Fantasy Sport for Women?

Via Fanthropology I’m alerted to this story from Reuters about a new Fantasy soap game from SoapNet.

The game works along the same lines as fantasy football, in which real-life players are chosen for virtual teams and results are based on statistics from actual games.

Fantasy Soap players will pick three male and three female actors and five “soapy moments” from nine U.S. network soaps, and score points depending on what the actors’ characters do.

Taking off clothing, waking up from a coma, getting an organ transplant, day dreaming or “monologuing” — when an actor stands alone in a room talking to himself — are each worth a hefty 50 points in Fantasy Soap League.

Kissing or slapping someone, pleading, lurking or eavesdropping can also boost scores.

Players also win points if any of the five “soapy moments” they choose occur on any soap opera over a 10-week period.


Like ESPN, SoapNet enjoys a high degree of viewer loyalty, according to Nielsen ratings, and the soap network wanted to emulate ESPN’s robust online presence as well.

“We saw how much fun ESPN viewers have with Fantasy Football,” Blackwell said. “The game rewards people for something they already are doing and it encourages sampling of other soaps.”

I’ll be curious to see how this goes. On the one hand, hey why not? A lot of the fun of soaps is making predictions about what happens next. On the other hand, the kinds of things that earn you points seem to me kind of banal next to the kinds of predictions I see in the zillions of existing online soap talk communities. Really engaging soaps is so much more complex than guessing who eavesdrops, which is kind of like guessing that in a football game someone’s going to run with the ball at some point. Duh.

Still, soap viewing has never recovered from OJ’s trial, soap fans are among the most enthusiastic participants in internet fandom and have been for as long as there’s been an online fandom available for them to create (for the record, was one of the earliest Usenet newsgroups), and the more ways they can figure out to engage people in watching soaps the better. They may be on to something, but I can’t imagine wanting to play that way myself instead of getting into the nitty gritty discussion of storyline details. Unless there’s a big cash payout for the next time this dialogue occurs:

Him: Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me.
Her (looking him in the eye): I don’t love you.
He walks out of the room.
She goes to the closed door, places both hands upon it and begins sobbing.

(there are no cash payouts, just the status of being Queen of Fantasy Soaps — sounds like something you do with drag queens in a bathtub!)

Meanwhile, despite stereotypes, women everywhere continue to enjoy Fantasy Football.

The dangers of proprietary promotion

At, Joe Taylor tells a cautionary tale with a happy ending about a band called Bones who almost lost their MySpace profile, complete with history and friends aplenty, to Fox TV, who wanted it to promote a new TV show also called Bones. As he points out, while this story ended ok (the band got to keep the screen name):

it’s another reminder that promoting someone else’s domain name on your printed material and press kit is an invitation to disaster. [...] MySpace’s terms of service indicate that they can — and will — take back your screen name if they want to. It’s really nice to hear that they stuck up for a member this time, but you can’t guarantee that they’ll do it again.

And, for all the folks that think MySpace is never going anywhere, ask the senior members of your favorite music business bulletin boards what it was like when vanished after it was purchased by an international media conglomerate. (Some folks are still stinging from that one.)

It’s such a good point. The more we build our online personaes and social networks through sites that other people own, the more vulnerable we are to changes in their ownership, design, vision, or even existence. We can be thrown off without reason or recourse. We can be erased through some bug and we don’t have the backup to reload. All kinds of nasty things can happen. We extend an incredible amount of trust in their goodwill and faith in the Computer Gods who make them work.

“Secondhand fandoms”

On LiveJournal, there’s a really interesting discussion about Secondhand fandoms, the premise being that sometimes people get really into the fan fiction (aka fanfic for those who are into it) surrounding a tv show without ever having seen the tv show itself. The writers in the thread have a lot of personal examples of how they got into reading fanfic around shows they missed entirely or only saw on rare occassion. One person talks about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Now THERE was a tv show I loved. I have most of the books and most of the episodes on scratchy old VHS tapes.

The closest I’ve ever come to reading fanfic was some of the alternative storyline suggestions fans came up with in back in the day, which is a LONG way from the kinds of fanfic these folks are talking about, though it was often better than what the soap writers were writing. Maybe some of this blog’s readers could recommend some good starting points for other readers who may be curious about fanfic who don’t really know much if anything about it? I’ll start with a plug for Rhiannon Bury’s recent book Cyberspaces of Their Own: Female Fandoms Online, which I read recently and really enjoyed. Also getting a lot of buzz is Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age Of The Internet, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, which I haven’t yet read.

What shows are inspiring the best fanfic these days? Any good examples to point people toward?

Mark Cuban’s take on online fandom

Last summer I saw a talk sponsored by the Aspen Institute on “The Digital Future” with Mark Cuban. For those who don’t know, Cuban made one of his fortunes by selling his media streaming company to Yahoo way back in the 1990s. He’s now the owner of HDNet, the first all-high definition tv network and, more famously, the Dallas Mavericks. He’s also got a number of side projects like his movie theaters, his investigative stock report, and his blog aggregator. It was the first time I’d heard Cuban, and I came away with the impression of a man who’s really smart, knowledgable, and who’s got an integrated vision of how it all fits together.

He’s written on his blog that convergence is over, everything is already digital, and he argues that media content ought to be available in any form the consumers want it. My favorite line of the night was his summary of this position: “bits are bits, I can deliver. I’m agnostic, I don’t care how it gets there.” But, other than the need to provide them with a variety of delivery platforms, there was very little said about media audiences in the talk, and I wondered what Cuban would have to say about the changing role(s) of the media viewers as fans also get more control over bits and bytes and make their own products, connections with one another, and so on.

So I shot him an email and asked, and (with his permission to reprint), here’s what he had to say:

Its nothing new. Its been going on for years. From fan clubs to high school clubs to CompuServe and Prodigy forums and usenet groups and AOL discussion groups and chat rooms to IRC rooms. People contract their sphere of connections to where they can either feel smart/important, feel comfortable as part of a group, or can improve their communications. Today they call that social networking and it happens on discussion forums for sports teams, on myspace, friendster, xanga and many other sites.

Youtube is an old concept. The only difference between what they have been able to do and others is that the copyright police didn’t shut them down. Two years ago they get closed down faster than you can say RIAA.

You are right, there is no question that fandom and online community has increased, but I think it can be traced back to digital content organizations giving social networking a pass rather than shutting them down.

Youtube is a perfect example. All the people putting up their favorite songs on their myspace pages is another. No way the RIAA lets that happen 2/3 years ago. If they did, all the old hosting companies like geocities would have thrived and evolved rather than devolved.

The concept of friends is just a better implementation of website rings. Blogs are just templates for daily entries on websites.

Broadband made it more fun to be online, faster to participate and enabled the faster, smoother use of media/video/audio.

When I bought the mavs I got on discussion groups to answer questions, most are the same today.

When I started my blog, it just made it easier than updating a page on the Mavs website.

Putting up trailers on sites is old news, as is downloading movies. For all the discussion about progress, look back 5 years and ask just how much broadband progress has been made. Broadband has gotten marginally faster, but dramatically cheaper from competition.

I guess what Im saying, its just business as usual. Like the fashion world, pants are pants, shirts are shirts, they just seem cooler when they are first coming out in new styles, but when we look back, we realize it was no big deal.

I appreciate the perspective he brings here, that fandom has been going on for a long time and that its boom right now may be triggered more by changes in the legalistic environment than by real transformations of technological capability or ways that fans engage the media and one another [rumour has it Universal Music Group is going to sue MySpace and YouTube for copyright infringement]. When I look at online fan groups now, I certainly see a lot of the same dynamics and processes I was seeing when I started writing about them in 1991.

At the same time, I’m not sure it’s really “business as usual.” Audiences may have been doing these things all along, but they weren’t getting noticed as they are now, and they weren’t getting addressed and engaged directly by the objects of their fandom in the way they are now. I think those create real changes in the expectations fans develop about the people behind the teams/music/shows/movies/etc that they love, and in how those people need to behave toward fans to make the most of what they’re doing. Technological capabilities and fans’ uses of them may not have changed much, but the social/commercial environment in which these things happen has.

On the limits of fan power

One of the core issues in fandom is the ongoing power struggle between fans and those who produce the materials around which they organize. Analysts tend to focus on how the internet has empowered fans, but as this piece by Tom Dorsey on fan efforts to save cancelled tv shows points out:

In the old days of snail mail it was harder to whip up a save-our-show campaign because there was no central meeting place for outraged fans to assemble.

Now the Internet serves as the perfect gathering spot to try to raise a ruckus. There are several sites that allow people to select their killed-off show from a laundry list and sign the online petition.

Some offer people a place to pen their frustration. is one. You can Google TV show petitions for others or search by show name.

But there is little reason to believe that network executives ever visit any of these sites. They’ve made up their minds by the time the ax falls, and there won’t be a change of heart for several reasons.