The Comparative Media Studies Program is proud to announce an exciting forthcoming conference, The Futures of Entertainment, to be held at MIT on Nov. 17 and 18. The event is designed to bring together leading thinkers from across the entertainment industry to speak about core issues around media convergence, transmedia storytelling, user-generated content, and participatory culture. Speakers confirmed so far include The Long Tail's Chris Anderson, Flickr's Caterina Fake, DC Comic's Paul Levitz, Warner Brother's Diane Nelson, Big Spaceship's Michael Lebowitz, social networking researcher danah boyd, television scholar Jason Mittell, and many others, including representatives from MTV, Cartoon Network, Bioware, and other leading companies in this space. The event is free and open to the public but we ask that you preregister since seating will be limited. The event is being hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium. Here's a more detailed description of the themes for the scheduled panels:
New distribution methods, new revenue strategies and changing modes of audience engagement are transforming how television works. Off- and post-broadcast markets make 'old' television valuable as a continuing source of income and suggest new ways to reach viewers. Digital video recorders threaten the 30-second commercial but offer the possibility of more detailed information about audience members. Some television producers may reach out to consumers directly rather than going through the networks and networks are using online distribution to generate buzz about new shows before they reach the air. Creative responses to these challenges are re-writing how we understand what was once just the box in the corner.
Media culture is becoming more participatory, rewriting the relations between media producers and consumers. New tools and distribution platforms, a changing cultural ethos, and innovative corporate approaches to user-generated content are turning viewers into active participants. Innovation may occur at the grassroots level yet influence decisions made within corporate media. Yet, are media companies ready for the grassroots creativity they are unleashing? What challenges does greater user-participation pose to both producers and audiences? What corporate policies enable or retard the growth of user-generated content?
The cultural logic of convergence lends itself to a flow of narratives, characters, and worlds across media platforms. Moving beyond older models based on liscensed ancillary products, transmedia extensions are now seen as expanding the opportunities for storytelling, enabling new kinds of entertainment experiences, building up secondary characters or backstory. Transmedia extension may also create alternative openings for different market segments and enable more extensive contact with brands. The great potential of transmediation is to deepen audience engagement, but this requires greater awareness of the specific benefits of working within different platforms. How are media companies organizing the development of transmedia properties? How are storytellers taking advantage of the "expanded canvas" such an approach offers? How do transmedia strategies impact the new integration between brands and entertainment properties? What new expectations do transmedia properties place on consumers?
Once seen as marginal or niche consumers, Fan communities look more 'mainstream' than ever before. Some have argued that the practices of web 2.0 are really those of fan culture without the stigma. Courted, encouraged, engaged and acknowledged, fans are more and more frequently being recognized as trendsetters, viral marketers, and grassroots intermediaries. Fan affinity is being seized as a form of grassroots marketing, representing the bleeding edge of brand and property commitment. The sophistication of fan-created products rivals the professional products they honor, sometimes keeping defunct properties alive long after their shelf life might otherwise have expired. How is the increasing importance of fan behavior re-writing the media landscape? What kinds of accountability should media companies have to their most committed consumers? What kinds of value do fans create through their activities? What are the sources of tension that still exist between media producers, advertisers, and fans?
Not the Real World Anymore
Virtual spaces are more than sites for emulating the real world. They are becoming platforms for thought experiments -- some of which involve fantasies we would not like to enact in the real world, others involve possibilities that we may want to test market before putting into practice. Much more than simulacra of Real Life or a 3D version of text-based Internet communities, online worlds represent new sites for considering questions of community and connectivity. Marked by user- creativity, online worlds balance, sometimes precariously, the rights of users with the rights of sponsoring organizations. As we move closer to the cyberpunk vision of a wholly parallel 'metaverse', questions of power, community, and property are coming to the fore.
More information is forthcoming but for some provisional information and to register for the event, check out this website. I hope to see many readers of the blog at this event which promises a front line perspective on many of the trends I discuss in the books.