Being sociable on web TV

What kind of interactional situation does the image below show? One guy is intensely occupied with writing on his keyboard while the other guy next to him is pointing to something on his laptop screen, seemingly commenting on what he is seeing. Whether the guy next to him is interested in what is said or not is hard to tell. Shortly after this screenshot is taken, the guy to the left who is in fact a TV broadcast sports commentator, without taking his eyes off of the laptop, says, ‘it’s pretty boring TV when we’re both sitting here reading’.

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With this comment, he recognises the somewhat unusual situation where they both ignore the viewer and instead engage with what is happening on their computer screens. The direct-to-camera shot of a person speaking has been considered fundamental for the shaping of an intimate relationship with viewers who need to feel included and attended to by broadcasters to stay interested (Scannell 2010, p. 45). To not look at the camera for lengthy periods of time is thus something which breaks established broadcast practices.

It would also be perfectly acceptable to engage in a dialogue and exchange looks between them as TV journalists often do. In such an interactional situation, they would actively work at displaying their mutual activity both physically and discursively (Kroon Lundell 2010). Here they do neither of the above, but apparently also feel the need to comment about this breach from established interactional ‘rules’ for how to behave on TV.

However, this image is not taken from a regular TV broadcast. It is from a live-streamed webcast called The Warm-Up (Uppvärmningen) produced by Swedish Public Service Television’s (SVT) sportsdesk before they, in their own words, start the ‘real programme’ on ordinary TV. This is a new communication platform for many broadcasters and requires another kind of audience address than the one we know from regular TV productions.

The challenge for broadcasters and non-broadcasters wanting to produce web TV lies in the accomplishment of a new kind of ‘communicative ease’ (Hutchby, 2006, p.13) in relation to audiences. On the web, audiences can be positioned both as ‘absent’ listeners and viewers (Heritage 1985), and/or as active produsers (Bruns 2008) who instantly react to content on a blog or a Facebook page. In short, a new kind of sociability (Scannell 1996) is both called for – and promoted by –web TV. Interactional changes are virtually demanded in order to adapt to the platform’s altered interactional conditions.

The example above illustrates how the web enables multiple audience orientations where it is quite alright to abandon the direct look-to-camera in favor of extensive looks at laptops to follow what happens on Twitter and Facebook (which is what the commentator and the host is doing above), and use whatever goes on there as resources in talk.
The seeming disinterest in attending to the traditional TV viewer is one of the characteristics of some web TV productions. Another communicative feature that can be noted on the web is a more intense form of ‘being personal’ and ‘conversational’. In one episode of The Warm-Up, the following dialogue takes place among the same host and the commentator featured in the image above:

Host: the phenomenon middle party

Commentator: yes right

Host: is that something that you’re familiar with

Commentator: no actually not we had pre-parties and often the evenings ended there

Host: heh ok so you were not- you mean- no but middle party I mean when you have a pre-party and then you have an after-party when you’ve been to a bar but a middle party that’s for those who think they can’t really afford to be out drinking so much that- and then you preferably live rather close to the place where you’re at and then when you’ve been at the bar for a while then you return home and have a middle party and drink cheap booze in large quantities and then you go back to the bar again

This type of less-than-smoothly delivered, but allegedly spontaneous, dialogue containing tales of large quantities of booze would be quite impossible during a regular public service TV production. Here, the impact of the implied less-than-perfect and more personal preferences of web audiences is exposed in talk.

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We also see and hear talk and interaction on web TV which show what seems to be backstage activities as, for example, in the image below. The host of The Warm-Up is brushing his teeth outside of the studio cabin window while the commentator adjusts his ear-piece. These are of course equally performed actions, but they are enacted based on the assumption that this is accepted, and perhaps even expected, ways of behaving when on the web as opposed to on regular TV.

It is not only in sports journalism that interactional changes occur when switching from regular TV to web TV. The SVT broadcasting company has made attempts at producing live web news adapted to the web’s less polished interactional organization and design. However, they have yet failed to find the right balance between professional TV news practices and those that better fit the web’s interactional conditions (Ekström, Eriksson and Kroon Lundell 2013).

Åsa Kroon

In sum, the media/broadcast talk approach is highly applicable when studying new forms of TV such as webcasts. By examining which forms of talk and interaction are promoted in the web context, we can understand how new technologies contribute to the shaping of other types of audience relations, i.e. in this case new forms of performing ‘being sociable’. To ignore the communicative changes that follow from the switch between technological platforms is to miss out on one of the most interesting impacts that new technologies give rise to.

 

REFERENCES
Bruns, A. 2008. Reconfiguring television for a networked, produsage context. Media International Australia 126:82-94.
Ekström, M., Eriksson, G. and Kroon Lundell Å. 2013. Live co-produced news: emerging forms of news production and presentation on the web. Media, Culture & Society 35(5): 620-639.
Heritage, J. 1985. Analyzing news interviews: Aspects of the production of talk for an “overhearing” audience. In Handbook of discourse analysis, vol. 3: Discourse and dialogue, ed. T. van Dijk, 95-119. London: Academic Press.
Hutchby, I. (2006), Media Talk. Conversation Analysis and the Study of Broadcasting, Berkshire: Open University Press.

Kroon Lundell, Å. 2010. Dialogues between journalists on the news: The intraprofessional ‘interview’ as a communicative genre. Media, Culture & Society 32(3): 429-450.
Kroon Lundell, Å. Forthc. Cross-platform Television: Superliveness, Metadiscourse and Complex Audience Orientation in a Sports Journalism Production on the Web. Northern Lights.
Scannell, P. 1996. Radio, television and modern life. Oxford: Blackwell
Scannell, P. 2010. Television and history: Questioning the archive. The Communication Review 13:37-51.

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