Data, Camera, Action
: Screen Production in a Streaming Era

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Data-driven streamers are making deeper inroads into European screen production. Their growing appetite for locally produced content brings new opportunities and challenges for screen workers based in Europe. This production study examines how screenwriters, producers, and directors feel the impact of streaming on their industry, labour, and output. I pay particularly close attention to how these workers interpret and interact with data and algorithms in a streaming environment. The significance of the project results from the way it anchors current industry-level changes in experiences ‘on the ground.’ Beyond the case of screen workers, the thesis demonstrates ways to empirically engage with seemingly ‘black-boxed’ phenomena like data and algorithms in the context of cultural production.

My conceptual and methodological toolkit draws from scholarship within media industry studies, production studies, creative labour studies, critical data studies, and critical algorithm studies. Only a few existing studies within these fields explore the datafication of screen labour. This is where my study intervenes with novel insights from a European context. The findings arise from interviews with 33 screen workers in 12 different countries. I triangulate these data with an interface ethnography, which involves attending events in which the industry presents itself in more public settings. Relying on creative tactics throughout the data generation stage has further enriched this project. For instance, I have asked participants to draw their creative process, a method that has added rich texture and nuance to their verbal accounts.

Throughout this thesis, I argue that screen workers face palpable impacts and effects due to the influx of global streamers in Europe. Participants paint a nuanced picture that is far from black and white: Rather, collaborations with streamers involve significant benefits and drawbacks. On an industry level, global streamers fuel local sectors with money and opportunities. However, some screen workers worry about the long-term ramifications for incumbent players like public service broadcasters (PSBs). Data play a vital role in the battle for eyeballs, and streamers keep their viewing data under lock and key in a way that maintains significant power imbalances. Screen workers also report changes to their labour conditions, for better and for worse. The contrasts are particularly stark at Netflix, where deadlines are tight and stress levels are high. Some workers see eroding quality in their creative output as a result. As such, we can determine a lot about the feel, quality, and success of streaming content by attending to the compromises reported by screen workers. According to my participants, streaming content is defined by its genre format, striking visuals, big talent and brand, light tone, sweetened plots, amplified emotions, political correctness, and American standards.

The results of this thesis echo existing scholarship on creative labour, especially with regard to the ambivalence associated with this type of work. While there are many similarities with previous studies, my project also reveals that the growing presence of global streamers produces new ambiguities. In conclusion, this thesis exemplifies a next-generation production study of a screen landscape increasingly powered by data and algorithms. It paves the way for future research on similar topics, both in academic and industry settings.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorZeena Feldman (Supervisor), Bridget Conor (Supervisor), Zeena Feldman (Supervisor), Bridget Conor (Supervisor), Zeena Feldman (Supervisor) & Bridget Conor (Supervisor)

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