Resources and Partnerships in Participatory Video

Adam Fish May 21, 2011
7 minutes

Pilfering the good ideas of my Part.Lab colleagues, I intend to get into the question of multiple resources, perspectivalism, and partnerships through an analysis of two species of participatory video: citizen journalism and entertainment talent networks. For those not in the Lab, FSEs, or formal social enterprises, are the video firms and OPs, or organized publics, are the audiences. As you will see below and in MSNBC’s recent rebranding exercise around the slogan “lean forward,” some efforts have been made to transform the passive audience into active participants. This post looks at the resources FSEs and OPs provide to each other in their co-production.

In our recent paper we wrote:

“For every FSE/OP there is at least one resource at stake. By resource we mean whatever is produced that is most valued by both the FSE and the OP” (p. 167, my italics). We focus on “resource[s] at stake” but for whom?

Each FSE and OP has resources 1) it can offer and 2) resources it needs. As we have defined it, resources are those process or objects that both FSEs and OPs value. Like goals and tasks, resources fuse the two entities. However, we’ve yet to account for how the FSE and the OP perceive resources differently.

Below I will discuss how both OPs and FSEs have distinct resource offerings. Point 2 above, resource needs, that are sated not only from the specific FSE/OP relationship but from other partnerships, FSEs, OPs, and resource ecologies I will briefly address in the conclusion.

To illustrate this I quickly analyze two species of participatory video FSEs/OPs we’ve investigated that speciate into two FSE/OP dyads: citizen journalism and entertainment talent networks. The resources I will focus on in both species of video FSEs and OPs include people (talent) and content (video code).

Participatory Video Journalism

Citizen Journalism networks include Current TV, Al Jazeera’s The Stream, CBS’s What’s Trending, and CNN’s iReport. Each of these networks focuses on producing news, current event commentary, and cultural television programming explicitly with an active OP. The tactics include the FSE using the OP’s text and video talent or content to produce a new type of programming that seeks to differentiate itself from previous news programs through its attempt to produce an internet-enabled public sphere and a negation of expertise while striving for novel forms of citizen commentary aggregation and publication.

An example is Al Jazeera’s new program The Stream which distinguishes itself from previous news programs that include citizen engagement through the orchestration of liveness, polyvocality—sometimes to the point of cacophony (!), and focus on using social media reporting to manifest Al Jazeera’s mission of “giving voice to the voiceless.” A typical program might feature the hosts facilitating a discussion between a video-blogger from Syria live on Skype with several globally distributed individuals using Twitter to type short questions which are read aloud and analyzed. Both the video blogger and the Tweeter are OP contributors–with their content (essentially code) and their talent (as visualized and oratory people) as their contributed resources. The result is a frenetically social form of participatory news programming.

In the example from The Stream, the FSE provides to the OP the resources of access to a television audience and the short-term fame, pride, and notoriety that may come with being on television—particularly the type of insurgent news television Al Jazeera represents. The Stream provides to the OP a chance to have ones voice heard and to slightly alter the course of the program. For those activists or professional media commentators who acquire visibility via The Stream, such as those appearing in person or on video chat, these are not merely emotional boosts, but might help to promote the individual’s career.

The resource provided by the OP to the FSE, however, is certainly more quantifiable, as the entire premise of The Stream and similar programs is audience engagement. Like Current TV, whose mandate was to fill at least 30% of its 24-7 programming with citizen video journalism, The Stream requires the OP’s resource. Through offering video-blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts directly to the FSE, the OP provides liveness, legitimacy, authority, polyvocality, multicultural and subcultural capital, as well as mission accomplishment of giving “voice to the voiceless.”

Entertainment/Talent Networks

Video Entertainment/Talent Networks such as Blip.TV, Google’s Next New Networks, YouTube’s Partner program, Revision3, and Cloud Media are focused on securing professional relationships or contracts with video entertainment talent which they cultivate and promote through their lateral partnerships with cable and internet video networks and through search engine optimization. Each of these video entertainment talent networks focus on working with video producers that produce original content that can safely be linked with advertisers for product placement, banner ads, or direct marketing.

The process works like this. An aspirant from within the OP needs to have first invested their own resources into producing content that can prove to receive millions of internet video views or impressions. The FSE then uses its personnel and talent resources to contact the OP video entertainer or the OP can apply to receive the FSE’s resources. The FSE works with the OP to maximize views through talent cultivation and search engine optimization. The FSE then uses its lateral partnerships with cable and internet video sites to promote the talent. The FSE then links the OP to corporations looking for opportunities to advertise to the demographic represented by the OP.

An example includes, Next New Networks, which was acquired by YouTube on March 11, 2011 for around $50 million, whose Next New Creators program “enables creators to focus on the content while we champion their ideas and support them in growing their audience and revenue.” OP members apply and present their metrics and NNN developers decide (or not) to work with and cultivate the OP member until they produce profit which the FSE and OP split or some other type of contractual “revenue share.” The process is similar at YouTube’s Partner Program and Blip.TV while smaller video talent FSE operations like Cloud Media do not have a formal application process but instead provides its advertising connection resources to specific but yet uncommercialized video talent. Cloud Media, however, like most of these entertainment talent networks is increasingly an informal subsidiary of YouTube and other large video broadcast sites.

Thus the entertainment talent FSE resources offered to the OP include paths to revenue, distribution partnerships, audience development, and branding and packaging. Partnerships the FSE has to other FSEs, and the resources of the parent company, in Next New Network’s case this includes Google, are resources that may impact the OP in yet unknown ways. Thus the FSE uses the OP’s video talent to grow its partnership deals and increase its overall worth through content library development and contracts.

Thus, in any FSE/OP dyad resources vary depending on the perspective of the FSE or the OP. In some instances, such as in participatory video FSE/OPs, the resources can be the same general type of process or object, for instance, people/talent and content/code, but the interpretation or use of that process or object can change depending on whether the subject is within the FSE or OP.

Summation: Resources and Partnerships

Resources: Further research includes documenting whether patterns and differences can be ascertained through comparative analysis of participatory culture in the realms of citizen science and open source software. I remain curious to see if general genres of resources such as people (talent) and content (code) are similar and useful across these other domains of participatory culture.

Partnerships: An inquiry into not just resources offered by FSEs and OPs but resource needs brings our research out of our simplistic identification of dyads and into the greater ecology of participation, partnerships, collaboration, and mergers. There are explicit partnerships on relative equal footing, like Free Speech TV and Al Jazeera–where Free Speech TV airs Al Jazeera content our of shared mission empathies. There are also implicit partnerships like that between Twitter and Facebook and The Stream. The Stream did not create a new proprietary platform with which to aggregate talent and code but rather piggybacked on the pre-existing social graph and commentary culture of Twitter and Facebook. These lateral and skewed partnerships between FSEs-FSEs and OPs-OPs—and seemingly unrelated FSEs and seemingly unrelated OPs—needs to be understood or we run the risk of misinterpreting our cases as ‘isolates’ and not rhizomatically (dis)organized.