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Friday, November 30, 2007

Niches of the News Media

For those interested in niche theory as it is applied to the media industry, or studies of news consumption examining new (e.g. internet, web-enabled phone, iPod) and traditional media (e.g. TV, radio, newspaper), Dr. Dimmick, John Feaster, and Greg Hoplamazian are currently involved in research in this area. Below is an abstract from their paper submitted to ICA in November. If you have any questions about the study, or niche theory more generally, please let us know!

The use of mobile and traditional media for information: News in time and space

Dr. John Dimmick, John Feaster, and Greg Hoplamazian

The study was supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation and the Shorenstein Center for the Press and Public Policy at Harvard University

News content, once restricted to purely paper formats, is now accessible through 24-hour news channels, constantly updated websites, text messages sent automatically to cell phones, and newspaper sources available in several formats (print, online, e-mail). This growth from one channel to many seems to suggest great competition between these available news media, each diminishing the consumer need for the other. However, research on media use displacement and offers conflicting results regarding the impact of novel media (for review see Cai, 2005). This study employs the theory of the niche (Dimmick, 2003) to examine competition and coexistence between traditional and mobile news media. A time-space diary method was used to capture paticipants' news consumption during an assigned 24-hour peroid. Results suggest that new media are occupying niche spaces where traditional media are either unavailable or inconvenient. These findings offer insight into how various news media are able to coexist by occupying distinct niches in the news domain. Media were differentiated by demonstrating superiority over competitors based on time of day, location, or content offered.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Movie Fans Recruited by Producers to Spread Online Buzz

Although Snakes on a Plane didn't do as well as all the media hype for it would have predicted, it was still an interesting piece of internet/movie lore, the first time it became very obvious how the rise of the internet could impact traditional media producing -- in this case, getting feedback from would-be fans (i.e. the potential consumer base) as to how the film should be structured. And apparently, they were the only ones really interested in seeing that movie.

So perhaps having such direct feedback from the masses doesn't guarantee a hit. The failure at the box office of SoaP has not deterred other Hollywood movie-makers to experiment with how to use the potential of the internet to their advantage. For the most part, these attempts have remained with the tried and tested method of marketing first created with The Blair Witch Project, which was the first movie to generate online hype or buzz. Since then, all major Hollywood movies, and basically all minor and independent ones, have created their own websites, to the point of advertising these URLs on their posters, TV ads and other traditional marketing techniques. For the most part, these online tie-ins have been rather pedestrian in how they have approached the potential of the internet -- they have treated the new mega-media more like an information source than an interactive medium.

There have been examples of more interactive sites, where directors and other creative talent will blog each day to let fans know about what is happening on set (how they find the time to do so is beyond my comprehension, having been on movie sets). Trailers and exclusive information may be released first online, and producers and studios may actively encourage feedback from the potential consumer base on what they are seeing in the promotion.

But these, still, are rather pedestrian in taking advantage of the full potential of the internet. With Web 2.0 the buzzword as to how the internet is now seen -- approaching a more dialogic nature as the traditional audience becomes its own media producer through websites, blogs, and YouTubing. Recognizing this rise in activity, some media producers are moving to co-opt it, by encouraging more participation from its fans -- Lost: The Experience and Heroes: Evolution are two examples where the producers created online-only content for fans of the TV shows to engage with. Heroes has even co-opted traditional fan activities of message boards and fan production under the aegis of NBC.

In the movie realm, a similar experience comes from the marketing design for the classified J.J. Abrams project "Cloverfield". Traditional film teasers have circulated, but teaser websites have also sprung up. What does a fake Japanese health drink company, Slusho!, have to do with a monster movie? No one is sure, but it has got the potential consumer base theorizing about what the monster is.

Yet it is the marketing campaign for The Dark Knight, the sequel to Batman Begins, that most exemplifies what the potential of the internet is for promotional purposes. Absolutely no aspect of the marketing campaign has been traditional. Any new images or information released has been online only -- and it has only been released after the fans -- the potential consumer base -- has engaged in either online or real world activities, where even the latter is influenced by online websites. Instead of just giving the consumer base information about the movie, the producers are asking people to play games and be rewarded with the information. It was in this method that we came to know what The Joker, arguable the most seminal DC supervillain, would look like.

The producers of The Dark Knight have created a truly interactive marketing campaign that utilizes much of the potential of the internet: interactivity, participation, consumer becomes producer, and instantaneousness. Whether or not this marketing campaign will ultimately benefit the movie remains to be seen. We shall know if the work of J.J. Abrams has succeeded sooner, as that movie premieres in January 2008, whereas Batman does not return to theatres until June 2008.

Also, it must be said, Batman already has his legion of fans -- this marketing campaign is not introducing people to something new, as was with case with Snakes, Blair Witch and the new "Cloverfield" project. But should these new movie project succeed, and should Heroes be kept alive with Evolution -- should the writer's strike force an early season finale -- then we can expect to see more of Hollywood utilizing these same tactics to market to a consumer base that is becoming increasingly sophisticated as to the full potential of the internet.