Weekly Reading Insights-Week 10

The reading material compiled for this week’s topic of Social Media Uses and Gratifications was by far the most compelling and interesting reading to me for the semester.  Perhaps I might’ve considered a career in media psychology, because attempting to understand how and why people use their preferred types of media is quite intriguing to me.  Add to this innate curiosity the reality that I have lived through the decades where contemporary forms of media did not exist and have had to evolve through my own sensibilities about my personal media uses and gratifications in both a pre-Internet and post-Internet reality.  I’ve been a college student on both sides of that Internet fence as well.  It all adds up to compelling ways of thinking.

Where new media forms are concerned, I’m truly enjoying being somewhat observant to the proverbial ground floor of uses and gratifications study.  Indeed, reading through some of the selections (especially the Hargittai and Hsieh study), it’s likely the same experience as  other students had when television first surfaced as a medium and academic study attempted to define its realities and how it would be used and/or its effect on society.  This is historical research happening before our eyes, as it were. And if I live long enough, I’m confident I’ll look back on ideas and terminology like “dabblers” and “omnivores” and remember when they were first applied to social media–and that I was there when it all emerged.

Beyond the engaging aspect of the research and observation, though, what do scholars and industry professionals say about how social media is being used and for what purposes?

Repeatedly in this week’s selections and in other academic uses and grats studies, we consider the behavior of young people.  Typically falling into the category of ‘early adopters‘ per Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory, young person behavior with social media provides abundant insight–especially considering, as Boyd pointed out in her paper, some sites like MySpace and FaceBook were directly targeted to high school and college-aged users.  As Boyd suggested, the Myspace/Facebook dynamic highlighted more than increased use by young people, but a larger demonstration that online activity reflects cultural tendencies even in social class-oriented-behavior.  Appropriately pointing out that sometimes the media itself can set a tone for certain media by the way it characterizes them, Boyd’s contentions are that social media use is borne out of the social and cultural capital, attitudes, social network, geography, race and religion aspects in everyday life that identify us with our own social classes.  Because of factors even as simple as visual appeal (where one site’s “blingy” appeal for some classes comes off as “gaudy” to others), she concludes that “in a society where we can’t talk about class, we can see [class struggle] play out online.”

This phenomenon is reified by Manjoo’s observation of ethnic use of Twitter.  This piece was just a specific example of cultural/class-oriented social media use, but it’s compelling for me to read about this because it demonstrates a far different reality than my own use of Twitter and that of any of the dozens I have interacted with–as a white, gay man.  Ethnic use of Twitter in the “oral-dissing” tradition of the black community and in the “call-and-response” tradition using what Manjoo dubbed “blacktags” is something I have only randomly witnessed among classmates and some coworkers but have never really acknowledged as such. Yet this is a perfect example of cultural social media proclivity, just as when Boyd suggests that latinos might have been more predominant on MySpace because of the vivid visual (aka “blingy”) nature of its online presentation. The use of Twitter in the black community as a means to talk to each other directly rather than broadcasting messages is a tendency that I also found interesting and that I can remember seeing before I understood it as a trend.  This whole observation makes me curious if there can be enough discernible Twitter evidence to study trends of usage within the gay community.  That seems like a great idea for a study. 😉

Considering, then, that certain groups of the population or maybe even underrepresented segments of the population have identifiable uses for certain types of social media, a piece by Brown aptly suggests the “civic value” for journalists to pay attention to this habits and behaviors. Essentially, targeting these previously or typically underrepresented groups in the new media realms where they interact most and knowing those ways of interaction can help bring about a sooner demolition that state of being underrepresented–in both coverage and reach.

Finally, as Hargittai and Hsieh pointed out, understanding not only the frequency and nature of social media use but also the diversity of it is imperative. As previously stated, I really appreciated this article because of its innovation and insight. While basic, it provides new semantics for uses and gratifications theory where social media are concerned.  Whether on the “dabbler” end of the spectrum of use, where mainly one social networking site (SNS) is used and only randomly, or on the “omnivore” end where at many SNS’s are used and at least one to an extensive level, this article adds depth to prior considerations of age, race and cultural considerations that have been pushed to the forefront once again in the context of social media use.  This depth reflects that sex even sex (with women being more intense users of social media than men) and even technical skill can play a role.

Indeed, this was a fascinating week to read for J7330. 😉

what would barry do?

when it comes to stuff that doesn’t really matter, it appears that i have this overly analytical and intuitive mind. i’ve even been accused of being ‘abstract’ during my graduate school experience. some of you who have happened through my blog from time to time have witnessed that and even seemed to enjoy it.

but for me, it’s my own personal hell. that abstraction that possesses me—even about little things—and gets me so tied up in knots sometimes it feels like a straight jacket. it’s predictably amplified with significant things. like Jesus, for example. 😉

deep inside the churning recesses and cobwebs and whirlpools of my mind, i’ve always had this one certain consideration–almost a fear of the truth if i let myself even consider it.  with easter on the immediate horizon and with some of the tv programming i’ve been watching lately about the life and times of Jesus (and while professing to be a christian through ALL my wiles), that ol’ bug in my overactive mind jumped back around today.

what if i were a Jew, alive in the time of Jesus?

indeed, what would barry do?

would i have been one to eagerly join the camp of Jesus and his disciples? would i have done that with a whole heart like the bulk of those 12 men? or would i have been a fake…a liar…a devil…like Judas? would i have been the one who witnessed the entire Jesus movement first-hand, and then still deny him three times in the time of his trial?

or further, would i have nursed my belief in the God of a religious society at that time and altogether have rejected Jesus for being the ‘next flash in the pan?’

in the first place, it’s pretty relevant to consider what would it have actually been like to be ME in that culture, in that setting, in that time of uncertainty, although that throws a whole new dynamic spin on a consideration that is already abstract. yeah..that’s probably just too much to evaluate. indeed, these are questions that might not can even have answers. so let’s keep it as simple as possible.

i mean, i guess i’d like to say that i would have eagerly and zealously followed Jesus and to believe that i’d have been one of his most staunch supporters in that day, at all costs. it makes me feel good to think i would have been inclined that way.

but what if i didn’t?

eh. it’s as invaluable to ponder on never-even-purchased milk as it is to cry over it when it’s spilt. questions about some type of personal behavior that might’ve happened embedded within 2,000 years of history are worth pondering, i guess. and there’s no way to know.

but..what about NOW. if Jesus’ birth had happened only a few years after mine and he was enduring the ardor of the original easter weekend right now, just down the street from my house, what would barry do now? what IS barry doing now?

surely the most of us are not fools.  Jesus was a mover and shaker, if not the messiah or son of God that He claimed to be.  we see that ‘type’ of person come along repeatedly over the course of history. for the record,  i happen to believe that Jesus was what He said and did. and that’s easy to say with historical record combined with the esteemed and inspired teaching and preaching of generations of people and with my own spiritual instinct intact. lip service is effortless. but what if the reality were unfolding tonight just like it did for some other real people two millennia ago. they tried to believe he would arise the third day, but on a night like tonight before that had actually happened, did they really believe it or did they let present doubt seep in? would I have?

i’m asking alotta rhetorical questions right now.

but the most important question to myself tonight is this one—and it’s not rhetorical:

if i am a follower of Jesus (which i am–whether it looks like it on my surface or not), and if i believe that we are living in the last days before time ends and Jesus returns (which i do–based on easily discernable evidence predicted in ages past), what will barry do?

will i take the mark? or will i reject it and stay true to what i know to be a higher spiritual reality than the ‘world’ will receive? will i willingly bend down and be beheaded when the new world order begins its executions of those whom won’t subsribe, because i won’t subscribe?

…more questions…and more abstraction…this is deep, huh. abstract thinking’ll do that to ya. especially on ‘easter eve.’ lol

perhaps, for now at least, a conclusion:

here and now, i have to say that i’m quite confident i have my own answers about how my faith will play out in whatever unforseeable future we all face together. when i can’t speak about my past, and when my present casts a shadow or maybe even the wrong impression, my future is really not even up for debate. heck, i realize right now that it never has been, even within my own mind.

when even I have self-speculated about the strength of a faith that i have inked up with my own reckless behavior, i know the truth for myself. and if i accomplished little else for this Easter season, i have conceived once and for all that i’m a Jesus freak. and i’m on the winning side.

when i have questioned myself quite publicly right here in this very blog over the last few minutes about alotta self-weakness….

i would’ve, i somewhat have, and i will continue to attempt to stay true to my faith in Jesus Christ…regardless of the many confusions, distractions, temptations, hardships and contradictions my very lifestyle has presented and will present me in that endeavor.

happy easter to all. and thank you, Jesus.

Case Study–Television Programming Startup Distorts the Industry

“When there are so many incumbents up in arms, pouring in endless resources to stop a little company like Aereo, you know you’re onto something good and you’re doing something right.” –Chet Kanojia, Aereo Founder & CEO

And such is the reality for startup digital television programming provider Aereo.  Created in 2012 to provide consumer Internet access to live broadcast television programming, Aereo has stirred up the broadcast television industry to the point of lawsuits. But as CEO Chet Kanojia pointed out in the above quote, the startup is fueled by the onslaught of controversy its existence has created. The company began with a sound financial foundation, soliciting more than $50 million dollars in investments from companies such as IAC/InterActiveCorp.  As recently as January of this year, the company released reports indicating that it has raised $34 million more in funding for expansion, solicited from investors like Himalaya Capital Management and Gordon Crawford, formerly of Capital Group Cos. That’s a good thing, considering the series of lawsuits that have resulted from the startup’s existence.  Apparently, the company knew what it was facing and launched with the strong financial and managerial outlook “it knew it would need to withstand an onslaught long enough to survive Big TV’s predictable attempt to kill it in the crib.” More about that later.

The basic engineering concept inherent to Aereo’s functionality tosses back to the very nature of broadcast television and utilizes similar technology.  Hearkening to the now-archaic “rabbit ears” and clumsy rooftop antennae required to channel broadcast television signals into the home, Aereo operates via antenna reception as well—albeit using antennae no bigger than a dime.  These tiny devices are located in a central warehouse, and subscribers pay a fee to access over-the-internet programming delivery by means of the antennae.

While Aereo’s concept pertaining to medium of delivery via the Internet doesn’t seem new [considering the long-standing availability of television programming by means of the internet through Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)], where Aereo has tapped into a startup market is in the area of the programming delivered. Internet access to television programming has been only in the ‘on-demand’ realm, through streaming providers like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go or wherein broadcast or cable networks provide access to their own original episodes on their proprietary websites. Aereo has now enabled reception of live programming on the Internet. The company is not creating its own content, merely grabbing the broadcast signals of the networks and transcribing them to customers via the Internet.  In this aspect, Aereo is not changing the way television is produced, but it is revolutionizing how it is delivered.

Not only can consumers use Aereo to access previously unavailable live programming online, but through the use of mobile devices it can be accessed anywhere—and in HD. This is new for the industry. Customers can even utilize Aereo’s DVR functionalities via mobile device, allowing them more options than home-based DVR systems have in the past.  The ability to access live programming by means of mobile devices as designed by Aereo is also pushing the television advertising industry into new realms, “enabling new ways to aggregate, measure and engage with audiences beyond the exclusive control of TV programmers.”

When Aereo came on the scene only a year-and-a-half ago, the company started small. Its initial rollout was in New York City alone. This spring, however, the company is expanding its service offerings to cities all over the nation including Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston and Detroit. Preliminary demographics for Aereo’s subscriber base indicate that most customers are under 30 and that many of them “had never had traditional subscription cable or satellite TV as adults. Instead, Aereo users largely rely on Internet-only and streaming services for content.”  Aereo’s advent works out well for this demographic, allowing this group access to live television entertainment to complement their on-demand online use—thus providing a television package much like what cable television offers but at much less expense A subscription to the Aereo service can range as low as $8/month.

In its favor, Aereo’s technological design is user-friendly, being largely “no setup required…plug and play.”  Sources say this is encouraging to consumers who want to use this type of Internet-based live streaming programming access but whom have been put off in the recent past by other, somewhat similar technologies which were more complicated and more difficult to install and navigate.  And the service’s DVR capability, while more limited than those offered by cable or satellite providers, offers as much as 40 hours of space.

The insight, convenience and cutting-edge services offered by Aereo are easy to discern.  The company provides both dissatisfied cable customers, as well as those who’ve never been cable customers and whose reliance on the internet for programming hasn’t afforded them the prerogative to enjoy live broadcast programming, a cheap and easy option.  On its mere characteristics, Aereo appears to have a brilliant and intuitive startup business model with the sky as the limit.

That was until the lawsuits started.  Currently, a series of television networks is pursuing litigation against the startup, claiming that its existence is violating content-sharing copyright laws and unfair business practice statutes.  Specifically, ABC, 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, CBS and others have filed a series of suits, claiming that the “transmission of content without a license is a copyright violation.” The broadcast networks are attempting to convince the courts to view what Aereo does as a “public performance” of their programming, which would be a direct copyright violation. Broadcasters are further concerned, as other companies such as DirecTV and Charter Communications have suggested they might enter this so-called over-the-air (OTA) antenna Internet service if Aereo is successful in defeating litigation.  Aereo has aggressively countered the allegations, saying that “because each antenna (used by Aereo to transmit signals to customers) is assigned to a specific customer, Aereo says that it’s not providing a public broadcast.”

Broadcast and cable outlets are fuming because the company’s mode of business allows it to evade paying retransmission fees for dissemination to customers. But so far two lower courts have ruled in Aereo’s favor.  This has prompted broadcasters to take the case to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear the case in January of this year in order to determine if what Aereo is doing is actually legal. “We are very optimistic since we have won four in a row,” Kanojia said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Even with litigation at the Supreme Court pending, Aereo has at the very least presented the television broadcasting industry with an important disruption that may change the face of the business for good.  Millions of Americans are already ‘cutting the cord,’ leaving behind former means of attaining television programming to opt for Internet services.  Aereo meets this need head-on.  Already, ABC has responded to the startup by introducing its own ‘Watch ABC’ mobile app, which allows paying subscribers to access the network’s live programming via the Internet. And in an initial response to Aereo’s advent, broadcast network giant Fox even threatened to go off the air entirely and become a cable-accessed only network if the startup succeeded.

Regardless of specific realities caused at the hand of Aereo, it’s clear the startup television programming provider has made a mark on the industry.  The Supreme Court’s ruling could be the demise of the company, but the face of the industry has already changed, and Aereo’s impact will continue to be felt.

 

Case Study–Legacy Television Outlet Faces Down Disruption

For contemporary Americans, it can seem like television has always existed.  Likely few living adults even remember when homes didn’t have a television set.  The medium has been commercially available since the 1920’s, so this perception is not off-base. But if one considers that it has only been just under 100 years since television’s invention and release into the marketplace, its evolution and societal adoption as a medium has been remarkable.

Best practices at how to program and capitalize the medium of television have evolved as much as the technology that makes it work. From solely utilizing broadcast wavelengths and facing the imminent governmental intervention involved with the limited broadcast spectrum to lighter restrictions and the almost-anything-goes programming of cable outlets, consumers have as much prerogative with their television programming choices today as the current market offers in technological advancement.

While consumers enjoy a cavalcade of news and entertainment offerings and new technologies in the market, the challenges for television studio and service provider management to best engage audiences and capitalize on the medium have been pervasive since the medium’s invention.  Television has been and continues to be a lucrative industry. But because disruption occurs in every business, television profitability and audience stability is coming under fire.  Where this medium is concerned, disruption is rooted in the advent of the Internet. This disruption has been documented clearly in print journalism and the music industry, where the functionalities and availabilities of information and music online have changed the way these two industries do business—in some cases, in that they no longer do business . But television has been largely more immune and slower to be affected by online disruption.

While as much as 99% of in-home news and entertainment viewing has been done via television, this trend is changing. Internet use has changed the way consumers access their entertainment needs. Streaming sources online such as Netflix and Hulu have changed the ways consumers are viewing television programming, putting control of when programming is viewed in the hands of the viewer. But live programming is an arena that online utilities have yet to significantly disrupt.

Programming accessed via Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) has long been a source of concern for traditional television providers. Without getting into too much engineering jargon, this technology basically allows transmission of radio and television signals over the Internet. Broadcast networks such as ABC attempted to adapt into this developing technology as early as 1994.  The network’s World News Now was aired using what was then basically videoconferencing software. Advances in IPTV since then have allowed television providers to open a new market for themselves.  But providing services online has been a proprietary function where the programming has only been available from networks and cable providers themselves and as they see fit. The rise in available streaming programming via the internet has nonetheless provided a new entertainment viewing option for consumers that many are quickly utilizing. The increased use of mobile devices and mobile apps has furthered this trend.

The availability of television programming online has prompted a new consumer habit known as “cord-cutting.” With the rising costs of television programming and the program packaging limitations put in place by service providers such as cable systems and satellite service providers, many Americans have opted to eliminate these programming services altogether.  While business relationships with these companies must often remain intact to secure home Internet services, to some extent Americans are turning away from their televisions—as many as 3.58 million by the end of 2012. American culture is evolving away from live-television-watching in front of their television sets because on-demand online services and DVR’s make it easier to tailor television watching around one’s life instead of the opposite. Indeed, this is the ultimate disruption for the television industry.

Add brand new startup technology to the equation, and the situation worsens for programming providers and networks.  A new over-the-air (OTA) antenna-based service just surfaced in 2012 that solves the equation for consumers who prefer to cut the cord but who still want to watch programming offered by networks in live mode. The service, called Aereo, uses IPTV-based technology to supply live broadcast television programming to customers—via tiny, dime-sized antennae—directly to a computer or mobile device.  Aereo effectively allows consumers to curtail their purchase of programming from networks, cable providers and other outlets and still be able to watch live streaming of television programming online.  This has the network television industry in an uproar and in the courtroom.

Traditional television network ABC, on the air since 1948 and long-considered a flagship television outlet, has now become the first network to take steps to circumvent Aereo’s disruption (in addition to filing a formal lawsuit against the company) by introducing its own version of online live streaming access.  The network has already been an innovator with online programming, becoming the first network to air new original programming episodes the day after they air on television on its own website.

Already a player in the online/mobile programming field with apps available for iPhones and iPads, as of 2013 ABC revolutionized these apps to allow live streaming of the network’s programs in two major television markets—a direct attack on what Aereo’s services provide.  Called “Watch ABC”, the development initially was rolled out in New York and Philadelphia markets. But within just a few months the upgraded app was made available to consumers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Raleigh-Durham—with more markets targeted.  The network indicated plans to negotiate with the organizations that own its more than 200 affiliates to make the Watch ABC app functional in all the markets where it provides programming.

Functionally, the redesigned Watch ABC app provides an array of services to subscribers.  In addition to on-demand service, the app allows customers to watch programming as it emanates live from the network viewable via an iOS device, Kindle and even some Android tablets. “The move is a win for TV Everywhere,” wrote Troy Dreier, “as only authenticated cable or satellite subscribers will be able to access the stream.” This victory for the industry is characterized outright against the Aereo startup.  Aereo’s use of antennae is seen by members of the industry as a sort of pirating, because programming is attained from the broadcast signal and the startup receives income for providing it to households. With its locked access to programming, ABC will retain control of a subscriber base and, as it hopes, counteract the services of Aereo and other possible startups using antennae to grab signals. On the advertising front, ABC inserts different ads into its digital feed so as to enable audience measurement and metrics for its advertisers.

What, then, are the implications for ABC and industry-wide of this disruption-defying, ground-breaking move by ABC? Industry insiders expect other networks to follow suit.  Utilizing an app to bring television programming into the online market for live streaming has likely been an inevitable progression.  But with the appearance of OTA providers like Aereo, it is probable that the industry as a whole will have to advance its technological offerings.  Speculation is that the new momentum in the industry might effectively stamp out Aereo’s business model, in spite of the court proceedings that already are underway to that end.  The potential for an entirely new advertising market presents itself, wherein mobile service providers have proprietary information about usage with their media and therefore will be able to market the programming offerings to their own advertisers. Also, changes in online on-demand services like Hulu and ABC’s own website will occur, as ABC will embargo current episodes of original programming to limit access to paying customers.

To pursue direct company input into the Watch ABC app development and any other disruption-reaction policies by ABC or its affiliates and because I knew that to secure an interview with anyone on the network level would be highly unlikely, I contacted the Memphis ABC television affiliate for comment. In a phone interview, Local 24 Executive Producer Eric Helvie commented, “these are policies that are set at the network level. Nothing is ‘off-the-record’ even with social media use in general.  These policies are not even managed in this building and I don’t have the authority to comment.”  Repeated attempts to secure comment from ABC on the network level were unsuccessful.  However, in an interview with New York Times reporter Brian Stelter about the new service, Disney-ABC Television group president Anne Sweeney said, “We keep a very close eye on consumer demand.  We watch how people are behaving with their devices, and we really felt that we needed to move faster.”

COMING UP IN NEXT CASE STUDY: A look at Aereo, the startup OTA television programming provider that has prompted ABC to advance its offerings and ended up in court in the process.