Fandom and TV Viewing Practices

(Prompt 3)

Wood and Baughman’s work on Glee and Twitter fan practices draws attention to the shifting nature of television fan/producer relationships, highlighting that online and social media fan activities are both supporting the growth of participatory culture and reinforcing traditional TV viewing and consumer behaviors.

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This is to say that fans of popular TV shows, (such as Glee), are taking advantage of social media platforms to interact with one another and form fan communities, where they participate in expanding, elaborating, discussing/speculating, and even occasionally editing the original texts produced. As discussed by Jenkins and throughout our course, all of these practices have evolved as a way for fans to take some of the creative power of a text back into their own hands, so that individually they can get what they want out of a particular fandom. Despite this, they also argue that through these practices, fans are supporting traditional TV viewing habits by reinforcing the behavior of watching the newest episode in real-time on broadcast or cable TV—sitting through the commercial advertisements so that they can watch it as early as possible with all of the rest of their fan community—thus putting power back into the hands of the producers. We have seen in recent years a shift in TV watching practices, as people are less likely to watch shows in real time and more likely to stream them on their own time, commercial-free, using platforms such as Netflix or Hulu. Wood and Baughman argue that TV producers are combatting this by taking advantage of these online fan communities.

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It’s a layered relationship of fan/producer power, as Wood and Baughman describe, based on the increasing popularity of online fan communities. They argue that because Twitter (and the like) is bringing fans back to their TV sets, and back to the commercials, we’re seeing “more of the same old thing”—traditional TV fan/producer relationships. That being said, I think it’s interesting to think about recent trends in Netflix and other online TV streaming platforms, and their response as they also taking advantage of these online fandom practices to pull away from traditional TV practice.

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As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve seen a huge number of “Netflix revivals” lately. The tactic is simple—a popular TV show gets canceled from cable or broadcast networks and leaves a devoted fan base disappointed and yearning for more. *Enter Netflix* to bring the show back with a revival season, whether it be right away or years later, thus encouraging fans to change their viewing habits from the traditional practice to the streaming, (and often binging), commercial-free practice. From Arrested Development to Fuller House to Gilmore Girls, Netflix is taking advantage of fans who feel that producers aren’t giving them what they want from a text—a cornerstone of so many fan practices—and capitalizing on it in a way that also gives the fans what they want: more episodes. As we’ve also read, sites like Kickstarter allow fans to help to fund the Netflix revivals of their favorite abandoned shows, giving them a power they’ve never had with traditional TV outlets.

It’s interesting to think about, that not only is Netflix (along with other streaming services) becoming more popular because of its commercial-free, binge watching, and original production benefits to fans, it’s also capitalizing on existing TV fandom practices by noticing a power that traditional TV is denying fans and putting it back in their hands. Contrary to what Wood and Baughman argued, you might think this points to a potential shift away from traditional TV practices entirely, (supported by the shift away from traditional funding we’ve discussed in Kickstarter).

This is not, however, absolutely true. We must also consider that, in some ways, Netflix’s popularity also lends itself to again supporting traditional TV viewing habits. Revival series aside, Netflix streams a lot of old seasons of still ongoing TV shows, and this can create new members of a fandom who might not have otherwise become invested in a show. If you binge-watch all 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix you will probably be inclined to then follow season 12 in real time on ABC. In much the same way Wood and Baughman view Twitter practices as bringing people back to the TV, Netflix can bring new viewers to the TV set after exposing them to a series. The CW’s Supernatural, for example, was on its way to cancelation, until Netflix streamed the first few seasons and TV viewership increased significantly to stretch the series out for at least four more seasons thereafter, (and to this day).

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With all of this back and forth, I come to conclusion in agreement with that of Wood and Baughman. As TV fan practices progress, online on Twitter, or streaming on Netflix and Hulu, the result of such participatory culture often still results in viewers being brought back to traditional TV viewing structure and practices. That being said, we are definitely seeing shifts in the way viewers utilize their power as fans and as a fan community, and their influence on television production and industry practices is certainly not to be ignored.

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