10am Carnaby Street: Kate Modern and the Ephemeralisation of Online Drama

Curator's Note


This column is based on a paper I’m giving at the ‘Ephemeral Media’ workshop on online content at the University of Nottingham in June. In many ways the use of the internet as a platform for audio-visual content represents the current pinnacle in technological attempts to make such content permanent. Whilst the broadcast stream moves fleetingly through time, gone the moment it appears, the VCR, PVR and DVD allow viewers to capture a moment of this ephemeral flow, turning it into a piece of video tape or a section on a hard drive. The internet takes this even further with the construction of vast archives of content that offer permanent and constant access to televisual material.


However, the clips on the left, from web series Kate Modern, show how online video content is also working to recapture the ephemeral moment of broadcasting. Hosted by the social networking site Bebo, the series presents a form of entertainment that simultaneously utilises the ‘anti-ephemeral’ archive capacity of the internet whilst promoting a ‘hyper-ephemeral’ mode of engagement. The former is clear in the total length of the series (almost 14 hours over the two seasons) and the permanent access to the series offered through its website (www.bebo.com/katemodern). The latter is evident through techniques such as marathons, where viewers were invited to remain at their computers for 12 hours as new videos were released hourly, and quizzes that formed part of the narrative and viewers had to solve before the next episode. These clips show the most extreme example of this hyper-ephemeralisation where viewers were invited to go to Carnaby Street in London at a specific time, meet a character from the series and watch the following episode unfold in front of them. The drama of Kate Modern became as ephemeral as real life as its makers sought to encapsulate the real-time communicative capabilities of the internet within their video series. Despite being able to watch the series at any time, it is constantly made clear that if you weren’t watching at a particular moment, you have missed the ‘true’ experience of Kate Modern.



Really interesting post Liz and a nice way to kick off the theme week. I agree that online content like Kate Modern can simultaneously offer viewers anti-ephemeral access and hyper-ephemeral experiences. I believe that TV has attempted similar manoevers in an era of DVR and DVD commercial skipping options, such as when series like American Idol place time limits on when viewers can vote for their favorite performers.


What I find fascinating about Kate Modern inviting fans to show up at Carnaby Street to be part of the series as it unfolds, was how this strategy defies the global distribution logic of web-based series by promoting the hyper-ephemeral experience as also a very localized one, where only London-based fans could really partake. In this sense, I wonder if there is an important relationship between the experience of temporal ephemerality and spatial specificity engendered through such strategies (a sort of 'do you remember where you were when...' experience, now reconfigured for the participatory logics of convergence)?


One final thought about permanent access: I think we also need to be attuned to who controls these archives. I was recently heartbroken to discover that the Sci-Fi network had removed hundreds of fan-submitted videos for Battlestar Galactica because their promotional value to the network had expired. Much like with physical archives, someone is making decisions over what online content has permanent value and what can be discarded. I now make certain to burn copies of anything online I might later want, just as I do with my DVR and TV.


 Those are some really interesting points Avi, thank you - I'll certainly think more about how ephemerality can have geographical consequences as well as temporal ones. I'm intrigued by whether Kate Modern was sold outside of the UK. It's a spin-off from Lonelygirl15 so there's definitely potential for a market outside of Britain. The local status of this particular sequence becomes even stronger when you take into account another episode that led up to these two, where viewers were asked to identify Carnaby Street through some photos - although the answer was reasonably easy if you know that part of London if you don't you would have not only been left out but would also have the stigma of not knowing the right answer.


You're also very right about who controls access to this content. I think the distinction between 'official' content (i.e. that commissioned and/or produced by a broadcaster or production company) and fan content (even when endorsed by a broadcaster) is important. The status of such content for the industry may not always be the same as its status for the audience - which can easily lead to conflict.

Thanks for a really interesting post Liz - the connection between online content, archiving and attempts to recreate the emphemeral experience of (broadcast) TV is well made. Some might argue that the Carnaby St "episode" of Kate Modern is similar to the Network-era practice of "stunting", where there is a primacy placed on watching programming live. What's interesting about Kate Modern in this context is that for such a programming strategy to "work" it requires direct viewer involvement - as, unlike stunting tactics in the network-era of TV, such a practice has to make the program stand out from not just 4 or 5 competitors but literally thousands of competing online video forms. To this end, such a "stunt" is really about consolidating or reinvigorating the show's existing audience engagement with the show, rather than attracting a new audience.

On this point it's interesting to think about  your idea of hyper-ephemerality and Kate Modern's audience.  You and Avi are right to note the problematic commercial ownership of the way in which such content is archived, by bebo or other commercial owners - such as Kylie Jarrett has discussed in relation to YouTube in Media International Australia. But I also wonder whether the audience create an anti-ephemeral instinct in a "stunt" such as the Carnaby St episode: in being asked to engage with the narrative by capturing it via video, they create an archive of their own material; which is then shared, uploaded and edited as part of Kate Modern / Bebo; but that also leaves "traces" of the experience with the audience - in the form of memories. As Avi suggests, a "where were you when ..." kind of feeling. It seems there is a great deal to be learnt by drawing on memory studies -such as Andrew Hoskins' work/journal - in understanding the relationship of TV and digital media with its audience's uses. Great Post!

Thanks for your comment James. Stunting is a really good example to highlight the parallels between Kate Modern and broadcasting and is becoming apparent in other online video ‘events’ such as Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. It just confirms again how the internet is remediating television and is something I'll definitely think more about. The idea of memory is also really intriguing and something I’ll look at more as I work on the paper. There seems to be multiple layers of memory – of ‘being there’ in front of your computer and of ‘being there’ in Carnaby Street itself - with the difference very possibly lead to hierarchies within the connected online community.

Hey Liz, great post. You hit upon what I think is a really key issue for online/digital media - that is, the tension between the possibility for a vast and permanent archive of digital materials vs. the constant threat of its disappearance and ephemerality. Like Avi, I also hoard countless clips from YouTube etc. in the fear that one day the dreaded "this video is no longer available" will appear in its place. Of course, this is only useful to a certain extent, and in a "Web 2.0" culture such as this, the videos we are discussing are usually accompanied by a range of other significant materials (next to other clips, underneath ad banners, etc.) that would be hard, if not impossible to fully reconstruct.


This brings me to my second point, and something that Avi also mentions - the issue of space. One way to pursue this question might be to consider how the series was/is marketed on Bebo's site. If there is advertising, is it from local (i.e. British) sponsors, or does it use "intelligent advertising" (an oxymoron, I know) that adjusts the advert according the IP address of the visitor? No doubt we will be discussing these ideas more in the coming months and throughout the Ephemeral Media workshop.

Thanks JP. Your point about advertising is very interesting as Kate Modern is also an experiment in how to fund this kind of drama (and by all accounts a rather successful one). There aren’t any banner ads on the site; instead they use sponsorship via product placements of quite a broad range of brands that, whilst global, are all prominent in the UK and primarily associated with a youth demographic (Toyota Aygo, Cadbury’s Creme Egg, Tampax etc.). These cross-promotions are quite explicit at various points in the narrative. At one point a character ‘meets’ the actor Jamie Bell who is referred as his character from the (British) film Hallam Foe and plays on the film's tagline 'Who is Hallam Foe?'. In season two one of the marathons included a draw for a Toyota car for those who stuck with it. The latter of course twins the funding/sponsorship of the series with its hyper-ephemerality and event status - you had to be online at a certain time, and presumably in the UK, in order to enter the competition. The funding of this kind of content is definitely ripe for much further consideration so I'll definitely think about it more before June.

Liz – your post and videos do an excellent job of inaugurating this week’s discussion, and of introducing some of the themes that we will be exploring at Nottingham this summer. As I’m a little late to the discussion, I wanted to address a few of the other posters’ comments and pose a few questions of my own for Liz.

RE James on “stunting”: In addition to the Carnaby St “event” captured in the second video, there’s another form of stunting taking place here in the crossover between Kate Modern (KM) and lonelygirl15. Liz, are crossovers between the two series common? On television crossover stunts typically involve characters migrating between a single network’s or studio’s programs (e.g. NBC’s mid-1990s Must See TV crossovers). In an online context, does a site like Bebo assume some of the functions and responsibilities previously carried out by the network or studio, using crossovers and other stunts to establish brand identity and/or something akin to a flow across its programming? Or is there something else taking place here, something that owes more to the rhizomatic logics of hypertext than to television’s well-established stunting practices?
As I’m assuming is the case for many people interested in online video, Avi’s and JP’s comments about archiving hit home for me. I wanted to second JP’s observation that what is most in danger of being lost is not the videos themselves but the paratexts that surround them. This is a problem that TV historians are well-acquainted with (I myself am currently struggling to find archived copies of early examples of the “previously on…” recap montages that appear before serial dramas). That said, online video presents a whole new set of challenges for those of us who are as interested in a medium’s “promotional surround” as we are in its texts proper. Web serials like KM or lonelygirl15 appear on multiple web pages at once, where they may be surrounding by a (literally) dynamic assortment of ads, promos, and paratexts. Liz, in your research on KM, how have you accounted for the multiple sites on which the series may accessed, and the different paratexts that surround it in each of these locations?

Finally, one thing that leapt out at me about the second video was the way that the editing seemed to cycle through footage taken by the many recording devices that were present at Carnaby Street that day. This got me to thinking: what kinds of visual tricks and tropes can online video producers use to creating an impression of immediacy within the contexts of series that are almost entirely composed of a phone- or web-cam style videography? What are the aesthetics of the modes of ephemerality and the anti-ephemerality that Liz’s post describes?

I think JP and Max's points about the difficulties in archiving the paratextual materials that surround the video clips online is spot on, but I also wonder about how these paratexts function differently than television promos and ads. The concept of Flow takes on customizable dimensions online whereby banner ads can change based on IP addresses and user profile information (I doubt any of you are seeing the ads for hot young singles in Norfolk running alongside my Facebook profile- and I list my status as married!) or the information inputted into search engines (the videos listed on youtube are ordered in part accoring to the search parameters you input). Do these sorts of "smart ads" thatJP notes offer users ways to make meanings in ways similar to Raymond Williams' notion of Flow for TV? Does the notion of the ephemeral matter when the encounter is not only fleeting, but individualized?

Wow... Elizabeth, great post -- I was a writer on Season 2 of KateModern (the preferred spelling of our show(!)) and just wanted to leave a message that I'm hugely enjoying the level of discussion here -- it's breathtaking.

It's the first time I have read a coherent analysis of the implications of the live events.  We tried to take them one step further with the live webcasts during the "12 in 12" Precious Blood, and the series finale.

For us, the writing team, it was a huge experiment -- and we were storylining and scripting about a week ahead of shooting which was about a week ahead of uploading.  But we had the 'luxury' of being able to drop in quick turnaround and 'live' episodes as we went along.

We followed the 'rules' developed by lonelygirl15 with the different types of episode -- diary/vlog, found footage, live upload, and live event. 

The live events operated under the conceit that the fans could film them in the open, and upload their footage themselves, which meant those episodes have more of a 'movie' feel to them -- they are the only episodes we could have the action shot from multiple angles.

There was also a little flurry of fan activity between the live event, and that day's episode being uploaded by the character - with fans passing on information to other fans before the episode is released.

I can heartily recommend the lonelygirl15 fansite
which covers more community reaction to stunts and experiments on the shows,

and I bank links to other shows on my own online drama site

All the best


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