at Cannes last year
, a respectedacademic researcher at Microsoft and Harvard,referred to this process as ‘co-option’, whichrecognised the way in which new audiencesare co-opting media texts restructuring themto construct an external manifestation of theiridentity in the same way in which we wouldtraditionally use fashion.So things have changed dramatically over thelast 10 years. Despite this, the theories we useto understand audience consumption have not.They still take for granted that audiences areinvesting in the initial experience, despite theevidence that they are not. Therefore we needto address these changes and come up with newapproaches to understand new audiences.
What Drives Illegal DownloadChoice?
The mainstream media are full of choice andguidance as to what to consume and how toconsume it. Advertisements, trailers for films,iTunes recommendations and poster campaignsall of which attempt to get you to give up yourmoney to buy and invest in a specific mediaexperience. Thanks to this process we can prettymuch predict which media texts are going tobe the most popular; whichever has the biggestadvertising campaign or most media coverageis likely to be the most successful.in terms of film,
the link betweenadvertising budget and film success
isespecially noticeable during the summerblockbuster period, when cinema trailers,TV spots, merchandising, McDonald’s tie ins,toys and even social networking and onlineadvertisements can guarantee a film’s success. If you analyse 2009’s list of Top 10 films at the boxoffice, it closely matches the top 10 advertisingspend.
are also an indicator of possiblesuccess and large sections of the audience relyon Oscars and BAFTAs to inform their decisionsbefore handing over cold hard cash at the boxoffice.However, the top 10 ‘illegal’ film downloadlist doesn’t always match the advertisingspend, award lists or mainstream box officesuccess. Online illegal downloading audiencesare still exposed to the advertising campaignsof the big blockbusters, but this success doesnot translate into downloads. Last year’s Top3 illegally downloaded films according to
with over 10 milliondownloads (more than
The Dark Knight
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
atnumber 2, and more surprisingly,
Rock n Rolla
at number three, with over 9 million downloads;however, the same film ranked at 168th at theBox office in 2008 when the film was released.So what dictates the success of these filmsin illegal downloading? Well in
Rock n Rolla’s
case it’s the
, which, due tothe success and ease of use of the software,guaranteed over a million downloads. Thesuccess here seems to be primarily dueto technological reasons. Technologicalcapability and age plays an important partin understanding the success of these films;both
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
are targeted at a teenage audiencealready savvy with download culture and withaccess to the necessary hardware to consumein this way. Traditionally money has been thebarrier to how many films you can consume, intoday’s media landscape this is no different, butthe focus is on what the money is spent on
i.e.the technology that allows you to download
Targeting Illegal Audiences
Although age is a clear indicator of a film’sonline success, there is, however, an anomaly:namely
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
The Number One film at the officialbox office in 2009 appears in the top 10illegally downloaded films at Number 7. Thisis a film that is clearly marketed at a youngtechnologically savvy market, reflected in thenumber of official online advertisements forthe film prior to its release. So why wasn’t it atnumber 1 in the download list?If we look carefully at the top illegaldownloaded films there appears to be a patternforming. In 2007 the top illegal downloadedfilm was Transformers; in 2008 it was
IndianaJones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
and in 2009
All of these films fit intothe science fiction/fantasy genre; but moreimportantly, all carry with them an existingaudience from their previous incarnations.
has a legacy audience dating back to the1960s;
from the 1980s with itsback story and toy merchandise; and IndianaJones from the previous Spielberg films, alsofrom the 1980s. The intended target audiencesfor these films are both young teenage males,but also older teenage males from the 1980swho are now well into their 30s, with thedisposable income necessary to spend onwatching these films at the cinema. So whydownload?When daunted by the prospect of sittingamongst teenage boys with no appreciationof the legacy and back stories of these films orthe importance of their previous incarnationsin constructing their identity as children andteenagers, the older male audience chose todownload. When put in this position, werethe older members of the audience morelikely to illegally download rather than admitconsuming their childhood favourites at thecinema?Both
areexcellent examples of
Ien Ang’s Ideology of Popularism
. Ang is an Australian Professor of Cultural Studies. In
(1985,) herinfluential study of audiences for the US soapopera, Ang argues that a media text’s status asan imported expensive cultural product is a keypart of its success. In this case, both films reflectAng’s ideas – both films have big budgets,special effects and major marketing campaigns.However, both also carry an un-fashionable‘geeky’ heritage. You don’t have to look veryfar in the media to see stereotypical imagesof the sci-fi geek – see, for example, the castof
The Big Bang Theory
. Was this in turn partof the reason for the films’ online success?Did mainstream audiences want to go andsee these films at the box office but not to betainted with the ‘geek’ stereotypes, so optedto consume them in the safety of the home? It