Events Calendar
Mar 20
17:00 - 18:00
Constructing Reality: Embedded Engagement with Reality Television
Film, Media and Culture Research Cluster
Annette Hill (University of Lund)

Embedded engagement is the kind of long lasting relationship we form with media content during the course of our lives. The spatial and temporal relations of audiences in media landscapes are significant; as audiences are roaming pathways they inevitably engage with media in fleeting ways, involving a short form engagement with particular content, paratexts and ephemeral media, and they can also engage in a more sustained way with media, involving practices of placemaking. This way of seeing audiences suggests that there are deeper connections with particular drama or entertainment that involve embedding particular media experiences into the spaces and places of regular routines, family rituals and cultural memories. A key element of this relationship is time. When we embed media in our lives, time becomes enfolded in our everyday media practices over weeks, months and years. This chapter considers embedded engagement, where people form relationships with entertainment over time, in the context of their everyday lives.We might think of examples of embedded time in the context of fandom; an intense attachment to a celebrity, a drama series, or a sporting team can mean making time for your object of fandom, and staying loyal over the course of changing seasons (see Sandvoss 2004 amongst others). Sometimes we grow out of our fandom, disengaging from our attachment to a particular person or drama, looking back with a sense of nostalgia for that time when our fandom was entangled in our daily life. At other times, we form a durable relationship with a media personality, artefact or event that stays with us, indeed it might be something we pass on to younger generations. For example, there are loyal fans of the Eurovision Song Contest who plan fan dinner parties, book tickets, travel to the annual contest, making an affective and temporal investment in this media event which is likely to weather changes to the event itself and to their own life course. Embedded time encapsulates our strong relationship with media, including the live experience that we make time for, the moments after the experience for reflection, and the shoring up of time to remember the moment that has passed.We form a relationship with time and the media that works across several zones, including social structures and media institutions, daily life, and our everyday lives year on year (see Scannell 1996). Media institutions include broadcast time in the daily and weekly schedules for channels; there is an on demand time built into the subscription streaming services that allow us to access content when we want across geographical time zones; and there are media archives that hold content for retrieval and re-purposing, including formal archives from museums, and informal ones such as those collected by amateurs. Another time zone is that of our daily routinised experience of time, from when we wake up to the radio and drink that first cup of coffee, so our sense of this daily time is intricately bound up with media - that early morning text message is just one of many media devices you will access during a normal day. A third time zone is that of our everyday life as it is experienced season by season, over the years. These different temporal relations can intersect with each other, for example a live media event usually entails people organising their daily life around broadcast time, whereas a catch up service like the BBC iPlayer means people make their own personalised schedule of media content when it suits their daily routine. For Sarah Sharma (2015: 3) there is an 'entangled and uneven politics of temporality.' Our relationships with time and the media signal power dynamics across varieties of human experience of time that is 'enabled and performed through the structures and practices' of live or pre-recorded media (Frosh and Pinchevski 2018).The case of reality talent shows is used to explore the value and meaning of the live event as a temporary experience, and the more enduring collective-social experience of the series. We will see how media industries strategically privilege the temporary over the durable experience of live reality events, in the form of performance metrics such as ratings and social media. The performance metrics for live television signal the primacy of the now; this flow of power to the live shows and the constitution of television obscures the sense of community and viewer agency that is built up over time through the embedding of these series in everyday routines. There is a power chronography (Sharma 2015) at work in the temporal relations between television itself, the production of live television events, and the practices of audiences. In the case of the talentshow Got to Dance, producers and audiences created a form of embedded engagement over five seasons, but the broadcaster treated audiences as disposable, only of value in the moment of live shows. In the short term, viewers lose their relationship with a favourite show as embedded in their everyday lives, but in the longer term broadcasters break trust with audiences at a time when power is slipping from the constitution of television to disparate sites of media content across multi-platform environments.


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