FOE5: Spreadable Media

Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society.

How are the shifting relations between media producers and their audiences transforming the concept of meaningful participation? And how do alternative systems for the circulation of media texts pave the way for new production modes, alternative genres of content, and new relationships between producers and audiences? Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green–co-authors of the forthcoming book Spreadable Media–share recent experiments from independent filmmakers, video game designers, comic book creators, and artists and discuss the promises and challenges of models for deeper audience participation with the media industries, setting the stage for the issues covered by the conference.
Speakers: Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California), Sam Ford (Peppercom Strategic Communications) and Joshua Green (Undercurrent)


THe conference was brought together to look at ways academics and the industry can talk to each other..this panel is about some of the models that are in place, about the spreadable media project, started in 2008, presented at FOE in 2009. Had many hands on it, stewarded by the 3 of us, but lots of input. The idea, (it is currently with book publisher) is that the circualation in content looks very different, as a result of shifts, a series of dichotomies. Where bottom up participation has more sway, influence than top down, which requires adjustments in how you think about content, business and participation.

To explore ideas, 3 dichotomies. One is that we need to think about the circulation rather than distribution.

HJ: distinction btw distribution, controlled, top down, windows of opportuntnities. Circulation is partially top down, a hybrid system, and is increasingly bottom up. Shaped as much my unauthorised spreading, grass-roots channels. THe methods are unpredctiable, uncontrollabe, but generate a lot of meaning

SF: we look at emerging models and historic models we can learn gospel and christian music inductry. There content circulates through social, church groups etc, out side of mainstream. Groups used to gives concerts….and at some point ask about an offereing…there are moral implications in copying this kind of music without the offering.

HJ: we use the word unauthorised, a better word that piracy, which has a lot of heat in it. The spreading of gospel songs is better defined as can you steal the spreading of the gospel. This books explains reason why giving up control means you gain value. One distinctions in book, about participatory culture and web2.0…there is confusion between the terms. Participatory culture has several hundreds years history, about people looking to spread ideas, cullture, create etc. Web2.0 is a business model, to capture and commodify the desire to particpate. It has provided tools, but has lead to a set of business models that constrains it to.. If we have those descriptions, we can promote participation yet rail against some of the constraints.

jG: it’s not just a shift in semantics, but in acceptance and usage. IN web2.0 model, we place agency in content producers and the network, in particpation, not the people who want to join in. We need to shift emphasis between producers and consumers…between users and content creators. We need to look at diverse patterns of relationshipos. The categories are not fixed…we need to understand what happens when categories are not fixed.

SF: there is a lot ot be learned from grass-roots practices, that emerges from audience…that sees how spreadable content can be a positive, to allow you to learn where it goes. Eg bands going to where their music is liked. We look at indie games in the book, about new practices etc…we look at crowd-funding…crowd-sourcing. So much to be learned there.

HJ: independent media is a world there is a desparate need to have a new business model, a diferent way of looking at things. THe indie artist has greater opportunity to create product and get it in front of people but also more desparation due to break down in traditional models of funding. So crowd-funding has a increasing role. indi film maker may propose it there, get it supported and then look for other funds. THen the production phase of crowd-sourcing, builds visibility, more interest. Then netflix, viewing parties, etc build communities around titles and let them find public they may not have found otherwise. Spreadability is not just videos on YT, but a whole apparatus about how the public help create.

JG: We’ve been trying to provide an alternative discourse…defined by spreadability, rather than virality…we are trying to shift the tenor of debate about how content moves through culture away from just the awesomness content and to think about the agency of those who create, distribute and consume it. We need to stop looking at consumption in narrow terms, but how consumers add value…the new range of activities for producers, it suggests how we need to think about how they engage with series of audiences along the production chain. We need to re-evaluate value, where it comes from, how it is created.

SF: value is a packed word, economic or something else. It can be a point of conflict..or agreement or just two completely different agendas. We talk about the mindset, economic, or gift economy,. about how they are framed. Spreading media is about relationships with one another.

HJ: when starting thinking, we spent a lot of time on gift economies…how we are between commodity cultures and gift exchanges. Many gifts are an industrial society. A commodity is turned into a gift when we remove the price tag. It is then part of a system of social connection with other. THe same when you make mix tapes and give them to someone you like. When the gifts are the community, the labours pf love are UGC, which then drives an industry, revenue. So why don’t we turn free labour into cash, give them money for creating and spreading. But if you are in a commnity when the exchange is about friendship, if you commoditise it then the transaction relationship is changed. The idea we can change fans into producers, provides friction between participatory communities and web2.0 business models.

SF: an model is a rummage sale…you have a debate over the economic value and the social the internet is huge rummage slae. We switch back and forth betwen economic and relationship and back…so producers offend audiences they are trying to reach by having wrong state at a time..we have a lot to think through about best practices and ethics

JG: they affect non-fan communities etc, like at the scale of Facebook. Look at the Occupy movement, the argument about work, labour, where the profits go to. Who gets to enjoy the benefits of the value. How will big compnaies conceptualise their role, what they are asking their users, the role of the audience

SF: so how do indi behaviours apply to mass corporations…governments and big companies. We react to certain words and get grumpy, the project is a reaction to some of the framing/metaphors about the discussion. For many, it is about reach, the people who see the message. That does not ness the model is stickiness…so that does not work, move to push content, about the virality of content. Culture does not quite work that way…so can’;t braodcast, can;’t get people to come to me, i can’t infect, but can i get a few influencers who will spread it for me. Companies are trying to hold on to as much as possible of the old model. So a few influencers is as much a mistake as all the others. Companies are good at hearing, but not at being responsive. Not very good is listening – that is paying attention and reacting to it. Listening is harder, you cannot automate it, you can;t take the humanity out of it. Companies have a hard time working this out (at scale). They are slowly realising this. You need to listen before a crisis hits…

HJ: Occupy is a provocation as much as a political movement, a provocation for discussion, about how wealth has moved, how it is made. In Washington, a whole bunch of zombies had just turned up to support the Occupy people..and lots of people were asking what the zombies had to do with it..this would lead to lots of conversations. Popular culture images and words are being used to promote the occupy message…To push Occuy to be a movement with demdns is to push it back to a distribution model and not about how it is being used to create spreadable media and conversations

JG: We saw Anonymous recently disown parts of it going after drug cartels…they split and change…was it official or not. Movements diversify.

HJ: many negative connotations of spreadability, it can changed and be used against the groups. SO if videos of human rights violations…they lose control and they get used for different reasons, they get fetishised and all different uses not for what was orginally meant. If you are Perry, you hate spreadable media now, the campaign is probably dead.

SF: we can be enthusiastic about the possibilities, but the ‘opposition’ have the same tools and methods. The tools are not always just for ‘you’. There were some nice simplicities about the models of broadcast etc, eg who a reporter worked for gave a lot of information, about who they are what they stand for. We know that does not always happen, but it was ther. But in a space where brands have broken down, where is the trusted voice in the journalistic world. In spreadability, anyone can have a platform..but how trusted are they. Information can be passed along without truth behind it. We don’t ness fact check. You have to ask questions. We have a system not set up to teach people to ask questions. We need a lot of work to make potential live up to possibility

HJ: YOu see almost every week a bit of mis-information, even by people who used to be accountable and now deny responsibilty when the idea/rumour spread.

SF: we still have the idea that people need to be held accountable..but are they. News organisations are making that argument…with the drive for breaking news. there is pressure to release without fact checking.

JG: In summation…it is complex…

Audience Questions

Ian: relationship between media and social practice and how you think about that in the spreadable space? It’s about the object, the content, the meme…or is it about social practice. Different questions raised…

HJ: part of our reaction to viral is it strips out the agency..viral is the smallpox blanket model! The idea of viral strips out the ocmplex reasons we engage’s about the act of spreading not just the quality reasons. Why do people spread it..we start with Susan Boyle in the book, look at all the different groups, the different contexts and conversations around her. It’s about why and a negotiation between different communities, why they do things. If the brand is going to be meaningful in culture brand has to understand this and court communities, not create them

JG: the value we perceive comes from the social interaction, not the value of the object..the value comes because it is immersed in these patterns of social interactions. It’s value is negotiated along the way, it changes.

SF: Also what is content, is it the discussion, is it the liking etc. Alot of models look at something that is more production-y, but often the content is the discussion…what is more valuable, not just the stuff that cost the most!

Question..could spreadable media help fans develop block-busting model..and how does it fit into the longtail

HJ: look at long tail model, we ended up with a soft long-tail model. The hard model is that the long tail would repalce the blockbuster. The softer versions ays the availability of the content has expanded, there is more and more niche content. The softer version works with spreadability, lower costs of visibility…spreadable communities can tap into long-tail content and making it more visible…the advantages are still with the head, with the blockbusters..more able to promote. Spreadability can help but won’t overcome blockbusters…it may not be enough to overcome the power of mass producers…

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