Connected Viewing [May 28 - June 1, 2012]
by Alisa Perren — University of Texas at Austin
April 19, 2012 – 13:34
Monday, May 28, 2012 - Jennifer Holt (University of California, Santa Barbara) presents: Welcome to Connected Viewing
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - Sharon Strover (University of Texas at Austin) presents: Beyond Flow
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - Greg Steirer (University of Pennsylvania) presents: Secondary Markets and Digital Media
Thursday, May 31, 2012 - Aynne Kokas (University of California, Los Angeles) presents: Global Stardom, Local Platforms: Daniel Shiao’s Shanghai Calling and International Digital Distribution
Friday, June 1, 2012 - Ethan Tussey (University of California, Santa Barbara) presents: “Connected Viewing” on HBO Go: Enhancement or Mobile DVD Extras?
Theme week organized by Karen Petruska (Georgia State University).
Image from the Connected Viewing Initiative.
While the promise of interactive television has existed since the early days of cable television, many decades later, it has been delivered in the developing form of connected viewing. Connected viewing, while specifically referring to a digital multi-screen and multi-tasking entertainment experience, relates to a larger trend across the media industries to integrate digital technology and socially-networked communication with traditional entertainment practices. With social networking sites beginning to figure more prominently as delivery platforms and marketing tools, connected viewing has become increasingly important to content providers, distribution networks, and viewers. The migration of content to the digital space “beyond the box” and the expansion of consumer engagement strategies have enlisted the support of second screen content initiatives (such as those at Disney); social networking services (HBO Connect, Twitter, or “Must-Tweet TV”); apps and app editions (like those for The Dark Knight and Inception); and a variety of over-the-top technologies (such as Flixster Collections, and Google TV). The video here is an early ad for Google TV that demonstrates a simplistic, albeit user-friendly pitch for one part of the experience offered by connected viewing. (NB: Google’s recent acquisition of Motorola could have interesting implications for the future of Google TV, and for connected viewing in general.)
The Media Industries Project at UCSB has begun a collaboration with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to examine the many developments in the connected viewing landscape that have resulted in the migration of content from one screen to many, divided the attention of viewers, and disrupted established content flows and business models. These developments have also opened up new frontiers for everything from marketing and windowing practices to narrative strategies, media policy, and even research metrics. Our Connected Viewing Initiative has engaged an international research team to examine how media and viewership are transforming in this new environment; this week showcases four team members and their thoughts on connected viewing. Sharon Strover discusses how connected viewing has taken us into the realm beyond “flow,” Gregory Steirer will be examining the economics of secondary markets, Aynne Kokas writes about connected viewing as it impacts global film marketing, and Ethan Tussey will be looking at HBO Go and interactivity. We are all looking forward to a week of posts that serve up productive food for thought, conversation, and, above all, connection.
For the last 15 years we have been awash in new communication platforms, devices, and capabilities, many of them breathlessly delivered in news articles or in the latest technology reports, gee-whiz reviews and Internet buzz. While I love all that stuff, we are destined to be in a constant state of trying to keep up with the latest and the newest - always a losing enterprise. Nevertheless, some bigger issues that portend shifts in the way we think about viewing, using and creating information and entertainment seem to be taking shape.
First, the multiple modes of interacting with the various devices alter the notion of flow. Perhaps the YouTube spoof best epitomizes the ability to undercut the flow model. The attached video is a stop-motion animation spoof of the intro to popular HBO series Game of Thrones. It epitomizes the knowledgeable, creative take on media that has relocated power to the user – classic YouTube fare, timed to be brief for your mobile viewing pleasure. Raymond Williams’ flow concept broke open our awareness of how programs, ads, bumpers and teasers were integrated in a continuous stream of marketing plus entertainment, elevating non-program elements to be worth our analysis and prompting a reconceptualization of how industrial processes of television structure meaning. Digital media practices do more than complicate flow; they explode it. We certainly cannot jettison the significance of understanding corporate structures’ influences on these practices; however, the shift from one-way content distribution systems to the proliferation of portals, the essential function of many personal communication devices, disrupts control and predictability.
People are more in control of their content environment. Nielsenwire reports over 164 million unique online video viewers in 2011, with YouTube being the top destination, and consequently researchers need to rethink how people interact with different devices and platforms. Our research on digital media profiles an active, on-demand user, whose dilemma of actually figuring out what to watch turns out to be mediated by Facebook, the current millenium’s TV Guide analog. We find situations that dictate which media forms are used, environments in which privacy is more or less present, when more or less attention is available for creating or consuming content, and when technologies and platforms are more or less cumbersome, expensive or annoying.
The realm beyond flow is individualized and social, private and viral, local and international, engaged and detached.
A secondary market exists whenever a good is available for purchase through channels not part of that good’s “official” distribution. Such markets provide two important economic functions. First, they increase the value of ownership. By enabling consumers to liquidate goods, they reduce the risk involved with purchase and allow for goods to function as investments. Second, they employ demand-driven, differential pricing that is better able to maximize economic returns and market penetration than the supply-side pricing of primary markets. Though the increased economic activity benefits the economy as a whole, greater market penetration can also benefit a producer if that good is either a gateway to other purchases (an iPad or XBox) or part of a franchise whose value partially derives from exposure (a pop song or Marvel comic).
Despite the benefits secondary markets offer, however, most entertainment industries have viewed them as competitors, not collaborators. Hollywood companies in particular have seen the profits derived from secondary markets as a kind of theft and have attempted to restrain them. The turn to digital media thus represents a unique opportunity for these companies, as the digital media ecosystem offers the potential for the elimination of secondary markets altogether.
This elimination occurs partly through DRM, which—though typically presented as a response to piracy—also prevents secondary markets. By requiring purchases to be linked to an account, media producers rule out any subsequent sale or trade. This technical limitation is supported by legal restrictions, embedded in TOS, which delimit acceptable use.
A less obvious threat to secondary markets has to do with supply. The current digital ecosystem employs a model of unlimited product supply. Under demand-based pricing, unlimited supply of a perfectly durable good should eventually drive prices down close to nothing. The possibility of an alternative DRM that enables secondary sales is thus ruled out in advance, since unlimited supply would result in near value-less content in both primary and secondary markets.
Unless the digital media ecosystem changes radically—embracing both limited supply and more flexible DRM—there will be no secondary market for digital media. Media producers will claim this as a victory. But it is unclear whether in the long run the lack of a secondary market will benefit producers or result in reduced economic activity and downward pricing pressure as the value of media ownership decreases.
Circulation of media on digital platforms is particularly compelling when it is both a product of, and product for, multiple international markets. The increasing convergence between Chinese and American media markets offers an exciting window into the growth of these multi-directional, multi-platform artifacts. In this piece, I would like to highlight the trailer for Shanghai Calling (2012), an independent Sino-U.S. film co-production directed by Daniel Shiao. The film’s trailer was not only on YouTube, but also on an analogous Chinese platform, Youku.
Whereas the YouTube site drew commentary entirely in English from users in both Anglophone and Sinophone markets, the Youku site drew commentary entirely in Mandarin, with the main exception being the English name “Daniel Henney,” in homage to the Seoul-based Korean-American heartthrob who headlines the film. The cross-platform commentary about Henney contrasts the global pull of stardom with the impulse toward using the specific language of the platform. Ultimately, the multi-platform, transnational distribution of the trailer creates a multi-lingual paratextual discussion of the film within local language media markets with global elements.
One of the major areas of importance of new film distribution platforms is the way in which they not only distribute, but also frame global media. The multi-platform distribution of the Shanghai Calling trailer encourages us to further inquire about the importance of context in determining what makes something funny, to whom and why. How does our understanding or appreciation of a specific image shift with the contextual cues offered by our viewing platform? Indeed, if the context of the platform subtly shifts perception of and discourse about specific clips, what are the broader implications of recent merger activity in the field of digital video distribution, including, but not limited to, the recent decision by Youku and competitor, Tudou, to join forces?
HBO Go’s “enhanced episodes” of Game of Thrones provide an interactive slide show that corresponds to the re-airing of episodes. The experience essentially replicates the DVD commentary and behind-the-scenes offerings of the season box set (but the app gives you access to them on the go!). These “enhanced” episodes are a good way to learn the characters’ names and understand the complicated politics of Westeros (the setting of the show), but I would venture to guess that the fan dedicated enough to re-watch episodes of Game of Thrones on HBO Go probably already knows the difference between a Lannister and a Stark. So then how does this “connected viewing” enhance the show?
The technology company Miso offers an alternative to HBO Go’s digital offering with its fan produced “sideshows.” This “connected viewing” service is similar to HBO Go, offering content that corresponds to the events in the episode. Miso chose to crowdsource their content by reaching out to Game of Thrones fan communities to add the facts, opinion polls, and quotes that correspond to the episode. If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones books and the television show, these fan created “sideshows” provide a way to evaluate the adaptation of the book. If the corresponding Facebook “likes” and Twitter “re-tweets” are any indication, the audience for these Miso sideshows is small. This is not surprising—the service is new, and the current offerings are not that interesting to anyone besides the biggest fans of Game of Thrones.
Miso, unlike HBO Go’s “enhanced episodes,” demonstrates some of the promise of “connected viewing” as it puts the creative process in the hands of the viewers. One could imagine a comedy troupe creating sideshows in the fashion of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or a group of designers and artists reflecting on the style in episodes of Mad Men. The potential variety in the Miso sideshows could unleash the creativity of the audience and make the “connected viewing” experience an entertaining proposition, a way to breath new life into old content and expose people to perspectives that they might not otherwise encounter. But will people care enough about the “connected viewing” experience on their second screen to donate their time and creativity? Perhaps “enhanced episodes” could become a popular way to watch reruns if fans were compensated for creating ancillary content for their favorite media franchises.
Sun, 27 May 2012 18:34:14 +0000