The Thin Line Between Content and Promotion
Iâ€™ve waited a bit to post what follows, since itâ€™s still thinking in progress. But, hey, thatâ€™s what a blog is, right? So here goes anyways:
All panels circled around issues of monetization in one way or another. Back during the strike, I was frustrated by the degree to which Disney and others suggested that new media were good only for promotion, and that they were barren when it came to revenue generation. This seemed a bad faith bargaining position, to say the least. But at the DMS, new media was again and again talked of as a site for promotion, for brand management, of the shows, yes, but even moreso of Disney, ABC, and ESPN, following a directive from on-high (Bob Iger, Disneyâ€™s CEO) that these core brands are whatâ€™s being sold. Thus, while Iâ€™m not ready to completely drop the bad faith notion, I do see things differently now. I think what we have is a profound shift in business logic, which results in a profound shift in languages used too. Let me explain, and in the process I hope to challenge that new logic somewhat:
If the brands are what Disney thinks it is selling, not the shows per se, then itâ€™s meaningless to make distinctions between new media and those shows. If the â€œoldâ€ job of the network or media conglomeration was to attract viewers to advertisers by producing great shows, then those shows deserved special treatment, and we could easily make distinctions between shows and promotion. But if the â€œnewâ€ model is to regard all elements of the corporation as engaged in the same process of selling the Disney, ABC, and ESPN brands, then everything is promotional. Your station identification snippets exist on the same level as your shows. And so if youâ€™re Disney, and you donâ€™t pay royalties to those who make the station idents, it must seem unreasonable and annoying to have to pay those other â€œpromoâ€ makers, the writers, directors, and actors.
While thereâ€™s something to this logic, thereâ€™s also something wrong with it. The former first. As you may have gotten by now if you read this blog, Iâ€™m a big believer in the creativity in and importance of all sorts of paratexts. I think that designing a good trailer is a creative act. Ditto with movie posters. Even hype campaigns. If itâ€™s done well, it contributes to the text. It doesnâ€™t just sell the text â€“ it makes the text. So Iâ€™m sympathetic to the notion that we should or could start to break down the conceptual wall that exists between promotion and creativity, realizing that often the former is an involved part of the latter.
However, precisely because Iâ€™m arguing that good paratexts donâ€™t just sell the text, they make it, rather than remove the semblance of creativity from writers, directors, and actors, Iâ€™m more comfortable with making creativity a larger umbrella that also covers good trailer makers, good poster designers, etc. In other words, while Igerâ€™s philosophy risks leading naturally to the notion that â€œcreativesâ€ get rolled in with â€œpromotion,â€ mine is that â€œpromotionâ€ could be rolled in with â€œcreatives.â€
Thereâ€™s a key problem here, though. Above, I wrote of good paratexts. â€œBadâ€ paratexts are just promotion. Paratexts can contribute to a text, but they can also contribute nothing. But this can be extended to the shows themselves, if we regard them, as Igerâ€™s philosophy suggests, as promos for the brand. Good shows do contribute to the brand, and sparkle with their creativity. Bad ones donâ€™t: they just sap money and labor, with no good return on investment (for industry dollars or viewer watching hours). Of course, different viewers will disagree on what is good and what is bad, but since Iâ€™m not using specifics here (Iâ€™m avoiding referring to Cavemen or Big Shots, in other words), thatâ€™s by the by. What Iâ€™m getting at instead is that it is only good, creative shows and only good, creative paratexts that will help or sell the brand. Reworded, as much as it may seem this way to some observers, it isnâ€™t promotion that helps or sells the brand, itâ€™s creativity. I can open my window right now and yell to all of Sunnyside, Queens that they should watch a certain show, but that doesnâ€™t sell the brand. Only creativity will.
I said I wouldnâ€™t talk specifics, but to break that rule and return to the Digital Media Summit, the panel that examined Lost as a case study was telling. Carlton Cuse noted the challenge to get good content into marketing, and many of their examples suggested that they have succeeded. Lostâ€™s ARGs, evocative promotions, and so forth all impressed the room of largely non-Lost-watchers. Both Lost AND its paratexts sell the ABC brand, since both are good (and if you disagree that theyâ€™re good, well that doesnâ€™t hurt my point, since that only shows that they donâ€™t help your notion of the brand).
Going back to the WGA and negotiations in an economy where promotion and creativity are merging moreso than before, good paratexts (frequently produced by non-unionized workers) profoundly challenge the line between the supposed â€œcreativesâ€ and the supposed promotional side of the business. This allows the industry to conflate the two, and see the differential treatment as silly, thereby justifying (in their eyes) lowering creators to the level of promotion. Bad texts similarly (or even especially?) inspire the conflation, since a good paratext/â€œpromoâ€ can do more for the brand than can a bad text. But only good stuff, only creativity, will truly help the brand, and hence it needs to be compensated as such. And only royalties do this, since otherwise you are paying the producers of shows that contribute nothing to your brand the same as you are paying those of the shows that help your brand.Tags: Digital Media Summit, Disney, paratexts, promotion, strike