The Lear Center is launching a new, multidisciplinary research enterprise, the Media Impact Project, which is geared to developing and curating new tools and best practices in media metrics, and acting as a global hub to foster innovation and thought leadership in this field.
This new project emerges from the Center's ongoing mission of studying and shaping the impact of entertainment and media on society. The Media Impact Project will pursue a deeper understanding of media's influence on social trends and individual behavior. A team of social and behavioral scientists, journalists, analytics experts and other research specialists will work together to create new ways to measure the impact of media. These new techniques and tools will target content creators, distributors and media funders and allow them to enhance their work and connect more deeply with their audiences.
This ambitious new project builds on work the Lear Center has performed over the last few years creating new survey tools to calibrate audience engagement for films produced by Participant Media, including 2010 Oscar® nominee Food, Inc.
The Lear Center is currently recruiting project leaders, technical experts and members of a distinguished advisory board from across disciplines. For more information, please visit www.MediaImpactProject.org.
After reading Angelina Jolie's moving and brave NYT op-ed about her recent prophylactic double mastectomy due to her possessing the BRCA1 gene, watch TV writer Jessica Queller tell her own BRCA cancer story at a Hollywood, Health & Society event.
Remember 24, the show that graphically convinced viewers, military recruits and interrogators for eight seasons that torture works? It's baaaack, next summer on Fox, and Americans will have another chance to gauge the impact of a fictional TV show on real political choices and military behavior in the field. more>>
When you're one of the biggest computer companies on the planet, what's the cool way to announce your breakthrough discovery? Watch IBM's movie assembled out of mere atoms, the tiniest movie ever, to find out.
There's a brilliant new tool for non-profit organizations: Comedy. Actor Matt Damon has launched a drive for increasing awareness of global water and sanitation issues via a funny, mock press conference about a new strategy he's adopting on behalf of his charity Water.org. more>>
What's the next, new entertainment feature for your home? Um, how about a window? With enough of these "light-taming" windows installed you could actually live inside your very own entertainment center. more>>
A wave of new research is in on the effects of violent gaming....and nothing is clear. more>>
The Chinese once turned to Confucius for wisdom. Now they study....episodes of Friends -- in a Beijing cafe that's an exact replica of the series' Central Perk coffee shop. Chinese university students watch reruns of the show to learn English and discover American culture, and to some, Chandler has become an inspirational figure. more >>
When is a video game not a video game? When it is a "notgame." Take a look at Bientôt l'Été, a new game that discards video game clichés. more>>
Most Americans think Ronald Reagan was the first actor to become President. This LA Times article, however, makes the case for an earlier White House thespian: FDR. more>>
MoMA -- home to Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and Van Gogh's The Starry Night -- has acquired for its collection the first 14 of a planned 40 video games. Among the titles now embraced as high culture are Pac-Man, Tetris, Another World and Myst. more>>
Social media takes the stand in Florida's Trayvon Martin murder case. The attorney for defendant George Zimmerman embraced the Web from the start, setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a legal defense Web site for his client. more>>
Criminal Minds for the defense? A ten-year old boy claims he thought he would escape punishment for killing his abusive father after watching an episode of the CBS drama that showed a fictional boy doing just that. The boy, now 12, has been charged with murder. more>>
Agritainment? Youbetcha! Farming as entertainment. Small family farms are discovering that a corn maze in the fall or a pick-your-own patch in the spring are essential for economic survival. more>>Watch a video.
How is a business professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut training his students about the real world of business? By staging and starring in David Mamet's scathing portrait of business ethics, Glengarry Glen Ross. A perfect example of show business. more>>
Comic-Con blends the world of superhero comics, video games, graphic novels, movies, television shows and pop culture into a four-day celebration for fans of all ages. Looking for something more...literary? Try Austen Con, the three day celebration of all things Jane Austen, now in its third decade.
Harvard Hillel brings new meaning to social media: it's encouraging members to tweet their sins on Yom Kippur. Hashtag #AlChetHarvard. more>>
Online gaming lends a hand to the real world in Seeds, a new micro-lending game. Think Farmville meets Kiva. more>>
A new kind of music philanthropy aims not to raise money, but rather harness the power of social media to raise awareness of and encourage action on issues like extreme poverty. more>>
MTV will use an online game, "Fantasy Election - My Team," modeled on fantasy sports leagues, in an effort to politically engage young voters before the November election. more>>
Ramadan is the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar. It also turns out to be a sweeps period for television in Saudi Arabia, with whole families staying home at night to feast and watch the biggest and most daring new TV shows. more>>
The brutal Syrian civil war has added another casualty: Arab-themed soap operas, produced in Syria and until recently wildly popular across the Middle East and sectarian divides, are off the air due to production shutdowns and frozen assests, not to mention the drama of daily life. more>>
Julia Child Gets Mashed...by PBS, in honor of the late chef's 100th Birthday. Bon Appetite, Baby.
Are free online college classes a win-win situation? Pamela Hieronymi, a philosophy professor at UCLA, offers a cautionary commentary.more>>
"The truth shall set you free." Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei says so can Twitter.
Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov and Walt Whitman were among Marilyn Monroe's favorite authors, according to a new biography by USC Professor Lois Banning, which offers a new level of academic credentials to the study of Monroe's life. Fifty years after her death, she may still be the most important woman of the 20th century.
Johanna Blakley at Fractal'13: What Would Happen If . . .?
The Lear Center's Johanna Blakley will be making her second appearance at Fractal, the annual event in Medellín, Colombia, that brings citizens into direct contact with designers, architects, filmmakers, scholars, sci-fi authors working together to design a wide array of near-future scenarios. Fractal asks "What if there were a collective space to create stories about the future?" A series of events and workshops geared toward children, businesses and citizens will explore narrative simulations and problem solving through fiction.
This year, the event includes Keiichi Matsuda, architect and filmmaker whose hyper-real environments have been featured at places the Museum of Modern Art; Paul Graham Raven, foresight consultant, science fiction writer and researcher at the University of Sheffield; and Reshma Shetty, DNA hacker and organism engineer at Ginkgo BioWorks in Boston.
May 16-18, 2013 :: Public Event: May 18
Medellín Botanical Garden
Blakley Keynote Speaker at Swiss Media Forum
Johanna Blakley, the Lear Center's Managing Director and Director of Research, is the keynote speaker at this year's Swiss Media Forum in Lucerne on May 24th. The Swiss Media Forum is an independent event committed to bringing together opinion leaders from media, business, politics and society. At this annual conference, discussions revolve around significant media and communications issues in an era where a digital revolution is fundamentally changing industries, and interfaces between media, organizations, politics and the public are being redefined. The Swiss Media Forum is politically and commercially independent. Find more information about this year's conference here.
Sonic Overdrive @ The Getty Center
Sonic Overdrive: Songs and Stories through the Streets of Los Angeles
Explore L.A.'s eclectic sonic environment from punk to gospel, cumbia to hip hop, rock, Norteño, and country. Hosted by music critic, historian, curator and Director of the Lear Center's Popular Music ProjectJosh Kun, the evening's lineup offers a journey through L.A.'s musical geographies, from East L.A. to Malibu.
Sonic Overdrive will include performances by Chris Hillman (The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers), Exene Cervenka (X, The Blasters), underground hip-hop veteran Busdriver, Latin fusion band La Santa Cecilia, soul-and-gospel legend Merry Clayton (whose background vocals helped define songs by Neil Young, Carole King, and the Rolling Stones), alternative-rock favorites Silversun Pickups and will feature a guest appearance by students from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. Additional performers to be announced. Please check back for updates!
Friday, May 31, 2013 :: 7:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, The Getty Center
Tickets are $20. Call (310) 440-7300 or click here for tickets.
Parking is $10 after 5:00 p.m.
Journeys in Film: New Perspective
Journeys in Film, the Lear Center's middle school project designed to engage and educate students via standards-based curricula built around high-quality, age-appropriate international movies, now offers all of its lesson plans as free downloads on its website. Journeys in Film provides lesson plans in visual arts, social studies, science, language arts and mathematics.
This unprecedented opportunity comes at a time in our media-saturated age when many students lack the ability or training to recognize and understand biases in content they watch. One solution to this is teaching perspective through media literacy.
JiF's use of compelling films from other cultures challenges students to view their world in a new light. They observe similarities they share with children of other cultures, as well as discover differences. Understanding these differences (living in other climates, living in poverty, practicing other religions) enhances students grasp of the world they're growing up in.
Hollywood, Health & Society Launches Global Centers in India and Nigeria
Using the Power of Entertainment to Improve Lives in the Developing World
The Lear Center's Hollywood, Health & Society program is now global with its launch of a joint project in India. HH&S is teaming up with the Asian Center for Entertainment Education to create The Third Eye, which will serve as a free resource for accurate health information for Indian TV shows and films.
The Bollywood venture, the first global center of the HH&S program, is already helping with inquiries on health-related topics for three major films and one TV show, said HH&S Director Sandra de Castro Buffington. A second center based in the booming Nigerian filmmaking industry known as Nollywood is scheduled to be up and running in the coming months.
Like HH&S, these regionally branded centers will conduct sustained and systematic outreach to the entertainment industry to increase the accuracy and frequency of health topics in all media as well as measuring behavior change and tracking audience engagement with programming.
Johanna Blakley: Treat Your Film Like a Drug
Johanna Blakley, managing director and director of research at the Lear Center, spoke in February at the Center for Social Media at American University about the important role statistical research played in the Lear Center's recent study that measured audience impact of the film Food, Inc. Blakley also discussed taking the mathematical models that pharmaceutical companies use in clinical trials and applying them for audience analysis on media projects.
That message -- plus the slimmest of shots at an eleventh-hour reprieve -- was announced to the people of the world last week.
When this happens in science fiction -- 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still is the classic -- the planet pays attention. The flying saucer lands; an alien, in this case played by Michael Rennie, emerges; a final warning is issued: Stop it. If you don't, you're doomed.
Back then, the "it" was violence -- the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear midnight. Last week, it was climate change -- greenhouse gases, and the promise of ecological extinction.
"Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears," ran the headline on the front page lead story in Saturday's New York Times, with this sub-head: "CO2 at Level Not Seen in Millions of Years, Portending Major Climate Changes."
A headline like that -- millions of years? really? -- normally turns up in comic books and superhero movies, not in the paper of record. In fiction, what usually comes next is a montage. At breakfast tables and on street corners, in souks and igloos, in the Oval Office and at the U.N., the shocking news galvanizes humanity into action.
In the real world, it was pretty much a one-day story.
What does it take to grab us by the eyeballs? Chris Christie's waistline is guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage. The next Jodi Arias is waiting in CNN's wings. The Benghazi circus will be in town at least through 2016. Sure, disaster porn is always good for ratings, but though a Superstorm Sandy may momentarily raise the specter of climate change, daily bulletins on the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere apparently aren't Nielsen enough.
It's not that people who know our planet's hair is on fire aren't trying to get our attention. The animated graph from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Science Research Lab showing how atmospheric carbon dioxide has changed over the last 800,000 years should be as horrifying as any computer-generated imagery Hollywood has to offer. Along with the news that we had hit the 400 ppm mark on the CO2 curve for the first time since the Pliocene epoch came scary quotes from scientist after scientist calling this our last chance before the point of no return. Unless we act, children born today will see temperatures rise irreversibly and sea levels rise catastrophically. Weather patterns will be disrupted, deserts and drought will spread and -- in the words of Lord Stern, head of the U.K.'s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment -- "hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died.... [W]hen they try to migrate into new lands... [they will be brought] into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth."
If graphs and quotes aren't sexy enough to warrant a permanent place in the news, there are other ways to hang on to the spotlight. The Climate Reality Project's website features 18 disturbing but entertaining videos about the price of carbon and our addiction to fossil fuels. "Do the Math," the film that journalist Bill McKibben is using to spark his 350.orgmovement, has a dramatic narrative that's compelling but not preachy. The Years of Living Dangerously, Showtime's climate change documentary series now being shot, has producers who know a little something about how to capture audiences: James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Those efforts use media to engage an informed, activist public. Could such a citizenry make change? There's plenty we can do in our personal lives to reduce our carbon footprint. Local and state policies in conservation, transportation, building design and urban planning can also curb greenhouse gas emissions. But without federal leadership like killing the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a tax on carbon, and without global commitments with teeth to enforce them, it's hard to imagine a path back from the brink.
In the U.S., the same dysfunctions preventing anything else useful from happening -- the Senate filibuster, the gerrymandered House, the corrupt campaign finance system -- also hold climate change mitigation hostage. So does denial. And though some denial can be attributed to hoax propaganda funded by the fossil fuel industry, some comes from an infantile strain in the American psyche that should not be mistaken for religious freedom.
Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D -- R.I.) gave a floor speech urging his colleagues to
"awaken to what carbon pollution is doing to our planet, to our oceans, to our seasons, to our storms. And I wonder, 'Why is it that we are so comfortable asleep, when the warnings are so many and so real?' What could beguile us away from wakefulness and duty? I was recently at a Senate meeting where I heard a member of our Senate community say, 'God won't allow us to ruin our planet.'... [That] statement... is less an expression of religious thinking than it is of magical thinking."
I admit that my fantasy that last week's CO2 headlines might rally our planet like an alien invasion may make me as guilty of magical thinking as Senator God-Won't-Allow-Us. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan was a big fan of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and as president he often referred to it. When he first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, he speculated that the threat of an alien invasion might get the Americans and the Soviets to cooperate. If Michael Rennie's "Klaatu barada nikto" line is the father of "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," maybe blowing past the 400 ppm barrier can be the progenitor of "Mr. Obama, cancel that pipeline."
Yesterday, the Lear Center launched the Media Impact Project, which aspires to be a global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media. Supported by $3.25 million in initial funding from the Gates and Knight Foundations, I'm optimistic that this project can help make media more accountable to audiences and contribute to a better understanding of the role that media plays in people's lives.
The New York Times picked up the story and I was thrilled to see reporter Michael Cieply focus on this aspect of the program:
to provide tools on an "open-source" basis, putting socially minded nonprofit groups on a more equal footing with corporate advertisers, who use sophisticated, but expensive, measurements.
As Bill Gates pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, accurate measurement is the key to innovation. Without benchmarks, we don't know where we're going. Because media is such a pervasive presence in human life, we need reliable systems for measuring its impact. It's difficult work, as our funders have pointed out, but with the rise of social media networks and the prospects of big data analysis the academy has an unprecedented opportunity to step up and to provide mechanisms for measurement untainted by profit motives.
The entertainment industry is notorious for adjusting its numbers to service an often inscrutable bottom line. And all of us - including everyone who variously produces or consumes media content - have been ill-served by cookie-cutter audience segmentation techniques and panel-based research methods that cannot account for what's happening in the "long tail" of our global cultural economy. The insidious audience segmentation techniques that valorize age, race, gender and income over every other facet of human identity have contributed to a media system rife with stereotypes about how humans tick. (You can find out more about my thoughts on this in this TED talk.) The awe-inspiring data sets emerging from social media networks offer us the opportunity to understand ourselves, and our engagement with media, in a far more nuanced way.
My vision here? Ultimately, I want media makers to have the resources to make data-driven decisions. Rather than depending on their "gut" and random comments from their kids and colleagues, I want them to grapple with meaningful feedback information that demonstrates how real people have engaged with their work and what effects that interaction has produced.
I also want media makers to have a far more sophisticated and detailed understanding of their audience's needs, values and taste. For me, it's an issue of respect. I want our media environment to be respectful and responsive to the needs of global audiences, not just a few prized, but deeply misunderstood, demographic groups.
I had the tremendous pleasure of attending TED 2013 and, as always, I felt compelled to figure out the overarching themes of this vastly interdisciplinary conference. The T, E and D stand for Technology, Entertainment and Design, but, as anyone who toils in these fields knows, that kinda covers everything under the sun. You have to wonder, how on earth do the TED curators figure out what fits and what doesn't?
I wrote a blog about TED 2011 and, rereading it today, I see that much of the same soul searching that was put on display then is still very much at play now. I had argued then that several key talks had addressed the necessity of, on the one hand, recognizing and celebrating your own unique and often imperfect perspective on the world, and accepting the fact that not only are other perspectives out there, but they are probably more valid than you would care to think.
For TED 2013, I saw a similar interest in trying to encourage the audience (and the millions of viewers who will devour these videos online) to want to know what they don't know. If I had to propose a title, it might be
It's the Data, Stupid
Big data was an obvious theme throughout the conference, handled well in two talks by co-authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andy McAffee (who also gamely appeared in an intellectual lucha libre-inspired "cage fight" at a nearby bar). Brynjolfsson mentioned the AI winter we've long weathered, in which advances that several futurists had expected just didn't happen. But Brynjolfsson argued that we're entering a renaissance for artificial intelligence because of the amazing repositories of big data that we now have access to and the powerful tools that are being developed to make sense of them.
Sergey Brin attended the conference and he has long been a proponent of turning academic science on its head: why start from a hypothesis when you can just sort through unfathomable piles of data and see what comes out?
Scott McGibbon is Project Specialist at the Lear Center.
Last year the Lear Center invited acclaimed digital remix artist Joe Sabia to produce an entertaining video that would summarize the findings laid out in a Lear Center research report on television's depiction of the "War on Terror."
Joe pored over the results of the study, sifted through 30 episodes from eight top primetime network dramas that depicted the WoT, and ripped hundreds of clips from DVDs to sort and edit into a video narrated by Steve Zirnkilton, the resonant voice behind Law & Order. Joe used all his artistry on the project, looking at the video "as a more succinct alternative recap for ADD audiences...or anyone who doesn't like reading."
The seven-minute video, Primetime Terror, was released in September 2011 and made a splash, including getting a shout out from BoingBoing. Not only did it provide a precis of the findings; it demonstrated that social science research can be conveyed in a compelling, creative format.
And then something unexpected happened: reaction to the video came in an email from Rebecca Tushnet, a DC-based lawyer specializing in intellectual property and first amendment law, and an advocate for the safe harbor provisions for digital artists in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Some essential background: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it a crime to break digital locks on DVDs and other online media. This prohibited filmmakers from making fair use of a wealth of current and historical digital material. In July 2010, the United States Copyright Office approved an exemption that allowed filmmakers to break digital locks to extract clips from DVDs and use them in their own projects.
Rebecca was intrigued by Primetime Terror because it was a perfect example of how fair use of copyrighted content can provide educational benefits to society. Joe was ripping DVDs, converting them into digital files a few seconds long, and combining them in a transformative way to create new content. And there was a fight on the horizon: copyright lobbyists were pushing for term limits on the exemptions so that, once they expired, it would again be a crime to break a digital lock.
Rebecca and her team at Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) joined forces with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the USC Intellectual Property and Technology Clinic, headed by USC Law professor Jack Lerner, to draft comments and organize filmmakers. As Lerner noted, "Without this exemption, filmmakers who want to use a movie clip on a DVD can still be sued for going around the locks - even if the use itself is perfectly legal."
Monday is sort of a ramp-up day at TED, but this year the highlight for me was Inside TED, a glimpse into the machinations of a unique organization that's trying to figure out how to spread ideas that are stalled or stuck in some way - perhaps they're trapped in impenetrable jargon; maybe they're stuck in a disciplinary silo . . . or a Nairobi slum. Regardless of the impediments, or perhaps due to them, TED aspires to create a media platform for awesome and sexy ideas to propagate.
Despite this expansive mission - based primarily on the notion that exposure and transparency are tools for solving the world's problems - I think most TEDsters feel like there's a tantalizing shroud of secrecy and sanctity enveloping the TED organization: exactly how many people work there? And how much money do they make from these hyper-expensive conferences (7,500 bucks a pop)? Who decides which videos are posted and featured?
Well, Inside TED was Chris Anderson's way of opening up the ledgers and introducing the TED community to the brave (and wacky) souls who make this crazy ship run.
Revenues? About $45 million last year, with $27 million coming from TED, TED Global, and TED Active. Anderson estimates that there are about 500 core attendees who have spent around $30,000 supporting TED over the years.
There are 1,400 talks on TED.com, with more than 50 million views per month. Only 200 are from TEDx events (and, so for, there have been 5,000 TEDx events with 8-10 more taking place per day.)
25% of their traffic is mobile, and they also distribute their talks through radio and TV channels (they've even put TED talks in taxis in Mumbai). Anderson suggested that TED speakers simply multiply their TED.com views by two in order to figure out about how many times their videos have been seen (that puts my two TED.com talks at 2.2 million views. Yowza.)
Their brilliant open translation project involves 11,000 translators and 35,000 translations in 97 languages. (I was thrilled to hear that the Gates Foundation was a key funder for this. Go Bill!)
When someone asked Anderson about his favorite failure (and he had earlier admitted that the Bono TED Prize challenge to wire Ethiopia was a dire misfire) he ended up talking about their struggle to balance accessibility with substance. In order to get those great, inspiring ideas "unstuck" it's essential to find a way to translate them to a larger diverse audience. The accusations, from several quarters, that TED "dumbs down" complex ideas were obviously deeply troubling to Anderson. His assertion that substance must always trump style is a challenging standard to be held to, especially for a slick global media platform like TED. And, honestly, to the rest of us bloggers and professors and public intellectuals who must find that precarious balance between accuracy and rigor and the ethical imperative to share important ideas with people who never thought they'd be interested.
If you're at TED this week, look me up on TED Connect!
Not only do I get to go to TED this year (hooray!) but I also had the great pleasure of participating in a truly brain-tingling workshop whose goal was to help TED figure out how to better facilitate the spread of breakthrough ideas.
Of course everybody (and their mother) is obsessed with web analytics these days: how many hits did I get? How many likes? But media engagement pros (and the workshop was chock full of them) realize that counting clicks doesn't really begin to tell the full story. Who's clicking and why? Did they talk to their dad about that TED talk over breakfast? Did they laugh or cry? Did they feel empowered to do something? Did they make a donation? It can be really difficult to accurately measure the impact of any piece of media (including a TED video) without finding a way to bridge that daunting divide between online click trails and offline actions. One way to do it? Surveys!
I'm a big believer in supplementing rigorous web and social media analytics with survey research. And I'm an even bigger fan now that my team at the Lear Center has developed some innovative new methods for taking into account self-selection bias in media consumption (i.e., only certain people decide to see certain TED videos - there's nothing random about it - which makes it tough to accurately measure impact).
So, imagine my delight when I heard that the Knight Foundation is partnering with TED to work on amplifying and measuring the impact of their content as it "ripples through society, producing technology tools and best practices for connected action."
One key theme that emerged at the workshop this weekend was the importance of sharing the discoveries that TED will make when they develop their cool new website and state of the art dashboards for tracking engagement. Information is power and nothing is more empowering to an engaged audience than access to information about how their beloved TED talks, along with all the content and actions that they themselves have generated, are moving the needle.
I'm looking forward to what comes of this . . . stay tuned!
If you're at TED2013, be sure to check out the Knight-sponsored pavilion centered on Tech for Engagement.