Flow TV Brainstorm: Rethinking the Audience/Producer Relationship

Following Transmedia Hollywood and SCMS, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how different media producers envision their audiences and what drives fan behavior. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit–especially after Transmedia Hollywood–about what our responsibilities are as scholars and acafans as we engage in dialogue with producers who have differing notions of audience and fan engagement than we do. These issues became especially clear to me in the Transmedia Hollywood workshop I participated in, in a moment of semantics, when we were debating whether fans who participated online and authored their own texts were “active” or “activist.” I came down on the side of active–indeed, I was very surprised to hear the term activist raised in this context.

So with Flow around the corner, I thought this might be a good opportunity to consider these questions–and I do get the sense that I’m not the only one who has been mulling over these sorts of issues following the many exciting conversations with producers at TransH and SCMS.

So–here’s a rough draft of a proposal for a Flow roundtable that would get at these issues. I’d certainly be happy for any feedback or general thoughts!

Given the increased visibility of audiences online, how might we understand the shifts in the relationship between audiences and producers? How have producers’ perceptions of audiences and fans transformed over the past decade? How have audience/producer interactions changed because of fans’ increasing knowledge of and access to a range of producers, from showrunners to writers to performers?

As TV and new media scholars enter into dialogue with both producers and fans, how do we negotiate our positions as scholars invested in both sides? Can and should we try to bridge gaps between fan- and producer-created fan engagement?

8 thoughts on “Flow TV Brainstorm: Rethinking the Audience/Producer Relationship

  1. televisionftw says:

    Just a lowly grad student here, but for me the most fascinating question here (although I am interested by all) is the last question of the first paragraph of the proposal. I think there is a lot to be said about an audience becoming significantly more aware of the machinations of the television industry, aware of their own position as a commodified audience, and accepting of that position as long as it it able to be leveraged. I’d suggest that the audience manipulation of Subway as a sponsor of Chuck in order to see it renewed shows a very canny understanding of the realities of 21st century television production, which quite possibly comes from greater contact with showrunners, producers and writers across a variety of mediums.

    Am really hoping to make it to Flow so that I can hear more about what people have to say about this topic as a whole.

    1. lstein says:

      Belatedly responding–please forgive that this slipped by me! But a) there is no such thing as a lowly grad student, and b) I do hope you make it to Flow this year! It’s not too late to apply to be a participant too!

      I’ve noticed quite a few instances recently that seem like manipulation of audience, as you put it, or co-optation of fan practices, and that have made me distinctly uncomfortable. Most recently it was the Gossip Girl remix campaign that used fan video remixes as a metaphor for the new Starbucks smoothie “blender.” Watching those ads especially has pushed me to consider what distinguishes a thoughtful and exciting instance of producer engagement with fan culture from co-optation/manipulation?

      1. Mark S says:

        I’m not familiar with the Gossip Girl campaign – will have to look into that a little further.

        I am still hoping to make it to Flow, and am still considering an application to contribute as well, although I do need to make sure that I have the funds to do so. Trips from NZ to the US are not cheap these days!

        (Console-ing Passions in Adelaide next year is a much easier decision!)

  2. JLR says:

    This sounds awesome! And very timely and germane. I wish I could submit to Flow, but I think it’s right around when school starts for me.

    1. lstein says:

      Too bad that you can’t come to Flow! We’ll miss you! But yeah, it’s hard timing, so early on in the semester.

  3. Tom Streeter says:

    This discussion reminds of Roland Barthes, who said in _From Work to Text_: “The distance separating reading from writing is historical.” You could trade out “reading” with “viewing,” and it seems like it might be directly applicable.

    1. lstein says:

      Do you mean in terms of the “active” dimension of fan viewership and experience? Definitely I see that correlation–and likewise to notion of read/write culture. I feel that fans exemplify the writerly dimensions of viewing, both in their viewing-as-writing and in their post-viewing authorship.

      But I found myself struck by the discrepancy between our understanding of this as academics and producers’ perspective of what it means to be an “active” (or “activist, as they termed it at Transmedia Hollywood) fan. I hope we’ll get to explore this potential disconnect at Flow.

      1. Tom Streeter says:

        Maybe active/passive is too simple a dichotomy, anyway; maybe the producers are on to something, because “activist” suggests a particular self-concept and mode of organization.

        Hope to hear more about this at Flow or somewhere. — T

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