Google – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Value Creation Through Digital Commons: Complicating the Discourse Wed, 21 Oct 2015 13:00:54 +0000
Cosmos Laundromat by Blender Institute, 2015.

Cosmos Laundromat by Blender Institute, 2015.

Post by Julia Velkova, Södertörn University

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

By the end of 2015, the number of open content works online licensed under a Creative Commons license is estimated to pass beyond one billion[1]. Approximately one-tenth of them are hosted on major sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Public Library of Science, Scribd and Jamendo, and represent music, photos, animation films, online comics, texts and illustrations that are made explicitly available by their authors with the intent to encourage their circulation, use and the creation of derivative works.

One widely spread assumption about these forms of copyleft-licensed media is that they are a result of unpaid, volunteer labor, often done with the intention to disrupt broader capitalist structures or circuits of production through new forms of organising. Another common view is that while individuals give away their artifacts to the public, the market economy exploits this content by integrating it in the circuits of capitalist production and by extracting value from it without contributing back. These portraits, while true to a certain extent, do not give justice to the much more complex interactions between market and commons that inform the creative practices and intensions of producers engaged in creating digital commons, ranging from free and open source software development and hacking, to producing media of industry quality or within the creative industries themselves. Not least, these views disregard the possibility that the producers of commons are experimenting with models to financially sustain and capitalize on their own work, not necessarily standing in opposition to the markets. At the same time it is admittedly difficult to grasp the way in which economic value is generated through commons if looking just at the final artifacts that are made – software, or media since they are often shared free of charge.

Image: Morevna Project, Anastasia Mayzhegisheva, 2015

Image: Morevna Project, Anastasia Mayzhegisheva, 2015

In the period between 2013 and 2015 I observed ethnographically the processes of creation of two large scale animation film projects anchored in the domain of commons and the techno-artistic communities surrounding them. One of the films was Cosmos Laundromat[2], part of the larger project Gooseberry by the Blender Institute[3] in Amsterdam, Netherlands; the other one was The Beautiful Queen Marya Morevna[4], part of the larger Morevna project[5] by an informal collective located in Gorno-Altaysk, a town of 40,000 inhabitants in Southern Siberia, Russia. The projects were particular in several ways: they gathered artists and programmers to develop and improve free and open source software for computer graphics production, namely the largely popular program Blender for 3D animation; and Synfig for 2D vector animation. These programs represent the non-proprietary equivalents of software such as 3D Studio Max, Adobe After Effects and Maya. At the same time, the production process, and the short animation films were made public and shared as commons, together with all their assets.

If looking at the main software used in the productions, respectively Blender and Synfig, they both have remarkably gone through a process of de-commodification in the course of which they have been converted from proprietary to free software programs, and their development taken over by their user communities. This suggests that not only the industry does appropriate products of the commons, but also reverse processes do occur. De-commodification helped Blender to grow significantly in the course of about fifteen years to an average of 300,000 user downloads a month(ref), and Synfig to about 20,000 a month over slightly over than six years. This growth has in both cases been largely due to the organisation of software development as practice-driven process that emerges from making animation films through a public process anchored in sharing the code, the production process and the components (assets) of the films made. This approach has so far been applied on five[6] open animation films by the Blender Institute, allowing the Blender software user community to grow. As a result Blender has also been incorporated at the core of the professional production practice of many small commercial animation studios across the world. It has also inspired others, such as Morevna project to experiment with making open-films but in a different animation genre. The approach has also led large hardware manufacturers (such as Intel and Dell), actors from the game industry (Valve Corporation) and IT corporations such as Google to provide support to Blender in the form of powerful hardware, monthly monetary donations[7] or contributions targeted at the development of specific features through, for example, the Google Summer of Code program. The direct industry support provided for developing Blender has contributed to the establishment of independent technical infrastructure that has in turn enabled the creation of open animation films. Within the production frameworks of the films themselves more funds are secured with the help of institutions of public cultural funding, philanthropic foundations, private companies, other open source communities, as well as individuals. The financial resources that are generated do not therefore stem from sales of media, but are a result of combining multiple production practices, that of films, software, and training materials that cut across the interests of multiple organisations and as a result attract financial support through the increased range of beneficiaries.

These interactions help the software and film projects ultimately to economically sustain themselves, and develop software, as well as media owned by the public. The latter could at the same time be regarded as a form of critique, from within, of the prevailing systems of cultural production that is more anchored in pragmatic considerations around the possibility to exercise craft autonomy within the cultural industries, rather than being representative of ideologies of the political left.

[1]          Link:

[2]          Link:

[3]          Link:

[4]          Link:

[5]          Link:

[6]          Link:

[7]          Link:

[For the full article, see Julia Velkova and Peter Jakobsson, “At the Intersection of Commons and Market: Negotiations of Value in Open-Sourced Cultural Production,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication: More information on related research can be found at Julia Velkova’s blog:]


Net Neutrality is Over— Unless You Want It Fri, 17 Jan 2014 15:27:01 +0000 series_of_tubesOn Tuesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals tore out the heart of net neutrality. In the landmark Verizon v. FCC decision, the court struck down the FCC’s Open Internet rules— the hard-fought regulations passed in 2010 that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or discriminating against internet traffic. Without these protections, network operators like Verizon are legally empowered to not only interfere with the online activities of their users but alter the fundamental structure of the internet and change the terms on which users communicate and connect online. The court threw out the no-blocking and nondiscrimination rules but left intact the transparency provision, so now the company you pay to get on the internet can mess with your traffic as much as it wants, as long as it tells you so. The ruling is not a surprise, but not because the Open Internet rules were not legitimate or net neutrality is a bad idea. It comes down to this: broadband providers are common carriers but the FCC can’t regulate them as common carriers because they didn’t call them common carriers. (I’ll explain in a second.) So if we want net neutrality, what should we do? Well, tell the FCC to call broadband providers common carriers. It really is that simple— not easy, but simple.

First, what’s actually at stake here? Well, the end of the open public internet and the beginning of separate but unequal private internets, under the control of the giant phone and cable companies in possession of the pipes and airwaves we depend upon for access. The FCC’s Open Internet rules left much to be desired but they were minimum protections to count on and a significant beachhead in the net neutrality battle. Without them, what do we get now? A network where Verizon can charge extra to prioritize traffic and block any service that refuses to pay a toll to reach its users (that’s what it said it would do if it won this case). A network where Comcast can derail video distribution that threatens its cable television business (that’s what it did when it blocked BitTorrent and what it does in favoring its Xfinity service— even though it’s obligated to abide by net neutrality until 2017 as a condition of its merger with NBC-U). A network where AT&T can cut deals with the biggest content providers to exempt their apps from counting against monthly data caps but squeeze out the innovative startups that can’t afford to pay (which it just announced last week with its new Sponsored Data plans). Networks — with pay-to-play arrangements, exclusive fast lanes, unfair competition, and prepackaged access tiers— where that independently-produced web video series, that nonprofit alternative news site, or your own blog are left behind in favor of those that can pay protection money to network operators. In other words, a network that is not the internet as we’ve come to know it— an open network where users can be participants in the creation and circulation of online culture, rather than a closed content delivery system for corporate media. While net neutrality proponents’ rhetoric might seem a bit overblown, we are much closer to a “nightmare scenario” than most realize.

The DC Circuit’s ruling was not against net neutrality itself, but rather the twisted way the FCC attempted to enforce it. The majority opinion actually went out of its way to describe why net neutrality regulations are necessary to curb abuses of power by network operators. It ruled that the Open Internet rules themselves were sound— they were just implemented the wrong way. Coming into the case, the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband at all was in doubt, after the agency was handed its hat by the same court in the 2010 Comcast case. The FCC tried it again this time with a slightly different tack (“even federal agencies are entitled to a little pride,” the majority wrote— federal appeals court humor, folks) and, amazingly, the court bought it this time around (while Verizon called the FCC’s argument a “triple-cushion-shot,” the judges pointed out that in billiards it doesn’t matter how much of a stretch the shot is if you actually make it). However, even though the court affirmed the FCC’s legal ability to regulate broadband, it found that it can’t regulate it the way the Commission wanted to in the Open Internet rules.

The court ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality policy treated broadband providers as common carriers, but that it couldn’t do that because it didn’t have those services classified in the common carriage portion of its legal framework. Basically, it all goes back to the FCC using the term “information service” rather than “telecommunications service” to define broadband starting in 2002. That’s it— this is a case where the importance of discourse, and the power to dominate discourse in the policy sphere, could not be more plain.

Net neutrality is essentially an update to common carriage, the centuries-old principle of openness and nondiscrimination on publicly essential infrastructure for communication and transportation. The FCC has regulated general purpose networks of two-way communication as common carriers since its inception with the 1934 Communications Act (at that time the focus was telephone service). Beginning in the 1980s as part of its influential Computer Inquiries and legally formalized in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC distinguishes between these basic networks, defined as Title II “telecommunication services” (think pipes), and the content made available over those networks, defined as Title I “information services” (think water flowing inside those pipes). Under this framework, the FCC regulated internet access (the connectivity) as common carriage to ensure equality and universality, but could not regulate the internet itself (the content). As telecommunications services, internet access providers’ job is to pass communications back and forth to the internet, while the information services on the internet are publishers with editorial rights to control content. This all changed during a deregulatory binge at the FCC in the 2000s: cable companies called their broadband connections “information services” (pay no attention to their actual cables), conspicuously not subject to regulation, and then-FCC-Chairman Michael Powell was happy to define broadband that way, too (he’s now the head of the NCTA, the cable industry’s trade group, by the way).

Now, because broadband internet access is not classified as “telecommunications,” it cannot be regulated as common carriage. This means that, as the DC Circuit recognized, since net neutrality is basically common carriage, it cannot be implemented as long as broadband is still defined as an “information service.” So, even though broadband is now the essential general purpose communications infrastructure of our time, there can be no openness and nondiscrimination protections for it until the FCC is willing to change the label it has applied to it in its regulatory terminology. The answer, then, is reclassification: the FCC just needs to call broadband the telecommunications service that it is before we can have enforceable net neutrality policy. The policy really is that simple— it’s the politics that are difficult. The reason that the FCC built the Open Internet rules on legal quicksand is that it lacked the political will to go through with its reclassification proposal amidst a firestorm of pressure from the telecom industry and its allies in Washington.

If we want net neutrality, we should put our own pressure on the FCC. We don’t have the money and the lobbyists that the telecom industry does and we can’t count on the clout of any big corporations whose interests overlap with the public’s on the issue— Google already sold out to Verizon and other big online content providers are now backing away from it (the Amazons and Facebooks of the world have deep enough pockets to dominate the payola market of the future, so they seem willing to play ball at this point). It’s up to us, then, to push the FCC to do net neutrality right this time.


]]> 3
Google’s Aesthetic Turn: One Simple Beautiful Useful Google Mon, 13 Jan 2014 20:15:00 +0000 As tech blogs circulate lists of not just the most popular apps, nor merely the best, but the most beautiful, stunning, and even “drop dead gorgeous,” it seems an apt time to consider how cultural studies’ concern for aesthetics might inspire more critical engagement with the experiences and artifacts of digital culture.


Everyday life is so awash in explicitly aesthetic appeals (ie, “the most beautiful way to check weather”) that I can instantly imagine an eye-catching infograph that helpfully orders app attributes as values of sensuous desire. We might need to revise Susan Sontag’s famous call for an erotics of art: “in place of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of apps!”

How does the technocultural installation of some “gorgeous” layer between internet users and the cycles of life (e.g., sleep, fertility, seasonal, fiscal) shape the way we come to experience and know the world?  And of course, what is “beautiful” anyway? Who gets to define what it looks and feels like? These are questions of aesthetics, though not in the classical sense of pondering the philosophical problems of beauty and art. Once assumed to correspond with universal human values, perceptions of beauty have since been understood as mediated by taste, class, and racial and gendered cultural hierarchies that govern legitimacy.  Cultural studies expanded the field of what counted as “aesthetic” by turning from high art to the literature and popular culture of the working classes. As Raymond Williams puts it, “Culture is ordinary.” How might we probe what’s at stake in the digital beautification of everyday life? In this post, I examine the ambitious 2011 redesign of top global website, Google (Google+, Google Search, Maps, etc.)

Google’s First Aesthetic: Transparency

Built from the start with users in mind (mantra: “focus on the user and all else will follow”), the early Google Aesthetic presents simplicity, technology, usability, and engineering as a form of transparency. When the stark white Google search was introduced in 1998, it must have seemed positively un-designed compared with the bloated portals of the time. No, Google cut the crap by delivering nothing but fast, relevant search results. For a decade, using Google Search was kind of like using a calculator, which is to say, you just used it and expected it to work. With its famous suite of PageRank algorithms under lock and key, Google balanced its technical opacity with a transparent communication style that emphasized openness, accountability, informality, and playfulness, all of which felt algorithmically generated but human-inflected. This aesthetic of transparency isn’t confined to the giant white home page, of course. We catch another glimpse if we approach material like Matt Cutts’s “How Search Works” as an aesthetic performance as much as an instructional one.

There are plenty of advanced technologies here, but the tech layer is mediated through a veneer of “(expert guy)” friendliness: approachable, direct, playful, and above all, crystal clear. From the expansive white space to the affable sketchy wireframes, this Google Aesthetic is presented with such ease that we’re not meant to question this explanation (or indeed, understand this as an aesthetic) at all.  Of course, transparency equally conceals the white dudes’ in casualware who serve as interfaces to certain visions of computing. Ensconced in white space and doodles, Cutts becomes an aesthetic expression of what Siva Vaidhyanathan calls Google’s culture of Aptocracy, a world that rewards merit based on technical competence and quantifiable forms of achievement.


Google’s Aesthetic Turn: The OSbug

Google’s engineering-centric culture had a long reputation for downplaying design in favor of speed and efficiency. Who cares about beauty when your computer is a hulking beige box? But there’s a huge industry surrounding tablets and smart phones, now marketed as aesthetic objects aligned symbolically with gourmet chocolate, fine jewelry or luxury cars. Google was simplicity, technology, usability, engineering… but not beauty.

When Larry Page became Google CEO in April of 2011, he immediately made design Google’s top priority with the mantra: “One simple, beautiful, useful Google” (the “OSbug” for short). For the first time, Google set out to design and engineer a cohesive aesthetic experience that would unify the “look and feel” of the Google universe. It’s worth noting, then, that in the pursuit of “beautiful” interaction, Google designers were drawing inspiration not from the realm of the visual, but from the legacy of “ubiquitous computing” (ubicom) and the aesthetics of invisibility and seamlessness that were a hallmark of that vision.

Designers’ were asked what beauty means to Google and concluded it “involved the idea of simplicity, and deeper than that, of invisibility.”  For ChromeCast users, for example, “the beauty comes from the fact that it delights you and you don’t see it.” This disappearing act represents a downgrading of the primacy of the visual in favor of haptics, feedback, sound, navigational cues, etc., that work to create a cohesive sensation of a unified space (the OSbug). The shift to seamlessness or “invisibility” is not necessarily a bad thing: who wants to feel frustrated by devices and interfaces? But seamless is a double-edged sword. UX designers are thinking carefully about how users are embedded not just in the apps we use, but complex social framework of daily activity.

But it also raises some crucial questions: if we can no longer feel the seams, do we risk becoming so comfortable in our skin that “beautiful”  layers between us and the world begin to seem more and more like common sense? How might different users feel oriented (or disoriented) within information space? What kind of gendered or racial assumptions might “beautiful” interaction uphold or challenge? Whose needs and desires are being optimized by this particular expression of “beauty”?

This is the fifth post in Antenna’s new series The Aesthetic Turn, which examines questions of cultural studies and media aesthetics. If you missed any of the earlier posts in the series, they can be read here. Look out for regular posts in the series (most) every other Wednesday in January and beyond.


]]> 2
Why Verizon v. FCC Matters for Net Neutrality— and Why It Doesn’t Fri, 06 Sep 2013 12:00:42 +0000 internet_openThe battle over net neutrality (the vital principle that internet access providers should not interfere with what users do online) is heating back up. The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules ostensibly established net neutrality principles in policy (we’ll get to how effective it has actually been in practice…) but Verizon has been seeking to overturn the regulations. On Monday, September 9, the DC Circuit Court will hear oral arguments in Verizon v. FCC, focused on whether the FCC has the legal authority to implement the Open Internet rules.

This post will give you some background on the Verizon case and what’s at stake in it. Whether the FCC’s Open Internet rules stand or not is pivotal for net neutrality and the future of the internet— but also isn’t. While net neutrality protections are essential for internet users, the FCC’s Open Internet rules in particular are quite problematic. In some ways net neutrality would be better with these rules and in some ways could be better without them.

Here’s why Verizon v. FCC matters:

1. The rules prohibit the most egregious net neutrality violations. The FCC’s Open Internet rules are based in a deeply compromised version of net neutrality and are far from the strongest protections we could hope for (they were essentially written by Google and— ironically enough— Verizon). In spite of this, though, they are definitely better than nothing. The Open Internet rules bar wired internet access providers from blocking online content, services, applications, and devices or unreasonably discriminating in internet traffic. For instance, this stops Comcast from making disappear from your browser (or redirecting it to for that matter) and from throttling Netflix’s video streams. The Open Internet rules can be actually stronger than they immediately appear and have potential to be robust safeguards if enforced by the FCC properly.

2. The rules are an important foothold against total deregulation. Underlying the fight over the Open Internet rules is whether the FCC can regulate broadband at all. During a wave of deregulation in the 2000s, the FCC removed almost all of its oversight for internet access and now the agency is left with a shaky legal foundation for the Open Internet rules— what Verizon asserts is not enough authority. The Open Internet rules are important, then, because striking them down would eliminate virtually the last remaining public interest protections for internet access. Beyond that, though, if the courts buy Verizon’s argument in its Open Internet challenge, it would set a very troubling precedent for enforcing net neutrality in policy: the telecom operator says that it has a First Amendment right to “edit” the internet as it sees fit. If the free speech rights of “corporate persons” are allowed to trump the free speech rights of actual people, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the online public sphere.

And here’s why Verizon v. FCC doesn’t matter:

1. The rules haven’t been very effective. Even if the Open Internet rules are allowed to stand, they’re weak enough to allow a lot of net neutrality violations anyway— and for just the sort of activities especially key to the future of the internet. Most glaringly, most of the rules don’t even apply to mobile broadband (which is poised to soon become the dominant means to access the internet and already is primary among the underprivileged). This is why we see AT&T allowed to block FaceTime on the iPhone. Further, the rules don’t apply to “specialized services” (such as IPTV or any other managed service a network operator provides over broadband that isn’t regular internet access). Comcast calls Xfinity a “specialized service,” supposedly separate from the “public internet,” so it’s allowed to favor its own video streaming service by not counting Xfinity-on-Xbox traffic against users’ data caps. In other words, there are many net neutrality abuses not covered by the Open Internet rules.

2. Overturning the rules could actually lead to getting better ones. Paradoxically, there is a possibility that having the Open Internet rules struck down could be for the best in the long run— blowing up the whole thing and starting from scratch may be the only way to get truly effective net neutrality policy. Specifically, if the courts find that the FCC did in fact deregulate itself into oblivion and no longer has any statutory authority to address broadband, the agency could be forced to re-regulate broadband if it wants to actually remain relevant. (To get policy wonky: what the FCC needs to do is reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, where it has more authority to implement “common carriage”-based rules like net neutrality than on Title I “information services” where broadband is now). Counting on this outcome is very risky, though, because it’s impossible to know what the FCC will be like under incoming Chairman Tom Wheeler (an enigmatic figure who has inspired both hope and disgust from public interest advocates).

So, protecting net neutrality isn’t as simple as just upholding the FCC’s Open Internet rules— net neutrality could be better off with or without them. It really depends more on what the FCC does— and, crucially, what we as citizens push them to do— after Verizon v. FCC.


]]> 1
In Fair Use, Freedom Does Not Equal Progress Fri, 14 Jun 2013 13:00:47 +0000 Prince

Richard Prince, It’s All Over (2008)

Last year I wrote an essay for the book Media Authorship in which I traced the issues surrounding copyright’s fair use doctrine in the context of contemporary appropriation art. Specifically, I compared two of art’s most notorious copyright infringement lawsuits, Rogers v. Koons (1992) and Cariou v. Prince (2013). Artist Richard Prince’s appeal in the latter case was still pending by the time my words went to press; on April 25 of this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court opinion. It found that, for the most part, Prince’s appropriations of photographer Patrick Cariou’s pictures constituted fair use. Many in the art world saw the ruling as a decisive victory for appropriation art—a type of practice seemingly doomed to perpetually teeter on the precipice of illegality.

Indeed high stakes were riding on the outcome of the case. Had the appeals court upheld district court Judge Deborah Batts’s opinion, the previous gains made for appropriators—exemplified in cases such as Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) and Blanch v. Koons (2006)—would have been all but erased, and the fair use doctrine taken a giant step backwards. Importantly, the implications would very likely have reverberated beyond the confines of the art world. Judge Batts’s interpretation of fair use requiring secondary expressions to comment on or criticize their original sources (e.g., parody) could have had a chilling effect across experimental film, music sampling, Youtube remixes – any areas in which there is a culture of creatively copying, which is to say, everywhere. And this just at a time when legal scholars Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi call for renewed approaches to fair use policy and practice across today’s media landscape. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that, along with ten venerable arts institutions as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation, Google filed a brief in conjunction with Prince’s appeal. In it, the technology company stressed the importance of a copyright law flexible enough to allow for copies of cultural works to be created without a requirement that they expressively refer to their sources. From Google’s perspective, the gravity of the court’s ruling was plain; the company’s business model relies heavily on copy-reliant technologies employed towards non-expressive ends (e.g., indexing algorithms and book scanning). A finding of infringement premised upon lack of referential expression would have put Google’s enterprise in jeopardy.

Fortunately for Google and the art world, the circuit court concluded that Judge Batts had applied the incorrect standard in her fair use determination. The court’s majority opinion clarified that appropriating works are considered fair uses when, irrespective of commentary or criticism, they are transformative, “altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” We might understand the decision as affirmation of what Jaszi proposes is a “postmodern turn” in copyright jurisprudence, in which authorial rights as absolute property entitlements subordinate to the flux of meanings inherent in the works today’s consumers-turned-producers create.


Patrick Cariou, Untitled from Yes Rasta (2000)

But how are appropriating works determined to be “transformative”? In alignment with not only a postmodern turn in copyright but also “death of the author” rhetorics commonplace in poststructuralist-infused academia, the circuit court judges came to their conclusion based upon how art works “appear to the reasonable observer.” That is, transformativity is primarily determined not by deciphering authorial intention but with side-by-side analysis of the disputed works, which, as lawyer and artist Sérgio Muñoz Sarmiento cogently points out, amounts, ironically, to a kind of formalist analysis reminiscent of yesteryear’s modern art criticism. The district court judges did cite Prince’s testimony as evidence of his different (and presumably transformative) approach to art-making, but no doubt avoided wading further into the subjective territory of artistic intent given that courts have tended to abide by the century-old wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “It would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations.”

For artists, filmmakers, musicians and writers working with appropriated content, Cariou v. Prince may signal a more open horizon for fair use determinations. Yet when the thought processes behind the artistic production are de-emphasized, the very goal of copyright—the promotion of progress in the arts—is called into question. Increased freedoms should not necessarily be equated with artistic progress. The advancement of art occurs precisely when works enter into dialogue and debate with one another, and much of that rides on artistic intent and concept. Reshuffling the deck of our glutted mediascape and re-presenting a new, decontextualized permutation may now be legal, but it is not clear if it is ethical. Cariou v. Prince should not absolve cultural producers from their responsibility toward the images, texts and sounds they take, for maintaining a “semiotic integrity” in the name of progress in the arts.


What Are You Missing? May 12 – May 25 Sun, 26 May 2013 13:00:50 +0000 Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_351) Star Trek finally found its way to theater screens on May 16, pulling in $13.5M domestically while gearing up for a big weekend that ultimately failed to meet expectations at the box office. That’s unfortunate, I suppose, but it’s hardly what you’re here to read. If JJ Abrams is worried about the low-ish take, maybe it’s because he had far grander plans for the property. If you’re still a little confused about the CBS/Paramount/Bad Robot stand-off, this short lecture should clear things up. Look for the Star Trek flamethrower just in time for the Fourth… And what’s Star Trek without the fans? Are you fan enough? Do you know why Starfleet Command is headquartered in San Francisco? Do you speak Klingon? Do you know why the reboots don’t measure up? Are you aware of just how close we are to Warp 1 (despite the stupidity of that headline)? Kirk or Picard? (Or Pike?) (It’s Kirk, and I have a compelling argument, if you’re willing to get into it in the comments…) And, because it happened, the Empire threw down with the Doctor.

2) I was wrong about “NeXtBox,” but at least the “Xbox 720” people were wrong, too. The Xbox One is coming, and word on the street is it wants to replace everything hooked up to your TV someday, or at least before Apple can. While that’s been Microsoft’s goal for some time now, don’t expect changing the device to change the service. If you’re like me, though, it’s still primarily about the games, so don’t trade in your 360. If you’re even more like me, it’s also about committing yourself to one brand over another, even if you own multiple systems per generation. Back in the day, I was a Sony person, thanks to Kojima-san and company. (That theme still gets me riled up…) Look for a gritty, futuristic War Horse reboot for the new home entertainment system (or not). And, because it can’t be stressed enough, won’t someone please think of the archivists?!

3) A few bits of news from the world of apps caught my eye since the last post, making me wish that I owned a smartphone. (App-arently – anyone? – I’m not contributing to the elimination of the Digital Divide.) First, everyone makes apps for iOS, even you (but not me). What’s available these days? Well, you can watch ABC and be counted at the same time. Or you could tell secrets to strangers. Or you could get your carefully considered drink on. Or…you could scare yourself silly incrementally. (Narratologists, take note.) Just trying to keep up with the latest thing? This little trick might help you out. It’s not enough to have the app, though; you’ve got to use it! For example, you, too, can be a Vine auteur with the right idea and a little attention to detail. And, in case you’re keeping track of how they’re keeping track, here’s a little information about how downloads get counted. Maybe someday I’ll be a statistic …

4) Johnny Lawmaker turned his eye on a few media giants over taxes since the last post. Apple CEO Tim Cook defended his company’s accounting practices on Capitol Hill. Elsewhere, Cook played up Apple’s plans to bring some of its manufacturing back stateside, which may or may not turn out to be a long-term commitment. Google suffered a drubbing from government officials across the pond and responded, “You make the rules, not us.” (I’m paraphrasing.) And because I don’t want Microsoft to feel neglected, I’ll pass along this story, too.

5) Back in the States, Google was making litigious eyes at Microsoft over the latter’s YouTube app for Windows Phone, which prevents advertising from standing between you and a chimpanzee riding on a segway, the dapper monkey, and Muppet Show bloopers. Microsoft had a cheeky response ready, but eventually the two companies made nice. Speaking of litigation and YouTube, no luck for copyright holders looking for a class action suit against the site. Oh, and happy birthday, YouTube!

6) While governments are trying to keep media and tech companies honest, the White House is dealing with some recent bad press (too easy?), which got me thinking about who’s watching whom and how. (It’s Ozymandias, using his supercomputer.) The New Yorker launched Strongbox and made the software (developed by the late Aaron Swartz) available to other news organizations. A Congressional caucus working on issues of privacy had some questions about Google Glass, and Google had preliminary answers. Meanwhile, the CIA continues to just act natural, the Aussies experiment with web censorship, South Africa finds another peaceful use for drones, and I’m eagerly anticipating 2015. To quote Ron Swanson: “It’s a whole new meat delivery system.”

7) In the span of two weeks, it became impossible to avoid hearing about Yahoo’s intentions to acquire Tumblr, speculation ran its course, the deal became official, and the analysis  began. $1.1B is a lot of money, and I hope Yahoo gets what it thinks it’s paying for. It’s definitely getting what it knows it’s paying for.

8) Cable providers are circling Hulu. First it was Time Warner, then it was DirecTV, along with Amazon, Yahoo, Chernin Group, and Guggenheim Partners, which also happened to be advising Hulu’s owners about a possible sale as far back as mid-April. All of this reporting and speculation is incredibly premature, though, but isn’t it fun?

9) Speaking of TV, did you know there’s a renaissance on? If you’re feeling sluggish, perhaps this’ll anger up the blood: “Conformist, passive and disengaged was the traditional spectator – proactive, inquiring and interventionist is the new spectator.” Sorry… no more of that. What has been on many minds is binge-viewing. Don’t trip over the buzzwords sure to follow that discussion. “Hyperserial,” for example. And don’t forget the classics! Before there was Walter White, there were Pauline, Elaine, and Helen! Reboots all around, say I! Get ready for the PSAs, too: “When you binge, you’re not just hurting yourself.”

10) Speaking of binge viewing, as I write the final countdown has begun. Vodka rocks and toast all around! (Just like Tobias.) E-books continue to gain on real books, but (IMHO), sleek is not as sexy. Choose your poison to match the contents of your book/media shelves. Disney’s temporary insanity may have ended. The newest member of Wyld Stallyns has revealed herself. And physics continues to be awesome!


The Cost of Interfaces Tue, 19 Mar 2013 13:00:31 +0000 locking-internet-access2Two unrelated thing happened to me yersterday that brought me to the exact same impasse: One of my favorite podcasts, Slate’s DoubleX Gabfest had a segment that I disagreed with enough that I wanted to comment. Trying to figure out where to post my feedback, the post told me “Comment on our Facebook page.” Shortly thereafter, the discussions about a new fan studies SIG started up…on Facebook. And while I was thrilled to see people putting hard work into organizing the SIG, I was excluded from the conversation.

I used to have a Facebook, years ago, for a very short time. In that brief time it connected me with some friends from high school, my abusive ex-boyfriend, and my college roommate. Only one of those was a pleasant surprise. So when Facebook suddenly installed new privacy features that forced me to lay open my life to the public or delete various information about myself, I took the (admittedly for me easy) step and deleted my account.

I have boycotted all things Facebook since, but it is hard and getting harder. My friend sends out invitations for a cookie swap, and I cannot see it because it is on Facebook. My favorite restaurant offers discounts, and I cannot use it because it is on Facebook. My favorite podcast asks me to vote for them in the iTunes podcast competition, and—even though I have iTunes!–I cannot vote because it is on Facebook.

What all of these things have in common, besides exhibiting how stubborn I can apparently be, is a complete invisibility and unawareness of the nature of Facebook for those who are members. We all know that Facebook has a variety of privacy settings, we all know about the dangers of nametagging, and we may know about the recent attempt to sell access to its usersSome of us may even have followed the concerns surrounding tracking users. But what I find interesting is the way few who are on Facebook are conscious of the fact that not everyone is.

I can’t call it privilege, because I clearly have the ability to get over myself and just make another account. But it shares with privilege the quiet invisibility of those without accounts, the inability to conceive of anyone not having access, and the resulting lack of consideration for those who choose to remain outside of Facebook’s walled garden. And this is where the crux of the matter is for me—and where this post turns from my whining about not getting to join in these amazingly intimate and supportive shared spaces where many academics gather to a post about the costs of the interfaces we use.

Because yesterday something more momentous happened than my inability to access Facebook: we learned that Google Reader will close down, destroying the most-used RSS feed reader and leaving those of us who relied on it desperately looking for alternatives. Now a savvy reader might ask me why I make a strong categorical stand with Facebook yet support a company at least as evil and exploitative of its users, who also happen to change their products with little input. Who doesn’t remember the nymwars of the summer of 2011? And I will have to admit that I am weak and apparently my conscience only goes as far as my Gmail account. But I try not to assume everyone is on Google, so when I collaborate on Google Docs, I have learned that not everyone is a Google puppet and have learned to create workarounds.

When the Organization of Transformative Works and the Archive of Our Own were but a glimpse in its founders’ eyes, one of the battle cries was: “I want us to own the goddamned servers.” What fans had learned the hard way was that you may be allowed to post virtually anything online, but only as long as your ISP doesn’t send you a cease and desist letter. Even more serious is the control ISPs have over the other side, our actual access to the Internet. This, of course, is a lesson that across the world has long been known by oppressed groups and citizens of oppressive regimes (and not only those!): the Internet may be free, but it is only as accessible as your ISP. In the United States, we are slowly becoming aware of that limitation: with many ISPs ascribing to the new six strikes rule, they are threatening that they can remove our Internet access at will.

Both modes of access are controlled by commercial entities (and, in many cases, by national oversight to boot), and we have little control over any of it. Facebook and its ever changing rules, Google and its ever changing products, and commercial web sites with their eager willingness to delete fanworks on the say-so of media companies with little recourse for the injured party, all of these are reminders that we live in a world where everything seems at our grasp and easily accessible—until we suddenly stand outside and get reminded that these are corporate entities who do not exist for our good but for their profit.


What Are You Missing? Feb 17-March 2 Sun, 03 Mar 2013 15:25:22 +0000 Dual-Shock-4_contentfullwidthTen (or more) media news items you might have missed recently:

1) Over 6 years after their last console release, Sony announced their latest gaming console, the PlayStation 4. While they did not reveal what it would look like, they did detail its functioning, new controller, hardware specs, and user interface. The system will include iOS and android apps to enhance the gaming experience.

2) The Academy Awards, or rather the Oscars, took place on February 24th. Six of the films nominated for Best Picture had earned over $100 million at the box office, making it the most commercially successful group of nominees to date. In the documentary short category, Inocente became the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Oscar. The big news of the night became Seth MacFarlane’s hosting, which elicited a lot of criticism and sparked discussions about Hollywood’s potential sexism and racism. The Academy stood behind MacFarlane’s performance, and in fact this year’s Oscar ceremony showed increased viewership, especially in key younger audiences (which had been a concern for the producers). MacFarlane was not the only one in trouble on Oscar night, as The Onion faced an intense reaction towards a tweet, for which they offered a rare apology (And for anyone who is wondering how Ted came to life at the Oscars, here’s how!). The Independent Spirit Awards, which honor independent films, also took place last weekend.  Silver Linings Playbook came away the big winner, irking some people because the film’s $21-million budget technically put it outside of the classification for “indie film.”

3) Although they won an Oscar for visual effects for their work on Life of Pi, Rhythm & Hues filed for bankruptcy last week. They were cut off from discussing the plight of the industry in their acceptance speech, which upset many visual effects workers. Visual effects artists are protesting the layoffs and bankruptcies their industry is facing using any outlet they can, including social media and open letters (including a second one to Ang Lee).

4) New copyright alert system is launched by the film, TV, and music industries. The warning system gives people six strikes before they begin enforcing consequencesSony has also developed a patent that would be able to distinguish between piracy activities and legal downloads. Internationally, France is also looking at increasing their (already very strict) anti-piracy laws. Thinking of piracy, how much does “free” music actually cost to artists involved?

5) For the first time in 12 years, music sales grow a small but symbolically important amount. In other music news, Billboard is beginning to include YouTube plays of a song in their formulation of their “Hot 100 List.” This change will allow YouTube hits like “Harlem Shake” to boost their stats. Most of YouTube’s top channels are music-based, suggesting the importance of this connection. Google is considering getting into the streaming music business. Pandora has put a limit on free listening, citing increased royalty fees as the reason, and Spotify is meeting with the record industry to ask for price breaks on royalties.

6) The 2013 box office totals are off to a slow start, 13% behind last year, and Jack the Giant Slayer opened to a disappointing $20-30 million. After taking a big loss on Rise of the Guardians, DreamWorks is forced to lay off 350 employees. The news is not all bad though, as Oz the Great and Powerful debuted with $75 million and The Hobbit closes in on $1 billion worldwide. In other movie news, Hollywood plans to cut back on sex and violence? And Regal Entertainment gets even bigger by buying Hollywood theaters.

7) In the publishing world, New York Times plans to sell Boston Globe. Variety announced they are making big changes–dropping their daily print editions, eliminating their paywall, and adding three new editors in chiefTim O’Brien, The Huffington Post‘s executive editor, has decided to leave.  Reader’s Digest files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And are digital book signings the way of the future?

8) Numerous companies are reporting hackers entering their systems, including Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest,, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook (no user data was taken; but if it is compromised in the future, how would Facebook recover?).

9) In TV news, it’s pilot season! ABC is developing a miniseries How to Survive a Plague, based on the Academy Award-nominated documentary about the continuing AIDS crisis. A&E hit a record number of viewers for their reality series Duck Dynasty. Nielsen ratings are changing to reflect the new ways that people access television. Kaley Cuoco of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory tweets positively about Dish Network’s Hopper, though CBS is in the process of suing them. AMC fought with Dish about licensing fees, and AMC’s fourth quarter profits took a hit as a result. The FCC is being pushed to modify the current standards of TV product disclosure to create more transparency with regard to show sponsorship. Cablevision, with the support of Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Viacom, claiming that they practice illegal block booking of stations (an accusation that Viacom leveled at John Malone 20 years ago).  The lawsuit could lead to people being able to more selectively sign up for channels, only paying for the ones they want.

10) In other miscellaneous news: Clive Davis comes out as bisexual. Girls Gone Wild files for bankruptcy. And future technologies–the iWatch? Transparent Smartphones? A computer that never crashes? Or what about touchscreen T-shirts?


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.


]]> 1
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.