Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reconceptualizing and Reexamining Suspense as a Predictor of Mediated Sports Enjoyment

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reconceptualizing and Reexamining Suspense as a Predictor of Mediated Sports Enjoyment

Article excerpt

From dramatic television to fear-inducing films to mystery novels, suspense is at the heart of media entertainment. Accordingly, researchers (cf. Vorderer & Knobloch, 2000; Vorderer, Wulff, & Friedrichsen, 1996) have for decades attempted to understand the way that suspense operates in various media contents (so-called text-oriented approaches), as well as how audience members cognitively process and emotionally experience the anticipations and fears associated with these contents (i.e., reception-oriented approaches). As a result, the general knowledge of how suspense seems to function within narratives to elicit certain audience responses has grown. However, to date, conceptualizations of suspense as an element within drama have been fairly broad. That is, researchers largely have treated suspense similarly, regardless of the dramatic media content, be it televisual or filmic, fright-inducing or not, fictional or nonfictional, scripted or unscripted. And in most cases, this approach appears to be completely justified. However, in the current project, the authors will demonstrate how suspense within one form of media entertainment--namely, sports competitions--should perhaps be treated differently. Additionally, the authors will build on the surprisingly small number of sports suspense studies by more thoroughly examining the complex role that suspense plays in the media sports enjoyment process. The ultimate goal is to provide another piece to the broader suspense puzzle, with the hope that greater understanding of the role and function of suspense in the entertainment process might lead to an integrated theory or model of suspense for all entertainment fare.

Few would doubt the prominence of sports on the current media landscape. Many argue that NBC's rating resurgence in Fall 2006 was fueled by, among other programs, the success of Sunday Night Football in America (Porter, 2006). Similarly, ABC's loss in viewership during the same period has been partly attributed to Monday Night Football's move to sister-network ESPN, which coincidentally boasted new records for cable viewership nearly every week of the season (Miller, 2006). On the amateur level, CBS saw an 11% increase in its "March Madness" coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 2005 (Saunders, 2006), while nearly 20 million viewers watched the University of Florida win its second straight title in the 2007 championship game against Ohio State University (Bauder, 2007). Media executives agree that these figures are extremely conservative given the sizeable yet uncounted out-of-home viewing population for sports, which can reach more than 35% of the actual audience for some large events (Eggerton, 2006).

The academic study of why people watch and enjoy mediated sports is quite extensive (for a recent summary, see Raney, 2006). Scholars have identified a host of motivations for and effects of viewing televised sports by applying various entertainment theories and approaches, including selective exposure, uses and gratifications, mood management, and disposition-based theories. Consistently, the research indicates that the dramatic elements of sports competition, in particular the suspenseful action, drives people to tune in and keeps them glued to the set (Bentham, 1802/1931; Bryant, Comisky, & Zillmann, 1977; Bryant & Raney, 2000; Cheska, 1902/1981; Raney, 2003).

Conceptualizing Suspense Within Fictional Drama

Suspense is at the heart of the current study. To date, the most sophisticated analyses of suspense have been conducted with fictional drama, not sports. The authors readily acknowledge the differences both in content and audience approaches to these two sets of programming. However, the similarities are also acknowledged (and discussed at length below). In fact, it is argued that the best way to illuminate the distinctive and complex ways that suspense functions in mediated sports is by examining it through the refined lens of fictional suspense scholarship. …

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