Forty years ago, Gary Alan Fine created the idea of frame analysis to describe tabletop gaming.

Frame analysis looks at how engrossed a participant is in the game:
1. The primary frame of the real world, the reference point for all activities
2. The game context, with its rules and structures
3. The fictional world presented within the game, in which players appear as characters

It strikes me that frame analysis would also be helpful in understanding different levels of engagement with other participatory media, such as interactive TV shows.

The three frames would look like this:
1. The real world beyond the TV set – everyone is and everything happens within this frame
2. The show context, with the format rules an mechanics – everyone watching show experiences this frame
3. The world of the contestants in the show, for whom a certain % of viewers have voted – those who vote in the show experience this frame. The recipients of their votes are their representatives in the show, analogous to the characters in a game.

At each level you see different degrees of engagement with the show. There could also be additional frames/levels, e.g. for those who only watch the show occasionally, for those watching for the first time, or for those who cast a very high number of votes.

These frames are useful because they create a segmentation profile of the audience. Segmentation is very well understood in games, where I work now – but in TV (my alma mater) it is barely even recognised by most producers.

The great gift of segmentation is that you can tailor what you provide to audience members according to their level of engagement.

The big difference between TV and games is this: a game can look different to every player, whereas in TV you must serve the same show to everyone.

The only way around this is to customise TV viewers’ experiences somewhere else, somewhere other than the TV screen. This is the real potential of interactive TV, a potential of which producers have barely yet scratched the surface: serving viewer-specific experiences not through the TV, but rather through a second screen – laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever device comes next.

Frame analysis could be very helpful in segmenting the audience and in defining who should see what.


Fine, G.A. (1974), Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), in Glas, R. (2013), Breaking Reality: Exploring Pervasive Cheating in Foursquare, Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association 1:1, p.2-3

Link to full text of the Glas article:

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