Fan Cultures – Futures of Entertainment

The first session today is on Fan Cultures.

Once seen as marginal or niche consumers, Fan communities look more ‘mainstream’ than ever before. Some have argued that the practices of web 2.0 are really those of fan culture without the stigma. Courted, encouraged, engaged and acknowledged, fans are more and more frequently being recognized as trendsetters, viral marketers, and grassroots intermediaries. Fan affinity is being seized as a form of grassroots marketing, representing the bleeding edge of brand and property commitment. The sophistication of fan-created products rivals the professional products they honor, sometimes keeping defunct properties alive long after their shelf life might otherwise have expired. How is the increasing importance of fan behavior re-writing the media landscape? What kinds of accountability should media companies have to their most committed consumers? What kinds of value do fans create through their activities? What are the sources of tension that still exist between media producers, advertisers, and fans?

The speakers are: Diane Nelson, danah boyd, Molly Chase.  Chair is Henry Jenkins

Henry: I had the experience of doing a blog search, and found a post about ‘normal’ people who watch tv, those who are fans who go out an buy things and the third is fanatics who get their cultural identity from the property.  She misquoted, but it was interesting.  But how do you define fans.


Diane: as new as everything is, it si all very much the same. the underlying themes are about understanding consumers, their motivations and respecting them.  If there was a single definition, it is that there is a connection between a person and the property so that they feel a sense of ownership.  It can be fanatical or can just be enthusiasm.,  It is important not to overgeneralise, you have to understand who they are and what drives them to speak with relevance and authenticity

Molly: respect is a running theme…you have to give them different expriences, gfrom the 2 min game to the year game.  We cater for both.  Speaking at the conference, people come up and say they speak Japanese to undersntad the shows but not everyone done so what are you doing for these people

danah: you have the agency to take things and mix them up; we feel as though all of this world, if we take parts of it we can make sense of it.  A lot of the attempts to make digital bodies is an attempt to make sense, to put it in a form to share and show others something about yourself.  When you see what people take on and are willing to appropriate to express themselves and other peoples reactions.  A teenagers bedroom if filled with stuff, and the same things go on online and this info says somethings about them and marks them in relations to people.   When you project you fanship out to there people it makes a social statements


Henry: How does this discourse give companies a better way of understanding their users.


danah: (overview of the history of social networks, especially the Friendster reaction to bands and how they did not help them and the myspace that offered to help bands).   On myspace, it was the really hardcore indi rock kids who frist got on the site and they got their friends in, without the hard core fans, and they found the other things they could do.  Music acted as a cultural glue and the site offered a wide vareiry of ways of interacting, allows the high participators to be in the same place os the ones  who just want to hang out.

Molly: interesting on how fans use tech that you would not anticipate.   They had a trading card community and introduced a trading game in 20003. they worked hard to allow people to find others; they had system in place to find exact players. They launched and it did ok but not what expected.  So what were they missing?  So they thought about it, and thought they do not care who they were playing against so they introduced an instant play, so they could play immediately and not find people.  Use went up 20%.  Kids already had a way to find people, they have these, they just wanted to play.  Now they use prototypes more and do user testing we know that they will take on a life of its own.

Diane: there was talk about how isolating the web was, but the web is allowing the behaviours to connect.  The behaviours are so fundamental and we need to step back and not overthink….the real thing to take into account is about control, they are going to modify and tailor the technology to suit there needs.   We are moving form an industrial society to a social one, we cannot push things on people.

danah: the earliest waves of net culture were driven from an interest driven groups;  they allowed people to come together with a shared interest.  But real social lives have a funny network, they are not the same.  you needed different ways to connect with different groups.  SN structures are being built into sites, they create different ways, groups and me…so egocentric and topical interest group structures, and the 2 ways are starting to operate together.  Allow you to move between them easily.   This element has allowed traditional fandom to expand, to get people who don’t have a deep engagement to share as well, you are allowed to have a conversation about fandom because you are in a trusted group of friends.


Henry: we are seeing a changing relationship between media producers and fans,


Diane: it’s all about control.   It is impossible in any relationship to demonstrate respect and trust without a dialogue.  But the problem with a dialogue you may not like what the other person says.  When creating content that is complex and the vision of a few and also coupled with financial goals and responsibilities you have an equation where one side is not that interested hearing what is said as ot makes difficult.   The inference that UGC and professionally created content that is mutually exclusive??? There is still room for artists.   The media producers may not want the dialogue in process of creating. The media compnaies need to recognise that when consumers begin to engage, you cannot turn that off; but difficult to deal with.  Look at slash fiction and harry potter, how do you deal with this when it is primarily driven by children.  The creator knows that the primary audien ce is children and is it ok to allow children to inadvertently wnader into an other area of fandom.   Warner have learned, especially from potter, that you can’t simply make it black and white as every bit of expression os a good thing that will continue potter.  But have to be prepared to say we are not going to condone, we are not going to tell you you canlt do it but we have a responsibility to the creators vision, we have to server the broadest audience. There are many properties where the the challnge is not so good; look at the matrix, their demo is more likely to be consistent and more manageable.  It goes back to respect issue, if you fortunate to have a wide connecting consumer property you cannot shut it off but it is not as simple as leaving it wide open

Molly: working with a childrens property is difficult; we get emails complaints about some stuff and we find that people have taken the cartoons and made them porn.   There are times to send out C&D; childrens stuff is a fairly easy one to make the call for porn.  

Diane: opportunism shifts things to a different level; creative expression is one thing but intentionally trying to make money is different. How do you define exploitive and what is the responsibility of the rights owner.   We have wonderful fan sites that are looking to make just enough money to run the site, we sometimes support that with small tthings, like tshirts, have to be careful with this.  We have to monitor activity are they sustaining or are they trying to make profit.

danah: it is a question about who is trying to gain things by the control.  Friendster wasadating site and they moved to stop people who were not dating and lkilledoff the hubs of people who just got hteir friends.   When you start to kill off any attempt to create things.  So what kinds of behaviour do you kill.  Myspace kills profiles daily, such as hatespeach ones.  The reality is these people are not connected so they donlt throw fits so don’t tantrum.  It is important to have people behind those actions.  Look at Tom Anderson, on myspace…it is all a hack, was running on coldfusion, in earliest days they did not do the normal tests on forms, people took it to change things .  asmall group found out you could put any code in the profiles.  Myspace noticed in about 24 hours…initial reaction was to stop, but they let it go and they watched.  Tom acknowledgd it, said it was cool and asked them to be careful.  They did not kill off bad stuff immediately…even when people started to phish, they killed off specific things, specific kinds of codes, but did not kill off the practice.   They did not improve the profile creation etc, they just went with the copy paste culture; they started teaching people basic literature; give them the material to modify.  Lots of sites are now up helping people to mod things.  A culture is there about teaching people to mod things and is not about making it easy…it is very difficult to mod a myspace but an entire generation has figured out how to do it and support each other.   When youtube started it had a lot of porn and myspace banned it, but fans reacted and then they announced that they had accepted it and the usage went right up.  They stopped it because they did not realise what it was then supported it as it supported fan culture.  How do you make that balance

Molly.  Community is not always good, there are real life bullies and online bullies.  Myspace can be stressful, how many friends do you have, do you have the right friends.  It can be really negative.

Diane: on the batman movie, the script was very sensitive.  A copy of the script was leaked, we found out that someone had the complete script and could prove it.  There was a collective effort by fans online to make sure the script was not exposed. This was unusual; we respect the comics and we wan this experience to be great and we are going to self edit.  The studio was fascinated.


Henry: a lot of restrictions are there to prevent damage to properties.  Fans like property and this is a source of worth so how do fans increase the value,


Diane: they are the single biggest reason why properties are valuable.   It is not a commodity…but can be until the fans see this and create value.    I was hard pressed to think how fans can devalue a property; when they talk about it, spread it, embraces it, you have a momentum that any company should be thrilled to have.  The value train should be pretty obvious (see transmedia) the real value is the cultural value.  We won’t see harry potter again; it is a combination of a piece of art…and warner bothers started to engage it early and recognised that this is a property so owned by fans that if we did things to take ownership then we will be dead in the water.  So we established guidelines to remind us about this.   Put plan in place to say basic things, remind the franchises they needed to know the book, if you have questions about using the franchise then go back to the books. They put everything back to the books.   We had to make conscious decisions about promotion partners, it did not need some things, we did not turn it into something Hollywood.  The decision paid out in spades and is still paying out know.  Recognising the value fans and make decisions that recognise that ownership

Molly: difficult to think of something where fans devalue.  Look at Colbert and Hungarian bridge.   Fans know their power and know the influence they have. 

danah: looking at spaces where fans congregate.   They need ads to stay alive.  If some fans take it to the level of slash it can alienate the advertisers.  If you have a diversity of fandom in one space and part is problematic and you don’t control it, it could spiral out of control.   Tech companies go for separate or equal spaces, separate ages, or countries,   as if this would solve it.   Once you get images or videos look at the costs.   You cannot afford it, consumption becomes a process and you have to rely on commercial monies and then you have difficult of diversity.  Fans do not always approve of others fans activities.  So for the owners at what point to the engage in the fan interactions.  So how do you balance these anarchistic practices. Some of the difficulties come into the social plays in the economies around it.


Henry: so what role do fans play in marketing strategies?   Some fans have noted the difference in treatment when a property is new vs a big success.


Diane: not an entirely fair assessment.   Our recent batman and superman movies each had creators that were very engaged in property and fan bases and respected them.. there was dialogue that happened, eg Singer did a blog.  He would show you anything. Had fan dialogue. To a certain extent it was controlled, but not from a marketing thing, which is brian determined the content, with a eye to what would impact in theatres.  He was very inclusive with fans but not completely malleable.  

If the fan stuff  is driven by marketing, it will fail it has to be driven buy the creator.

Molly: the smaller the property the more fans have an investment in it.  As a small network do not have much chance to put things out there, but try and do things.  Have an explorer game, and did not include a map deliberately.  So within days of launching a game, fans went out and created their own maps.   They created venues to talk about the game.   They are restricted in what they could contribute, but were interested observes.  But we have not done a lot to seed things.  On a summer campaign, there marketing dept put stuff on youtube…the legal dept sent a C&D – they did not communicate

danah: people put a lot of fake profiles on the site…then friendster did a fakester genocide.  Then went and sold the rights for media compnaies to create fake profiles…and the fans went what the hell.   Myspace never stopped it, which encourage…fans would create all sorts…if you best friend did not want one, you made it.   On myspace profiles you show your friends, but you can’t show them all…myspace by letting you choose your 8 friends.  Users wanted top 16, top 24 etc, the number one request.   Myspace sold this feature to Xmen…if you make friends with xMen you can have a top 24.  this drove friends to XMen…and you got all their bulletins.  So you can post all the information this way.  Now everything has a profile, that is used as a marketing tool and that now everyone ignores.  When fans are doing as it is fun and interesting they are happy. When feeling they are being manipulated they are not happy.  About half are under 18 and the most are under 35…there are tensions with the influencers…ie parents etc and those who want to abuse the users, ie marketers and paedophiles.  Parents and marketers are flooding the system with ideas of how the system should be used so it feels like it is user manipulated not user generated.



Henry: fandom is global.  Even if owners want to control access to locales.   Is this changing the way media producers make decisions.


Diane: talking about it a lot at WB, but in terms of piracy.  Not always easy or the right things to put things everywhere at once.   Something we are grappling with, hits early in the cycle for marketing, ie trailers go global.  Media companies are going to be forced to integrate or they will die.  It has not changed the model yet, other than thinking of implications now.  It is forcing us to better appreciate the consumers; do not assume they are stupid.   We have to really work hard not to under appreciate the fans.   they may want to see on the web, and the movies and the tv.

Molly: one of the biggest challenges early on was not to show a show in India as it would be offensive.  Now cartoons are spread.  Subtitles japans.   Just because fans take copies, does not mean they won’t want to own the dvd.  The window of introducing shows has come down, various issues.  But getting this done is complex, getting everyone to work together at the same time. It is now more a matter of logistics then trying to manipulate the windows.  

danah: there is an assumption that if you put it out there it will be global instantaneously.  But creators are having to deal with this, understanding the reach. It does not mean that it is global, how do you balance global vs local. Information that has stickiness flows through networks and the majority of networks are local.  Certain people have the power.  Most people do not.    Interesting question about how far content can reach.  Marketers want to capitalise the influence agents.  Things do have viral growth that is powerful but can be very slow.  To what degree are people just surfing.  Tags are the dumbest things…but are the pot smokers dream and you can just click and get content.  A lot of search and surfing is random, looking for cool things.  Teenagers click on links randomly to see where they get.


Q: biggest issue we have, about relinquishing control, it can be extremely negative.   We have tonnes of fake profiles of our entertainers…so what sort of controls have been put in place in the communities to keep a handle on it.  We want to encourage the fans who create these fake profiles but have control.


danah: myspace is outing in controls which is pissing off the fans.   there is an opportunity to work with your fans to work with them and redirect the information.   A lot of the band stuff on myspace is with bands who do not have money to do the site and engage the fans to push the stuff.  With your situation it may not be as bad…you have people enjoying being the characters.

Diane: instead of thinking about controlling it look for the opportunity to tap inot to get information out. The sites have extensive reach to fans that have interest and can use it to get words out. Rather than controlling use the network to get the word out.  Give people the alert that the profiles are not real.  

danah: when fans are involved they do not want people to be manipulative, to make inappropriate stuff.  The fans will do the legwork if you let them.


Q: there is confusion and trying to find the line between marketing and trying to support the community.  For our generation we are resistant to commercialisation and the one behind us have grown up with far more.  Are the youth so immersed in advertising you do not have to worry about crossing the line?


Molly: we have lots of restrictions around how we advertise (as a kids site) kids are brilliant at ignoring or taking on the marketing.  The first question we get when launching things is what’s the catch.   You have full episodes and people ask what is the catch…happy that it is advertising rather than subscription

Diane: you can never take for granted younger peoples screening process… so even if coming up with immersed experiences does not mean they are not savvy in rejecting. My hope is that there is some kind of greater onus to advertisers to up the bar in getting the message out.  They are more savvy and can demand and reject advertising. 

Molly: with advertising content is king.   If not interesting then it will be rejected.

danah: teenagers are so used to it they blank it out…’you don’t make relevant ads so it is useless’.   Look at revver, lonelygirl15, you get paid to share the videos if someone click so the ad.   You put the video on your site and you get the money for ad clicking.   In US, ads are the economy but it is not global, ie not making sense in china.  Look at SN sites that are micropayment supported.    We have a set of paradigms because we live here, the UK and Aus following this but different worlds elsewhere and have to think about this globally.


Q: pre-web the distinction about a fan was whether you were active.   It seems to be altered into a seamless continuum, where you can just identify yourself as a fan and that is enough.  Are we coming up with language/jargon to identify the active people?


Molly: a fan is someone who is seeking out people who have shared the experience.   We have not come up with new vocab.

Diane: one of the things I have learned with harry potter is how deeply personal the connection is.  Whenever the new movies come out, the office get calls from families who have children who are dying who want nothing more to see the new movie…they do things to help this.  It gets very very emotional;   the activity with which someone expresses the fandom takes different forms, there is such a spectrum that is so personal.  There is something that people connect with…it comes out in all different ways.  I would to figure out language but there may be no way to do it

danah: language can be done but the categories can be dangerous.   Each individual has the nuanced understanding of being a fan, what it means for them…at the other end of it is signalling and the cost of signalling.  Online I can say that I am the biggest fan in the world and what does it take to prove it.  People learn ways to challenge what people say. Online everything comes performative.  People hold a metal model of the complexity that does not ness have to be categorised.


Q: there has been discussion about monetising fandom; is this a happy marriage between fans and the legal ownership. Or can you see a point when they come into open conflict.  Or second, (missed second question)


danah: when I look at it…I am excited that google bought youtube,,we are used to challenges about copyright being individuals fighting big corps and we are now going to see a big fight to work out the big issues.   One is a copyright issue about ownership and you have the net neutrality issue…I look at this and there are a lot of legal interesting issues that will be fought out on scale now.   In terms of the queering of it, there a lot of questions.  So who is the audience, what is the space and you don’t have the traditional walls, you had to be in the know before… now anyone can access but what are the implications..

Molly: in terms of the rights there is no substitute for an open dialogue.  So on the adult stuff, we asked for content and were upfront that there would be nothing in return.   You have security in place to look at submissions or you ignore and it is frustrating

Diane: the music industry was the precursor the rest of the industry.  Optimistic that we will get something that people will use…we need to acknowledge that it is coming in some form…it is not that consumers will win with UGC…it’s not that simple…fans respect the creations.  There are degrees to which we acknowledge and it should…let those people who want to connect do so freely but not role over into other audiences who are not looking at it.

Danah: the networked publics have 4 properties.: .persistent, searchability, replicability and invisible audiences.    These existed before and are really are part of everybody’s life and this complicates the relationships between fan practices and the industries connected to.. now it is searched for easily.. and you can see how it is being used.   You can’t build the walls back…you are dealing with a gen that is growing up with that kind of life.


Q: as an interactive company we try and make sure that everything is engaging…but other compnaies do not…isn’t myspace partly responsible for curating what is on there…to keep it call.  The agencies have to make sure they are making things cool…and clients who just want to do it cos its called and myspace where it is there environment and maintain a little piece of exclusivity.


Danah: myspace: you cannot pay attention to all that happens…tom is on there 20 hours a day but that does not mean they see everything.  2/3 of staff surf looking at site…looking for illegal activity = predators, hatespeach and copyright.  They may not be able to manage all the stuff, keep it cool…it is a risk…the amount of stuff that is dumped there…there is no cost to create a profile…dans just ignore the trash…most of the users of myspace have no idea of the wide variety of stuff that is on there.  Most users do no searching on site, look at friends pages…only search when bored.  The direct marketing is killing things of.  Phishing is much more insidious…bulletin advertisements written with hacked in accounts.  Very disruptive…they are trying to keep up…


Q: to what extent do you think about migration from web to a mobile environment?


Diane: fans want to interact everywhere you can authentically and realistically give them the experience.   It is not just about slapping a label on content, but it is suited for the environment  we have struggled to do it at the quality level fans want.  If you find the right content to serve up fans will absorb it as much as the rest. 

Molly: a mobile becomes an extension of you personality…we take careful pride in creating content specific to the medium…we do original stuff that is relevant.   The experience you will have an immersive online experience that you can check in with mobile stuff but not duplicating.

danah:  In the US there is a huge problem with mobile and that is to do with carriers…they have complete control of the applications, so no one can put innovative social media on the phone which is harming the media.  There is stuff happening outside the US, in japan, etc, fandom is on the phone as well.   Young people by phone and repurpose it…in US we are obscenely behind rest of world and there are a lot of factors…I hope it will emerge but we will see it in Korea and China first.  Pay attention to google looking at mobile phone OS. You need the neutrality of phone for the apps to do things.  People want to do things but costs too much and is so difficult,.


Q: Is community and fandom part of the same continuum…and as trying to create community for content creators and are there lessons to be learned from fandom.


Molly: for animators the community is small and overlapping.  

danah: community is one of the most problematic words…you see groups of people that come together…in fandom, prior to SN, the creators of the content had little access to their fans…and for many it is a powerful opportunity and the small bands begun to frame their community and leverage it.   There is a symbiotic relationship between bands and fans…rallying the fans and the fans can display their friendship and use it.   Forming those kinds of relationships is key…networks practices that do not rely on physicality have been key to success.


Q: has anyone looked at triggers to get people from casual viewer to a committed fan?  Do the media compnaies have an interest in understanding


Henry: no science to it…a lot of research… there are a few frameworks…it is hard to measure emotional intensity… after 20 years not sure any closer to understanding…

danah: most of how you can measure is based on the traces they leave…which is about activity rather than emotional response.   Facebook newsfeed let your friends now what you are doing…the experiments are raw and awkward but will begin dot be applicable in surfacing up traces.


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