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Spaces of participation, transmedia and viewsers' productions

An overview about Eggo Müller's paper

Eggo Müller (Eggo Müller, Formatted spaces of participation: Interactive television and the Changing relationship between production and consumption) proposes within his paper to analyse two television shows and one online sharing video website that have institutionalized “spaces of participation”. He wonders how participation has become “formatted” within these spaces.

 

To define these, he identifies two different perspectives in media studies. Firstly, he says that there is an utopian view, that leads researchers to think mass media are finally transforming into a truly democratic mediascape. According to these writers, viewers are becoming “interactive producers” of the shows. They’re also the distributors of the media contents due to their social media uses. This approach salutes the “new participatory culture”.

In the other hand, Müller indicates that there is also a dystopian perspective in media studies. As a leader of that point of view, Andrejevic has proven in his papers that the interactive consumers workforce may be used by capitalist exploitations to generate profit.

The Dutch show Big Brother
The Dutch show Big Brother

To demonstrate that, these both views must be both use in a scientific redaction. Müller illustrates his ideas with Aktenzeichen XY and the Dutch show Big Brother. They are among the first crossmedia experiences in history, through their “hybrid combination” of television, telephony and the Internet. Thanks to these experiences, passive viewers became interactive ones. In the utopian perspective, that surely means they became active and committed to the shows. Müller demonstrates with Andrejevic in a dystopian point of view that the unpaid labour of the spectators of these television shows was actually the condition of their participation. 

Finally, Eggo Müller describes YouTube’s platform as a “digital bazaar”, borrowing Raymond 1999 phrase. What is interesting to consider is that video sharing websites attest the evolutions of media we noticed: production and consumption can’t be closer. Moreover, the utopian and dystopian approaches are both needed to study their operations. In one hand any users can participate in the construction of an online community. In the other hand, personal data are used by companies to sale users’ online activities. We can notice specificities that define those platforms: accounts are needed to identify channels and keywords facilitate the navigation and spotlight viral videos.

This article stresses that academic writers shouldn’t consider the utopian paradigm or the dystopian one. Eggo Müller wants to underline not only the economic, social and cultural processes regarding the relationship between the spheres of production and consumption, but also the issues raised through the “new participatory culture”.

I would now like to come back to the definition of the “interactive viewers”.

 

In her paper, Kristen Daly calls them “viewsers”, pointing their multifaceted roles and practices. They can not only watch the show, but also use a smartphone or any connected objects to always learn more. Similarly, Lucien Perticoz and Catherine Dessinges demonstrate that the television spectators became “spect/actors”. This new kind of public is involved but doesn’t ask anybody to. Viewsers’ activities imply a commitment, a real work, that is against the usual binge-watching we noticed over the years. So, “privilege or punishment”, Kristen Daly asked. It seems hard to choose a point of view: should we concentrate on the gamification of learning to improve our brains (a “neurocinema”) or just focus on the economic and social issues drawn by a “database cinema”, in which personal data are the saleable raw material? Actually, we don’t have to pick out a perspective – Eggo Müller warned us to combine transversal approaches to describe this phenomenon. I believe we should especially study the transformation of the “spect/actor” through his relationship with the different kinds of screens. Indeed, a crossmedia mechanism allows the “viewser” to switch from one device to another. This reaction shows not only the engagement of the “viewser” but also his habits.

Since 2009, when Eggo Müller’s paper has been published, a great number of crossmedia and transmedia mechanisms have been developed by cultural enterprises, such as Disney or Marvel companies. They propose to their fans derived objects, additional series and spin-off movies not only to enlarge the narrative creation, but also to increase sales. According to Joëlle Coutaz and her colleagues, interactive devices are the best way to engage consumers. That surely underlines how the new media redefine the boundaries between the production and the consumption. Werner Wolf also discusses benefits and problems of transmedial narratology. He shows that the strain placed upon consumers is so exacerbated that interactive devices doesn’t work very well now that all of these “viewsers” have tamed them. We have been able to see that excess of interactive crossmedia techniques in the example of Star Wars cooperation, in recent years. Developing the fans’ mythology by raising the number of movies, and all items linked to the universe, the company has literally enrolled its public, turning them into ‘cultural activists’. However, fans have been disappointed to notice in these circumstances that they’re just firm consumers and that their commitment wasn’t considered at all in the firm’s decisions.

This disillusionment allows people to contribute to their own interactive platforms. Indeed, understanding their workforce, “viewsers” are becoming “users”, developing their own collaborative online websites. Eggo Müller has shown that YouTubers have created from the start a “real space of participation” inside the video sharing website. The aim now is to spotlight a “citizen journalism”. For instance, we observe firstly in Indymedia in 1999 and then in other open publishing platforms such as OhMyNews and Agoravox that the users were proving their engagement to a community, developing a “space of participation”. We see also in the Wikipedia case that members create a real community-based work. More recently, the international website Change.org rallies a community of circa 270 million members. Mass media converted into interactive media are now turned into this collaborative format. According to Thomas Poell, blogs and forums can recreate Habermas’ idea, called “public sphere”. But in order to be able to take the issue further, we may interrogate the goals of such sites. Wikipedia’s creators want to encourage the development of collaborative media to create universal encyclopaedias. Henry Jenkins indicates through his work about “collective intelligence” that such universal online encyclopaedias could also be written by very enthusiast amateurs and not only academic researchers or professionals. It should, however, be borne in mind that those platforms are owned by companies, that sell users’ work and their personal data. That continues the questions related to the disappearing borders between the production’s side and the consumption’s one because in such media, users are officially non-profit workers.  Finally, it should also be noted that such new interactive media respect their own rules and conventions. Eggo Müller remarked already that YouTube comments follow some restrictions. We observe that open and free platforms such as Wikipedia respect also rules, modelling the formatted “spaces of participation”. 

Finally, we saw through Müller’s article that a “new participatory culture” is increasingly active. The crossmedia mechanism attracts and engages “viewsers”. We also notice a new category of media that depend on users’ activities. Such online collaborative platforms must now work on their economic models to be remain profitable. Indeed, if online participative communities such as the Star Wars community search a way to manage their own media to avoid the economic behemoth corporation, they surely have to think about a compensation system to re-install the desire of a great commitment. Such communities don’t want to set up a supervised participation but they need to figure it out their social, cultural and economic model. Crowdfunding or virtual currency are both different methods to maintain a formatted participatory mechanism. Companies are searching a way to recover their fandoms too. To this end, they propose gamified products (VR and AR experiences, mobile gaming…). That might be a source of concern if the public is more entertained by the games and the pleasure to win them than by the real true universe.

Bibliography

Châteauvert, Jean. Delavaud, Gilles. 2016. D’un écran à l’autre, les mutations du spectateur. INA: Editions L'Harmattan.

Cardon, Dominique. 2010. La démocratie Internet. Editions du Seuil.

Coutaz, Joëlle. 2002. Quand les surfaces deviennent interactives... In Les Cahiers du numérique 3, Lavoisier, 101–126.

Daly, Kristen. 2010. Cinema 3.0: The Interactive-Image. In Cinema Journal 50, 81–98.

Guynes, Sean. Hassler-Forest, Dan. 2018. STAR WARS and the History of Transmedia Storytelling, Amsterdam University Press. ed. Amsterdam.

Jenkins, Henry. 2002. Interactive Audiences? The ‘Collective Intelligence’ of Media Fans. In The New Media Book, Editions Dan Harries. 

Perticoz, Lucien. Dessinges, Catherine. 2015. Du télé-spectateur au télé-visionneur. Les séries télévisées face aux mutations des consommations audiovisuelles. In Études de communication 44.

Poell, Thomas. 2009. Conceptualizing forums and blogs as public sphere. In Digital Material, Amsterdam University Press, 239-251.

Wolf, Werner. 2017. Transmedial Narratology: Theoretical Foundations and Some Applications (Fiction, Single Pictures, Instrumental Music). In NARRATIVE 25, The Ohio State University, 256–285.

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