Empirical research on television style

The various selections of empirical research on film style that I have posted on this blog have been dominated by feature films, and television has received rather less attention. In part, this is because there is a lack of research on television style: Schaefer and Martinez (2009) (see below) write:

that formal study of the craft of editing television news appears to have suffered from a lack of a conventional vocabulary for describing and analyzing structural techniques used in what is primarily an audio-visual phenomenon, maintaining that television journalists have traditionally learned the evolving art of news shooting and editing through an immersion process that does not readily lend itself to conscious articulation of forms. Hence, it should not be too surprising that discussions of the evolution of trends in journalistic editing are often based on scant anecdotal evidence.

The ‘dearth of formal analysis’ is something that can be easily remedied: the materials are easy to access and the methods are well known. A question worth exploring is why has no one done this research?

A few weeks ago I posted a draft version of a paper on the statistical analysis of style in BBC news bulletins (here), and I am currently part way through a similar paper on news broadcasts on ITV. But until then, here are some papers worth reading on television style that address various issues that have been raised elsewhere on this blog.

Bolls PD, Muehling DD, and Yoon K 2003 The effects of television commercial pacing on
viewers’ attention and memory, Journal of Marketing Communications 9 (1): 17–28.

This study investigated the effects of advertising pacing (i.e. the number of visual cuts in an advertisement) on viewers’ voluntary and involuntary attention to an advertisement, as well as its effects on the recall of claim-related and non-claim-related components of the advertisement. Using a limited capacity model of information processing/retrieval as its theoretical base and physiologically oriented measures of attention, this study provided some evidence that fast-paced advertisements (as compared to slower paced ones) may have a positive effect on viewers’ involuntary (automatic) attention towards an advertisement, but have little differential effect on their voluntary attention. Furthermore, it appeared that the enhanced involuntary attention gained through the use of fast-paced advertisements comes in the form of attention directed towards the non-claim (advertisement executional) elements of an advertisement as opposed to the message-based (copy) elements of the advertisement. The practical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

Choi YJ and Lee JH 2006 The role of a scene in framing a story: an analysis of a scene’s
position, length, and proportion, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 50 (4):

A scene is proposed as the unit of analysis in broadcast news studies as a way to measure a more accurate representation of perspectives and arguments of a story. Based on film studies, a scene is defined as a unit that represents continuity in time, place, character, ideas, or themes in a news story. The role of a scene in a news story is analyzed by examining how the position, length, and proportion of a scene frame and valence are related to story frame and valence.

McCollum JF and Bryant J 1999 Pacing in children’s television programming, Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 4-7 August 1999, New Orleans, LA.

Following a content analysis, 85 children’s programs were assigned a pacing index derived from the following criteria: (1) frequency of camera cuts; (2) frequency of related scene changes; (3) frequency of unrelated scene changes; (4) frequency of auditory changes; (5) percentage of active motion; (6) percentage of active talking; and (7) percentage of active music. Results indicated significant differences in networks’ pacing overall and in the individual criteria: the commercial networks present the bulk of the very rapidly paced programming (much of it in the form of cartoons), and those networks devoted primarily to educational programming–PBS and The Learning Channel–present very slow-paced programs. (Contains 26 references, and 12 tables and a figure of data.)

Pak H 2007 The Effects of Incongruity, Production Pacing, and Sensation Seeking on TV Advertisements, unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Cornell University.

This study addresses an important area of research that has fascinated advertising professionals who are eager to make more attractive ads: understanding how the viewing audience perceives and processes television advertisements. Ad incongruity, the introduction of unexpected elements that are atypical of a given ad category, and production pacing were tested to explore the roles of these stimuli in capturing higher levels of arousal, which can produce both better evaluations and clearer memories of ads. Sixty subjects, who were recruited from among undergraduate students at Cornell University and patrons of a local shopping mall, participated in an experiment in which a set of TV ads was shown. Participants then answered questions immediately following exposure to the ads, providing data pertaining to sensation seeking, ad evaluation, arousal, and memory. The ads themselves represented six different conditions: incongruent and slow paced, incongruent and medium paced, incongruent and fast paced, congruent and slow paced, congruent and medium paced, and congruent and fast paced. The main findings involved Lang?s limited capacity model. It was found that the mental capacity or cognitive load required to process incongruent fast-paced ads exceeded study participants? cognitive capacity to process the information in such ads. When ads with both fast paced and incongruent elements were shown, participant?s memory for that particular kind of ads declined. The study provided confirmation of Lang?s (2000) limited capacity model. The study?s contributions include a key finding pertaining to incongruity effects that should help to resolve discrepancies in the literature on incongruity. As expected, incongruent ads were evaluated more positively, and were more arousing and better remembered than congruent ads. Production pacing also had some effect on participants. As pacing increased, participants remembered better and ad evaluations tended to be more positive. However, ad type had a significant influence on the processing of ads. Car ads were evaluated more positively, were more arousing, and were better remembered than over-the-counter drug ads. There were no significant relationships between sensation seeking and incongruity or sensation seeking and production pacing.

Schaefer RJ and Martinez TJ 2009 Trends in network news editing strategies from 1969 through 2005, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 53 (3): 347-364.

Four editing variables were tracked through a content analysis of U.S. commercial network editing that spanned a 36-year period. The analysis revealed that synthetic-montage increased and continuity-realism decreased from 1969 through 1997. Network news editors also embraced faster pacing, shorter soundbites, and more special effects between 1969 and 2005. When taken together, the results suggest that U.S. network television journalism has evolved from more “camera of record” and realistic news techniques in favor of a variety of synthetic editing strategies that convey complex audio-visual arguments.

Finally, this paper has appeared in the latest issue of Pediatrics though I am somewhat dubious about its methodology due to the way they have defined the pace of the programmes used, which appears to be based on scene transitions rather than shot transitions:

Lillard AS and Petersen J 2011 The immediate impact of different types of television on young children’s executive function, Pediatrics 128 (4): doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919.

Objective: The goal of this research was to study whether a fast-paced television show immediately influences preschool-aged children’s executive function (eg, self-regulation, working memory).

Methods: Sixty 4-year-olds were randomly assigned to watch a fast-paced television cartoon or an educational cartoon or draw for 9 minutes. They were then given 4 tasks tapping executive function, including the classic delay-of-gratification and Tower of Hanoi tasks. Parents completed surveys regarding television viewing and child’s attention.

Results: Children who watched the fast-paced television cartoon performed significantly worse on the executive function tasks than children in the other 2 groups when controlling for child attention, age, and television exposure.

Conclusions: Just 9 minutes of viewing a fast-paced television cartoon had immediate negative effects on 4-year-olds’ executive function. Parents should be aware that fast-paced television shows could at least temporarily impair young children’s executive function.


About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on September 15, 2011, in Cinemetrics, Film Analysis, Film Studies, Film Style, News, Statistics, Television and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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