The Futures

Guy Brighton
  • 28 august 2007

Hosted by The MIT Convergence Culture Consortium (C3), The Futures of Entertainment 2 conference featured 6 panel discussions spread over the weekend. With attendace split roughly 50% industry and 50% academics the event provided a debate forum on the fresh ways we interract with consumers and brands, forming richer, more meaningful experiences and strategies in the cluttered landscape of new media. A backchannel site was launched and with audience questions projected in real-time.

Day one featured a discussion on Mobile Media with panelists Marc Davis (Yahoo), Bob Schukai (Turner Broadcasting), Alice Kim (MTV Networks), and Anmol Madan (MIT Media Lab). Acknowledging that in the US we are years behind the rest of the planet when it comes to the closed networks our mobile technology currently hangs from, the panel talked about the ways we can expect to see this change and the technologies that will become more and more useful as it does. As walled garden business models are gradually replaced by open, internet based models, our mobile devices will increasingly become tools not just for consuming, but producing, building a collective map of human attention. Marc Davis talked about the social effects of mobile hyper connectivity, how the use of Zonetagging though Flickr and urban mapping platforms such as Fire Eagle and Twitter are changing the nature of media towards a growing culture of status casting.

A question from the backchannel asked “When does mobile media become entertaining as opposed to just exchanging information?”

Marc Davis: “We’ve seen some interesting experiments for augmented reality, such as Jane McGonigal’s ARG’s (I Love Bees). This concept of what is the story world? If you know where a person is and you have a map of the physical world, these things start to connect. Being a body connected to other human beings is the best MMORPG. The best potential entertainment forms when you play in the world using these (mobile) devices.”

And all of this will be impacted by the upcoming sale of the 700mhz spectrum and enhanced by the further implementation of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem.)

Bob Schukai: “In the future all devices will have an IP address. People will pull and share content because they can connect any IP device to any other IP device. Imagine you’re watching a fantastic picture (or immersed in a game) on your IP TV, but you could switch the stream to your PC or your phone – IP addresses will open up this kind of communication.”

Marc Davis: “It’s important at this point to make the industry open, to have content flow freely over it. The crucial thing is to you write software and provide services on top of distribution platforms that consumers can afford to access. We’re in one of these major transition towards a market place where people can actually share content. (If Google aqcuires the 700mhz spectrum), the challenge is the balance of user privacy. They need to be able to connect consumers to each others, to content, to advertisers, but in a way that protects privacy and enhances trust.”

For the discussion on Fan Labor the speakers were Mark Deuze (Indiana University), Jordan Greenhall (DivX), Catherine Tosenberger (University of Florida), Elizabeth Osder (Buzznet), Raph Koster (Areae). This debate raised more questions than answers as we tried to navigate the grey areas created as citizen generated content increasingly contributes to the value of brands and in turn, the effect that has on the user.

When a fan is selected or rewarded in some way it can have a serious negative impact on a community as most fans operate on a basis of ‘Leave me alone, but acknowledge what I’m doing,’ but expect to be authentic participants. Attention is the renumeration the majority of fans want, once dollars are entered into the equation there are inevitable questions of control. With user generated content there is a social contract that’s about being credible, transparent, and authentic.

Jordan Greenhall: “The degree to which they’re authentically engaged in some subject, expresses what’s important to them and they don’t care what anyone else thinks. There is the notion that investment equals quality. What is the economic value of fan based fiction – does investment lead to quality? Or, does it degrade fandom, make them mass producers with less passion?”

It was interesting to hear how our participation as users is tracked and farmed by companies.

Ralph Koster: “The fundamental product of Web 2.0 is meta-data. The premise of the Web 2.0 business models is that the web is a database. Consumers add to the database. The content is there so that we can track the consumers moving accross it. Most web companies have no interest in content until it impacts their meta-data. When it does, they find a way to profit.”

But still, we as users, as fans, can’t we own this space on our terms? An example given were incentives and rewards are operating using a more holistic and agreeable model was <a href=””>Revver</a>, which tracks and monetizes users as their video content spreads virally across the web. And let’s not forget <a href=””>myfootballclub</a>, taking the fantasy football league to a whole new dimension.

Day 2 kicked off with a lively debate about Advertising and Convergence Culture. On the panel was Mike Rubenstein (The Barbarian Group). Baba Shetty (Hill/Holliday), Tina Wells (Buzz Marketing Group), Faris Yakob (Naked Communications) and Bill Fox (Fidelity Investments) taking a look the role of advertisers in convergence culture, transmedia planning and the growing use of advertising as entertainment content.

Advertising is no longer a monologue from brand to consumer but a dialogue between brand and consumer, consumer and consumer. In convergence culture brands want to get out there and create buzz though the channels of social media, but they are also nervous of that buzz turning negative. Therefore brands need to have an infrastructure to handle potential negativity and a strategy of how to deal with it in a non-standardized media landscape.

They talked about how the tools of creativity have been democratized, such as leaking glimpses of the making of the Sony Bravia ads months before the ads have aired, allowing users to feel involved, commenting on the creative process. But within this democracy, brands need to go deeper than chairing open forums calling to ‘make us an ad’ and give consumers the tools to remix content in a way that it is re-imagined.

Faris Yakob: I try to get my clients to abandon this idea of control. Right now, it’s about the re-appropriation of ‘brand text’ to make things more interesting and more valuable to the audience. Enabling audiences to re-imagine a logo is something that brands are reluctant to do because their brand image is wrapped in this sort of chrystalline structure, but letting people do what they want with it is richer.”

The closing discussions topic was Cult Media, with panelists Danny Bilson (Transmedia Creator), Jeff Gomez (Starlight Runner), Jesse Alexander (Heroes) and Gordon Tichell (Walden Media) talking about how cult media has evolved into mass entertainment, how this has effected the genre and those who make it and how transmedia enriches these properties.

Henry Jenkins asked “We often speak of audience passions. Can you speak to building a hardcore fan base? What is needed for market success?”

Jesse Alexander: “Being a superfan, I approach it from a very authentic place. I think about what I would want for myself. In marketing it’s important to go after early adopters, influencers. It’s a great strategy for something like Heroes. It’s a problem with servicing this small and the broad audience as well. But you have to build affinity for both these groups, an authenticity for both audiences”

He also talked about the innovative ways that a show like Heroes has spun product placement on it’s head by building the character Hiro with a seemingly genuine love for the Nissan Versa.

“We did some great things last year with Nissan with how we weaved the brand into the story. Hiro always spoke about the Nissan Versa and the car became a character in the series in a way that didn’t seem forced. Now the car’s popularity has been doing well internationally.”

One question from the backchannel was, “How is transmedia storytelling impacted by media consolidation?”

Danny Bilson: If you can show everyone all these revenue streams, you run into movie divisions that care about themselves more than everyone else. They are interested in protecting their properties and their careers! One of the questions here is ‘Where could transmedia come from?’ I think in the future, it’s not from the media company, I think it will be from the other way – from the fans, like it has been. Maybe we have to give them more tools. It’s important to give them the tools and let them do what they do. We have to build worlds where people want to go.”

Many thanks to Henry Jenkins, Joshua Green, Sam Ford and the Convergence Culture Consortium for keeping the channels of conversation flowing in all directions.

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