distribution – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Original or Exclusive? Shifts in Television Financing and Distribution Shift Meanings http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2016/01/01/original-or-exclusive-shifts-in-television-financing-and-distribution-shift-meanings/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2016/01/01/original-or-exclusive-shifts-in-television-financing-and-distribution-shift-meanings/#comments Fri, 01 Jan 2016 15:00:40 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=28849 netflixoriginalseries

By  Amanda D. Lotz and Timothy Havens

In addition to increasing the possible objects of study, broadband-distributed television services have introduced new challenges to grounding the television shows we study in their industrial milieu. In truth, this is not an issue that originates with broadband services—it has been a part of international distribution for some time—but has become more acute since the late 1980s, when co-productions became common in Europe, Asia, and the Americas as a way to compete against a growing onslaught of US imports. Before that, if you knew a show’s country of origin, it was pretty easy to ascertain what entity it had been produced for: even though many public broadcasters acquired programming from independent producers, they nevertheless aired it on their national broadcast channels. With some noteworthy exceptions, very little television produced outside the US at this time traveled beyond its nation of origin.

Pinpointing a television series’ industrial and national origins became more complicated as cable and satellite introduced a greater range and variety of television services around the globe. These newcomers were often commercial distributors in systems where public service broadcasting had long dominated, as well as various advertising-subscription hybrid services, as was the case for most US cable channels. Not only did the upstarts tend to source their programming much more widely than their broadcast counterparts; they also quickly developed sister channels in multiple markets that shared program acquisitions.

Television programming has consequently expanded its flow through international markets and now more regularly flows in countervailing directions. The greater diversity of services that deliver programming and the greater diversity of flows have made it more challenging for scholars to develop a shared understanding of the impact that industrial conditions have on programming decisions and the meanings we associate with particular programs, because changes in distributors reinscribe how we understand shows as they move beyond their original licensing distributor. For example, what is an “HBO show”? A show produced by HBO and aired in the US on HBO, as was the case of The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under? Does The Leftovers’ production by Warner Bros. make it less of an HBO show, or does the distinction hold because through produced by another studio, it was created for the logics of a subscriber supported service?

The more difficult question is are these still HBO shows when they air on Sky Atlantic, Canal Plus, and HBO Nordic? What about Homeland? The US-based scholar would immediately categorize it as a Showtime “original”—or at least as one produced under the logics of subscriber-funded television (though it is produced by Fox 21)—but how is that show defined in a conversation between a US based scholar and one in Denmark who watches Homeland on HBO Nordic, which is also the source of The Walking Dead? And what about co-productions? Should they always be described as sourced by all financial contributors or just those involved creatively?

Netflix’s marketers have added to the challenge with its liberal use of the term “original” in marketing, typically marketing any show it has exclusive rights to in a country as “original”—hence Netflix claimed Lilyhammer was a “Netflix original” in the US and often claims shows produced for other US networks and channels as “original” in markets outside the US. But we would argue that the only “Netflix originals” are those Netflix pays to have produced. Most of what Netflix promotes as original content is more accurately described as “exclusive” in a particular market (though they seem to be somewhat liberal in calling programming “Netflix originals” even by this designation!)

All we’re really arguing for is the need to follow the money in order to discern for what type of entity the series we write about are produced. Such distinctions are important to discussions of texts because the mandate (commercial; public service) and business model of the entity it is created for (advertising; subscription; advertising and subscription) ends up imprinted upon it in ways often relevant to the argument at hand. Thus, the sale of shows in secondary markets can obscure those origins. And while we may think that much of this is reasonably beyond the notice of general viewers, it certainly matters for television scholars looking to make precise claims about industrial conditions and representation.

But we would like to push this observation even further, to encourage scholars to consider the ways in which various and subsequent industrial practices and conditions leave their mark on the programming we encounter and our orientations toward that programming. We believe that multiple iterations of industrial authorship—the production company, the original channel, the syndicator, and subsequent channels can be thought of as what Derrida calls a “trace.” For Derrida, the trace is the absent other that makes meaning possible; the other side of a binary, such as “woman” is to “man,” which is necessary to make any term meaningful. But the trace is more than this: it contains within it all of the meanings and contradictions that have accrued to a signifier over time, much like the endless links of chain Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol drags behind him wherever he goes.

Economic practices, industrial arrangements, brands, and corporate cultures all leave a trace on programming. These traces range from the obvious to the barely perceptible, but they undoubtedly shape televisual representations and viewers’ engagements with those representations.


http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2016/01/01/original-or-exclusive-shifts-in-television-financing-and-distribution-shift-meanings/feed/ 1
Drive-Ins, and the Stubborn Usefulness of Film Nostalgia http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/11/11/drive-ins-and-the-stubborn-usefulness-of-film-nostalgia/ Tue, 11 Nov 2014 15:00:11 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=24954 drive in theater

Interstellar (2014) made its well-known debut last weekend. In Chicago, the film (yes, we can still call it that) screened in its “intended” format of 70mm at the Navy Pier IMAX. Its appearance there and at other such venues was predictably celebrated by old school cinephiles as yet another defiant declaration of celluloid’s continuing value in a culture of cinema that has increasingly done away with the old medium. Meanwhile, just across the border in the nearby state of Wisconsin, the so-called “end of film” was also marked that same weekend by a very different, less celebrated, event—the closing of the Keno Drive-In in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the season, and most likely, permanently. In many ways, this was a more apt snapshot of film today—as well as the value in fighting for it—than Christopher Nolan’s high-profile blockbuster.

The arrival of Interstellar did little more than reiterate that celluloid’s use going forward will largely be as a high-end, niche phenomenon (confined to museums more than IMAX). And the rhetoric around film’s aesthetic superiority, frankly, obscures as many important questions in the digital age as highlights (a debate which will continue being pointless given the endlessly shifting technology). But the closing of the Keno—one of hundreds closing down in the last month or so across the United States—is more representative of the digital transition’s impact on the economics of film. Like many independent theatres, drive-ins often cannot afford the expense of converting from older 35mm projectors to digital ones (to say nothing of imminent maintenance costs)—an issue the studios and several major chains have forced by going almost exclusively to distributing movies as Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs).

Honda-Project-Drive-in-Logo“Of the 366 Drive-in theatres left in the United States,” Variety reported in 2012, “only a handful have converted to digital projection; another 10% are expected to convert before this summer.” Last year, this led to “Project Drive-In,” a campaign funding by Honda to provide the funds necessarily for digital conversion to the rare few drive-ins that won a nationwide voting contest (a drive-in in nearby McHenry, Illinois, was one such lucky recipient).

The Keno wasn’t nearly as fortunate—though its situation is admittedly somewhat different. While the operators of the drive-in were willing to cover costs, the shift to DCP is forcing the issue of land repurposing (including the persistent rumor of a certain “Big Box” retail mega-store). The repurposing means that The Keno is a business which risks having a projector—but no screen.

Still the value of the many closing Kenos of the world are worth exploring further—and beyond just the reassuring nostalgia offered by loving tributes such as the Going Attractions (2013) documentary. The digital conversion reveals at least one darker truth underlying the too-often-utopic rhetoric of digital cinema—innovation is not making things “easier” or “cheaper” for most people involved in the many aspects of the movie business today. Studios save considerable expenses on distribution costs, of course. Lisa Dombrowski highlighted how the “digital [conversion] will produce an 80 per cent savings on direct releasing costs [. . .] (a digital print costs between $100 and $300, while a 35mm print averages $1200 to $2000 more).”

Yet these savings have not “trickled down” to the smaller theatres dependent on 35mm—or to the audiences that pay an increasing premium on all tickets. The same can be said of independent filmmakers and others who may benefit from short-term savings in production and distribution, but will also find it increasingly difficult to get recognized or obtain a livable wage. In short, as with all market shifts in the age of late capitalism, this is simply an unsustainable long-term, financial situation.

So, it’s easy enough to look at the rampant nostalgia today surrounding the drive-in’s imminent demise—where all but a small handful will soon be Wal-Marts—and dismiss it as little more than a wistful longing for a bygone era of Americana that’s neither here nor there. Indeed, that does seem to be the city of Kenosha’s “brand,” as it were—a former auto town, with its historic Women’s Professional Baseball League-era stadium, its four museums in a twelve-block radius, its boxcar diner, its countless drive-in restaurants, or its still functioning Streetcar system. But there is also value in how the nostalgia for New Deal liberalism can be less about returning to the past, and more about using that utopic sense of history to shape something better, something more viable, still to come.


Bad Blood: “Taylor Swift” vs. Spotify http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/11/03/bad-blood-taylor-swift-1989-spotify/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/11/03/bad-blood-taylor-swift-1989-spotify/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 18:15:27 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=24915 Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.09.21 PMAs the number of release windows for media continues to expand, the “windowing” of a given media text has shifted accordingly. Although windowing has typically been a term reserved for motion pictures, in which a film goes through theatrical, home video, cable, and network distribution windows in roughly that order, the advent of streaming media has created similar patterns in television—where some Hulu series have week-long exclusivity for cable subscribers—and music, creating a broader “crisis” in distribution that the industry is working to solve.

Within music, where no such windowing has existed, streaming services like Spotify and Rdio have created a distribution problem that a number of labels have been pushing against. Whereas in film we see the challenging of existing windows through day-and-date streaming releases, with Spotify we see artists—such as Beyoncé and Coldplay—actively withholding their albums at release to force users (including those who subscribe to these services rather than streaming music for free) to acquire them through legal—or, depending on the user, illegal—means, creating selective windowing.

Spotify has value for artists and labels: on demand streaming has become a metric within the Billboard Hot 100 charts, for example, and the service’s 40 million users represent a cross-section of listeners that may not buy music now but could buy music in the future, making it a valuable promotional platform. However, the issue is that the infinitesimally small royalties paid by Spotify and other streaming services—which have drawn criticism from artists and labels—limit this value. Accordingly, while having your music on Spotify has promotional value, the remuneration is significantly less than if artists sell albums or singles on iTunes, or convince you to go out to a store to buy a deluxe version of the album featuring exclusive material.

Big Machine Records and Taylor Swift have been at the center of this conflict for some time. Swift’s album Red, which debuted in October 2012, was an early example of a label withholding a marquee album from streaming services—while each single from the album became available near its release, the full album was not made available for streaming until the summer of 2013. At the time, Billboard reported Big Marchine founder Scott Borchetta framing streaming as a “struggle,” arguing that “it doesn’t make sense to a small record company” compared to a larger conglomerate with thousands of albums to sell to Spotify.

The decision was controversial at the time, although there was no evidence that Spotify was fighting against it—the service simply did not have Red available, which Big Machine hoped would push users to go purchase the album. However, earlier this year Spotify went on the offensive, creating pages for albums that are being withheld from the service—including the latest albums from Coldplay and Beyoncé—that inform listeners that “the artist or their representatives have decided not to release this album on Spotify. We are working on it and hope they will change their mind soon.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.12.01 AM

Such a page has been in place for Swift’s 1989 since the album’s release last week, although as of this morning it is notably the only album page on Swift’s Spotify page. As widely reported, Big Machine has pulled all of Swift’s music—including “Shake It Off,” which had been the most streamed song on the service—in the midst of negotiations with Spotify, the most public move yet in the service’s battle with labels. In return, Spotify has begun using social media—including a blog post entitled “On Taylor Swift’s Decision to Remove Her Music form Spotify”—to call out Swift’s decision and incite her to “Stay Stay Stay,” a reference to a song from the now unavailable Red.

Spotify’s rhetoric is nearly identical to that of cable channels in the midst of carriage disputes—just last night, AMC used The Walking Dead to inform DirecTV subscribers that the channel’s contract with the satellite service is up soon, and that their provider is failing to negotiate in good faith. It’s a call to action, mirroring AMC’s conflict with Dish by asking the show’s large fanbase to become engaged in a public campaign to influence negotiations in their favor. In Spotify’s case, they are using social media to rally their 40 million users to spread the word using the #JustSayYes hashtag (itself taken from her song “Love Story”), and sharing a playlist of “What to Play While Taylor’s Away.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.26.27 AM

In part due to this messaging, most major news reports regarding the decision are framed in these terms: TIME suggests “Taylor Swift Just Removed Her Music From Spotify,” while Mashable—one of the first to report on the story, and who had reported on 1989’s absence from the service last week—implies that “Taylor Swift removes all music from Spotify after ‘1989’ bickering.” However, to frame this as Swift’s decision obscures the presence of the label, who Billboard reports—citing sources beyond conjecture and Spotify’s social media postings—is behind this decision as Big Machine asserts itself in the midst of an attempted sale. There is no evidence that Swift herself is behind this decision—while TIME cites a Wall Street Journal op-ed where Swift herself expresses concern regarding the streaming service, neither she nor Big Machine Records has made a public statement, meaning that any narrative has been created by Spotify to better position the company within ongoing negotiations.

Spotify’s choice to make this about the artist—never once acknowledging the existence of a label—highlights the challenge of getting users to invest in the full dimensions of why albums are held from Spotify. This is by all accounts not primarily a conflict with an artist whose principles are in opposition to streaming music, but rather a case where a label is leveraging the sales power of their biggest artist to challenge the economics of a still nascent, controversial distribution method, and where that artist—despite her ubiquity—is subject to their business decisions. But whereas Spotify vs. Scott Borchetta is a story for the trades, Spotify vs. Taylor Swift is a story for the masses, one Spotify hopes will create fewer blank spaces in their library.


http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/11/03/bad-blood-taylor-swift-1989-spotify/feed/ 4
Revisiting Region Codes http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/09/10/revisiting-region-codes/ Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:57:49 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=24404 TV_wrong_region_codeThis 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.

There is, and always has been, a fundamental disconnect between digital media’s supposedly democratizing effects and the disconnections, delays, and prohibitions that actually characterize the global media environment. For instance, many around the world still feel the “digital distance” that comes with an inability to access films, songs, television programs, games, or other entertainment media experiences that remain out of reach. The DVD region code, developed and implemented in the mid-1990s, was instrumental in maintaining this distance.

Born out of complex, years-long standard-setting debates among film studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, and the computing industry, the region code gave the lie to the idea that digital technologies would necessarily ease global connectivity. By carving up the world into six geographic “regions,” with DVDs from one region unable to play on the DVD players of another, region codes actually attempted to retain global media’s disjunctive flows.

To this end, region codes represented a way for home video industries (and particularly the Hollywood studios) to segment and regionalize their distribution markets. And, of course, they did so in ways that privileged certain territories and markets over others—a logic most obviously apparent in the numerical ranking of the regions. Even a cursory glance at the region code map indicates that territories were grouped through their possible exploitation as markets as much as (or more than) geographic or cultural proximity. Of course, the relative prominence of region-free DVDs and the ease of burning and circulating unauthorized copies meant that region codes worked only partially to maintain these borders of distribution. Region codes could be particularly frustrating to diasporic viewers and cinephiles, who for various, obvious reasons would want access to DVDs from across borders. So, region-free players became quite common.

So, why is the DVD still an important element of media culture–and media studies–in 2014? Well, in spite of pronouncements of the DVD’s death, it’s very much alive. A recent poll showed that DVD and Blu-ray players are still the most commonly owned media devices in American households. Even if, for some, these players are collecting dust, they have not merely disappeared. Furthermore, in many territories around the world, the technology is still key to formal and informal film distribution networks. The fact is, any media technology has a far more complicated lifespan than we might imagine if we simply follow industry logic. As Paul Benzon has recently argued, rather than taking the DVD as obsolete, we might behold its “complex and conflicted timeline of technological change shaped by interdependence among innovation, obsolescence, residuality, reproduction, and reuse.” The suggestion that the DVD will be (or has been) wholly replaced by Blu-ray and streaming video is one that comes with classist and Western-focused assumptions.dvd_region_map

But even for those who have already consigned the DVD to the scrap heap, regional lockout is still a common user experience. Streaming music platforms like Spotify and Pandora are only available in some regions. Likewise, VOD platforms like Netflix and the BBC iPlayer are geoblocked, and users take various measures to get past these hurdles. Although other forms of regional incompatibility existed before the DVD (like the PAL/NTSC/SECAM color television standards), the DVD region code represented a pioneering moment in the intentional, conscious installation of regional control mechanisms through DRM. Through geoblocking and IP address detection systems, this logic is present in today’s global media cultures.

For more on the DVD region code’s development, and its implications for global home video distribution and technological standardization, I invite you to read my new International Journal of Cultural Studies piece on the subject, entitled “The DVD Region Code System: Standardizing Home Video’s Disjunctive Global Flows.” To correspond with this post, the journal has agreed to make the article open access for three months.


Simple Machine & Micro-Wave: Building a Grassroots Film Community http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/03/26/simple-machine-micro-wave-building-a-grassroots-film-community/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/03/26/simple-machine-micro-wave-building-a-grassroots-film-community/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:53:13 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=23869 THE MEN OF DODGE CITY, directed by Nandan Rao played March 16

THE MEN OF DODGE CITY, directed by Nandan Rao

Filmmaker Nandan Rao launched Simple Machine in March 2013 at SXSW. The goal of the site is to facilitate the public exhibition of microbudget (<$100K) films – most of which are never screened for public audiences after their festival runs – by directly connecting filmmakers to audiences. Though there is a possibility for filmmaker/distributor profit within the Simple Machine model (via ticket revenue), the primary function of the service is to foster a grassroots network of communities (exhibition sites, programmers, and cinephiles) that are passionate about truly independent cinema. It has now been a year since the site began offering its services, carrying a library of films by directors such as Joe Swanberg, Dustin Guy Defa, Robert Greene, and Amy Seimetz. While there have been dozens of one-off screenings along the way, a consistently operating venue or screening series has not arisen. I intend to change that.

If Simple Machine’s potential is to be fulfilled, it is necessary to create pockets of strong local interest. Right now, there are only a few areas where you can see many of these movies in a public setting – New York City, Austin, Chicago, occasionally Los Angeles or Seattle – and there is the Internet, where microbudget cinema has found a home. The challenge, it seems, is to generate new physical outposts for a mostly online community. Ideally, these physical outposts would grow local audiences, which would then feed back into and expand the overall network. People actually talking about films with other people can be quite powerful.

The Micro-Wave Film Series (“micro” budget + new “wave”) is my attempt to give concrete form to the hypothetical promise contained within Simple Machine. Every screening takes place in a fantastic UW-Madison campus theater, is free, and involves a Q & A session with the filmmaker(s) afterward. Sounds great, right? Well, as of now, people are not coming. Community building requires the slowness and steadiness of the proverbial tortoise. However, someone has to take the first big step. If anything, taking that first step has taught me how difficult it can be to create and/or mobilize an audience, especially when relying on the Internet.

In my case, for example, we have garnered 170 likes on our Facebook page. Facebook tells me that 60 of those are Madison residents. Not a ton of fans, but if even 25% of those Madison fans showed up to each screening, we would be pulling in about 15 audience members at each screening. Terrific! However, these are the actual attendance figures for our four screenings thus far this semester: 18, 7, 4, and 3. Indeed, Facebook also tells me that we only have 10 “engaged” fans located in Madison. So much for all those sponsored posts.

To be fair, these early stumbles are likely due to my lack of experience as a promoter, not just the inefficiencies of Facebook advertising. I only decided to do the series in January, so I have been flying by the seat of my pants. Hopefully, more planning time and experience will result in more efficacious publicity. These sorts of difficulties, however, extend beyond my specific circumstance. The challenges of audience building and mobilization seem endemic to public film exhibition outside of a traditional theatrical setting, especially with films that lack mainstream stars and significant advertising budgets. Depressingly, way more people will come out for a campus screening of the new Thor film than a screening of a film they might not be able to see anywhere, anytime, anyhow, even with the bonus of special access to the filmmakers. How does an upstart exhibition organization effectively attract and reward viewers, especially when the films are produced by total independents? This question is interesting to me not just as a budding programmer and exhibitor, but also as a filmmaker and, most pertinent to this blog, an academic. I imagine my understanding will grow along with my experience. I hope to deliver progress reports to Antenna in the future.

Still from Choking

THE INTERNATIONAL SIGN FOR CHOKING, directed by Zach Weintraub, kicked off Micro-Wave in Madison.

Of course, Micro-Wave, has also been a relative success. Our first screening, a double feature of films by Zach Weintraub, was well-attended and well-received. Though subsequent screenings have had lower attendance, audience members have expressed enthusiasm for the films and our Q & As have been candid, informative, and very conversational. Beyond our Madison audience, we have received great feedback from other filmmakers, critics, and miscellaneous participants in the microbudget community. A few of them have even told me that they intend to start their own local chapters of Micro-Wave, which I wholeheartedly support. Importantly, Micro-Wave is also serving as a major testing ground for the Simple Machine model. Screening the films has required me to exchange films in various forms (mailed Blu-ray discs, mailed flash drives, Vimeo downloads, Dropbox downloads, BitTorrent peer-to-peer sharing) and to manage physical Q & As, Skype Q & As and Google Hangouts. To me, Micro-Wave (particularly this first semester) is like beta testing for what Simple Machine will eventually become. Hopefully, it will be something transformative.

Still from MMXIII

Ian Clark’s MMXIII

On Sunday, March 30 @ 7:00 PM, Micro-Wave will be screening Ian Clark’s MMXIII (2013), followed by a Skype Q & A with the director. On Sunday, April 13 @ 7:00 PM, Micro-Wave will present a double feature of films by Kris Swanberg, with the director in attendance: IT WAS GREAT, BUT I WAS READY TO COME HOME (2009) and EMPIRE BUILDER (2012).


http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2014/03/26/simple-machine-micro-wave-building-a-grassroots-film-community/feed/ 1
Accessing Beyoncé http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/12/31/accessing-beyonce/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/12/31/accessing-beyonce/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 13:41:40 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=23262 Beyoncé and will again, regardless of how she chooses to distribute them.]]> Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 7.39.13 AM“Why does music have to be the center of the thing? What can’t lifestyle be the center and music be part of the presentation?”

Brian Eno raised these questions in an interview for Time-Life’s 1995 documentary series The History of Rock and Roll. In the final installment, “Up From the Underground,” Eno’s comment is framed as a defense of Madonna, who was criticized for prioritizing image over music as though they were mutually exclusive. Eno, like Madonna, recognized music video’s potential for creative expression and refused to dismiss it as a commercial, artistically craven medium.

I remembered Eno’s comment upon viewing Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album for a few reasons. First, much like History, I anticipate media scholars clipping Mrs. Carter’s video album for lecture. While watching “Pretty Hurts,” directed by long-time collaborator Melina Matsoukas, I imagined how its images of competitive female beauty would be used to illustrate concepts like ideology, semiotics, intersectionality, appropriation, and post-feminism. But after reflecting upon the album and the endless discourse it provoked, I was also surprised by how, in some ways, Beyoncé felt like a media product from an earlier time.


The video album takes its name from two culturally obsolescent formats. It harkens back to the late 80s and early 90s, when videogenic pop acts released compilations to curry favor with the home video market and rental chains. The video album transferred to CD-ROM and DVD. However, by the second half of the 2000s, streaming sites like YouTube and Vimeo contributed to the video album’s ossification. In 2011, British recording artist PJ Harvey released a DVD of short films Seamus Murphy directed to accompany Let England Shake. Videos for the album’s twelve songs can also be viewed on YouTube.

I don’t bring this up to suggest that Beyoncé is out of touch any more than I intend to follow Camille Paglia’s example and unfavorably compare a younger female pop star of color against the Material Girl. Rather, I find it fascinating that Beyoncé harnessed the commercial and cultural potential of a largely abandoned format. First, I’m compelled by Beyoncé’s control over access to the album. Because I am so accustomed to using YouTube, I assumed I would be able to watch all of the clips through the artist’s VEVO channel upon its mid-December release. Only “Drunk in Love” and “XO” were available on YouTube three days after Beyoncé‘s debut. Beyoncé’s control aligns with reports that she meticulously archives photographs of herself and scholarly interpretation of the artist’s curated Tumblr presence. I would have to buy the album on iTunes—a service to which I don’t currently subscribe—in order to get the full experience. Luckily, a friend in the field invited me over for a laptop screening during a holiday trip to Chicago.

But prior to my December 23 viewing of Beyoncé—ten days upon its release and therefore a lifetime ago on the Internet—I was already well-acquainted with the album. Certainly, there was quite a bit of trade discourse and political commentary documenting the album’s distribution through iTunes and Wal-Mart, as well as lively debate about power, cultural hybridity, feminism’s racial politics, and black radicalism. I also saw several GIFs and memes built from or referencing individual scenes. After its release, I chatted with fellow contributor Myles McNutt, who argued that a video album allowed Beyoncé to circumvent radio airplay with an album, like its predecessor 4, that is musically adventurous but bereft of obvious hits. While this raises the question as to whether GIFs equate with singles rotation and chart rankings, Beyoncé can now afford to wave away such metrics.

Beyonce Wal-Mart

I’ve avoided addressing the album’s content by focusing on its distribution model. But the visual elements and the collaborations between singer and directors allow the album to cohere. Beyoncé is an artist who fixates on the gendered and racialized contradictions embedded in the labor of beauty, pleasure, marriage, and autonomy. “Pretty Hurts” is as much a thesis statement for Beyoncé as it is for the singer’s career. I’m partial to the red-light disco of “Blow”. “XO” is undeniable, with a chorus that my screening companion said was designed for Olympics promos. I’m curious about her co-optation of Houston’s Third Ward in “Pretty Hurts” and “No Angel,” as I associate her more closely with Bellaire. “Haunted” simultaneously recalls videos for Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma“, while several others fondly reminded me of America’s Next Top Model challenges. I’m intrigued by how the singer was able to integrate video shoots into her touring schedule. I’m fascinated by “Flawless,” a track that fashions a song out of a trap beat, post-feminist swagger, and sampled work from Nigerian poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Pretty Hurts

Beyoncé’s dominant narrative is that she doesn’t make mistakes. She can withstand blame over the Super Bowl power outage, accusation over lip syncing, and offense over sampling footage from the Challenger disaster. She was able to drop an album without it getting leaked or scooped. This is nearly impossible, yet consistent with a pop star who simultaneously wants us to focus on her work but make it all look effortless. Earlier this year HBO released her documentary, Life Is But a Dream. I was most intrigued when the film allowed us a brief glimpse into her process, including tense backstage moments between Beyoncé’s creative director Frank Gatson Jr. and her dancers.

But this was also a year when footage surfaced of the singer enduring harassment from male fans at concerts, which is an intersectional concern. Miley Cyrus got to slap burlesque dancer Amazon Ashley’s backside at the VMAs. Beyoncé got her bottom slapped by an audience member at a show in Denmark, even though she had the authority to eject him. Beyoncé situates itself at the intersection of various overlapping, contradictory, constructed, hybrid identities and visualizes them through collaboration. Perhaps it was initially met with surprise, but I anticipate we’ll return to these themes with Beyoncé, regardless of how she chooses to package and distribute them.


http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/12/31/accessing-beyonce/feed/ 1
Rethinking Media Distribution http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/11/20/rethinking-media-distribution/ Wed, 20 Nov 2013 15:00:21 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=22867 Tryon pic

The news that the subscription service Netflix now has more total subscribers than premium cable channel HBO further confirms that media industries are changing rapidly, especially when it comes to the practices of movie and TV distribution. Beyond altering the economics of media distribution, subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu have introduced a whole new vocabulary for both media consumers and industry professionals alike. Activities such as binge watching and “Netflix adultery” were unimaginable just a few short years ago, while more traditional practices—such as the weekly trip to the video store—have practically disappeared. With those changes in mind, Jeff Ulin, a media distribution expert who has worked at Lucasfilm, Paramount, and Universal, has substantially revised his 2009 book, The Business of Media Distribution, for the era of digital delivery, providing a fascinating and engaging road map for both media scholars and industry professionals.

The new edition of the book starts by spelling out how studios and networks manage media properties in order to create value—through managing intellectual property rights, for example—before tracing several different modes of distribution: theatrical, home video, television, and internet. The final sections of the book focus on aspects such as marketing and promotion, especially as those practices have been transformed by the emergence of social media tools. Ulin also reiterates one of the key observations discussed in his first book: the idea that studios are best understood as “financing and distributing machines” that seek to maximize value, in large part by managing the distribution “windows” when movies or TV shows are available through a specific platform. Ulin emphasizes the process by which studios carefully balance when movies are available theatrically, through VOD platforms, on DVD, and eventually through subscription services such as Netflix, in order to maximize the value of a given text.

In his map of the film distribution landscape, Ulin traces several of the key factors that drove the adoption of digital projectors, most notably the role of 3D in serving as a means for justifying surcharges to consumers. But another major factor identified by Ulin is the role of China as a major marketplace for Hollywood theatrical films. Specifically, Ulin points out that the U.S. government negotiated a deal to raise the limit on the number of international films screened annually in China from 20 to 34, with the stipulation that the additional movies be screened in 3D. While Ulin is less explicit on this matter, the clear implication is that China’s theatrical market will likely shape the choices studios make when it comes to picking projects for the foreseeable future.

But the strength of Ulin’s book is his thorough explanation of the changes in the home video marketplace, especially as online video sources are poised to upset DVD rental and sales. As Ulin points out, the conflicts between physical or bricks-and-mortar retailers and online sources including Amazon are often more complex than they appear, especially given incentives such as using DVDs as “loss-leaders” to draw shoppers into big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target. More crucially, however, subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix and Hulu and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) retailers such as Amazon and iTunes have upset traditional revenue streams and the distribution windows that were designed to provide various platforms (theaters, pay cable, basic cable) with periods of exclusivity that allowed studios and exhibitors to protect the value of the movie being distributed. These conflicts have played out in the ongoing debates over day-and-date distribution, especially for independent and low-budget movies, or shorter theatrical windows for studio films. But they also inform how TV shows circulate, especially when the interests of production companies and SVOD services such as Netflix compete with the interests of cable TV channels such as TNT and FX that are currently negotiating to extend their “broadcast window” to encompass the most recent season of a show, rather than just the five most recent episodes. Such battles are likely to persist in our current on-demand culture

One of the challenges that faces any book that focuses on the media distribution landscape is that it changes so rapidly. As I was reading Ulin’s book, Blockbuster Video announced that it would be closing its last 300 stores, resulting in the loss of over 3.000 jobs and leaving Redbox as, perhaps, the primary option for DVD rental for most US consumers. However, Ulin’s book remains relevant, in large part because he offers several key principles to describe the ongoing evolution of the media industries. With that in mind, we can read all of the recent changes—Netflix’s competition with HBO, Blockbuster’s closure of its U.S. stores, and China’s emergence as a crucial theatrical market—as part of a larger system in which studios and other media institutions use windows in order to generate and retain value for the films and television shows they distribute, no matter how we access them.


What Are You Missing?: Cannes Film Festival Edition http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/05/31/what-are-you-missing-cannes-film-festival-edition/ Fri, 31 May 2013 13:00:03 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=20032 cannesFrom prix winners to distribution deals, here are 10 Cannes-related items you may have missed over the past two weeks:

1. The 66th annual Cannes Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color (French title: La Vie d’Adèle – chapitre 1 & 2) taking top honors, winning the Palme D’Or. The French film is the first adaptation of a graphic novel to win top honors at Cannes. Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis came in second place in competition, earning the Grande Prix.

2. Other awards in competition included the Camera D’Or prize, awarded for best first feature film, which went to Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen for Ilo Ilo. The Prix du Jury went to Like Father, Like Son directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu. Best director (Prix de la Mise en Scene) was awarded to Amat Escalante’s Heli, and best screenwriter to Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin.  Berenice Bejo and Bruce Dern both received awards for acting performances, in Ashgar Farhadi’s The Past and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, respectively. Dern beat out Michael Douglas, who was favored to take best actor honors. (Incidentally, Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra won no awards in competition, but brought in 2.4 million HBO viewers on Sunday night.)

3. Awards were also given in the festival’s sidebar competitions. The Missing Picture, by Cambodian director Rithy Panh, took the Un Certain Regard prize. The top award in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar went to Guillaume Galliene’s Me, Myself and Mum. A student at the Art Institute of Chicago, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, won the Cinefondation competition awarded for the best student film. Ghazvinizadeh will receive €15,000 ($19,555) and the opportunity to screen a feature film at a future Cannes festival.

4. Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color has initiated much discussion about the jury’s inclination this year toward pictures with unconventional or challenging stylistics and thematics. A story of a teenage woman’s lesbian romance, Blue is the Warmest Color, features extended graphic sex scenes between the two characters, leading some to defend the film against claims that it is a “blue” film. Moreover, Blue is the Warmest Color was one of several LGBT-themed films to receive recognition at Cannes. Alain Guiraudie’s sexually explicit thriller, Stranger By the Lake, won the award for best queer film and the Best Director prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. In addition, Gallienne’s French-language Me, Myself and Mum tells the autobiographical story of a boy who grows up identifying as female. As mentioned above, the film won the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar.


Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle – chapitre 1 & 2)

5. Speaking of the Palme D’Or winner, Sundance Selects has reportedly acquired Blue is the Warmest Color for U.S. distribution, but no release date has been announced. Sundance Selects has also purchased U.S. distribution rights to Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Like Father, Like Son, a melodrama about two families who discover their young sons were switched at birth. Like Father, Like Son is the first Japanese film to win the Jury Prize in over 25 years. Sundance Selects’ acquisition continues the company’s relationship with that director, as sibling company IFC Films has released two of Kore-eda’s films in the past, Still Walking (2008) and Nobody Knows (2004). Sundance Selects’ other acquisitions include Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, which won the Europa Cinemas Label for the best European film, and Francois Ozon’s Young & Beautiful. The company also pre-bought U.S. distribution rights to the Dardennes’ Two Days, One Night starring Marion Cotillard. The film is currently in pre-production.

6. Not to be outdone, The Weinstein Company acquired six films at Cannes in addition to two acquisitions for Radius-TWC, the company’s “multi-platform arm.” Pre-buys included U.S. distribution rights to the Todd Haynes-directed Carol, which will be based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska are slated to star. Other TWC pre-buys included distribution rights for Suite Francaise in multiple territories including North America, Latin America, Russia, Germany, and Australia. Suite Francaise will be directed by Saul Dibb and will star Michelle Williams. In addition, after screening only seven minutes of a promo reel, TWC paid $6 million for rights to Philomena . The Stephen Frears-directed film stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. Finally, The Weinstein Company acquired Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film, The Young and Prodigious Spivet, an English-language 3D release, whose trailer and one sheet were recently made available online.

7. Despite comments from buyers that the festival offered fewer “surefire titles,” Lionsgate reportedly broke a Cannes market record by earning more than $250 million in foreign sales, up 50 percent from the company’s sales last year at the festival. Lionsgate sold foreign territory rights to 9 features including the final two films of The Hunger Games series and Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, which was in competition. The company also made acquisitions of its own. Lionsgate reportedly paid over $2 million for U.S. rights to the English-language Blood Ties, directed by Guillaume Canet and starring Clive Owen.


The Lunchbox

8. Sony Pictures Classics purchased North American rights to The Lunchbox, winner of the Viewer’s Choice award at Critics’ Week. The film is directed by Ritesh Batra and features Life of Pi star Irrfan Khan. SPC, who distributed A Separation in the U.S., also picked up Farhadi’s The Past. The company will also handle U.S. distribution for Jim Jarmusch’s late entry to the festival, the retro-cool vampire pic Only Lovers Left Alive, which stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston and received positive response at the festival.

9. Here are some other distribution deals: Magnolia Pictures acquired the U.S. rights to a Western film with the promising title of Bone Tomahawk, the first feature by director S. Craig Zahler. Kurt Russell and Peter Sarsgaard are slated to star in the film. Ryan Gosling’s first directing effort, How to Catch a Monster sold in over 20 territories, with Warner Bros. purchasing the U.S. rights to Gosling’s film. CBS Films paid $4 million for domestic distribution rights to the Coen Bros.’ Grande-Prix winning Inside Llewyn Davis. Though not acquired at Cannes, Sophia Coppola’s much-anticipated The Bling Ring will premiere stateside at the Seattle Film Festival and then open on June 14. A24 will distribute the film.

10. Of course, the films were not the only newsworthy events at the festival. Cannes’ black-tie red carpet provided endless grist for the fashion mill. Leonardo DiCaprio auctioned off a seat on his upcoming trip to the moon for $1.5 million. Finally, not one, but two (non-Bling Ring related) jewel heists occurred, leaving luxury joaillier Chopard bereft of over $1 million in jewelry.


E-distribution gets “Weird” in Canada http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/04/04/e-distribution-gets-weird-in-canada/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/04/04/e-distribution-gets-weird-in-canada/#comments Thu, 04 Apr 2013 14:00:08 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=19346 WeirdCanada-LogoOn April 1st, amidst a steady stream of April Fool’s Day tweets, Weird Canada (an organization that profiles and promotes experimental, under-represented, and obscure Canadian musicians and artists) tweeted that they had received a grant from the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR).

The grant will be used to launch an e-distribution service for Canadian independent artists. Given that FACTOR has been criticized for predominately supporting “a small percentage of well connected insiders” who have both grant writing expertise and an established position in the Canadian cultural imaginary (The Trews, Metric, and Stars, for instance), I found myself wondering if the tweet may have been an April Fool’s prank. Weird Canada, in my mind, wasn’t reflective of recently successful grant applicants. However, the $50,000 FACTOR grant is legit and will be used to “create a specialized e-distro serving independent and Canadian artists, labels, and record stores, along with a customer-facing online store / gateway drug into the infinite mass of Canadian music.” So why am I excited about this?

Artists and labels who identify as “independent” often do so in order to maintain creative distance from the standardized and repetitive aesthetics of major labels and/or the dominant music industry, either sincerely or, of course, sometimes as a convenient marketing ploy. With increasingly affordable production technologies, this distance is more attainable today than ever before. Yet distribution is still an issue, especially in a large country like Canada that has a relatively small and widely dispersed population.

Record labels of varying successes and statuses have faced distribution challenges. A number of labels that have started in Canada have established distribution deals with major (larger, international) record labels as they, as well as their artists, have grown in prominence. Last Gang Records, a label that has grown in recognition alongside groups such as Metric, Death From Above 1979, and Crystal Castles, has a distribution deal with Universal Music in Canada and SonyRed in the United States. These distribution deals enable the label to maintain their relationship with bands that are becoming more well-known, because the music can still reach larger national and international audiences, a task that can be beyond the resources and capability of a smaller label.

Vancouver’s Mint Records, a label that uses a handful of smaller distributors like Outside Music and Shellshock, has faced a different set of complications. For one, their former distribution deal with Canadian independent label and distributor Cargo Records resulted in Mint losing a “substantial amount of money” after Cargo went bankrupt in 1997. Because of this, Mint also lost its most lucrative band at the time, the pop-punk band Gob. Secondly, the label has also lost prominent acts like The New Pornographers and Neko Case because of its inability to manage artists past a certain point. In other words, the label cannot match the power and reach of a major label when it comes to distribution. Both of these instances are nicely detailed in Kaitlin Fontana’s Fresh at Twenty: The Oral History of Mint Records. In the book, Carl Newman from the New Pornographers explains that “Mint was a two-man operation, and Matador [the label that the band moved to] was based in New York and had, like, thirty people working there” (253). As well, Mint Records co-founder Randy Iwata reflects on the artists that left for larger labels, stating that “Neko [Case] and the New Pornographers proved that we aren’t big enough to sustain a band’s career after a certain point” (253).

And beyond Last Gang and Mint, there are numerous small and independent Canadian labels and artists who have access to a very limited set of resources and finances for which to promote themselves. As Weird Canada’s grant application explains, “few emerging Canadian artists or labels have the necessary business acumen, marketing guile, and social savvy to effectively market and sell their music, leaving a great majority of Canadian talent unknown to a larger audience.” The e-distro service would not only serve to connect fans and artists online but also help tangible recorded music reach record stores.

I am not suggesting that Weird Canada’s e-distribution service will remedy all of the issues, tensions, and complications concerning the circulation of Canadian independent music, or that it will result in smaller labels being able to retain their artists for longer periods of time. The current technological, economic, and legal environments surrounding music are far too tricky to make any sort of assertion, and each band or label approaches music-making with a specific set of goals and aspirations. However, distribution remains a challenge for many artists and labels and this initiative is exciting because it creates a much-needed resource that can allow artists to more easily sustain creative autonomy.

There have been many great developments that have enabled and facilitated do-it-yourself production practices and this new service is a step toward doing the same for distribution. Weird Canada has already established a strong online presence as a distributor and promoter of Canadian music and, thus, they are well-positioned to create and sustain an e-distribution service.

It is also nice to see FACTOR put their faith in an organization beyond the tried, tested, and true industry-types. To borrow a conclusion from a recent post on this issue by Michael Rancic, “Giving Weird Canada any money suddenly makes FACTOR a much more complex organization than they had made themselves out to be. This grant honours FACTOR’s commitment to Canadian independent musicians and represents a huge opportunity for Weird Canada to help level the playing field.”


http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2013/04/04/e-distribution-gets-weird-in-canada/feed/ 1
What Are You Missing? Nov 25 – Dec 8 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2012/12/09/what-are-you-missing-nov-25-dec-8/ Sun, 09 Dec 2012 14:53:00 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=16946 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.