SCMS + SXSW = ?
A few weeks ago two influential, annual media conferences, SCMS and SXSW, concluded in Los Angeles, CA and Austin, TX respectively. Articles, tweets, status updates, and blog posts still reverberate in the mediasphere keeping presentations and objects of inquiry from both conferences alive and well. At first glance, SCMS and SXSW seemed to focus on distinct forms of media: SCMS more overtly dedicated to film and television, with a handful of panels and papers focused on new media technologies and practices as well as popular music; while SXSW concentrated on mobile and web-based technologies and services during the opening Interactive conference, followed by film panels and screenings, as well as continuous showcases of indie, major label, and relatively unknown music and musicians. The traditions of SCMS and SXSW are definitely distinct, but finding similarities between the two discursive venues, and mingling the realm of SCMS with the realm of SXSW can only be beneficial to the further understanding and analysis of media industries, texts, practices, and technologies. Upon closer examination, both conferences addressed similar questions regarding the present and future of media technologies, production, consumption, and scholarship. In this vein of highlighting similarities across discursive boundaries, we decided to host a mixer of sorts and revisit these conferences — inviting SCMS to get to know SXSW a little bit better, and vice versa.
Our point of entry, and the theme we’re most interested in addressing is the interrogation of new media industries, products, and services within both conferences. Clearly SXSW has a more direct gaze in the direction of new media but SCMS is forging its own traditions of new media analysis, most notably through the study of “convergence.” Studies of convergence within SCMS seem to offer digital media as a sure inclusion in discussions of cross-platform storytelling, promotion, industrial logic, and audience reception. In these cases, new media tend to be observed as working in the service of old media, and scholars of convergence often eschew dealing with new media technologies and the nature of networked practices as objects of inquiry in and of themselves. The same can be said of new media studies scholars, edging away from old media for a variety of reasons– lack of interest, familiarity, or expertise perhaps. Yet, the investigation and application of new media formats and practices under the umbrella of “convergence” is worthy of reflection.
Convergence, and in particular its transmedia aspects or multi-platform presence, was the focal point of several noteworthy panels at SCMS (the transmedia storytelling panel which featured several prominent TV showrunners certainly sticks out, as well as panels on paratextuality, TV wikinomics, and convergence comedy, to name a few), evidencing “convergence’s” persistent reign as a salient buzzword in media studies. These panels tended to tackle questions about the implementation, role, and use of networked platforms by industries and audiences. In these panels the focus tended toward the more “official” top-down version of convergence, as transmedia storytelling is enabled more dominantly by the logic of corporate conglomeration than by vernacular “produsage” (though clearly both elements work collaboratively in most cases). However, at this SCMS conference there seemed to be less attention paid to more grassroots, bottom-up, participatory versions of convergence. Clearly, the panels on YouTube, blogging, remix video, punk media, and some papers from the convergence comedy panel countered this generality, but the few panels dedicated specifically to new media and acts of produsage or participatory culture didn’t draw the attendance or the buzz that the aforementioned transmedia panels enjoyed. Interestingly, if we view convergence through the lens of SXSW Interactive, and consequently through the lens of new media scholars and practitioners, we’re privy to a slightly different interpretation– one which involves content and software mashups, overlapping protocols and services like location-based apps with email or cell phone technologies, the productive labor and vision of information sharing, and most notably this year, violations of privacy and users rights.
During the SCMS conference, Antenna contributors offered excellent recaps of SCMS events and presentations. However, SXSW Interactive, which routinely kicks off the music conference at SXSW received virtually no attention by Antenna, though it was covered extensively across media outlets (as recognized by Christine Becker’s always informative post on “What Are You Missing? March 14-27”). As a starting point, we thought it might be useful to view SXSW Interactive from the perspective of SCMS and note some major overlapping questions, conclusions, debuts, and personal points of interest from SXSW which might be of interest to SCMS scholars and which might benefit from their critique. While the relationships and analysis of new media technologies and practices within convergence and transmedia storytelling contexts are increasingly important, attention to new media is still ripe for expansion and enrichment from the perspective of TV and Film scholars. On that note, here are a few happenings related to SXSW Interactive that you might find interesting:
While the contentious relationship between Boxee and Hulu may have been the freshest gauntlet to be thrown in the face of the burgeoning web as television industry platform, other technologies were debuted and discussed that should be on a SCMS scholar’s radar. In terms of monetizing TV content online, micropayment systems like Dynamo were introduced at the conference. The system allows internet video viewers to make payments via PayPal directly to the independent producers of the video content. The vision is reminiscent of a version of Ted Nelson’s Xanadu for the video age in that Dynamo would allow independent producers to post content on their own sites and reap the financial benefits directly rather than uploading to a third party database like YouTube or partnering with advertisers or online film distributors. Also within the SXSW vision of the future of online viewing practices and technologies were set top boxes like Popbox which enable the integration of web and personal computer based content and services on television screens.
In regard to music streaming, sharing, and downloading, a few applications received some buzz. Mobile music streaming and downloading services offered by MOG, Thumbplay, and Rhapsody were framed as competitors and potential predecessors to the US launch of Spotify. What these online music providers are offering is mobility and in some cases even offline listening(!). The hope is that mobile access to online music stores and databases will boost subscriptions and micropayments, as well as traffic to these sites and acquisition of these services. Though Spotify is slated to be ad sponsored and free of charge (for the first tier basic service) in the US market (as it has been for years in Europe), and mobile as well as console based, the release of the service to American users has been repeatedly announced as imminent, and then abruptly stalled.
Like the code boys, computer geeks, cyberpunks, and software developers before them, the gender divide among start up developers and entrepreneurs received some attention in the mainstream media press post-SXSW. There are definitely some insightful studies regarding gender, sexuality, race, and the culture of new media labor, especially from the mid-late 1990s and the build up to and height of the dot com boom. However, identity performance and the logic and look of new media workplaces is ripe for further scholarly attention and analysis, particularly from the cultural studies perspective and specifically from the Web 2.0 resurgence.
The terrain and turf of Austin was highlighted through the encouraged use of locative media and mobile services to help attendees navigate the city, find parties, create “subtle mobs”, coordinate complex itineraries, and pay bar tabs. SXSW Interactive participants were also prompted to take tours of Austin-based tech startups, of which there are several. The fact that Gowalla is an Austin based tech start-up and early, major player in the locative media, mobile social media US phenomenon was touted widely and loudly. In the vein of localism, AT&T was even noted to usher in an event-based, Austin exclusive, augmentation of network infrastructure to cater to the iPhone carrying and heavily using masses. However, the culture and traditions of Austin’s various communities and how they receive and adapt to this ongoing, behemoth event was rarely talked about. Having been to SXSW in the past, I was genuinely surprised that no one debuted (even mockingly) a mobile app for uninterested, annoyed, or overwhelmed locals to find where the crowds were and navigate away from the SXSW revelry, industry types, and tourist traps.
Probably the most publicized aspect of the SXSW Interactive conference this year was the privacy/publicity debates re-ignited by Google’s Buzz and Latitude issues earlier this year. The now oft-cited keynote address by danah boyd launched the social media scholar into the public eye as an authority on network publics nearly overnight (though she has been recognized as an eminent ethnographer of teen social media use in academic circles for years). Boyd offered analysis and guidance through social media users’ perceived understanding of public and privacy dynamics and changing notions of what it might mean to violate privacy online. Boyd critiqued the “hyperpublic” corporate logic within social media services, offering the provocative conclusion that the drive to “Making something more public that is public is a violation of privacy”. While Google executives extended an open invitation to boyd to re-present her keynote at the Mountain View campus, Clay Shirky countered some of the media ethnographer’s talking points in his presentation the following day. Media’s role in transforming notions of privacy and publicity is something that has been tackled by television and film scholars for decades: Meyrowitz, Scannell, Spiegel, Williams to name a few. It is within this debate concerning new media and private/public spheres and perceptions, perhaps above all the instances mentioned here, that media and cultural studies scholars stand to intervene most deeply.
There is a lot to gain for media studies to consider new media both in terms of their interactions with older media like film and TV but also on their own terms, and for new media scholars to better understand older media, both now and historically. From our perspective, bringing SCMS and SXSW together and seeing what that gets us seems like as good a place to start as any.