Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Core Post #5: Post-TV

In “Flexible Microcasting: Gender, Generation, and Television-Internet Convergence”, Lisa Parks discusses the cultural and social impacts of ‘postbroadcasting’ television practices. “Convergence is not just about the coming together of technical systems; it involves the shifting meanings of converging technologies as well.” (134) Giving special attention to representations of gender, class and race, Parks analyses current discourses towards this new combination of television and computer technologies.
One of the aspects discussed in her articled that I found to require further thinking was the idea of the switch from television as a collective experience to an individual practice. Parks claims that industry leaders have been interpreting this new age of 'postbroadcasting' as the era of ‘personal television’. Indeed, most entertainment platforms today require a personalized account that will provide the viewer suggestions tailored according to their individual preferences. It is almost as if our television habits are now under surveillance – it seems impossible to watch Orange Is The New Black without being bombed by Netflix with suggestions for Lost Girl and The L Word (Netflix doesn’t seem to know I have watched them all already…). Even though it seems kind of scary to take into consideration that all of these online platforms keep track of our personal tastes, there is also an element of convenience to this experience. It is just more comfortable to have your next show to binge brought to you instead of having to search for them yourself.
There is a new tendency in the entertainment market, and networks and streaming platforms seem to be investing all of their creativity to join the competition. With content available in multiple platforms, one could argue that democratization of television has reached its higher point. However, the financial borders of the industry persist to determine who may access their entertainment content. YouTube, for instance, have recently launched YouTube Red, a platform that offers premium music, commercial free videos, and original content with your favorite YouTubers, for “only” $9,99/month. While some familiarize with the most convenient television habits so far, many others remain excluded from this experience.

In Post-TV, those who can afford it have the opportunity to schedule their own programming, a tendency that Parks identifies as the removal of spontaneity. Aside from big events on broadcast networks—and certain shows that behave as such—the exercise of watching television seems to be becoming an individual, lonely practice.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks Lille , great post! I don't know about you, but I always feel a sort of ambivalence about personalizing my media for myself. When youtube asks me to Like, Pandora to thumbs up, Netflix to rate, I always feel a bit hesitant to allow myself to be added to a database of tastes. Also, I question how much of their recommended content is actually controlled by larger capitalist functions. For example, Netflix thinks I will like the show LOVE, because I like Louis and sort of enjoyed Master of None. However, Love is also just a new show produced by netflix that is being pushed onto everyone, so how much is this is tailored for me, or just a lie to get me to like the show by comparing it to other shows I watched.

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  2. Hey Ray, good point. I guess there will always be people that feel reluctant to cooperate with this surveillance system. But I put again, to what extent can we really avoid it? I mean, these streaming platforms force the viewer to create a personal account, and even though you refuse to rate their website and shows, they still keep track of what you see. And if we think in a large scale, there is a huge consumer market coming from these numbers that Netflix won't release to the public.
    I definitely agree with you that their suggestions are biased--no matter what you watch, Netflix originals will keep being suggested to you. But then again, it's a marketing play...

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    1. Great thoughts here, Lille. You're 100% correct that even those who are reluctant to cooperate with the curative algorithms responsible for their recs, there isn't really a way to opt out other than dropping the services entirely. A Netflix employee confirmed this for me directly--suggestions for those who don't rate are made based on what they did watch (and how long they watched it for).

      As for the "loss of spontaneity" referenced by Parks, this isn't true of Netflix at least anymore. They used to base their suggestions entirely around a user's viewing history and ratings, but found that users disliked the inescapability of their own tastes. So they added an element of randomness to the algorithm several years ago to help keep the suggestions fresh.

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    2. I agree that it is impossible to keep away from the “surveillance system” of the Web. In the case of Netflix, "top picks for you” are actually top picks for Netflix’s interest. These "top picks" show how Netflix (and the Web) internalizes corporate interest/desire as consumer’s interest/desire. I follow these suggestions sometimes. I don't really believe the suggestion will work out, but still willing to try (obey), forgetting about my place as consumer. In this process, the individual as consumer is hollowed out to be replaced with the corporate desire.

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    3. I agree that it is impossible to keep away from the “surveillance system” of the Web. In the case of Netflix, "top picks for you” are actually top picks for Netflix’s interest. These "top picks" show how Netflix (and the Web) internalizes corporate interest/desire as consumer’s interest/desire. I follow these suggestions sometimes. I don't really believe the suggestion will work out, but still willing to try (obey), forgetting about my place as consumer. In this process, the individual as consumer is hollowed out to be replaced with the corporate desire.

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  3. There is one post-network experiment I have been waiting for to see if it can shake this increasingly individualized focus. Chelsea Handler has had a long gestating talk show, recently called “Chelsea” that is due out on Netflix on May 11th. The show will have new episodes available on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. She show will not be aired live, but will have a live audience. The talk show format has worked on network, it has worked on cable, but has it been seriously tested on a streaming service before? I’m not much of a Handler fan, but I will definitely be curious about the success of the show to draw large enough audiences to keep it alive.

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    1. I didn't know about this but that's an interesting format to bring to a streaming service. The fact that there'll be new episodes available three times a week versus all at once will also be interesting since Netflix is known and popular for not making people wait. The format may and may not work but if there are true Handler fans out there, it may possibly work. If it does work, will this mean that Netflix may switch to using the format more often than the format that causes binge watching? Just something to consider

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    2. Christian, I agree that this is a really interesting (and strange) addition to the online streaming landscape! I wonder whether or not it would be possible to have something like a 'talk show', intended for online broadcast, that didn't have a studio audience - I think the idea of the talk show is completely predicated on the studio and the studio audience, and to lose that would be to enter into a completely different genre or format, one that would be perceived inherently more scripted or performative, no matter how 'live' it might be.

      I'm thinking also of Jimmy Fallon's success on The Tonight Show -- he has been a successful host in large part because of his ability to create viral content, some of which is filmed as separate sketches, but the vast majority of which still uses the traditional late-night talk-show format, complete with studio audience, even if it is made largely to be consumed online. I think The Tonight Show has been particularly good at adapting the familiar structures of television to the rhythms of the internet by generating short and self-contained clips -- you don't need to watch a whole interview with an actor or celebrity to enjoy the 45-second clip of them playing a silly game with Fallon. I wonder if Handler's show will also be constructed with an eye towards the 'viral', or if it will go the opposite route and indulge in the kind of longform that streaming television seems to favor.

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  4. Very interesting post, Lille. I wonder when, if ever, the personal and individual television experience Netflix provides will be disrupted by the social. So far streaming services have been unsuccessful in getting users to share their viewing habits within the services themselves, although users obviously use platforms like twitter and facebook to express their opinions on shows. Anecdotally, I take a strange joy in guessing which distant family member of mine has generated Netflix suggestions like "Witty Cerebral Sports Movies with a Strong Female Lead" on our shared Netflx account, which seems to suggest a craving for social engagement and an escape from the individual even within such a personalized platform.

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    1. Katie, I love seeing those too! I agree, though, that sociality is not a very big part of platforms like Netflix and Hulu, and in a way I wonder if that isn't part of their appeal. They seem in that way to harken back to the function of the television set that we saw described in earlier readings this semester -- that is, they are made to be enjoyed (by and large) in the privacy of the home (or at least of a personal space), either individually or in very small groups, and seem to (sort of) indiscriminately provide content that is navigable by, but not predicated on, the person doing the viewing. To watch Netflix with other people is much more like watching a regular TV than going on Twitter or Facebook, where even the most passive forms of viewing require some activity (endless scrolling). I wonder whether or not we actually crave sociality on Netflix -- and if, as you say, it is one day 'disrupted by the social' imperative of the Web, will anti-social viewership eventually disappear completely?

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    2. p.s. I thought it might be fun to share an anecdote as well, with regards to sociality and TV watching (though it's not quite my anecdote): in 1944, my grandparents, who were living in tenement housing on the East Side of New York City, won a television set in a raffle (apparently it was a 44"x44" box with a 7"x7" screen in the middle, which is kind of unimaginably inconvenient). Neither they nor any of their neighbors had ever seen or owned a TV before, and so the summer they brought it home my grandfather would lug the giant machine up to the roof of the building every evening and everyone from the building would watch it, movie-theatre style, until programming turned off for the night. It's interesting and fun to think about the ways that our ingrained viewership practices persist and overlap with new forms of technology.

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  5. “There is a new tendency in the entertainment market, and networks and streaming platforms seem to be investing all of their creativity to join the competition.”

    I find this statement fascinating in terms of thinking about these online platforms as not just sites of consumption but also of production. With Netflix (Making a Murderer, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black etc.) and Hulu (The Path, 11.22.63) joining in fray, even the site of the so-called quality television seems to have shifted a bit. I wonder how much of this is actually “post” TV in the sense of being “after” TV, rather than the repositioning of older imaginations of television and its audiences to a new site.

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  6. I also like the convenience of having suggestions without going out of my way to search things on Netlix. However, I do not want my Netflix suggestions to be of only one particular taste, or else I'd be bored of the same types of shows/films.

    I like how you bring up the financial borders of the industry and how others who do not have the same economic means are excluded from these experiences. It brings to mind the fact that those of us who do have subscription based streaming sites like Netflix or Hulu all have the same tastes (more or less) because the same content is being put forth to a vast majority of people. We all have access to the same platform and content, which makes me think.. are all our tastes really that personalized?

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  7. Hi Lille, thank you for your post. I have to say that, sometimes, “tracking system” actually works, and it can bring some videos which accord with my taste. Meanwhile, I agree with you that it is time to worry about this “surveillance system,” which refers to the whole internet information safety. Also, you mentioned YouTube Red, and you said that “those who can afford it have the opportunity to schedule their programming.” However, I think that, today, to spend $9.99/month for scheduling their programming is not about If they can or cannot, instead, is about if they want or not. Many people do not want to purchase it not because they do not have money, but the value of this kind virtual items lower than the purchasing price.

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