Participant, created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, is using that methodology to build a proprietary database. It will feature three echelons with 35 projects each, or about 100 distinct bits of media, annually.
The company will lean heavily toward films and television shows of its own, especially those carried on its activism-driven online and pay-television network, Pivot. But it will also index properties for partners, like the Gates and Kaiser Family foundations, and for companies or others who will pay a fee.
Participant was created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, left, pictured here with James G. Berk, chief executive. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times
(Prices have not been set, Mr. Berk said, but he expects to serve nonprofits at cost. He declined to say how much Participant has invested in the index.)
In an inaugural general survey, which polled 1,055 of its viewers in March and April of this year, Chad Boettcher, Participant’s executive vice president for social action, and Caty Borum Chattoo, a researcher and communications professor at American University, found some perhaps surprising results.
Even among the presumably progressive Participant audience, crime ranked near the top of the list of 40 primary concerns. It was cited by 73 percent of respondents as an important social issue, placing it just behind human rights, health care and education.
Gay rights, female empowerment and prison sentencing reform, by contrast, ranked near the bottom of the list, while climate change was stuck in the middle, a concern among 59 percent of respondents. Digital intellectual property issues, at 38 percent, brought up the rear.
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Stories about animal rights and food production, it turned out, were the most likely to provoke individual action. But tales about economic inequality — not so much.
Over all, said Marc Karzen, a social media entrepreneur whose company, RelishMix, advises film and television marketers, Participant will most likely affirm what is becoming clear to conventional film studios: Impact can be less about persuasion than nudging an audience to go where it is already pointed.
“You have to embrace your fans, not shout at them,” Mr. Karzen said. “They need to be inspired to spread the word.”
One of the weirdest problems in measuring social impact, and one still unresolved, Mr. Boettcher said, is the paradox of “The Cove.”
That documentary, which looks closely at dolphin killing in Japan, had worldwide ticket sales of just $1.2 million after its release in 2009. Yet it has repeatedly led to campaigns to protect the Japanese dolphins, Mr. Boettcher notes, particularly among activists who are aware of the film but will not watch (and hence, would not be counted under the current methodology of the index) because of its gory content.
“They don’t want to see it,” Mr. Boettcher said, “but they will sign up.”
via Participant Index Seeks to Determine Why One Film Spurs Activism, While Others Falter – NYTimes.com.
Is it a documentary or propaganda – the folks who want to profit from your feelings don’t care – they just care about the money!