Dissecting Distribution: The Potential Role(s) of Media Industry Studies Scholars

Curator's Note

My “In Focus” essay surveyed some of the scholarly conversations taking place about distribution. Contrary to frequent claims that “distribution is rarely studied,” the seeming paucity of such scholarship stems from definitional variations as well as the fact that researchers often don’t engage beyond their own subfield. Those examining distribution might benefit by further considering the points of intersection – as well as divergence – across media forms and historical moments.

For example, we might consider what perspectives different media scholars bring to this clip. The predominance of “revolution rhetoric” found here and in features such as these needs to be analyzed. As is the case with much popular discourse, this segment casually deploys the term distribution (lumped with “creation” and “consumption”), but by no means interrogates it. Along with questioning the language of distribution, we might also ask: In what ways is “over-the-top” changing – or might change – distribution practices? What players are involved in distribution, and to what extent are such players' interests (e.g., Google, Time Warner, Netflix, etc.) aligned or in conflict? The complexity of stakeholders’ relationships as well as the materiality of distribution need to be probed further.

Moving beyond this video, I would like to point to another issue pertaining to distribution. This involves our role as media industry scholars in distributing ideas about the industries and their practices. Media industry studies, at least as Jennifer Holt and I conceptualized it when we developed our edited Media Industries collection several years ago, was a useful frame because it enabled us to synthesize existing approaches under a larger label, thereby facilitating dialogue which frequently had been compartmentalized in the past. Most importantly, the frame provided us with a means of moving past well-worn debates about political economy “versus” cultural studies once and for all. MIS, from our perspective, is both. It does both. An MIS approach seemed an especially valuable one to argue for at a time of dramatic institutional and technological transformation. By forwarding media industry studies as a field, we sought to place a wide range of critical media scholars – employing varied methods, objects of analysis, and theoretical frames – in conversation. It is my hope that in the future we can spend more time engaging with ideas about the media industries and less time (re)erecting boundaries or arguing about what is new about media industry studies as a field.


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