PARTICIPATORY CULTURE: New Constellation-Same Star System?

It has not taken long to see the boundaries between television and the web to collapse, or or least for each to recognize a common interest. Perhaps a question of the money of established media chasing the ideas of the wild west mentality of the web. It is almost inevitable. All of this is proof of the possibly increasing marketability of web series, as television seeks out cheap programming aimed at coveted young demographics. Rope it in from the margin. sanitize it, anesthetize it. Basically, a similar model of taking indie music acts mainstream. It comes down to corporate content asserting its hegemony as taste maker versus the unpredictability user created content which can attract eyeballs, but no obvious revenue stream.

“Marketers and media producers for the past several years have been racing to capture the marketing potential of both online social networks and user-created content. Viral marketing‘, for example, is the attempt to exploit the network effects of word-of-mouth and Internet communication in order to induce a massive number of users to pass on marketing messages‘ and brand information in a way that is imperceptibly voluntary.”

Jean Burgess: “Viewed from the perspective of cultural participation rather than marketing, videos are not” messages”, and neither are they” products” that are distributed via social networks. Rather, they are the mediating mechanisms via which cultural practices are originated, adopted and (sometimes) retained within social networks. Indeed, scholars at the forefront of YouTube research argue that for those participants who actively contribute content and engage in cultural conversation around online video, YouTube is in itself a social network site; one in which videos (rather than friending‘) are the primary medium of social connection between participants. In considering what these new social dynamics of engagement with media might mean for thinking about cultural production and consumption, Henry Jenkins argues that value is primarily generated via “spreadability”. Through reuse, reworking and redistribution, spreadable media content “gains greater resonance” in the culture, taking on new meanings, finding new audiences, attracting new markets, and generating new values. Read More:

Essentially,means the $240 billion global advertising budget will be more spread out over internet  platforms. However, the theories from Jenkins and others seem overly fixated on the monopoly aspect of  YouTube, Facebook, and MySpace to a lesser extent. As the product cycle begins to mature, fragmentation is inevitable. Literally hundreds of more specialized networks are being developed.   Also, the case for cultural participation may be overstated; a kind of lure to keep people’s eyeballs within the medium. Also it can be equally asserted that videos are messages and products, simply of the virtual variety in the same way downloaded content is a product.These are new cars congesting a virtual highway.

"Anonymous is famous for trolling. Fox News, in their hyperbolic news coverage of 4chan last year, referred to 4chan/Anonymous as “Internet terrorists” and, somewhat more famously, “an Internet hate machine.” 4Chan is responsible for just about every Internet meme out there, from LOLcats to Rickrolling and beyond. 4Chan is also famous for their protests of Scientology, and while they were recently in the news for harrassing and terrorizing an 11-year-old, they’re also responsible for the Dusty the Cat episode..."

Ben Huh: With its ability to remix content, satire and criticism, Internet Culture is slowly chipping away at the cultural fortress built by television, radio and other forms of mass media—commonly referred to as Popular Culture. While many of us casually participate in this process online, we’re unaware of the sea change that’s occurring. Status updates, social networking, blogging and other habits have given rise to Internet Culture and now, internet users have created more content than mass media has created since the invention of the printing press. We have started to take control of the culture that molds our world view—taking the control away from the powerful in the media and giving it to our unwashed peers.

The challenge for big media companies is not just financial. They have to find a way to embrace the power of their users and change their thought process and attitude towards their customers, while not alienating the creator-centric model that currently pays the bills. Interestingly enough, it’s the music industry (thanks to the pains caused by file-sharing) that’s beginning to experiment with ways to embrace the fans through merchandise and concerts, even if it means less short-term revenues.

The battle for dominance between these two cultures is playing out today, pitting users and tech companies on one side (Internet Culture) and big media companies on the other (Popular Culture)….Popular Culture is economically and socially the opposite of Internet Culture. In fact, they occupy almost polar-opposite positions when it comes to ownership, filtering and creativity. Read More:

Huh might be a bit optimistic as the nature of the corporation will be to achieve a form of hegemony over the media and establish its bread and butter dynamic of spoon fe

g pablum content to the public at regular intervals. As such, they have an interest in limiting competition to a select number of outlets. Twenty popular versions of Facebook would be anathema. But they will have to adjust.

The present internet tv model rarely has the traditional episode/season structure;  the majority simply post videos continually — either on an irregular or frequent basis — without ever signaling an end. Many of the shows, then, aren’t serialized, instead following either sitcom or sketch models, so viewers can jump in and out at will. This is  a very web-specific attribute: cheaper production allows for regular and continual distribution. The web is a content vacuum.There is never enough.  Of course there’s a long history of this on television as well: soap operas, daytime talk shows, prime time sketch comedy, television news, etc.

The web t.v. model also is characterized by a lack of narrative.  – these series tend to be, generally, non-narrative. Clearly some skits, motifs, jokes and characters recur: By and large, it is still rather difficult to get online viewers to invest in rich and complicated, serialized stories. There’s a consensus among those who write and think about scripted web series that the 3-6 minute episode is a temporary phenomenon, an accident of history. The conventional wisdom for why this works has been the “cubicle theory,” that a large part of the audience is viewing at work; the same approach that Gawker media uses with blasts of short (100-150 word) posts.

Chocolate Rain-Chad Vader

There is much more going on in viral video than information about a video being communicated throughout a population. Successful viral videos have textual hooks or key signifiers, which cannot be identified in advance ,even, or especially, by their authors, but only after the fact, when they have been become prominent via being selected a number of times for repetition. After becoming recognisable via this process of repetition, these key signifiers are then available for plugging into other forms, texts and intertexts—they become part of the available cultural repertoire of vernacular video. Because they produce new possibilities, even apparently pointless, nihilistic and playful forms of creativity are contributions to knowledge. This is true even if ,as in the case of the Chocolate Rain example; they work mostly to make a joke out of someone. ( Burgess )

However, this idea of trying to co-opt user created content within a corporate structure, may not ultimately be necessary or as threatening as may seem. Burberry’s recently passed three million fans on Facebook. Calvin Klein has now over a million. When you consider Vanity Fair has a circulation of  1.2 million and you compare the costs, it is apparent that Burberry’s is going to have a lot of money to spend nurturing its clientele in a more direct and complicit manner. When a consumer is going to go onto a social network or YouTube and actively seek out a specific video or brand, it exposes the major weakness of “passive”  top-down marketing marketing strategies which drives traditional sales and marketing efforts.

---Personally, I think this speaks a lot about Burberry. In a world of big brands grabbing at money, it’s nice to see someone sharing and engaging with their community rather than just “counting fans” (and doing it in a creative way!). What does Facebook think of Burberry reaching this milestone? Facebook’s VP offered this: “Burberry is producing its own original content, in fact Burberry is no longer just a fashion company – today they are a thriving media enterprise. Burberry is now the most widely followed fashion brand on Facebook. It’s successful not just because it makes great clothes but because it understands the importance of sparking interest in the community and using social media to engage and delight their consumers. Whether it is relating to consumers by promoting indie bands on their Facebook Page or celebrating the ideas of the most stylish customers on their site, The Art of the Trench – Burberry is building its brand not simply by broadcasting and advertising to them, but by creating new media experiences for them.” –Joanna Shields, Vice President FACEBOOK EMEA---

Chocolate Rain may have forty million views, but he is not making money off that traffic, and perhaps peddling soda pop was not what he intended.  The example of Michelle Phan is a good example of the process of coopting and individual’s passion for the product into a sales vehicle for in this case Lancombe:

“Three years ago, the now 22 year-old art student was turned down for a job working behind the counter at a department store for Lancôme. But today, the YouTube star – who is known for her creative video makeup tutorials that garner views by the million – announced that Lancôme came knocking on her door, and has signed Phan to be their video makeup artist; the first contract of its kind for a YouTuber….As a part of the relationship, Phan will create one video a month highlighting a new look with her favorite Lancôme products. The contract doesn’t preclude her from dreaming up her regular videos with other brands while on her own time.
With her trademark style blending music with makeup and more theatrical editing than her YouTube counterparts, we were surprised to learn she does it all herself, right from her Florida bedroom home….” There has to be some skepticism about Ben Huh’s claim of media control being given to “our unwashed peers”.

Tron Guy. Huh:On the other hand, the Internet Culture process is far more fluid. And while not perfectly meritocratic, none of us hold enough power to make or break the popularity of a cultural meme. If something does become popular, it’s likely that hundreds, if not millions of passionate individuals will volunteer their time, voice and social status to propel the meme forward.

YouTube crystallized the kind of spreadable, communal consumption of comedy so easily adapted the Internet experience. Accounts of YouTube’s rise — see Jean Burgess and Joshua Green’s book — start with ‘Lazy Sunday’, a video which propelled the site as much as it made its stars. But was there any doubt ‘Lazy Sunday’ and SNL would do well in America’s then-new web 2.0 environment? In retrospect, no. While the media was awash in reports about the death of television, careful watchers new SNL’s bite-sized sketch comedy were perfectly suited for modest download speeds and short attention spans.

Yet before, following and coinciding with YouTube came a slew of other ventures, from CollegeHumor (1999) and AtomFilms (1998), both of which evolved enough to be bought out by bigger companies. Celebrities came to the web in 2006 with Funny or Die, memes became a brand in 2007 with Cheezburger. Somewhere in there 4Chan decided it would dictate what would both annoy and distract — sometimes, revolt — us.

Christian:What does this mean for ‘web’ video? No one is sure. Changing dynamics of viewing could alter the rules of producing online. Short, punchy and cheap may no longer work. The industrial dynamics, moreover, which allowed dozens of amateur and independent creators a chance at careers may dissolve as television merges with the web, thereby re-solidifying the networks’ dominance over content

Soon after YouTube, a host of sites started hoping to be the “YouTube for comedy.” Some were more successful than others. Infamously, those started by the major networks and companies — Turner, NBC, HBO, – failed. While independent entrants — Break, MyDamnChannel — variously thrived or survived, even as it was never easy….As the surviving sites solidified their dominance — relying heavily on branded entertainment, as online ad rates were slow to rise — mainstream media companies embarked on a parallel effort to support with their home brands. Instead of trying out new sites, they would produce original content for their primary websites. Networks like ABC and NBC bought up and encouraged original web series intended to drive traffic, series like Voicemail, In Gayle We Trust and Ctrl. These efforts had varying degrees of success, so networks started to realize they could use the web to bolster the bigger screen, TV. Online extras became something of a norm, especially for comedy series: from Ugly Betty‘s Mode After Hours, Gossip Girl‘s Chasing Dorota, and Psych‘s teen series, the web became a place to give fans a little something extra, and funny.

All the while independent producers were reinventing the rules of comedy, through web series like The Guild,… independent web series offered a different view of comedy, moving the conversation away from the CPM-based YouTube model (in which videos simply rack up of views) to one where videos compel users to invest in characters and participate in the narratives. Alongside traditional advertising, they would solicit advertisers to sponsor shows, place products and integrate brands as seamlessly as possible. ( Aymar Jean Christian )


Popular Culture deals almost exclusively in the domain of rights-owned content. That TV show you’re watching, or that movie with the tall blue aliens? Someone owns the exclusive right to control how that content will be used. Internet Culture, however, creates value via remixing and twisting popular out of content—extending the definition of fair use. The brouhaha over Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope Poster is a microcosm of this conflict. The Internet Culture crowd has almost no problem accepting the fair use argument of Fairey, whereas the AP strongly argued the opposite.

Christian:Lastly, with plenty of places to upload videos on the web, the kinds of censorship and dumbing down endemic to television is a lot harder to maintain. More diverse kinds of humor — from the relatively benign YouTube to 4Chan borderline (and sometimes quite obvious) repulsive — can thrive. There’s plenty of evidence to support this, beyond the obvious taking stock of what is popular. Scholar Limor Shifman, for intance, has a recent analysis of the most popular YouTube memes (the article, presented at the International Communication Association, is in review at a journal), and found “‘bad’ texts make good memes,” meaning the most simple and cheap videos spread the fastest — think of “Charlie bit my finger” and “Chocolate Rain.”

We love a hero. Or a superstar. Or a cultural icon. We love to demonize some people and put others on pedestals. Fact is, no one is creative in a vacuum. Joss Whedon had influences and inspirations, and so does Stephenie Meyer. But Popular Culture loves to make stars and heroes. It’s more lucrative that way. With Internet Culture, it’s a little harder to pinpoint the heroes of a collaborative process that involves hundreds of unconnected individuals. ( Huh )

As a good example of spreadability take the phenomenon of Chocolate Rain:

It is arguably the combination of oddness and earnest amateurism that made Chocolate Rain‘ such a massive YouTube hit. But the uses of Chocolate Rain as part of participatory culture ended up far exceeding the intentions of either the original producer or the original disseminators. There was a relatively brief but highly creative flurry of parodies, mashups and remixes as Chocolate Rain‘s popularity spiked. These derivative works reference Chocolate Rain by imitating or re-using parts of it, and frequently combining them with many ideas from other sources, building on layers of knowledge built up in previous internet phenomena as well as broadcast media fandom (like Star Wars).

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