A Smart Look at the Future of Television // In Collaboration With Quinnipiac University's School of Communications
Above you’ll see a map of the digital video ecosystem, as created in a keynote conversation at the New York Television Festival, assembled by Paul Kontonis, head of the IAWTV.
I’ve found there’s a lot of demand for maps of what’s going on online. And it’s easy to see why: it’s complicated!
The graph above maps the video market by size and influence. Digital indies may have big investors but are generally private corporations capitalized under $1 billion. Digital majors are more often public (or owned by public companies) and have enough revenue to invest serious cash into production, distribution and monetization. Old school types are what we might call “legacy” media, or companies who rely on them. The “big names” are nearly all associated with YouTube, which more than other companies has invested in independent producers (whether or not they continue going forward is a big question). Anyone researching or writing about web video should, in my opinion, be familiar with all the companies above and how they interrelate.
The panel was mostly uneventful, but I noticed a strange elision: when Kontonis mentioned Kickstarter and Indiegogo, every industry expert on stage—all of whom are very smart about this—dismissed them immediately.
I understand the impulse. The video industry is small. Financing is miniscule compared to television, and everyone wanted to reserve space on the chart for companies that were investing really money—millions—in the space.
But crowdfunding has already been integrated into the industry’s production chain. Last month Issa Rae, creator of hit web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, teamed with Shonda Rhimes to bring a sitcom to ABC. It was only a year ago I interviewed her after a knockout $60,000 Kickstarter campaign (and Shonda Rhimes knows a little something about getting a show on television). Felicia Day, The Guild creator who now has a premium YouTube channel and the web’s most durable indie franchise, would not be here had fans not given thousands to keep The Guild alive after its first season.
At Televisual I’ve shown how crowdfinancing is now de riguer for independent filmmakers and television producers, even if they have investors. Crowdsourcing has been a way to get buzz/press and recruit advocates and fans. I’ve seen over and over how running a successful campaign gives producers access to top agents, managers and studios hungry for new talent and ideas.
Independents are crucial to Hollywood. Everyone praises the billions directors like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, etc. bring to studios, but how quickly they forget that nearly every major creative in Los Angeles these days started with a low-budget indie that put them on the map.
Television production has been less amenable to these independents than film, but that’s changing, albeit slowly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kickstarter, Indiegogo and some of their more focused offspring are not around in a few years. But I’d bet money they’ll stick it out. The next JJ Abrams is probably signing and mailing t-shirts and posters to his supportive fans as I type.
-Contributed by Aymar Jean Christian, -Posted in Alternative Distribution, Essay | Tagged crowdfunding | 1 Comment
The grassroots efforts to block the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA) represented simply the most recent and most highly publicized skirmish in ongoing struggles over the nature of intellectual property law and how it impacts the new media landscape. If intellectual property law might once have seemed to be a narrow and somewhat obscure focus for legal scholarship, it has become more and more central to the field of media and communication studies, as it has become part of the everyday reality of fans, artists, and teachers, struggling to figure out the extent of their Fair Use rights. As more and more of us are producing and circulating media, sometimes within, sometimes outside, current legal frameworks, intellectual property constitutes both an enabling mechanism and a constraint of our expressive possibilities.
Seiter’s book, The Creative Artist’s Legal Guide:Copyright, Trademark and Contracts in Film and Digital Media Production, co-authored with Bill Seiter, was published in 2012 by Yale University Press. Pat Aufderheide’s Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright, co-authored with Peter Jaszi was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2011. Both represent indispensable guides to the current legal landscape by veteran communication scholars (working in each case with a lawyer) which address how IP law impacts the production, circulation, and consumption of media. Both combine pragmatic understanding of the often contested status of current law as well as a theoretical understanding of how these decisions impact the future of communications.
My goal here was to spark a conversation between Aufderheide and Seiter, which explored some of the key themes in their books, and addressed some of the central controversies around intellectual property. I could not have imagined the commitment they would both show to this exchange and the depth of insights they brought to their interactions with each other. My job now is to get out of the way and let this exchange unfold over the next five blog posts.
-Contributed by Henry Jenkins, -Posted in Essay, Legal Matters, Pro-Am and User Generated Content | Tagged copyright, fan-vid | Leave a comment
As long as we’ve had streaming video, we’ve debated the merits of scripted versus non-scripted video. First lonelygirl15 was popular, then Charlie Bit My Finger. LG15 producer EQAL bailed on producing pre-written programs, but then web series started to find success. It’s been years of mixed signals.
Generally, scripted content requires more attention: episodes are longer, narratives slower. Ratings—or views—for scripted fare tend to be lower than those for reality videos online.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that YouTube, undisputed champion of video views, has put most of its marketing muscle behind non-scripted video programming. YouTube recently announced it was adding over 50 channels to its roster of premium channels. As The Guardian reports, citing YouTube director (for Europe, Middle East, Africa) Ben McOwen Wilson:
…YouTube had seen a huge number of pitches for the new channels, but wanted content that exploited YouTube’s interactivity and could respond to comments and shares among viewers, rather than lengthy pre-written series.
By the end of the year Google will have invested $300 million in production and marketing for the channels, with more surely to come now that it is expanding (many channels, however, will fail). The vast majority of its financing will go toward short-form reality programming. Of course, there are premium channels with scripted programs—at least one-third of last week’s top 25 channels have scripted shows, by my count. Online soap network WIGS has been a strong player. Better-capitalized channels like Machinima.com and AwesomenessTV have built their brands with these shows, along with creator-centric channels like YOMYOMF (Justin Lin) and Geek & Sundry (Felicia Day).
Culturally Americans are used to sharing YouTube videos mocking or revealing funny real-life situations. The site wants to make sure it keeps that market cornered. This is especially pressing since nearly all of its competitors are moving into scripted entertainment, which they hope will capture loyal audiences and higher ad rates.
Amazon Studios, itching to break into television for years, is currently calling for TV and film scripts from writers across the country. The 22- and 11-minute (for kid’s shows) pilots will be added the company’s development slate. It’s not a completely new program; two years ago, writers dismissed the open call from “Scamazon Studios,” because of Amazon’s complex rules managing rights and permissions.
Amazon’s effort to “crowdsource” scripts is hardly new—you have always been able to send your script to a studio. But the campaign reveals how many of the non-YouTube networks have perceivably given up trying to compete with the Google subsidiary in the spreadable, non-scripted series market.
Instead the likes of Hulu, Netflix and Yahoo! believe scripted programs are best suited to launching brands and channels. They may be right. After all, HBO was not HBO until The Larry Sanders Show, Oz, and The Sopranos. Queer as Folk reinvigorated Showtime. Mad Men made AMC. Everyone knows about YouTube by now, but your friends are not likely chatting about the latest show on AOL or Yahoo!, though both have long distributed scripted shows.
It’s a tough road. Electric City and Cybergeddon have not been game-changers for Yahoo!. Neither Battleground on Hulu nor Lilyhammer on Netflix generated significant cultural interest. Both passed without much fanfare. These networks will keep trying. Burning Love managed to generate some buzz, and television fans are waiting with bated breath for Netflix’s Arrested Development reboot.
If there’s one rule for web video success, it predates the web: no one can predict a hit. Web networks are going to spend many years and millions of cash trying to build audiences, establish credibility and cultivate new talent. Flashy marketing campaigns are just the beginning.
Photo credit: YouTube.
-Contributed by Aymar Jean Christian, -Posted in Essay, Web Series | Tagged amazon, YouTube | Leave a comment
One of the characteristics normally associated with on-demand programming is the idea that it is menu-driven, rather than being driven by the continuity of television channels. Even so, a number of people who use streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu used these services to engage in binge viewing practices, where they would watch several episodes of a show in sequence by clicking through ordered menus. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about this practice, one that points out some of the industry ramifications—most notably the fact that binge viewing cuts into traditional revenue models based on advertising and syndication—but it also touches briefly on how this changes the culture of TV viewing (notably one Netflix executive discourages the use of the term “binge viewing,” suggesting that it makes the practice sound “pathological”). But as these practices have evolved, it is interesting to see Netflix attempt to program binge viewing into their streaming video service using a feature they call “Post-Play.”
The feature, which has been available on the laptop and PS3 versions of Netflix was recently announced on their official blog, and essentially the feature is set up so that the credits are minimized and the following episode will be cued up in another corner of the screen. If the viewer does nothing, the next episode will automatically start. As a result, binge viewing becomes the default option rather than something viewers have to actively create. In a sense, this brings us to a new version of what Raymond Williams referred to as “televisual flow,” in which TV is structured or organized in a way that is deliberately designed to keep us watching (and in Williams’ case, designed to keep us watching the same channel).
But what I find fascinating about the announcement is the reaction to the feature in the comments. Hating Netflix has become kind of an art form, where bloggers, commenters, and others complain about some aspect of Netflix (often in a manner that seems excessive, given the relative novelty of streaming video), but in the comments, you can also begin to see a fairly sophisticated discussion of how on-demand movies and TV shows are contributing to an evolution in viewing practices. Some commenters complain that the feature makes it more difficult to view the credits, while others state that having the new episode start right away disrupts the sensory pleasures of savoring an episode while the credits and music play. Others suggest that the feature should be opt-in so that viewers who want to continue watching an episode don’t have to hit a button to continue watching. Finally, many viewers point out that extra scenes are often embedded deep into the credits so that a viewer may miss an important scene. These comments point to valuable questions about how viewing practices and interfaces are constantly in negotiation in the current moment of media in transition.
—Photo credit: Netflix. Originally posted at The Chutry Experiment.
-Contributed by Chuck Tryon, -Posted in Alternative Distribution, Connected Television, Essay, Mobile Video, Subscription Services | Tagged flow, netflix, raymond williams | Leave a comment
—Chuck Tryon, on how providers market platform mobility to connected families in his Screen article, “‘Make any room your TV room’: digital delivery and media mobility.”
-Contributed by Aymar Jean Christian, -Posted in Cable Providers, Connected Television, Quote | Tagged aer, time warner, ultraviolet | Leave a comment
-Contributed by Josh, -Posted in Alternative Distribution, Quote | Leave a comment
I turn my own hyper attention, now, to my chosen subject (13) as honoured guest editor of this inaugural issue of the online journal Frames. (14) In this capacity, I invited 39 fellow film and moving image scholars (including established and emergent film scientists, archivists, publishers, and film and video makers), (15) all of them digital-participant-observers of one kind or another, to contribute their responses in a variety of forms (16) to a semi-rhetorical question: ‘have film and moving image studies been ‘re-born’ digital?’ (17)
-Contributed by Alexandra Juhasz, -Posted in Link, Technological Innovations, Video Journalism | Leave a comment
Airtime is a video chat application driven by data it slurps out of the Facebook social graph. With your Facebook friends listed on the side like a buddy list, it can be used like any other videophone program (Skype, Google Hangout, etc.) but Airtime can also operate like a second iteration on the Chatroulette concept. Instead of totally random encounters, Airtime pairs users based on criteria extracted from their Facebook profiles: shared interests, friends in common, and geographic proximity. Advocates, some of whom confess a growing “boredom” with today’s social web, champion this semi-randomness as an intervention to shake up social networks gone stale.
In spite of a glitzy product launch and some glowing reviews from early adopters, a single question lingers: is Airtime really less creepy than Chatroulette?
Three sets of features distinguish Airtime from Chatroulette. First, and of greatest interest to readers of this blog, Airtime promises a platform for synchronous media sharing among friends. There are already some great examples of this idea in the wild: small circles of friends use turntable.fm to play songs for each other at work and thousands regularly tune into Livestream and Ustream channels to watch on-the-ground feeds of Occupy protest video. Currently, Airtime only supports YouTube but an apparently forthcoming API will enable third-party devs to build out other media-sharing features. With hooks into Netflix, Hulu, or a pro sports streaming package, this could become a popular tool among working partners and parents who travel,
Second, because Airtime draws information from your Facebook profile, it promises more compelling, meaningful, and entertaining pairings than the bizarre encounters that characterize Chatroulette. In my early experience, however, the exposure of personal information felt more invasive than inviting–leaving my cursor hovering apprehensively over the “Talk to Someone” button. Further, the “Interests” on a Facebook profile are limited to those things that have Facebook Pages. This market-based constraint results in a very odd representation of my actual interests. Although this limitation is inherited from Facebook, it makes Airtime feel a little bit like a dating service based on the CVS customer loyalty program–”You both bought inkjet printer paper, fancy mixed nuts, and suntan lotion this month!” No thanks.
Finally, Airtime promises a “less creepy” experience than Chatroulette by vigorously policing its users and punishing “bad actors.” Whereas a 2010 study indicated that Chatroulette users could expect genitalia in approximately 5% of their chats, “nudity and partial nudity” top the list of “inappropriate behaviors” on the Airtime Terms of Service. Less obvious prohibitions include “impersonating other people, “recording content and distributing it without permission,” “poor lighting,” and “unauthorized advertising.” Not only does this reflect the same hostility toward pseudonymity that frustrated users on Friendster and remains endemic to Facebook, it will restrict the rich creative practices that grew out of Chatroulette’s minimally-restrictive foundation.
The Airtime website is as vague about its policing strategy as it is forceful about its prohibitions. The tiny amount of information that they do provide, however, should alarm some Airtime users. According to a company spokesperson quoted in Forbes, Airtime surreptitiously takes a snapshot of each user every so often to ensure that no hanky-panky (or unauthorized advertising) is taking place. The snapshots are evaluated by a battery of hueristic algorithms before being raised to the level of human review. The Terms of Service further suggest that these snapshots become the sole property of Airtime, Inc. These Terms may be basic webapp boilerplate but its enough to make this user revoke permissions.
Clearly, significant resources–human and technological–will be required if Airtime intends to keep tabs on millions of video-chatting strangers. What if, instead of rejecting the lascivious side of the net, they embraced it, ditching the Facebook connection in favor of something like a “safer sex” video chat service? Such an unlikely development might combine the interest-driven nature of Craigslist Casual Encounters, the location-awareness of Grindr, and the relative safety of Second Life. (There is probably a team of programmers somewhere already in crunch mode trying to make this happen.)
So is the highly-surveilled Airtime less creepy than the free-for-all Chatroulette? Yes and no. Sure, you are less likely to see a penis in your journey through Airtime’s monitorial estate but you may nonetheless find yourself feeling exposed.
-Contributed by Kevin Driscoll, -Posted in Alternative Distribution, Social Media | Tagged airtime, chatroulette, facebook | Leave a comment
Last week brought a lot of rampant speculation about the past and future of Facebook, now worth slightly less than $100 billion. Most media commenters, particularly on cable television, seem nonplussed about how the company plans to live up to that lofty valuation. Unlike Google, which had a clear, robust money-making scheme in place at the time of its IPO, Facebook still doesn’t make a lot of money per user.
But, of course, 1/6 of the world uses Facebook. Even if its numbers stop climbing, which they are bound to do, that’s still a lot of people. Any company that can’t make more than $1 off 900 million users doesn’t deserve to be publicly traded. Of course, the best outcome for Facebook users is a private Facebook that doesn’t feel pressured to eek out higher margins every quarter off its community of users, the doom of many a great corporation.
It’s public now, so money needs to be made. And I think it will make plenty of it. How? There are a lot of plans, many of which involve keeping you signed into Facebook at times and serving adds to you across the web, utilizing all the information you’ve voluntarily uploaded.
What about television? Facebook chiefs have already said it sees itself as television, if only because of that medium’s advertising story (from sponsored programming to leveraging its oligopoly to sell high-cost ads to a range of brands).
The smart bet is that Facebook will move even more heavily into video than it already has. Last year we found out studios like Warner Bros. have been seeking out Facebook as possible distribution portal for films. Warner also used Facebook for its original web series Aim High, an ambitious teen show that integrated the social network’s users’ information in a limited way, and which is coming back for a second season. Facebook is already a top-five video network, with around 40 million users watching around 30 minutes of video on the site. But no one thinks of Facebook as a network—yet.
What’s wrong with television? Michael Wolff correctly points out that television is a top-down medium, at odds with Facebook’s allegedly bottom-up beginnings:
“Giving power to your audience certainly seems to have a historical imperative behind it. But awkwardly, social media still depends on advertising which, fundamentally, depends in turn on a set of top-down manipulations that control what your audience thinks and feels at a given moment.”
I say “allegedly bottom-up” because we all know—and The Social Network reminded us—that Facebook started at Harvard by a bunch of young, wealthy white guys, like many tech companies. That said, empowering users is a core part of the company’s rhetoric. It’s its one defense against the mountain of criticism it has faced for invading privacy, avoiding and gaming regulation, not to mention peculiar policies like taking down the photos of gay and trans users.
What television offers are high margins and, if Facebook gets it right, relatively stable revenue streams. Get users used to going to Facebook for video at certain hours in the day, and the company will have a massive global audience primed for monetization.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook decides to jump more heavily into original production, like the other big video networks—MSN, AOL, Yahoo, Hulu and YouTube. A Facebook Upfront would be a fascinating thing to see. And I imagine quite profitable.
At the very least, it’s better than loading up news feeds with a steady stream of ads.
Image via: television and Facebook.
-Contributed by Aymar Jean Christian, -Posted in Alternative Distribution, Essay | Tagged facebook, social media, web series | Leave a comment
There is much to recommend in Hello Avatar! but let me begin by noting Beth Coleman’s play with design and format, a necessary and successful experimentation in the writing forms that might be better suited for scholarship on networked experience. I was pleased to note that many of the players at MIT Press who worked with me to challenge publishing norms and forms for my born-digital, free, online “video-book” Learning From YouTube (albeit in its more uncertain publishing environment) also engaged with Coleman. Her beautiful book indicates that those great folks are still best equipped institutionally (and perhaps conceptually) to make such interventions onto books and paper—from Coleman’s use of color-coding, to font, to writing styles—and I say this not as a complaint, but as a sign-post marking how far the field of “digital publishing” (about digital culture) and its most staunch supporters can go in 2012.
Given our many points of convergence, and that this is a blog-post and not a “real” review, I will merely point out a few cherished ideas from Coleman’s book and how they might relate to my ongoing concerns. The first is her use of the term X-reality to mark that place, experience, modality of being that I’m always tripping over when I try to describe the bleed and continuum of on/offline experience. Better yet are her picture-perfect snapshots of the mundane yet elegant ways we encounter X-reality daily.
Her discussion of the vividly actual, neither virtual nor real, and never inauthentic, to better understand X-reality also presses up nicely against my ongoing interest in the fake. In her discussion of the “uncanny valley” of felt virtual inauthenticity, I see my own considerations of the particular power of the productive fake-documentary that is and is undone in one view. The uncanny knowing of a thing and its reverse, a form and its fake, can liberate critique and self-knowing. However, needless to say, my more current understanding of this mode of seeing and knowing as being dominant and ubiquitous online in the ways that we see and show and know, and therefore defanged of most of its radical possibilities for unmaking and rethinking, raises interesting questions for Coleman’s ever more visible body of study (ha) the Avatar.
Finally, her careful consideration of both the changing nature of agency and presence, given her understanding that technology extends our capabilities of communication, community and collaboration, thereby pressing us to both ever more extreme and extended behavior, dovetails neatly with my newest work concerned with the what and how of these X-reality possibilities: can or should we bring previous norms of being and practice, learned from decades of organizing and thinking within the politics of social justice, to the places and ways that we are now human?
-Contributed by Alexandra Juhasz, -Posted in Essay, Social Media, Technological Innovations | Tagged avatar, beth coleman | Leave a comment