Television 2.0: Viewer and fan engagement with digital TV, by Rhiannon Bury

Bridget Kies

Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Audience; Convergence; Participatory culture

Kies, Bridget. 2019. Television 2.0: Viewer and Fan Engagement with Digital TV, by Rhiannon Bury [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 30.

Rhiannon Bury. Television 2.0: Viewer and Fan Engagement with Digital TV. New York: Peter Lang, 2017, paperback, $48 (147p) ISBN 978-1-4331-3852-2.
[1] The end of the first decade of the new millennium was a period of swiftly changing media technologies. In 2006, Amazon launched Unbox, a service that allowed users to download television episodes and films—a precursor to Amazon Instant Video (now Prime Video). Tiny netbooks with seven- to nine-inch screens sold cheaply, offering portability and affordability, until they declined in popularity as the iPad was launched in 2010. Among fan communities, adoption of LiveJournal gradually shifted to Dreamwidth and Tumblr. It was at this moment—in 2010—that Rhiannon Bury launched a global survey into television viewing habits that became the foundation for Television 2.0: Viewer and Fan Engagement with Digital TV.

[2] This book is a reporting and analysis of findings from the survey, in which Bury describes shifts in viewing habits and fan practices resulting from changes to television options, like digital video recorders, internet downloads, and streaming services. She pays special attention to questions of access: how viewers determine whether to view favorite programs via terrestrial channels, cable, or time-shifted recordings or downloads. Bury is also concerned with how technologies like social media and downloadable content might change our conception of participatory culture from its current overemphasis on fan production. This project flows out of Bury's previously authored Cyberspaces of Their Own: Female Fandoms Online (2005), as well as numerous articles about fans and technology.

[3] The survey was undertaken in 2010–2011. As a consequence, some of the findings that Bury shares already feel more like nostalgia than insights into contemporary viewers. Streaming options have expanded, the television series discussed by survey respondents have moved off the air, and new cult series have emerged. As a result, some of the survey findings would be different if the study were undertaken today. But with nearly one thousand responses (671 of which were fully completed), 110 follow-up interviews, and more than 31 countries represented, Bury's survey is a remarkable undertaking that provides both qualitative and quantitative snapshots of viewing habits and fan practices at the time.

[4] The first chapter describes a history of the "television assemblage," a term Bury borrows from Raymond Williams (1975), from radio to the internet. She moves through wireless to wired and analog, the history of VCR adoption to digital broadcast and streaming services. By describing how television has always been a part of an assemblage of other technologies, Bury sets up survey findings in which respondents navigate among broadcast or terrestrial television, cable and satellite, recorded material, and internet-based media in their own twenty-first-century assemblages. Much of the history in this chapter is sourced from previously published works like Joshua Greenberg's (2008) study of the VCR and videotapes. For media historians, this is probably the least useful chapter of the book, but as recent experiences with my students have reminded me, a traditionally aged undergraduate student today has only ever lived in the internet age. Undergraduate and graduate students may therefore benefit from the chapter's brief history to provide useful context for the survey results, which are the real centerpiece of the book.

[5] In the second chapter, Bury begins introducing results of the survey, starting with how respondents actually watch and connect their various devices. Among the major findings in this chapter is that the conventional distinction between broadcast consumption and internet use is a flawed model that fails to account for the "leakiness" between the two categories. Survey respondents report their continued preference for terrestrial or cable television for its convenience; however, many also acknowledged a preference for streaming services and downloads to access missed content or content inaccessible at a particular place or time. Home television, Bury concludes, is "not a coherent category but a loose collection of multiscreen users and multimodal viewers" (53). Additionally, Bury argues that terrestrial, cable, or satellite services should not be presumed as being in decline on the way to more internet use, since the reasons respondents gave for continuing to watch cable and broadcast varied beyond technology and accessibility, often a result of personal tastes and household preferences.

[6] The third chapter explores how viewers watch on their various assemblages, both in terms of technological setups and in their social connections with the media being screened. It is this chapter that may most reflect the moment of the survey. Several respondents cite the awkwardness of lying on the couch with a laptop or connecting the laptop to a television. Today, smart television, which can access terrestrial and cable channels as well as a user's choice of streaming apps, removes many of the assemblage difficulties respondents identified. A follow-up to see if the same participants continue to prefer watching on a television set from the comfort of a living room couch would be interesting. At the time the survey was live, the popular press declared the "third golden age of television," in which television viewers sought a more immersive and cinematic viewing experience. Many of Bury's survey respondents, however, participate in the kind of distracted viewing John Ellis described of television viewers nearly forty years ago (2000, 168–69). Respondents report having broadcast programs in the background during dinner or chores, with DVRs, downloads, and DVDs reserved for favorite programs viewers want to pay attention to. Social viewing and time-shifting correspond to allow couples, families, and friends to create "their own viewer-centered flow and otherwise [integrate] television with other aspects of daily life" (Bury 2017, 70).

[7] In the final two chapters, Bury turns to affect and fan engagement, and it is these chapters that will probably be of most interest to readers of this journal. In chapter four, Bury reports on how viewers determine which series warrant live viewing, time-shifting, and even DVD purchase. She finds that different levels of affective intensity drive viewers' decisions about how and when to watch particular programs. But interestingly, "the more intense the relationship and the more involved one is in fan communities, the more likely one is to anticipate new episodes and seek them out, using whichever mode provides the most immediate access" (88). At the time of the survey, "marathon viewing" (my preferred term and Bury's for its lack of moral judgment) was swiftly being labeled "binge watching," which Bury rightly notes connotes a lack of impulse control, as with the terms "binge drinking" and "binge eating" (86). As Netflix and some cable channels have further promoted the idea of bingeing in anticipation of a new season or finale, Bury finds that there are other reasons for marathon viewing, including a viewer's distaste for interruptions, segmentation, and the ad content so common in television's broadcast model.

[8] The fifth and final chapter has the most provocative findings for fan and audience studies. Although participants reported using social media and accessing fan content on the internet, Bury notes that many are not engaging in fan communities in which there is a reciprocal relationship. For instance, some respondents note the pleasure of feeling connected to a community of fellow fans when using appropriate hashtags on Twitter for screenings, despite previous research that shows many of the tweets during and immediately after television broadcasts do not indicate that Twitter users are talking to each other but instead are talking at each other (Wohn and Na 2011; Bury 2017, 100). Other respondents noted enjoying some fan-created works without feeling the impetus to create their own. This leads Bury to conclude that we tend to conflate participation with participatory culture and thus have overinflated the role of the fan. Bury argues that Television 2.0's real impact may be on those individuals typically described as the least involved in participatory culture. Social media, Bury finds, does not seem to be converting viewers into highly involved and productive fans.

[9] Bury concludes by reiterating the ways television viewing, particularly broadcast or terrestrial consumption, is changing because of the internet. She resists the claim that the internet is a game changer by reminding us that television viewing and fan practices have always been part of a "rhizomatic assemblage" of entertainment media and apparatuses and that a hybridization between broadcast or cable and the internet is only the latest iteration of this assemblage.

[10] The survey and the book analyzing it are not without limitations, which Bury concedes in the introduction and conclusion. Although respondents were from varied countries, the majority were North American. Though Canadian, British, Australian, and American respondents commented on their enjoyment of English-language media from beyond their national borders, these findings are hardly global or transnational beyond a limited set. The respondents were also predominantly white and middle-class. This leaves open questions about the use of television assemblages and engagement with television among viewers of color and of different economic classes with varying access to infrastructures that enable television viewing and internet use. Age is also a limitation. I found myself wanting more detailed reminders of the respondents' ages in order to contextualize their remarks. These limits to the survey leave open questions and possibilities for future research that will target nonwhite, non-Anglophone, and non-middle-class viewers. Finally, Bury offers some temporal contextualization in the conclusion, noting that broadcast viewing is on the decline and that services like Netflix and social media platforms like Twitter are having a real impact on viewing habits and fan practices as we approach the 2020s. It would be useful to compare Bury's findings to more recent survey results on the same subject, if such exists. Overall, though, the book provides qualitative and quantitative findings about viewing practices among white middle-class respondents. Through its study of which devices these viewers prefer, in which rooms and in what social circumstances they watch television, and how their emotional connections to television programs affect their viewing habits and social media use, Television 2.0 offers an interesting snapshot of television and fandom at a moment in time not long ago and yet still somehow a different era, a moment at which television was in rapid transition. More importantly, the book challenges assumptions we made back then and continue to make today about viewers, fans, and participatory culture.


Bury, Rhiannon. 2005. Cyberspaces of Their Own: Female Fandoms Online. New York: Peter Lang.

Ellis, John. 2000. Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Radio. Revised edition. New York: Routledge.

Greenberg, Joshua. 2008. From Betamax to Blockbuster: Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Williams, Raymond. 1975. Television: Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Schocken Books.

Wohn, D. Yvette and Eun-Kyung Na. 2011. "Tweeting about TV: Sharing Television Viewing and Social Media Message Streams." First Monday 16 (3).