As Media Mutations 9 – “The Format Factor” is approaching, we are pleased to present the abstracts of the two keynote addresses.
The final programme is available here.
Beyond Television: Theorizing the Format in Cultural History
Tel Aviv University
Beyond television which has become the almost exclusive medium for a discussion of the notion, this presentation will integrate the TV format in global cultural history. An enlarged notion of the format could be that of a successful cultural formula, a standard for cultural marketing, an industrialized sub-genre, regardless of the medium or art form considered. This connects the format to the slow industrialization of culture, which Tocqueville was the first to identity («The literary industry», in Democracy in America). Starting from the mid 19th century, books, films, plays, but also, transmedially, stories, characters, were increasingly molded into successful formulas, in order to gain the favor of audiences. The triumph of format came in the 1980s, with the European, then global, commercialization of broadcasting. Not unlike the triumph of Big Brother as the most visible format, the rise of the TV format at large was seen too much as change and not enough as continuity. Formats have a non televisual ancestry, and they also have a non-televisual future: the whole question of how to mold communication into successful formulas is now central to both the net (the increasing search for successful internet platforms/genres), and the self (a successful life must be conducted according to formats of interaction and performance).
Here to Entertain Us: How TV Formats Changed Television
Jean K. Chalaby
City, University of London
Scholarly writing has so far focused on the transnational dimension of TV formats, their ability, as they travel, to evolve and to touch audiences across borders. But to what degree have we understood their impact on television? Today, I argue that TV formats are an entertainment revolution that has transformed the medium itself. The rise of unscripted formats in the late 1990s marks the point at which television developed its own storytelling techniques and methods. The format contributes a distinct television discourse by providing a space where the medium has developed its own genres – those that cannot exist outside itself – and separate to those of other creative industries such as literature and cinema. In the final part of my argument, I take talent competitions as a case in point, as they best demonstrate television’s newly formed ability to frame a heroic journey the viewers can relate to.