Redefining Televisuality: Programmes, Practices, Methods

ECREA Television Section Conference 2023

Datum / Dauer:
25. – 27.10.2023
Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF
Marlene-Dietrich-Allee 11
14482 Potsdam
 (öffnet Vergrößerung des Bildes)


John T. Caldwell: "Televisuality in the Platform Era?: Golden Ages, Industry Stress Research, and Collateral Damage"

John T. Caldwell, MFA, PhD, is Distinguished Research Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. His awards include the career Outstanding Pedagogy Award from SCMS in 2018; NEA Fellowship (1979, 1985); Bauhaus University/Weimar Fellow (2012), and Annenberg Senior Fellow (2012). https://www.tft.ucla.edu/blog/2011/09/09/faculty-john-caldwell/

Dr. Karin van Es: "(Re)Claiming Television: Myths and Horseless Carriages"

Karin van Es is associate professor of Media and Culture Studies and project lead Humanities Data School at Utrecht University. Her research interests include the transformation of television and the datafication and algorithmization of culture and society. https://www.uu.nl/staff/kfvanes

John T. Caldwell: "Televisuality in the Platform Era?: Golden Ages, Industry Stress Research, and Collateral Damage"

Golden Ages. How can scholars best research large complex industrial systems as vast and volatile as transnational media and online streaming? As historical periods, late 20th century US multichannel television (1980-1995; ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, MTV) and 21st century transnational platform streaming (2007-2023; Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu, Paramount+) both featured intense corporate competition. Traditional broadcasters and studios collided with disruptive new firms. These two historical throw-downs had many moving parts, and forced producers to adopt new ways of financing, making, distributing and consuming television and media content. Along with the downsides of endless mergers, bankruptcies, hostile takeovers, and collapsing institutional distinctions that resulted, however, these periods of acute market uncertainty also triggered widespread forms of innovation in production, technical imaging, narrative content, seriality, programming strategies and aesthetics.

Collateral Damage. As a result, 80s and 90s critics hailed the disruptions of the "multichannel cable era" as the "Second Golden Age of Television". Later scholars of 21s century streaming have christened the present situation a "European Television Fiction Renaissance  (Luca Barra and Massimo Scaglioni). While these convincing accounts locate vanguard masterpieces in the two industrial disruptions, I am trying not to disregard the collateral damage, the "industrial ashes" that masterpieces often (necessarily) arise from. Nor to overlook the human costs that follow aesthetic innovation and displaced workers. In retrospect, a comment this summer by a media researcher in Paris about the new intermediaries and sub-firms I describe in my new 2023 book Specworld, surely applies to my 1995 book Televisuality as well: "Oh, I get it. You research the dark-side, the bottom-feeders in industry". Guilty as charged. Televisual accomplishment and streaming artistry strike me as inextricable from the tortured ecosystems that produce them. How do we study media art apart from the creative labor pains, the disruptive movement of new capital, and institutional complexities that pose as rationally managing the whole enterprise?

Straight-jackets and Singularities. My attempts in the 1980s to make sense of the innovations of the multichannel era were sorely hobbled by the theoretical orthodoxies available to me at the time in the emerging new field of "television studies": the "scopophobia" of cinema apparatus theory and psychoanalysis; the blind linguistic-centrism of Saussurian semiology; broadcasting's top-down liveness ideology; feminism's welcomed reclaiming of the domestic sphere; fandom studies' counter-readings; "de-industrializing" cultural studies; and cartoon preachments about "the visual" in postmodernism. In place of these then-ruling reductive theoretical iconoclasms from Fiske, Metz, McLuhan, Ellis, Saussure, Jameson, and Baudrillard, I asked that we lower our gaze; that we look farther down in TV's embedded system; that we open our analyses up to see far simpler (and more obvious) details and habits if we are ever to explain the vast complex system of television: the tools, equipment, training, labor origins, digital's impact on postproduction, media markets, trade conventions, corporate genealogies, branding discourses, and the "low theories" of practitioners. As I am in Specworld, I was also suspicious in the 1980s of the false singularities long-sanctioned in the traditional arts and humanities and management studies: "the" auteur, the canon, the genre, the movement, studio control fantasies, and a text's interpretation or "meaning." These are artificial constructions, exceptions that may prove some rule. Yet such paradigms can also divert scholars who aim to unpack, document, and explain something more modest: television's and streaming's less-remarkable but problematic industrial routine.

Shape-Shifting. To displace these reductive theoretical straight-jackets in academia along with industry's own false top-down singularities, Specworld asks us to re-think media as part of something far more vast and diverse; that is, as complex embedded eco-systems with many moving parts that constantly shape-shift. For starters, we need to redeem the term "ecosystem" itself from the self-serving perspectives of Netflix, Google/YouTube, and Amazon. Such firms conveniently greenwash and sell their predatory extractive economies to users as self-contained, symbiotic communities built on reciprocity and mutuality. In research aimed at unpacking such arrangements, scholars face three unavoidable challenges: (1) the scale of industry's complex arrangements, (2) the shape-shifting reconfiguration of firms and entities endlessly competing, leveraging, and partnering in it; and (3) the scope of the evidence or data media scholars hope to "sample" in research on complex production systems.

Methods and Questions. Since extremely large systems, comprised of countless participants frustrate scholarly attempts at systematic analysis, Specworld proposes an alternative to both the wide-and-shallow statistical sampling of quantitative social science, and the "big data" and "distant analysis" now fashioned in the "digital humanities." That is, my ethnographic fieldwork models the "close analysis of large systems" not with data-mining algorithms, but by locating and tracing-out specific charged local contacts (stressed networks) disclosed during industrial folds, rifts, and fractures. Rifts and fractures offer scholars unintended (unplanned and uncensored) self-portraits of what complex industries deem as most important to the system as a whole. One goal of my presentation on these unintended self-disclosures (as in the fallout from the recent WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes) is to learn from and complement the many important new European case studies on streaming being presented at ECREA 2023. Rather than offering an alternative to "case studies" methods, I hope instead to forward new supporting questions about how individual cases might relate to the broader shape-shifting system that TV and media streaming will always, in some way, be embedded within.

Dr. Karin van Es: "(Re)Claiming Television: Myths and Horseless Carriages"

In this talk, I explore how streaming platforms and broadcast television position themselves in relation to each other - both in their discourse and in their practice - and by extension, what this means for television studies.

More specifically I examine, through the case of Netflix, claims to (and against) television in streaming industry discourse (cf. Burroughs 2019; Wayne 2022) and the myths such claims fuel. In my work I have shown that Netflix adheres to a “strategic ambivalence” about its identity in its discourse (Van Es 2022). This ontological slipperiness contributes to revamping the myths of distraction and liveness associated with broadcast television (cf. Caldwell 1995). But it also feeds new myths of disruption and big data in relation to Netflix.

Scholars are grappling with this ontological ambiguity, as is evident from the fact that they are revising previous assertions about Netflix as television (compare Lotz 2017 and Lotz 2022) or turn to digital media scholarship and platform studies while approaching Netflix as internet distributed television (Lobato 2019). In the meantime, both streaming platforms and broadcast television keep transitioning - adding further to their ontological slipperiness. For instance, broadcast television responds to streaming services by offering online access to on-demand/preview content and exclusive content. At the same time, Netflix is reigning in some of its more “radical” and “disruptive” practices by publishing some viewing data, experimenting with different release schedules, offering ad-supported plans and their crackdown on password sharing.

Over the past decade new services, technologies, and professionals have contributed to a continuous redefinition of television (cf. Caldwell in Keilbach and Stauff 2013). Yet in spite of the initial hype spurred on by the streaming industry, this transformation proves slower and less linear than it is sometimes made out to be. Moreover, the myths created and perpetuated by streaming services prompt a string of crucial questions. What makes up a video library/catalog? How is interaction and response data used? What and how are users watching? How does the recommender system work? Instead of getting distracted by the conceptual blur and hype, we need to tackle these sorts of questions and in doing so, further our understanding of streaming platforms and other new ‘televisions’. For this purpose, I argue that more media industry studies and empirical research is needed.


  • Burroughs, Benjamin. 2019. “House of Netflix: Streaming Media and Digital Lore.” Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture 17(1): 1-17.
  • Caldwell, John. 1997 Televisuality: Style, Crisis and Authority in American Television. Rutgers University Press.
  • Keilbach, Judith and Markus Stauff. 2013. “When Old Media Never Stopped Being New Television’s History as an Ongoing Experiment.” In After the Break, edited by Marijke de Valck and Jan Teurlings. Amsterdam University Press. 79-98.
  • Lobato, Ramon. 2019. Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution. Polity Press.
  • Lotz, Amanda. 2022. Netflix and Streaming Video. Polity Press.
  • — 2017. Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television. Michigan Publishing.
  • Wayne, Michael L. 2022. “Netflix Audience Data, Streaming Industry Discourse, and the Emerging Realities of ‘Popular’ Television.” Media, Culture & Society 44(2): 193–20.

Televisuality, as theorised by John T. Caldwell in 1995, allows for a holistic view on the unique properties of television as industrial product, technology, aesthetic form, and object of cultural discourse and audience engagement. The concept of televisuality designates a system of business conditions, styles, ideologies, cultural values, modes of production, programming and audience practices that make up television as a medium within a specific historical and geographical context.

The ECREA Television Studies section's 2023 conference will discuss how the term can be redefined within the contemporary context, where broadcast is transformed and complemented by streaming, where social networks are increasingly becoming video-based social media, where television texts are “unbound” and float as remixed cultural artefacts across channels, platforms, and media, and where the transnational interconnections of the television and audiovisual industry, the conditions of economic and social crisis, and the changing audience practices are thoroughly transforming the medium.

USA networks’ competition with cable and their fight for economic survival gave rise to Caldwell's original concept of televisuality as a strategy for the medium's resistance. Today, broadcast television competes with streaming and social media platforms in every country, which in turn make use of properties of televisuality in their aesthetics, economies, and production. At the same time, and in part propelled by this competition, serial narration, formerly a product of traditional television, experiences a golden age, with more high-end series produced than ever before. It can be argued that televisuality persists through the popularity of serial narration and production. But it is not only high-budget series that exhibit properties of televisuality. New forms of televisuality circulate transnationally in entertainment formats from UK, the Netherlands, Korea or Israel as well as in long-running serial fare from Nordic countries, European major continental markets, Turkey or Latin America. Entertainment, serial fiction, live broadcasts, news, sports and other televisual events as well as audiences’ modes of engaging with audiovisual content across geographical and platform borders, all work to redefine the essence of televisuality.

For Television Studies the concept of televisuality provides a rich and ever changing prism for the analysis of its objects of study, as well as a constant challenge to our definition of the essence of TV as a medium and the question of how we can approach it both theoretically and methodologically. Therefore, the ECREA Television Studies section's conference also seeks to engage with questions of theory and methodology that are unique to the field and apt for defining, understanding and exposing televisuality within contemporary digital screen media contexts.


Conference Programme

Wednesday, October 25

  • from 15:00 Registration
  • 17:00-17:30 Welcome & Opening
  • 17:30-18:30 Keynote John T. Caldwell
  • 18:30-19:30 Reception with drinks

Thursday, October 26

  • 09:15-10:15 Keynote Karin van Es
  • 10:30-12:00 Parallel Panels A: Television Ontology | TV Genres
  • 12:00-13:00 Lunch
  • 13:00-14:30 Parallel Panels B: Sport, Liveness & Style | Industry Perspectives
  • 15:00-16:30 Parallel Panels C: Representation & Diversity | Audience Perspectives
  • 17:00-18:30 Industry roundtable
  • 19:30 Networking Meeting

Friday, October 27

  • 09:15-10:45 Parallel Panels D: New Approaches | Labour & Ideology
  • 11:00-12:30 Methods Workshop
  • 12:30-13:30 Lunch
  • 13:30-15:00 Parallel Panels E: TikTok, Memes & Snippets | TV Formats
  • 15:15-16:45 Parallel Panels F: Netflix's Global Strategies | Materiality & Sites
  • 16:45 Coffee, Cake and Goodbye

Download Detailed Programme

Download Book of Abstracts


Please register for the conference via our conference management tool conftoolThe registration deadline is September 1st

  • You will be able to access the registration conformation via conftool once the payment is registered - this can take up to a few days. Until then, you are able to download a pro forma invoice via your account. If you have questions or problems with the registration process please contact us: tv.conference(at)filmuniversitaet.de
  • Co-authors need to register with their own account via conftool
  • The regular conference fee is 85,00 EURO which includes the conference reception, coffee & tea, water, snacks and lunches
  • We offer a reduced fee for participants from low income countries and PhD candidates with low or no income. Please apply by simply sending a mail to tv.conference@filmuniversitaet.de, briefly explaining your situation until August 31. We will get back to you as soon as we processed all requests
  • We will keep you informed about the conference dinner (not included in the fees)


Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF

Marlene-Dietrich-Allee 11, 14482 Potsdam

The Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF is a lively place of independent research, teaching and art.  Founded in 1954 in the former GDR, it is now Germany's largest film school with an international reputation. In July 2014, it became the first German film school to achieve university status. With its unique interdisciplinary educational profile, successful productions and innovative research projects, the film university makes a decisive contribution to the future of moving image.  Knowledge and insights, innovative audiovisual formats, but also services, technologies, ideas and experiences are transferred to companies and society.

Research at the Film University focuses on the entirety of audiovisual media - from cinema to television and video to installations and VR experiences. It is the only German film university that promotes research with, in and about film. Scientific, artistic and applied research are in dialogue with each other. The university's research profile focuses on seven main fields: 1. aesthetics and narration, 2. production and industry, 3. technology and innovation, 4. reception and appropriation, 5. society, knowledge and social intervention, 6. history and cultural heritage, and 7. gender and diversity.

Plan your trip


  • By train

The nearest station is Potsdam Griebnitzsee with an approximate walking distance of 15 minutes to our venue.

coming from Berlin you can take the S7 towards Potsdam Hauptbahnhof or the RB23 towards Golm

coming from Potsdam main station you can take the S7 towards Ahrensfelde or the RB23 towards Flughafen BER - Terminal 1-2

Alternative station: Potsdam, Medienstadt Babelsberg with an approximate walking distance of 20 minutes to the venue

Coming from Berlin you can take the RE7 that goes twice per hour

  • By car

You can reach us via the A115: Exit Potsdam-Babelsberg in direction of Potsdam Zentrum, Nuthestraße, Wetzlarer Straße

  • By plane

The nearest airport is Berlin Brandenburg (BER), from there you can take the RB23 towards Potsdam Griebnitzsee or the bus BER2 towards Potsdam main station.

approximate ride duration: 1 hour


Where to stay

within walking distance

Stahnsdorfer Str. 68, 14482 Potsdam

5 minutes walking distance

limited contingent of reduced double rooms available when booking via mail and mentioning "TV Conference"

double room 120€ p.n.


Rudolf-Breitscheid-Str. 63, 14482 Potsdam

10 minutes walking distance

limited contingent of reduced rooms available when booking via mail and mentioning "TV Conference"

rooms starting at 130€, reduced 99€ p.n.


Rudolf-Breitscheid-Straße 190, 14482 Potsdam

15 minutes walking distance

rooms ranging from 137-177€ p.n.


Weberplatz 17, 14482 Potsdam

15 minutes walking distance

rooms ranging from 90-110€ p.n.


Großbeerenstraße 75, 14482 Potsdam

15 minutes walking distance

rooms starting from 100€ p.n.


near Potsdam main station via public transport

(5 minutes to S Griebnitzsee)

Leipziger Str. 1/Block J, 14473 Potsdam

rooms ranging from 80-110€ p.n.


Lange Brücke, 14467 Potsdam

rooms starting at 110€ p.n.


Babelsberger Straße 24 , 14473 Potsdam

rooms starting at 80€ p.n.


near Wannsee via public transport

(5 minutes to S Griebnitzsee)

Königstr. 10, 14109 Berlin

Getting around Potsdam

Public transport

Ticket rate to travel from Berlin to Potsdam: ABC

Bus stops near Film University:

  • Potsdam, Stahnsdorfer Str./August-Bebel.Str

Bus 616, 694, 696, N17

Best when coming from station Griebnitzsee. Walking to venue via Marlene-Dietrich-Allee.

  • Potsdam, Kleine Straße

Bus 601, 619, 690, N13

Best when coming from Potsdam city or station Medienstadt Babelsberg. Walking to venue via Lotte-Loebinger-Straße.


Leisure Activities

  • Tourist attractions

Holländisches Viertel - Info- Mittelstraße, 14467 Potsdam

Park Sansoucci - Info- Zur Historischen Mühle 1, 14469 Potsdam

Further tourist information on Potsdam:



  • Bars & Clubs

Bar gelb- Charlottenstraße 29, 14467 Potsdam

Barometer- Gutenbergstraße 103, 14467 Potsdam

Unscheinbar - Friedrich-Ebert-Straße 118, 14467 Potsdam

Waschhaus- Schiffbauergasse 6, 14467 Potsdam

Call for papers

The Deadline for submission of abstracts ended on 21 May 2023, 23.59 CET.

    Submission details

    • Abstracts should be up to 450 words excluding bibliography. Abstracts should include a biographical note max. 50 words per author. Evaluation will focus on relevance to the conference topic, selection of research objects and clarity in use of methodology.
    • Co-authored abstracts need to state the first author. Only one abstract per first-author can be submitted.
    • Submission via conftool

    We particularly encourage contributions on the following topics:

    • Televisuality and contemporary practices of television production and distribution;
    • Methodologies for studying televisuality within Television and Media Studies;
    • Televisuality and screen media audience practices;
    • Styles, narratives and aesthetics of televisual programmes across genres and forms (scripted and unscripted);
    • Live broadcasting, live streaming, and their connections;
    • Scheduling, flow, interfaces, libraries and programming strategies;
    • Intersections, similarities and differentiations of television, social media, social TV;
    • Transformations in the global flows of television, and different ideas of televisuality;
    • Ideological paradigms of TV and their resistance in contemporary media systems;
    • Transnational aesthetics, production, distribution, and audience practices.

    Organisation & Contact

    The conference is jointly organised by the ECREA Television Section’s management team, Cathrin Bengesser, Deborah Castro Mariño & Luca Barra and the local hosts Susanne Eichner and Lisa Plumeier at Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF.

    Support & Cooperation

    With the kind support of ZeM - Brandenburgisches Zentrum für Medienwissenschaften