Speakers and program

Thursday, 7 December 2017
Instances_17:30 – 19:00

Ramon Lobato

RMIT University, Melbourne

Formats and Formalization in Digital Advertising

This paper examines some recent 'format wars' that have taken place within a fast-evolving, yet surprisingly under-researched, media sector: online display advertising. Since the invention of web browsers in the early 1990s, hundreds of ad formats have appeared and disappeared from the web, including familiar shapes like banners, billboards, and leaderboards; controversial formats like pop-ups, pop-unders, takeovers, and expandables; and dozens of bespoke text, video, audio, and interactive formats for specific platforms, from Snapchat to Spotify. With the rapid development of mobile media, digital ad formats have further proliferated and cross-pollinated with desktop-specific formats.
From a critical media studies perspective, these formats are of interest for a number of reasons. They have introduced new and diverse aesthetic forms into everyday internet culture; they have generated distinctive economic practices (including real-time bidding and complex 'ad-tech' value chains); and, in the case of pop-ups and video ads, they have also attracted criticism for degrading users' online experience, spreading malware, and wasting bandwidth.
This paper focuses on the key industry body for digital advertising, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and its attempts to standardise digital ad formats. For almost twenty years the IAB has been trying to "formalise" (Lobato and Thomas 2015) the unruly advertising markets of the internet, and to weed out aberrant formats and practices – with only limited success. Beyond the valid critique of digital advertising as surveillance (Turow 2011, Andrejevic 2007), we argue there is also another story to be told here about the clear failure of standardization in a highly fragmented, automated, and internally conflictual sector of the media industries. The paper concludes with some reflections on what the case of digital advertising might tell us about format politics in other media sectors, notably television, in the face of the latter industry's imminent "programmatic turn".


Wanda Strauven

Goethe University Frankfurt / University of Bologna

Let’s Dance: GIF 1.0 versus GIF 2.0

This paper will trace back the history of the GIF as a compression format to 1983. About a decade later, the GIF emerged as a net.art phenomenon. By following these two parallel tracks of GIF’s first generation (GIF 1.0), I want to explore what’s left of its original format (or form) in today’s revival of the GIF (GIF 2.0). Especially, I will take inspiration from Olia Lialina’s “Dancing Girl” to question some basic concepts such as form, format, platform, browser, animation and loop.


Friday, 8 December 2017
Boundaries_10:00 – 11:30

Axel Volmar

University of Siegen

Formats as Media of Cooperation. Some Thoughts on Format Theory

During the last two decades, not least due to the ongoing dissolution of ‘old’ media in the ‘universal solvent’ of digital representation and networks, the notion of the ‘medium’ seems to have become increasingly blurred or even outdated: in the essay collection Was waren Medien? (Pias 2015), for example, ‘media’ are already addressed in the past tense. As one reaction to this situation, media scholars developed a growing interest in the category of formats. In order to better account for the “distributed character of culture in our age,” Jonathan Sterne traces the cultural, intellectual, and political history of the mp3-format in his acclaimed book MP3: The Meaning of a Format (2012, p. 1). In the introduction to the book, Sterne stresses a general need for ‘format theory’ as a supplement to contemporary media theory and offers valuable methodological suggestions toward the study of formats. Yet, a more systematic and historical approach to a theory of formats remains a desideratum. Therefore, instead of focusing on a specific case study, I will explore the diverse significations of formats, both through an etymology of the term and a small typology of its various manifestations and uses. Furthermore, I will present a set of features and functions common to formats in order to pin down their characteristics and media-theoretical significance. By turning to Susan Leigh Star’s notion of “boundary objects,” forged to denote structured spaces, material objects, diagrammatic surfaces or symbolic concepts devised to enable (as well as enforce) cooperation between heterogeneous actors groups and social worlds, I will argue that formats should be regarded as paradigmatic media of cooperation. I will further suggest that formats form fundamental resources and repositories for scaling (media-) cultural production and thus a necessary prerequisite in order to help media-technological processes, such as the process of photographic inscription, grow into ubiquitous media systems and industries, such as‚ ‘photography’ as a whole.


Carlos Spoerhase

Bielefeld University

Radical Re-formatting: Schiller’s Drama of Scale

Friedrich Schiller’s “Wallenstein” is the paradigm of a drama that exists in a monumental format – a format which deviates far from the “standard measure” of drama in terms of scale. Schiller constantly recalculated the scale of “Wallenstein”. In doing so, he never lost sight of the fact that questions of scale are always intricately connected with matters of format.


Practices_11:45 – 13:15

Markus Stauff

University of Amsterdam

The Sports Highlight as Cross-Media Format: Technology, Aesthetics, Property

"In the history of television, the format played an important role in adapting the medium to changing economic and technological circumstances. Like genres in the film industry, the TV-format is supposed to solidify the elusive connection between an aesthetic form and its audience. Different from the rather informal transformations of film genres, though, the format consists of explicit rules and contracts regulating the dynamic of variation and repetition – including the adaptation to different national cultures and different media affordances. Albert Moran therefore describes the format as a cultural technology governing “the flow of program ideas across time and space” (Copycat TV, 1998, p 23).
In my presentation I will start from Moran’s definition to discuss two interrelated questions: What does this concept of the format teach us about the economic and cultural function of the sports highlight? And how does a closer look at the sports highlight tell us about the key characteristics of formats as a cultural technology? After all, the sports highlight is one of the most persistent forms – and as I will argue: formats – of modern media culture. Additionally, it has been playing a key function in introducing new media technologies and in building an audience across technical and institutional boundaries. My analysis will use highlights from different sports and from different media to scrutinize the explicit rules and the implicit conventions which shape the circulation of an event in its condensed form as highlight. Thus, I hope to offer insights into the restraints and the productivity of formats more generally."


Florian Hoof

University of Lüneburg

"Rumble in the Format Jungle": On the Instability of Live Broadcasting Formats

In the last decades, Kodak went out of business, as did the 35 mm celluloid format in film theatres. At the same time, 35 mm film turned into a container for different demands, hopes, and threads towards film culture. Amongst others, it provides for a clear-cut object of research, distinguishing cinema from other forms of moving images that have become the new standard in digital network cultures. But as historical accounts on standardization and media formats have shown, to separate film formats from its ‘sociomaterial’ embeddedness is helpful in stabilizing concepts such as ‘film’ or ‘television’ but is less effective to actually explain the changes that occurred within the last decades (Stern 2012, 8). Taking this perspective as a point of departure my presentation contributes a historical case study on the sociomaterial dimension of ephemeral formats used for live sports broadcasting. I trace the history of live broadcasting of boxing from early “fighting films” (Streible 2008) to “theatre television” (Gomery 1985), to pay-tv and pay-per-view, and finally to contemporary forms of sports streaming. Live broadcasting formats are characterized by extreme instability. First and foremost they are constructed and used for transmitting and circulating moving images not to store them. Such formats do not provide for the ‘best’ image quality possible but facilitate immediate circulation. Thus, they are entangled and part of media infrastructures that aim towards distribution and at the same time try to prevent piracy. It is a social, economic and cultural environment that can add to our understanding of the contemporary digital film culture as has been argued elsewhere in the study of infrastructures of marginal forms (Acland/Wasson 2011).


Resolutions_14:45 – 16:15

Margarete Pratschke

Humboldt University of Berlin

Landscape or Portrait. An Art-historical Approach to Digital Displays


Oliver Fahle and Elisa Linseisen

Ruhr University Bochum

Format Reflects Film History. HD’s Grand Narrative or SD’s Resistance through Low Resolution

High Definition (HD) demands high standards of film. In the yearning for the biggest picture with the highest resolution, HD refers to an ideal of cinema that places nine galloping chariot-race horses horizontally in one single widescreen or pans over a beach in Northern France, crowded by presumably 350.000 Allied soldiers. Whether it is bringing back BEN-HUR (William Wyler 1959) to the silver or flat screen or shooting 2017 war epics in Panavision (Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK) – both examples show that HD connects not only to cinema and film catching the viewers’ attraction but moreover reflects a cinematic history that can be specified by technical and material standards, a cinematic history that can be broken down to its film formats. HD replies to these film-historical specifications on the practical and the aesthetical level. It is capable of capturing the pictorial density and aesthetical specification of analogue (negative) film formats – from Super8 to 70mm – as it delicately tries to preserve every grain stored in the photographic emulsion through digitization. Furthermore, HD seems to initiate a film aesthetical reflection and freedom in its concurrent use of historical successions and exclusivity of film formats, showing playful varieties through reframing or mimicking the format’s signature scratches, fuzziness and color grades with the help of digital filters. Tracing down the analogue inscriptions in HD images, one can understand that HD narrates its own historiography about film and cinema, a historiography which is measureable in the density and quantity of a high number of pixels. Our contribution to the conference Format Matters wants first to follow these historiographical storylines written by HD and second, to pause at a specific moment in film history: the beginning and the initiating experiments of and with digital cinema. Our interest lies in the apparently insurmountable threshold between SD – Standard Video Definition – and HD, as SD already has a fixed pixel proportion (1080p x 720p) and cannot be as easily converted into a higher resolution (for example 2K: 1536p x 2048p) as can happen with analogue material. We would like to problematize this resistance of SD in the context of a cinematic heritage that relies on its apparent capability to smoothly fit in small-boned pixel grids. We not only hope to pitch an idea about the problematic implications aroused by the preservation and restoration of complex “cinematic agencies” (Lorenz Engell) based on high pixel relations, but furthermore, to contribute to the ongoing discussion on post-cinema and post-medium conditions, arguing that HD shows the overcoming of an apparently unproblematic differentiation between the analogue and the digital, by replacing it through the far more questionable difference between the (HD) digital and the (SD) digital.


Logistics_16:30 – 18:00

Monika Dommann

University of Zurich

At the Margins of Formats. A Historical Ethnography of Logistics


Lori Emerson

University of Colorado Boulder

The Undersea Life of Other Networks

In this talk, Lori Emerson discusses her current project "Other Networks" and how it both takes and departs from media archaeology which so far has concerned itself almost entirely with media objects rather than media systems such as networks and network protocols, themselves kinds of formats. Emerson describes her (successful and failed) attempts to move from the present to the mid-60s as a way to uncover the odd history of telecommunications networks that pre-date the Internet or exist outside of the Internet along with artist and writerly experiments with the technical affordances of these early networks. She will also touch on how and why "Other Networks" is now a study of specific, now-defunct undersea cables.


Saturday, 10 December 2017
Materialities_10:00 – 11:30

 Johannes Gfeller

State Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart

Format and Historicity. CRT and Helical Scan as Major Cultural Technologies of the 2nd Half of the 20th Century

"The first was omnipresent and luminous, the second hidden and for most people unknown. Both have an intrinsic dichotomy of transparence and opacity, as yet the photographic media had, but not in a strictly material sense. The CRT surface is physically opaque, only under high voltage it opens to the world “come una finestra” as Alberti statet almost 600 years ago (or a bubble, given its rounded edges and the spheric surface of the first decades). From a nowadays view its overall fidelity was limited – only its colour characteristic was superior. In contrast its role as a “mind opener” stays uncontested, especially in artistic contexts. Its companionship to time based media was more harmonious than the one to byte based media, where we do not really mourn these dinosaurs.
Video Tape has always been optically opaque, due to the finest magnetic particles which hold the recorded information. Jitter and all other kinds of instabilities, drop-outs, noise, first analogue then digital artefacts successfully suspended the so much desired transparence of information, which a storage and transport medium should have. Only with a trick called helical scan it was possible to write about 250 times more information on a magnetic tape than necessary for an audio signal. First used for analogue video, then for streaming digital video and sound, it finally served as an universal storage device for digital files, whether their content was audiovisual or not. After more than 50 years of use helical scan devices are no longer produced. Their tapes were the audiovisual memory of half a century.
We will give a special attention to the formatting of both the picture and the information on the tape in lines and tracks and their pre-digital organization in a media-archeological view. A glimpse on intended disturbance on crt picture rasters by artists will complete the presentation."


Erika Balsom

King's College London

Photochemical Film: Medium or Family of Formats?

The idea of format is closely aligned with the study of digital media. It is clear why this heuristic would be useful for the analysis of digital devices, given that the latter throw into crisis traditional conceptions of the medium by accommodating numerous platforms and file formats within a single machine. And yet, format theory is tremendously useful for the study of analogue media, as it entails adopting a more granular level of analysis than is conventional, breaking apart an entity like “photochemical film” – so often but erroneously discussed as if it were a single thing – to reveal the varied technologies encompassed by this category and the diverse experiences and ecologies to which they give rise. Following Haidee Wasson’s call for “understanding cinema as a family of formats,” this presentation will interrogate the concept of format in relation to photochemical film through a consideration of a curious, short-lived format: Polavision, an instant motion picture system produced by the Polaroid Corporation between 1977 and 1980.


Approaches_11:45 – 13:15

Jennifer Horne

University of California, Santa Cruz

Format, the University, and the Idea of Intellectual Freedom

My presentation will explore format as a restrictive force in the context of academic & disciplinary protocols for media scholarship and will direct our attention to the responsibility and power of the university library in this realm. I choose to situate this discussion of format “in” the library rather than “in” an archive, for I wish to draw our attention to a growing dilemma faced by scholars of media whose work has been and is increasingly going to be dependent upon obsolescing film gauges, playback machines, and consoles. In order to address the specific relationship between, put simply, what we are supported to teach and what, because of format considerations, we are unable to teach, my presentation will situate the media historian’s relationship to, that beacon of intellectual freedom, the university library. Whereas academic freedom (in the United States) protects a scholar’s unrestricted exploration in areas of teaching and research (and relates to rights of speech) with regards to their promotion and job security, intellectual freedom is a far broader category. My interest in exploring format in relation to this broader notion of mobility of study is precisely to consider whether we face, as media scholars, conditions of disciplinary movement that are unique to our field and which warrant a closer relationship to the libraries that serve our field-making endeavors. In addition (and more importantly) this presentation will introduce the notion that intellectual freedom itself is format-specific and a design that can only support what scholars of media do if we embrace it only in its most utopian and unachievable form.


Kalani Michell

Goethe University Frankfurt

Cinema Journal in Your Ears: Podcasting Media Studies

In 2013, a podcast accompanying a scholarly publication accompanying an academic network was launched. Aca-Media functioned as a medium of distribution and exhibition on various levels. Sponsored by Cinema Journal, which is published in cooperation with the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the leading scholarly film and media network in the US, it served as a means of extending the reach of academic writing on various medial forms beyond the printed page, reflecting on different strategies of sonic practices to engage with the visual. Through its experimental arrangement of program elements, this podcast offers the opportunity to examine not only a medial format in transition, but also a discipline in transition – media studies at a time in which it itself is in the process of being reformatted.