Monday, April 10, 2017

Core Post 3: Media Convergence

In “The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence,” Henry Jenkin’s provides a clear outline of how media forms—both current and emerging—interpenetrate each other in its production and consumption. For Jenkins, media convergence is a dynamic process that problematizes our methods for studying media (whether they be an industry approach or an audience/effects studies approach). As he states, “Convergence is both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process. Media companies are learning how to accelerate the flow of media content across delivery channels to expand revenue opportunities, broaden markets and reinforce viewer commitments” (37). His 7th point in his “list” is particularly interesting to me because I think he offers two different models for negotiating the relationship between consumers and producers. The recording industry demonstrates the example of the “tight leash,” historically locking down the peer-to-peer sharing by music fans. The other model Jenkins posits is the gaming industry that has actively built up (instead of “shutting down”) active fan communities (40). Both industries since Jenkins’ article have shifted drastically. For instance, the recording industry moved largely to subscription-based models such as Spotify or Pandora, where corporations could control the casual, “promiscuous” relationship most listeners could have toward the wide array of music (the impulse behind sites like Limewire). TV has also adopted a more “casual” relationship toward its content—most evident from Netflix and Hulu. When Game of Thrones became the most pirated show on the web, HBO released HBOgo to profit off of those who had abandoned cable packages altogether but were in desperate need to watch each week’s new episode. Its stand-a-lone subscription model appears to cater to viewers, allowing for viewers to be fans of the show (even those who don’t even subscribe to a TV cable package).

It seems like HBO has also begun to experiment with investing in shows with a large online fan-base. I am thinking of Issa Rae’s Insecure, which grew from her web show “Awkward Black Girl.” And, in many ways, this “organic” cultivation of a fan-base became something that was successful and profitable on HBO. Although the characters and the storylines for Insecure differ greatly from the online series, the overall aesthetic and “feel” of the show borrows from the tropes that made the online series success (the “vlogg-y” internal narration, the “secret life” persona of Issa as an amateur rapper, and so forth). I think Insecure is an instance in which TV attempts to be like the “Internet,” replicating but re-polishing the feel of online/YouTube content.

Further, it’s been great to see Issa Rae attempt to carve out a similar path for other writers/producers of color who might be able to find a way into the TV industry in the openings made possible by media convergence. She founded ColorCreative TV to find and nurture emerging writers of color to create a digital series anthology. I am interested in whether or not this turn by larger networks such as HBO will actually be a successful entry point for more “diverse” perspectives in TV content.


  1. Thanks for your comment. I wasn't aware of this show (Insecure) but it does remind me of earlier points of this type of convergence. The first time I became aware of it was when the character "Fred" from YouTube, as well, guest starred on Nickelodeon's iCarly and later had his own tv show created on Nickelodeon a little while later. I remember thinking that the convergence didn't work, that it actually "killed" the Fred character for dedicated YouTube fans. I find the same thing happening with Miranda Sings' new original series on Netflix. There's just something about the crappy quality that creates a line between quality television and homemade content that doesn't feel natural to cross. From your comment it sounds like Insecure is a much more successful case which makes me think it really just depends on which company takes it on.

  2. I think that's a really interesting point you make around TV attempting to be like the Internet. Beyond Insecure (which I'm generally a fan of), HBO also has Vimeo-originating High Maintenance, which I would argue is even more "Internet"-y in that there aren't continuing storylines across episodes. Rather, each one functions like a webisode vignette, following a new person each week (although The Guy plays some role in each story). To your point, I think it's interesting that HBO retained the general webisode format of both of these series, rather than trying to mold them into more stereotypical half-hour comedies.