convergence – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Game of Thrones: Adaptation and Fidelity in an Age of Convergence Thu, 09 Apr 2015 12:00:06 +0000 Game of Thrones, Iain Robert Smith considers what happens to fidelity criticism when a show goes beyond the published material and starts to “adapt” material that has been planned but not yet written by the original author.]]> Post by Iain Robert Smith, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, Department of Media, Culture and Language, University of Roehampton

This is the fourth installment in the ongoing “From Nottingham and Beyond” series, with contributions from faculty and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s Department of Culture, Film and Media.  This week’s contributor, Iain Robert Smith, completed his PhD in the department in 2011.

got3On Sunday, April 12th, the fifth season of Game of Thrones will premiere simultaneously in more than 170 countries and territories. [1]  A truly transnational production with filming taking place this season in Northern Ireland, Croatia and Spain, Game of Thrones is both the most watched show in HBO’s history and the world’s most-pirated TV show.  Adapting George R.R. Martin’s series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-), showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have managed, on the whole, to satisfy both fans of the books and audiences unfamiliar with Martin’s works.  Yet this season marks a significant shift in the adaptation process, one that has the potential to challenge many traditional notions of fidelity criticism.  Despite starting to write the first volume in 1991, George R.R. Martin is still in the process of writing the book series, and this season looks to be the transitional moment when the show will start to overtake the books.  In this short article, therefore, I would like to consider what happens to fidelity criticism when a show goes beyond the published material and starts to “adapt” material that has been planned but not yet written by the original author.

In the fifteen years since Robert Stam published his influential critique of fidelity criticism, “Beyond Fidelity: The Dialogics of Adaptation,” the academic study of adaptation has attempted to move away from discourses of fidelity that privilege the “original” source above the adaptation, to embrace instead an alternative intertextual model of “texts generating other texts in an endless process of recycling, transformation and transmutation, with no clear point of origin.”  While there have been some attempts to reclaim and rehabilitate fidelity criticism (e.g. MacCabe et al, True to the Spirit, 2012), there is still a prevailing assumption that notions of fidelity reinforce a problematic hierarchy between source and adaptation, where the novel is valued above its screen adaptation.  Yet, as Christine Geraghty has noted, while we may wish to move beyond fidelity criticism in our own textual analysis, the question of faithfulness is nevertheless still important in studies of reception, given that “faithfulness matters if it matters to the viewer.”


As we might expect, the fandom surrounding Game of Thrones is heavily invested in issues of faithfulness, although it should be noted that the forums primarily devoted to the TV show, such as Winter is Coming and Watchers on the Wall, tend to be more open to changes than those that predated the show, such as A Forum of Ice and Fire.  One of the difficulties of this particular adaptation was that George R.R. Martin had deliberately conceived of the book series as something that would only be achievable in the literary form.  After having worked for ten years in Hollywood as a writer and producer on shows such as The Twilight Zone (1985-1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990), Martin made the conscious decision to return to prose fiction to escape the restrictions of a TV budget and shooting schedule.  In this age of media convergence, serialized television may be becoming more novelistic in its form, yet it is nevertheless still the case that there are significant differences in what each medium can achieve.  Certainly, by constructing an epic fantasy world with over a thousand named characters, 31 of whom are given their own point-of-view chapters, Martin’s book series posed a serious challenge for anyone who wished to adapt it to the screen.

Most of the changes made by the showrunners to date have been relatively small, such as amalgamating some minor characters, cutting out much of the historical background, aging up the central protagonists, and adding extra scenes to provide insight into characters — such as Tywin Lannister, Margaery Tyrell and Robb Stark — who were never given a POV chapter in the novels.  The upcoming season, on the other hand, looks to be making substantial changes.  While the showrunners found two seasons’ worth of material to adapt from the plot-heavy third book (A Storm of Swords), they have elected to adapt the slower-paced fourth (A Feast for Crows) and fifth (A Dance with Dragons) books together in a single season, with entire storylines dropped and others moving in a markedly different direction from their book counterparts.  Furthermore, as some characters are progressing more quickly through their book material than others, it is looking likely that this season will introduce elements from the sixth book (The Winds of Winter), even though Martin is still writing it.

This has become a point of concern for many fans, and while there is some debate as to whether the sixth book will be published ahead of season six in 2016, it is clear that the series will conclude well before Martin publishes the planned seventh and final novel, A Dream of Spring.  In 2013, the showrunners held a weeklong meeting in Santa Fe with Martin to discuss in detail his plans for the overall structure of the story, and it is evident that seasons six and seven of the show will be adapting these plans for the books that have not yet been written. [2]

This form of concurrent production has a number of implications for the debates surrounding the faithfulness of the Game of Thrones series to the books.  Most importantly, the distinction between the book series as the “original” source text and the TV show as the “adaptation” becomes increasingly difficult to sustain.  With the show overtaking the book series, television will not only be the first medium through which the majority of fans will discover the events of the final novel, but it will also have been written, shot and screened well before Martin finishes writing the novel.  To a certain extent, this final novel therefore has the potential to be received by some fans more like a novelization that adapts the events of the TV series than as the “original” source.  Of course, Martin’s status as the creator of the book series [3] means that A Dream of Spring will be treated as more than a “mere” novelization, but nevertheless we are confronted here with an increasingly blurred distinction between original and copy.

got1Moreover, the anxieties surrounding spoilers will shift focus.  Until now, the concern has been about book readers potentially spoiling events for show watchers, but it will now be show watchers who will be first to find out what happens.  In an age of social media, it will be challenging for any readers who wish to avoid the show revelations and remain “unsullied” until the novels’ release.  Indeed, this process has already begun, with any changes made by the showrunners provoking fevered speculation on forums about what this may mean for the future books.  The choice to remove certain storylines and characters from the show is treated as an inadvertent spoiler, alerting viewers that these story arcs will turn out to be relatively insignificant within the future novels.

Of course, the fact that both the novels and show are still in process means that this dynamic may change over time.  Martin’s original outline for the book series was recently revealed, showing that he had initially intended for the series to be a trilogy with a markedly different structure and focus.  Within that letter to his publisher, he admits that, “As you know, I don’t outline my novels.  I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it.”  We may find therefore that the book series will ultimately diverge from the outlines planned by Martin alongside the showrunners in 2013.  It is telling that in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Martin teased that he has recently come up with a shocking new twist to the novels that they can’t do on the show because they have “made a couple [of] decisions that will preclude it.”  The showrunners may face pressure from the fans to stay relatively faithful to the plans for the novels, but as the storylines start to diverge, Martin seems less concerned with restricting himself to staying faithful to those earlier plans.  We are moving to a situation in which we have two parallel adaptations, both based on but not beholden to those outlines laid out in that weeklong meeting in Santa Fe.  Notions of fidelity may still play a role in the reception of Game of Thrones, yet it is not so clear what the “original” text is to which the showrunners are being asked to be faithful.

got4To conclude, therefore, I’d like to put forward a few questions that this case study raises: 1) To what extent do notions of faithfulness still matter when the source itself is under development?  2) How will fans respond to differences between the ending of the show and the ending of the novels, especially if they experience the show first?  3) How are our ideas of the “original” and the “copy” challenged in these rare cases of concurrent production?  While this has only been a short mapping out of these issues ahead of the premiere on Sunday, I hope that future scholarship explores the wider implications that this fascinating case study may have for issues of fidelity criticism and adaptation in an age of convergence.


[1] Although unfortunately not here in the UK, where Sky Atlantic has elected to premiere the episode on Monday evening instead.

[2] This situation is reminiscent of the collaboration between Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), where they collaborated on the screenplay together, then went off to work on their respective novel and film concurrently.  Both deviated from the early drafts of the screenplay, and the resultant works contained many similar elements but were substantially different in tone and content.

[3] Martin’s active involvement with the TV production, having written an episode each for seasons one to four, further complicates this dynamic.




The Aesthetic Turn: How Media Translate, or, Why Do I Like Chase Scenes? Wed, 06 Nov 2013 15:00:28 +0000 Casino Royale

In my first post in the “The Aesthetic Turn” series, I spoke of the part of “our experience of a media object [that] exists prior to and outside of language.” I asked whether we could use language to describe it without denaturing the experience itself, and I concluded we can’t, at least not directly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t describe it at all, and in this post, I’d like to suggest how to approach it obliquely, through metaphor and translation. (This post began as a “Digital Lightning” talk I gave as part of a series put on by the University of North Dakota’s Working Group on Digital Humanities. As I spoke, I played Casino Royale in the background.)

I’m a sucker for a good chase scene. I love the elegant excess of the parkour chase at the beginning of Casino Royale, where James Bond (Daniel Craig) pursues a criminal who careens off walls and catapults through improbably small windows.

I love the silly excess of the freeway chase in The Matrix Reloaded, where one pursuit is layered on top of another (in cars, on top of cars, and in motorcycles on top of cars). My favorite right now is the four-deep chase-within-a-chase (and dream-within-a-dream) that marks the climax of Inception.

I want to ask a question about chase scenes that is really a question about something else. In a sense, I want to force two things together in an unlikely metaphor. What do chase scenes reveal about media and translation? I mean “translation” in a broader sense than linguistic recoding, although I mean that, too. The English word translate derives from the Latin transferre, meaning “to carry across.” It implies movement. Other languages (such as Finnish and Japanese) use words that emphasize mediation and transformation, rather than movement. Both, I think, are key: movement implies transformation as signs leave one sphere to become meaningful in another.

How do media shape the phenomenon of movement-transformation? What happens when, say, a TV show travels from one geographic or technological space to another? Few questions are more fundamental in media studies, and few have been asked as often, although we tend not to phrase questions in terms of translation. In the era of “new media” (whatever we mean by that), we frequently speak in terms of remediation: what happens when we view newer media through the habits of thought instilled by older media? This question has grown ever more urgent as media converge. What happens when a fan remixes a show, which then goes through YouTube, and then through a link on Facebook, before it gets to us? I want to shift the focus, however, from the media platforms and technologies to the “through,” the movement-transformation.

What happens at the point of “through”? Is there a logic to “through-ness”? Can we see everything that is happening, or are things hidden from sight? Here is my initial answer: In the process of transformation, a gap opens up between a sign before its movement and after. The original sign and its “translation”—the sign we substitute for it—do not evoke the same things. They might evoke similar things; in fact, translation as we have traditionally understood it—a form of rewriting in a different language—is premised on that appearance of equivalence. But we need to pay attention to the gap, which is a place of doubt and ambiguity. It is also a place where we can observe an experience of a media object that is prior to language. Still, our observation is oblique: how does it feel to enter this place of doubt? Does this ambiguity provoke unease? Something else?

So what does this have to do with chase scenes? I’m forcing a metaphor here, which is to say, I’m transposing a sign—chase scenes—from one context (movies) to another (translation and media). (Not for nothing does metaphor derive from the Greek μεταφέρω, meaning “to carry across.”) Through that metaphor, I’m opening a gap we experience (in part) by asking, why this weird juxtaposition? My purpose is to provoke a reaction—an “aha!” would be great, but a “what the hell” will do perfectly fine, too. The point is to use translation and metaphor to turn our attention away from the object (the chase scenes, the media platforms, the texts) toward our experience of the object. The move is admittedly quite “meta” (μετα?), but it is also potentially quite valuable, too.

This is the second post in Antenna’s new series The Aesthetic Turn, which examines questions of cultural studies and media aesthetics. If you missed guest editor Kyle Conway’s inaugural post last month, you can read it here. Look out for regular posts in the series (most) every other Wednesday into the new year.


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Production Mythology, Release Reality: Syfy’s Defiance Mon, 21 Jan 2013 15:00:36 +0000 Defiance unique, the first of two parts explores how this mythology also breeds uncertainty as the franchise's April debut nears.]]> While Syfy’s science fiction series Defiance has a narrative mythology rivaling that of its generic predecessors, it also has a production mythology. Framed as a five-year journey for Syfy and developer Trion Games, the series and its companion video game—a massively-multiplayer online shooter releasing on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC two weeks in advance of the series’ April 15th premiere—represent a huge investment into transmedia storytelling for a channel that has sought new ways to merge its science fiction genesis with business models they believe could draw a larger audience. While showrunner Kevin Murphy was on stage at this month’s Syfy presentation at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to discuss his plans for the series, Syfy programming executive Mark Stern was also there to reflect on a process that he has overseen across both media.

As with narrative mythologies, however, production mythologies are works-in-progress: much as long-term storytelling goals are vague early in a show’s life, the future of any kind of production strategy is incredibly uncertain. This is particularly true in the case of such a unique production culture, one where the precarity of television production—driven by a flawed Nielsen ratings system—is merged with a video game industry where costs are steadily rising as competition only grows fiercer. While Defiance’s development as an instantaneous transmedia franchise is a novel case of convergent media practices, its success or failure will have to contend with distinct challenges facing the series within and between its two industrial contexts. In this post, I want to specifically focus on how the expectations placed on both television serials and big-budget video games at the time of their debut intersect with those challenges, before moving onto how the perceived audiences for these different media threaten Syfy’s synergistic business strategy in a future post.

From a storytelling perspective, Defiance the game will serve as a prequel to Defiance, taking place in San Francisco rather than St. Louis and giving those who play the game the opportunity to interact with two of the show’s characters as they seek out an object that plays a role in the television narrative. According to one of the game’s creative leads (who I spoke with at press tour), players will have the opportunity to play through an initial story arc with a beginning, middle, and end in addition to smaller side missions and “events” scattered throughout the online world; players will then have the opportunity to follow that story onto the television series, their collective actions seeming to have an influence on the series’ storytelling. During the series, more content will be released to reflect story developments on the show, providing a constant link between the two narratives.

Of course, Murphy acknowledged during the series’ TCA panel that this interactivity would be an illusion, as production realities would prohibit any gameplay from adjusting story arcs in season one. However, it’s also illusory because the game and the series cannot be fully integrated given that not everyone who watches the series may want to play the game, or vice versa. It’s preferred for users to enjoy the two narratives simultaneously, but neither narrative can be designed in ways that require this, a common concern with transmedia properties that are also expected to stand alone as independent media products within distinct markets.

Defiance has more value when it’s experienced as a cross-media narrative, but that’s not necessarily how critics or journalists will evaluate the franchise. When Syfy presents Defiance to reporters and critics who cover television, the game is a novel idea that adds value to the production. However, based on the rather small number of journalists and critics I observed taking advantage of the demo stations made available during a Syfy-sponsored cocktail event during Press Tour, it is unclear how many of those who cover the Syfy series in advance of its premiere will have played the game to get the “full” effect (or who would even have access to the hardware necessary to do so). Meanwhile, the game has been covered for almost two years by video game journalists without any access to the television show, which may in fact be in the title’s best interest. Licensed games have a poor reputation, and although Defiance is more ambitious than your average licensed title the association is still considered a red flag of sorts. Video game journalists aren’t primarily interested in exploring the television series, focusing instead on whether the game alone is worth the investment of “typical” video gamers.

I will explore what “typical” means in part two, but this pre-release separation of the two properties raises a key question for me: how does this operate as a business model once the show and game are released? Are successful Nielsen ratings enough to prop up low sales of the game? Is a high Metacritic rating for the game enough to justify financial investment in the game’s future if the television show’s ratings are lagging?

While you don’t quite “cancel” a video game like you do a TV show, the promise of ongoing content is not necessarily a guarantee. While Trion has planned out new content to be released throughout the show’s first season, they have revealed no details on how users will get this content (including whether or not they’ll have to pay for it), or whether the game itself will come with a monthly fee typical for PC MMOs (and how such a fee would carry over in some way to the console versions). If the economics of the game don’t work out, there’s no promise a second round of content would arrive during a second season, or between seasons; if the game performs poorly on a particular console, meanwhile, it’s possible development could be focused on a single platform moving forward, leaving a section of gamers out of the story.

This uncertainty is not abnormal within the television or video game industries, but the interconnected nature of this venture only adds to its complexity, making their appeal to certain audiences an important discussion, albeit one for another post.


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Convergent Media Policy: The Australian Case Thu, 31 May 2012 14:00:14 +0000 2012 has proved to be a remarkably busy year in Australian media policy. There have been three reports released that address the future of media policy and regulation in the context of convergent media: the Convergence Review; the Independent Media Inquiry (Finkelstein Review); and the Review of the National Classification Scheme undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

It has been the most significant moment in Australian media policy since the early 1990s, when the Broadcasting Services Act and the Telecommunications Act, as well as the Classification Act, were legislated. While these were major initiatives at the time, they were pre-Internet forms of media law that did not anticipate the tsunami of change associated with digitalization, convergence and the globalization of media content.

While other countries are considering changes to adapt their media laws for convergence, Australia has been a world leader in commissioning such major studies that address these challenges head on. A common theme of these reports is that incremental change and policy “muddling through” are no longer sufficient.

In particular, media regulation continues to be primarily based upon the platform of delivery (print, radio, television, telephony, the Internet), whereas media convergence has dislodged the technological bases that tied content to platforms. The Australian Communications and Media Authority has referred to a resulting series of “broken concepts”, ranging from the truly anachronistic, such as the ban on live hypnosis on television, to those which addressed a once-important concept that has been overwhelmed by new developments, such as the separation of carriage and content.

The Convergence Review identified three areas where continued government intervention is justified. First, there is the need to maintain a degree of diversity in media ownership and control. Second, there is the question of content standards, both in terms of news standards and classification of media content in line with community standards. Finally, there are expectations that Australians have around the continued availability of locally produced content that is broadly reflective of Australian culture, identity and diversity.

The question of who should be regulated has become much more complex in a convergent media environment. In discussions of media influence, a distinction is commonly made between “big media” on the one hand who should be regulated more – the name “Rupert Murdoch” will often appear at this juncture – and the Internet on the other, which should not be regulated at all.

But “the Internet” is as much The Guardian Online, BBC World or as it is blogging, citizen journalism, or online mash-ups. The commercial mass media and non-commercial user-created content co-exist in the online digital space, so questions of media influence return in a different form.

The Convergence Review sought to address that question of when a media organization becomes “big”—and hence appropriately subject to regulations based on its potential for influence—with the concept of a “Content Service Enterprise” (CSE). The Review defined a CSE as a media content provider that has over 500,000 Australian users per month, and $50m per annum of revenues from Australian-sourced professional content. Interestingly, the 15 companies that met these guidelines are all conventional media businesses, but the CSE label could in principle be extended to companies such as Google and Apple.

If the CSE concept were extended to global media companies, the question would arise of Australian jurisdictional authority over these businesses. At present, there is a regulatory stand-off, but it may be that future jurisdictional authority will be shared and brokered between Australian agencies and other authorities. In the ALRC Review, this was referred to as deeming, where the classifications given to media content by online “stores” such as Apple ITunes or the Google Android platform could be recognized under Australian media law, subject to approval by the Australian regulators.

Much attention has been given to the question of “who regulates”. One of the difficulties with these discussions is that we think of regulation in terms of how much, rather than in terms of the relationship between its instruments and its outcomes. One message that came through from the ALRC Review was that Australians were less concerned with who classified different media than with the question of trusting those doing it to have an appropriate professional distance from corporate self-interest.

Another difficulty is that convergent media policy brings together different organizational cultures and traditions of regulation. Whereas it is still pretty clear who constitutes the television industry or the newspaper industry, it is less clear what constitutes the Internet, digital content or social media industries.

Meeting with Apple, Google, Facebook or Microsoft introduces you to very different corporate entities, with very different organizational cultures, business models, and relationships to their consumers. Establishing a new regulatory framework for convergent media raises not only the challenges of established media operating across different platforms, but the ever-growing fluidity attached to the concept of “media” itself.


MIT7 Media In Transition: unstable platforms Fri, 20 May 2011 14:03:29 +0000 unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition, the seventh biannual incarnation of the MIT Media in Transition conference, was held last Friday through Sunday.  The conference featured more than 175 papers by presenters from 24 countries. Podcasts of the plenaries “Unstable Platforms,” “Archives and Cultural Memory,” “Power and Empowerment,” and “Summing Up, Looking Ahead” have been made available by the Comparative Media Studies program.

Every account of a conference is individualized, and this post adds another perspective to blog posts such as those written by Saul Tannenbaum from a citizen journalist perspective and Nick Montfort’s recap of the “Computer Histories” panel.

Below, I focus on some of the presentations that made me think deeply about moments of media transition.

Chuck Tryon discussed the marketing of premium VOD services and digital lockers that are depicted in marketing campaigns as contributing to family harmony and individual empowerment. I was especially interested in his analysis of the Ultraviolet digital locker that allows consumers to buy “enduring access.” Tryon noted that Ultraviolet seems to be targeted to families; in marketing discourses it is treated as a service that allows/creates “family harmony,” but Tryon noted that advertising messages may reinforce gender roles surrounding spectatorship while potentially “promoting individualized consumption.”

Jennifer Holt’s paper on “regulatory hangover” (when technology outpaces regulation) looked back to the FCC’s Computer 1 Inquiry in 1966 in a move to historicize convergence in policy discourses and insist that “convergence” or “new media” policy needs to be central to the FCC’s contemporary mission. Holt insisted that national agencies such as the FCC need a new framework for multiple platforms for voice and data services. Her discussion of the importance of thinking about the regulatory challenges of platforms and pipelines and her analysis of “dumb pipes/smart devices” was especially insightful.

The panel I was on featured great papers by Nina Huntemann (who talked about playtesting, quality assurance, and usability studies in the gaming industry), Mia Consalvo (who analyzed the discursive frameworks that are being built around social games by designers and major industry players), and Randall Nichols (who reminded game studies scholars to take consoles and the cycles of hardware development more seriously).

Pilar Lacasa’s use of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Sims-based machinima to teach Spanish schoolchildren about the language of images struck me as a really innovative way to teach media literacy.

Clara Fernandez-Vara’s presentation on the potential advantages and problems of relying on emulators to preserve and play games designed for past consoles and older hardware systems raised questions about how we construct and write gaming histories. I was particularly struck by her discussion of what we do with peripherals such as the Nintendo light gun used on games such as Duck Hunt that only work on CRT screens. Peripherals are integral to the embodied experience of play, but what happens when peripherals don’t work on new screen technologies? What are the limits of what emulators can do to archive and preserve games and the gaming experience?

Jaroslav Svelch discussed how Army sponsored youth computer clubs in Czechoslovakia helped create gaming cultures during the 1980s. Svelch’s discussion of how Indiana Jones was rescripted as a freedom fighter behind the Iron Curtain and of how text adventure games traveled within the nation was fascinating.

These are just a few of the fascinating talks that were presented this past weekend on the MIT campus.


Watching Twitter on TV Thu, 25 Feb 2010 18:01:06 +0000 Ever since the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) closed its doors in early January the gadget press has been nearly unanimous in identifying 3DTV as television’s “next big thing.” But lost in all the hype surrounding 3D is a potentially far more exciting development: the inclusion of web widgets into television sets’ operating systems. Widgets are the mini-apps that bring weather forecasts to our computer desktops and display real-time news headlines and stock tickers on blogs. With the introduction of web-connected television sets with built-in widgets, the same functionality comes to television, so that instead of changing the channel during an insufferably slow segment of an American Idol elimination show, you’ll instead be able to hit a button on your remote to bring up your Gmail inbox or to play a quick game of Lexulous. In other words, you’ll do what a growing number of viewers already do on laptops, only without having to shift your attention away from your television set to do so.

Compared to 3D, widgets promise to have a much more immediate and meaningful impact on television’s programming, audiences, and economics. For while few current programs would benefit from presentation in 3D – in fact, more than a few would actually suffer, many shows will become vastly more appealing when overlaid with dynamic web content. I first realized this when I started watching television with some of my colleagues at other universities and colleges. Mind you, I wasn’t actually in the same room with them at the time. In fact, technically speaking I’ve never “met” a number of these people. Rather, when I say that I’ve been “watching television with my colleagues,” what I really mean is that I’ve been following – and responding to – their Twitter updates as we watch television on our own.

Each night between 8 and 11 pm EST, Twitter lights up with television-related chatter, making my TweetDeck “All Friends” column look like a meeting of the SCMS TV Studies Special Interest Group. These nightly discussions have brought media studies professors and students into closer contact with some of the nation’s smartest television critics, including The Onion’s Todd VanDerWerff and the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, as well as the thousands of fans who provide running commentary on their own viewing via Twitter. Throughout the night links are exchanged and retweeted, plot twists are dissected, evictions are second guessed, and past and present NBC executives are excoriated, all in 140-character bursts. By the time the 11 pm local news has begun, tomorrow’s columns or blog posts (or next year’s SCMS panels) have already started to take shape.

It makes sense that Twitter widgets, along with other social networking apps, promise to be major selling points for the new web-connected televisions, in so far as television, along with celebrity death rumors, already seems to be Twitter’s main topic of discussion. The launch of these widgets is also in keeping with ongoing efforts by television networks to incorporate real-time text-based viewer feedback into their own programming. The advantage of Twitter widgets over past programming gimmicks is that widgets enable us, the viewers, to select the feeds that will be overlaid on our screens, as opposed to leaving it to the network to make these selections for us. So while we still can’t use digital technologies to customize the television programs we watch, we can at least use them to chose who we watch with. The outcome, I would wager, is no less satisfying.

Having pretty much given up on “live” (that is, not time-shifted) television when I first got a TiVo in 2004, I now find myself motivated to tune in on schedule by the prospect of participating in these nightly Twitter sessions. Even more surprising, on a couple of occasions I’ve actually turned on my set to check out a program that I thought I had absolutely no interest in to see what’s making “Vienna” or “Merle” or some other meaningless-to-me term grow larger in the TwitScoop tag cloud. Mark Andrejevic has argued that within the contemporary media mix television programs are but “the raw material to which value is added” by the individuals who analyze, debate, and ridicule them online. The new web-connected, widget-equipped sets acknowledge as much, affording what are ostensibly secondary forms of televisual discourse a place of prominence on the television screen. By doing so, these new technologies make a compelling case for the old argument that television’s real attraction is not its programs, but the discussions they inspire.


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