If Lasseter Could See TV Now…

Echoing a previous post on the nature of research, today I am thinking about collaborative ethnography. Luke Eric Lasseter (whose name has been unfortunately misspelled in the source I am using) is the starting point for the type of collaborative ethnography I am interested in. This kind of ethnography involves including the conversation between the ethnographer and the “consultant” as a part of the research although that fits into the category of “reciprocal” ethnography. What makes it collaborative is making the research process and/or end product of some use or relevance to the consultant/s. Collaborative ethnography is not a parasitic relationship; it is a symbiotic mutualistic relationship where all involved are benefited.

This is where I think corporate media research in the home fails.

My favourite example is television research as I am personally quite invested in a number of television series. Nielsen invented television ratings. They measure “more than 40 percent of the world’s viewing behavior—hundreds of channels, thousands of programs, and millions of viewers. This measurement breadth allows clients to plan programming and advertising for their ideal audience.” Networks most commonly cancel a show when the viewership from Nielsen is consistently or increasingly low. This is an example of quantitative research that also carries a number of limitations. For example, Ivan has observed a habit of people leaving the television on in the home to simulate company without actually watching whatever it is showing. Nielsen is trying to expand its accuracy by measuring “Social TV” – the number of users engaging with Twitter during the live airing of a television show and also the reach those tweets have.

However Nielsen does not engage in the content produced by Twitterers. That is where the real qualitative data is and this is where collaborative ethnography can change things for the better.

My favourite example is a Tumblr conversation between Arrow showrunner Mark Guggenheim and Rosie Twiggs about the character development of Ray Palmer.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 3.02.26 pm

Twiggs claims a number of inconsistencies and arguably creepy behaviour that she wants Guggenheim to address and improve upon. By actively engaging in social media, Guggenheim has opened himself up to a conversation with his show’s viewers that could lead to a mutually beneficial product. (Here’s the link for further reading.) Now, I don’t know if he will take Twigg’s advice but I personally think he should.

Showrunners, actors and writers all engage with their viewers on social media, primarily Twitter. They are able to see firsthand how the viewers respond but this ultimately has no sway over the continuation or cancellation of the show. There’s a broken link in this chain that really needs to be addressed.


TV through the ages

When I realised I knew individuals in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview each of them for memories of television in their homes to see how their experiences might compare. Television was introduced to Australian homes starting in 1957. Mary and Jon both grew up in suburban Sydney while Grace and David grew up in rural Australian towns. Jon is an only child while Mary, Grace and David each have younger siblings.

Grace acquired her first television was when her eldest child (Mary) was one year old. Jon first encountered a television in the windows of Grace Brothers on Broadway. He was eleven years old at the time. Before David had a TV in their house, he and his siblings used to sneak over to their next-door neighbour’s place to have a look. The neighbour would come home and kick them out eventually.

“You’d see it in the movies and think ‘Gee, that’d be great [to have a TV at home].’”

All four of them recall the limitations: black-and-white picture, no remote control, specific program periods between 4:30 PM and 10:30 PM. Jon and Mary living in Sydney were also able to see programming in the morning for a few hours. When programming was on hold, there would be static or a test pattern on the screen.

For decades, television sets were three-dimensional shapes and things could be stored on top of them. David recalls the need for a light over the screen in order to see it properly. Mary mentioned the antennae that sat on top.

They each only had one set in the house, since it was so expensive to buy at the time. Eventually Grace and Mary’s house would have a second set. Originally, the sets were in the lounge room, and in Grace and Mary’s informal sitting room, since they had a formal lounge room with stricter rules.

As an only child, Jon would sit on the floor while his parents would sit on the lounge to watch the TV together. They would mostly watch ABC news. Grace didn’t have much time for the television; Mary would watch programs with her brothers and sometimes with their father. The kids would sit on chairs at the front and their father would sit on a big chair at the back. Notable shows include I Dream of Jeannie, Division 4, Homicide, and The Three Stooges. (Mary would watch from near the door so she could hide when they got too violent). David would watch TV on his own, with the whole family or sometimes with just his brothers, usually whomever was awake. He developed the same habits as his father, watching both sets of news (ABC and commercial) and all the popular shows.

When asked to reflect on any meaningful experiences, Jon remarked that he did not have many strong memories of television. “Because it was new, a lot of people had rules about when the television was going to go on. A lot of people predicted that this would be the end of radio. Drive-in movies and picture shows immediately started to lose people. They predicted it would take up a lot of their time. There were all sorts of scare campaigns like, ‘You shouldn’t sit too close because it would affect your eyes or melt your brain.’” Whereas David claimed television “Felt great! Life was boring in the bush” and Mary summarised watching television as “something we did as a family.”

From these four people I’ve found there are a variety of emotions when it comes to the introduction and impact of television on their lives. Some people connect strongly with television while others leave it playing the background as a simulation of company. Nevertheless, the medium is pervasive throughout most family homes.

It’s all connected.

(More information at

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have been thrashing this phrase for at least a month now in the lead up to Marvel’s The Avengers‘ premier. The main reason behind this big marketing strategy is because of the significant impact the premier of Captain America: The Winter Soldier had on the landscape of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe this time last year with the disbanding of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation. What if I told you this was all an example of a transmedia narrative? More about that in the video below.

ACMA knows what’s what… What?

The last text I critiqued was BuzzFeedVideo’s ‘People try the Apple Watch for the first time’ video. This week I am looking at ACMA’s blog post ‘Supply & demand: Catch-up TV leads Australians’ online video use’. Up until this point, I didn’t even know ACMA had a blog, let alone read any of the posts there.

ACMA is the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the tagline on their website being “Making media and communications work for all Australians”. For more about what they do, check out this video:

This post is a part of their mission to provide a “solid platform of evidence to inform decision-makers”. It’s a very long read, divided into 7 sections with an introduction and endnotes, providing sources cited throughout the text, to bookend the five other sections of the article. The report focuses specifically on data about “professionally produced long-form video content” and does not cover short-form clips, user-generated content or other material such as peer-to-peer file sharing. Basically this means they focus on the legal means of acquiring content that is created by socially sanctioned industry professionals where legal proceedings are more likely to be carried out.

Following the introduction, there is a section on device usage comparing television usage to other devices such as desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smartphones, etc. While televisions remain the dominant device for accessing broadcast media, the increase in variety of devices, services and networks has resulted in an increase for other devices especially given the introduction of online video content. This type of content is most typically viewed on computers or internet-enabled televisions. The article then details the services offered online and by whom, showing ABC iview as the longest running catch-up service and remains the most highly visited service. You can also see a breakdown of different services separated by the five types of providers. After this, there are more statistics to make up a section on “key trends among Australia’s home internet users”. The data becomes slightly more qualitative when looking at the reasons why Australians access online video content. Finally, the article lists some upcoming influential factors in the future of online video content for Australia, including the arrival of Netflix and the NBN rollout.

Throughout the article there are graphics, tables and graphs depicting quantitative analysis and data. This information is sourced from various different organisations both internal but mostly external to the government organisation. Therefore, the article basically acts as an amalgamation of statistics and data from various locales, pulling them together and displaying them in an aesthetically pleasing albeit lengthy collection of graphics with text explaining the data depicted and supplementing context and occasionally extra data.

I thought this article would be relevant to my upcoming research project on how Australian university students access their favourite television programs. I’m glad I have realised the limitations in this particular article as I am very interested in both legal and illegal means of access.

Interview with a communications and media student

What is media research? 

It kills me how open-ended this question is, especially when this course is about asking people questions and figuring out exactly what questions you should be asking. I might start this blog with an old classic.

Before the lecture, what did you think research was?

The word “research” always conjures a pretty vivid image in my head of me in a library with my head bent over a book. Usually, the book’s language is quite obtuse I’m combing through it for some semblance of a message I can use in an essay. I might even picture the Summons home page (for those of you not studying at University of Wollongong, Summons is the catalogue system for our library).

How did the lecture change your mind?

I had never considered asking my friend what brand of nail polish she was wearing, or what she knew about the guy sitting across from us, to be research. It is a kind of research, one Marion McCutcheon labels as “everyday” research. This kind of research is different from the kind I was picturing before; it is often flawed due to it being subjective, mostly common sense, casually acquired, sometimes intuitive and always selective. Everyday research may suit my needs but it is by no means something an academic paper can stand on.

Academic research has greater concerns in veracity. It must be as objective as possible in order to have relevance in the real world, i.e. beyond my own life. This means the processes required are more protracted and systematic.

A research question might lend themselves to a specific kind of research: quantitative versus qualitative. So, if I am wondering about the percentage of Australian uni students who use torrenting to access television shows, this is going to require quantitative research. I’m going to need to survey a big sample of uni students in order to have as accurate as possible data. If I am wondering why they use torrenting, this is going to require qualitative research, often in the form of a questionnaire or interview.

What aspect of the media would you like to research?

Funny you ask that, I was just talking about how Australian uni students access their television shows. I am an extremely passionate fan of many television series. As an Australian who has to deal with the delay in transmission of shows from the US and UK to Australia, I personally utilise many different access points in order to get my fill. I’m curious to see how others like me access their shows and what this means for the shows, copyright, profit and legal recourse.

Back to the Future…of media?

Back to the Future 2 screenshot

It’s 2015. I know this is significant to those of you who, like me, have seen Back to the Future 2 and are wondering where your hoverboard is but also slightly relieved we’re not dressing like this. What I’m more concerned about is this:


Meme made by Kae McKenzie

This is my friend’s baby girl and she is not going to grow up as a couch potato victim of monological media (monological meaning one-way conversation and typical of broadcast media). She’s going to know what it’s like being a “prosumer” – this new-fangled word where we are both consumers and producers of media content. And she won’t have to navigate this bumpy transition like we did because it will have already happened. It is happening now though. I’m particularly moved by this evidence of dialogical exchange between a TV show producer (Marc Guggenheim of Arrow) and a fan on Tumblr.

Okay.  That’s fair.  What did he do that was problematic and/or threatening?

First off, I just want to say that I think it’s hilarious that you’re asking what he did that was problematic or threatening, when you have actually responded to women giving you specific examples in the past with scorn and a certain level of derision, but for the sake of discussion, I’ll lay it all out anyway. (click to read more)

I wouldn’t have known about this particular exchange if it hadn’t been reblogged by my friend on her Tumblr and then shared to me in a TV shows discussion group on Facebook. This is only further evidence that we not-so-audience aren’t isolated anymore! So you’re telling me I can talk to anyone about TV???