In the period following the dot-com bubble bust, a series of new media emerged that claimed to be ‘live’ – using a term that was previously associated primarily with television. These new forms of liveness began to challenge established ideas about what ‘live’ meant, thus warranting a scholarly revisiting of the concept. The question they provoked was: how can these new forms of the live be understood?
In The Future of Live I offer a comprehensive understanding of what liveness is. I propose that ‘the live’ needs to be understood as a construction born out of the interaction between media industries, technologies and users. I also argue that particular articulations of the live should be studied in terms of how those three come together. This means that there is an array of different constructions of liveness, each emphasizing different values through its unique constellation. Yet despite the existence of multiple forms of the live, live media are bound by their shared function. Liveness helps maintain the myth that things in the media matter. They matter because they represent society’s current reality, creating a sense of urgency that it needs to be seen now rather than later (see Nick Couldry’s work on media rituals).
In the book, I analyze in four case studies (eJamming, Livestream, The Voice and Facebook, each of those dealt with in a separate chapter) how the live is constructed. I lay bare how the category operates, and pinpoint the conditions under which it comes into being. The cases are selected on account of the fact that taken together, they facilitate a comparison between the mechanisms of control over content in broadcast media and social media. Such a comparison necessarily involves reflections on phenomena such as social TV, the series dumping strategy of Netflix and the algorithmic filtering of Facebook. The insights I gain about and through the concept of the live help me explain the intensification of claims to the live in the present-day media landscape, and to formulate arguments as to why the category is likely to persist in the future. In doing so, I ultimately try to further clarify the stakes surrounding the live.
Karin van Es is Assistant Professor of Television and New Media at Utrecht University.