Henry Jenkins has a perceptive analysis of the “collective intelligence” of the Internet and its bearing on Survivor – really:
- The Survivor winner is one of the most tightly guarded secrets in the country. Some say that the show’s producer, Mark Burnett, engages in misinformation campaigns, planting misleading information in the coding of its Web sites trying to throw smoke in viewers’ eyes. Contestants and crew face enormous fines if they get caught spilling the beans.
The audience ranks among one of the largest in broadcast television – and it is hellbent on ferreting out the results. The most hardcore fans, a contingent known as the “spoilers,” go to extraordinary lengths. They use satellite photographs to locate the base camp. They form teams that try to surmise the identities of the contestants before they are officially announced. Someone posts a message reporting that the guy in a neighboring cubicle has disappeared for two months without explanation and returned thinner, tan, and scratching insect bites like crazy. These spoilers spread out across the Web, seeking every bit of information they can find on the suspect (and given how little privacy remains, they can find a lot). They watch the taped episodes, frame by frame, looking for hidden information.
….The French cyberspace theorist Pierre Levy has used the term “collective intelligence” to describe the massive-scale information gathering and processing activities that have emerged in Web communities. On the Internet, he argues, people harness their individual expertise toward shared goals and objectives: “No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity.” Survivor spoiling is collective intelligence in action.
….You may think reality television is for bottom feeders – even if you secretly, while on the road, flip onto one of the shows in your hotel room and hope your coworkers or family members don’t find out. Well, if you only watch these shows on television, you are missing the bulk of what the excitement is about. Reality television has become the testing ground by which the media companies experiment with new approaches to marketing and consumer relations. Reality TV is also the space where consumers get the chance to test new ways of interacting with media content. In fact, the media “convergence” that has been so long predicted for the better part of the last decade is here right now – and reality television shows us what it looks like.
….Hollywood and the networks are here to stay. But the future of television lies at the intersection between the corporate media’s aggressive new marketing campaigns and the consumer’s collaborative efforts to outwit, outplay, and outlast them. [Technology Review]
One thing Jenkins doesn’t mention is the similarity between reality shows and sporting events, where there is actual competitive drama and something actually happens not predestined (we hope) by the media.