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

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

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

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

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 9.12.44 AM


What Are You Missing? March 31-April 13 Sun, 14 Apr 2013 17:00:26 +0000 78274-playboy-app-store-iphoneA few interesting news stories you may have missed…

1) News Corp’s COO Chase Carey is threatening to turn Fox into a pay cable channel if courts continue to allow the new internet television broadcaster Aereo to profit from its retransmissions of Fox programming. Courts have so far ruled in favor of Aereo twice.

2) The popular social media site and bibliophile hang-out, Goodreads, will soon be under the ownership of While Amazon VP Russ Grandinetti says this will help self-publishers “promote their books on Goodreads,” a number of Goodreads members are apparently leaving the website to prevent Amazon from monitoring what they are reading.

3) Speaking of good reads, Playboy announced it will start delivering its magazine through a new iPhone application. However, due to the no-nudity policy on iPhones, the app will not include any of the publication’s erotic photos.

4) Dolby announced that several more titles — including Man of Steel and Wolverinewill receive the company’s Atmos treatment later this year. The new 64-channel surround sound format was introduced last summer and has been wired in more than 90 theaters worldwide. As of now Dolby has no plans to make Atmos available for home theaters.

5) Continuing WAYM’s interest in HBO GO’s potential to provide a GO-only subscription, HBO now suggests they are looking to provide live streaming of non-boxing sporting events through their GO service. And in case this should ever come up, if you are a New York Times columnist you should maybe think twice about announcing to your readers that you steal HBO GO from a friend.

6) Continuing WAYM’s interest in covering the potential Hulu buyout, last Friday former News Corp president Peter Chernin made an offer to buy the streaming website for $500 million. Chernin was involved in developing Hulu for News Corp during its launch in 2007. Among other investments, Chernin is also looking to buy Fullscreen, a company that supports and advises creators of online content for websites like YouTube.

7) In Kickstarter news, the Veronica Mars Movie Project has ended its record-breaking Kickstarter run with 91,585 total backers, more than any other project in Kickstarter’s short history. The crowd-sourcing website was also slated to help Roger Ebert re-launch his weekly television show, though those plans have been sadly cancelled.

8) The digital cinema projection company Cinedigm has continued its push to distribute movie and television content by acquiring digital and VOD rights to more than 1,000 episodes of Australian television. Cinedigm is also now conducting DCP instillations on more than 100 drive-in screens across the country.

9) In DreamWorks Animation news, the company has acquired the intellectual property rights to those Troll dolls from yesteryear. The company also appears to be recovering from Rise of the Guardian‘s disappointing release last November, with The Croods currently exceeding $200 million at the foreign box office, making it the second film in 2013 to gross more than $300 million worldwide.

10) The script-thief’s revenge… and does he take requests?


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The Future of Media Production? Wed, 03 Apr 2013 13:30:31 +0000

At this year’s Academy Awards, Inocente became the first Kickstarter-funded film to win an Oscar (for best documentary short). Around 10% of the films accepted by the Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest film festivals were funded using Kickstarter. And several weeks ago, a high profile Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a movie version of UPN/The CW television series Veronica Mars. The goal of $2 million dollars was reached within the day, record breaking both in its quickness and the amount of money raised. As I write this, the total amount has surpassed $4 million. The attention on Kickstarter these days struck me as significant in the current production landscape, and I set out to write a post on new trends in production financing. Almost as quickly as the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign succeeded in its goal, my colleague Myles McNutt published a post that addressed what this campaign might mean for teaching fan cultures in the future and suggested that perhaps participating in a Kickstarter campaign might be more about being involved in the experience of a project’s creation, being a part of the journey, than the final product. While the topic of this specific Kickstarter campaign has been widely discussed, I’m curious how it relates to broader trends in production financing.

Although people who give money to projects on Kickstarter do so in order to create a final product, the idea that Kickstarter provides donors with access to the experience of the production process is an important aspect of donating. Looking at Veronica Mars as an example, the incentives for donating include email updates throughout the production process and a copy of the final shooting script. These engage donors with the process of filmmaking; indeed, part of Kickstarter’s appeal and success seems to come from the fact that people enjoy feeling like they’re part of the action. The campaign also just announced that it would offer email updates for the $1 tier donors (lowering the barrier for people to get involved) in an attempt to bring an even larger number of people into the project and break the record for number of backers. Financing a project through upfront, donated funds differs from traditional funding methods (where production cash is often borrowed and repaid after the release of the product and subsequent earnings). We have yet to see how big budget projects will be affected by receiving up front financing with no need to repay loans (although it should be mentioned that a large production like the Veronica Mars movie could be budgeted at much higher than $4-5 million, depending on the discretion of producer Warner Bros.). With Veronica Mars, people who contribute more than $35 receive a digital copy of the movie, and therefore will likely not pay to purchase it after the film is completed. Since they have a copy of the movie at the time of its release, it is also questionable whether some of them will skip the theatrical release and just watch their own copy, potentially cutting into future profits.

The concept of grassroots fundraising is by no means new. In my own area of study, independent LGBT films and filmmaking, I know of numerous instances where filmmakers raised money from friends, family, and others who were dedicated to seeing alternative images than those offered in Hollywood films. Nicole Conn, for instance, raised money for her 1992 film Claire of the Moon by finding lesbian backers who were interested in creating a film that was made by and for lesbians. The lack of lesbian images in film at the time inspired people to give money and create their own images. Conn is an interesting example in this context because she funded her most recent film, A Perfect Ending, in part through a Kickstarter campaign. Using the same foundation, grassroots financing from a fan base dedicated to creating more lesbian images in film, Conn has updated her methods to make the most of emerging technological opportunities.

This idea of user supported media extends beyond Kickstarter and other particular fundraising practices. Emerging digital distribution models can offer another area of direct audience support and participation. Again pulling from my own area of study, niche marketing sites such as BuskFilms offer audiences around the world the chance to support filmmakers more directly. This site offers a large selection of lesbian films (and is expanding into the full range of LGBT films) available for streaming rentals. Unlike larger distribution companies that have high overhead costs, BuskFilms is able to give a larger percentage of rental fees directly back to filmmakers who can then re-invest the money in future production projects. Similar to the process of grassroots fundraising, this model of distribution allows for greater audience participation in supporting filmmaking projects.

User supported distribution models are not limited to film. To give another example, this time outside my area of study, the Cultural Capital project (or CultCap) focuses on resolving the difference between the music industry and cultural music consumption by creating an online, non-profit patronage system and social network that uses an adaptive “algorithm to allocate equitable compensation via micropayment.” By eliminating middlemen and gatekeepers, the site would in theory fund musicians through fan engagement. Although the site is in a theoretical rather than functional state at the moment, the drive behind the site’s linking of fans/consumers with artists/creators of content reflects the same impulse of Kickstarter and Buskfilms.

Taken together, these examples suggest both a desire for users to play a more direct role in production of media projects that they feel passionately about and the potential that technological advancements and internet connectivity can offer the industry. I do not mean to imply that utopian ideals of directly user-funded and supported content will imminently wipe out established modes of production, although the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter might tempt studios to engage with “pre-selling” future projects. People invest in media production every time they pay for media (whether through buying a movie ticket, downloading a song through iTunes, paying for a cable subscription, etc). However, the concept of putting in this money before or during production, or paying media makers more directly, carries significantly different connotations. While some have speculated on the effects Kickstarter might have on the future of filmmaking, only time will tell how these shifting models of funding and distribution will affect established modes of media production.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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?


On Radio: Up From the Boneyard: Local Media, Its Digital Death and Rebirth [Part 1] Wed, 30 May 2012 16:43:33 +0000 Bob Fresh, Manny Fresh and Alfredo Torres of Bob's BoneyardIn truth there are three reasons I began a scholarly interest in media studies: local radio, local record stores, and going to my local movie house. Those morning shows, record clerks, and theaters are the places that I always come back to when I write. So, when I told one student about this in January of 2012, he  asked me if I thought there could be any such thing as “local digital media.” My first response was something along the lines of “maybe, but not likely, because the web is focused on communities of interest rather than geography.” To me, the loss of local newspaper staffs and, in some cases, the actual papers themselves, were prima facie evidence of a trend out of control. Yet recent life events have changed my mind somewhat and now I think we need to look closely at how people are, and always have, successfully inscribing the local in their digital media creations. No doubt, issues of national and international scale can never leave the scope of the digital domain. However, this column begins to question some of my own assumptions and explore the issue of local digital media beginning, as I indicated above, with a loss.

Indeed, in 2011, Hampton Roads, the portion of Southeastern Virginia where I live, suffered a significant media loss when a 10-year radio drive time show and career came to an abrupt end. Bob Frantz, aka Bob Fresh of Hampton Road’s The Mike and Bob Show on 96XFM, found his show cancelled. Ten years of any media project is exceptional, but in the fickle arena of local broadcasting, shows like The Mike and Bob Show were the rarest of birds in a post-1996 Telecommunications Act context. As a staple among the region’s testosterone-fueled audience of military workers, beach bums, and working-class commuters, The Mike and Bob Show was in and about the local. Local guys doing dumb local guy stuff that other local guys talked about. Like most drive-time shows, this included stunts at the beach, appearances at local bars and restaurants, interviews when comedians came to town, and, of course, giveaways to concerts and sporting events. Describing the program to me in an interview this April, Bob characterized it as “just guys ‘dicking around’ with no real format, working with no real clock. It was just friends hanging out and being stupid breaking balls, mainly just a lot of fun with Mike and I patrolling and delegating the chaos around us as complained about our bosses, friends, wives, girlfriends.” Immature, silly, and full of dick jokes – lots of dick jokes – it was the kind of program that most of my media studies colleagues wouldn’t bother with, let alone know much about. And if they did know about it most of my colleagues would either find it repulsive or kept silently embarrassed about their enjoyment.

The Mike and Bob Show from 2007Yet all it took to produce some eye-opening results that would seal the show’s fate was a less publicized but important analogue-to-digital media move, Arbitron’s shift from diaries to portable people meters in the Hampton Roads market in mid 2010. After the first book was released, The Mike and Bob Show, a program that had routinely claimed the number-two position with persons 18-34, was now pegged at dead last in the same demographic. Repositioning the show and jettisoning staff members couldn’t save the program from this method-driven nosedive. By the release of the first book of 2011, the show was effectively dead in the water and Bob Frantz’s professional radio career was done. With a buyout package in hand and a radio career in afternoon drive that had begun quickly after he graduated with a degree in history from Virginian Commonwealth University in Richmond, Frantz decided to begin a podcast. And, thus, Bob’s Boneyard, the flagship podcast of what would be an emergent network of shows, came to be.

Of course, these transitions are never that simple nor are they out of the blue. Bob had taken some time off from his show for paternity leave upon the birth of his first child and promptly watched every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show he both loved and seemed logical to mock on the air. However, even though the program could occasionally “talk Trek,” the program couldn’t find enough room for his own personal TV ramblings. Bob began to think about a Star Trek  podcast. He had become acquainted with podcasting as his 96XFM radio show posted a podcast and online videos of the show as a YouTube channel. When the program was effectively trimmed back from talking 35-minutes an hour to only 3- to 11-minutes an hour of talking in between MP3s, Bob suggested that the show should produce a podcast. The other members of the staff didn’t find the suggestion interesting.

Bob's Boneyard promotional Spring 2011 photo Whatever their reasons for not producing a podcast, Frantz shortly found himself without a job, time to kill before the paychecks and benefits ran out, and time to find a new batch of reasons. Let go in Spring 2011, Bob Frantz quickly decided within days to  follow the path of other displaced on-air personalities, such as Marc Maron and Adam Carolla, and begin a podcast. And like Maron and Carolla, Frantz drew from radio talent he once worked with on terrestrial radio to bring the podcast to life. Working with Alfredo Torres and Manny Fresh, the three decided to produce the podcast, Bob’s Boneyard, a program that would essentially produce much of the same banter – odd, offensive, and localized – that used to take place over the airwaves. Working with Stephane Frantz, Bob’s wife and soon-to-be podcasting colleague, the the four formed an LLC and moved forward with what would become a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted enough starting capital for computers, a board, and recording equipment and promotional materials.

What digital taketh, digital giveth, albeit one without any cash-flow and health care benefits. Trying to grow a profitable local podcast with advertisers and cultivate a significant audience would prove something different altogether and is the subject for the second part of this three-part post, which is forthcoming. In the meantime, those interested in listening to the Bob’s Boneyard podcast can visit their website or find them in iTunes.


What Are You Missing? Jan 29-Feb 11 Sun, 12 Feb 2012 16:20:28 +0000 Ten (or more) media industry news items you might have missed recently:

1. While movie industry revenues are down, one study finds that BitTorrent piracy isn’t responsible, at least for US box office declines, and the media conglomerates overall have had a good decade. Winter box office numbers are up, even as the average price of a ticket got slightly cheaper.

2. MGM is attempting yet another comeback with a new infusion of credit, while Disney is trying to take on India next. But I’m sure what you really want to know about is what Lionsgate is up to: its president of production is leaving in March and is being replaced by new partner Summit’s production chief.

3. Netflix agreed to wait 28 days for Warner Bros. DVDs, but Redbox has balked at that, while Disney is working out options. Redbox is now the largest DVD renter and continues to grow, as DVDs aren’t quite dead just yet despite Netflix’s best efforts. VOD is clearly the future, though, and some studies show VOD has even bigger revenue potential without windowing than with it. The VOD take for Bridesmaids has been big, but many are most surprised just by the fact that Universal released the numbers on it.

4. Kickstarter is grabbing a lot of attention lately, even just within 24 hours: it was a presence at Sundance, has helped two projects reach $1 million in pledges, has facilitated funding on a wide array of projects, and has the potential to change the gaming world. And you know it’s a good model when a new competitor, Crowdtilt, has popped up already.

5. Barnes & Noble is fighting with both Microsoft and Amazon, but it has to get in line alongside many others in regard to the latter, as other booksellers have joined in to not carry Amazon-published books, Goodreads is abandoning Amazon, and one state after another fights to pry taxes out of Amazon. With the taxation seeming inevitable, Amazon is moving forth with plans for brick-and-mortar stores. It should chat with Barnes & Noble about how well those are doing lately.

6. Some artists worry that digital music is ruining sound quality, but more are worried about it, or more specifically digital  music services, ruining their profits, and Paul McCartney has accordingly pulled his music. (Now where will we find “Silly Love Songs” when we really need it?) Sister Sledge and others are taking Warner Music to court over missing digital sales revenue, while the iTunes Match service could be a big money maker for indie musicians.

7. Though game and console sales continue to drop, gaming in general has greatly risen as a pursuit over the past few years, as mobile and online gaming have spread, and the Kindle Fire looks to be a pivotal new outlet for that. One thing that hasn’t declined is politicians getting undie-bunched over violent video games, while a few gamers are voluntarily choosing non-killing games.

8. Printing out a year’s worth of Facebook status updates would require 11.5 billion sheets of paper. Printing out a year’s worth of complaints and concerns about Facebook would probably take 15 billion. But luckily there aren’t too many examples of people shooting their laptops or, for Pete’s sake, each other over Facebook.

9. Google and Facebook are removing content in India due to religious censorship warnings, while the Iranian government is pretty much just blocking the whole internet to keep content it doesn’t like inaccessible to its people. In regard to piracy, the UK is testing out new protection measures, while Europeans are planning protests against limitations.

10. Some of the finer News for TV Majors posts from the past two weeks: New Netflix RivalLiz Lemon Problem, James Murdoch’s Fall, Amazon Plans, Ellen Stays, Internet Viewing Rising, Youth Spectatorship, News & Twitter, House Ending, Cable Beats Broadcast for Politics, Apple HDTV Specs, Super Bowl Stuff, ABC-Univision News Channel, Seeing Smash, Revolution Ratings, Race & Cable Ratings, Sky Developments.


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What Are You Missing? April 11-24 Sun, 25 Apr 2010 14:15:56 +0000 1. Not long after we were treated to an article on the rise of the Hitler Downfall video meme, we witnessed the fall of the Hitler Downfall meme via DCMA notice. Aaron Barnhart points out that there’s no legal justification for the demand, YouTube encourages those who have posted them to complain to have the videos put back up, and Google has highlighted the “fair use” button for use in these situations, but the production company demanding the removals defends its actions. Not surprisingly, Hitler himself is in favor of the removals. Also not surprisingly, Hitler is outraged by the removals.

2. The Government Accountability Office acknowledged that media piracy is a problem, but says there isn’t good enough data available yet to determine how much of a problem it really is. Geekologie helps out with an infographic about music piracy. Meanwhile, Paramount has turned to distributing movies on pre-loaded hard drives, and those drives will be heavily laden with DRM protection. Finally, Pirate Bay, the BitTorrent site, might be holed up in a nuclear bunker (no kidding), and the major studios are developing smart bomb capabilities to penetrate it (kidding…I think).

3. Investment in digital music is on the rise, but songwriters complain that they’re not getting the revenue they’re due from services like Spotify; for instance, Lady Gaga earned only $167 from one million plays of “Poker Face.” If that factoid doesn’t strike you, perhaps this graphic visualization of what music artists earn from online distribution will. Leor Galil considers the possible upsides of offering free music online. In a different post, Galil writes about the dreadful state of radio formatting and playlists. The band Pomplamoose has fostered a strong following almost solely from their YouTube videos (which I highly recommend), though since the group mainly plays covers, which thus turn up in searches for the mainstream originals, it may not be a strategy that most indie bands can capitalize on. Another strategy most other musicians won’t be able to capitalize on: being Kevin Costner.

4. Facebook’s recent privacy (or lack thereof) changes are worrisome to many. Plenty of others don’t seem to mind, though, as Facebook (and YouTube, which just turned five) continue to dominate social media traffic; one study says that Facebook is by far the most popular internet site in the workplace; and Gerd Leonhard, in his discussion of how to build an entertainment brand with social media, points out that “it took TV 13 years to reach 50 million people, but it took Facebook just two years.” Maybe Facebook can even help to save newspapers.

5. Twitter also had a big change during this fortnight, launching promoted tweets. Josh Bernoff says this is great for marketers, but user opinion is mixed, and there are challenges to its potential for success. Anil Dash says this is nothing truly new for Twitter, while B.L. Ochman says it changes the game. Ads and all, the Library of Congress will have every single tweet archived for future reference. Christopher Beam provides suggestions for how historians could best capitalize on this archive; short version: hashtag it, folks. Things are quite complicated for Twitter in Mexico.

6. Right on the heels of being at the center of one taste culture debate (over Kick-Ass), Roger Ebert quickly stirred up another with a post saying that video games can never be an art. His comments section exploded (3300+ at last check), and video game defenses appeared all over Twitter and the blogosphere (here’s just one from Olivia Collette). If there’s a museum in Paris devoted to video games, does that make them art? Video games are at least doing better as commerce, as sales were finally up last month, and Sony’s Playstation format enjoyed some rare victories. Other good video game news links: Eduaro Baraf provides a lengthy discussion of the game development process; Call of Duty’s creators have launched their own company; Nielsen looks at video game playing measurements; the Wikileaks Iraq video raises questions about the convergence of war and video games; and Tanner Higgin raises questions about the convergence of violence and laughter in videogames.

7. DVD sales and rentals dropped sharply in the first quarter, and such struggles for home video could usher in new models. But Blockbuster’s CEO is still optimistic about rentals, anyone who’s got a piece of Avatar’s DVD sales is thrilled, and Netflix’s CEO is also very happy, though more due to streaming than DVD. Speaking of streaming, Redbox has some new studio agreements for DVD rental delays, but is looking more into streaming, and YouTube is getting into streaming movie rental now. Telco 2.0 considers how the studios can best leverage their position in regard to online distribution.

8. A company called Kickstarter could help boost independent film distribution with an innovative DVD funding model. Successful Kickstarter-funded indie releases include an online comedy and an acclaimed documentary. Video-on-demand is also heating up as a viable indie distribution outlet, with Comcast making available via VOD a set of Tribeca Film Festival entries. Tired of having to capitulate to funding and marketing needs, a group of indie filmmakers generated a manifesto (rant?) that says filmmakers should just focus on making films, and that generated a voluminous and varied response on Twitter.

9. Random film links worth a look: a short history of short films; how theaters decide on trailers; theaters are once again trying live events; there was a crazy development process behind Cruise and Diaz’s Knight and Day; a study says people are more emotionally attached to movies than other media (source: Cinema Advertising Council, so…); Tyler Perry got a lot of analysis (here, here, and here); Hollywood appears to be terrified of I Love Phillip Morris, which has been delayed yet again; Scorsese’s going 3D; porn’s going 3D with a Caligula remake; porn parodies are proliferating; actresses can’t seem to win no matter their weight; and Andrew O’Hehir tells film critics to quit moaning about criticism being dead and just go back to writing about movies.

10. Links to the best News for TV Majors links of the fortnight: BBC Budget Allocation; Transmedia Presentations; Madness Changes; $9.95 for Hulu; Economic Value of Networks; Conan, TBS, Syndication; Sitcoms Are Back; What Directors Do; Tina Fey Backlash; 3Dizzy; SyFy Gets Wrestling; DVD Extras Online.