Crowdfunding – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Crowdfunding: Looking Beyond Kickstarter Tue, 14 Jul 2015 12:00:37 +0000 megatotal1Post by Patryk Galuszka and Blanka Brzozowska, University of Lodz

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna.

Until recently crowdfunding mostly drew the attention of economists, who attempted to measure the efficiency of this new form of financing, and lawyers, who discussed its regulation. Viewing crowdfunding from the perspectives of cultural and media studies not only enhances our understanding of the phenomenon, but also has the potential to make a contribution to research into the relationships between artists and fans. However, crowdfunding poses quite a challenge for researchers. For one thing, there are several models of crowdfunding, each assigning different roles to project initiators and contributors. It is reasonable to assume that not all of an estimated number of over 1,000 platforms worldwide are clones of Kickstarter. In addition, artists’ statuses are different–we should take into account that the process of crowdfunding conducted by a star with a global following will take a very different form than a collection effort initiated by a debutant who in the beginning can count only on him or herself and family and friends.

MegaTotal (see Figure 1), the crowdfunding platform that is the subject of our analysis, operates according to a different model from that of Kickstarter.

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

The most important difference between MegaTotal and Kickstarter is the application in the former of investment mechanisms resulting in people who support popular projects receiving a return on their investment. In practice, this means that each and every payment (except for the first) is subdivided into two equal parts, where one part goes to the project initiator and the other is distributed among earlier contributors in proportion to their participation in the project (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Flow of capital between contributors and project initiators on MegaTotal. Each contributor’s payments and equity stake is represented by different color. Contributor 1 captures part of the funds paid by all the other contributors. Other contributors correspondingly enjoy proportionally lower capital flows. Source: The rise of fanvestors: A study of a crowdfunding community, by Patryk Galuszka and Victor Bystrov. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 5 - 5 May 2014

Figure 2. Flow of capital between contributors and project initiators on MegaTotal. Each contributor’s payments and equity stake is represented by different color. Contributor 1 captures part of the funds paid by all the other contributors. Other contributors correspondingly enjoy proportionally lower capital flows. Source: The rise of fanvestors: A study of a crowdfunding community, by Patryk Galuszka and Victor Bystrov. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 5 – 5 May 2014

In effect, every contribution increases the account of the project, but also determines the position of the backer on the list of project “shareholders” (see Figure 3).

The flow of resources takes place in real time, which means that “profits” are transferred to the accounts of contributors in the service the moment the given project attracts successive contributors. As a result of this mechanism, contributors have additional motivation that is not present in donation-based and reward-based crowdfunding.

It may be said that crowdfunding incorporates qualities originating on a base of fan activity, such as claims to the rights to artist’s work and the striving to influence its development as derived from that right. Such qualities, however, presently go beyond the framework of fandom and mold a new dimension of consumer culture as such. Regardless of whether contributors can be termed as fans or not, analysis of crowdfunding should take into account the possibility of their active participation in the process of creating a culture product. What is being discussed is a phenomenon that is perhaps not totally transforming the production system (at least not at this time), but is presently decidedly behind a change in relations with consumers and an understanding of the role of the artist as such. The assumption that the currency of crowdfunding is the emotional involvement of consumers–not just their attention attracted thanks to efficient promotion–means that the new model cannot be easily compared to any standard whose foundation is the traditional marketing model.

Artists must find themselves within this new situation and simultaneously see the promotional and distribution potential of crowdfunding. To quote Ted Hope, advocate of America’s independent cinema movement and Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society:

To survive and flourish, today’s artist/entrepreneurs–and those who support them–must all embrace practices that extend beyond the core skills of development, production, and post-production of their art and work–and even reach beyond the attention and practice of marketing and distribution.

Our interviews with musicians who use MegaTotal support that argument. Crowdfunding requires that the project initiators themselves have specific aptitude and change their approach to the process of creating, promoting and distributing culture products. This corresponds very well with the argument that today artists (and those who do not engage in crowdfunding) are required to embrace entrepreneurial skills. Those artists who find this approach problematic should probably stay away from crowdfunding.

It should be noted that the character of the change taking place is more one of awareness than technology. This creates a new division among creators, negating the traditional one onto mainstream (a model in which the artist is passive and the label/publisher/studio divests him or her of freedom, but in exchange concerns itself with distribution and promotion) and “indie” (a model in which the artist is more active and fights for his or her independence, but often at the cost of a lack of publicity and counting on the loyalty of fans). The new division, though dictated by digital technology, primarily necessitates assimilation by artists and acceptance of a new attitude. The statement may be risked that the greatest potential in the development of independent creativity is actually hidden in this new model for promotion and distribution based on close contact with the consumer. It is thanks to the consumer that texts from the realm of “indie” can reach a significantly larger audience without losing anything of their “independent” character.

[For the full article, see Patryk Galuszka and Blanka Brzozowska, “Crowdfunding: Towards a redefinition of the artist’s role – the case of MegaTotal,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]


Why Kickstarter?: Corner Gas and Crowdfunding as Promotion Wed, 21 May 2014 13:30:45 +0000 CornerGasMovieWhen Zach Braff took to Kickstarter to fund Wish I Was Here—which debuts in theaters this summer—he was criticized for relying on crowdfunding when he has access to traditional methods of film financing. His reason was that he wanted to make the movie he saw in his head, and was having trouble finding investors who would give him final cut on the film.

The “Reason for Kickstarter” is a key part of any crowdfunding effort. Kickstarter is ultimately an investment: while perks provide a promise of return on investment, there is also the need to establish a need for investment in the first place. Veronica Mars needed fan investors because Warner Bros. wasn’t willing to give over the rights without proof of fan support. Blue Mountain State needed fan investors because they had the rights, but no traditional investors were willing to invest in a property with limited legible fan support. These narratives are crucial in navigating the complicated ethics of projects that come with industry auspices; they may not convince everyone that audiences are not being taken advantage of, but they at least offer a justification for why crowdsourcing is not only valuable but necessary for a given project to exist.

When conglomerate Bell Media and the producers of Canadian sitcom Corner Gas—which ran for six seasons on CTV from 2004 to 2009— revealed their fairly modest $100,000 Kickstarter for Corner Gas: The Movie, one passage stood out in the description:

“The best part about this campaign is that we already know we’re going to make the movie.”

It’s an admission that immediately takes this out of the same crowdfunding conversation as projects like Veronica Mars or Blue Mountain State, although that hasn’t stopped the popular press from lumping them together. Corner Gas: The Movie demonstrates a meaningful shift in the function of Kickstarter, in which it is being taken on as a platform for promotion rather than as a platform for investment.

In the absence of need, the Kickstarter description—and the accompanying video—frame the purpose of the Kickstarter in the following terms:

“Yes, the campaign will help us enhance the movie, but first and foremost, it allows us to give all of our wonderful fans a once-in-a lifetime chance to be a part of the process, and get some awesome, exclusive rewards.”

The video featuring creator Brent Butt expands on these details, suggesting enhancements such as more realistic visual effects for the script’s robots and werewolves and detailing the “Backers’ Club,” which is unlocked with a $25 “investment.” However, to call it an investment would be misleading, given that the description is clear that the majority of the funds raised by the Kickstarter will be going to the fulfillment of the various perks—including speaking roles, set tours, DVDs, and T-shirts—being offered. Whereas perks are typically positioned as a way to offer fair exchange for an investment in the film, in this case the perks are the entire reason the Kickstarter exists: it is suggested in the Frequently Asked Questions that producers had grand ideas to create a great fan experience including behind-the-scenes updates and exclusive merchandise, but didn’t have the budget to pay for it.

CornerGasTheMovie2Rather than funding the film, then, fans are being asked to fund the film’s promotional campaign. Whereas typically the cost of a behind-the-scenes documentary would be considered part of the promotion for a film—thinking here of examples like Peter Jackson’s video diaries for King Kong and the Hobbit trilogy—it’s now been transformed into a perk for those willing to pay for the privilege to be marketed to. Those who are willing to commodify their fandom in exchange for access to the Backers’ Club or for posters and bumper stickers are not ensuring the movie takes place, but are rather enlisting in the producers’ efforts to echo the grassroots success of Veronica Mars in ways that will garner the film more attention, efforts that executive producer Virginia Thompson—who admits this is about marketing and not investment—suggests to are necessary due to the inability for Canadian films to get noticed when competing against major Hollywood films with larger marketing budgets.

Producers have taken a preemptively defensive posture in regards to the Kickstarter: in The National Post, Butt predicts

“there’s always going to be a cynical group that says, ’What’s the possible stinky downside to this?’ You can’t not do something good just because someone might find a crappy cloud to put over it.”

However, why should fans be forced to pay to get access to behind-the-scenes features if they already paid by being a loyal fan for six seasons? Where does the $450—the amount fans pay above the $300 for earlier perks—for naming a character go when there is no cost to the production to fulfill the perk in question? What kind of fan economy is being created when “perks” like walk-on roles become something fans pay the production in order to acquire, rather than something that fans win in a contest or in a charity auction? Why should fans be responsible for bridging the gap between the promotion of Canadian and American films as opposed to the conglomerate producing the film in question? And, most importantly, why couldn’t this Fan Club be established outside of the space of crowdfunding, which gives the impression of need where no need exists, likely for the purpose of tapping into the spreadability and visibility of crowdfunding in the contemporary moment (and creating some misleading news reports in the process)?

Whereas Butt frames these concerns—expressed by others in the wake of the announcement—as cynical, they are central to the negotiation of the meanings of fandom within the context of Kickstarter. While any successful Kickstarter for an existing series or intellectual property is predicated on translating fandom into dollars and cents, the terms of that exchange are typically justified by the fact that the production would not exist otherwise. In this case, however, fans are being asked to pay to be a part of fandom and to ensure the production offers fans a meaningful experience (or, more accurately, an effective marketing campaign). The success of the Kickstarter—which passed its goal overnight—would suggest that fans are willing to do so; whether they’ll feel their “investment” was worth it by the end remains uncertain.


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Bro-Friendly Fandom: The Blue Mountain State Kickstarter Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:00:06 +0000 Blue Mountain State has the potential to live on despite lacking its progenitor's coverage, prestige, and formalized fan engagement.]]> BMSMoviePosterWhen Veronica Mars launched a Kickstarter campaign, it was immediately legible—the series was well known in critical and academic circles, its fan community had been active both during and after the series concluded its three-season run, and its stars had gone on to further success and remained [semi-]prominent figures in pop culture discourse. The idea of a Kickstarter may have been novel, but it nonetheless made immediate sense discursively, creating a steady stream of engagement from fans, journalists, critics, and scholars alike.

This delicate calculus is not necessarily the case for other television projects with an eye on resurrection. While names like NBC’s Chuck or ABC’s Pushing Daisies would match Veronica Mars’ legibility, a show like Spike’s Blue Mountain State is less likely to emerge in the same conversations. And yet the raunchy college football series is technically the first since Veronica Mars to take to Kickstarter to fund a feature film extension of a canceled show, and it comes with built-in contradictions that challenge our understanding of audiences, fans, and crowdfunding alike.

In the abstract, Blue Mountain State makes a strong case for resolution. Debuting in 2010, the series was abruptly canceled after its third season when Spike chose to focus its attention on unscripted content, leaving the characters’ college football careers a senior year away from being completed. It was a victim of a changing climate where channels like Spike chose reality programming as the most efficient way to draw audiences and compete for ad dollars. The decision left fans of the series without a conclusion, and the creators have been on the record for the past two years that they intended on trying to make that conclusion a reality.

However, all of this was happening outside of the locations—trade and popular press, critics, etc.—where the Veronica Mars Kickstarter took root, to the point where it’s likely some aren’t even aware the Blue Mountain State Kickstarter—which is asking for $1.5 million after negotiating for the rights from Lionsgate—exists. Whereas Veronica Mars had been legitimated by its critical acclaim and the success of its cast, Blue Mountain State was marginalized from popular television discourse during its three-season run based on its lowbrow humor and testosterone-fueled Spike’s reputation. Although hyper-masculinized dramas are often well regarded, the hyper-masculinized comedy of Blue Mountain State was soundly dismissed by critics; the New York Times called it “dumb even by frat-boy standards,” while Variety dubbed it “a mindless torrent of homophobic taunts, bouncing boobs, and…masturbation.” The series also drew only solid ratings, performing well in season two but then falling to under a million viewers for its final season (which is less than what COPS reruns are drawing on Spike in 2014).

What this obscures, though, is how Blue Mountain State has connected with young audiences outside of the metrics and discourses most easily visible and counted within the television industry. The series has benefited from its presence on Netflix, where it can connect with young viewers more likely to stream television content than turn on televisions they may or may not own (and which may be a distribution option for the film should it be funded); anecdotally, the series was a surprisingly common presence on a first-day survey of undergraduate Intro to Television students, suggesting the series has connected with audiences that are unlikely to be counted by Nielsen. The Kickstarter would seem to reflect this, creating a “College Contest” where the school whose students donate the most money will get a special cast screening should the campaign be successful.

BlueMountainStatePosterA survey of the comments claiming college affiliation also reveals that the vast majority of the Kickstarter contributors—over 3,200 as of April 16th—are male. This matches the series’ demographic appeals, as it relied heavily on scantily-clad women in its marketing and storytelling, but diverges from how we typically imagine fan engagement. Although we often perceive men—particularly the series’ key demographic of men 18-34—as a prime advertising target and thus valued by the industry, we rarely consider those audiences as the type of fans who would go so far as to pay to see a series resurrected. That kind of organized fandom has more commonly been associated with women, as part of a broader feminization of fan culture—over half of the Veronica Mars kickstarter backers were women, for instance, despite the fact that Kickstarter’s membership is predominantly male.

In much the same way as cable channels like Spike work to engage a young male demographic that has historically been difficult to capture, the Blue Mountain State Kickstarter works to tap into a predominantly male fandom that has been less often asked or expected to express said fandom. If successful, though, it may be because it provides those fans a space in which their connection to a series can be quantified, transformed from emotional or affective engagement with a program to a financial investment in its future. Whereas sending fan letters or attending fan conventions have been discursively feminized, Kickstarter as a platform remains relatively free from such strict gender coding, making it a space that—depending on the gender appeals of the content being Kickstarted—can be framed as welcoming to male audiences like those invested in Blue Mountain State’s future (and like the men who make up the majority of Kickstarter’s members).

While some labeled the Veronica Mars Kickstarter a “fluke,” it was inevitable that another series would attempt to follow its example. However, although ostensibly following in that series’ footsteps, Blue Mountain State emphasizes the importance of context when evaluating Kickstarter as a platform, striking a similar appeal to a different audience. Although no series can directly follow Veronica Mars’ example and attain the same success, a series like Blue Mountain State can tap into other affordances of the Kickstarter platform to engage its audience in the same way that Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell engaged with theirs. By leveraging Kickstarter as a safe space for masculinized fan engagement, Blue Mountain State has the potential to live on despite lacking the mainstream coverage, critical prestige, and history of formalized fan engagement of its progenitor.

Edit: The Blue Mountain State Kickstarter reached its funding goal on May 11th, 2014.

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Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Moment in a Movement Fri, 15 Mar 2013 13:00:09 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 7.55.20 PMOne of the advantages of platforms like Antenna is that we as scholars get the opportunity to respond to events as they’re happening. However, at the same time, it often seems impossible to capture media events as they transpire, especially when they “begin” and “end” within the same twelve-hour period. When I woke up on Wednesday morning, the idea of a Veronica Mars movie was a pipe dream; by the time I went to bed, almost 40,000 people had contributed to a Kickstarter campaign that had passed its $2,000,000 goal in record time, meaning that a Veronica Mars movie is tentatively scheduled to film this summer and arrive early next year.

While the feat is remarkable in and of itself, what struck me was how the Internet managed to keep pace discursively, going through the full cycle of initial enthusiasm (wondering whether this could be a step forward for how television is produced), emerging skepticism (concerns over funding a project for a large studio like Warner Bros.), and then finally the inevitable “Now what?” that comes with any successful Kickstarter project. Normally this cycle could take a week, or even a month (which is how long the Kickstarter had to reach its goal), but anyone who spent their day in front of a computer could experience it all in the span of about twelve hours.

As soon as the Kickstarter was revealed, I could hear dozens of media studies professors mentally adding to their lesson plans on fan cultures, another case study to join Chuck’s Subway sandwiches, Jericho’s peanuts, and Roswell’s Tabasco sauce. I could also see other creators—like TerriersShawn Ryan, Men of a Certain Age’s Mike Royce, and The Middleman’s Javier Grillo-Marxauch—tweeting about what this could mean for other shows canceled before their time, and Deadline was reporting on distribution and marketing as soon as it was clear the Kickstarter would reach its goal. While the Veronica Mars movie may have been transformed into something real through its Kickstarter, the Kickstarter itself was transformed into an abstract case study as soon as its success was guaranteed.

Like everyone else, I am excited to integrate this into my lecture on fan cultures, intrigued by the prospects for other creators to utilize similar strategies in the future, and incredibly curious—and conflicted—to see how Warner Bros. approaches the production of the project in the wake of the intense fan support. However, at the same time, I am hesitant to give into this abstraction having had the experience of “being there” on Wednesday. While it would be facetious to suggest that this is the kind of event that you’ll tell your grandchildren about, or that you’ll “remember where you were when the Veronica Mars Kickstarter ticked over $2,000,000,” the experience of watching the numbers go up throughout the day or refreshing the page in the final seconds was nonetheless a key space in which the meaning of this Kickstarter unfolded; when the Kickstarter converged with the selection of a new Pope on Wednesday afternoon, during which cable news informed me I was witnessing history, it called attention to the shared “liveness”—if not shared scale—of the two events (and created a new genre of Veronica Mars/Catholicism mashup jokes we’ll never get a chance to use again).

The Kickstarter conversation began in earnest last year surrounding a collection of successful video game projects, and at the time Ian Bogost asked “what if Kickstarter is more about the experience of kickstarting than it is about the finished products?” He goes on to suggest that when you support a Kickstarter “you’re buying a ticket on the ride, reserving a front-row seat to the process and endorsing an idea.” Building on that idea, following a Kickstarter as it approaches its goal strikes me as the equivalent to waiting in the queue to a ride at Disney World, an interactive experience in its own right that is designed to build excitement for the ride to follow. The introductory video and the tweets sent out by Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell were like the pre-recorded content that plays on the screens as you walk by; the social media chatter between fans lines up with the conversations you strike up with the people waiting in line around you; just as I used Spotify to listen to the Veronica Mars soundtrack while watching the Kickstarter grow, “We Used To Be Friends” would be playing on an endless loop in the Magic Kingdom.

As with some theme park rides, the line between the queue and the ride will be blurry in this case: does the ride begin when the Kickstarter reaches its goal? Or when the film is released next year? Or when the film goes into production this summer (since viewers were supporting not the project being released but rather the project existing at all)? Regardless, however, I want to maintain the importance of Wednesday not simply as a procedural act—backers contributing to a Kickstarter—but rather a social experience in which latent fan cultures were awakened, mobilized, and monetized in real time. Even if it’s twelve months until the project sees the light of day, and even if the Kickstarter earns another ten million dollars, I would point to Wednesday as a distinct cultural moment rather than simply the beginning of a larger trend.

The challenge, of course, is capturing a “moment” for the sake of either research or teaching. It shifts our role as scholars from careful researchers to frantic curators: I spent my day trying to chart the growth of the Kickstarter in terms of average contributions, while I saw at least one scholar using Storify to curate relevant Twitter conversation. I don’t know what I intend to do with this data, precisely, but for the moment I can only hope it helps combat the “ephemerality” of Wednesday’s experience in the queue as we move forward in teaching and researching the meaning of this campaign.


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