Back to the Future: This Year's Flow Conference

Curator's Note

When the first Flow Conference took place in 2006, a great deal of enthusiasm surrounded the event not only due to its unconference format but also because of its focus on the state of post-network era television (and television studies) at the same moment that such developments (and discourses) seemed relatively new. At the time, the conference was one of the few places where scholars – along with journalists, critics, and even some industry practitioners – could discuss the rapidly shifting nature of the cultural form, the industry, the technology, and the field.

Now such debates happen much more frequently – not only at a growing number of scholarly conferences but also in a range of popular and academic websites, peer-reviewed publications, industry conventions, and beyond. Many of us have spent well over a decade talking, hearing, or contesting claims about TV's future viability.

That’s why I’m so excited about two key changes that the Flow organizers have made to this year’s conference.

First, this year, the organizers have asked participants to think back as much as they look forward. Many of the roundtable panels, as well as individual presentations, explicitly emphasize TV’s (and TV studies’) history, considering what we might have lost sight of in our fascination with all things new.

Second, in the spirit of furthering the conference’s commitment to engaging with a range of voices from the industry, press, and public, this year, the organizers have assembled three “core conversations” – plenary events featuring a blend of scholars, media preservationists, television critics, industry executives, and creatives. Two of the three panels foreground issues of historiography, while the third, returns us to Flow’s long-standing focus on contemporary television in transition. Ideally, the viewpoints expressed on these panels will inform subsequent roundtable conversations and further facilitate productive dialogue between members of the industry, the academy, the press, and the wider public (and not operate akin to this 30 Rock clip).

I hope that those in attendance enjoy the tweaks made to the Flow Conference format. As one of the faculty advisors for the conference, along with my colleague, Mary Beltrán, I have seen first-hand how Flow’s team of graduate student coordinators has not only reproduced all of the best elements of prior conferences, but also labored tirelessly to provide new features and incorporate additional voices into our ongoing conversation about television.


It's only been a few hours since the conference ended, but I have to say that I think it was an excellent event. Thank you to all the people who worked so hard to put this together. There is no conference I have ever been to like Flow, for the discussions which come out, for the collegiality, for how inspired I feel to push myself and my own work, and to hear and read more of others. The Core Conversations were a fantastic addition, and while I think they could be tweaked a little for subsequent conferences, I think they really provided a point of connection, bringing us all together for a shared experience at the end of each day. While Alisa makes the point that some of these conversations now happen in other spaces as well, I don't really know of any other spaces where this number of diverse people comes together to have face to face discussions on our specific topics. SCMS is so much larger, Console-ing Passions is wonderful, but it doesn't have discussions in the same way. Flow is the only conference that I ensure that I come to the US for, every time, and there are really good reasons for that. This is a unique space, and I really look forward to being back here in 2 years time.

As a first-time attendee, I enjoyed the much more substantive conversations in the roundtables than is usually found in panel presentations. I think the most successful roundtables included presenters who explained a specific example, illustration, issue, or angle on a topic. At the best roundtables, these specific points then dovetailed in interesting ways and really helped stimulate discussion. The Core Conversations also succeeded in several ways. First, they provided a common event for attendees to discuss--and they were energetically discussed! Second, there was an interesting range of perspectives from creatives, archivists, tech specialists, and executives. Third, it was fascinating how the audience reacted to and interacted with the panelists. A little more cross-exposure between the cloistered worlds of academia and the television industry is, I think, a valuable experience for both.

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