A trans-national audience study of a global format genre: Musical talent shows in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Britain

TitleA trans-national audience study of a global format genre: Musical talent shows in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Britain
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Jensen, P. M., A. Esser, A. M. Lemor, and H. Keinonen
Affiliation (1st Author)Aarhus University, Denmark
Section or WGPopular Culture Working Group
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodePOPW2a
Slot Code (Keyword)POPW2a
Time of Session11:00-12:30
Session TitleFrames without Frontiers : Special Panel on Formats
Submission ID5294

This paper will discuss the methodology and present the preliminary findings of a trans-national, comparative audience study of the musical talent show genre undertaken in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Great Britain in early 2013. Within the international business model of selling and adapting television formats, the musical talent show genre has been particularly successful in crossing cultural borders. Formats such as Idols, Got Talent, X Factor and, more recently, Voice have sold to a large variety of countries. As an example, Idols alone has been adapted in over 40 territories, covering all continents (Zwaan & de Bruin 2012). Such global reach inevitably raises the question of the genre’s audience appeal, to what degree its reach has to do with a universal appeal inherent in the genre and/or the innovative character of individual formats (Armbruster and Mikos 2009), and to what degree the global success is due to local broadcasters’ ability to successfully adapt the format to local audience tastes. A few trans-national, comparative textual analyses of various adaptations of the same formats have been carried out to reveal the differences between adaptations (e.g. Mikos and Perotta 2012, Jensen 2012). But only one trans-national, comparative audience study has been carried out thus far: Interviewing Australians, Germans and Dutchmen about the respective adaptations of two Australian scripted formats, Moran (1998) finds that the adaptations are viewed very much as domestic national programming. A consensus seems to have developed that television formats such as Voice and X Factor to a considerable degree are adapted according to national audiences and, hence, national cultural tastes and mentalities. In our research approach, we recognize that musical talent shows appear to contribute to ‘imagining the nation’ (Anderson 1983). As big shiny-floor and live programmes they address a community of national viewers, often even mentioning the nation in the title. Without doubt, they afford national audiences opportunities for a communal national viewing experience and a sense of national belonging. However, we also take into account that the national perspective needs to be considered critically. First, there are other factors but national culture, which determine a local adaptation such as subnational target groups, channel identity, financing or chance incidents (Jensen 2012, Esser 2013). Secondly, it has rightly been argued (e.g. Robins and Aksoy 2000, Pertierra and Turner 2013) that within any national television market, especially in the post-broadcast era, a multiplicity of publics co-exists and that we must rethink how we locate television. The focus groups we carry out in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Great Britain thus will be defined as and on the basis of particular ‘zones of consumption’ (Pertierra and Turner 2013) in which Danish, Finish, German and British adaptations of musical talent shows are viewed and made sense of. The aim of the focus groups is to shed light on the complexity of the communal viewing experience, real and imagined, national, sub-national and transnational; of identification, and of the meaning that viewers take from the musical talent show genre. (Part of the panel “Television across borders: The local-global nexus”)

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