Or the conventions that the makers adhere to. ” ( Bignell 2004: 4 ) This timed arranging of programming units can therefore effectively hammer home certain points and sufficiently educate the audience to changes and issues in their society. The viewer is therefore able to understand what is going on around them, as well as understanding what the importance of television is in our society as a whole. With this process of ‘flow’ in mind, it is evident of television’s impact it can have on an audience, by forcefully presenting them with an abundance of relevant material.
It is apparent from this, the effect that television, with its use of planned ‘flow’, can have on society as a whole and on the issues it chooses to broadcast. We engage with television in many different ways and not always as closely as to, let us say, cinema. We tend to view television with the “glance”, as opposed to the “gaze”; in other words our focus and attention is usually minimal. As Ellis says: “given this setting and the multiple distractions that it can offer, broadcast television cannot assume the same level of attention from its viewers that cinema can from its spectators.
” ( Ellis 1992: 115). Because of this imminent nature of television, the viewer has to almost be enticed and excited by what goes on before them in order for them to engage with television and benefit from it. The process of ‘flow’, as well as providing a timed and organised structure for a channel schedule, includes additional information out with a particular programme unit, in order for our interest to be engaged, thus our understanding of television to be heightened.
During the course of a particular programme, the process of ‘flow’ becomes active and directs us to sister channels, websites, forums and may even provide phone services. By doing this, the process enables the viewer to interact with television and gain additional information of a particular programme or a particular sequence of programmes, in order to essentially gain a better understanding of it. In the teenage drama Hollyoaks for example, the audience is constantly reminded of the discussion forum afterwards, due to the scale of potentially upsetting or worrisome problems arising in the drama.
In this same example the audience is given website links to find out more about certain issues- for example anorexia and abortion- arising in the drama. ‘Flow’ also intervenes by interrupting the end credits after the drama with supplementary information. By doing this the attention of the audience is held, as well as providing them with additional information of the upcoming programmes in the channel schedule.
The audience here is being provided with accessible, additional information which they can then use to gain better understanding of television. From this we can also see that ‘flow’ does not necessarily become effective solely amongst one channel schedule, but it can work amongst many different channel sequences. By directing us to Channel 4’s sister channel in this same example in Hollyoaks, the viewer is persuaded to watch the next episode or find out more about issues raised within it, thus involving the viewer.
As well as allowing an audience to understand separate items in relation to each other; and causing a viewer’s interest to be engaged, ‘flow’ can also aid in an audience’s understanding and appreciation of a particular narrative form. Adverts and trailers are added into the programme sequence at precise moments; these items are added meticulously into a scheduled flow in order to grasp the attention of the viewer. Williams talks of the way in which ‘flow’ is used to attain the viewer’s attention: “… trailers of programmes to be shown…
This became important to broadcasting planners to retain viewers – or as they put it, to ‘capture’ them… ” (Williams, 1974: 91) Williams here talks about ‘flow’ in securing the attention of the viewer, by including trailers and adverts at particular times in a programme schedule. In a game show, for example, the question “will he or will he not win the prize money? ” will almost certainly be answered after the ‘advert’ or ‘break’. By doing this, the focus of the audience is kept and their understanding – of where the importance lies in a specific programme – is heightened.
This acts as an advantage for broadcasters in holding the audience’s attention; yet at the same time, this allows for audience to gain better understanding of the plot as its key sequences are, in a way, sectioned off with adverts. Television is most often watched as a ‘sequence’ and so it is important to retain and re-retain the attention of the audience; Bignell talks of television’s importance in maintaining an audience: “within programmes, high-points or turning-points are included by programme makers…
This is done to encourage viewers to stay on the same channel to find out what the consequences or developments will be once the programme returns after the break” ( Bignell, 2004: 17). From this it is clear to see that television’s adverts, which are essentially ordered by ‘flow’, can be inserted before a moment of high intensity in order to entice the viewer into staying tuned. By attracting the audience like this allows their full engagement with the narrative in question, and allows their understanding to be enhanced.
The soap opera is another narrative form which uses this aspect of flow to its advantage; in order for suspense to be created and for its viewers to understand intense or important moments in the plot. The cliffhanger is made so successful in the soap due to thorough planning of ‘breaks’ and their nature. Flow here is essential to the development of the plot, and acts as an entity holding together the narrative, which in turn enhances the audiences’ understanding of it.
With these main points in mind, it is clear to see that ‘flow’, as well as being the “defining characteristic of television”, is integral to our understanding of television, as both a narrative and as a messenger to our society. The ways in which we talk of ‘watching television’ clearly shows that this is the most desirable way to interpret it; without the use of ‘flow’ the idea of watching television as a sequence would be eradicated. Instead the audience would be, in a way, unable to ‘watch television’ and be virtually forced to watch programme units individually with no relation to one another.
Although a fairly complex idea and process, in a way, ‘flow’ makes for a fairly unproblematic means to viewing television; as the sequence allows us to understand, for example, key moments in drama and important concerns in real society, due to the relative programme units they are placed beside. As a metaphor ‘flow’ relates to the ways in which we are carried through various programme units with force, but also the way we can watch quite calmly “at a distance”. This is the characteristic way we experience television, therefore of characteristic importance to our understanding of television.
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