Matt and Ross Duffer, the creators of the Netflix show Stranger Things, reported to Rolling Stone that between 15 and 20 networks rejected the pitch for their television show. One executive told the Duffer brothers that a story focusing on four children wouldn’t succeed and that they should focus their story on the white male detective trying to find the missing child. Eventually however, Netflix agreed to produce the show as the brothers envisioned it. Since its release, Stranger Things has become one of the most popular shows in America according to the The Hollywood Reporter and Parrot Analytics. The story detailing the Duffer brothers’ struggle of creating Stranger Things provides a useful example of the types of questions and problems I’m interested in researching.
Film and television portals like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have offered new outlets for creative workers to finance, produce, and distribute their work. The addition of these new creative outlets disrupts many of the existing industry practices and business models. This disruption occurred across many creative industries with the advent of the Internet. My research broadly focuses on how convergence alters the relationships between creative workers and new media businesses. These questions fit within a larger academic discussion on how creativity and commerce intersect within convergence culture. Through these inquiries, I focus on how new media workers and businesses strategically navigate uncertainty and risk in their productions. The majority of my research focuses on the film and television industry although my research interests expand across multiple industries.
Theorists like Henry Jenkins have discussed how convergence has opened up new opportunities for participation and the distribution of creative works, while others like Mark Deuze and Tiziana Terranova have highlighted how these new business models afford the de-valuation of creative labor. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu notes in The Field of Cultural Production that the ability for creative workers to take risks in their productions relies on their ability to exist autonomous of financial concerns. David Hesmondhalgh writes in The Cultural Industries that “high degrees of autonomy for symbol makers in modern societies are likely … to serve the interests of democratization and well-being for greater numbers of people” (p. 243). These cultural theorists highlight how the valuation of art plays in an important role in determining what voices are heard and by whom.
Like Jenkins, my research highlights how many new media businesses provide opportunities for creative laborers that previously wouldn’t have been able to distribute their content. In the case of Netflix and many other online distributors, these opportunities open up doors for producers to reach new audiences around the world and gain symbolic capital. However, I agree with Deuze and Terranova that these practices also increase the risk for the financial exploitation of these workers. My research theorizes and discusses the complexities of the relationship between commerce and creativity online by drawing on a mix of qualitative methods including textual analysis, interviews, and participant observation. Through this, my work highlights what strategies creative workers employ to share their productions and how businesses shape these strategies. Media studies scholars like Amanda D. Lotz, Tim Havens, and Roman Lobato share similar research interests but tend to focus on the business practices of the industry. My research compliments their research by exploring how these industry changes affect the workers and the types of productions.
An example of my research interests can be seen in my paper “Appealing to Niche Audiences: A Typology of Transmedia Storytelling” presented at the 2017 Association for the Education of Journalism and Mass Communication National Conference. This paper argues that television portals uniquely use transmedia storytelling, or stories told across multiple forms of media, as a tool to market themselves to niche audiences while simultaneously providing opportunities for creators to produce content that they could not produce for traditional television companies. Netflix, Hulu, Yahoo Screen, and many other portals regularly pick up shows that traditional television outlets cancel because of poor ratings (e.g., Arrested Development, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Mindy Project, etc.). Because portals do not have to worry about appealing to a large audience within a limited number of broadcasting hours per day, they are able to produce shows for smaller audiences. By producing these transmedial shows with small, passionate audiences, portals appeal to the shows’ pre-existing audiences. This paper showcases how portals’ production decisions work as marketing techniques while simultaneously benefitting producers whose work couldn’t exist in more traditional outlets. Similar lines of inquiry can be seen in my research on Netflix and independent filmmakers, Kingdom Hearts’ use of nostalgia to tell transmedia stories, and intermediaries and influencers in the travel and tourism industry.
Moving forward, my research will continue to explore how media workers and new media industries intersect in regards to creativity and commerce. I am becoming increasingly interested in the strategies creative workers employ to reduce risk during a neoliberal era in which companies increasingly place risk on the individual. While this includes a variety of potential research outlets, one specific area I’m interested in researching is the resurgence of the patron model of financing art. Patreon provides an interesting case in which creative workers in the film and television, music, podcasting, art, etc. industries receive financial support for their work through the support of a network of patrons instead of through larger companies. This strategy allows creative workers to exist outside of pre-existing media industry systems but creates new business models based on networks of reliance.