Sunday, November 26, 2006

Reason report on MIT's Futures of Entertainment conference

Alan Moore on Communities Dominate Brands draws our attention to this post.
It's by Jesse Walker at Reason magazine. Read the whole thing here.

Here's some of my personal highlights, Alan selects others at CDB here.
And there are a few of my own conclusions at the end. Feel free to add your own as posts.

Last summer, as the explosive popularity of YouTube became obvious to the older media companies, the marketing department at the Cartoon Network decided to use the site to promote its shows. So it posted some video clips there, hoping the promos would get forwarded in emails, linked on blogs and MySpace pages, and otherwise spread through the Internet, strengthening the channel's fan base and drawing in new viewers.
Happily, people noticed the videos. Unhappily, some of the people who noticed the videos worked for the Cartoon Network's legal department, who mistook their colleagues' new marketing tactic for an unauthorized appropriation of the firm's intellectual property. They promptly sent cease-and-desist letters demanding that the clips come down...

...a business meeting she and some colleagues once had with Apple... the TV people were caught up in pleasing all their stakeholders, while the Mac man was concerned solely with improving the consumer's experience. It's a pretty good snapshot of the difference between a company that sells eyeballs to advertisers and a company that sells tools to the audience....

The second panel... was devoted to content generated by the audience itself. The speakers included Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr; Rob Tercek of the (M)FORMA Group, which produces mobile entertainment; Kevin Barrett of BioWare, which makes computer-based role-playing games; and Ji Lee, who started sticking empty speech balloons on ads around New York City, waiting to see what people would write inside them and photographing the results... They all build structures where users can roam, interact, and create and share their own content.

Fake suggested that there is a "general exhaustion with mass consumer culture," and that less passive forms of entertainment are arguably the natural state of affairs. It wasn't long ago, historically speaking, that quilting bees and front-parlor music occupied the space now filled by movies and television.

Tercek argued that economic logic favors user-generated content.

And Barrett noted that, while only a minority of the grassroots creations... might be "good" by mainstream standards... that doesn't matter from the ordinary consumer's point of view. What's important is that it fills a need for the people who make it, not that anyone outside their immediate circle find it engaging...

You can't predict the way those people will use those tools. Flickr began as a feature in a long-dead online game, a way players could drag and drop photos into instant messages. The programmers soon added the ability to post those pictures on webpages, and that was the side of their service that succeeded.

Wise companies -- put another way, companies that survive in the marketplace -- understand that it's better to foster and follow such serendipitous developments than to try to force your users to conform to your original vision.

Ron Meiners of described his company's plan to build a platform that will let other people build yet more worlds on a license-free basis, from enormous World of Warcraft-style games to amateur, user-generated realms, each with their own aims and mores.

Of all of the above, the most telling for me is the notion that the natural human state is to join in - to interact, to be part of the entertainment rather than to sit back and stare at a screen: hence the success of social-networked sites, of blogging, of computer games... etc etc etc

It's why engagement marketing beats interruptive marketing, why UGC is essential, why micro mass media beats mass media, why broadcast is failing and self-cast is growing.

Even when we thought we were a mass media, passive-entertainment addicted society, the clues were still there: It's why people always liked Letters pages in magazines and newspapers, why phone-ins have always been at the heart of talk radio and why gossip happens.

Hollywood and TV have masked some human truths. The tools of the internet have done nothing more than reveal the huge commercial potential in understanding them.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?