The Power of Fan Cultures

This has been Boing Boinged, but in case you missed it, here’s notes on a panel from The National Association of Television Program Executives called  Engaging for Insight: Putting the Power of Fan Cultures to Work for You.

The panel included:

Moderator(s): Stacey Lynn Koerner, President, The Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Group of Companies
Panelist(s): Larry Lieberman, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Comics LLC
Lydia Loizides, Vice President, Media & Technology Analytics, The Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Group of Companies
Jim Turner, Vice President, Digital Media, A & E Television Networks
Ilya Vedrashko, Emerging Media Strategist, Hill Holliday

Good reading.

CBS gets in on the action

Yesterday I reported on Disney’s talk at the CES in which they talked about the importance of online fans. Now CBS, in their talk there, are also talking that talk:

LAS VEGAS – Fans of CBS shows will soon be able to slice clips from prime-time shows, send them to friends and even “mash” them together in ways that only a short time ago would have triggered complaints of copyright infringement.

CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves said Tuesday during his first keynote at the International Consumer Electronics Show that his company would embrace products and technologies that allow viewers to “time shift” and “place shift” his network’s shows and interact with them in new ways.

Moonves said college basketball fans, for instance, would be able to use videoconferencing to hang out in a “virtual skybox,” cheering in a group and discussing plays along the way.

Fans of “Star Trek” could visit a computer-generated Starship Enterprise in the virtual world of “Second Life.”

CBS is also designing its Web sites to encourage interaction among fans of the CBS crime drama “CSI” and “The L-Word,” which appears on the CBS-owned Showtime cable channel.

Corporate-sponsored mashing up seems to be the new trend, and a cool one . It’s good to see a shift from “THEY’RE STEALING OUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY!!!!” to, as Moonves says, “letting fans share snippets makes sense because it allows the network to tap into the passion dedicated viewers have for a particular show.”

The power of fans according to Disney

Online TV fans often question whether anyone behind the screen is paying attention to them. Toward that end, this report on Disney Company CEO Robert Iger’s keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show has a couple of interesting tidibits. First, we know that sports pages are the killer apps for network websites, but it’s still pretty amazing to hear Iger’s stats:

He said, sports fans spend an average of two hours each day on ESPN’s website, researching their teams. Disney owns ESPN. Shows offered on the company’s website have been played or download 120 million times over the past year and Disney was the first to offer its movie catalogue to viewers over Apple’s iTunes music service.

Appearing with him was Evangeline Lilly from Lost since, as he put it, “there is no show that demonstrates the importance of the Internet, than Lost”

“ABC created this worldwide phenomena called Lost,” he said. “It has become the most successful multi-platform show ever. has been overrun with fans coming to watch podcasts, discuss the show or view full length episodes.”

I especially liked Lilly’s comment about why “it’s particularly challenging to work on a show that has such a loyal online following”:

“The fans have a lot more control over the show than we do as actors,” she told the attendees at the conference. “We are really at the mercy of the fans. Producers go online to look at what is being said and they react to that.”

Of course, what’s often left out of these discussions is that fans never seem to speak with a single voice (Agnes Nixon, one of the best and most revered soap opera writers of all time, once noted that they know they’ve got it right when fan letters were evenly split between loving and hating what they were doing). Still, it’s unusual to see it recognized that to a great extent celebrities serve at the pleasure of the fans, and that the internet only enhances this power dynamic.

Universal vs. Serenity Fans

Back in October a Serenity fan site got not just a cease-and-desist letter, but also a PAY UP NOW demand from Universal Studios, apparently for violating copyright in t-shirts being sold through the site.

“11th Hour Art’s offering for sale and sale of unauthorized “Serenity” shirts may give rise to multiple violations of law, giving rise to various causes of action for copyright infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition, among other claims. Recovery on one or more of these claims may include attorney’s fees, treble damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages.”


The Demand continues, and includes such stipulations that within 72 hours I must agree to: pay a retroactive $8,750 licensing fee; the permanent closing of my shop; turn over any merchandise referring to the Universal Property; and provide the last 12 months complete sales records… there’s more, but that’s the gist… oh, except for the threat of federal court and the statutory damages thingy of $150,000 per infringed work… don’t want to go leaving that part out.

The questionable image in my shop were, for the most part, already pulled down by Cafe Press after the first email notice I got last week. I was then already going through my shop and revising the wording in some descriptions as needed to fully comply with the notification. At present, the only instances where the word “serenity” is mentioned is to explain the translation of the Chinese characters, but without any references to the movie of that name.

I can confidently state that my Cafe Press shop is totally free of any associations with “Serenity” the movie… unless of course Universal now claims ownership of the actual word “serenity”, no matter how it is used, both in English and Chinese. In that case, there’s a certain adult diaper manufacturer who’s in deep doo doo now… pun is like, totally intended…

I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically. I’ve spent most of the past few days since the notification overhauling my shop. I’ve put aside all other projects, and haven’t gotten that much sleep doing this. I’m actually starting to feel ill… this whole thing is just sickening…

As you can see if you click that link, outrage ensued, not least in the form of hundreds of comments. The matter now seems to have been resolved, but, as is always the case in these episodes, not without cost to the would-be plaintiff:

Guess this whole traumatic episode is a variation on the Mars vs. Venus way of seeing things. I think like an artist and guerilla marketer, not a lawyer… and it’s mighty surprising just how much fuss can arise from that different way of seeing things. So *that’s* how things got so complicated. As a die hard guerilla marketer, I thought the image was a modestly mild way to put the word of Serenity out in the world; but the legal point of view sees the image as taking advantage of the intellectual property. Honestly, my intent was just the opposite of taking advantage of our shiny movie… but y’all knew that.

Live and learn. Or rather, live, get hit with a scary demand become a tortured wreck before it’s resolved over a week later, and learn…

But lest you think that suing fans is all damage and no fun, this does seem to have strengthened the sense of community amongst the already-tight fans of this fan-driven show:

Actually though, despite all the torment and stuff, the part of this story that is truly mythic, wonderful, and will, always, always be the heart of what makes this ‘verse so gorram amazing is all of you… the Browncoats… who stepped up, had my back, stood at my side, and, most assuredly, were taking strategic tactical positions from high ground too. Folk came from all around, even revealing themselves from the cover of lurkdom, to let me know I wasn’t alone in this… and when I heard, “Browncoats got your back”, I knew that no matter how scary or crazy it got, somehow, things would work out. It’s been a rough time, it’s taken it’s toll on me… but I discovered something rather wonderful, or perhaps re-discovered something wonderful… the people that have come into my life because of a work of art disguised as a TV show, are the best folk it’s ever been my privilege to know.

How are fans to know when they’ll be appreciated and when they’ll be sued? Especially when these lawsuits seem to get dropped or ‘resolved’ so very frequently after they’re threatened?

The News Blogger Who Rules

The New York Times ran an article this week about a phenomenon I’d entirely missed: the 21 year old blogger who has become the go-to source about the TV News industry. We don’t normally think of news junkies as fans, but how else to describe reminiscences such as this:

Growing up in Damascus, Md., Mr. Stelter watched the news addictively. He recalls watching Mr. Williams, who was then at MSNBC, reporting on the crash of T.W.A. Flight 800, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and the revelation that President Bill Clinton was entangled with Monica Lewinsky. Meanwhile, Mr. Stelter practiced his “newscaster voice” and harbored anchor-size ambitions of his own.

“I always thought I would be the person who sat in the chair for 12 hours,” Mr. Stelter said. “Then I realized there are only three people who do that job.”

He finally got to meet Mr. Williams last year when he came to New York to attend a memorial service for Mr. Jennings. Mr. Williams invited him to sit in on his broadcast’s 2:30 p.m. editorial meeting, and the two talked privately for a half-hour.

So in 2004 he started blogging about the industry, and now if he turns off his cell phone to go to class, he turns it back on to find messages from major news networks ticked off that he was unavailable:

The network publicists generally know his class schedule — afternoons on Tuesdays and Thursdays — and barrage him with material, which they often expect him to post within minutes. While recording a radio segment for one of his classes — Mass Communication 381 — he turned his cellphone off for 15 minutes, then turned it back on to find one nagging voice mail message from an ABC publicist and another from CNN.

Fascinating example of someone who never could have had any influence pre-internet able to become a major voice because his passion and the technology combined to make him heard. His blog is here.