Why Online TV Couldn’t Save ABC Soaps

RIP One Life To Live. It’s official: the 11th hour online deal that would have saved beloved soaps One Life To Live and All My Children from the cancellation has fallen through.

ABC  announced earlier  this year that AMC and OLTL would be replaced by daytime lifestyle shows, “The Chew” and “The Revolution”. (I’ve seen The Chew  and it’s pretty grating, imagine “The View” with C -level Food Network hosts).

Expectedly, the fan outcry was swift and passionate after the announcement, but a ray of light emerged when indie production company Prospect Park acquired the rights to both shows, with plans to reincarnate the soaps as web-based series. Unfortunately hefty production costs and union squabbles derailed the plans, so in January, One Life to Live fans will say the same goodbyes that All My Children fans did in September. (Hopefully with a much more satisfying ending than AMC)

Admittedly, I haven’t followed daytime soaps in several years, but  I grew up watching the ABC soaps at my grandmother’s knee, and I was a One Life To Live CRAZY FAN when I was in high school  so I followed the Prospect Park story with interest. I was skeptical about the Prospect Park deal, mostly because it was hard for me to imagine how Prospect Park could successfully recreate a genre as expansive as soaps for an online audience. With decades of history, huge casts and 45 minutes of story, Prospect Park would have  had to make drastic changes to the format to bring the shows online. Clearly the shows would have been shorter, the casts smaller and the sets/costumes less lavish.  I figured that veteran stars would likely not make the cut in favor of less expensive younger talent. Would the soaps even look like the ones fans followed and loved for years?

I still think online TV is the future of entertainment; I think the resurrection of Arrested Development on Netflix will mean good things for producers with great pilot ideas that are too” niche” or “risky” for traditional TV and even cable, but daytime soaps as a genre may not be able to find new life here. It’s not that hardcore soap fans wouldn’t have followed the shows to the web; I have no doubt they would have. If anything, the shows would have been able to take advantage of Facebook and Twitter’s 30+ and female skewing demographics to keep fans engaged.

But the rich history and intertwining relationships of soaps, the slow burn of daily storytelling that makes soaps what they are, I’m not sure if Prospect Park would have been able to pull it off, and if they did, I’m not sure how long. I think they would have been a shadow of what soap fans have been enjoying for decades, and not financially sustainable. Still, it’s sad to see all of those years of storytelling history fade away. Much like comics, soap opera lore was something passed down through generations and to know that there will be a point where the names “Pine Valley” and Llanview” will have no pop culture resonance is a pity.

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Unexpected Allies: Decibel Magazine’s Feminist Take on the DC Reboot

In the December 2011 issue of Decibel magazine (“America’s only extreme music magazine”), I read the interesting, but expected Dave-Mustaine-this-time-he-is-totes-over-his-feuds-he-means-it-even-if-he-is-called-SuperDave-and-Junior-isn’t-called-Junior story; lots of short articles with bands filled with fourth-degree clones of Zakk Wylde; and the usual review of extreme albums that I won’t be listening to.

But unexpectedly, especially for a magazine dedicated to metal and other extreme music, there is an actual for-real feminist take on the DC reboot that says that treating women as soulless objects is not entertainment. For an audience that reads a magazine featuring bands with album covers that will give children nightmares.

Unfortunately not online, Joe Gross’ one-page column dissects the reason why the reboot doesn’t make economic sense, by turning away girls and women (and men and boys) that aren’t interested in a “cruel, violent vibe and crueler sexual politics”, asking the question “Who the fuck is this crap for?”

He says that between the reboot “and a noticeable decline in women creators at DC, it would be tough for the company to have constructed a bigger “Fuck you, we don’t want your money” to potential female readers”. And that is a potentially huge loss for an industry that could use new readers — or at least not lose older newly disgusted fans. Perhaps it is just those that I know, but a large percentage of the comics fans I know *are* people of difference (such as women/girls, people of color, gay/queer, some other other, or a combination) — not the stereotype of Comic Book Guy.

One of the benefits of having this article written for this particular audience is demonstrated by the pull-quote on the page:

I’ve seen hardcore, [gnzo p!@#] that treated women with more dignity that DC is treating those two gals [, Catwoman and Starfire]

THAT knowledge is not likely to be found by writers from traditional feminist sources, even third-wave ones.

Gross also references “the terrific essay” by Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their “Liberated Sexuality”.

Thank you, Decibel. And to Shortpacked (who created the economics of comics comic above). And to all of the disappointed seven-year old American comics fans, may I suggest mahou shoujo (and manhwa)? It isn’t without issues, but that’s where I’m sending the comics-loving kids in my life.

I Read A Book: Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back

Creative Commons licensed photo of a parasite

The best thing about this book is the title. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn about how to stop parasites? Especially when they are digital! But the book offers little more than the simplistic model of payment is good for copyrighted materials – and pirating is bad.

One of the ways that I judge books that talk about culture and copyright is based on how fans and fandom are written about. And this book doesn’t disappoint, by carefully discussing elements of fan culture and their importance to the continued economic success of multiple media properties. I joke. There is no mention of fandom at all, beyond a page-long dismissive mention of the concept of 1,000 true fans, no mention of consumer buy-in, nothing beyond “you parasite.” In a book about digital culture, this is an EPIC fail.

I also judge books in this oeuvre by their description of Nine Inch Nails’ effort to release music via Creative Commons and other more open means, including the Creative Commons-licensed albums The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, and the label-delayed therefore placed online for the free remix album, Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D (AKA Year Zero Remixed). And lest we forget, Trent Reznor decried his labels at every opportunity, including praising fans for … wait for it, engaging in illegal downloading, Levine’s “parasitic” behavior, extorting them to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

But Levine’s description of T. Rez is:

“the acts that have most successfully used free music to promote major tours –Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails—have benefited from millions of dollars’ worth of marketing from their respective major labels.”

What ho, Jeeves.

If you think I’m playing the detail game, Levine calls out William Patry, one of the pre-eminent copyright scholars for getting the sales of Grand Theft Auto wrong, and then intimates that he would not have the viewpoints he does, but for being Google’s attack dog. Correlation does not imply causation – and Patry held the same views before starting his present job. Levine’s anti-scholar bent is not just directed at Patry. One of the most detrimental aspects of this book is the implication throughout that academics (and academic institutions, like Harvard and Stanford; and non-profits, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons) that are not copyright extremists are activists and in the pocket of big companies (read: Google and its ilk). He directly calls Pamela Samuelson an “activist [,] who wanted to weaken copyright in other ways” (26), calls Jessica Litman someone who ignores the law (46), but saves the majority of his directed fury towards academia towards Lawrence Lessig.

There are actual well-reasoned critiques of Lessig’s work – but this isn’t one of them.  And to publish a book in 2011, critiquing Lessig with nary a mention of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, where in 2008 Lessig spends a whole book discussing the ways that remix culture can work with traditional media so everyone makes money, is just intellectually lazy. Or deliberate.

Because I am *that* sort of reader, I checked the acknowledgements, which include mentions of Fred von Lohman, Jane Ginsburg, and Marybeth Peters – all huge figures in the area of digital culture and copyright. Highly surprisingly, there are no quotes in the book from them –  except for a brief snippet of Peters’ congressional testimony in her role as the Register of Copyrights, but nothing from the interviews Levine conducted.

In an odd way, I actually prefer Mark Helprin’s “alone in my room, I reign supreme” copyright-should-last-forever-because-I-am-a-brilliant-author diatribe because he was straightforward about what he wanted. And if you want to read about the dangers of Google, read Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything. If you want to read about how the music industry took things in the wrong direction, read Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.

Summary: Not recommended. Save the entertainment and publishing industry through paywalls! Google bad!

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There is only one thing that you can learn from The Muppets social media strategy

ImageI’ve read about 5 or 6 blog posts in the past month or so about the popular social media campaign surrounding the latest Muppet movie. In the past few weeks, they’ve been everywhere: YouTube, Google +, Facebook, etc, and of course all the big social media marketing blogs are weighing in on what other social media marketing people can learn from it.

Personally, I think there’s only one important thing to take away from The Muppets social media campaign: Be awesome like the Muppets. I personally don’t know anyone who dislikes the Muppets and if I did, I would probably judge their lack of humanity. The Muppets are the best. They are hilarious and fun and full of cheer and for many of us who grew up with them, they are like beloved friends. And of course, since it’s been proven (at least by Pew Research)  that most people are active on social media to connect with their friends, it’s a perfect venue for the Muppets to reintroduce themselves to the public.

So, if you are thinking that it may be great for your product/brand/company to have a cool Google + Hangout or mobile app like the Muppets did, I beg you to ask this question of yourself: “Is my product/brand/company awesome like The Muppets?” if that answer is no, you may wish to reconsider your strategy. Or more importantly, consider how you can channel a little bit of the awesomeness of the Muppets in what you do. Whether that’s a musical routine, or costumes, or movie parodies or wakka wakka jokes  do something that will make your company more fun and approachable (like actual fun, not marketing fun). THEN you can do that Google + Hangout and people will be more likely to join in, because you are awesome. Now if you will excuse me,. I’m going to go put on makeup and dress up right.

Are music startups killing online music fandom?

Turntable.fm dubstep room

It’s the end of the year and time for one of my favorite annual book purchases, the DeCapo Best Music Writing series. It’s a great time to catch up with all the music writing I have generally ignored for the past year. (Not on purpose!)  It’s also an excellent opportunity to go back in time and discover some of the releases that may have slipped under my radar in the past 10 or so months.

But I haven’t been ignoring music, it’s just that my attention has been more focused on music streaming platforms like Spotify and Rdio to get my music, or (very) occasionally poking my head into Turntable.fm. The popularity of music discovery startups has been one of the hotter tech stories of the past year , with Spotify’s celebrated arrival in the U.S. and controversial integration with Facebook, not to mention this summer’s love affair with Turntable.fm among music bloggers and social media folks.

But even with the popularity of these services, I can’t honestly say that I discovered more new music this year, or made more informed music buying choices because of them. Honestly, I think I discovered more new music when MySpace was the only game in town for burgeoning bands to share tunes. Thanks to Facebook, I know how little most of my social circle and I have in common when it comes to music preference. More broadly, I think the music startup explosion hasn’t really done much to promote new music discovery at all, but mostly encourages an echo chamber of musical tastes where friends and acquaintances share the same small pool of artists, bands, and songs with each other.

My other big problem with algorithmic-based music discovery platforms like Pandora is that musical taste (like food, and romance/dating) is often too complicated for an algorithm. Music communities are a huge arbiter of  musical tastes; the shared, collective sense of identity, emotion and memory that comes from music fandom is just as important as musical, style, production, and genre when determining listening preferences.

A couple of music startups do address this. Turntable.fm opens up that closed network of music sharing a bit more, with its real time, chat-room like element that allows for moments of serendipity, and more importantly, real time conversation and opinion sharing. One of the elements that stands out about Soundcloud’s approach (I SWEAR I don’t work for Soundcloud, even though I talk about it all the time) is the company’s use of community managers to act as music/sound curators while also encouraging in-person and local community building in the form of meetups.

And of course, music blogs remain a major player in online music fandom. I’ve written about my take on the future of music criticism before.  Music blogs like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan don’t appear to have the same level of  cultural authority  as tastemakers that they did several years ago but still remain well-read. And it seems odd in the age of social everything, that Pitchfork still doesn’t allow reader comments. But do blogs compare with the ability to sample, rate and share music almost instantly? Will music blogging and long-form writing be disrupted by music startups the way food/restaurant criticism was disrupted by Yelp?

I can’t see Rdio or Soundcloud ever replacing the experience of music fandom or reading writing music criticism for me personally, but I have seen it impact how I consume music on a daily basis. I’m curious to hear from other music junkies:  has Spotify/Pandora/Rdio/Soundcloud replaced music blogging or personal recs for you in finding new music?