us.

Online communities offer more than a social gathering place. Pierre Levy wrote that the knowledge culture “serves as an intangible engine for the circulation and exchange of commodities.” It’s a gold mine of consumers. Now marketers use data drawn from online behaviors and preferences to pitch their products to targeted consumers.

The desire for a friendly advertiser environment found its way into reality show program content. Survivor and VISA, American Idol and Coke, Apprentice and Crest—all formed partnerships for in-show product placement. Product placement was prevalent in the early years of television but frowned upon for several decades. The DVR prompted advertisers to demand a solution that forced viewers to notice their products. Clever product integration achieved that goal. It encouraged an emotional connection between product and consumer.

If product placement for the sponsor was the solution for expanding product sales, “transmedia storytelling” became the answer for producers to expand their brands. The movies, “The Matrix,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “Harry Potter,” showed how to transform a story into an entire world. No longer is it enough to create a TV show or film as a standalone product. Now the brand must be developed over multiple platforms with content created specifically for those platforms. Engage the consumer on every level. Entice them into a deeper world of belonging and connection.

In the discussion about Survivor and the development of spoiling, I was struck by how spoiling has developed its own narrative form with its own conventions and expectations. Mark Burnett, who resisted the spoiling community at first, finally came to embrace it as a promotional asset. Producers now realize all the online chatter is free publicity for their shows. That led to the active develop of content for aligned platforms.

The full circle of this can be seen with Burnett himself. Just today, Burnett announced the launch of his own cable TV channel, “YouToo TV.”  The channel is all user-generated content.  Instead of posting to YouTube, users are invited to post their short video on a national cable channel.

Questions for discussion:
1. What specific examples are there in contemporary advertising that demonstrate the sponsor’s goal to form an emotional connection with the consumer?
2. Does the ownership of media outlets effect the content on those platforms? If so how?
3. In what way could media ownership  impact content if the content is user-generated?
4. What new social media strategies might be implemented in the 2012 election that we didn’t see four years ago? What’s possible now that wasn’t then?


  1. I’m very interested in the idea that we are seeking gratification in the form of wanting to connect or belong and are using media in a way so as to satisfy that need or desire. But does it really satisfy that need? How gratifying are our connections in online communities where face to face interaction and non-verbal communication is limited? How much are we in fact seeking human connection in these places? Ultimately, how does media connect us and how does it simultaneously separate us from one another?

    • Excellent question and one I ponder myself. I think online connections present a paradox. On the one hand, we connect with more and more people and expand “community.” But the majority of communication is non-verbal….about 70%. We don’t see facial expressions, body language, or hear tone of voice. In fact, we may not even know for sure who we’re communicating with. I think online connections are just one form of communicating and we have to realize the appropriate uses and limitations.

  2. I think it’s also important to consider the liberation along with the limitation that comes with online forums. Although I typically am critical of the amount of time people spend interacting with communities online (vs. “real” relationships), a comment made in our last class really made me think. Insofar as they aren’t face-to-face, online forums can be liberating. People who feel judged or diminished by their physical appearance or limitations can completely side-step that issue in virtual spaces. Unless you are using a video to communicate online, you can craft your avatar or persona to be anything or anyone. While this is slightly unnerving, it creates boundless potential for those looking for a change or freedom from the constrictions of their physical being. Online communities allow you to showcase your mind rather than more superficial characteristics. Furthermore, by creating a persona, people can be emboldened and participate in ways they might not in person (which caries a whole additional slew of accountability issues).
    So all this to say, despite myself, I think cyber relationships and online communication can actually be healthy, as well as gratifying, for people if their “real” (I need a better term) relationships aren’t fulfilling. This makes me wonder if there is some transition point where people use online relationships to bolster their self confidence enough to allow them to participate more fully in the “real” world. Or conversely, do cyber relationships merely build upon themselves and suck people further into the virtual world? Ruggiero’s work suggests that people form attachment to the media itself, so does this attachment to media forums preclude forming attachments in the actual, as opposed to virtual, world? Another concern regarding these virtual communities is how insular they can become. As Ruggiero pointed out, people seek information with which they already agree. This article, identified that issue as the trap many online marketers fall into. For business people, building like minded friends on virtual forums might provide support, but rarely provides customers.

    Another question these virtual communities bring up for me is regarding the point you touched on about Levy’s discussion of the knowledge culture as an engine of commodities exchange. Many online forums exists primarily upon a counter-culture basis. There are countless communities I have heard about (not that I would ever use one myself…) that exist to illegally share digital commodities such as games, tv, software, movies, and other media sources. These sharing forums demonstrate an example of how online communities are disruptive to online market commerce, an example of “bad” existing alongside “good”. While information is being shared, it is circumventing legal, billable channels. Moreover, I wonder how these illegal channels warp the data marketers collect form legal online activity. For example, if rating of a tv show are calculated based upon viewership on legitimate sites, how does the popularity on illegal sites factor in? Are users of these illegal sharing sites shooting themselves in the foot by not watching their favorite shows on legal sources?

    Also, for those interested, here is an interesting article about new research methods regarding twitter as a self reporting tool:

    To recap, my discussion questions are:
    1. Is some transition point where people use online relationships to bolster their self confidence enough to allow them to participate more fully in the “real” world? Or conversely, do cyber relationships merely build upon themselves and suck people further into the virtual world?
    2. What influence do illegal/ counter culture online communities have upon consumer research? Do they skew data toward less tech-savy consumers while ignoring a key group of media users?

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