Christine Becker – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What Are You Missing? Jan 20-Feb 2 Sun, 03 Feb 2013 16:01:24 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. The big news in Hollywood last week that caught many by surprise: Kevin Tsujihara was named CEO of Warner Bros. The studio is hopeful he’ll bring stability, but especially digital distribution savvy. Also shooting for stability is MGM, which is reworking its credit line to free up more money, while 20th Century Fox also cut a new financing deal. Unrelated bonus link: a Nielsen demographic study of movie audiences.

2. Fruitvale was a big winner at Sundance, which Variety critics thought was a successful, if commercially inclined, festival this year. Also of note was the equal gender balance of directors in competition, a first for the festival. This is representative of a higher percentage of female directors active in independent cinema than Hollywood studio filmmaking, according to research shared at Sundance by USC researchers.

3. There are still some Blockbuster stores left to shutter, and sadly, 3,000 jobs will be lost in this latest round of closings. Stores are also closing in the UK. Dish is still backing the Blockbuster brand, though, with a new On Demand redesign coming. But iTunes rules the online On Demand world right now, while discs fight to maintain home video sale prominence.

4. The music industry is having trouble making streaming royalties worth it to musicians. Too bad they can’t all enjoy a Super Bowl sales bump from being a halftime performer or make $8 million in ad deals like “Gangham Style” (though you have to watch out for sound-alikes) or have fans who are big pirates.

5. The company that supplied my very first video game console one lovely Christmas morning way back when has filed for bankruptcy, though apparently Atari hasn’t been what it used to be for awhile now, and it will even sell the iconic logo. Some other gaming bummers: THQ is being dissolved, Disney is closing a game studio and laying off fifty people while shifting to a focus on mobile and social gaming, and weak Wii U sales and 3DS piracy are hurting Nintendo.

6. Despite those bummers, the video game industry’s many challenges, and EA posting a recent loss, EA executives are optimistic about the future of console gaming. There’s a new Xbox coming with more processing power, and we’ll soon hear more about a new Playstation, though some think Sony should just move on from that platform’s legacy.

7. Samsung is warning that major smartphone growth is over, but maybe the company’s just bitter that Apple has surpassed it as top US phone vendor. The iPhone is declining in Asia, though, and Apple is losing tablet ground globally to Samsung and others. Apple’s still doing good work with tax loopholes, though. And at least it’s not BlackBerry.

8. France is having none of your English-language “hashtag” business on Twitter. For the French, “mot-dièse” will be the word for # on Twitter. (Mot-dièse means “sharp word,” though a sharp symbol leans the other way than the hashtag symbol, but hey, quoi que). France is also demanding that Twitter identify users who tweet with racist and anti-Semitic hasht…er, mots-dièse. Back in the US, Twitter’s dealing with a porn problem on the new Vine platform and is trying to censor porny hashtags. I doubt the French would respect that. #prudes 

9. GIFs are on the decline?!


10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Soap Contract Conflicts, Glee’s Song Theft, Super Bowl Ad Issue, Netflix Strategies, More on Netflix, 30 Rock Reflections, Spoiling Super Bowl Ads, CNN Changes, TWC & Dodgers, Aereo Update, The Following Criticism, Pilots Updates.


Programming note: Because I recently took on some new time-consuming duties, like Associate Online Editor for Cinema Journal, I’ve regretfully had to step away from WAYM for the time being. But don’t fear: WAYM will still be here! Eric Hoyt’s media industries course will be taking over for the rest of the semester on the regular bi-weekly schedule, and I can’t wait to see what they can do with it. (Sage advice: When in need of a good link, Lionsgate and porn are always there for you.) See you later!




What Are You Missing? January 6-19 Sun, 20 Jan 2013 15:27:41 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently.

1. China had a big box office year in 2012, though a good chunk of the revenue came from American studio imports, like Life of Pi. The Hangover-esque Chinese comedy Lost in Thailand has become the country’s biggest domestic hit ever, though, and some expect the rise of China to global number one movie market status to come courtesy of shallow blockbusters.

2. Hollywood studios are turning to outside funding to support its films that aren’t shallow blockbusters, while Disney is looking at budget cuts for everything. DreamWorks is still a great place to work, though. Video game makers want greater control over the films Hollywood makes from their properties, while Disney is meshing together gaming and its movies with the upcoming Disney Infinity game.

3. We’re getting more info about Redbox Instant, which is expected to launch in March, because a group of users have gotten to beta test it. We know that it will be focused on movies, not TV shows, and Redbox’s CEO also says the company won’t abandon DVDs. But Austin Carr isn’t impressed with the service.

4. Home video revenue finally rose a bit last year, halting a seven-year skid, with streaming getting most of the credit for the uptick. UltraViolet also continues to grow, and Walmart’s “disc to digital” cloud service has been improved. Don’t expect Amazon to extend its “Amazon-purchased CD to digital” plan to movies, though.

5. Amazon has also launched a new mp3 store targeted toward iPhone/iPod users, offering a shot across iTunes’ bow. iTunes now has a partnership with Rolling Stone, whose iPad magazine will have links to Apple’s music store. The blog Asymco has graphed the iTunes economy.

6. 2012 music sales indicate the CD’s impending demise and the digital single’s growth. Other trends revealed from the figures are that big hits take up an increasing share of download sales; rock and pop music dominated, though country music sales rose compared to 2011; and indie labels grabbed one-third of album sales.

7. The number of children reading books on digital devices is rising, though over half of kids still have never read an e-book. Libraries are also said to be losing their influence among children, but maybe video games at libraries can help. There’s also a plan in the works in Texas for a bookless, all-digital library.

8. The Wii U is bringing in more revenue than the original Wii did in early sales, but that’s only because it costs more. Nintendo’s president says sales of the Wii U are “not bad,” given the competitive landscape, and Nintendo is merging its console and handheld divisions to better deal with that landscape. Xbox 360 has finished its second year as the best-selling console, and Microsoft says that the next Xbox system will fill your living room with images to immerse you in games. And we can now say goodbye to the dominant console of the past, the Playstation 2, which will no longer be made.

9. Pingdom offers a slew of stats on how we used the internet around the world in 2012, from search to mobile to email, while Mashable has an infographic specifically on social media use in 2012. The FCC is looking to expand Wi-Fi spectrum space so we can do even more online in 2013, like look at video ads.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Anger Management Returns, CNN-SI Change, OWN Hopes, Double Your FX, TCA & Twitter, The Killing Will Return, Dish & CBS Battle Ropes in CNET, Corrie Coming to Hulu, Five-0 Ending, Time-Shifted Viewing, Soap Revivals, Video Sharing Passed, Netflix & Ratings, Al Jazeera America, PBS at TCA, The CW at TCA, CBS & Showtime at TCA, Arrested Development at TCA, ABC at TCA, FX at TCA, Fox at TCA, NBC at TCA.


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What Are You Missing? Dec 9-23 Sun, 23 Dec 2012 17:17:32 +0000 A significant percentage of the media news this fortnight was in summary form, as media industry sites looked back on 2012.

1. Moviefone’s Drew Taylor highlights ten good films you likely didn’t see in 2012, while Indiewire critics pick the ten best films you definitely didn’t see, because they went undistributed. Indiewire also warns you about the films you shouldn’t see, plus the site offers an A-Z summary of women in film in 2012 and an assessment of LGBT representation in American films of the year.

2. 2012 is looking like a best-ever year for Hollywood box office grosses, both domestically and internationally. Among the studios, Universal did have its best year ever. And among individual films, The Avengers easily takes the 2012 box office crown, while Zero Dark Thirty is heading toward the critics’ poll crown, followed by The Master.

3. The Economist Group has a slew of revealing digital publishing charts that look back on 2012, and while 2012 was a tough year for newspapers, some, like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, are at least still profitable, while the Washington Post’s multiplatform model may be one to keep an eye on in 2013. Newsweek’s shift to online-only status (ending not with a whimper but a hashtag) marked 2012 as a digital year for magazines, and most recently, Spin and the 126-year-old Sporting News announced they’ll only be available online in 2013.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey cleaned up in 2012 print book sales, and Amazon’s rankings show that Gone Girl put up a good fight too. The e-reader market shrunk noticeably this year, with tablet sales rising correspondingly. Apparently indie bookstores are still doing ok through all of this.

5. Billboard looks back on the year in music, one it calls tumultuous. According to iTunes downloads, it was a good year for Adele and Carly Rae Jepsen, while Britney Spears out-earned all other women in music.

6. VentureBeat has a series of bleak charts detailing 2012 video game sales. In brighter news, Mass Effect 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II sold well, while the game that people spent the most individual time playing was Borderlands 2. Back to bad news, Call of Duty is under scrutiny for the amount of time Newtown shooter Adam Lanza spent playing it.

7. YouTube had a big year, from news to ads to lip-sync vids to Gangnam Style. Looking ahead, we should keep an eye on Maker Studios, channel renewals, and Iran’s YouTube. Plus, as always in internet video, porn.

8. Google’s annual report on searching reveals the trends borne across 1.2 trillion searches in 2012. We also visited Google a lot in 2012 simply for the awesome doodles. Using all search engines, we apparently sought out Facebook the most (haven’t most of us found it already?). We also sought out a lot of GIFs.

9. Once we figured out where Facebook was, we talked about the presidential election and Duck Dynasty a lot there. Even dead people found things to like on Facebook. Over at Twitter, its year in review offers a personal perspective, and over 200 million users are now laying the groundwork for 2013’s results.

10. News for TV Majors has its own Best of 2012 critics’ lists post, and here are some other informative posts from the past two weeks: Value of Older Demos, Mazzara Leaving Walking DeadHulu’s DirectionNielsen Twitter TV Rating, ABC Making C7 Deals, TWC Dropping Ovation, Nielsen Buys Arbitron,  Newtown ImpactMedia Violence, Newtown Analysis, Amazon Gets TNT Shows, Golden Globe Noms, Top Rated & Buzzed Shows, Regional Sports Surcharge, Ownership Vote Delayed.


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Report from the Atlanta Media Industries Forum Thu, 13 Dec 2012 17:32:22 +0000 Two weeks ago, I attended a forum at Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. The event’s activities focused on sharing ideas about the growth of Atlanta as a site of major media production and about the GSU Department of Communication’s development of a new working group dedicated to fostering partnerships with the area’s media industries for research and pedagogy. I came away with a rich awareness of the opportunities and challenges that both Atlanta and GSU have before them.

The showcase event of the forum was an afternoon panel session entitled “From Butler to Boo Boo: Atlanta’s Evolving Role as Media Capital.” There were three academic guests: Jennifer Holt, director of the UC-Santa Barbara’s Media Industries Project, which GSU’s working group is consulting for guidance; Thomas Schatz, who has similarly developed ties with regional media industries in his University of Texas at Austin home base; and Horace Newcomb, who has observed the recent changes in Georgia’s media ecosystem while at the University of Georgia in Athens. There were also three local industry guests: Alpha Tyler, a casting director formerly with Tyler Perry and now at BET; Paul Jenkins, a premier comics and video game creator and budding film producer; and Phil Oppenheim, senior vice president of programming and scheduling for TNT and TBS.

Through the dynamic conversations that followed, I learned that Atlanta is indeed a burgeoning production center, but it has yet to approach media capital status. Georgia’s aggressive courting of film and television companies via tax incentives has certainly resulted in production volume, as over thirty television shows and countless feature films are shot in Atlanta and nearby regions. But the area lags far behind New York and Los Angeles in terms of development, financing, and post-production infrastructures. As I understand it, above-the-line talent swoops into Atlanta to shoot, uses local labor in below-the-line capacities, then gets on a Delta plane back to the coasts. Tyler noted that lead performers are usually brought in from LA, and even when local talent is used, producers want Atlantans who look like they could be Angelenos. Jenkins said that he aspires to produce a major feature film from development to completion in Atlanta, but the foundation for that just isn’t in place yet. And Oppenheim observed that Turner likely has more ties to LA and New York than to its headquartered home.

Given the GSU working group’s concerns, a larger question then emerged: Would a GSU Communication professor recommend that graduating students stay in Atlanta to launch film and television careers, or is it still imperative for them to head to New York or LA? Given the information above, the answer was clearly the latter. But rather than a discouraging sign, some see this as an area for inspiration. Horace Newcomb proposed that Georgia State has the opportunity to start something that would be akin to UCLA creating a film research institute in the early 20th century or NYU launching a working group as its host city cranked up television production in the late 1940s. With such an opportunity to observe, or even intervene in, how a new media capital takes shape, Jennifer Holt suggested that GSU has one advantage over UCSB, which is the university’s direct proximity to its local media industry.

However, UCSB’s Media Industries Project has been quite successful at developing a research relationship with the production industry ninety miles south, particularly via their Connected Viewing Initative with Warner Bros., and it remains to be seen what GSU could foster. The working group has to offer a partnership that the local industries would find valuable. For instance, one initiative already underway is a mapping project that would provide an interactive database of information about area film and TV productions to unite dispersed production entities more efficiently. Further, the racial diversity of GSU’s student population deserves note. Rather than striving for “Third Coast” status, perhaps Atlanta could become the primary home for African-American dominated entertainment production, building into film and television what the music industry has already started.

Above all, Georgia State University wants to ensure it isn’t producing students as low-paid labor to feed the maw of Atlanta’s existing below-the-line ecosystem, while Atlanta-based creatives themselves want more opportunities for extended work at home. If both groups can work together toward their respective goals, perhaps ATL will soon be synonymous not just with its city’s name, but also with above-the-line production, as well as an academic template for localism.



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What Are You Missing? Nov 25 – Dec 8 Sun, 09 Dec 2012 14:53:00 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. The MPAA is touting findings that the shutdown of Megaupload was a huge blow to piracy while battling against research claims that box office revenues have been negatively impacted by Megaupload’s disappearance. Such anti-piracy rhetoric will step up a notch in January, thanks to a new initiative with internet service providers, and MPAA head Chris Dodd is turning to Silicon Valley for more help along those lines.

2. While plenty of Oscar bait is still coming down the pike, we now have the shortlists for live-action shorts and documentary nominations. Of the shortlisted docs, Searching for Sugar Man is gaining some early awards momentum. Among scripted films, Beasts of the Southern Wild impressed in Indie Spirit Award noms, Zero Dark Thirty turned on the National Board of Review, and the Gotham Awards rewarded Moonrise Kingdom.

3. Tax credits are again in the news, with New York job numbers showing a boost from production tax breaks and one small Georgia town experiencing revitalization thanks to production credits. However, one Michigan city is now on the ropes due to banking on tax incentives that the state subsequently eliminated. Back in Hollywood, LA production might be slowly on the rise.

4. Disney preceded its big Netflix deal with the announcement that it is shuttering its online movie service, offering a blow to transactional VOD prospects. It does seem like subscription streaming is coming to dominate, and along those lines, details are emerging about Verizon and Redbox’s upcoming Instant service, though we won’t see it until next year. Meanwhile, good old Blockbuster will now start selling mobile phones, because it has just about nothing else going on.

5. Internet ad spending will soon surpass ad spending in all newspapers and magazines, and a striking chart shows that the decline of newspaper ad revenue has outpaced the growth of Google’s ad revenues. That would be why the New York Times is trimming staff, as not even a paywall is making up the difference. A UK study says journalists are keeping their chins up, though.

6. With the death of The Daily, it’s clear that magazine apps are struggling. Will Richmond sees video as key for the future of magazines, while Jeff John Roberts thinks BuzzFeed might point the way toward a viable business model, with BuzzFeed’s CEO touting the value of social advertising over banner ads and hoping that branded content experiments will work.

7. YouTube is aiming for professional standards in everything from its new production facilities to its interface redesign, which enhances the focus on channels, along with funding channel marketing efforts and expanding onto airplanes and into Japan. This is working well enough that big media companies are seeking ways to get on board. (And pardon the plug, but some of us wrote here on Antenna recently about the new YouTube production facility.)

8. MySpace is planning to relaunch (again) and take on Spotify; well, it has to do something, right? iTunes just continues to expand, now reaching into 56 new countries (a Coalition of the Willing?). And Google just bought access to a mother lode of European music to boost its international Google Play and better compete with Apple and Amazon.

9. Nielsen has released a big state of social media report, which offers more data showing that people love to hang out on Facebook, while Pinterest has quickly become one to keep an eye on. And while it’s fashionable to make fun of Google+, it’s actually growing just fine. What’s sad is how Google derailed Reader while building Google+.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Funding Gender Analysis, Freaks & Geeks Oral History, Netflix-Disney Deal, DVR That Watches You, Ownership Vote Delayed, TV is Exhausting, Twitter & TV Growth, TWC Threat, Walking Dead Ratings, CBS Research View, Spanish-Language Rebranding, Plot & Character in Homeland, Sports CostsZucker Reaction, NBC Signs Fellowes, Local Time Shifting Soaring.


Report From the TV Academy Faculty Seminar (Part 2) Fri, 23 Nov 2012 19:03:06 +0000 Every fall, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation invites twenty Media Studies and Production faculty members out to Los Angeles for a week of panels and studio visits hosted by TV industry insiders with the intention of fostering ties between the industry and academia and offering professors relevant information to pass on to students who hope to build careers in the entertainment industry. Across two Antenna posts, six attendees share impressions from this year’s seminar. Part One offered teaching takeaways. Part Two raises questions about television’s future.


Tasha Oren, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

Throughout the week-long series of captivating panels, an intriguing, contradictory through-line quickly emerged: TV is where it’s at for creative concepts and serious long-form storytelling; its three-tiered system of network/cable/premium and its monetized structure of ads, fees, syndication and subscriptions is optimized, robust and plenty profitable; and yet, TV as we know it is living on borrowed time. For the ad-supported (and measurement-dependent) aspect of the industry in particular, the decade-long, incremental growth of streaming options, preference for DVR and binge-watching, and content competition has been heating to a boil. As many acknowledged over the week, the industry is reluctant and slow to change. How various sectors and networks are dealing with the inevitability/opportunity of change present a fascinating study in industry culture and the guesswork around audience-habits.

A green screen studio under construction at the brand new YouTube Hanger production facility in Los Angeles.

Three consecutive panels were illustrative of the strange co-existence of the glacial with the seismic in the TV ecosystem: midway through the seminar, we toured the Warners Bros. multi-camera studio sets for Conan, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men as veteran production designer John Shaffner spoke lovingly about the process of design and fabrication, the long history and weekly routine of the multi-camera production, the craft’s apprentice-based tradition, and the current sitcom revival on network.

The following day found us at the nearly completed headquarters of the YouTube Hanger, a slick, massive production facility that houses sound stages, green screen stations, editing and sound bays, a plush screening room, and various upholstered and funkified conversation nooks, all designed for comfort and spontaneous collaboration. This, Liam Collins, Head of YouTube LA Creative Space, told us would be the incubator for talent, where creators learn new skills, collaborate, and use the equipment (for free!) to develop original content. YouTube’s audience measurement emphasis, we learned, was rapidly shifting away from a “hits based” model to repeat views, as it encouraged its successful content-makers to look towards channel-based structures. At the LA hanger (as well as networked and similar facilities in New York, London and Tokyo), “top channel creators” would be invited to produce content, enhance their skills and raise production values, all with an eye towards series-development and long-form content. YouTube, we whispered to each other, was growing a TV network.

The panel with network schedulers was held at ABC Studios.

Yet the broadcast network schedulers we met on the final day of the seminar calmly swatted away our “YouTube’s coming for ya!” provocation. Content, they insisted, isn’t easy, and the skill to deliver good content, satisfying storytelling, and branded experience was the industry’s hard-earned, years-in-the-making edge over all shortcutting upstarts, no matter their Google-sized pockets. However, the radical changes in audience habits and content delivery options are producing changes, albeit slowly. CW, among others, has struck a direct up-put deal with Netflix, which now functions as a de facto syndicator (the more veteran the show, the higher the fee). Network schedule-logic is also slowly shifting from managing audience behavior and shepherding specific time and day viewership to managing content assets and nourishing shows. Networks are less quick to pull programming as popular viewership patterns (as well as ratings collection) expand in time. Season demarcations are loosening with the proliferation of cable-inspired, short order runs and more flexible episodes-per-season configurations. And, perhaps most dramatically, “brand envelopes” and single-sponsorship models for content are now discussed as valid and even likely alternatives to traditional spot-advertising.

The vexing problem of launching a new show in an on-demand universe prompted many schedulers to insist on the relevance of the grid-and-season logic of conventional television. What’s more, they suggested, adult audiences continue to gravitate towards the comfy sofa and the largest screen in the house for evening viewing. “Yes,” Kelly Kahl of CBS concluded, “we’ll get you in the end…”


Kim Owczarski, Texas Christian University:

As professors from varying types of higher education institutions across the United States, many of us tried to ask questions about what opportunities the current television industry holds for our students entering the marketplace in the near future. During one panel, a television producer/director stressed that students should be making “shitty films” and posting them given that the access to distribution has been critically aided by the Internet. He argued that you can buy equipment from Amazon and return it 28 days later, so you don’t even need to truly own cameras and such any more to be making art.

YouTube Hanger's lobby indicates that even in a new era of professionalized content, cat videos will still be revered.

Yet, our trip to the brand new, state-of-the-art YouTube Hangar suggested that the distribution platform is seeking professionalized content above that grade. With YouTube bringing in a new class of content creators every quarter, it seems that the company is moving away from the “shitty films” category to a more optimized strategy of monetizing content that is similar to what the television networks produce. It did not seem that the company’s resources were really within the realm of the novice filmmaker any more.

As far as first jobs, other professionals stressed the importance of moving to Los Angeles and working in those first low paid jobs as production assistants or in the mail room, and that as long as you worked harder than anyone else, you will be fine. Though runaway production and its impact on the television employment sector of Los Angeles kept coming up, few of the panelists thought it was a good idea to chase the jobs elsewhere as many key aspects of the industry—including writing, editing, scheduling, and marketing—continued to be centered in California.

The issue of the importance of long-term, stable employment seemed to be an important focus for those working in the industry, albeit rarely was it discussed in a direct fashion. During our tour of the Warner Bros. studios, John Shaffner stressed how great the three-camera setup of a traditional sitcom is for those who need to pay for their kids’ college educations. He also discussed at length what dealing with Charlie Sheen on that last season of Two and a Half Men was like for a below-the-line crew depending upon a regular paycheck.

During the panel with the five scheduling heads of the broadcast networks, the idea of shorter versus longer seasons was debated about its overall impact on a network. One mentioned that it would be great to have shorter seasons on broadcast in order to buff up their international appeal (as foreign broadcasters seem to prefer the shorter, more quality based seasons of cable) while another quipped that he’d love to release 30 episodes of his top shows if he could. As we learned from the panel with the showrunners, putting out 22 quality episodes a season is an extremely difficult proposition given the time and financial constraints operating on most television programs. But regardless of whether a show pumps out 13 episodes or 22 in a season, it goes without saying that the stability it provides for a large assortment of professionals is a big reason why the broadcast networks are hesitant to fully embrace the cable model despite the change in series quality such a move might engender.


Christine Becker, University of Notre Dame:

Tasha’s observation about mixed signals also holds for what various speakers said about the value of social media in the TV ecosystem. For instance, the showrunners insisted they paid social media activity little mind, but then each followed with an example of when they drew from its value. Former House showrunner Greg Yaitanes said that because such a small percentage of viewers tweet, you can’t consider their reactions to be representative or to offer any kind of consensus, but he then discussed how useful fan input was for the creation of a House app, which presumably brought in revenue. Similarly, The Middle showrunner DeAnn Heline expressed surprise that people out there write up lengthy blog posts on individual episodes (“These people care more than I do,” she joked) and stressed that writers wouldn’t change their approach based on what people are tweeting, but then acknowledged that her writers did see people tweeting about watching The Middle together as a family and now bear that in mind.

Faculty Seminar participant Max Dawson was awarded two Emmys for his astute comments and questions.

The network schedulers were just as dismissive of Twitter and its brethren, noting that while it might offer some marketing utility, social media activity does not correlate with their revenue currency, Nielsen ratings. The network scheduling panel moderator was the COO of the TV Academy, and he pointed out that the “OMG, Tracy Morgan just passed out on stage at the Emmys, turn on ABC” moment trended instantly on Twitter but didn’t bring so much as a blip in the ratings. Seminar participant and Northwestern professor Max Dawson then pointed out that many of the tweets were about how stupid this gimmick was. Dawson also asked CBS’s programmer Kelly Kahl why the network bothers with generating on-screen hashtags during Survivor episodes if they don’t see Twitter as particularly valuable, and Kahl responded that the network will do anything it can to suck in viewers, plus it’s no extra cost to throw a hashtag up on the screen. So it’s not useful except when maybe it is.

I certainly get the bottom line idea that tweets aren’t ratings and that Twitter activity can misrepresent where the real value of a show lies. And the network programmer who recently told EW that TV fans can only save shows from cancellation by watching the programs and their advertisements within three days is partially right. But his statement doesn’t acknowledge that only Nielsen households have this power, not TV fans. Incidentally, this programmer was anonymous in the article, but identified himself on Twitter. Part of the gratification of social media is feeling like someone might actually be paying attention to what you’re saying. Given the battle for viewer engagement taking place on screens of all sorts, you would figure there has to be monetary value in that too.



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Report From the TV Academy Faculty Seminar (Part 1) Wed, 21 Nov 2012 16:55:43 +0000 Every fall, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation invites twenty Media Studies and Production faculty members out to Los Angeles for a week of panels and studio visits hosted by TV industry insiders with the intention of fostering ties between the industry and academia and offering professors relevant information to pass on to students who hope to build careers in the entertainment industry. Across two Antenna posts this week, six attendees share some impressions from this year’s seminar, which was held on November 5-9. Part One offers teaching takeaways from the week.

Matthew J. Smith, Wittenberg University:

Curatorial. It’s a curious word that I must admit I don’t recall having used myself to describe anything that I do as a teacher of media, but it’s one a number of the presenters involved in the Faculty Seminar used to describe their roles in selecting and presenting materials for and about television. I had never thought of the work of television producers as likened to the informed discretion of museum and art gallery directors, but the usage makes perfect sense now. Each selection in terms of what goes into a finished television production is borne of that curatorial sensibility, as producers make paradigmatic choices among a host of alternatives and exercise their insight to achieve a product that—when at its best—proves to help storytelling reach its ideal impact.

As I thought more about our week, curatorial also seems to be a perfect term to describe the avocations of many elements of the experience. When we arrived at the Academy headquarters at the start of the seminar, our first stop was the “Hall of Fame Plaza” where statues, busts, and reliefs of some of the most potent figures in television history were thoughtfully laid out over an acre of North Hollywood real estate. We also met employees of the Academy whose job it was to preserve the history of the medium. Karen Herman heads the Archive of American Television, a phenomenal oral history project whose fruits are online and available at the click of a mouse. There was John Leverence, Vice President of Awards, who has coordinated the primetime Emmys since the early 1980s. He introduced us to the history of the statuette and the awards program. And then there was our trip to Warner Bros. Studios, where our guide, production designer John Shaffner, gave us a tour of the historic studio. Outside each sound stage hangs a plaque commemorating the individual television series produced therein, including one where Shaffner had designed the sets for Friends.

Although much of our week was focused on how television is produced and where it might go next, I was gratified to encounter a good deal of the history of how we got to this point. I’m happy to curate such experiences into my own teaching of the medium and its history henceforth.


Todd Sodano, St. John Fisher College:

Over the last decade, storytellers have flocked to HBO, Showtime, Starz, and Cinemax, not merely because of premium cable networks’ inherent freedom to use strong language, sexual content, and brutal violence. Rather, their freedom to tell a compelling story on those platforms is paramount. Jenni Sherwood, senior vice president of development and production at HBO, said on a panel focusing on HBO’s Game Change that decisions at her network are made based on a script: “Where is the intelligence in this? [Where is] the creativity? How is it going to be received?” Neither she nor anybody else who works in cable and who spoke at the Faculty Seminar yearns to offer nudity, language, or violence simply because they can. Greg Yaitanes, showrunner of the forthcoming Cinemax series Banshee, said these elements “come from a place of character or story.” HBO painfully learned more than a decade ago (see The Mind of the Married Men – actually, don’t see it) that having four men speak candidly about sex and relationships wasn’t a recipe for instant success just because it mirrored the spirit of Sex and the City.

Variety’s Brian Lowry, who moderated the showrunner panel discussion with Yaitanes, Cynthia Cidre (TNT’s Dallas) and DeAnn Heline (ABC’s The Middle), acknowledged that writers boast how the best part of working in pay cable is not having act breaks. In advertiser-supported television, the tail (commercials) wags the dog (programming); conforming to this traditional structure can challenge and frustrate the writer. Yaitanes, who used to run Fox’s House, said that, as a writer, eventually “you start thinking you’re there to fill in the spaces between the ad breaks.” The ability to pursue narratives that avoid the six-act structure is strong incentive for storytellers. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht (formerly of HBO) told Lowry that the absence of the ad breaks was the most important freedom on his old network. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to pass along to our students who are pursuing careers in film and television is to understand storytelling and structures. Cidre declared, “Structure is key. Who wants what, and who’s keeping them from getting it? This is the basic structure of everything.”

Randy Caspersen, Northern Illinois University:

Each of my visits to Los Angeles becomes more bittersweet than the last. I lived there for nine years where I worked in television production. My best friends still live there. While I was making new friends and learning a ton about television biz at the Academy of Television Art & Sciences Foundations Faculty Seminar by day, I moonlit with friends at night. One, a big producer on the biggest new competition show on television, launched me into the audience of a live taping. Another friend, a make-up artist for the highest-rated show in syndication, recounted her recent staph infection from breast expanders after her double mastectomy. My oldest friend, a beloved roommate from college undergraduate days, told me about how he has been unemployed on and off and just borrowed $300 from his parents while standing in front of his bookcase which uses two of his three Emmys as bookends.

When I returned to Northern Illinois University, I prepared my lecture for my Introduction to Studio Production students with two slides. The first is a “Greetings from Los Angeles” postcard circa 1940’s which shows the city name in block letters with the city’s famous buildings illustrated inside each letter. The second slide, a modern re-imagining of the same, filled the letters in with cartoony portraits of a drug bust, police chase, an overdone plastic surgery victim, an overcrowded freeway and a prostitute on Hollywood Boulevard. I launched into my lecture about the great things I saw during the Academy’s seminar—the showrunners, the above- and below-the-line job panels, the tours of studios and special effects houses, the fever surrounding emerging technologies—along with the caveat that there is a dark side to this land of dreams.

We got a lot of advice to bring home to our students from the very talented industry professionals. Internships are a great start. You must start at the bottom, work your way up through the ranks and hold out for a decent job for at least a ten-year period. The key thread to everything—whether you are the production designer for The Big Bang Theory or the showrunner for Dallas or the DP for American Horror Story—was that everyone is storyteller at heart and that television is no longer cinema’s simpler, uglier sister.

My students still wonder: what is that “dark side of LA” and “how am I going to make it?” I wonder that question, too. I left the city because I never saw myself “making it” even though I was a producer on a hit show. Maybe the greatest lesson of the seminar came from Nashville executive producer R.J. Cutler who said, crude paraphrasing here, that the people who make it aren’t the geniuses but those who are willing to stick it out over time and work the connections they made when they first came to town. He said genuine curiosity into how human beings behave continues to drive him toward creating non-fiction and narrative media. Oh, yeah, and if you make it, there is big money in that creation. I guess the dark truth of LA is that it will always be looking for how it can monetize all creative media pursuits. And so it is nice to visit Los Angeles and also nice to leave.


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What Are You Missing? November 4-17 Sun, 18 Nov 2012 15:17:37 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. Giant publishers Penguin and Random House are combining forces, a move which some say is absolutely necessary for survival against the onslaught of e-book competitors, and it’s likely that consolidation will continue, with money rather than culture driving publishing. A new era is also heralded by the Macmillan Dictionary going online only.

2. Brooklyn is becoming a key moviegoing region, thanks to new ventures like a hybrid theater/DVD rental store/bar. Further south, Virginia has seen its status as a movie production region boosted through tax incentives, with Lincoln providing a model example. The loser in that scenario is Los Angeles, which has lost over 16,000 production jobs since 2004, and now LA stands to lose porn workers too.

3. It’s shaping up to be a decent year at the movie box office, and there’s also increasing money to be made in video-on-demand, foreign markets (though China’s now a question mark), product placement, and branding.

4. Warner Bros. is beset by in-fighting, while Sony Pictures’ financial struggles continue. And though Sony insists the studio’s not for sale, Viacom’s CEO says fine, we totally don’t want to buy your stupid studio anyway. And now here comes Michael Eisner getting back in the game with Universal, which might mean…Are you sitting down? (Right, you’re probably sitting at a computer)…a new Garbage Pail Kids movie.

5. 33% of North American peak residential downstream internet traffic now involves Netflix, but while Netflix’s growth may have drawn some online video pirates away from BitTorrent, traffic via BitTorrent is still increasing. Mega is getting back in business in New Zealand, while Pirate Bay’s founder, already in detention in Sweden, is looking at new charges.

6. Spotify’s valuation just went down, but the music service has had a good 2012, with new investors and expansions and plans in place to rescue the music industry after it finally craters. Web radio is also doing well, though the battle over online royalties stands to get fiercer, and musicians are growing more dissatisfied with Pandora. The impact of such services on music fan habits is muddled, but at least one big label is now at a digital tipping point. And through it all, the hated Nickelback just keeps making bank.

7. You’ve heard this before: Console video game sales are down, the eleventh straight month of declines. Though the impending release of new generation consoles could break that streak, rumors are that there might not be as many physical games to buy soon anyway. But here’s something new: good old-fashioned board games are growing in popularity, apparently sparked by online gaming and the desire for social alternatives.

8. Election night was a big internet and social media night, as Twitter and Facebook saw huge activity, and Instagram also made its mark. Google+? Not so much. President Obama spent considerably more on social media than his challenger did and took greater advantage of internet marketing and data, and Obama’s tech team is getting high praise for its role in his re-election success.

9. Former Hollywood exec Peter Chernin has joined Twitter’s board of directors, and it seems he has some catching up to do as he helps to plot a new future for the social media service. That future will include tweets from the Pope, though His Holiness might want to get on board with the impressive Tumblr too.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Social Media Data, Amazon Money, Time-Shifting Down Too, ESPN’s Tebow Obsession, TV Wars, First & Second Screens, +3 Compared to +7, +7 Ratings, House of Cards Trailer, New MTV Programmer, BBC Crisis, Fox News & the Election, Rove’s Performance, Return of The Killing, Gay TV Impact.


What Are You Missing? October 7-20 Sun, 21 Oct 2012 14:51:50 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. YouTube is ramping up its investment in branded channels to make itself more like TV. There’s a danger, though, in alienating the amateurs that YouTube initially capitalized on to distinguish it from TV. More favorably, YouTube is trying to help out nonprofit campaigns, and it has tweaked its search algorithm to better favor videos that viewers truly engage with.

2. Some big numbers in the news this past fortnight: There are now six billion cell phones worldwide (though that still leaves one billion without one), and there are one billion smartphones out there. Internet advertising reached $17 billion for the first half of 2012. American mobile devices ate up 1.1 trillion megabytes of data across 12 months, and US high speed broadband connections are up 76% over last year. The biggest number in the news? A French woman received a mobile phone bill for $15 quadrillion.

3. Amazon is going to take advantage of all the consumer data it gathers by working more closely with advertisers and ad agencies to place ads on Amazon sites. The Do Not Track movement is trying to limit what consumer data advertisers can obtain from our web browsers, much to advertisers’ chagrin. Adding more chagrin is a study highlighting how frequently mobile ad clicks are merely accidental.

4. The newspaper audience is shrinking — or maybe it’s not — but either way, Britain’s Guardian is the latest to look at ending its print edition. In the US, the Chicago Tribune is shifting to a paywall strategy online, which sounds like a bad move if you buy the idea that print outlets should be following what The Atlantic is doing. Newspapers in Brazil don’t like what Google is doing, and they’re now going to have to deal with the New York Times encroaching on their turf in an effort to expand its global audience.

5. A new study finds that young people commonly copy and share music among family and friends, but it was also determined that file-sharers buy more music than non-file-sharers, lending some food for thought to the music industry, which will see peer-to-peer users warned about illegal sharing activities soon. Unfortunately, the musicians’ cut of digital music income remains paltry, but Pandora insists the money is there.

6. As the compact disc turns 30, Neil Young is pushing for a new digital format, one superior in sound quality to mp3s. Meanwhile, music streaming marches onward, with Xbox now joining the fray and the BBC starting its own service, while Spotify looks to expand in new areas, such as in Japan and on smart TVs.

7. 20th Century Fox professes to be very excited about new technologies, while one of the most pervasive of Hollywood’s recent technological efforts, 3D, is supposedly on the decline (again). Given recent studio turmoil, it’s unclear who exactly will lead Hollywood through this next stage of technological production, but it’s seeming likely there won’t be as many unpaid interns working for them as before.

8. The new documentary nomination rules that Michael Moore helped the Academy usher in for this year’s Oscars have apparently only caused new problems, so now Moore is proposing new solutions, including getting rid of the old solutions. Much of this revolves around issues of distribution, and the story behind Detropia illustrates how challenging distribution of docs has gotten today.

9. The gaming company Zynga is experiencing all sorts of turmoil, from declining stock to rumors of employee revolts to lawsuits against an ex-employee being portrayed as a threat to current employees. But at least there’s FarmVille 2, now with 50 million players. Of course, it’s no Angry Birds, now with 200 million players.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Community Art, Ratings Takes, Scrambling Ban Eliminated, Cord Cutting Boxes, Connie Britton’s Hair, New Moonves Contract, New Local Ratings System, Real PBS Issues, DVR Boosts, Variety Sold, House of Cards Scheduled.


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What Are You Missing? Sept 16-29 Sun, 30 Sep 2012 14:31:47 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. In-flight airline entertainment is at a crossroads, as airlines decide between spending on wifi upgrades to let people use their own devices and on airplane entertainment technology like seat-back systems. JetBlue is going for the wifi option, and Boeing is upgrading wifi systems on their planes, while a few international airlines are passing out pre-loaded iPads to keep passengers entertained. In addition to the ever-rising costs to access in-flight wifi, there’s also the matter of it inevitably being slow.

2. Netflix has new competition to keep an eye on: Sky made a deal in the UK with Warner Bros., the new Redbox-Verizon service plans a Christmas debut, there’s word Disney could jump into the fray soon, UltraViolet might finally make some noise, and cable VOD stands to encroach further on Netflix’s territory.

3. Predictions are starting for the Foreign Language Oscar race, but you can take Iran off the table for the back-to-back win because it will boycott the Oscars due to outrage over Innocence of Muslims. Or at least that’s the reasononing Iran’s culture minister claims. Alyssa Rosenberg thinks there might be more to it. Either way, Iran won’t be thrilled to hear that more film projects about Muhammad are in the works.

4. Theaters continue to struggle, with the iconic Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco and the Roxy Theater in Philadelphia darkening for good. A pair of designers believe new design thinking can help turn theaters around. Theater owners might also follow the branding advice of AMC Theaters’ Shane Adams, who impressed many on Twitter last week. At least AMC and other theaters can continue to charge whatever high prices they want for snacks, thanks to a lawsuit dismissal.

5. There was a huge deal in the music business, as Universal Music Group finalized the acquisition of EMI Music’s recorded music unit following European Union and US approval, which was contingent upon the new combo selling off some assets, including the contracts of some prominent artists. Even after that, Universal will end up with control of about 40% of the US and European music market and immense power over the future direction of the industry.

6. Alyssa Oursler insists that Pandora and other music services have nothing to worry about from the Universal deal, and Pandora’s attention is elsewhere right now anyway, specifically on supporting a proposed bill called The Internet Radio Fairness Act that would lower streaming service royalty fees to put them par with what satellite radio and cable companies pay. Independent stations also support the bill.

7. There’s a redesigned PlayStation 3 coming out, but don’t expect to get a cheaper deal on a previous model. You can expect more mobile options from Sony, and Electronic Arts is also trying to take advantage of multi-platform gaming. You’ll be able to play multiple Hobbit games on multiple platforms, and Sesame Street is also pointing the way toward the future of gaming.

8. Wal-mart won’t be selling Kindles anymore. The stated reason why is somewhat vague, and it could just have to do with frustration with Amazon. Some readers are getting frustrated with higher e-book prices from Amazon, while Amazon will try to hook more with Kindle Serials. Amazon will have a new competitor thanks to a new e-book venture formed by Barry Diller and Scott Rudin.

9. Conditions at China’s Foxconn factory, which makes the iPhone 5, got even worse, with a riot temporarily shutting down production. This has come at a tenuous time for China’s corporate environment and raises larger questions about Chinese manufacturing, while Foxconn’s owner is looking to expand his business efforts beyond the country. Apple insists it is improving foreign factory conditions.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past few weeks: Cheers Oral History, Live TV Controversy, Auction Plans, The CW Signs With Nielsen Online, Dish Talking Internet TV, Changing Households, Variety Buyer, Cable Battles Consoles, Emmys Coverage, Female Employment, Netflix & A&E, Measuring Social Buzz, Tweeting Isn’t Watching, Microsoft Hire, New BBC


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