Announcing Futures of Entertainment

Many readers attended last year’s Futures of Entertainment conference, which brought together leading figures from film, television, games and virtual worlds, advertising, comics, and other media industries for an indepth discussion of some of the trends impacting our contemporary mediascape. If you missed this event,you can check out the podcasts here and read a report on it written by Jesse Walker for Reason online here.

Well, we were so excited by the quality of last year’s event that we decided to host a second Futures of Entertainment conference with new topics and a new cast of characters. The event is sponsored by the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Convergence Culture Consortium. Here’s some of the details:

The logics of convergence culture are quickly becoming ubiquitous within the media world. Audiences are being encouraged to participate in a wider range of sites. Transmedia principles are being adopted by content producers in a broad range of fields. ‘Engagement’ is being discussed as crucial to measurements of success.

Futures of Entertainment 2 brings together key industry players who are shaping these new directions in our culture with academics exploring their implications.

Co-hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium and the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, Futures of Entertainment 2 (FoE2) takes place Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Bartos Theater, in the Wiesner Building at MIT.

This year’s conference will consider developments in advertising, cult media, audience measurement, cultural labor, fan relations, and mobile platform development.

The conference works around a talk-show style model with panelists participating in a moderated discussion. This is not simply another industry gathering. The goal is not a

pitch or even a pre-prepaired presentation — just serious conversations about the

future of entertainment.

Speakers featured at FoE2 include:

Mobile Media: Marc Davis, Yahoo!; Bob Schukai, Turner Broadcasting; Francesco Cara, Nokia

Beyond the launch of shiny new devices, the mobile market has been dominated by data services and re-formatted content. Wifi connections and the expansion of 3G phone networks enable pushing more data to wireless devices faster, yet we still seem to be waiting for the arrival of mobile’s “killer app”. This panel muses on the future of mobile services as devices for convergence culture. What role can mobile services play in remix culture? What makes successful mobile gaming work? What are the stumbling blocks to making the technological promise of convergence devices match the realities of the market? Is podcasting the first and last genre of content? What is the significance of geotagging and place-awareness?

Metrics and Measurement: Bruce Leichtman, Leichtman Research Group; Stacey Lynn Schulman, HI: Human Insight; and Maury Giles, GSD&M Idea City

As media companies have come to recognize the value of participatory audiences, they have searched for matrixes by which to measure engagement with their properties. A model based on impressions is giving way to new models which seek to account for the range of different ways consumers engage with entertainment content. But nobody is quite clear how you can “count” engaged consumers or how you can account for various forms and qualities of engagement. Over the past several years, a range of different companies have proposed alternative systems for measuring engagement. What are the strengths and limits of these competing models? What aspects of audience activity do they account for? What value do they place on different forms of engagement?

Fan Labor: Mark Deuze, Indiana University; Catherine Tosenberger, University of

Florida; Jordan Greenhall, DivX; Elizabeth Osder, Buzznet; Raph Koster, Areae Inc.

There is growing anxiety about the way labor is compensated in Web 2.0. The accepted model — trading content in exchange for connectivity or experience — is starting to strain, particularly as the commodity culture of user-generated content confronts the gift economy which has long characterized the participatory fan cultures of the web. The incentives which work to encourage participation in some spaces are alienating other groups and many are wondering what kinds of revenue sharing should or could exist when companies turn a profit based on the unpaid labor of their consumers. What do we know now about the “architecture of participation” (to borrow Kevin O’Reilly’s formulation) that we didn’t know a year ago? What have been the classic mistakes which Web 2.0 companies have made in their interactions with their customers? What do we gain by applying a theory of labor to think about the invisible work performed by fans and other consumers within the new media economy?

Advertising and Convergence Culture: Mike Rubenstein, The Barbarian Group; Baba Shetty, Hill/Holliday; Tina Wells, Buzz Marketing Group; Faris Yakob, Naked Communications; Bill Fox, Fidelity Investments

Migratory audiences and declining channel loyalty are seen as two key challenges convergence culture poses to the advertising industry. At the same time, campaigns that respond by capitalizing on the creativity of audiences prompt questions about the continuing role for creatives. This panel looks at the unfolding role for advertisers within convergence culture, looking at questions about the nature of agencies, transmedia planning and the increasing circulation of advertising as entertainment content. Does the agency structure need to be rethought? What are the implications of breaking down the distinction between content and advertising? What are effective ways to collaborate with creative audiences? How is convergence culture changing the value of different advertising sites?

Cult Media: Danny Bilson, transmedia creator; Jeff Gomez, Starlight Runner; Jesse

Alexander, Heroes; and Gordon Tichell, Walden Media

Cult properties have become mass entertainment. Marvel’s success bringing comic book characters to the big screen and the resurgence of the space opera suggest niche properties may no longer mean marginalized audience appeal. This panel explores the politics, pitfalls, and potentials of exploiting niches and mainstreaming once marginalized properties. How do you stay true to the few but build properties attractive to the many? What role do fans play in developing cult properties for success? Is it profitable to build a franchise on the intense interest of the few and rely on Long Tail economics? Are smaller audiences viable in the short term, or do we need to rethink the length of time for a reasonable return?

Opening Remarks by Henry Jenkins, MIT; Joshua Green, MIT; Jonathan Gray, Fordham

University; Lee Harrington, Miami University; and Jason Mittell, Middlebury College.

With fewer than 200 seats open for the conference, FoE2 emphasizes discussion amongst

panelists and interaction with the audience. Please note: While we were able to provide the conference free last year, there is a registration fee this year designed to help us recover our costs for the event. So please register early due to the limited seating.

Drawing a mixed academic and industry crowd, the conference boasts broad coverage of

the new media and entertainment space, and deep engagement across industry and

disciplinary boundaries.

It provides a unique opportunity to partake in a focussed discussion on the issues

affecting the contemporary media landscape.

The Convergence Culture Consortium (C3) is a research consortium at MIT exploring

shifts in the media industries from an audience- centered perspective. Corporate

partners with the Consortium are Fidelity Investments, GSD&M Idea City, MTV Networks,

Turner Broadcasting, and Yahoo! Their Web site is available at http://

www.convergenceculture.org.

The Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT (CMS) is a graduate and undergraduate

interdisciplinary program centered in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social

Sciences. For more information on CMS, their Web site is available here.

The Wiesner Building is located at 20 Ames Street, Building E15, in Cambridge, Mass.

For more information on the conference, contact Sam Ford, Project Manager for the

Convergence Culture Consortium, at samford@mit.edu.

There will be a special pre-conference event on thursday Nov.15, hosted by the MIT Communications Forum. (You do not have to be registered for the conference to attend this session):

nbc’s heroes: “appointment tv” to “engagement tv”?

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

5 – 7 p.m.

Bartos Theater

Abstract

The fragmenting audiences and proliferating channels of contemporary television are changing how programs are made and how they appeal to viewers and advertisers. Some media and advertising spokesmen are arguing that smaller, more engaged audiences are more valuable than the passive viewers of the Broadcast Era. They focus on the number of viewers who engage with the program and its extensions — web sites, podcasts, digital comics, games, and so forth. What steps are networks taking to prolong and enlarge the viewer’s experience of a weekly series? How are networks and production companies adapting to and deploying digital technologies and the Internet? And what challenges are involved in creating a series in which individual episodes are only part of an imagined world that can be accessed on a range of devices and that appeals to gamers, fans of comics, lovers of message boards or threaded discussions, digital surfers of all sorts? In this Forum, Jesse Alexander and Mark Warshow, producers from the NBC series Heroes will discuss their hit show as well as the nature of network programming, the ways in which audiences are measured, the extension of television content across multiple media channels, and the value that producers place on the most active segments of their audience.

I hope to see many of my regular readers in Cambridge for these exciting events.