Wednesday, March 29, 2006
To think popular culture may actually make us smarter. Such a statement might elicit muffled laughter and the occassional guffaw, but a quick flip through your local primetime line up might just prove this to be true. In "Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter" by Steve Johnson he examines this emerging trend in the media and the implications it is having on content. (By the way I have read this book, and it's a quick and interesting read)
The foundation for this belief is that the content being presented on television involves more cognitive engagement then it did 30 years ago. For example, Johnson compares an episode of "Starsky and Hutch" to an episode of "24." Now, this might be like comparing apples to oranges, but if the overall content of both shows are examined it begins to show a massive difference. "Starsky and Hutch" only required its viewers to keep track of a few characters and follow a linear plot. "24" on the otherhand has at least 26 characters that the viewer needs to keep track of, plus they need to follow multiple plot lines and piece together the gaps between them. These more cognitive engaging programs do not solely exist as television programs, but extend further to video games, the Internet and movies. By distancing themselves from the formulaic presentation of content, it now requires viewers and users to use more brain power.
This increase in the sophistication of content has stemmed from the change of the guard in who is driving the wealth creation in the new media economy. According to Joseph Frydl, of a senior strategic planner at Ogilvy and Mather, "If the old economy was dominated by “Organization Men” -- rule-following agents of large companies who are charged with implementing systems -- the new economy is dominated by the creators of ideas. They create the new technologies, new ways of doing business, the spark behind great brands as well as the movies, music and images we consume all the time." It is these new "ideas people" are creating the demand for smarter pop culture and thus the creators of the media are begining to realize that "Because they're ideas people, stimulation and provocation enhance the value of popular entertainment."
This trend of increasing the cognitive involvement in pop culture will only continue to increase over time. With more individuals being drawn to HBO to watch the final season of "The Sopranos" or the viewers who religiously tune into primetime shows like "Lost" and "24" are just the begining of the sophistication of media content. As this trend continues it will begin to have a profound effect on what people view. Now, don't get me wrong there are still going to be people out there who watch wrestling and still believe its real or who tune in weekly and vote on "American Idol," but even these types of programming that are viewed as not being as sophisticated, still require their viewers to keep track of why Triple H has become a bad guy this week, or empower their viewers to become a talent scout and use their ears to figure out who is the better vocalist. And even in these small doses the increasing sophistication of pop culture is a good thing.
The Growing Sophistication of Popular Culture
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Oh, the F.C.C., protector of broadcasting decency and mortal enemy of Howard Stern you sure have done it this time. On March 11 the F.C.C. leveled a $4 million fine against nine different television shows that had violated decency standards from February 2002 to March 2005. Out of that $4 million dollars, the CBS drama “Without a Trace,” which airs on over 111 different stations, was fined a record $3.6 for its alleged depiction of teenage orgy. As the F.C.C. becomes more ruthless in its pursuit to squash indecency, it has WB censoring the first episode of its new show “The Bedford Diaries” to avoid any potential fines.
“The Bedford Diaries,” is about college students who are enrolled in a class on human sexuality. The show was created by Tom Fontana, who also happened to create the graphic HBO series “Oz,” but unlike HBO, where no restrictions on content exist , the WB would be a prime target for the continued F.C.C. crackdown. Therefore, even though the show had been given the thumbs up by the WB’s standards department, certain scenes from the show were asked to be cut by Garth Ancier, the WB’s chairman.
This concern over being fined for broadcasting the content has led the WB to offer an uncut version of “The Bedford Diaries” on its website WB.com. Yet, the decision to release an uncut version of a TV show online could potentially be a change in which networks broadcast programs. With the fear of fines from the F.C.C. increasing this could be an emerging trend among all networks as they look for ways to reach increasingly fickle viewers who don’t want to be restricted by the time and place they can watch TV. Another positive benefit for viewers is that the
As Mr. Fontana sees it, “The message here is that they'll be forced to go alternative ways of looking at shows if they want to see the real thing. It's like they're telling people that broadcast television now has much less interesting stuff than you see on the Web or cable.” Driving viewers away from the actual network with the promise of uncut and commercial free programs available on the Internet may just hurt the networks as much as it helps them evade the F.C.C.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Wireless Internet access was a huge technological break through. It freed up the masses of Internet users from the tangle of wires that kept most chained to their desks. It also provided unlimited users access to the net through one modem. Yet, with access to wireless networks being mostly unrestricted could it pose a problem for individuals with wireless networks in their homes.
The term “piggybacking” has been causing worry among wireless network owners. Piggybacking essentially is when another user that is not allowed access to the network logs on and uses it. These unauthorized users can be your next door neighbor or some stranger in the car outside.
This only occurs if you have an open wireless connection, and because of this it has led many people to wise up and begin protecting their networks through passwords and firewalls. It may seem like protecting your wireless network from these “hackers” is justified. They are stealing your Internet connection, and the media is portraying the issue like a potential threat to people’s wireless networks.
It’s apparent how this could be seen as a problem by some, but is it really? How nice and convenient is it to access the Internet from anywhere you can receive an open network signal? But that is where Internet Service Providers have a problem. They don’t see unauthorized users accessing another individual’s network as simply sharing; they see it as a loss of profit. What if your neighbor just piggybacks off your connection permanently instead of reaching into his pocket to pay for a thirty-nine dollar a month subscription fee?
Others see piggybacking as a security threat to their computer’s data. Still others don’t even lack the technical know how to protect their wireless networks and leave them open for this reason. Users currently don’t have the ability nor the software included with their wireless routers to monitor who is accessing their networks and how much bandwidth they use. Such advancements would help to eliminate unauthorized users from permanently accessing individual’s networks and also protect their computers from other users. Ultimately it should come down to the user if they are willing to leave their wireless networks open to share with others.
As the Internet is one of the most prevalent ways that individuals consume media, the wireless revolution should be embraced. Piggybacking is not the evil idea that it has been portrayed as. More individuals than ever a looking for mobile Internet access and as we see an increase in the use of portable media devices from iPods to Blackberries to laptops and tablet PCs, open wireless networks and the ability to access these networks will only continue to benefit users.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
In Clooney's alleged post, he goes on a left-wing rant which included such statements as "I am a liberal. And I make no apologies for it. Hell, I'm proud of it. Too many people run away from the label. They whisper it like you'd whisper "I'm a Nazi." Like it's dirty word," and "Bottom line: it's not merely our right to question our government, it's our duty. Whatever the consequences. We can't demand freedom of speech then turn around and say, But please don't say bad things about us. You gotta be a grown up and take your hits. I am a liberal. Fire away."
Though it's somewhat easy to imagine these words leaving the impassioned fingers of Mr. Clooney as he sat banging away on a computer somewhere. But the the truth is they didn't. According to a statement released by Clooney "These are not my writings — they are answers to questions and there is a huge difference."It turned out that the post was just old quotes from published interviews that Clooney had done that were put together and given a little added pizazz by HuffingtonPost's creator Arianna Huffington.
Yet, Clooney's statement sums up the entire issue at hand: the purity of blogs. According to Huffington in a later post she says even though the writings weren't Clooney's, "the medium isn't the message; the message is the message." This implied that even though the message was falisfied, it does not effect the credibility of the blog to function as a source of information. And to many this idea attacks blogging's essence.
Anyone with any background in the media already knows the huge error in Huffington's statement. Since the posts on a blog are a mere extension of the blog itself, in the blogosphere the media and the message work simultaneously. When users visit a blog they become engrossed with the writing style of the blogger (or guest writers), they become familiar with the layout and design of the site, and most of all the trust the authenticity of the blogger. According to Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine.com ""If you're not really writing your blog, if you're having or allowing someone else to do it for you, then you're gaming me, lying to me, insulting me." With blogging becoming a force to be reckoned with in the media world, such insults will not be tolerated.
A Guest Blogger, and an Unwritten Law
The "Clooney" Post
Friday, March 17, 2006
Trendwatching.com attributes two reasons for the emergence of this new generation: "(1) The creative urges each consumer undeniably possesses. We're all artists, but until now we neither had the guts nor the means to go all out. (2) The manufacturers of content-creating tools, who relentlessly push us to unleash that creativity, using -- of course -- their ever cheaper, ever more powerful gadgets and gizmos. Instead of asking consumers to watch, to listen, to play, to passively consume, the race is on to get them to create, to produce, and to participate."
With the increasing availability and ease of consumers to create content it is not suprising that the numbers are continuing to increase. And with the continuing influx of consumer created content it has led to many users getting paid. Such content creaters are reaching niche audiences and reaping the rewards. Creating new types of original content that would not be noticed nor produced by mainstream media outlets. So people are paying for content created by the average joe.
Such a market of user created content has implications on all aspects of the mass media. It means that people can get involved. In a previous post the idea of current TV was discussed. It is this type of content that could potentially drive the mass media. It could also mean that slivercasting will become more important as viewers demand more specific content.
Generation C has come to exist because of the interaction of four other trends: Creativty, Casual Collapse, Control and Celebrtity. First, creativity is important, because "let's face it, we're all creatives, if not artists!". Though most people will not be shy about telling others that they aren't creative, deep down the desire to be creative exists and such creativity is the catalyst for the creation of content.
Next, Casual Collapse simply put is "the ongoing demise of many beliefs, rituals, formal requirements and laws modern societies have held dear, which continue to 'collapse' without causing the apocalyptic aftermath..." (These are trendwatching.com's words not mine). Such a change, however, has implications for society as a whole, because "a society in which the creative ethos is increasingly dominant," allowing a "...new generation of parents is slowly abandoning its obsession with children becoming doctors, lawyers or business executives, they are realizing that creative careers are not necessarily a dead-end road to poverty and family scandal." As people begin to shy away from such beliefs, the value of creativity will begin to flourish.
Control is probably the most important ingredient in the emergence of Generation C. The ability to control content, whether it be where, when, what or how it's shown has always been on the forefront of media consumer's minds. These individuals no longer want to be spoon fed content, rather they want to have some sort of stake in it.
Finally, there lies most people's desire to be a celebrity. With the improvement of communications technology from cell phones, to digital cable, to the Internet, individuals are able to disseminate information at their convience. Such an ability is allowing more and more people to become overnight sensations.
As consumers gain greater ability to produce and distribute their own content it has the potential to change the media landscape. With the emergence of the four C's, and their continued presence it seems that Generation C will be less of a generation and more of a media revolution.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Cable TV has almost always been the ideal mass media. It reaches large audiences, while at the same time offering specialized channels to reach targeted audiences. Still most people buzz right by all the programming options, because "nothing is on." As consumers begin to spend more time on the Internet and broadband connections continue to improve, a solution to this problem just might be found. The development of Internet TV has led many content providers to seek out niche audiences, thus creating the concept of slivercasting.
Slivercasting is essentially an off shoot of narrowcasting. Its purpose is to provide either streaming or downloadable content to tiny niche audiences. What ties the audience together is a common desire to watch programs about topics like sailing or news from the
The low cost of producing content for Internet TV is what makes it attractive to slivercasters. According to Andy Steward, the founder of Sail.tv a sailing channel, "we didn't have any idea how big the audience would be," (which by the way had over 70,000 viewers in the first month) so he wanted to keep his expenses as low as possible. That is why he turned to the Internet, because “Internet television is an investment we can grow into.” This means for a small start up cost, independent programmers are now able to reach as many members of their audience that have Internet access.
Though a majority of the content available is produced by independents, the potential of slivecasting has begun to attract large cable networks. For instance, after the failure of Bravo’s Trio network due to, among other things, its attempt to reach too diverse of a market. Therefore, it decided to move its network to the Internet and split it into three distinct channels that will reach three entirely different audiences. Bravo’s extension to the Internet could just be the beginning, as other networks are likely to follow. Since broadcasting content over the Internet allows programmers to offer even more programs. As consumers are demanding more specialized content when they want it offering such extensive and specific content over the Internet would allow for attract larger audiences.
Currently, most sites are offering very small and limited clips that range from two to ten minutes, but as broadband technology becomes faster it will be possible to see half hour and hour shows. Most Internet TV networks charge on average $9.95 a month to access the content. Some sites though offer the programs for free, but have begun to sell advertising space.
It seems that slivercasting is following in the footsteps of blogging and podcasting. Like its predecessors, Internet TV is offering both independent programmers and large media companies the ability to aim their content at specific audiences. Such targeting presents the opportunity to bring together these largely fragmented niche audiences, which would never have been reached by traditional media vehicles.
- Rupert Murdoch, March 14, 2006
Internet Means End of Media Barons, Says Murdoch
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
With an audience of over 40 million, Univision has become a giant among the Spanish networks. Its shows account for all ten of the top ten Spanish-language shows. Ratings wise in some markets with large Latino populations, Univision has begun to beat some of the large broadcast networks. Though Univision has based its successes on such a large and faithful audience, the network's future owner will have to deal with the shifting demographic make up of the Hispanic population.
The Hispanic population is consistently growing. It is projected that by 2010 that the percentage of Hispanics born in the U.S. is likely to exceed 75 percent. This means as the composition of the Hispanic population shifts so are the demographics. American-born Hispanics tend to primarily speak English as opposed to Spanish, be better educated and have higher incomes. For Univision these demographic changes pose a bigger problem as the larger networks could potentially begin to poach their audience. Yet, Univision is sticking to the formula it knows best. The network has remained exclusively Spanish and still buys most of its programming from Mexico.
With the shifting landscape of Spanish-language TV's audience, the sale of Univision is refreshing to marketers trying to target the Hispanic population. Marketers view Univision as a lumbering giant, whose resistance to change is shutting them off to reach those who fit within this changing demographic. As marketers try to reach bilingual Hispanics, the potential for Univision to change and the emergence of other Hispanic-targeted networks will provide such outlets
But in the pursuit of trying to reach these shifting demographics, whether it be through programming or advertising, it must not forget that as whole the Hispanic population is diverse. Therefore, it is more about preserving the culture and not what language the programming is broadcast. According to Cynthia Hudson-Fernandez, executive vice president and chief creative officer of Spanish Broadcasting System, "These are a new generation of people who have a very broad perspective," she said. "They don't have to prove that they're one thing or another to be comfortable as Americans. If it's quality programming, they don't care if it's English or Spanish."
Changing U.S. Audience Poses Test for a Giant of Spanish TV
Monday, March 13, 2006
Currently, many prominent celebrities have already been digitally copied. To do so an actor and their movements are scanned by laser into a computer. Digital animators then transform the scans into digital files. These copies then are used primarily for stunts, which an actor is unable to perform due to contractual stipulations or if it is too dangerous for a human to perform.
Though digital clones of real actors have been used in such short scenes, it has become quite common to have full parts played by CG characters. Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels or the more substantal role of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy are two prime examples. The only difference is that most of these digitally created characters are based on the imaginations of their creators, where anything goes.
That is where Hollywood has fallen short in its quest to create a truly virtual actor. When creating a fictional character, whether it be an alien or monster or some other fictitious creature, it is easy for the audience to believe that is how such a character would move or how its facial expressions would look. Yet, when creating a virtual human it has been nearly impossible to create movements and expressions that are identical to the real world. To create such life like animation it takes almost 90 people an entire day to create approximately three seconds of animation. Therefore, to make the average two hour movie it would take 2,400 days or close to 8 years. According to Shuzo Shiota, head of Polygon Pictures the leading digital-animation studio in Japan says, ""The amount of information that the human expression, skin, and body … require is just too huge for CG animators."
George Lucas, one of the fathers of the digital effects revolution, has vehemently attacked the idea of digital actors saying that "Acting is a human endeavor and the amount of talent and craft that goes into it is massive - and can a composite reproduce that?" Lucas may have a valid point. By creating digital actors it defeats the purpose of going to the movies. When seeing a human act it adds depth and emotion. A digital actor on the otherhand may provide similar emotion, but it would be merely an illusion. An illusion that once revealed might ruin the experience and equate to nothing more than watching a cartoon. However, it is difficult to foresee the potential of creating digital actors since we lack the technology create such an illusion.
Can You Clone a Movie Star?
Lucas Attacks 'Digital Actors' Idea
Friday, March 10, 2006
Reality TV was supposed to be one of those trends that fizzled out just as fast as it appeared. Unfortunately, it hasn't. The longer it stays the more ridiculous the shows become. FX's new show Black.White. (Wednesdays 10 PM E.T.) takes realtiy TV's eccentricities a step further by trying to examine the differences between races.
The program's premises is a novel one. Find two families: one black, one white. Hire Hollywood's best make up artists. Transform said families into the opposite race. Let families loose in an upscale California neighborhood. At the end of the day have the families live in the same house. And voila reality TV at its finest.
Yet, Black.White. (by the way those periods are actually part of the title) seems to fall short of its lofty intentions. First, is the issue of the families that were recruited to participate in this artificial environment. FX's official website describes the Wurgels as a white liberal family from California and the Sparks (the black family) as a middle class family from Georgia. These mundane descriptions are spot on with just how boring the participants truly are. The closest thing to a real character is the Wurgel's patriarch, Bruno. Having the aura of a closest racist, Bruno is wholly aloof of the whole concept of racism and is almost dissapointed when no blatant acts of racism are committed against him. By the end it is apparent that Brunco can almost believe that racism doesn't even exist. This bullheadedness combined with his ignorance are only slightly entertaining.
The second problem with the show is that it is a poor measurement of the racial inequalities that exist within America. Though race is an important topic in the discussion of American culture, its portrayal on Black.White. does not even remotely touch on the most important issues. For instance, in one episode the Wurgels traverse swanky Los Angeles suburbs looking for jobs at high end retailers (which they are denied). This is about as far as the show goes to examine racism as most of the other episodes follow the same idea of the families trying to buy products or receive commonplace services and examining the results. Racism in America roots itself deeper than not receiving preferential treatment in a store or the ability to work for a trendy retailer. It involves more important things such as getting a college education, getting a mortgage, escaping poverty, getting adequate medical treatment, etc, etc. To trivialize such an important issue by only focusing solely on the participants consumption of goods and services is ludicrous, especially when much more complex problems could (and should) have been confronted.
Overall, as a show Black.White. lacks the characters and situations that make reality TV entertaining. Since the show is based on such an ambitious idea, it should have taken the issue of racism and examined it in greater depth. Examining racism in greater depth would have provided an eye opening experience for viewers. But, even though Black.White. lacks any true substance or morally redeeming social value, it's at the least an attempt to deviate from traditional reality TV.
Color Commentary - FX's Creepy New Race-Swap Show
Black.White. Official Site
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
About a year ago websites all over the Internet began to offer their users the ability to "tag" pages. Taggining requires users mark their pages using descriptive words and phrases. Users then who use similar or like words and phrases are linked together, creating a natural network. This network makes it easier to connect users who share similar interest. Yet, it still requires users to sift through pages and pages of content to find something worthwhile.
Digg, however, is changing this. According to Digg.com "Digg is a technology news website that combines social bookmarking, blogging, RSS, and non-hierarchical editorial control. With digg, users submit stories for review, but rather than allow an editor to decide which stories go on the homepage, the users do." A digg is simply a user giving a story the OK. Such a system is empowering the sites visitors to choose which stories are worth reading. The more "diggs" a story gets the higher it ranks on the site.
Digg.com is also looking to replace the more dated Internet ranking systems. Digg simplifies rating something by eliminating the ambiguity of starred or numbered systems. Honestly, what is the difference between 3 and 4 stars or a 2 or 3 rating. Giving users the ability to simplify how they rate stories, while at the same time making it simpler to sort through all the articles that aren't worth reading.
Currently Digg only accepts stories that are technolgy related, but they are planning to expand into other popular categories like celebrity gossip, politics and news.
Since Internet users are faced with information overload from all aspects of the media, making it simpler when it comes to finding relevant and interesting news stories is a solid idea. Digg.com allows a substantial amount of interactivity, which will help in enticing users to visit the site. Because users are able to control the content, it will be easier with similar interests to navigate the Internet.
Monday, March 06, 2006
When blogging began it was a cheap way to self publish all the pent up thoughts most Internet users had. For little or no cost, bloggers established their sites, began posting and soon found themselves with offers from advertisers willing to pay for space on their sites. Soon those established sites began to turn a profit. Yet, many bloggers will never see a dime.
Blogs have begun to be classified like celebrities. The most read: A-List. Middle of the road: B-List. And the least visited or unread (like yours truly) C-List. Those blogs that fall under the A-List category have seen profits that range into the seven figures from advertising dollars.
The reason such A-List blogs can demand such high advertising rates is for of two reasons. First, most A-List blogs have readerships that surpass many local newspapers. Second, advertisers are attracted to these blogs because of the niche markets they reach.
With so many blogs not being read by anyone (like yours truly) and big advertisers offering to pay large sums to the most visited blogs, it seems that professionalization of the blog is not far off. “Blogging is increasingly becoming a survival of the fittest—and that all boils down to who has the best content. The blogs that are going to stand out are the ones who break news and have credibility.” For blogs looking to make a profit then they must continuously provide new, relevant and well written posts for their readers. And that my friends, sounds like a full time job to me.
Blogs to Riches
Sunday, March 05, 2006
And the winner was…Crash.
Crash was not only the biggest upset, but of all the movies that were nominated it had the smallest budget. Yet it was bestowed the industries highest honor. Though the majority of films nominated for best picture this year were mostly niche films with small target audiences, it is becoming apparent that moviegoers as a whole are becoming hungry for quality films. So how will Hollywood respond? In the past studio executives have always underestimated their audiences. Now theyare developing independent brands like Focus and Fox Searchlight to develop these heavily targeted products.
This is not surprising as
Yet, Hollywood can't completely ignore the blockbuster idea as it is has helped to shape the film industry since the release of movies like Star Wars and Jaws. Therefore a middle ground must be found. As the blockbuster begins to lose its way, and higher quality films are being demanded, studios must look to develop that can appeal to a mass audience while simultaneously being creative and engaging. This new breed of film cannot solely rely on special effects and star power, but must foster creative directors creative visions. I think George Clooney said it best during his acceptance speech: "Maybe Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America. And maybe that's a good thing"
It’s no longer a question with of where you will lose service, but rather what services your cell phone is missing. As more American cell phone caries begin to release third generation (3G) enabled phones and services the amount of content becoming available to consumers is astounding, but is it really necessary?
Most 3G phones that are being released allow users to download music, video and pictures, send e-mail, take photos, play games, search the Internet and even make an old fashioned phone call. Though the novelty of the multitude of features available to cell phone users is apparent, certain problems currently exist with the success of 3G technology.
As with new technology the cost is rather high for the breadth of services offered. On average to add the full capabilities of 3G technology costs and extra $60 a month on top of the regular monthly service fee. This increase cost has cell phone providers concerned and they are anticipating a surge of consumers opting to use 3G services. In order to entice consumers to purchase the 3G plans, many providers have used promotions to cut the cost of the phones. For instance, Verizon Wireless's LG 8100, which lets customers watch television clips, play games and listen to music, costs $150 after rebates.
Just keeping the price of the technology low does not increase the number of subscribers to the network, however. As most other countries, that had released 3G technology, learned that it takes an extended period of time and low cost plans to get consumers to use the services.
Ultimately the largest obstacle that these new cell phone services will face "… is not pricing or technology, but consumer behavior. Most people still look at these things as phones."