Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Media studies scholar Christine Becker has begun collected a range of television-related articles, reviews, and opinion pieces on her aptly titled blog, News for TV Majors. She has even done the hard work of collecting all of the "best of TV" lists in one place.
I have enjoyed following the "Masked Scheduler" on Twitter for some time; now s/he has started a blog that goes into more detail than is possible in 140 characters.
TV writer Jessica Butler (In Plain Sight, According to Jim) has launched a terrific blog for those who want to write for television. Many a day could be spent just looking through the various links she provides.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Mike Newman adds a great point in the comments of her post:
"With RSS, Twitter, FB, etc., it’s possible for devoted readers to be alerted when new content appears, and we shouldn’t feel like people are constantly checking in on our sites for new content. Bloggers should publish their work online when they feel like it and not feel bad if this is only sporadic. I blog because I like to, and lately I only like to do it every once in a while. I used to blog links more frequently but lately I prefer to use Twitter or FB for that. Why not keep a quarterly blog, or even an annual one?"
Having now had this blog up and running for about eight months, my perspective has shifted away from "must post at least once a week" to "post when I feel so inclined." This is partly due to time constraints and partly due to simply figuring out the way that my blog worked best for me. The "pressure to post" as often was also eased after I jumped onto Twitter and found it a better place to post articles and have short conversations. For more of my thoughts regarding blogging (as well as others' thoughtful comments), check out Annie's blog.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Considering these deaths from my perspective as a media studies scholar, my reaction is somewhat akin to the response I had to the end of ER. In different ways, each of these figures represented the age of "mass" media. So to mourn the loss of these people is also to mourn, in yet one more way, the end of a specific time in media history.
Consider this: At its peak (as the #5 show on TV), more than 18 million people tuned in to watch Farrah and company on Charlie's Angels. In contrast, the #5 show on TV in 2009 -- during sweeps, no less -- was Dancing with the Stars, which was viewed by about 5.8 million people. At the time Charlie's Angels aired, reality shows were a relatively marginal format. Now several are among the highest rated of shows. In addition, reality shows serve as a primary place where new "stars" are generated. (It is quite telling that just this week reports have circulated that Dancing with the Stars' performer Julianne Hough may next appear in a new big-screen iteration of Footloose with High School Musical star Zac Efron...that is, if she can learn to act).
Similarly, The Tonight Show was the late night show when Ed McMahon served as Carson's sidekick. Interestingly, for the first time in years, The Tonight Show once again has a sidekick in the form of Andy Richter. Yet now the late night landscape is not only overrun with seemingly endless programming alternatives, but with myriad talk show alternatives. Not only do we have many more broadcast options but cable has also entered into the late night talk show fray with Chelsea Handler and (very soon) George Lopez (among others). What's more, the days of NBC/Tonight dominating the ratings are long gone. These days, we are being barraged regularly with reports (or should I say spin) of the week's reigning late night king. (Though Nightline apparently beat both on Thursday night.)
And then there's the changes in the music industry. As one of my Facebook friends noted, "all it took was for Michael Jackson to die to make MTV start showing videos again." One is more likely to find a rock star in a reality show than in a music video these days -- at least on TV. (Heck, just this week, Nick Cannon made his premiere as host of America's Got Talent.) And as is the case with all media forms online, the music industry continues to struggle to figure out how to "monetize" music videos.
If the performer(s) aren't part of a Disney Channel program (or American Idol), the chances that they will break out seem slim indeed. Speaking of which, just this week the Jonas Brothers' latest album was released. It promptly became the number one title on the Billboard Top 100. Album sales totaled 247,000 copies. It seems safe to say that these chart-topping brothers will never come anywhere close to selling number of albums sold by those famous brothers of yore, the Jackson Five.
Yep, these are different days indeed.
Monday, June 15, 2009
One related development in recent months is the emergence of what the Hollywood Reporter calls "maxi-series." Whether this is just a new term applied to an old form (see Thorn Birds, to the left) -- and I am tempted to think it is -- seems worth considering further. One potentially distinctive element of recent mini/maxi-series is their greater dependence on financing from outside the US. Increasingly, these shows go into production with distribution in place in many other countries around the world -- but without a place on a US cable or broadcast network.
My hope is that when I complete a couple of projects I am currently working on, I can write an essay exploring more precisely how and why MFTs appear where they do on specific cable outlets. (Should you be curious, I do write about some of the key industrial reasons why MFTs have disappeared from the broadcast networks in an article coming out shortly in Convergence Media History, edited by Janet Staiger and Sabine Hake.) Though I haven't received my copy yet, I believe Erin Copple Smith also has an essay on the topic in Amanda Lotz's just-released edited book, Beyond Prime Time. (If you know of other recent articles published on contemporary MFTs, please do send them on!)
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I have to agree with Poland that, while some bloggers/critics appear eager to see the company fail, the potential downfall of yet another indie company is nothing to celebrate for those who hope to make (or make money from) lower-budgeted films. Nonetheless, it is just another indication -- in the wake of the recent downsizing and/or closing of Paramount Vantage, Picturehouse, Warner Independent etc. -- that the old methods of distributing niche films just aren't working any longer.
I am increasingly intrigued by the day-and-date experiments being tested by companies such as IFC and Magnolia. These companies release films via some combination of VOD (both on cable/satellite systems and on the Internet) and theatrical exhibition. It is worth noting that IFC was the most active buyer at Cannes this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
For more on these ventures, I recommend looking at the following:
According to a lengthy piece in the Washington Post, the site (which is currently in beta mode), is offering more chances for contributors to be compensated than does the Huffington Post at present. Apparently the site launched with $3 million in funding from Forbes Media and Fuse Capital and is run by a former news executive from AOL.
One of the most intriguing components is the "social" aspect of the site. As per the Wall Street Journal:
The contributors also are required to actively engage with readers on the site. They must post a minimum number of comments in reader discussions about their articles and curate the comments, giving prominence to the most interesting. They are even expected to comment on each other's posts.
It still seems too early to fully assess the site, but it will be an interesting one to monitor...
Monday, May 18, 2009
In the meantime, I have added several new links throughout this page. One that's worth singling out is a blog I just recently discovered, producer Ted Hope's Truly Free Film. A couple of recent entries that are especially compelling: "52 Reasons Why American Indie Film Will Flourish" and "38 American Independent Film Problems/Concerns."
Also, if you are curious to learn more about my work on the media industries (and my recently released edited book on the subject), Jennifer Holt and I are interviewed here by blogger Tim O'Shea.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The economic logic driving remake mania isn't hard to figure out -- the film industry, facing mounting production and marketing costs, is becoming ever-more risk-averse. I understand that it is often easier and cheaper to remake old properties than to develop new ones. And I understand that there is now a new generation of viewers who have had only limited exposure to the films of the 1980s, and thus those properties are especially ripe for being remade. (It doesn't hurt, of course, that many of the executives moving up the ranks are children of the '80s as well.) As a child of the '80s myself, I am certainly not averse to seeing Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and company suit up again - especially if they are working with a decent script.
I know that remakes -- or "reenvisionings" if you wish -- are not inherently bad. I am optimistic about the new Star Trek, thought the newer Ocean's Eleven was far superior to the original, and found Edward Norton's Hulk to be more, well, incredible than Eric Bana's. I am even open to the possibility that The Rock's (sorry, Dwayne Johnson's) Race to Witch Mountain is superior to the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain. Anything is possible.
Yet as each day goes by, and yet more remakes are announced, I can't help but wonder if we are close to hitting the remake absurdity threshold. In the last couple of days alone, I have read that the following remakes are in development:
- The 1983 David Cronenberg-directed Videodrome;
- Alien (with Ridley Scott returning to direct);
- Predator (with Robert Rodriguez directing).
- Universal is developing a remake of the 1991 bomb Drop Dead Fred for Russell Brand...
- And Oliver Stone is developing a sequel (ok, it's not a remake, so I'm cheating a little here) to...Wall Street. Shia LeBeouf (!?!) is in talks to star.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
More posting to follow here soon...once I get past this end-of-semester grading/meeting/writing madness. In the meantime, I will continue to feed articles I find of interest into the Diigo linkroll.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Google and the music industry: In the continuing effort to find a way to make content more profitable online, YouTube and Universal Music Group (UMG) have joined forces to launch a new music video service. The site, named Vevo, will offer professionally-produced videos from UMG. According to the Los Angeles Times, "YouTube will provide the underlying technology, Universal will furnish the content, and the partners will split the advertising revenue." The hope, apparently, is to make this the "online equivalent of MTV;"
Google and the film industry: One week after Disney announced that it will be licensing select content to YouTube, it is being reported that Sony is negotiating for a handful of feature-length films to be available through YouTube as well;
Google and the newspaper industry: In conjunction with the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), the Associated Press declared that it will be more aggressive in determining how and where its content is used online in the future. In response, Google CEO Chairman Eric Schmidt (speaking at the NAA gathering) warned: "I would encourage everybody, think in terms of what your reader wants. These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of them, you will not have any more.” Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis posted on his blog what he thought Schmidt should have said to the NAA. His words are not nearly as kind as those offered by Schmidt.
And in other news:
The absurd story of the week: With the Sundance Channel and IFC now part of the same conglomerate, Rainbow Media, the two cable networks are being sold together to potential sponsors. Rainbow is promoting them as a premier venue for upscale consumers (or as they call them, "independently wealthy consumers"). The company has even developed a new theory, "Indienomics," to convey the way it views its relationship to its audience (excuse me while a suppress a snort here). As Ad Age describes it, Indienomics seeks to calm "consumer-related chaos through relevant marketing." For added amusement value, I recommend looking at IFC/Sundance's discussion of the five tenets of Indienomics.
The latest on pilot season: Based on the number of each in the works, it seems sitcoms (especially those of the multi-camera variety) are in again while serialized dramas are out once more. Of course, none of the networks have solidified their schedules, so much can still change.
The better late than never story of the week: Time Warner gets one step closer to spinning off AOL.
And finally, the you've got to be kidding me remake-of-the-week: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures are moving forward with a new version of Clash of the Titans starring Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
ShoWest, the annual meeting of theatrical exhibitors and major studio distributors, took place in Vegas. Several reports from the event suggest growing tensions in the distributor-exhibitor relationship. Some studios scaled back their presence and expenditures significantly this year. The current economic climate may have played a part in the studios' lower profile at ShoWest. However, as Heidi MacDonald of The Beat notes, in a world where the film studios' business models are ever more in flux and where they can directly sell their wares to the public through events such as ComicCon, courting exhibitors at ShoWest simply matters far less than it used to;
International TV sales market MIPTV in Cannes. Among the topics of conversation, according to The Hollywood Reporter: "cutting their cost base, re-engineering production models and reshaping the genre mix to keep the television business afloat;"
The Cable Show in Washington D.C., where one frequently discussed issue involved how much cable programming could or should be provided by cable companies or program distributors either online or on demand.
Recurring themes in reports of all of these events, unsurprisingly, included: how to deal with piracy and peer-to-peer activities; how to make more money online; and how to avoid the fate that has befallen the music industry.
And in other news:
Advertisers and actors reached a three-year agreement on a new contract covering commercials. Most notable is that this new arrangement provides some compensation for new media work;
The Wall Street Journal ran a story about the decline in star salaries that elicited a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere . Gawker's Gabriel Snyder responded by offering a useful outline of some of the most prominent types of deals negotiated in Hollywood today;
Disney struck a deal allowing select short-form video content to be available through YouTube. This arrangement indicates Disney's growing willingness to make its content available to outside sources. It also underscores YouTube's continuing effort to offer more "professional" content (i.e., content that is more favorable to advertisers).
And finally, this week's remake news: Jackie Earle Haley has been cast as Freddie Krueger for New Line's reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street. Not thrilled that this is being remade...but if it is going to happen, this seems like a strong choice. But who should play Nancy?
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Over about a 24 hour period (from April 1st to 2nd), the following took place:
- CBS announced the cancellation of the longest running scripted program in broadcast history, Guiding Light -- a show that started on radio in 1937;
- The flagship program of NBC's "must-see" TV for the last 15 years, ER, aired its last episode;
- Boston's NBC affiliate WHDH declared it would not air Jay Leno's new program at 10pm Monday through Friday (instead the station will air local news);
- The 2008 Peabody Awards were announced, with awards going to several Internet sites, including The New York Times website, YouTube and The Onion News Network;
- NBC Universal (parent company to Bravo) settled its lawsuit against The Weinstein Company over Project Runway's move to Lifetime.
I never watched Guiding Light. Yet somehow, it was reassuring to me to know that the show stayed on the air. Broadcasting may have changed in countless ways over the years, but this same daytime soap remained, airing Monday through Friday for decades on CBS. It just chugged along -- from the so-called Golden Age of radio through the classic network era, from the arrival of cable and satellite, into the present post-network era. The show survived several wars, presidents and economic crises. Indeed, it may still hang on, reappearing on another program service (or even online). But it will no longer be on a broadcast network.
While Guiding Light's departure resonated with me intellectually -- serving as but one more marker of how different the television of today is from the television of yore, ER's farewell hit me on a much more personal level.
ER was part of my weekly routine for years. I started watching while still an undergraduate, continued tuning in during graduate school and on into the early stages of my career as a professor. I viewed the show in four different parts of the country, through multiple friendships, relationships and late nights of work. I initially watched it "live" - rushing home to catch it no matter what I was up to on Thursday nights. I gradually shifted to recording it on my VCR, then finally caught it days after its initial airing on my Tivo.
Then last year, I stopped watching. Having seen one too many cast members leave and one too many storylines recycled for the umpteenth time, I "broke up" with ER. I had moved on to a newer medical drama, Grey's Anatomy. My lifestyle had changed, as had the ways that I thought about and consumed television.
And yet, last Thursday I sat down to watch the show one last time. On many levels, it was a bittersweet experience. I found the final episode itself to be well done overall. The show acknowledged many of the themes, images and storylines from years past without going overboard (for the most part). As far as concluding episodes of series go, this was one of the better ones.
As I watched this last episode, I tried to figure out why I was so much more saddened by the ending of this show than, say, Friends or Sex and the City or Will and Grace. I think part of the difference is the trajectory this specific show took. Typically when a program ends, at least some members of the original cast remain. Yet this was not the case with ER. Rather, all of the original cast members had long since left. Yet since these actors departed one by one over several years, rather than all at once, there was never a clear moment when the show shifted from what it was to something else entirely. This had the effect of making ER seem to simply peter out. Thus, when several cast members returned for this final episode, I was suddenly provided with a stark reminder of how compelling and engaging the show once was.
However, I wasn't moved by the final episode simply because it reminded me how much the show (and I) had changed over the years. I was also affected by realizing how much broadcasting itself had changed in the last fifteen years. During much of the 1990s, ER was a key marker of "quality" television programming produced by the broadcast networks. It appeared on the air at a time when reality programming was confined largely to cable outlets and Fox, when news magazines overran the prime time schedule, and when weekly "nights at the movies" still aired on the broadcast networks. ER had THE time slot on NBC's "Must-See" TV Thursdays -- a time slot previously occupied by Hill Street Blues and LA Law.
All of that is gone now. In a few short months, NBC will no longer have any dramas at 10 pm. In fact, it won't air any original fictional series at all from 10 to 11 p.m. Instead, Jay Leno will air at then - that is, if enough affiliates agree to air the program (something that remains to be seen).
Given the changing economics of the television business, it is quite likely that many of the dramas of the caliber of ER will appear on cable from here on out, not broadcast. NBC-Universal has essentially signaled as much with its recent declarations that its cable outlets (including Bravo, USA and SciFi/SyFy) are more profitable than its broadcast network.
Yes, television is changing, we all know that well. Last week's departure of ER -- occurring in tandem so many other dramatic industrial, technological and cultural shifts -- provides just one more poignant reminder of what television once was. "And In The End..." indeed.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The Hollywood Reporter explores how Texas has been adversely affected by stronger film incentive programs in other states. Meanwhile, a new study has been released that questions the long-term value of such incentive programs;
New reports indicate that people are spending more and more time in front of various screens. Yet this isn't translating to them spending money to watch the media on these screens...a problem that various sectors of the entertainment industry have only begun to address;
Reporting from the AFI Dallas Film Festival, SpoutBlog's Karina Longworth reports on a panel comparing the indie film and indie music businesses;
Will New York City be the first of many cities to offer the next generation of "hyperlocal" television stations? Several cable and telephone companies are experimenting with the strategy now. A key question is how (or to what extent) struggling local broadcast outlets will respond;
Add another talk show host to the mix: starting in November, it looks like George Lopez will be hosting a late night talk show on TBS;
There are reports that Disney may become a partner in the News Corp/NBC Universal joint venture, Hulu;
Apparently Cartoon Network is the latest cable channel to try to reinvent itself. Its goal, according to this article, is to produce more live action fare as a means of becoming a "dominant youth culture brand" that "really understands the needs of high-energy teen boys." OK then.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
No sooner had these two sites begun to attack each other than many other journalists and bloggers jumped in to offer their own take on the conflict. Among those who expressed distinctive opinions were David Poland (The Hot Blog), Sharon Waxman (The Wrap), and Kim Masters (The Daily Beast).
The reasons why this conflict arose of less interest to me than how it has played out so far. In a broad sense, the Variety-Finke brouhaha echoes the turf wars going on between traditional print journalists and Internet bloggers on every news beat.
Yet the particularities of this conflict are fascinating in a couple of key ways. First, this skirmish is notable for the response -- or rather, the lack of response -- it has generated from readers. From what I can tell, the general reaction across the different sites that covered the issue seemed to be "Who cares? Why should some silly battle between (narcissistic) entertainment journalists matter to me?"
As but one example, take Huffington Post. The online website tried to make this conflict into A Big Deal. Their article on the quarrel briefly appeared on the site's front page...only to all-but-disappear after but a few hours. It seems that this is but one more instance in which those covering the entertainment world have a distorted sense of how and why people come to their sites in the first place.
The second reason this conflict seems worth commenting on is due to how it ties into my own work as a media scholar. Yes, I enjoy looking at a variety of entertainment sites in part to learn more about what is going on in the entertainment business -- what is being made, who is doing what, and so on. But of even greater interest to me is tracking the way the "industry" presents itself -- how different people try to promote their interests, spin different issues, and construct the business in certain ways. Yet it is frustrating that as these sites become ever-more obsessed with being the first to report a deal, offer a review of a new movie, or break the news of an executive's departure, their energies gets diverted away from substantive analysis.
What's more, in the rush to run something first, the quality of the reporting gets sketchier and sketchier. Finke has been widely attacked in part because she has been seen as the mouthpiece for various executives with specific agendas, as well as for her lack of transparency in reporting (for example, she has been attacked for running a story and then, if she finds out the information is incomplete or incorrect, she simply removes that information or changes it to fit the latest news.)
Again, these issues certainly are not particular to entertainment journalism but rather are concerns facing all areas of journalism today. And clearly there is often much more at stake when, for instance, health or environmental reports are handled in an irresponsible fashion. Yet it is nonetheless worth considering how the public's -- and media researchers' -- understanding of the entertainment business might be affected as old and new media attempt to stake out their place in this changing landscape. What's more, given that this is the entertainment business -- a business in which so many careers and creative projects are at stake, not to mention a great deal of money -- it seems that we should care more about what constitutes entertainment news... and what are the best ways to report it.
The Finke-Variety conflict simply underscores the extent to which entertainment reporters and bloggers have become more interested in being first than being accurate, more invested in reporting a deal than thinking about precisely what that deal might mean for those working in (or wishing to work in) the media industries.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
As has been much discussed (and derided) elsewhere, the SciFi Channel is now SyFy. It is fascinating to see how a simple name (well, really just spelling) change might indicate a significant shift in programming practices and target demographics;
Hulu plans to devote a new section of its site to documentary programming. It is interesting that, though Hulu has always featured both television and movies, the primary way it has been discussed (at least so far) seems to be as a place to view (fictional) TV. It will be interesting to see if -- or what --impact this move has on the profile of nonfiction film;
There are signs that HBO plans to overhaul its brand image. This article asks how The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency might fit into the cable network's broader programming strategies;
3-D is back again - and so is speculation about the potential impact it will have on moviegoing practices;
Just what we need: more programs glorifying the wonders of Old Hollywood. TCM recently announced a ten-part mini-series, Moguls and Moviestars: A History of Hollywood while HBO, David Chase and Brad Grey are back together to develop a miniseries entitled A Ribbon of Dreams. It seems when times get tough in the film biz, the best thing to do is mythologize the past (through television, of course).
The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism has released their 2009 report on the State of the News Media. As might be expected, in general, it doesn't paint a pretty picture for print and television journalism;
The current economic crisis is now affecting the TV syndication business;
And the award for wacky adaptation of the week goes to...the Coen Brothers, who are reportedly remaking True Grit.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Chuck Tryon has written several compelling columns in the last week, including one on the week-long "war" between Jon Stewart and CNBC;
A management shake-up at News Corp. has generated much speculation about the future direction that will be taken at the company, especially in terms of Fox's Filmed Entertainment divisions. Particularly intriguing is the appointment of Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice to be in charge of entertainment for the Fox Network;
Growing independent film company B-Side has formed a theatrical distribution arm;
Actors in films and TV programs aren't the only ones struggling to renegotiate their contracts in a tough economic climate; commercial actors face challenges getting compensated for their online work as well;
SXSW is underway again. The buzz surrounding the festival seems to get bigger every year;
Cable TV's upfronts are about to get started. Early signs indicate it will be a disappointing selling season for cable and broadcast outlets alike;
TV Week explores the myriad reasons that local broadcast stations are struggling. What isn't explored here, however, are the potentially large-scale cultural ramifications of the changes broadcasters are making due to their economic difficulties;
Heathers: The Musical -- brilliant or crazy?
MacGyver: The Movie -- simply crazy.
I've been holding off on writing this entry until after preliminary box office figures came in for Watchmen's 2nd week in release. However, now they are in - and they are pretty much in line with what I expected: Watchmen posted an approximate 67% drop from from its opening weekend, according to early estimates.
This is not the least bit surprising to me. The film seemed to largely satisfy (if not amaze or inspire for return visits) many of those who had read the graphic novel. However, from my casual perusal of the web and Twitter comments, it seemed to generally alienate (if not bore) those who had not read the book. Its complex narrative structure became inaccessible or incomprehensible. Further, by removing both the rich backstory of the main characters as well as the subplots and minor storylines to accommodate the time constraints involved in telling a feature-length film, it seemed to lose something in the translation to screen. While those familiar with the comic might have been able to "read the backstory" of the comic into the film (or be satisified in knowing that the DVD would supply many of these additional materials down the road), those who came to the material for the first time were likely to encounter essentially an arthouse superhero film.
The problem with it being an arthouse superhero film was even more complicated by the fact that a) it wasn't a very good one if viewed on its own merits, as opposed to in relation to the source material; and b) it had been marketed by Warner Bros. as "just another superhero action film." In the short term, Warners' decision to minimize the film's complexity in its marketing materials might have served it well: thus, the opening weekend box office was solid, if not breathtaking. However, with regard to the film's longer term viability, such strategies are more problematic. This is most immediately apparent from the way the film has quickly crashed and burned at the box office as fans of the comic book (at least, those that I know, and whose responses I have read online) seem to have decided that it is not worth seeing again in theaters. This is further compounded by the negative buzz, which has contributed to disinterest on the part of many of those who are not part of the relatively narrow niche of individuals who have read the book.
Now one can certainly argue that in the longer term, the film may do okay financially. I imagine the DVD sales will be quite solid for those who want to see all the additional materials that had to be excised from the film due to time constraints. In addition, the success of the film has led to a dramatic increase in the sales of the graphic novel, which in turn will lead to more interest in the movie...and so on.
Nonetheless, in spite of the potential long term viability of Watchmen, it seems quite likely that the film's disappointing box office returns -- if not outright failure -- will reinvigorate discussions about the extent to which Hollywood's business model for theatrically-oriented motion pictures is increasingly out whack with marketplace realities. It seemed that this discussion had begun to be initiated last year when Speed Racer crashed and burned at the box office. Yet that conversation was cut short by the astounding performance of Iron Man and The Dark Knight, thereby leading to the repeated declarations of the age of the comic book movie and the continuing longevity of the big budget event film as the raison d'etre for Hollywood.
Now it seems this conversation is likely to appear again. However, I wonder whether the questions asked -- or responses provided -- will be the right ones. It is well known that theatrical box office accounts for ever-diminishing amounts of the overall income for motion pictures. The premiere of feature films has become an exercise in establishing the brand for future markets (most especially DVD). Yet in spite of this, the size of (domestic) theatrical returns are seen as an indicator for future returns -- thus if a movie takes in smaller-than-expected amounts at the box office, it is anticipated that returns down the road (especially in terms of DVD and merchandise sales) will also be smaller than expected. Thus, tremendous energy is expended on promoting the film early on, in the hopes that it will not only take off (and "have legs" in theaters) but also in ancillary markets.
But what seems to have emerged in this day and age is that box office discourse has taken on a life of its own. We hear constantly about box office grosses everywhere-- in the pages of USA Today, on the nightly broadcasts of Entertainment Tonight and so on. These reports suggest to an uninformed general public that box office in itself has meaning -- that $100 million at the box office means $100 million to Warner Bros. Anyone who follows the industry to any extent knows that of course this isn't the case. However, the mere fact that it these numbers are reported regularly to the public means that studios have defined their marketing practices in part to drive excessive opening weekends so that the film builds or sustains buzz for aftermarkets. What all this means is that box office returns have become symbolic practices, leading to material realities that differ from those promoted by the popular media.
Watchmen doesn't merely have the potential to provoke a reassessment of the meaning of box office, however. It might also contribute to a reconsideration of the reasons why certain movies get made and others do not. It seems fairly safe to say now that, however satisfying a movie such as Watchmen may have been to some fans -- and however much it may be an even better film when re-experienced in various ways on DVD -- it never should have been made in the manner it was. This is not to say it should not have been made at all, but rather that, given its budget level, combined with additional marketing expenses, it is unlikely that any (relatively faithful) iteration of Watchmen could have done well at the box office. Of course, this lesson is one that has been learned repeatedly as director after director came and went from the project and one studio after another ran the numbers and put the project in turnaround. The film was not made for so many years in part because of the difficulties of adapting the script effectively and in part because of the challenges of maintaining something near the original vision of the graphic novel in a cost effective manner. (The problem with Watchmen, in particular, is that there is no way that it could have been made as a feature that was faithful to the source material without spending this kind of money -- which is why some have long argued it would have worked better as an HBO-style TV mini-series.)
But Warners made it anyway. From one (narrower) perspective, I am thrilled that the company was willing to take a (measured) chance on material that was more narratively challenging, thematically rich, and aesthetically complex than, for example The Incredible Hulk. But I have to wonder if, in the end, this very risk will end up setting back more ambitious projects in the long run. To what extent will a perceived underperformance of this film lead to more conservative behavior on the part of film executives down the road? As yet another reason for saying no when -- just as a few months earlier -- The Dark Knight might have provided a reason for saying yes?
And I'm not just speaking about comic book adaptations here, but any project which can not only be marketed as simple and accessible but also IS in fact that way when experienced in theaters?
It will be interesting to see if - or the extent to which - Watchmen is discussed by the press and industry in ensuing months. What lessons will be taken from the film? What will be the consequences of its box office performance, both in terms of what is greenlit and who will keep or lose their jobs? To what extent, in this age of multimedia conglomerates, can or will one film have any substantive impact on corporate practices and production decisions? And when - if ever - will the popular tales told about box office returns be challenged or complicated by a wider range of bloggers, reporters, etc?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
In class yesterday, I blithely tossed out a reference to the Betamax.
Student's hand goes up.
"What's a Betamax"?
This event was accompanied by my equally disturbing realization that today's college freshmen weren't alive when The Simpsons started airing original episodes.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I saw this in the comments section of another blog and it seemed worth repeating here: Sex And the City (reported budget of about $60 million) earned about $57 million on its opening weekend domestic. Ultimately it brought in about $152 million domestic. It was released by New Line just as it was being dramatically downsized by Time Warner last summer.
The final numbers aren't in for Watchmen but it seems fairly certain that this film (reported budget of $150 million plus) earned less than SATC in its opening week (Hollywood Reporter says $55.7 million). I would be willing to wager it will not reach SATC's final grosses domestically. Warner Bros. distributed it North America (but Paramount has international and Fox gets a cut due to legal wranglings).
Now clearly domestic box office is a relatively small portion of the overall pie for media companies these days. Nonetheless, I find the divergent ways these films have been discussed and positioned in the media to be fascinating.
It is interesting to consider the gender politics involved in the press coverage, critical response, and online discussions about Watchmen v. Sex and the City. It amazes me that, in this day and age, every time a female-targeted movie "hits" at the box office, it is a "huge surprise" given its presumed "niche" audience (see also: Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia and most recently, He's Just Not That Into You). The lower budgets invested in these films, compared to male-targeted effects-driven action films, is itself indicative of the lower expectations. Yet Watchmen, because it is geared to the most desirable of audiences, is not conceptualized as niche in the same way -- though it is every bit as much of a niche product.
Oh-so-much more could be said about the ways the two films and their target audiences are conceptualized by various sectors of the industry (not to mention by the press). Alas, I must get back to work. Others' thoughts are welcome, however!
Also: it's worth underscoring that none of these remarks speak to my opinion of the aesthetic or narrative attributes of either film (personally I preferred Watchmen, but still had major problems with it). Discussing each film's relative merits, however, is the subject for a completely different blog entry.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Here is a brief overview of the book:
MEDIA INDUSTRIES: HISTORY, THEORY, AND METHOD outlines the diverse ways that media industries have been studied in the past and offers an innovative blueprint for future research and criticism. Contextualizing the current moment of unprecedented technological change, media convergence, and globalization, the authors engage in cross-disciplinary exploration from a range of historical, critical and theoretical perspectives.
Bringing together newly commissioned essays by leading scholars in film, media, communication, sociology and cultural studies, MEDIA INDUSTRIES constructs a unique road map for industrial analysis of film, radio, television, advertising and new media. Collectively, these 21 essays provide a crucial resource for those encountering the study of the media industries for the first time as well as for those interested in conducting cutting-edge research in this burgeoning field. Rich explanations of key terms and foundational ideas vividly illustrate the dynamic transformations taking place across varied national, regional and international contexts.
MEDIA INDUSTRIES is divided into four sections: History, Theory, Methodologies and Models, and Future Visions. Case studies on such diverse topics as the relationship between ESPN and hip-hop culture, the historical interactions of Hollywood and Washington, the shifting power relations between online fans and media producers, the growth of regional media archives, and multi-national production and distribution ventures across Latin America ground the broader concepts of each section. Taken together, the work in this collection marks a crucial step in expanding discussions of the media industries across numerous disciplines in the humanities and social sciences while also helping to bridge the gap between the industry and the academy.
Table of contents:
Introduction: Does the World Really Need One More Field of Study?: Jennifer Holt and Alisa Perren.
Part I: History.
1. Nailing Mercury: The Problem of Media Industry Historiography: Michele Hilmes.
2. Manufacturing Heritage: The Moving Image Archive and Media Industry Studies: Caroline Frick.
3. Film Industry Studies and Hollywood History: Thomas Schatz.
4. Historicizing TV Networking: Broadcasting, Cable, and the Case of ESPN: Victoria E. Johnson.
5. From Sponsorship to Spots: Advertising and the Development of Electronic Media: Cynthia B. Meyers.
6. New Media as Transformed Media Industry: P. David Marshall.
Part II: Theory.
7. Media Industries, Political Economy, and Media/Cultural Studies: An Articulation: Douglas Kellner.
8. Thinking Globally: From Media Imperialism to Media Capital: Michael Curtin.
9. Thinking Regionally: Singular in Diversity and Diverse in Unity: Cristina Venegas.
10. Thinking Nationally: Domicile, Distinction, and Dysfunction in Global Media Exchange: Nitin Govil.
11. Convergence Culture and Media Work: Mark Deuze.
Part III: Methodologies and Models.
12. Media Economics and the Study of Media Industries: Philip M. Napoli.
13. Regulation and the Law: A Critical Cultural Citizenship Approach: John McMurria.
14. Can Natural Luddites Make Things Explode or Travel Faster? The New Humanities, Cultural Policy Studies, and Creative Industries: Toby Miller.
15. Cultures of Production: Studying Industry’s Deep Texts, Reflexive Rituals, and Managed Self-Disclosures: John Thornton Caldwell.
16. The Moral Economy of Web 2.0: Audience Research and Convergence Culture: Joshua Green and Henry Jenkins.
Part IV: The Future: Four Visions.
17. From the Consciousness Industry to the Creative Industries: Consumer-Created Content, Social Network Markets, and the Growth of Knowledge: John Hartley.
18. Politics, Theory, and Method in Media Industries Research: David Hesmondhalgh.
19. An Industry Perspective: Calibrating the Velocity of Change: Jordan Levin.
20. Toward Synthetic Media Industry Research: Horace Newcomb.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Most articles discussing the ongoing labor negotiations between the actors' guilds (AFTRA and SAG) and AMPTP (the body negotiating on behalf of the media conglomerates) have focused on the key sticking points in their respective deals. Recently, some journalists have discussed the likelihood that SAG members will shift to being AFTRA members (if they aren't members of both already), since AFTRA has already finalized its agreement with AMPTP. However, these discussions have been framed primarily in terms of economic exigencies.
One topic I don't remember seeing discussed prior to reading this article in The Hollywood Reporter involves the potential technological and aesthetic ramifications of a production opting to go with AFTRA instead of SAG. Yet the labor disputes are leading to precisely these types of shifts. This is the case because television programs adhering to AFTRA guidelines have to be shot digitally. Significantly, since AFTRA has already made its deal with AMPTP, a disproportionate number of upcoming prime time broadcast television series are being shot in accordance with AFTRA, rather than SAG, guidelines.
As this article notes:
Once the odd man out during broadcast networks' winter pilot season with an occasional multicamera pilot, AFTRA is dominating the field this year with at least 50 of the 70-plus broadcast pilots to be produced coming under its jurisdiction. If the trend continues, it could increase AFTRA's clout in the TV biz at SAG's expense, and it will give a shot in the arm to digital production because AFTRA projects are required to be shot on means other than film....
A union insider noted that the switch to more AFTRA production is part of a pendulum swing tied to the evolution of the viewers' tastes and the technology employed in television. Most primetime shows in the golden era of multicamera comedy in the 1960s and '70s were under AFTRA because they were done on tape. But as dramas began to dominate schedules and the cost of film went down, SAG began to gain ground. The entertainment conglomerates' mandate for cost cutting in the face of a recession also contributed to the shift from film to digital. Cost savings from the switch are said to be about $30,000, or 1%-2% of the budget of a drama episode. That is significant given the fact that ABC Studios and 20th TV recently cut the budgets of all of their series by 2% in response to the economic crisis. Still, cost reduction was not as big an impetus for the dramatic shift from film to digital as was the turmoil around SAG.
What makes the transition more palpable for producers is the big advances in the digital technologies that eliminate previous shortcomings like inferior lighting and add advantages including easy digital effects.
It would be interesting to explore further whether -- or to what extent -- a shift from SAG to AFTRA not only changes the two groups' relative sizes and dynamics for the long term, but also substantively alters production practices on an industry-wide basis. Will labor negotiations lead to signficant changes in network TV's aesthetics? Will these changes be evident to many (or any) viewers?
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Finally starting to dig through emails, articles, etc. Hopefully I'll be able to get a couple of substantive posts up this week, in between writing, researching and whatnot.
Some of the more intriguing articles from the week...
- I'm still undecided about the relatively new website, The Daily Beast. However, industry observer Kim Masters has posted a few informative "insider-ish" columns, including this one about the recent departure of News Corp's second-in-command, Rupert Murdoch, and the potential power vacuum that could be emerging;
- Robert Johnson (founder of BET) is testing the limits of the FCC's must-carry policy (in tandem with Ion) in the digital realm. His goal: develop an "urban-targeted" broadcast network using some of the additional spectrum provided to broadcasters as they move to digital. Comcast has now publicly objected to this effort;
- The Simpsons will soon be the longest-running prime time series in TV history, surpassing Gunsmoke;
- Can we anticipate more social scientifically-oriented "violence in the media" research being funded in the near future?
- Samuel L. Jackson signs a NINE-picture deal with Marvel;
- In yet another sign of cable's growing strength, Turner plans to take on CBS at this year's upfronts;
- It looks like lifestyles of the rich and famous (2.0 reality version) will be omnipresent on cable TV for quite some time;
- ESPN becomes the latest TV entity aiming to move into the local (sports) news business with its ESPNChicago venture
Sunday, February 15, 2009
- The Wall Street Journal looks at the increasingly dire state of the local broadcast station business;
- MyNetwork TV announces that it is transforming itself (yet again) -- this time, it is shifting from a "more traditional broadcast model" to a "hybrid national program distribution service" (in other words, airing syndicated fare but at the same date/time across the country). The good news? It looks like the WWE is staying put;
- Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable is one step closer to being a stand-alone company;
- Though I take issue with some of the writer's conclusions regarding print v. visual media, there are some useful statistics in this article from the International Herald Tribune regarding current media consumption practices;
- Speaking of media consumption practices, here are a few recent figures regarding online viewing (not surprisingly, many of those "lost" viewers of Lost seem to be turning up online). But how do we count these nontraditional viewers? Yet another person offers his two cents on current audience measurement practices;
- Reading this interview with Disney exec Gary Marsh might cause one's eyes to roll to the back of their head more than once. Yet it is nonetheless a fascinating take on how Disney thinks it can attract more boys (ages 6-14) to TV with its newly re-branded "Disney XD";
- It looks like discussions about enacting "opt-in" privacy policies for online advertising are beginning to receive more regulatory attention -- and more press coverage;
- There may be many media companies tanking, but hey, at least Netflix is doing well;
- The future may be getting dimmer still for Miramax, as Disney strikes a deal with DreamWorks;
- And finally...former Miramax heads, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, add yet another lawsuit to their queue -- this time, their targets include indie financing/management powerhouse Cinetic and prominent "independent" company, Lionsgate
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Until this time magically becomes available (spring break, perhaps?), I am making a concerted effort to continue feeding articles onto this blog via Furl (see the right column of the blog, labeled "Recent Articles on the Media Industries").
A few recent articles I found particularly compelling...
- The Hollywood Reporter ponders how tightening credit markets will impact film production practices
- Transcript of Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer's rousing keynote at the NATPE conference (aka TV is dead, long live TV...have we heard this one before?)
- And my favorite...a recent NY Times article about how and why infomercials are on the rise in prime time (I am personally fascinated by the ads for bronze Obama busts being replayed nonstop during The Rachel Maddow Show and other MSNBC prime time shows)
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I suspect I wasn't the only one surprised to see that Paul Blart, Mall Cop earned more than $30 million in its opening weekend. To put this in perspective, this is more than twice the box office returns earned by "King of the Box Office" Will Smith for Seven Pounds or by mega-star Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is also close to what pre-sold Marley and Me earned in its first week out as well.
How can this be explained? Is there a massive Kevin James fan base out there? Has this untapped audience been waiting quietly in the wings, biding its time until James was given the appropriate cinematic showcase in which to display his comedic skills? Does this suggest the potentially powerful (and relatively unexploited) box office prowess of CBS sitcom stars?
Perhaps big screen features should be fast-tracked for fellow sitcom actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine) and Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) -- not to mention the highest-paid sitcom star on TV at present, Charlie Sheen...
Saturday, January 17, 2009
As the traditional business model for broadcasting continues to break down, broadcasters have started to view compensation for carriage on cable as a potentially untapped (or at least, not sufficiently tapped) area for additional income. Thus these battles between cable operators and broadcasters were expected to become increasingly high-profile events in 2009. However, a recent article in Multichannel News suggests that in fact, these two stakeholders are working behind the scenes to resolve their issues.
On the surface, this might seem like a good thing -- those of us who receive a clear broadcast signal through our cable service can rest assured that we will continue to get this signal in an uninterrupted fashion. But in fact, because these debates aren't being aired publicly after all, the implications of these arrangements aren't being publicly discussed either. As the aforementioned article notes, part of the reason that cable companies and broadcasters are eager to make these deals happen quickly and quietly is because:
"...Both sides, in an effort to avoid confusion for consumers surrounding the upcoming digital transition of broadcast signals, had proposed a “quiet period” for retrans negotiations prior to the Feb. 17 [digital] transition deadline. While no formal agreement was reached, it appears that broadcasters and cable operators decided to keep the vitriol in these negotiations to a minimum for the time being. Both sides are also wary of attracting too much attention from a new presidential administration that has sent some signals of its desire to further scrutinize the media industry."
While it's all well and good that broadcasters are being compensated for their signal, the way that these deals are being financed is quite problematic. In short, the cost is likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of even higher cable bills. Not only will we have higher cable bills, but we are going to be indirectly paying broadcasters in yet another way (at the very same moment that the government gives these broadcasters digital spectrum on which they can multicast, no less).
Even more troubling is that these deals are being struck in a fashion that bears a striking resemblance to the block booking practices of the studio era: the very article I cite above, for example, states that CBS has agreed in some cases to take less money for its stations in exchange for higher license fees for Showtime, which it also owns. This means even though Showtime is likely to provide viewers with fewer films than before (due to the end of output deals with three major studios), it will be paid more money by cable companies. (Given these circumstances, is it any surprise that the new mantra of Showtime executives is "original programming is the thing?")
Sure, I enjoy Weeds, Dexter, and other new original programs aired by Showtime. What I don't enjoy are these back-door dealings. Even more frustrating is the extent to which the attention being directed toward an already mismanaged D-TV transition is helping to distract us from some more questionable business practices taking place in the media industries.
Based on the ratings for last night's CSI (in which Grissom bade his farewell), the US is much more interested in seeing him say goodbye than we are President Bush.
According to The Hollywood Reporter:
"Thursday's ratings were marked by the twin farewells of President Bush and Gil Grissom, with the president's departure drawing fairly average viewership and William Petersen's final episode of "CSI" attracting potentially season-high crowds.
William Petersen's final episode as a regular cast member of “CSI” was seen by 24.3 million viewers -- the series' largest audience since the show's 2007 premiere. "CSI" received a 6.6 adults 18-49 rating and a 16 share. “Eleventh Hour” (13.2 million, 3.4/9) also performed well, its second-largest audience of the season.
Bush’s live address totaled a 20.9 metered-market household rating across four networks, which is in the rough ballpark of 25-33 million viewers and doesn't count cable news coverage.
The speech had to compete with news coverage of the US Airways crash, which seemed like an oddly appropriate bookend to his presidency (a sort of inverse Sept. 11, with another commercial aircraft crashing in New York City, only this time the event concluded wonderfully)."
It is fairly stunning to consider not only what has happened in the world, the country (and even the show) during this time, but also on "television" more generally. And intriguing that our new president and new CSI leader both start in earnest next week.