John McCann

Archive for the ‘Media involvement’ Category

Global intellectual economy

In Globalization, Media involvement, ParticipationWeb on December 22, 2006 at 11:25 pm

2006 is ending with Time magazine naming its person of the year to be those who participate in the global intellectual economy. After describing how millions of people use blogs, podcasts, and videos to describe their lives, document events and express opinions, author Lev Grossman concludes that we have joined an economy that was previously reserved for those with access to the various printing presses and radio & TV stations.

“We’re looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it’s just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.”

As a university professor who writes books & articles and makes speeches all over the world, I have long been a participant in this global intellectual economy. I now welcome and celebrate the millions who have joined me. However, I find that my reaction may not be the norm as I read pieces in the traditional media that pan the contributions of the amateurs and promote the material produced by themselves.

Just this morning I read a column by George Will in which he says that magazines such as Time have “what 99.9 percent of the Web’s content lacks: seriousness.” This guy is threatened by you, and he has reacted by belittling your contributions. He says that all it takes is a glance at YouTube’s most popular videos to see that you are not in the same league as the traditional media.

I imagine that such glances are all the research that he did for his column. He clearly read the Time article and accompanying editorial because his column is peppered with quotes from the magazine. But he simply could not have spent much time researching the blogosphere. If he had, he would have found thousands, if not millions, of blogs that are as serious as his columns. As a columnist, he writes his opinions about topics of his choice. That is exactly what millions of bloggers do on a daily basis. But he clearly believes that his opinions are more serious than 99.9% of yours. Such a belief can only come from being isolated from the very topic he is writing about. His column is not informed by reality; only by a glance.

My response to George Will: are you kidding me? Get serious, man.

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Participation Age examples

In Content business, Internet, Long Tail, Media involvement, Video on May 15, 2006 at 11:34 pm

I read five articles (including one advertisement) on May 15, 2006, that point to the rise of various aspects of the Participation Age and the associated diminishing of aspects of the mass culture age.

  1. An advertisement in the Life section of today's USA Today invited young people to use video to tell short stories: "What matters to you? Film it. Send it. Tell us. 30 to 60 seconds. Choose an issue. Open to all residents 18 to 26. Deadline May 21, 2006. Visit http://www.filmyourissue.com to find out more." This is one of several recent efforts to tap into the creativity of amateurs at the expense of professionals.
  2. The Money section of the same paper contained the following headline: "Most older teens can't ID the networks." The article provides some statistics: "Almost 80% of 16-to 18-year-olds can't name the four top TV broadcasters ….. Just 33% of the total audience — which ranged in age from 16 to 34 — correctly said NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox …" These two articles indicate that the Participation Age is indeed rising as the older Passive Age slips away. Young people are just not as tuned into traditional media as their counterparts were in previous times.
  3. A blog post by Dion Hinchcliffe discusses the challenges that Microsoft faces as the World Wide Web goes through a transformation to what some call Web2.0. He first writes about the change in Microsoft's focus from a software company to a media company and says it is yet another example of the "fundamental changes imposed on many corporates by the increasing pre-eminence of just about anything on the Web. … Microsoft thinks the action (i.e., value) is moving to content and the eyeballs (people) attached to it." He goes on to explain this shift: "attracting users with the most compelling content (including, or even especially, each other in the form of online social communities) is now considerably more valuable than punching out code in a world where non-connected software is becoming relentless commoditized and growth-constrained." The key aspect of this statement is the phrase "each other" by which he means that the content provided by "users" is of prime importance. This statement agrees with item #1 above. In this view, it is traditional software that you install on your computer (e.g., Microsoft's Office software) that is diminishing in value.
  4. Doc Searls, one of the bloggers that I read daily, writes about the rise of independent media, and the associated demise of traditional media. He starts his article by posing a couple of questions: "What would happen if anybody could produce radio or TV programming as easily as they consume it? What would happen if the natural limits to broadcasting went away?" After explaining, in some depth, the natural limits of radio and television broadcasting, Searls explains why those limitations are becoming mute points: "Today, if I want to put a show on the radio, I don't bother with radio at all. I record an .mp3 file, put it on a website and 'enclose' a pointer in an RSS feed. Anybody who picks up the feed or downloads the file can get the recording, anywhere on the Net. Which is anywhere with a Net connection, anywhere in the world. This is why radio as we know it is doomed. Same with TV. AM and FM stations have a future as long as manufacturers ship cars with radios. But that future will be increasingly restricted by a growing assortment of other sources of what we've come to call 'content'." He then writes about attempts to simply move the traditional TV model of passive viewers to the Internet, and he says that such approaches miss the point. "What all this misses, however, is the evolution of consumers to producers, and the obsolescence of 'media' as a one-way construct. … the result will be the end of media as we knew it — as scarce, expensive and restricted ways for a few producers to reach millions of consumers."
  5. As I explained in my initial posting about the content business, content is created via conversations, whether those conversations are recorded or simply pass away when the conversation is over. It is easy to generate such content when people are in the same room. And we can use phones, instant messaging, and other technologies to hold conversations among several people. But it is difficult to generate conversation-based content with a larger group of people who are distributed around the globe. We now have a new tool, Skypecast, that promises to solve this problem. An "early preview" on the Skype (a form of telephony that uses the Internet instead of the traditonal telephone network) website describes this new tool: "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another. Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free."

These five stories point to one common theme: new ways are emerging for people to participate in activities that were previously restricted to professionals in the "content businesses" and people are using those tools in different ways.

From producer to viewer

In Culture & society, Long Tail, Media involvement, Television on March 27, 2006 at 12:51 pm

An article by Henry Jenkins, a scholar who studies media and fan cultures, wrote an article titled “I Want My Geek TV” in which he tells the story of an un-aired TV show’s (Global Frequency) pilot that generated a “fan community” that supported the release of the show. Warner Brothers decided, however, to drop the series, much to the disappointment of John Rogers, the show’s producer and head writer.

The article talks about the problems that producers have in getting their work to actually air on the networks, and then to stay on the air while the shows build an audience. Viewers of those shows face a similar problem with often unresponsive network executives. The results of these frustrations may be a movement to bypass the networks. All of this leads to Rogers' fantasy of media producers selling cult tv shows directly to their niche publics, leaving the networks out of the picture altogether.

Jenkins provides an estimate of how selling episodes via Internet download might work from a financial viewpoint.

If you sell access to each episode at roughly $2 a pop and assume that the average television episode costs 1 million to produce and half a million to distribute (a ballpark figure), then you could recoup your costs and make a profit with a few million viewers, far short of the Nielsen numbers you would need to stay on network television. Of course, such numbers would not allow you the revenue of a hit network show, but they might be much closer to a sure thing -especially in the case of a series like Global Frequency which had "cult" written all over it. After all, most network shows get canceled before the end of their first season and thus never make money for their producers.

This is a Long Tail argument that is based upon the existence of substantial niche audiences that will pay reasonable prices for access to entertainment that fulfills their particular interests. Such a world would likely operate with many different financial models, with the $1 million episode cost being at the high end. As I mentioned in an earlier post, shows such as Rocketboom, with its $20 per episode cost, likely represents the other end of the financial spectrum.

Jenkins uses Global Frequency as a stepping stone to write about other changes in the distribution model, with BBC’s new practice of offering all BBC shows for download after they have aired. He quotes Ashley Highfield, Director of BBC New Media and Technology talking about the new media culture that will likely evolve, a culture in which people mix together broadcasters’ content and their own productions.

“At the simplest level – audiences will want to organize and reorganize content the way they want it. They'll add comments to our programs, vote on them, and generally mess about with them. But at another level, audiences will want to create these streams of video themselves from scratch, with or without our help."

This is clearly what more and more people want to do. And it is clearly the opposite of what TV and movie executives want them to do. It is surprising and encouraging that a major network like BBC would encourage such involvement in their intellectual property. If this proves to be a trend, it will lead to a lovely day for those who want to participate in new and different ways.

Olympics participation

In Media involvement on February 24, 2006 at 9:20 pm

In an earlier post, Involved in a TV show, I talked about involvement as a form of participation. I participate in my world via my involvement with the subject matter.

I thought about this post when I read an article by Bruce Horovitz and Laura Petrecca, “10 suggestions to boost the Olympics, in USA Today, about how the Olympics could be changed to appeal to the new generation.

“Viewer voting on televised competitions such as American Idol has given rise to new phenomena: official judges might get the last word, but they’re no longer the only voice. Text messaging and online voting have changed all that. Even if viewers don’t decide who wins Olympic medals, many would welcome the chance to weigh in on Olympic events and personalities. ‘Young viewers need to feel like they’re involved in their programming,’ says Catherine Mullen, general manager of TV music network Fuse.”

Mullen’s statement that young viewers need to feel involved is the key. She goes on to offer a suggestion of how this could work:

“Mullen suggests NBC or the International Olympic Committee create an online venue where teens could post messages on topics such as which athletes would make the best-looking Olympic couple.”

This is not just being involved; this is true participation by becoming a producer of content. Think about it. When you post a message on a site associated with an event’s coverage, you are producing content for that coverage. You have changed the coverage to include your comments, your analysis and your opinions. To you, that contribution may be more important than the content generated by the TV announcers.

When a show’s producers facilitate such participation, they provide people with a reason to watch the TV production. Voting for the couples provides a reason to watch. Without it, the participation generation will likely go somewhere else. Perhaps that is why American Idol is out-drawing the Olympics broadcasts: viewers of American Idol can become participants by voting for their favorite contestant.

Coverage of the Olympics is just one example of how mainstream producers need to recognize that we are now in the Participation Age. There are examples of shows where the producers have seemed to know that they are in this new age. For instance, the executive producers of the TV show Lost have a podcast in which they answer questions posed by viewers and remark on the theories about the show that appear on various blogs. Such efforts are just the tip of the iceberg of what is likely to appear in coming months and years as the haze around the Dawn of the Participation Age dissipates.

Involved in a TV show

In Media involvement, Television on February 10, 2006 at 4:12 pm

In January, IBM released a document titled “The end of television as we know it” that makes several predictions about the future. They key element of the report is a graph of how the TV audience is changing in terms of two dimensions: 1) Content access (going from limited to open) and 2) Consumer media control: going from passive to involved. Here is what the report has to say about the latter:

“The spectrum for consumer media control ranges from Passive to Involved. At one end, the historical and still predominant passive experience represents a ‘lean back’ mode in which consumers do little more than flip on the remote and scan programming. At the other end are consumers who want to ‘lean forward’ for a PC-like experience. Involved users will self-navigate, toggle, search and self-author content — and, this interactive group is willing to invest heavily in its TV and media experiences.”

The aspect of this that struck me the most is their depiction of the “involved users” as consumers (I hate the practice of referring to us as consumers when that term has no meaning in the context in which it is used; just call us people, or folks, or humans) who self-author content.

The skeptic might be tempted to say: I don’t want to watch television created by mere consumers; I want the stuff made by professionals with big budgets. And there are many, many times when I want to watch the professional stuff. But an “involved” person does not have to be one who is creating television content. He or she can become involved in the TV series by participating in a forum about the show, by authoring a blog, and/or by producing podcasts about the episodes.

I regularly watch the TV show Lost by sitting in front of my TV set, thus making me a Passive. I also listen to the Lost Podcasting Network and the Lost Transmission podcast. In doing so, I have moved slightly towards the Involved group of people. If I were to call in to one of the podcasts and thus participate in the discussion I would be more directly involved.

My first exposure to this type of participation came about six years ago when my daughter began watching the TV show Charmed. She would spend hours on the Internet interacting with other teenage girls who were using fan sites to chat about the show and, for some, to write alternative endings to old shows or entire episodes that featured the characters on the actual show.

These kids were no longer passively sitting in a chair watching someone else’s work but were building upon the work of the professionals to create extensions of the show. They were participating by creating new material that extended the experiences of the show’s audience. This is a form of participation that is open to all of us.