With Disney+, Apple TV+, and NBC’s Peacock joining Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu, Crunchyroll, ESPN+, and CBS All Access, industry observers and tech writers have declared that we now live in an era of “peak streaming TV.” Yet, even as this surfeit of services promises easy access to immense archives of video content – both past and present – it is worth asking what gaps, fissures, and fractures might exist within these collections; for it is in examining what is purposely left out, left incomplete, or rendered inaccessible – in other words, what is “unseen” – that gives us insight into the institutional power dynamics and political-economic decision making that constitutes these archives as repositories of owned or licensed content, as bundles of commercial assets, and as systems of thought. As television continues to evolve from a mass medium to a personalized, highly mobile media form, and as streaming services promote their platforms as founts of endless content, issues of access, profit, representation, and curation become particularly salient.
Economically, Netflix’s novel cost-plus business model has upended the traditional deficit financing model favored by studios. This model allows Netflix to produce a more diverse library, yet a shallower depth for its more cost-prohibitive original series. Additionally, the unique production model has contributed to a recent wave of vertical (AT&T-Time Warner in 2018) and horizonal (Disney-Fox in 2019) integration, resulting in bundling, vaulting, or selective windowing.
Furthermore, such integration typically results in a narrowing of creative diversity.
At the same time, a convergence of preemptive corporate PR, cancel culture, and genuine social education has led to the exclusion of material that bears the problematic assumptions of earlier ages. Disney, for example, chose to omit Song of the South (1946) and to implement content warnings for other classic films on its Disney+ archive rather than re-editing the content, as Warner Bros. has done with its own problematic material. Elsewhere, episodes of popular and profitable syndicated television shows (Community, 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office, Scrubs, and The Golden Girls) have been excluded from streaming services for similar reasons, while episodes previously omitted from DVD and on demand services (Married…With Children, Family Guy, The X-Files, The Simpsons, The Boondocks, and Seinfeld) have reappeared on streaming platforms.
We understand “unseen” content in four distinct ways: 1) issues of absence and presence relating to representation and identity, 2) political-economic formations and their impacts on the archive and archive access, 3) material that has been removed from the archive by the distributor as either a preemptive or reactive measure to audience voices, and 4) broad and varying levels of “user access” to streaming libraries.
This collection seeks to provide a space of inquiry into these issues regarding television, the archive, and institutional power. In search of an understanding what is present by revealing what is absent, the editors of this collection seek essays that explore and interrogate issues of television’s “unseen” from methodologically diverse perspectives.
Contributions to this volume might include (but are not limited to) explorations of
- Contemporary examples of character absence, building on strong legacy of LGBTQ+ scholarship
- Streaming series whose accessibility is lost when a streaming channel declares bankruptcy or sells licensing rights to network channels
- Impact of horizontal and vertical integration on the production, distribution, and discoverability of media content
- The production logic of television pilots
- Re/purposing content: windowing, versioning, discoverability (UX design)
- Licensing/creation models (cost-plus vs. deficit financing)
- Audience agency/curation of the archive
- Political economic decision making
- Getting lost in the pile of algorithmic logic within the archive
- Cancel culture and trigger warnings in streaming libraries
- Invisibility of historical archives
- The “reappearance” of previously excluded content
Please send an abstract of no more than 350 words, along with a brief bibliography (3-5 sources) demonstrating the proposed chapter’s theoretical foundations, and a short biography (75 words) by October 15, 2020 to Andrew J. Salvati (email@example.com), Jonathan M. Bullinger (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Steve Voorhees (email@example.com).
Please include “Unseen Television Submission” in the subject header, and copy all three editors on initial submissions and any further correspondence.
Once abstracts are collected, they will be proposed to the publisher, Intellect, for a collection to be include in their upcoming Unmade Film & Television series. After abstract acceptance from the publisher, authors will be asked to write chapters of 7,000 to 7,500 words including references by an agreed-upon date to be determined (depending on publisher’s timetable).