Television, Digitalisation and Flow: Questioning the Promises of Viewer Control
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The hype surrounding the marketing of and writing about digital television has, since its advent in the 1990s, focused extensively on freedom and control for the viewer: new technology will render channels superfluous, offer unlimited content on-demand and provide full interactivity. Everyone will be in complete control of their very own television use – their own MeTV. By looking back at television history, and scrutinizing existing services in today’s advanced market, this paper offers an approach to discuss to what extent such promises prove to be true. In doing so, the paper also elaborates on the consequences for a key metaphor in television theory: based on Raymond Williams’ concept of flow, and later developments of it, I discuss how services and tools that set out to give the user increased control –from the remote control of 1920s to today’s digital video recorder– all exist inside the relatively stable structures of broadcasted television. Rather than just labelling the television user as ‘free’ and ‘in charge’, it is more useful to also take into consideration how these structures help shape the possibilities. This leads to, on the one hand, a critical and balanced analysis and, on the other hand, the identification of merely moderate prospects for user-participation in television.