How Brazil Is Reshaping the Futures of Entertainment

Regular readers of the blog know that appropriations of my images or ideas are like catnip to me -- nigh on impossible for me to resist! Indeed, as someone who works on appropriation as a new media literacy, participatory culture and now, spreadable media, I am always intrigued by the ways that media theory is itself appropriated and spread beyond academic circles. So, please, anyone who wants to play around with my image, go ahead, but if I find it, I reserve the right to re-post and analyze it on my blog.

I howled with delight when Mauricio Mota from Brazil's New Content shared this video he had produced during the final panel (on Global Flows, Global Deals) at the Futures of Entertainment conference we hosted last fall. Mota's co-conspirator in generating the video was Ricardo Justus, who also joined us at the November conference.

Mota helped to facilitate the translation of Convergence Culture into Portuguese and was my host during a trip to Brazil earlier last semester; he's been a key player in connecting the Convergence Culture Consortium to a range of Brazilian companies as we are seeking ways to better understand media development in what economists are starting to call the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China), which represent some of the fastest developing high tech economies in the world. And he's part of a smart group of thinkers, who call themselves the Alchemists, who are doing cutting edge work on transmedia storytelling and branding.

Mota's video was intended to dramatize the connection between some of the ideas in Convergence Culture and the practices for promotion that have emerged in his native country. Specifically, the footage here comes from Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad), released in 2007 and now one of the most commercially successful Brazilian films ever, despite having almost no conventional advertising or promotion. As Mota explained at the conference, a copy of the film was leaked to pirates while it was in the final stages of production and the pirates spread it across the countryside. It's been estimated that 11.5 million people watched the illegal copy of the film.

This is piracy on a scale which would wake most American media executives up in a cold sweat. But Mota's point is that it also insured an unprecidented level of visibility for the film. According to DataFolha, 77% of São Paulo residents knew about the movie, 180,000 people saw the film on its opening weekend in Sao Paulo and Rio, and by now, more than 2.5 million people have watched the film legally. (These statistics come from Wikipedia. Mota's estimates are even higher, suggesting that by the time the video had been further pirated via torrents in 15 countries around the world, it may have been seen illegally by 13 million and legally by more than 5 million people).

So, how do we read this story -- did the 13 million plus illegal views represent "lost revenue" to the company? Maybe some of them -- but it's also almost certainly the case that the legal box office returns would have been substantially lower if the pirated circulation of the film had not spread the word and heightened awareness about the title, while potentially lowering the cost of its promotion. Mota rightly sees this pattern as a paradox: loss of control may in this case have resulted in increased revenue and much greater cultural impact. In the process, Capitão Roberto Nascimento (the film's antihero) became something of a cult icon and was subject to all kinds of grassroots appropriations (as suggested by the sample from a fan vid which Mota includes at the end of his own mashup).

Mota's story about Tropa de Elite is a powerful illustration of the concept of spreadable media which ran through this year's Futures of Entertainment event. I developed some of the basic framework for thinking about Spreadable Media through my opening remarks at the conference.

we explored them further throughout the first morning of the conference, with a panel on Consumption, Value, and Worth.

Different forms of cooperation between producers and consumers, including the concept of the moral economy, were central to my conversation with Yochai Benkler (The Wealth of Networks).

Later this month, the Convergence Culture Consortium will be releasing what we hope will be a significant white paper which critiques the concept of viral media and offers an alternative model, one which respects the agency and motives of consumers in actively shaping the circulation of media content through a networked society and one which seeks to better understand the interplay between consumer capitalism and the gift economy in shaping the new era of web 2.0. Watch this blog for more on "spreadable media" in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, I wanted to use this post to signal that the webcast versions of the Futures of Entertainment conference have gone up over at MIT's TechTV site and are available for all of you who were unable to attend the conference. In many ways, this was our best event so far in this series -- in part because of a good balance between academics and industry people on each panel. Some of the highlights for me: Kim Moses, the Executive Producer, The Ghost Whisperer, sharing her insights on our Making Audiences Matter session; a very animated discussion of Franchising, Extensions, and World Building, which brought together perspectives from the world of wrestling, soap operas, and cult movies; and an especially provocative series of exchanges about the relationships between the academy and industry. But every panel has something to recommend it and every panelist made at least one contribution that changed the way I thought about the contemporary media landscape.

Given the latest news of the legal battle which is brewing around Watchmen's release, the exchange which I had with Alex McDowell, the film's gift art director, and Georgia State University's Alicia Perren, has been generating a fair amount of interest out there in the blogosphere. Mcdowell just shared with me a very interesting statement issued by one of the film's producers, Lloyd Levin, about the legal struggles around the film's production and distribution. This is a story which we are all following here at CMS with baited breath.