Research Proposal – Television Piracy: Industrial and Audience Practice

It has been far too long since I have blogged, having been caught up with PhD submission, and then the madness of Summer School. However, with juggling various projects at the moment, and some possible upcoming publications, it’s time to ramp this blog back up into gear. First up, the draft of the proposal I am submitting to the University of Queensland for the postdoctoral fellowship. As always, any comments and discussion gratefully received.

RESEARCH PROPOSAL – Television Piracy: Industrial and Audience Practice

Media piracy has become a source of much journalistic and industrial consternation in the digital age. The advent of peer-to-peer filesharing, combined with writeable optical media, followed by portable media players and hard drives which hold multiple terabytes of data, has led to concerns amongst many cultural industries as to the viability of their professions in a future where consumers are not directly paying for the content they consume.

Most of the industrial concern has come from the music and film industries (represented in the US by the RIAA and MPAA, respectively), which have utilised litigation, digital rights management, and scare and shame tactics to try to prevent media piracy from becoming widespread. The television industry has been surprisingly quiet, only resorting to legal action infrequently, even though television is often evoked in discussions of piracy. Questions remain as to whether the effects of piracy are as serious for the television industry, with its differing economic models, and whether their reactions to piracy concerns by modifying industrial models have altered the subsequent effects of piracy.

There have been surprisingly few academic investigations of television piracy in the digital age, with most coverage looking at piracy of satellite or cable signals, rather than internet-based filesharing. Scholars such as Tama Leaver have addressed these issues obliquely (Leaver), with Michael Newman providing one of the few current academic acknowledgements (Newman). Abigail de Kosnik has also provided some insightful commentary on the difficult relationship between the television industry and digital file sharers (De Kosnik). However, none of these pieces approach the issue from all sides, addressing economics, texts, and audience reception in a holistic model.

This research, envisaged at a 2-3 year project, aims to address the following key research questions:

–          Why do individual users pirate television?

–          Do people make content-based decisions on piracy?

–          How do those who pirate television engage with television content in other ways?

–          What are the industrial reactions to television piracy?

–          Are there ways for television producers or networks to monetise piracy?

–          Does television piracy matter the way it might for other cultural industries?

–          How are policy makers addressing television piracy, and what shifts might be beneficial to both industry and audiences?

The primary study would require ethnographic research, both quantitative and qualitative, surveying those who use and pirate television content, as well as in depth interviews with select individuals. In addition, industry personnel will be approached to gauge internal concern regarding the threat of piracy, as well as the ways in which the industry has reacted. These studies will look at select Anglophone markets, specifically the US, Australia, and New Zealand. A possible additional case study will look at the market within an Asian nation, to provide cross-cultural comparison.

Proposed outputs would include journal articles on elements of key findings, two white papers aimed at the television industry and at policy makers, with the complete project presented as a published monograph aimed at an academic audience, but with wider readership.


Works Cited

De Kosnik, Abigail. “Piracy Is the Future of Television.” Convergence Culture Consortium (2010): 1–17. Print.

Leaver, Tama. “Watching Battlestar Galactica in Australia and the Tyranny of Digital Distance.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy 126 (2008): 145. Print.

Newman, Michael Z. “Free TV File-Sharing and the Value of Television.” Television & New Media 13.6 (2012): 463–479. Web. 3 Nov. 2013.





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