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Chris Crocker, Somewhere Between Boy and Girl, Proves Me Right October 22, 2009

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Click for Chris Crocker's Boy-Girl Video

Click for Chris Crocker's Latest Video

Nobody is particularly interested in Chris Crocker anymore; maybe he’s been replaced by B. Scott. But I still think he’s fascinating, and kind of a smart performance artist. (I’m using “he” right now because it’s my understanding that’s the pronoun Chris still uses).

In this video, Crocker, whose hair has been growing longer and whose application of makeup becoming more intricate, answers the question on everybody’s mind: are you a boy or a girl? Well, it wasn’t on my mind; I’d always assumed that Crocker was basically somewhere in between. Behold, he proved me right!

“I don’t feel like just boy or just girl…I do not believe that my genitalia defines my gender…My souls defines my gender, and actually I don’t even know that souls have genders. I just know how I feel inside.”

But that’s not what the headline to this post is about. Crocker’s reluctance to deinfe himself as one gender puts him in league with a number of other camp performers I interviewed a year ago for a paper titled, “Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal,” now in review at Communication, Culture and Critique (abstract here). My basic thesis was that, because of generational and sociological trends, and the space of YouTube itself, camp performers (“queer” or gay performers working in the decades-old aesethetic tradition of irony and theatricality) were infusing more potent ideas of individuality and “personality” into what was is traditionally a community practice and style. Part of this individuality, this “personal” discourse, is reflected in the rejection of labels like “gay” and even gender terms like male and female.

Britney Houston, a popular music video remixer, told me she identifies as gender queer and appreciates the “is she or isn’t she?” debates that occur in the comment section of her videos. Michael Lucid, an independent filmmaker, rejects the label of drag queen and says he actually sees himself, when he’s on camera, as a husky voiced woman.

What replaces the labels? Performers told me some version of expressing their “soul,” or personality, mediated by presumably real emotions and investments in their own videos and representations. Chris Crocker is perhaps the best example. In his infamous “Leave Britney Alone!” video, Crocker sobs histrionically in front of the camera, in a way so extreme, it seems certainly put on. But Crocker has insisted to this day that his emotions were real. Why? Because Crocker wants us to think of himself as an individual whose soul overrides the categories in which we inscribe him (also because, hey, he really is a rabid Britney fan).

Now, Crocker says that his heart and mind are female, and that’s he’s only grown accustomed to being male. He also says that, while he’s not ready to transition now, he may in the future, and has noticed himself growing — phenotypically — increasingly female. It’s actually an interesting video to watch in its totality, an intimate look at a young person working through his identity in very nuanced ways.

Thanks for the video, Chris! Good luck on your journey, wherever it may lead.

Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Black Video October 15, 2009

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Many thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!



Tickles_TVWhen new technologies emerge a host of new companies tend to sprout up. Tons of independent radio stations catering to diverse interests before 1970s-style deregulation. Digital technology brought dozens of new channels to television; that same technology fostered numerous production companies making independent TV and films. Now the drive to create original web video — a trend that dates back to the late 1990s, but has gained new steam with broadband and YouTube post-2006 — has attracted  new voices previously unheard. We have corporately produced web series, but also black web series and series made with virtually no budget at all.

Well, that’s great. But how do you distribute and promote all these shows and videos? Anyone can create a video, but if, like my YouTube videos, nobody sees them, then there isn’t much a point. Sure, decently endowed websites now fund and promote web shows. But what about black content, in many cases prone to smaller audiences?

Enter the sites pictured above. (more…)

What is a Web Series? A Guide and Introduction October 9, 2009

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Michael Buckley and his popular YouTube show, "What the Buck"

Michael Buckley's show, "What the Buck," is a snappy daily overview of celebrity current events.

Crackle's new zombie/comedy series, Woke Up Dead

"Woke Up Dead" is a comedy horror series premiering on Crackle in the fall 2009.

"Valemont," MTV's hyper-interactive series from TV to Web

"Valemont" is a web series that premiered on MTV, is sponsored by Verizon and has multiple extensions in mobile and online.


Ikea's web series "Easy to Assemble" is a comic romp set inside its own stores.

What is a web series? To anyone in the industry right now, this post will be elementary. Apologies in advance. But I think for academics and maybe aspiring producers, this might be useful. I’ve had a bunch of hits on my old primer, but it’s rough at best. I’m also posting this so if you’re doing something with web series I don’t mention you can let me know — I want to have the most complete picture possible of this medium.

When I talk about researching web series to friends and colleagues, I often hear: “what do you mean by that?” There are hundreds (thousands, likely) of web series. Here’s my attempt to give people some basic information, based on ongoing interviews with producers, marketers, distributors and others.

Please, if I’m missing something or made an error, comment or contact! I’ll update with new information; I want this to be a resource.


ONLINE VIDEO: A New Kid Delivers Mad Men Parody “Ma Men” September 16, 2009

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funnyordie-joey-mcintyre-MA-Men(Click the photo above for video!)

The level of humor here is pretty base: the Boston accent is funny. But, hey, it is funny!

Bloggers are already raving about New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre’s spoof Ma Men — although it really has little to do with the original. The 36-year old McIntyre is a Massachusetts native, hailing from Needham and Jamaica Plain, both outside Boston.

It looks pretty clear Budweiser sponsored this and that’s okay. Perhaps if it becomes sufficiently popular (70,000 views on FunnyOrDie in 24 hours isn’t half bad), it’ll become a web series. There are enough Mad Men fans to pull in an initial audience, and the fact that it’s hilarious will keep them coming! Could this be one of the next hit web series? Will it go viral? Time will tell!

TV: “Community” Needs to Do Better in Class August 17, 2009

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Original at Splice Today, also see my thoughts on what Community‘s premiere on Facebook means for YouTube.

Facebook | Community

A good test of whether a show is great is if, at the end of the episode, you cannot help but replay every scene in your mind. I get this feeling after Mad Men, True Blood and a few other commercial and critical darlings.

If a show is good but not great, you might not think about after it’s over, but you’re excited to see the next episode; it’s how I feel about Royal Pains.

If a show borders on mind-numbing mediocrity, however, you forget about it almost immediately after it’s over. You can’t remember the jokes or the dramatic moments. The past is fuzzy. The future is empty.

I got that feeling when I watched Community, NBC’s anticipated comedy for this fall starring Chevy Chase and The Soup‘s Joel McHale, of whom I’m huge fan. In a creative but inevitable marketing move by a broadcast network, NBC premiered the pilot show for a limited time on Facebook, hoping to harness the force of social networking to build a cult base around the show. Facebook’s features allow viewers to easily recommend shows to friends, and personal recommendations are the best drivers of TV viewership. People want to watch what their friends are watching. It’s why I consistently feel compelled to watch The Office (no judgment!; it’s a good show).

I had high hopes for Community. It follows several characters as they embark on their journey to graduate from Glendale Community College.  The show is really about Joel McHale’s Jeff, a lawyer disbarred for falsifying his academic background by lying about his undergraduate degree. McHale is a fast talker and non-worker. He says the problem is if you’re smart you can get away without doing much work. He fits in at Glendale, but doesn’t want to be there. By the end of the pilot he has a love interest, an average-looking blonde with a quick tongue, and a throng of quirky, ethnic friends.

The reason I was optimistic about Community is that it concerns a relatively unexplored aspect of American life, even though millions attend community college every year. Think of all the shows and movies about life at universities and try to think of more than two about a community college. The experiences are different, the most obvious of which is that community college graduates are not really a community at all: many students have jobs, families or live at home and have their own friends. Community seems at least somewhat aware of the irony in its name, and when Jeff christens his fake Spanish study group a “community,” it sounds as ridiculous and sad as it should.

The problem with Community? Like many new television shows, it lacks the hardest things to manufacture: relatable characters and compelling storylines. I certainly don’t care about Jeff, or his paramour-to-be, Britta. His backstory hardly endears us to him, and we don’t really know hers. Even if Jeff is supposed to be an anti-hero, Joel McHale certainly doesn’t look like one. We love him on The Soup, so we’re left in a bit of a void. Some of the side characters have compelling stories: a working mother and a football player who missed out on a scholarship due to an injury are fine on paper but on screen only serve as punchlines for Jeff’s quips. Chevy Chase’s Pierce appears to be someone who once had money and has either lost it or has kept it and is bored. That’s kind of interesting.

Nor does Community, written by a veteran of The Sarah Silverman Show, incorporate the best of what makes hit comedies develop impassioned fan bases today. It wants to be wacky and quick like 30 Rock, but doesn’t make it, and awkward like The Office but comes up short. But the writing does sound conscientious and thoughtful, and that alone might fuel Community to a second season. Mostly, though, the show gives us a glimpse of potential, if not greatness. Maybe this is the next 30 Rock, or maybe it’ll be canceled. Judging from the pilot, I can’t tell either way.

YOUTUBE: The End of YouTube? August 10, 2009

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CLICK for article.

No website stays on top forever. So in the tradition of reckless speculation, in an article over at Ronebreak, I lay the case for YouTube’s demise, just for sport.

YOUTUBE: Music Video Remakes: The Video! June 20, 2009

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I’ve created a short YouTube in conjunction with my paper on music video remakes and their fair use. Check it out! For my written take on this, see my previous post.

YOUTUBE: Music Video Remakes: Fair Use (!) and History June 11, 2009

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So the following post is a truncated version of a paper I’ve written and plan to submit to conferences and publications soon. For an unrevised draft of the paper, click here. For a playful YouTube video I made on this topic, click here.

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' rendition of "I Kissed a Girl"

Venetian Princess' parody of "I Kissed a Girl"

For non-academics and makers of YouTube and other online video the headline for this post should read: Music Video Remakes = Fair Use! Though this isn’t the main point of my essay, it’s obviously the most relevant and practical. My basic fair use argument is this: using the most important part of Pierre Leval’s “four factors” and jettisoning the rest, music video remakes are almost always fair use because they necessarily “transform” the original work they mimic. Why? Because corporate music videos (the originals) are promotional tools for celebrities and music. Nearly all remakes either change, replace or remix the celebrity or the music in a video, thereby transforming fundamentally the original purpose of the music video and creating something new and interesting!

There are other ways to justify the fair use of the many other videos that appear on YouTube. The best of these remedies is Peter Jaszi and Pat Aufderheide’s “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video,” a clear and brilliant set of guidelines to assure users they are not criminals — it also provides a useful defense for users when they receive a takedown notice from YouTube or another portal. There are only six categories, so it’s worth a look-over. I was surprised how many YouTube users obey the takedown notice without protest; there is a knowledge gap between copyright holders (mostly corporations, but some small producers) and YouTube users. Many users are simply unaware of the fair use defense, and if they are, they are not skilled enough to make a convincing one.

The bulk of the paper examines the history of the music video and shows how, from it’s inception, the video was all about challenging coherent narratives, dominant representations and authorship itself, or at least that’s how scholars interpreted it. Music videos were inherently participatory, sites of fandom; people sang and acted out the videos in their homes. I use this framework to suggest the video remake follows in the music video tradition of challenging dominant narratives, encouraging fandom and viewer participation.

A remake should not have to be a parody to be fair use; it shouldn’t even have to critique the original, which courts have seen as the clearest fair use defense. Many of the remakes are simply homages, and my framework allows for derivative works that don’t critique but instead extend or reinvent the original. Transformativeness should be interpreted as broadly as possible. Just because Weird Al Yankovic asks (and pays) for consent because he needs the industry’s approval to survive, doesn’t mean that model is appropriate for the user who simply wants to remix to demonstrate skill, or his/her love or disdain of the original!

This is a very clear extension of James Boyle (The Public Domain) and Lawrence Lessig’s (Free Culture) argument that culture belongs to everyone, that it is public, and that no one can make anything that is wholly original. As Henry Jenkins argued quite a long time ago, we all make culture from existing (often mainstream and corporate) culture.

So make remakes and prosper! If YouTube sends you a takedown notice, call me.

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Britney Houston's "Lipgloss." Houston told me: “If I didn’t like a video I wouldn’t do it…I do it because I like the artist…I’m a big fan of all those people, and people know who they are.”

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"

Lil' Mama's original "Lipgloss"


THESIS (for those who care):

For a genre most recognizable by the antics of Weird Al Yankovic, who inaugurated the form over twenty-five years ago soon after MTV inaugurated the music video, the moderate popularity of music video remakes on YouTube marks a hallmark in the evolution of several historical trajectories, including that of music video itself, the increasingly public nature of fandom, the desire for fame among young people raised on the Internet (“millennials”), the power of digital technology to democratize cultural production, the growing cultural power of remixing, sampling and mash-ups, and the persistence, perhaps the evolution, of postmodern aesthetics. In all, these cultural artifacts on YouTube fundamentally question cultural ownership at a time when digital technology is forcing corporations and legal institutions to continually rethink copyright, fair use and how to ensure the progress of the sciences and the arts, a Constitutional imperative, while honoring rich cultural histories and modes of production of users. All of these currents run through the genre of music video remakes, marking them as a historically significant development in media history.

This paper proposes answers to the dilemma of cultural ownership in the digital age – copyright – through a theoretical and historical lens. First I will place the remakes in the context of music video history and then differentiate them from forms of production that have arisen since, including remixing, sampling and mash-ups. I will then discuss the cultural significance of music video remakes, i.e. what they say about this contemporary moment. Next I will discuss why individuals engage in such activities and offer a way to categorize their videos. In compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube takes down videos accused of violating copyright, so I will proceed by discussing some of the consequences of this policy on the remakes. Finally I will attempt a fair use argument using the examples of Britney Houston’s “Lipgloss” and a few others as a way incorporate the history and meanings of this form into actionable policy and practice; I argue that nearly all music video remakes inherently transform their source material by remaking and reimagining the corporate image, providing a legal justification for this form of media production predicated on pastiche, sharing and multiple interpretations.

Once again, full paper here.

ONLINE VIDEO: Apple Ads: Innovating Past the Competition June 1, 2009

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Why is Apple the only major company doing exciting and sleek video ads for publishing websites? They’ve been great on the New York Times’ website (the PC vs. Mac ads), and today I just saw this ad on New York Magazine‘s site for the Shuffle.

Apple’s ads are intrusive. They take up a lot of room. Usually, for most corporate ads, this is annoying — WashingtonPost.com has these kinds of ads all the time. Yet Apple’s design team is solid. Their ads are simple and fun. They are interactive and informative — the one above introduces readers to songs by Röyksopp, The Virgins and Phoenix (though New York Magazine’s affluential audience is likely aware of these bands).

A lot of companies are using large scale online video ads creatively, most notably at Pandora. But publishing websites for newspapers and magazines are different because people come there for information and really don’t want to see ads. But that doesn’t mean the websites aren’t fertile ground for a positive viewer experience.

Apple has a good formula, and it would behoove other companies to be similarly as disciplined and innovative in their approach.

TV: ABC’s OOPS! Ugly Betty “Series” Finale? May 26, 2009

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UPDATE 4/14/10: Ugly Betty‘s real finale was tonight. Here is my post with thoughts on its conclusion.

UPDATE 1/30/10: Ugly Betty‘s fourth season will be its last, having been canceled and will be airing its series finale this spring. Meanwhile, it appears the cast is in demand, so we’ll be seeing them all again! Check out, for one, America Ferrara’s new wedding-themed movie! Click here for my post about what we can learn from Ugly Betty‘s cancellation.

UPDATE 9/12/09: TVbytheNumbers says ABC is airing just enough episodes of Ugly Betty on Fridays this fall to meet syndication (rerun) requirements/standards. So I’m not even sure we’ll get a full fourth season, just enough so we can see the first three on Lifetime.

ORIGINAL: So I just got finished with the Ugly Betty finale — I’ve been at the International Communication Association conference and so am a little behind on my TV — and noticed the “error” above.

ABC, in a kind of Freudian slip, inadvertently labeled last Thursday’s episode the show’s “series finale” as opposed to its “season finale.” Ugly Betty is supposed to be returning next fall, albeit to the dungeon time-slot of Fridays at 9PM.

At best, this little slip up — it should be noted elsewhere on the site the episode is correctly labeled “season finale” — indicates how close my beloved show came to cancellation. At worst, it’s further evidence that when Betty returns next fall it will be lying face first with its head on the chopping block, waiting to get cut.

That being said, the show really upped its game with this last latest show. (SPOILER ALERT) Betty finally got her promotion, but her now ex-boyfriend is her boss. Wilhelmina is back out of power and so will return to deviousness; Mark may or may not leave Mode and Daniel is single again. All the while the show pulled off some fun, if not terribly original, gags, including throwing Rachel Dratch (Mode‘s apparent features editor) off a building (anyone remember season 6, episode 18 of Sex and the City?).

I don’t want Betty to get canceled, though I desperately want her to get a makeover, especially now with her new job. Still, I’m going to start emotionally preparing myself for that reality.

Like Freud said, there are no accidents.

YOUTUBE: Video Effectively Integrated with Google News May 23, 2009

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YouTube and Google News

So I’m a little late with this, but I hadn’t realized how seamlessly Google was integrating news video into Google News search results and on the homepage. If they could somehow convince major content providers to regularly and quickly post video to YouTube it could provide another way to monetize the site. The problem is most major news organizations have their own video portals, but perhaps smaller media organizations could use the publicity.

YOUTUBE: A Few Good Movies Amidst Lots of… Well… May 13, 2009

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YouTube's movie selection is still mostly pitiful, but it houses some classics.

YouTube's movie selection is still mostly pitiful, but it houses some classics.

Yes, YouTube has been slow on getting premium content, and what they do have in TV and movies is mostly crap. But I was surprised after visiting YouTube’s movie section for the first time in a long while how many little gems they have. Sure there are some recent not-so-horrible films like The Mod Squad (Claire Danes version) and Cliffhanger, but YouTube also has bona fide classics, quality stuff. With the help of distributors like Crackle.com, Cinetic and MGM, YouTube is getting some nice content, even some with limited commercials. Here, with links, is what’s popular and worth watching.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (dir. George Romero) – Every streaming site has this one (IMDB.com has it) because it’s in the public domain! Back when corporations had to actually put in the effort to register their films, Night‘s producers made a mistake on the copyright application, sending this one into free culture. It’s one of the few classics you can use and remix without compunction.

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194779266

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (dir. Rob Epstein) – I don’t agree with critics who compare Gus Van Sant’s feature Milk with the documentary (they’re two separate genres!), but I do think everyone should watch both. Both are compelling, in their own ways.

AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD (dir. Werner Herzog); LITTLE DIETER LEARNS TO FLY (dir. Werner Herzog); FITZCARRALDO (dir. Werner Herzog) – I don’t know why there’s so much Herzog on YouTube, but c’mon folks, it’s Herzog. ‘Nuff said.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (dir. Howard Hawks) – For anyone who likes romantic comedies, this is the cream of the crop. Compare this film to similar ones made today and you suddenly feel like we’ve taken several steps back. I wish there were more rom-coms this spirited and witty — and fast! — today. I’m so happy this is on the ‘Tube!

SLACKER (dir. Richard Linklater) – Linklater’s early day-in-the-life film, nominated for ISA and Sundance awards.

CASINO ROYALE (multiple) – One of the few films in which Woody Allen acts but does not direct!

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194832938

SUPER SIZE ME (dir. Morgan Spurlock) – I’m still scared to see this movie, but now I can watch it for free!

BLUE LAGOON (dir. Randal Kleiser) – No secret why this is one of YouTube’s most popular movies.

YouTube - Watch Movies on YouTube_1242194847504

CARRIE (dir. Brian De Palma) – Brian De Palma has his critics, but the man knows how to craft a solid film.

TV: Online Television, Web Serials Primer – Introduction (Part 2) May 7, 2009

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Web serials are also experimenting with distribution and exhibition online. The main debate centers on how to showcase the show, how people find it. This typically involves using either a video hosting site (YouTube, MySpace, Slide FunSpace on Facebook, Blip.tv, Crackle.com), a targeted video hosting site (FunnyorDie.com; CollegeHumor.com; Minimovie.com), a separate site for the show (lg15.com, afterworld.tv, theburg.tv), placing it on a network’s site (CW.com, NBC.com, IFC.com), or syndicating it, putting in more places than one,[1] which appears to be the new trend. (Norlin 2009) Here again, there are debates: some say single programs cannot stand alone, that websites become hits, not shows: “People are conditioned to think of hits as single programs…That’s not going to work online, where Hulu is a hit, Twitter is a hit.” (Caranicas 2009) Yet some networks want to drive traffic to their website, and still others lack trust in the business models of major hosting sites like YouTube, who is still tinkering with pleasing ad models (pre-rolls, in-video display). History shows, moreover, that some users will pay for shows (Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), but no major company sees that as the future. Placing a show on a site like YouTube or Facebook incorporates the social networking and interactivity, which many, including lonelygirl15 co-creator Miles Beckett, say is vital. (New Media Age 2009) In the end, a growing consensus believes the television and computer screen will have to merge, or that the role of “television” itself will change, focusing on big live events rather than scripted or documentary (reality TV) fare. (Caranicas 2009; McQuivey 2009)


            The online video market is still small, and despite its growth, networks and content producers are debating whether it is the future of serialized moving images. Some forecasts suggest the online video market will grow considerably but only reach 10 percent of traditional TV’s revenue. (Albrecht 2009) As an additional challenge, many Internet users – perhaps 70 percent – know nothing about web serials, even as video watching, by almost any metric, continues to grow. (Dobuzinskis 2009; McQuivey 2009; Albrecht 2009) The market also lacks structure. For advertisers, the diffuse nature of content delivery systems (both on the computer screen and to the television) leads to confusion about where to put their money. (Learmonth 2009) All this is happening during a recession, causing numerous players to pull back. Advertisers are not buying enough ads to fund all the video out there (from Hulu to YouTube) and networks are retrenching, pulling back content (Hulu from Boxee; FX from Hulu). These moves may, in the end, prove ill-considered. More collaboration leads to more innovation, which will help develop web serials into a viable commercial form.


Albrecht, Chris. 2009. Is Online Video a Threat to TV?. March 26. NewTeeVee.com. http://newteevee.com/2009/03/26/is-online-video-a-threat-to-tv/

Barraclough, Leo. 2009. Made-for-online content still stalled; Business model remains a work in progress. March 29. Daily Variety.

Caranicas, Perter. 2009. Panel debates future of television; Discussion puts focus on TV, Internet. April 28. Daily Variety.

Chaney, Jen. 2009. ‘I Don’t Quite Know the Metrics of the Success.’; Josh Schwartz Is Getting in Tune With TV on the Web. March 8. The Washington Post, E02.

Dobuzinskis, Alex. 2009. Hollywood Struggles to find wealth on the Web. February 18. Reuters.

Donahue, Ann. 2008. Music show launches on TheWB.com. October 30. Billboard.com.

Hale, Mike. 2008. Television Keeps a Hand in the Online Game With Serialized Shows. September 2. The New York Times, Arts 5.

Hampp, Andrew. 2008. NBC Universal wants advertisers to fund original web series; Digital studio plans to integrate brands during the development stage. October 13. Advertising Age.

Heffernan, Virginia. 2007. Artists Only. December 23. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Heffernan, Virigina. 2008. Serial Killers. August 24. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Learmonth, Michael. 2009. Digital Marketing Guide: Video: From Broadcast Sites to Startups, How to Navigate the Online Content Space… March 30. Advertising Age. http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=135596

McQuivey, James L. 2009. Preparing for the Coming Online TV Backlash: An Open Letter To An Industry On The Verge Of A Big Mistake. March 13. Forrester Research.

McQuivey, James L. 2009. There’s an online TV storm a brewin.’ March 29. OmniVideo. http://omnivideo.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/theres-an-online-tv-storm-a-brewin/

Norlin, Chase. 2009. The Next Big Thing In Online Video: Syndication. April 15. OnlineMediaDaily. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=103973

Owen, Rob. 2009. Web TV: Series not just for television anymore. March 17. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, A1.

Strauss, Gary. 2009. CollegeHumor.com laughs all the way to a TV series ; Not quite sketch, not quite scripted. February 5. The New York Times, D3.

Staff. 2009. Teens expect more integration says KateModern team. February 12. New Media Age

[1] Which is what Arianna Huffington proposes. (Caranicas 2009)

TV: Online Television, Web Series Primer – Introduction May 6, 2009

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UPDATE!: I’ve updated the following post in a clearer format with better information on how the market works. Please see this post: “What is a Web Series?”


ORIGINAL: I wrote this primer on made-for-online TV serials for a seminar here at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania to orient myself to what the most current debates are and to start planning for research in this area (I’m just starting to learn). I’m posting it here in sections to get feedback, comments and information from anyone who’ll offer it. So please leave comments or email me (ajean @ asc . upenn . edu) if you can help out!


Bitsie Tulloch in "Quarterlife"

Bitsie Tulloch in "Quarterlife"

From Newsweek.com’s The District to IFC.com’s Young American Bodies, the range and number of web serials is staggering. In some ways, to speak of web serials – web series, or, metaphorically speaking, online TV shows – is fraught with complications. What are the similarities, for instance, between the low-budget, DIY aesthetic of Young American Bodies – formerly on Nerve.com – compared with the slate of sci-fi action series NBC created for its hit show HeroesNowhere Man, Going Postal, and Heroes Destiny? Wikipedia’s list of web series contains dozens of shows, and even that list is incomplete. There is no formula for web serials. They range from science fiction (a large proportion), to non-narrative periodical short films (Green Porno, SundanceChannel.com), to vignettes (Rockville, CA for TheWB.com), to promotional extras for established network shows (Chasing Dorota for the CW; Mode After Hours for ABC; Kenneth the Web Page for NBC), among numerous other unclassifiable installations on independent websites, major distributors like YouTube, Facebook or FunnyorDie.com, and network web sites. Web serials are becoming established and developing an infrastructure – they have an annual award, the Streamys, judged by a panel of industry leaders and participants. Yet with all of this activity, the mass media industries – advertisers, content producers, major distributors (networks) – have yet to master the medium and make it systematically profitable. The two major shows in web series history – lonelygirl15 and Quarterlife – both ending in 2008 and both often referenced in articles about online TV – have provided little guidance on do’s and don’ts, raising more questions for industry professionals than answers. In general, online television represents a genre of media still in development, and the debates around its possibilities and shortcomings indicate the challenges facing mass media industries today.


The confusion around web serials mostly results from timing, or rather, the fact that the medium is still in its growing stages. Business and production practices are still being fleshed out advertisers, content producers and distributors looking for ways to operationalize the form. Most agree that production costs need to be kept as low as possible, since there is no guarantee of reaching an audience on the web. The definition of “low” is relative, however. Sometimes, series producers will pay extra for stars – as some have suggested for Gemini Division, a show developed for NBC featuring Rosario Dawson (Hale 2008) – and yet other stars take a pay cut in order to experiment with something new. Megan Mullally did not get paid for doing TheWB.coms’s Children’s Hospital, and many of the stars who appear in FunnyorDie.com videos are not paid either, while TheWB.com’s show Rockville, CA uses union actors who are paid. “The one commonality is that all Web series cost a fraction of prime-time TV series, which run more than $1 million per episode for half-hour programs and more than $2.5 million per episode for dramas.” (Owen 2009)

"Anytime with Bob Kushell"

"Anytime with Bob Kushell"

A popular talk show on Crackle.com, Anytime with Bob Kushell, produces 22 episodes in “the mid-six figure range.” (Owen 2009) Another reason to keep costs low is advertisers do not pay top-dollar for ads on web shows – the relationship changes when the advertisers help produce – because the audiences can be a small, the cost-per-thousand rate does not make it much cheaper. For marketers, “the overall investment here is small, but so are the audiences. It’s a niche strategy that could work for some brands.” (Learmonth 2009) Even if a show does attract an audience, the industry lacks a systematized way to decide what constitutes a hit. Unlike Nielsen, which provides ratings based on the number of TV households and the number of people watching at a given time, such a refined system is unavailable – and may be incompatible – in an online environment. New York Times reporter Virginia Heffernan noted that, on a “view-per-episode” basis, Quarterlife was more successful than lonelygirl15, even though the latter lasted longer. Yet she was quick to note that the “unit of success is the flimsy ‘view,’ meaning virtually any click on any part of a series, anywhere on the Web. But it’s clear that we’re not talking about numbers advertisers can remotely trust. Are there really any hit Web serials?” (Heffernan 2008) Especially in a digital environment where everything is purportedly quantifiable, advertisers want proof of engagement, some would argue “views,” and even “subscribers,” as is the case with YouTubers like “Fred,” are not enough.[1] A lack of standard metrics means more creative freedom in some cases. Josh Schwartz (The O.C.; Gossip Girl) said of his web series, Rockville, CA:

“I don’t quite know the metrics of the success, which is also part of what appeals to me. So much of what takes the fun out of doing a TV show is the ratings. The thing that was incredible about this was the freedom. There were no notes on scripts. I was able to cast whoever I wanted to cast for the show, and that was really freeing.” (Chaney 2009)

Yet clearly this kind of freedom will not last forever; once ratings are in place, shows start to get crafted to target audiences.

The success of "Lonelygirl15," relative to "Quarterlife," led Virginia Heffernan to question what a "hit" is online.

The success of "Lonelygirl15," relative to "Quarterlife," led Virginia Heffernan to question what a "hit" is online.

This ambiguity over the metrics of success has problems – notably, in getting the money to create the series – and also leads to interesting conversations about the ontology of what quantifies a “hit” and, indeed, what serials should look like and how they should be structured. Heffernan, saying she preferred the loose, unpredictable, less clearly narrative lonelygirl15, exhibited at first without metrics in mind, to the more rigidly serialized Quarterlife, said that perhaps the idea of a “web serial” and a “hit” are incompatible; perhaps the only video hits will be Susan Boyle and other “viral,” more organic popular videos:[2] “Web serials smack of planning and budgets and all that vestigial Hollywood stuff.” (Heffernan 2008) When distribution is predicated on advertising, budgeting and ratings are key, and web series simply have yet to reach that form of maturity. Of course, all of these issues become less important when web series are seen as testing grounds for launching shows into television; yet the viability of that model is in question, given the mediocre performance of In the Motherhood[3] on ABC and the dismal performance of Quarterlife when it aired on NBC.

[1] Though “Fred” has attracted product placements and advertisers, from Zipit and the film City of Ember. Juntras, Lisan. 2008. What could be more fun than watching a teen act like a shrieking six-year-old?. September 15. The Globe and Mail, L4, and Sanders, Peter. 2008. Studios Hope YouTube Tie Sells Movie. September 18. Wall Street Journal. (It did not work for City of Ember).




[2] Part of this is a discussion involves whether serials should remain amateur – “anyone who has a camcorder and a bright idea can produce a show” – or go professional. (Dobuzinskis 2009)

[3] The network’s lowest-rated show in the 18-49 demographic for the spring season. Gorman, Bill. 2009. Surviving Suburbia, Samantha Who? And Castle Sit On ABC’s Bubble?. April 28. TVByTheNumbers.com. http://tvbythenumbers.com/2009/04/28/surviving-suburbia-samantha-who-and-castle-sit-on-abcs-bubble/17566

ONLINE VIDEO: Porn 2.0 September 22, 2008

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Porn 2.0

By Aymar Jean Christian

Talking about porn is like talking about money. In America, it just isn’t done. So it’s a special day in life of every boy—and some girls’—when one day a friend pulls you aside and asks: “have you heard of XTube?”

Or YouPorn, YouPornGay, RedTube, Pornotube, Pornhub, Megarotic, Spankwire, TNAFlix, even DList, well, you get the idea.

What are these sites? If you don’t have friends like mine, then maybe you haven’t heard of the newest wave in porn, or Porn 2.0 as it’s being called. It’s YouTube but hardcore, Vimeo uncensored, and it’s become extraordinarily popular. Some of the sites attract about as many monthly viewers as popular news sites like WashingtonPost.com, and by my count the top six sites get as many eyes as CNN.com (27 million), though far less than the smut-free YouTube (75 million). That’s pretty impressive for a bunch of sites that have few outlets for advertising. Most people find out about them during indecent conversations with friends or lovers, samizdat-style, the same way porn’s been historically disseminated.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been living in a cave. These sites aren’t that new. They started getting noticed in the second half of 2006, according to Fleshbot, who’s been documenting the trend with diligence. They grew quickly in 2007. Now in 2008 it seems like it’s past the trend stage and become a staple of porn consumption.

XTube is, in my view, the best of the sites, even though it’s not the most popular. It is the perfect synthesis of what the Internet means today: connecting with others, generating your own material and, in some cases, profiting off that material. Of the top 25 XTube videos viewed recently, only three were clearly “industry” porn, the rest were uploaded by less (financially) endowed individuals. The top five videos have gathered a collective 25 million views, and only one of those was professional. Amateur porn has been around since the home video, but until now most of it has been confined to industrious entrepreneurs with lots of time to market and distribute. Now distribution is easier, the audience bigger and more eager to watch. Amateurs can actually sell their videos online for a few bucks on XTube. Those homemade sex tapes have become a business venture.

That’s because today—correct me if I’m wrong—people are yearning for authentic, sincere experiences. XTube allows people to create profiles, make friends, comment on videos, and subscribe to channels just like YouTube. And most comments are celebratory, a pat on the back for someone else’s good fuck. Sure, production quality isn’t always fantastic, and while some of the most popular videos on XTube will never win awards, they are visceral and raw (yes, very often not “safe” in the traditional sense). Some are sloppy—in real life things don’t always slip in as easily as with professionals! Most of the sets are dull—no posh couches and fantastic lighting. But you get the sense that the aches and groans are genuine, and that makes it hot.

Of course part of the appeal is that it’s fast. Remember the days of getting porn off P2P networks like KaZaA? Waiting 30 minutes for a download could really kill a hankering. No longer. Porn 2.0 sites promise thrills in seconds.

One of the greatest pleasures, besides the obvious one, of these sites is the chance to encounter something new. XTube has a fairly open door policy. There are fat people, ethnic people, old people, fisters, gay people, bi people, ugly people, hot people, S&M people, self-suck fetishists, dildo-play lovers, etc. all one site. Community sites like Ning, which hosts all sorts of communities have flourished by offering people with specific tastes a venue to share videos. (A large part of Ning’s four million regular viewers partake in porn). Porn on the web used to be quite segregated. If you wanted interracial porn you went to this or that site, straight porn at this site, twinks at this site, silver daddies at another one. But many of those sites dump short clips of their videos onto porn 2.0 portals like Redtube and YouPorn. The industry does it for promotion, to drive subscriptions. But for cheap people like myself, a 30-second to one-minute clip is all that’s necessary! You know what I’m saying!

All these sites constitute a profound development in the history of film and porn. Yes, porn is still, mostly, a solitary act, but these sites tell us that we all like sex—all sorts of us—and it’s all okay. It connects us through intimate networks. In the early 20th century, porn entrepreneurs would travel from town to town with a projector, round up interested men, and they would watch it together. Things have come full circle, and we’re all watching each other get off. It’s time to be honest about it.

FIRST ENCOUNTER: Michele White, The Body and the Screen April 20, 2008

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The first First Encounter! This is a small reading, Michele White’s chapter on webcams, “Too Close to See, Too Intimate a Screen,” from her book. For a review of the whole book by people more attentive than I see RCCS. (the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies is a brilliant resource regardless).

White’s chapter will be invaluable to all the papers I’m writing now — two on YouTube, and one on mumblecore. What works best in her argument is her suggestion that traditional critical scholarship doesn’t really work online. The deconstruction/psychoanalytic paradigms of the 60s–>80s often cannot take into account the complexity of online spaces and the power the individual (yes, the individual) has over his/her own representation. Moreover critical scholars fail to realize that theories about media arose during the mass media model, which we’re still under today, but which is being challenged as we speak. It was once assumed that no one deconstructed or thought critically about the media, academics had to do it for them. With websites like Obama Messiah, I think a lot of people — not all but a lot — have the agency to break down representations themselves (PS – I heart Obama).

This is exactly what my YouTube art project is about. What happens to critical theory when a person, long thought to be powerless, can deconstruct, construct and reconstruct their own self-image? Michele White says we need new theories. I think she’s right, though some good theories are out there (including classics like Michel de Certeau).


– White calls webcam broadcasters “operators,” to imply that they have some control. She then goes on to show how women empower themselves, by revealing themselves in ways they think are appropriate, by refusing to be identified in the audience’s terms, and even by insulting the audience, “resisting” representation — or construction by others. [This is, in fact, subject of a talk I’m giving this summer in the Hague: see paper here (on top, “Agency…”)]

-Operators often “don’t really care what anyone else thinks,” the kind of positive solipsism explained well, in my opinion, by Geert Lovink (chapter 1).

-Webcam operators talk about their own and other webcams in terms of them being “real,” “live,” etc., dismissing the mediated nature of it al;: “Webcam sites rely on our willingness to connect digital images with photographs and to believe that we are receiving unmediate traces of the real or a virtual body that is still made of flesh.” (74). I don’t see any problem here, and it’s not specific to webcams! In studying anonymous blogs that were only text, there were still efforts to “embody” the text. But our physical reality can be just as fake, so we should stop mourning the real. Everything is open to interpretation, so we can be free! Let it be, I say.

-Viewers can be seen as props of the person broadcasting him/herself (79). So “to be looked at” is not the same as “to be disempowered.” An important point. In my own study, bloggers really treated the audience ambivalently, using them when necessary to make points but disregarding them when they disagreed.

– Visual media do not need to be part of an objectifying process. The binary can sometimes break down.


“The privileging of a distant male subject position, which is figured in such media as traditional Hollywood film, is becoming less viable as computers and close viewing experiences are increasingly incorporated into varied situations.” (58.)

“The webcam spectator is situated in a place where voyeurism is constantly promised and yet theoretically unattainable because there is no distanced position.” (84) In other words, you’re too close to the object of your viewing to objectify them. Profound!

I glossed over a lot of things, so I apologize. But I liked White’s chapter. It proves that theories often don’t reflect lived experience (Hello Geertz!), that ethnography can have redemptive power and the Internet is complex thing.

My only minor problem is her — only sometimes! — insistence that this is a distinctly gendered experience. I think, in fact, this is how it is for almost every Internet producer* (except you, Kathy Sierra). White nods at this occasionally, but I would’ve preferred it be part of her larger point.

*PS – obviously we can critique whether or not online producers (or users, or prosumers, or produsers) are a biased sample, that diswwww.empowered people — disempowered for whatever reason — simply don’t produce online. I think that’s a fruitful question.