Jenkins, Henry. “Buying Into American Idol: How We are being Sold on Reality Television” In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NYU Press, 2006, 59-92.
I remember my attempt to watch American Idol continually on the Hong Kong ATV World channel a few years ago, which failed miserably because: i) I could not remember the program airing time; ii) the show was a few seasons behind the live one in the US; and iii) I could not participate in voting for my favourite contestant (if I ever had one), which greatly reduced my interest to continue watching. This very brief personal experience with American Idol is quite related to the chapter Jenkins wrote. He mainly used the case of American Idol to analyse the shift of broadcast television to focus on reality shows, how affective economics is modifying the media provider-receiver relationship, the effects of brand extension in tv programme sponsorship, as well as the convergence of new media with traditional media in providing diverse media experiences.
While I was reading this chapter, my mind brought up one of my more recent experiences in watching reality shows that I find worthwhile to share. A modelling-themed reality show originally from the US, Make Me a Supermodel (short form as MMAS), debuted its Australia version from August to November last year on Channel 7. Interestingly, I found out about the show on Channel 7’s partner website with Yahoo! (as Yahoo!7); not only the time the show was aired, but also profiles of the model contestants and judges of the show. If I missed one episode, I could stream it online directly from the website; snippets and extra features were posted on the website to give viewers a sense of attachment to regard the contestants as people they could relate to. This tactic of converging television programmes with Internet media is getting more popular to draw avid Internet users to consume ‘traditional’ media, and vice versa.
The amalgamation of online consumer applications of Yahoo! with the local media content of Channel 7 brings in new advertising and marketing opportunities for brands. In the instance of MMAS, the Holden Barina automobile was the main sponsor of the show. There was a short ad before the start of each episode, a 30-second ad right before the 2nd segment of each episode, as well as implicitly advertising the car by having the contestants travel in them throughout the entire show. I would say that fashion brand endorsements and one of the judges being the Australian editor of the fashion magazine Marie Claire are two other examples of implicit advertising in the show. Although Jenkins find ‘viewers are more accepting of product placements in reality programming than in any other genre’, MMAS could be placed under the category of ‘hypercommercialism’ (p 88).
Another important aspect discussed in the chapter was increasing interaction and communication between brands/media providers and fans/audiences, for the ‘provider’ to find out market needs, and the ‘receiver’ to express their opinions on their favourite brands and media products. Jenkins has expressed that this is like a ‘double-edged sword – on the one hand, higher consumer awareness, on the other, higher consumer scruntiny’ (p 90). Going back to my case of Make Me a Supermodel (Australia), viewers of the show could leave comments for most of the online content, and there was a forum as well. Not unexpectedly, some viewers thought the show to be highly biased in judging the contestants and trying too hard to create hype and controvesy on the show; others who supported one contestant over another tended to argue with opposing viewers; and right after the finale was broadcasted, many viewers became skeptical that the result did not came from audience voting, or raised the point that audience voting cannot be a reliable measure of actual modeling talent. Due to the fact that I was in a community of mainly international students last year, the only place that I could look for fellow fans of the show was on that website and forum, in which I felt ‘more real’ in the process of viewing and having other audience share similar (or different) opinions of the show; and it seemed like a different realm of ‘ordinary tv gossip’ for me.
So to conclude, I don’t think it is necessary for us audiences of television media to avoid any sort of marketing ploy on purpose, because it is an inevitable fact for a ‘greater collaboration between content providers and sponsors to shape the total entertainment package’ (p 68); just that we can remain as viligant consumers to not ‘buy in’ everything that is shown on television.
P.S. As a random note, the ‘hawt post’ on the WordPress frontpage was ‘Spoiler Alert: Who Got Voted Off American Idol On 4-22-09‘. Creepy enough, anyone? (Or this probably just further proves how good media convergence is in making people be aware of tv shows… on weblogs: somewhere you might have not thought before to be a marketing tool.)
Winnie Ho (z3292568)