Audience Collaboration in the Niche Creative Industries.

A new guest lecture for BCM303 Collaborative Production Workshop.

Audio Version

Square brackets represent transitions in the lecture slides:


Hello, in this lecture, I want to explore the various ways we can think about what audiences do, and how we might think of audiences as collaborating in the production of media experiences.

A [common misconception] is that audiences are simply consumers at the endpoint of a linear top-down production chain. 

[Feedback] in this system is typically considered in terms of sales and popularity.  Media producers know to make more of a thing because it sells well and makes a good return on investment.

Historically the audience is framed as being entirely [passive]. However, more recently, what we call the creative industries have been forced to take into consideration the collective agency of a type of audience that we call ‘fans’. 

As you may know, the creative industries include a wide range of enterprises from film and fashion to the creative and performing arts, toys and games to photography, architecture and design. However these industries usually only considered fans in terms of further potential [consumption].

My aim for the [first part] of this lecture is to contribute to your understanding of the critical language and theoretical frameworks that have changed the way we think about audiences over time. I also want to give you a range of ways to think about audiences as participants and potential [collaborators] in future projects that you will work on in your careers and professional lives. To complete this approach, I’m going to be focussing on what I call the niche creative industries, and I’ll explain what that means in part two. 

Part One:  Audience Theory

Much of our understanding of what an audience is and what an audience does comes from attempts to understanding the concept of meaning. Although these ideas are often expressed in terms of meaning, it is not meaning that we are ultimately concerned with in this lecture, but rather what audiences are doing with meaning, and how that informs their role as audiences.

Frankfurt School

The [Frankfurt School], or the [Institute for Social Research], was established in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1918 and it featured several important theorists, including [Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse].

Together this group was using [Marxist-informed theory] as well as new ideas from sociology and psychology, to critique modernity, capitalism and mass culture.  

They were interested in examining people, society and culture and attempting to figure out why the [working class] didn’t [overthrow] their [political and economic] masters.

Leader of the Frankfurt School, [Max Horkheimer] recognised that people don’t behave in [logical] ways and that we don’t [act] in our collective or individual best interests. 

He argued that [capitalism] had successfully integrated the working class into its system, structuring a divide between those in long term employment and those under or non-employed.

According to Horkheimer [capitalism] is successful because of the way it convinces the working class to maintain the status quo and maintain what jobs, property, wealth and advantages they do have.

This has the effect of cementing the class division between the wealthy elite and middle class and between the middle-class and the working class. 

Horkheimer and others like [Theodor Adorno] and examined economic, psychological, political, cultural and social forces, to shed light on the various ways that capitalism encourages conformity and this became known as [critical theory]. 

Critical theory serves as the first point on our trajectory for thinking about audiences. It argues that [audiences] make meaning according to the ways that the ruling class dictates. It views [audiences] as passive receivers of messages that convince them that the status quo is in their best interests.

In 1933 as the [National Socialist German Workers Party] took control of Germany, the Frankfurt School and its intellectuals went into exile and eventually moved to Columbia University in [New York.] 

Horkheimer and Adorno would go on to write the [Dialectic of Enlightenment], in which they argue that modern totalitarianism originated during the enlightenment. 

The argued the period of history known for the turn to reason and rationality laid the foundation for objectivism, conformity and standardisation applied to the whole of society, leading to the rise of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Capitalist America in which individuals are treated merely as parts of a giant machine. 

This view led to a critique of what Adorno called the Culture Industries, and he said in its appeal to the masses: [“Culture today is infecting everything with sameness.”] 

Critical theory saw popular culture as a system with the unanimous goal of making money. The culture industries simply sought to please as many people as much of the time as possible and therefore have no artistic, creative, social, educational, or indeed cultural merit. 

Adorno and the Frankfurt School argued that the sameness of mass culture was depriving audiences and robbing them of individuality and self-expression that would assist in the resistance of totalitarianism. So it is unsurprising that these theories have been recently resurrected as can be seen in this [article] from Stuart Jefferies in the Guardian, responding to Trump’s victory in the US election in 2016. 

Responding to how [Print, Radio and Screen] media had been so useful in establishing and maintaining the Nazi party through propaganda, Adorno viewed the culture industries as having a terrible effect on audiences’ ability to discern and think critically. 

Adorno, for example, criticised audiences for liking popular music such as Jazz over more important culturally significant contributions like Classical music. 

This is the same type of argument that is used against social media and platforms like YouTube.

Their view was that audiences didn’t know better and should not be encouraged to enjoy such unrefined taste, because this would further limit their ability to engage in opposing authoritarianism and capitalism.

The main problem with this theory is the view that audiences in this model have no [agency]. 

Agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make choices. The idea is contrasted with structures that influence those choices, such as class, age, religion, gender, ethnicity, genes, education, culture and so on.

Communication and Cultural Models

Of course, there is much more to critical theory. However, I want to move on and start to plot out a [trajectory] for thinking about audiences and briefly discuss two models that originate in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The first is Marshall McLuhan’s approach to understanding media in 1964 that proposed that a [communication] medium itself should be the attention of study, not the messages it carries. This has important implications for audiences in the internet era, which Ted Mitew unpacked for you in a previous lecture, so I’m going to move on to the cultural model of [communication] and media studies.

This model emerged from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS). The Birmingham School, as it is known, was founded in 1964 by Richard Hoggart, and I’m going to focus on the work of Stuart Hall who led the school for ten years from 1969 and his model of understanding how audiences,  called [encoding/decoding].

Hall was building on the foundation of the [dialectical model] and what’s known as the [structuralist model] of meaning, established by thinkers like [Louis Althusser] and [Roland Barthes], which inherited the Marxist understanding of how audiences were structured according to [Ideological State Apparatuses]. ISAs include schools, legal systems, media, banks, religions, corporations and governments, as well as other institutions that act both explicitly and unconsciously to reinforce the power of the ruling class through capitalist ideology, by producing systems in which audiences internalise and reproduce these ideologies. 

ISAs employ a linguistic discourse approach to domination that is reproduced by institutional practice and structures: Television, for example, works for powerful interests, like nation-states, even when critical of individual governments. 

The Marxist theory of [cultural hegemony] developed by Antonio Gramsci is the idea that the ruling class manipulates the value systems of society, in ways that convince its subjects to consent willingly. 

An example of cultural hegemony operating in the ideological state apparatus of screen media is the notion of [professional codes].

Professional Codes in screen media can be recognised as the [technical competencies] which are called “production values”.

Barthes mentioned previously, argued that the media have become myth-makers, who are capable of producing rules and conventions through the construction of ideology embedded in professional codes. For example, before the internet, celebrities were constructed as mythical people with qualities that lifted them above ordinary folk. Of course, these qualities were all the just the result of the professional codes of institutions like Hollywood. We see this today with Social Media, particularly Instagram and the use of filters and photoshopping by media influences to construct the idea of their best selves.

Hall described these codes as having political and ideological order imprinted in them that have themselves become institutionalised, including [scripting, editing, camera operation, music arrangement, direction and acting, as well as stars and celebrities] among others. 

Through these codes, media producers are able to ‘encode’ the preferred meanings and embedding ideology and specific values via notions like professionalism, scene selection, even narrative and information order, that are not objective but highly selective and deliberate. 

The critical theorists were anxious that these codes create unthinking, obedient citizens who were slaves to capitalist ideology.  

All media argues Hall, [encode] their products with the interests of the dominant hegemonic forces structurally bound in professional codes even when the meaning of texts themselves may be in direct opposition to those forces. 

However, Stuart Hall’s approach is enormously important because he reworked the structuralist and critical theories of ideology into a systematic theory of media audiences, which recognised the broader and there social and cultural functions of texts that emphasised the [agency] of audiences.

Hall’s approach criticised Althusser and Gramsci, for assuming that the audience simply internalises ideology, and that mass media functions merely to reproduce capitalist values. 

Hall recognised that audiences don’t just consume and replicate capitalist values but rather have much more agency and indeed even had the capacity for entirely subversive responses to products they regularly consumed and enjoy.

Audiences, argued Hall, can exert agency over the intended professional codes, as they actively [decoded] media messages. 

Hall’s model assumes a direct correspondence between the meaning that is intended by a sender and how that meaning is received and understood by an audience/receiver but asserts that processes are not symmetrical.

Instead, Hall identified three broad categories of reading that audiences might engage in when decoding media messages: [the Dominant Reading, the Negotiated Reading and the Oppositional Reading]. 

A dominant reading is in line with the intended meaning of the professional codes of a text, and the audience members accept the preferred meaning encoded by the producer. 

A negotiated reading occurs where the audience may accept some of the preferred meaning of a media production but opposes others. 

An oppositional reading occurs when the audience member may completely disagree with the preferred meanings of media production, decoding the message in a contrary way (Hall 1980: 137).

For those interested in applying these ideas further, the recommended reading to accompany this lecture is Adrienne Shaw’s 2017 article “Encoding and Decoding affordances” Stuart Hall and Interactive Media Technologies. 

Shaw, Adrienne (2017). Encoding and decoding affordances: Stuart Hall and interactive media technologies. Media, Culture & Society. Vol 39, (4).

Participatory Model

The next point of the trajectory for thinking about what audiences do is the idea of participation, in which audiences are directly [contributing] to the encoding/decoding process involved with textual production, distribution and reception. 

The core themes of [Participatory Culture] were proposed by Professor [Henry Jenkins], a fan scholar who popularised the notion that fan labor is a form of civic contribution. He argues that fans are rogue audiences, who go beyond standard decoding to actively “poach” popular culture in order to construct their own cultural framework through fan fiction, artwork, costumes and cosplay, music and video and other forms of participatory media. 

All audiences, argues Jenkins, appropriate the media they consume to some degree in the construction of their personal identities and their social relations with others – this occurs naturally when in conversation with others using the phrase “Have you seen? Or “You should check out…”. Furthermore these participatory practices are magnified and accelerated by the internet, which expanded the creative industries by challenging the logic of media production under the industrial paradigm that only considered audiences as consumers.

Jenkin’s ideas are echoed by Australian media scholar, Graham Turner, who described culture as “…the site where meaning is generated and experience becomes a determining, productive field through which social realities are constructed, experienced and interpreted.” Turner, 1996, p14. 

Two examples of this are the idea of audiences as the [prosumer] and the [produser].

Futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘prosumer’, in 1980 to refer to the idea of an expert consumer, someone like a fan, although that term was not used at the time. Sociologists George Ritzer and Nathan Jurgenson, have argued that even the earliest forms of capitalism are characterised by the continuous cycle between production and consumption, and use the term to suggest how the internet has reclaimed and recognised this conceptual proximity. 

Ritzer, however, is concerned with a type of exploitation that is common in prosumer capitalism, particularly unpaid labour and the offering of products at no cost, largely provided by fan communities. As the internet paradigm is marked by an abundance of content, not scarcity, the free provision of content means that prosumers are often not compensated for contribution. However, this approach is fundamentally problematised by this view of contribution as unpaid labour.

Axel Bruns (2008) concept “produsage” does not frame the audience’s contribution as unpaid labour but rather as a type of participation that occurs through networks of collaboration around which communities emerge and thrive. In its earliest days, Wikipedia was an excellent example of produsage, and the Wiki model still works as a good example of participatory media, especially within media fandoms.  

Produsage occurs where a platform empowers users to build content from the ground up. Participants might not have equal skills or expertise but have equal ability to make a notable contribution to a project. It is here we start to see more nuance appearing in the participatory model, as Mirko Tobias Schafer identified the difference between [implicit and explicit] participation. 

Implicit participation that can be as simple as [liking] a Facebook group or page, favoriting a Tweet or Instagram post, or upvoting or downvoting a post on a subReddit.

Explicit participation occurs where fans are creating art or fiction, producing YouTube videos discussing elements of a show, or organising community events via Facebook (where we might see all levels of Hall’s encoding and decoding in operation). 

In his study of video game culture, Joost Raessens, identifies three types of audience participation: Interpretation, Reconfiguration, and Construction.  

Interpretation occurs when the audience actively deconstructs the mean of a text. This is the primary level of participation and advances the idea of decoding. The audience is actively making meaning, deconstructing the ideas in the text beyond what is operating at the literal surface. Raessens describes this as “breaking through the cracks in the text to disrupt its superficial functioning” (Raessens 2005 : 376).

Reconfiguration is the act of making strategic choices, and this is where the participant goes outside the text to add meaning by liking a Facebook post, sharing an YouTube video or adding a video to a playlist, indeed playlists are long-stand form of media reconfiguration. 

Construction is the third and most pronounced form of participation that makes modifications to a text or adds something that wasn’t present previously. This can be as a minor such as a making a meme or a gif, posting about adding comments to a video on YouTube or as major as a video game modification, an audiovisual mashup, or a work of fan fiction that remixes elements of the primary text.

Fandom is an obvious form of reconfiguration and constructions as it enables the participant to “… control the transformation of a body of information to meet its needs and interests. This transformation should include a capacity to create, change, and recover particular encounters with the body of knowledge, maintaining these encounters as versions of the material.” Joyce, 1995 p.41

Successful media operations now rely heavily on participatory fan cultures to market and advertise their products through social media, but largely fail to understand the true potential of the internet paradigm, often resulting in attempts to curtail and constrain fan activity through ideological state apparatuses, particularly the law and the use of intellectual property, notably trademark and copyright restrictions.

That brings us to the final part of our audience theory trajectory and the idea of collaborating with audiences in the production of media. In order to apply these ideas with examples in part two, I’m going to focus on a specific form of collaboration with audiences, that of conversation, which transforms the idea of producing media texts, into the idea of producing media experiences. This form of audience collaboration is made possible by the dialogic function of the internet paradigm, which collapses the distinction between encoding and decoding meaning making and implicit and explicit participation and increases the agency of audiences as a result.  In part two I’m going to narrow the focus to the idea of producing media experiences in what can be called the Niche Creative Industries. 

[Part Two] 

The Niche Creative Industries involve: Specialist Knowledge, Paratextual Media, Conversational Experiences and Speculative Content.

We are going to examine these concepts across four main platforms: [YouTube, Twitch, Patreon and Kickstarter], starting with [YouTube].  

Specialist Knowledge 

[YouTube] was created by three ex-Paypal employees in 2005, and Google purchased the platform for $1.5 billion USD in 2006. The most recent quarterly reports put the company’s annual revenue at around $15 billion USD. As of late 2019, more than 500 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Much of this content is specialist knowledge, such as fan-created reviews, discussion and critiques. Most of this content lacks the identifiable production codes associated with legacy media and the broadcast industries. 

I can’t help but think Horkheimer and Adorno, would be horrified by the amateur nature of “shitty internet” videos and the platform as a whole. Adorno especially, I suspect would see the billions of hours of vlogs, reviews, how-to videos, Tik Tok collections, conspiracies theories and hobby videos as evidence of the mindlessness of popular culture leading us to replicate the status quo and sleepwalk into totalitarianism, fascism and worse.  

The critical thing to remember is that YouTube was built by its users. It is one of the biggest examples of participatory media. Much like the introduction of the home , and the availability of video recording on [smart phones], YouTube introduced an unprecedented degree of agency for its users seeking to express themselves via the screen. The question of quality is largely irrelevant to the massive numbers of YouTube audiences because the platform has become a hub for experiencing specialist knowledge. 

Many of the high-profile YouTube channels do replicate the production codes of broadcast media but adapt them for the interests of niche audiences. This makes the platform the ideal space for prosumer media, in the sense that Alvin Toffler imagined it – the professional consumer. 

In May 2020, Linus Tech Tips was the 4th most-watched technology channel on the platform, with almost 11 million subscribers and 5 thousand videos. The channel has hundreds of millions of views each month, with a total number of views in the billions. It’s star persona, Linus Sebastian is a YouTube Micro-Celebrity. Micro, not in the sense of the size of the audience, but in terms of the highly focussed niche in which he operates, which is to showcase highly specialised products in the tech industry, skewing heavily towards the high-end PC user, crossing over in the gamer market. 

Another example of prosumer media is the [Khan Academy]. Translated into several languages the channel has 5.7 million subscribers and 7.5 thousand videos, tens of millions of views and it has transformed the way mathematics and other fields are taught around the world.

It is interesting to note that this channel is criticised for the lack of professional codes associated with formal qualifications in teaching. It also lacks many of the professional codes associated with the educational content of broadcast media. Yet, the Khan Academy has been enormously important for those without access to formal education, and those struggling in traditional education experiences.  

Given the hundreds of millions of comments on these channels, we can situate them on a graph ranging from [Active] users to [Collaborative] audiences.

With large scale success, YouTube has become a platform for much smaller, but equally successful channels engaging with audiences across a fantastic range of niche interests, including [Video Games, Fashion and Cosmetics, Health, Fitness and Lifestyle, Review and Criticism, Sport, Music and Dance, Travel, Technology, Cooking, Education, Pranks and Challenges, Design and Art and Animation. From entirely new genres unique to the platform emerge with their own hybridised production codes encoded in [Daily Vlogging and commentary, Let’s Play and Unboxing videos, Conspiracy theories, tutorials and how-to’s, ASMR and among many, many others].

The majority of these genres are paratextual.

[Paratextual Media]

Literary Theorist, [Gerrad Genette] wrote about paratexts as the liminal materials that accompany a printed text. 

With a [book], for example, the paratexts include the cover, index, author name and publisher information. Paratexts for a [DVD] include the cover, but also the menu and more importantly the other materials like the special features; the director’s commentary, the behind-the-scenes materials, as well as bloopers and deleted scenes. 

With the internet, however, paratexts are divorced from their physical containers, and text starts to stretch out across multiple platforms, and become entwined in the  process of intercommunication.

“Intercommunication is an elaborate layering of types and forms of communication that are filtered and directed and engaged with by particular individuals in interpersonal ways.” (Marshall, 2010. p.4) 

Marshall, P.D. (2010). The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media. Celebrity Studies 1(1): 35-48.

This is not transmedia but rather the way that texts become enrolled in the presentation of on our online selves, our personas.

Intercommunication is a result of the interpretation and decoding process of participatory media, in which individuals are appropriating paratexts and reconfiguring them in order to then encode their personal expression of themselves online. Not just as fans, although fans might be described as experts in this process. But simply liking a Facebook page, tweeting about an episode, or commenting on Subreddit or YouTube video, you become active “participants”. Not only in terms of your agency of expression but also in terms of the algorithmic logic of capitalism that is expressed by those systems.

A [Netflix] series, for example, will have an ‘official’ Facebook page, a Subreddit, a twitter account, and all of its content creators including, producers, directors, actors and crews social media presences will become paratexts for that series, so too does fan activity. The show might have merchandise and associated products that also serve as paratexts for the primary text. The line between official and unofficial paratexts begins to blur through participation, that becomes so active it can be considered as a form of collaboration.

Fan groups on Facebook, moderators of the Subbreddit, YouTube channels analysing and discussing the series, fan-made wikis and so on, all of which is contributing their online persona, which builds the economic potential of the niche creative industries associated with that text. 

All fandom is paratext, and this has become a large part of the niche creative industries. It used to be that derivative works were frowned on, as part of the elitist notions of cultural hegemony, but is now considered a marker of success. 

Take, for example, Minecraft – the economic impact of this one game is so immense that it has its own ecology of paratextual media. This is a big rabbit hole that we could disappear down, so let’s keep it focussed on one example, Hermitcraft.

Hermitcraft is a collective of 27 Minecraft YouTubers and Twitch streamers, of which 23 uploaded Minecraft content regularly to the platform. These are audiences of the game, who have created their own massively successful derivative franchise from the paratext of the YouTube genre of Let’s Play videos.

The team’s Minecraft server acts as a shared world and is restarted for every season. First created in 2012, Hermit craft is now in its seventh season, has 30 million YouTube subscribers and episode one of that season currently has 5.4 million views. One the season is completed the audience can download the server to explore for themselves. 

Current estimates, by Forbes, put 1million views at an advertising revenue of about USD5000, but then you can add sponsorship, Twitch streaming subscriptions, merchandise on top of that. 

(On average YouTube pays between $USD0.01 and $USD 0.03 for an ad view, around $3 – $5 per 1,000 ad views,

So this is a very lucrative paratext, but not all niche and paratextual media command such a high audience, and it’s not necessary to think that you have to have millions of participants to have a successful collaboration with your audiences. 

One of the reasons for Hermitcraft’s success is the production costs are minimal, but that is not to say that the series or its streamers are without professional codes or various ideological positions associated with those codes. Still, those codes are not so much associated with what’s on the screen, but rather the [conversation experience] that is going on around and because of the screen. 

I also want to point out that many YouTubers  are having to respond and negotiate with the ISAs of the YouTube platform itself and its regulators. These channels and their participants have had to adapt to governmental and commercial regulatory mechanisms in the form of advertising and algorithmic recommendation systems, as well as the uncertain management of the advertising revenue system, and multiply iterations of the automated policing of intellectual property rights, censorship, de-platforming and most recently content aimed at younger audiences. 

As the platform has responded to these challenges, YouTube has decreased the value of individual content creators and their participatory audiences, while increasing the value of content coming from the broadcast media industries, particularly large networks. As a company, YouTube is acting more and more like a cable company, and this has profound implications for participatory audiences.

Conversational Experience

While YouTube does has live streaming, and there are other platforms in this space like Mixer and even Facebook, Twitch is perhaps most responsible for establishing the new professional codes of live streaming as part of the niche creative industries.

Twitch was [created] in 2011, as a rebranding from Justin.TV, which was a general-interest streaming platform. Until recently Twitch was devoted entirely to video games, but it has now become a place to watch visual artists, graphic designers, musicians, cosplay creators, and other professional craftspeople practice, perform and produce their art.

Twitch was [purchased] by Amazon in 2014 for US$970 million, in the same year it went viral for a channel which used a command chat translation bot to enter player commands from the chat window. Called Twitch Plays Pokemon, this event has the Guinness World Record for the most participants in a single game with 1,165,140 users contributing commands to the stream. 

This points to the most important feature of live-streaming, which is not the televisual content of the stream, but the experience that is produced by the relationship between the participants in the text chat and the streamer. 

Streamers earn money on the platform through subscriptions. The key to this system is not always responding to every chat comment because this becomes impossible with large numbers of viewers, but rather the conversational experience emerges through collaboration with the audience community through chat, bots, memes, emotes and a range of other interactions. 

These professional codes are still being worked out by companies that own these platforms, in negotiation with their users and their communities. The content and behaviour policies for Twitch streamers are an under constant revision as the company attempts to negotiate a space between other only conversational platforms like Omegle and more adult entertainment activities like web-camming.  

The conversational experience is entirely participatory as the audience engages in real-time decoding and interpretation via the conversation occurring in the chat, which is then encoding as part of the experience which can be reviewed at a later time as a separate video. 

Live streaming of games, but also other media is an example of what Raessens calls the reconfiguration of play. Still, through the paratextual layers of the interface, the conversational experience becomes an example of construction in the niche creative industries that is entirely a product of collaboration between the streamer, the platform and the audience.

This can be quite simple, as with the case of the Kiwi Te Arawa woodcarver whose stream went viral following this clip shared on social media:

Because the streamer, whose channel id is Broxh, is employed by New Zealand Tourism, his Twitch stream became a paratext to that industry. His goal is to get other carvers who are not employed during the pandemic lockdown to share their craft and their culture with the world.

The subscriptions he received however meant that he could then employ others to develop emotes and participate in moderation for the channel and his streams are a mix of viewer chat and responding to questions in between carving:

A much more elaborate form of this conversational experience is the work of Twitch stream TheSushiDragon:

Unlike majorTwitch micro-celebrities, Stefan Li’s persona goes beyond text chat and response to include the contributions of his audience in the performance. )

(Streamer Disguised Toast on Twitch revenue:

Li began on YouTube in 2011, with some viral videos, but felt constrained by the professional codes of the platform. Many find the grind of the production cycle needed to maintain viral viewership on the platform unsustainable. 

If you are reliant on views, rather than a community of engaged participants, that your revenue stream is going to be unreliable. 

Li started as an Overwatch streamer on Twitch, but converted his apartment into a studio by painting the walls green and he created a personal rig to wear that he could program key bind commands for real-time visual effects, and got viewers to assign the music that he would dance and perform to. Paying tips puts your song to the top of the cue – this is a pretty ancient bardic tradition. 

Speculative Collaboration

Speculative collaboration can be thought of as the culmination of specialist knowledge, paratextual media and the conversational experience, operating via user-driven platforms, like [Patreon] and [Discord].

The bigger picture here is Henry Jenkins’ anticipated this form of participatory media when he described internet-based audiences as migratory. When YouTube went through it’s first of four ‘adpocalypses’ back in 2017, and the platform cracked down on a range of different or content creators and began aggressive algorithmic tinkering to benefit legacy media content producers seeking ad revenue on the platform, those creators had to take their audiences away from the platform to maintain the conversational experience. 

Both Patreon and Discord are providing alternatives and indeed centrepieces for dealing with the platforms responses to various ISAs, and this has lead to a much more vibrant and collaboratively drive niche creative media industry.

Patreon is a US-based platform, created by Jack Conte and Sam Yam in 2013 and currently has around 3 million active users, who are providing direct financial support for content creators producing videography, drawing and painting, comic artists and writers, podcasters, musicians, cosplayers, scientists and researchers. There is also a huge range of educational opportunities where you can learn to play the banjo or find out about architecture or even more specialist niches like sailing or 3D printing. Indeed membership sites like Patreon are only likely to be more successful in the future as they offer an entirely different learning experience that benefits from both the expert and the community of participants. 

My area of interest is board games and tabletop games. I began collecting miniature-based games during my PhD, and painting them has become an essential part of my mental health, providing relaxation and thinking time, doing something creative with my hands. This is a niche interest that is widely supported by a range of Patreon experience that cross over between YouTube, Twitch and other social media platforms. The niche even has its own micro-celebrities from around the world, including Australians who produce content regularly. 

By becoming a patron to these channels, I get access to the associated Discord server, which is where the real conversation happens. 

Discord is a freeware voice and video chat application that was initially made for games, but has been embraced by a range of communities using the platform, for education, business, healthcare, and specialisations. With more than 250 million users around the world, Discord is both an old-style internet chat program and the new core for speculative collaboration and conversational experience online. 

Of course, as these platforms become successful, they inevitably end up compromising with ideological forces and Patreon has been criticised by both sides of the left-right political spectrum for deplatforming content creators who fund projects which overt political content and that why some platforms like [Indiegogo] and now on the rise. 

The more significant point is that as an audience member, I get to reconfigure my participation on that platform, into direct collaboration with these content providers. I am regularly chatting with them and the broader community of co-patrons and participants. Interpretation is welcome, and by being a patron I get to have a critical voice that exists beyond a downvote, dislike or negative YouTube comment. This shift the focus of encoding from discrete or even serialised content to an ongoing processual and experiential relationship based on conversation and collaboration is the reason for this models success 

So to conclude, we can then fill in the details of our participatory matrix. Adding these platforms and others, including crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and of course, throwing social media into the mix. You might like to think about where you would place these and your favourite platforms in this matrix. Where would Spotify sit for example?


So there we have it, hopefully, part 1 gave you a series of conceptual tools for thinking critically about audiences, and part 2 might have provided some ideas for planning future potential collaborations with audiences, or at least planted the idea of thinking about your audiences as participants in your media work in the future.

BCM215 Game Media Industries: Discourse, History and Planning the Digital Artifact

In this lecture, I expand on the idea of discourse from the previous video and explore the history of video games in terms of the relationship between analogue and digital games. 

In the second part of the lecture, I focus on progressing the core learning assessment strategy for this subject and consider ways of planning a successful digital artifact.

BCM325 Future Cultures: Why Science Fiction?

BCM325 Future Cultures is a third-year subject in the major of Digital and Social Media, which is one of five majors in the Bachelor of Communication and Media. Previously the subject was called ‘Cyberculture’ and had a very techno-social focus, with an emphasis on regulation and policy. My revisions for the subject have responded to the attention that digital, social and emergent media already receives in earlier subjects in the major and even subjects in the core subjects of degree, after all these are ‘the’ media that graduates will be working, in, with and around. Future Cultures has been refocussed around the primary goal of challenging students to think about the future across three time scales: the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term. The subject has a student blog, which students contribute to here.

As the major is going to be offered across multiple campuses including Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai over the next few years, I have transitioned to a blended learning approach, which provides the lecture material in a series of online videos. My approach to the three-hour face-to-face seminar time mixes a little of the old and a little of the new. One of my favourite experiences as an undergraduate was the screenings of movies that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to or had the opportunity to view. Student’s today have more access to this type of content but don’t often choose to watch it. Similarly, classroom discussion in traditional tutorial mode is often hampered by an increased level of student anxiety, and less available time to prepare and do the background readings and research that would help them to speak from an informed position. Our students, however, are encouraged to use Twitter during their first-year lectures, deploying the hashtags #BCM112 and #BCM110 to develop their sense of a cohort and engage with the content, using memes, gifs and the obligatory shitposting.

Enter live Tweeting. One of my favourite experiences at academic conferences is the ‘backchannel’ conversations and coverage that comes from the rapid live tweeting of speakers and presentations. Similarly, some of the most interesting Twitter threads emerge from the live tweeting of events and especially from fans participating in the coverage of their favourite shows. Live tweeting is not an easy skill to develop, it requires advanced practices in note taking, listening and the ability to distil information rapidly, and in such a way that it contributes to the understanding of those not physically present. Even if students don’t go on to continue using Twitter, and many don’t, it is a valuable process that supports student learning, and confidence in engaging in real-time analysis, research and critical conversation that will be useful to their future careers in the media and communication industries.

This brings me to science fiction. Over the course of the session, students engage in the live tweeting of science fiction movies from the previous one hundred years. Beginning with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, moving through Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, both Blade Runners, the original animated Ghost in the Shell, and ending with Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime. The point is to consider the way the future has been represented in the past and to contemplate the tension between the representation of the future and its reality. Students must tweet during the screening, using the #BCM325 hashtag and are assessed on their ability to engage with each other and outsiders, who often comment on the live tweeting stream, and make sense of the films for a public audience.

In the above video, I explain why we are using Science Fiction to think about the future in more detail, drawing very briefly on the work of two SF scholars, Istvan Cicsery-Ronay and Darko Suvin.

Future Cultures

It is a new year and a new semester, and I have been busy writing a new set of lectures for BCM325 Future Cultures.

As this subject is going to be available across four campuses over the next couple of years, in Wollongong, Hong Kong, South West Sydney and Dubai, I’ve elected to record them as video lectures.

I’ve been learning Final Cut Pro, but have been screen capturing from Prezi for the time being.

This is the Week One introductory lecture:
And a short guide to Live Tweeting, our seminar activity:

Two colleagues from the University of Wollongong Library, Michael Organ and Rebecca Daly, will be presenting our peer-reviewed paper on the virtual Yellow House pilot project at the VALA2016 conference this week in Melbourne. Owen Godfrey (@Cider3dPrinter) put together these two short videos to give a quick demonstration of the simulation and how it looks on screen and in the Oculus Rift.




taking entrepreneurship seriously

Australia is a stagnant nation, politically, socially, technologically and intellectually and it is really OK to admit this. We have great ideas, great talent, and an amazing environment that our creatives, experts, innovators and risk-takers have to leave in order to be successful more often than they should and more often that is healthy for those of us who remain. Our political ‘leaders’ on all sides have failed to understand, plan and build for this, and we need only look to the NBN for evidence; a world class national broadband network that would propel our little creative nation into the future was abandoned, settling for second sixteenth sixty fourth best because it’s too expensive, too hard, too politically messy to do better.

Wollongong is a city with a great deal of potential and the University of Wollongong is a university of students, academics and professional staff who all punch well above their budgets. I will excuse that mangled fighting cliche by doubling down on it and suggesting that ‘we’ are not prepared, as Ronda Rousey says (UFC women’s champion visiting Australia this week), to be a ‘do-nothing-bitch’. I’m obviously stepping out of the gender politics of that statement in order to appropriate the core elements of Rousey’s straightforward philosophy here to argue that we are not going to sit back and let others take care of our future and the challenges that will we face. We are not going to do nothing, but what are we going to do?

This is a crucial question for students graduating this year, and the next, and the year after. The only consistency we are going to face in the future is massive change and to be prepared for that means taking charge, forming networks, and solving problems. This includes divesting ourselves of the idea that the fields, industries and businesses that students anticipate working in, and being employed in, will be as stable (or present) as they were in the past. This is already the case for the students in Media and Communication  and Journalism degrees, witnessing firsthand the transformation of journalism, and is only a matter of time for others in the Creative Arts, Health, Science, Law, Engineering, and so on. Even if the disruption isn’t as massive, it will still require an appropriate response. Failure to change and adapt is failure (see our previous PM). The result is that we need to take student entrepreneurship seriously. Entrepreneurship isn’t something to aspire to following an undergraduate degree, it’s something that needs to become fundamental to what undergraduates, at least in the Creative Industries, must be aware of, embrace and experiment with.

This was my reaction following my first experience of Creative3, the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia annual forum, in Brisbane this week. Celebrating ideas and innovation, the line-up of entrepreneurs was exciting, passionate and creative yet almost entirely lacking in real radical thinking. There were very impressive success stories in business, retail, marketing, social media and new product dimensions; like the Shoes of Prey’s online shopping returning to bricks and mortar stores with their design-a-shoe product service; QxBranch’s quantum analytics of rocket science; and Bonza’s approach to user generated culture; but all of these are applications are iterations of innovations that originate elsewhere, and are perhaps most notable for their ability to attract investors (this is not a bad thing). As a side note it was interesting to hear of Brisbane’s last major game studio, Halfbrick, becoming a YouTube content producer, as their game ‘designers’ are let go following the department of Fruit Ninja’s primary developer Luke Muscat. Maybe games companies do need to stop thinking of themselves as content creators in only one medium, but that is not an excuse to endlessly recycle ideas and turn every game success into a animated YouTube series. Perhaps I am a little jealous that QUT students will get to potentially contribute content with Halfbrick retaining editorial control, and presumably the donated copyrights, but as one attendee noted with concern, that if the student’s work goes unpaid when it supports a revenue stream, then that is a textbook case of exploitation.

The most impressive presentation for me was Thea Baumann, the creative technologist and CEO of Metaverse Makeovers, and the augmented reality product Metaverse Nails, which uses QR codes and AR technology to produce interactive adhesive nails, which are pure cyberglam. What sounds like a gimmick is a triumph of 2D (if nail surfaces can be thought of as a flat dimension) and 3D design, app design and manufacturing. Metaverse Nails are a glimpse into the future of a world enhanced by virtual and augmented realities, but Thea’s presentation gave me that real mind blown feeling as she recounted the challenges in taking her ideas to Japan and China. She reminded us that while everyday Chinese internet users might be able to move around the firewall, this is not the case for businesses, particularly those working internationally. Perhaps most the powerful challenge to the Australian innovation ecology was the acceptance of China as a copycat culture and the need to let go of intellectual property concerns when trying to compete in the amazing technoculture of shanzhai, in which copyright and intellectual property means nothing and risk, speed, creativity, innovation, and expertise is everything. I’m also very fond of the Metaverse Nails as unsuccessful crowdfunded project, having first hand. experience of the intensive demands and extensive peer-to-peer networking involved in that model of investment.

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about business, investment and selling products, services and ideas, or at least we can’t keep imagining it to be so. Take the fictional lemonade stand that is often the case study, it’s not that we need to make the ‘ultimate lemonade experience’, as affective marketing trends and agencies might suggest, but rather we need to cut through the jargon, the trending patterns, the bad data visualisation and the elitism of investment culture, to make entrepreneurial options possible for students as effective and long lasting career choices. Business, investment and entrepreneurial culture, like political culture, is yet to properly address the problems facing us a nation, let alone a globe, and it is yet to stop treating sustainability as a buzzword. Dealing with climate change isn’t going to be a marketable ‘experience’,  it’s going to be painful, and it’s going to require risk.

What business and innovation culture can teach us is not to fear failure. Failure is the engine of innovation, and it was very reassuring to hear this message repeated throughout the event, perhaps most notably by CSIRO ‘strategy’ scientist Stefan Hajkowicz (@stefanhajkowicz) as the most necessary element of creative innovation, whether it be the next great product or marketing idea or whether it be in addressing the real challenges that entrepreneurs need to contribute to tackling from climate change, aging and over populations, to microbial drug-resistance, ocean acidity, disruptive technologies and refugee support. With the future of steel in real doubt in the Illawarra, the question is not what jobs graduates will be eligible for in the future, but what careers, products, and services will they create to employ, retrain, and support and how to best insure a successful strategies in funding, investment and innovation to meet these needs. We need more innovators like Shen Narayanasamy.

The University of Wollongong Yellow House Virtual Reality Project

Michael Organ, Rebecca Daly, Neil Cairns from the University of Wollongong, Ted Mitew, myself and others in Graphics Design, History, Media and Politics disciplines have been collaborating on a VR project, for which we recently submitted an OLT seeding grant. Although we missed out we are intending to go forward with the project and seek the funds to develop the prototype stage.

The Yellow House pilot project will create an open access 3D, immersive and interactive virtual reality (VR) gallery based on the Sydney terrace house set up by artist Martin Sharp in the 1970s as an experimental art space.

Using Oculus Rift and similar virtual reality technologies, students and researchers will enter the virtual Yellow House gallery and engage with its historic elements. In addition, they will be able to modify their own Yellow House galley using the open data object created as part of the project.

The VR experience will serve as a virtual gallery space for experimentation and collaborative experiences between academics and students, and as a means for experiencing UOW Library’s expanding digital collections.

The Yellow House gallery will align and integrate with UOW curricula in Digital Communication and Media, and History and Design, for the purpose of readying students for the immersion of these technologies in business, academia and research environments.

This pilot project aims to build and deliver an open access, virtual 3D environment and web gallery for researchers and students to engage with University of Wollongong (UOW) Library collections focused on Australian counterculture art and publishing movements during the 1960s and 1970s.

The web portal will provide the gateway to: * the virtual reality Yellow House space; * open data files of this product for reuse, experimentation and redesign by others; and * related collections digitised by UOW Library, such as OZ and the Yellow House collection, among others.

This gallery will be an extension of existing work undertaken by the UOW Library, including the acquisition and digitisation of significant historical Australian collections, such as OZ magazine, and the recent acquisition of the important Yellow House collection of materials.

The gallery will be incorporated into the Library’s existing Digital Collections portal space, and will include the technical capability for students and other users to share their experiences and stories regarding their experiments with the open source files, thus offering students a cutting edge model in which to engage with content.

Minimal research has been done on the Yellow House art collective, to date. Looking at the development of the Yellow House over time enables moving beyond images to encapsulate what is taking place in the social and cultural movements and political discourse of the nation at that time.

This offers a range of new research possibilities into visual communication culture. The web portal will provide a space for researchers, students and the community to contribute to the body of knowledge for this period in Australian history.

//Sidenote. Written into the application, but not very well documented in the rationale, is the provision for the development of a student VR portfolio to potentially offer the student an interface between their work, discipline and degree neutral, for others to interact with and experience. This might be a virtual library, a gallery, an office or hallway, it could be a studio or open environment. Of course, much of this is speculating that commercial VR will be a success at the end of 2016, and on its ways to becoming a ubiquitous technology. The open access and open source Yellow House VR project is a means to test the potential here