Patricia Ventura & Beth Mauldin. The Business of Entertainment. Editor: Robert C Sickels. Volume 3: Television. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009.
In the spring of 2006, as both the May sweeps and the season finale neared, ABC’s hit television drama Lost went interactive, joining the wave of Internet-television tie-ins with the “Lost Experience.” Lost had already taken tentative steps in this direction, with its fictional Oceanic Airlines Web site (the airline whose plane crash near a mysterious island in the Pacific established the series’ premise). It was followed by another site, purporting to belong to the shadowy black-ops research organization, the Hanso Foundation, which used the island as its base of operations for carrying out its vaguely sinister experiments. These Web sites offered tantalizing extras to fans, but it was not until the launch of the online game “Lost Experience” that one of television’s highest rated shows explored a variety of channels—the Internet, mobile phones, video-on-demand, e-mail, blogs, podcasts, and ARGs—to create buzz and excite interest from nonviewers but, more importantly, to solidify and further captivate the already obsessed—and often obsessive—fan base. Lost is one of countless television shows that, by interfacing with Web 2.0 and utilizing the rapid expansion and diversification of media and communication technology, has redefined the relationship between fans and television and, in so doing, redefined the nature of fandom itself. Neither entirely passive nor unidirectional, fandom has undergone a cultural shift thanks to new digital technologies that enable fans to participate actively in the production, consumption, and distribution of their favorite shows.
To understand television today, it helps to be familiar with the combination of marketing buzzwords and academic neologisms that add up to a deeply useful terminology for understanding the priorities of content providers and fans. Indeed, one of those very terms important to consider is “content providers,” especially as we explore the changing television landscape and what that means for fan cultures. So, to begin our exploration, we have to bear in mind the technological foundation that has enabled much of the changed mediascape, that is, the World Wide Web, especially in its latest incarnation.
Coined by Tim O’Reilly, computer theorist and publisher, the term Web 2.0 indicates a change that occurred when the 1990s’ http://dot.com bubble burst and ended what might be called “the irrationally exuberant phase” of the Internet. For O’Reilly, the bursting of the http://dot.com bubble was really a shake out of the ideas and approaches that did not best utilize the possibilities of the Internet or offer the kinds of approaches users have found most worth their time. What remained after the shakeout were approaches, platforms, and content that are community focused and collaboratively generated; in O’Reilly’s terms, these “embraced the power of the web to harness collective intelligence.”
To understand how Web 2.0 connects to fandom, we need only turn to a few of the oppositions O’Reilly offers between Web 1.0 and 2.0:
- Britannica Online v. Wikipedia
- Publishing v. participation
- Personal Web sites v. blogging
Such contrasts illustrate the key areas in which the participatory cultures of fandom are not only facilitated by the Web but are re-created by it. But perhaps a more telling opposition is one created by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen between “the people formerly known as the audience” and the traditional media companies to whom he addresses the following manifesto-like statement:
You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us. The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable.
This public is now freed to become what enthusiasts call “prosumers,” who not only consume programming but have been unleashed by Web 2.0 to produce their own independent media. It is the public that provides much of the content for and serves as a measure of Web 2.0 through the likes of peer-to-peer file sharing via BitTorrent—which enable large amounts of data, such as a television show, to be distributed widely, if illegally, outside of the intended distribution methods. It is also this public that creates and maintains the blogs and social networking sites that do not merely accommodate the public but whose content is the public communication and participation.
For fan culture the implications of such media are profound. As one researcher found in an ethnographic study of online fan cultures, the Internet has absolutely changed the landscape. She cites the discussion of two subjects, Carrie-Ann and Raven, who explained,
the Internet has made fandom more acceptable …. It’s made fandom more obsessive but also less antisocial and geeky, in that you don’t have to devote time and money to … the extent of going to conventions and stuff. Raven, again, replied that the Internet has made fandom “a tighter knit community and much more accessible than it used to be.”
In Web 2.0 these communities are often found in two key sites: the blog and the social networking sphere.
Blogs (originally web logs) have largely replaced Web 1.0 personal communication platforms such as home pages or Usenet groups because they possess many advantages. First, they are easy to create: No particular design knowledge is required to make one; no particular Web capability is required to host one. But importantly, they offer features such as the permalink (permanent link), which enables any blog entry to be easily accessible no matter when it was published, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which enables viewers to essentially subscribe to their favorite sites and be notified of changes immediately. Both of these abilities empower user participation and have enabled the blogosphere to become what O’Reilly calls “the voice we hear in all of our heads” and “a reflection of conscious thought and attention.” The ability to easily share this voice opens up all manner of possibilities for collective creative endeavor. Fan fiction, for example, has largely moved to the Web with FanLib being a key blogging service.
FanLib is a marketing company that provides a platform for fans to meet online to share the stories, or “fanfic,” they produce related to their favorite shows. This self-proclaimed “People Powered Entertainment(tm) company” also cosponsors online events with producers and publishers designed to produce audience-driven content within a professionally controlled environment.7 In 2007, the producers of Showtime’s The L-Word teamed up with FanLib to solicit script ideas. According to the official Web site, Fans worked with a writer and coproducer of the show to “collectively and democratically” write an original scene that aired in the third episode of season five. Showtime paid the winner $1,000, flew her to Vancouver to watch the scene being filmed, and gave her a credit on screen in the end titles. Fans who voted for their favorite submission on the blog won BuzzPoints, a reward for using the Web site that helps them “attain status and earn a reputation within [the] fanisode community.” The collaboration was extremely successful, producing over 150,000 site visits for FanLib as well as a 51 percent boost in the ratings for The L-Word over the previous season.
Social networking services such as MySpace and Facebook allow blogging as well as chatting, messaging, e-mail, video, chat, and file sharing within groups that individuals can easily locate. Here fans can join groups that allow them to communicate with each other about a particular show and, importantly, to view each other’s profiles and see what other groups their fellow fans are a part of. This display of preferences becomes a way to create an online identity—just as clothing style, neighborhood, clubs, and the like are ways to create and display identity in the physical world. In the virtual world, one’s identity is often encapsulated through the use of an image, known as an avatar, that stands in for the person or group being connected to. These avatars are what new-media scholar danah boyd calls “cultural artifacts” that allow fans to both create and perform their identities online. They also serve to promote trends, characters, causes, and shows to an audience of people who already have at least one affinity in common—without the expense of traditional advertising; after all, it is the fans who do the work of marketing without even being aware that they are working. And while these same fans act as de facto marketers and content providers, their demographic information—that is their profiles and affiliations—are sold by the site to marketers looking for new ways to target precise audiences. Thus, the business model of Web 2.0 is paradoxically both libratory and utterly surveillance focused: It invites participation so it can measure and sell it. Users thereby not only provide the product being presented—that is, the profiles and activity that form the content of the site—they also provide the product being sold—that is, their very online selves.
When the new television network The CW was launched in the fall of 2006, executives decided to use Internet social networking to attract new viewers, generate buzz, and get the audience more personally and emotionally invested in its shows. The CW arose from the ashes of two networks, The WB and UPN, which had operated since the mid-1990s. The network focused on the site that was at the time the most popular for social networking on the Web, especially among adolescents and teenagers—MySpace. By establishing its presence there, The CW became the first network to create an interactive, Web-based experience for viewers, encouraging them not only to watch the shows but also to buy from its advertisers.
The CW in effect became a “member” of MySpace, creating a profile that echoed the network’s tagline: The CW “Free to Be” Community Hub. It included video from CW shows, interviews with performers, and other special features. There were also options for downloads, music, and episode guides, updates, and discussion groups. But in some cases it went even further. For Supernatural, the Free to Be Community Hub enabled members to write their own songs, have other members vote for their favorite, and compete for an opportunity to have the winning song appear in the show.
The relationship between the Web site and the fledgling network began with a splash. For its mid-September debut, The CW commandeered the MySpace home page, using the “homepage-takeover” option in which ubiquitous banner ads cover the page and allow users to enter CW sites. It was a natural fit and an astute decision because The CW’s target audience was identical to the main demographic that was devoted to MySpace. Signature shows such as America’s Next Top Model and Beauty and the Geek received intensive promotion on the networking site and saw their ratings rise. Given that MySpace draws more than 60 million visitors each month, including approximately 5 million teens, the trend of television networks and programs interfacing with the Internet is likely to continue expanding and evolving. As one insider told Broadcasting and Cable in 2007, “It’s about getting people more involved with the content,” and “MySpace allows characters to come to life in a way that wasn’t possible before.”
While The CW was the first television network to utilize Web 2.0 through its presence on MySpace, NBC went a step further by creating its own social networking Web site to connect to its audience and target advertising more effectively. Users of “myNBC” can create their own profile pages, upload videos and photos, chat, participate in fan groups, and get reviews and recommendations from other users with similar interests. The site was created in time for the 2007 fall television season, and preliminary observations indicated a certain amount of wariness about the advantages of starting an entirely new networking site instead of using well-established and already wildly popular ones. Jack Myers, editor of the Jack Myers Media Business Report, told New York Times writer Louise Story that he believed fans of NBC shows would be receptive to ideas like myNBC, even if they belong to other social networking sites. “I do think they’ll do both,” Myers said. “It’s not so much about NBC. It’ll be Heroes, it will be Friday Night Lights and Bionic Woman fans. Not NBC fans.”
In addition to entire networks taking advantage of the enormous popularity of social networking sites, individual shows have devised new ways of engaging viewers in a more hands-on, personalized relationship. Several cast members and creators from Showtime’s lesbian drama, The L Word, for example, started a site in 2007 called http://OurChart.com. It is based on a chart begun by one of the characters, Alice, who uses it to keep track of the sexual encounters within her actual social network. The idea for the Web site was to transform the fictional chart into a Web-based social network, allowing users to create profile pages and maintain their own charts. In some ways, http://OurChart.com may be better positioned to attract visitors than http://myNBC.com because it is aimed at a niche audience, and it has a strong base of users who seek to identify, and do identify, with the glamour and drama of a group of beautiful, wealthy West Hollywood lesbians.
As the creators explain on the site itself, OurChart is a place where “women can connect, share and hang out with friends of all shapes, stripes, genders and orientations.” It “provides unreleased gems from the show, along with exclusive original editorial and multimedia content from some of the most excellent creative folks out there. OurChart will also let folks create their own chart of friends, lovers, and everyone else in their own L worlds.” This focus on audience identification with the show is not surprising given the dearth of television programming by, for, and about lesbians (notwithstanding the emergence of the all-gay cable network Logo, which includes in its regular lineup lesbian-specific reality shows, dramas, and films). Women who are fans of the show may feel as though they have a greater stake in how lesbians are represented or how “true” or authentic the scenarios and relationships appear. It is precisely this personalized response that makes social networking Web sites so popular and such a promising tool for television executives as well as advertisers and marketing companies.
In 2006, Islandoo was created as a site devoted entirely to finding participants and creating a fanbase for a British television show called Shipwrecked. The show appears on BBC America and Channel 4. In addition to all of the features provided by social networking sites, users can become a “fan” of other members. Those who garner the largest number of fans can then audition to appear on the show. Another British network, Channel 4, has also begun combining social networking with competition-themed shows. Big Brother, the reality television show that has become a global phenomenon, utilizes a site called http://E4.com. It differs from Islandoo only in it that is not the means by which all people, but only a small number, are chosen for an audition to appear on the television show. This mixture of reality television and Internet-based social networks, in which one medium is inextricably linked to another—for purposes of content rather than merely fan interest or peripheral involvement—has not been replicated in the United States, but the opportunities for generating ratings and advertising dollars will likely not be overlooked as American and other media corporations continue to expand the boundaries of the medium.
Such Web 2.0 phenomena, for good and for ill, form what O’Reilly calls an “architecture of participation” in which users do a large share of the work of growing and developing a site, program, or platform. In terms of television fans, the impact of this architecture of participation can only be understood if we first deal with another phenomenon enabled by current technology: the development of engagement television.
In the Broadcast Era, audiences had to plan to be in front of a television when one of the “Big Three” networks aired a show; current technologies, however, enable viewers to watch a variety of programs whenever and wherever they want. Unlike the Broadcast Era’s so-called appointment television, viewers today can access programs at any time (after the show has first aired) with technologies such as DVD, file sharing, on-demand from the network’s Web site or by purchasing episodes from the iTunes Store, and video recording (through old analog media such as VHS and, since 1999, through digital video recorders such as TiVo). This elimination of the time constraint is accentuated with the elimination of the space constraint as portable media players such as mobile phones, iPods, notebook computers, and the like give viewers real flexibility in where they watch programs. In April 2007, CBS established its “Interactive Audience Network,” distributing television shows for free across a variety of online platforms such as Joost, Bebo, Veoh, Net-vibes, and Brightcove.
From the creative perspective, these technologies allow complex and involved storylines that the Broadcast Era’s limited viewing possibilities could not support. With this greater flexibility, the possibilities to reach viewers in deeply intimate and involved ways open up. Certainly serialization takes on new possibilities as fans can easily revisit old episodes to make meaningful connections to developments in newer episodes or simply to watch the show repeatedly.
From the marketing perspective, however, the developments have presented a challenge for the television industry. Certainly the changes have profoundly impacted television’s business model because consumers can watch with little or no commercial interruptions. In the Broadcast Era, the scheduled commercials created the revenue stream; the engagement model requires companies to find new ways to advertise. These include integrating the advertisements into the storylines and scenery of the programs themselves. Famously, for example, the judges of American Idol prominently display Coke cups on the table in front of them. But this only solves one problem brought on by new models of television.
While the Broadcast Era had only three major networks, today there are hundreds of channels. This means that audiences for nearly every program are much smaller than they would have been in the past—if a given program would have even aired. But if the audience is smaller, it is also likely to be more engaged and more homogeneous because it has presumably hundreds of other programming choices and the choice to not watch at all. It is this last option of giving up on the whole medium of television that some media experts claim will increasingly be selected because alternatives such as highly involving (and quickly evolving) Internet-based virtual worlds, such as Second Life, continue to proliferate.
This is why many television executives are now using virtual worlds to cater to a niche fanbase. A popular virtual community has emerged at MTV, once considered the standard-bearer for cutting-edge teenage culture. Executives there took note that “Kids were watching Laguna Beach, but then they were going everyplace else on the Web to talk about what they’d just seen.” In response, they started the Leapfrog initiative, which is exploring the possibilities of virtual 3-D environments on the Internet. Virtual Laguna Beach was the first of several television series-based sites—including The Virtual Real World, The Virtual Hills, and Virtual Pimp My Ride—that bring together all of the features now considered baseline requirements for any Web 2.0 content with new technology, such as real-time conversation with other people and three-dimensional animation. As Matt Bostwick, vice president of franchise development for MTV Networks Music Group, told Wired, “It’s like the moment you went from listening to music to watching it. Now we’re taking it from watching the show to actually becoming the show.” It is this “brand-new kind of media” that envisions a seamless web of television and computers, viewers and consumers, and participants and shapers of content.
Some media experts see the increasing entertainment options such as virtual worlds less as competition than as new ways to make profits and new venues on which to advertise. Thus, today, the television program is only one offering among many that media companies produce. For if media developments absolutely require television companies to find new revenue streams, they have found that extending the experiences they provide beyond television is key. Thus, to understand this development we need to rethink the basic unit of the television industry from television program to content.
For media theorist Ivan Askwith, the term content is “a unit of information or entertainment product that can be sold or sponsored and distributed through a diverse range of channels and platforms.” In this way, television companies deal in more than television and compete with more than other television networks. The term mindshare arises here to reflect increased competition among content providers and advertisers, who in today’s vast mediascape enjoy more opportunities to circulate their messages but who also have to fight harder than ever to get the attention of already over-stimulated viewers/consumers. Content providers have found both new properties to market and new ways to market older properties. We have seen some of the ways in which Web 2.0 enables new marketing techniques, but we have not seriously looked at the ways in which the media companies themselves create what at one-time would have been considered ancillary content such as Web sites, books, toys, trading cards, video games, digital comics, clothing lines, and more. Beyond watching the actual show, then, the current model centers on an enlarged and prolonged viewing experience that can itself be marketed and that is itself content. And this brings us to our next term.
Transmedia is the content available across platforms and well beyond the television material. For some viewers, watching the television show will certainly be enough exposure to the narrative, the action, or the characters, but the more committed fans want more. In marketing speak, this “more” is an opportunity to extend the brand through such media as Web sites, comics, books, games, movies, music, and magazines.
From a storytelling perspective, transmedia enables back-story to be introduced in much more detailed ways than possible on a broadcast show, say through Webisodes that are only available online. Here, too, minor characters can take on fully realized lives of their own. From a fan perspective, transmedia allows a more immersive experience and a heightened intimacy with the program and its characters or personalities. But this experience is only possible through the development of the larger process of improved “viewer literacy,” which has developed as a result of the great variety of fan activities possible. The more viewers participate in or consume these transmedia, the more “literate” they become in the possibilities and the more content they may themselves create because transmedia content takes advantage of what has been dubbed “hypersociability,” in which fans interact with each other.
Another example of this interfacing is CSI: NY, whose fans can experience the show in an entirely new way, by actually playing the role of a virtual crime scene investigator in Second Life and participating in a plotline of a popular network television series. What happens in Second Life is connected to events on the show; the intention is to increase fan engagement with the series but also to get viewers involved in a medium that they may otherwise not even be aware of. And for both, it spells increased advertising revenue and new marketing opportunities. In the episode that launched this joint venture, which aired in October 2007, Mac Taylor, played by Gary Sinise, entered Second Life to track down the person who has murdered a Second Life user. Viewers could then sign up for Second Life (via a link on the CBS Web site) if they were not already members and begin assisting in the investigation. In addition to watching for clues in subsequent episodes of the television show, participants had other entertainment options on the Internet: to play forensics-related games in a virtual crime lab and to participate in a game called “Murder by Zuiker,” which is unrelated to events in the show but involves finding clues and solving a crime (and even, for the top 100 “detectives,” virtual prizes). Fans of the show, then, not only imagine themselves in the shoes of their favorite characters, they can now join them, speak in their streetwise syntax, use the same field kit and tools, and feel as if they are literally a part of the show.
At the same time that virtual role-playing emerged as a new component of television content and programming, producers and writers also began using game-based Web sites as a form of transmedia promotion. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) engage viewers/users in a variety of media, from the Internet to the telephone, text messaging to e-mail. They involve elaborate show-related puzzles, mysteries, and other games, and they offer hidden plotlines, more in-depth character development, and in some cases simply material that does not fit into the strict confines of television. In 2007,Wired examined the ARGs tied to two of the most popular network television shows, Heroes and Lost. The site Heroes 360 engaged users in a job application and interview process, including emailed applications, text messages from fellow employees, and various puzzles to solve on the Web in order to learn vital new information about one of the major characters. During the final episodes of season two, Lost creators ran ads for the Hanso Foundation. Viewers who called the onscreen number were routed to a Web site to find a possible Hanso conspiracy. Those who solved the puzzle learned the origin of the Dharma Initiative and other secrets.
From the network side, transmedia has significant potential. Here it is important to understand that networks are not isolated corporations but are part of communications multinationals whose holdings stretch into most aspects of mass entertainment—music, publishing, theme parks, motion pictures, video and other kinds of gaming, sports teams, and the like. This diverse and global reach provides avenues to exploit one product across many platforms and media. For their part, companies advertising their products with these media corporations want their products advertised across these many platforms because they too see the possibilities of transmedia. What these advertisers see is not that they should abandon the more traditional media but that they can maximize their visibility by appearing on both the older and the newer platforms, and this brings us to our next terms.
Convergence Culture and Fan Labor
Convergence culture is Henry Jenkins’s term for the territory where old and new media collide. In the culture of convergence, consumers can access content across a widening mediascape, a place not where new technologies displace old media but where old and new forms converge. Jenkins argues that the talk of media revolutions where old forms are killed off by the new-and-improved is more hyperbole than reality. Certainly, the history of technology is cluttered with abandoned innovations, such as the Betamax home video cassette or the 8-track tape, but these are only delivery systems; media are the content and the cultural systems that the various technologies and delivery systems enable. From this perspective, DVDs and CDs, for instance, are delivery systems; recorded sound is a medium. These varying delivery systems may well affect a medium’s social status, content, and audience, but they do not erase its existence: “[M]edia persist as layers within an ever more complicated information and entertainment stratum” where “each old medium was forced to coexist with the emerging media.” Indeed, the culture of convergence covers the territories of fandom. On this territory the viewer or consumer develops into someone who does not simply passively accept content but who actively seeks it out and, more importantly, creates it.
This media convergence has paved the way for fan labor—a key aspect of television’s architectures of participation. Fan labor is built into the structures of transmedia and is increasingly essential to the business of television. The fan today is expected not simply to consume programming (and, of course, to purchase the products advertised on TV commercials) but to act as a participant and a producer as well. For example, in 2007, Nicktoons Network launched the cartoon Edgar & Ellen, based on the popular children’s book published by Simon and Schuster. Kids are encouraged to make short-form cartoons of their own and submit them on the show’s Web site; the best user-generated content is then featured in an episode that airs on Nicktoons. Whether it is in actually creating bits for shows; helping to promote the brand through linking, blogging, and tagging; or by extending the brand in new ways through creating fan fiction, games, and virtual spaces, fans are engaged in a kind of labor. Here it is critical to note, however, that if this work is exploited because it is unpaid, it is simultaneously unalienated labor for the very same reason—this is because it is voluntary and unpaid.
The first part of that formulation—that the labor is exploited—is easy to understand. Television companies save considerable time and money by encouraging the fans to do the work of extending the brand. In this process, the providers have to relinquish total control of their content, which they have not always been eager to do because the brand may be used in ways the providers would not always approve of, as in the case of slash fiction in which fans create homosexual romances between a show’s characters. Some providers aggressively guard its signature characters’ use and resist fan labor, but most contemporary providers understand that the benefits of fan labor are significant. Indeed, profitability comes in this farming out of work without payment.
At the same time, the value of the fan labor depends on the uncommodified status of the laborer. Generally speaking, in fandom remuneration takes value away from the product. Payment would signal that the work was not sincere and that the feelings expressed were suspect. But it is for this same reason that fan labor is generally speaking, unalienated, for even though there is a form of exploitation happening here—the fans are doing work without being paid—this labor is their own creative expressions, which they share for any number of nondirectly financial reasons: the joy of community, the satisfaction of creativity, the geeky desire to be seen as the most committed fan, and any number of other reasons. In some cases, fan labor is an outlet for professionals to advertise their skills in the hopes of getting paid work in another forum. Other times, for instance, professional writers and artists use their fan activity as an opportunity to create expressly noncommercial work. Now, we could say there is a form of compensation in being seen as an expert on a subject or in getting recognition, but this is not payment in the strict sense, and it is not labor that is required in order to subsist. Indeed, it is labor as leisure.
Of course, there are workers who do get paid for fan labor—these are the professionals who maintain show Web sites, create the transmedia content, and create these other formerly ancillary platforms. What is interesting here is that these media professionals often make a point of explaining that even if they do get paid, they too are fans. In an interview with Henry Jenkins, Jesse Alexander, a writer and producer on Heroes, addressed the question of building a devoted fanbase:
Being a superfan myself, I approach it from a very authentic place. I think about what I would want for myself. In marketing, it’s important to go after early adopters, influencers. It’s a great strategy for something like Heroes. It’s a problem with servicing this small group and the broad audience as well. But you have to build affinity for both these groups; authenticity for both audiences.
This status anxiety is quite revelatory and indicates the continued presence of traditional authenticity models that a cynic might expect to have disappeared by now in the wake of the uber-commodification of seemingly all aspects of contemporary life. But, perhaps, it is because of that sheer excess and incomprehensible extensity of commodification that this kind of unpaid labor gets its power. Instead of only being another case of corporations finding ways to generate profits by exploiting workers, which of course it is, fan labor is also activity that gains meaning because it simultaneously operates outside the structures of capitalist production in which workers only produce for a wage, in which products only are valuable in as much as a monetary value can be placed on them. Thus, here we see convergence that is typical of much of the content of Web 2.0: It is both thoroughly commodified and a product of the participatory cultures of the electronic global commons that all can share.
In a January 2008 article titled “Art in the Age of Franchising,” New York Times television critic Virginia Heffernan lamented the low ratings for NBC’s acclaimed Friday Night Lights. Against all odds, the network renewed the show for a second season despite its consistently poor showing in the Nielsen ratings. According to Heffernan, Friday Night Lights suffers from the fact that the show refuses to become a franchise. The creators rely on creative dialog, solid character development, and interesting plot lines to create and maintain a fanbase, not video games, fan fiction sites, or ringtones:
This may sound like a blessing, but in a digital age a show cannot succeed without franchising. An author’s work can no longer exist in a vacuum, independent of hardy online extensions; indeed, a vascular system that pervades the Internet. Artists must now embrace the cultural theorists’ beloved model of the rhizome and think of their work as a horizontal stem for numberless roots and shoots—as many entry and exit points as fans can devise.
While television’s utilization of the Internet, and specifically the social networking, interactive, and communication-focused Web 2.0, is becoming increasingly commonplace, it remains to be seen when—or whether—it will replace commercial television as we know it. One effect of this new interactive model, however, is clearly the eradication of old boundaries and the redrawing of new ones between fans and their shows—a redefining of the term fan itself.