Aarhus Universitets segl

Transnational VoD Cultures PhD course 2022

The Centre for Transnational Media Research hosted a PhD course with 25 participants from all over the world between 30 May and 1 June 2022. The topic ‘Transnational VoD cultures’ was covered by international experts looking into the impact of video-on-demand services on production, audiences, legal frameworks as well as texts and business models of the industry.

The PhD course was offered as a collaboration between Aarhus University’s Center for Transnational Media research, co-directed by Pia Majbritt Jensen and Cathrin Bengesser, the TV Working Group based at Birkbeck, University of London, led by Janet McCabe and the upcoming Center for Transnational Media at Film University Babelsberg, headed by Susanne Eichner. The course continued the series of transnational TV PhD courses at the Department of Media and Journalism Studies in 2017, 2018 and 2021.

The 2022 iteration of the course brought together young scholars from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Arab region; a broad international mix that was only possible because of the events online format. Their research topics cover policies and strategies of VoD players and regulators, the study of transnational audiences, issues of representation on globally circulating narratives as well as new directions in the flow of content across borders. The participants introduced their topics on the first day through a watch-party, where they shared clips and trailers illustrating their topics. Clips included Netflix’s promotion of their new production hub in Madrid featuring Reed Hastings, the trailer for a new Czech original series Iveta on Voyo, a streaming service prevalent in Eastern Europe, a view into the archive of Greenlandic broadcaster KNR-TV or the Turkish soap opera What is Fatmagul's fault?, which enjoys popularity in the Arab world, Latin America, South Africa and more recently Spain.

In their introductory lecture, Pia Majbritt Jensen and Cathrin Bengesser highlighted how the emergence of Video-on-demand has played a part in the transformation of our academic understanding of transnationality, putting focus on the banal practices of media consumption that crosses borders. At the same time, they emphasized how the “global” players like Netflix can still only be researched from within national or even local media systems and cultures. An example for this is the very diverse European VoD market, which Cathrin Bengesser is charting in her AUFF-funded research project EUVoD, of which she provided some insights into work in progress.

Janet McCabe, co-founder and editor of Critical Studies in Television charted the development of the field of television studies and on-demand-culture with and in the journal, showcasing how research on transnational audiovisual phenomena has undergone a process of legitimation and spread its focus from the Anglo-American context to different regions in the world. Making visible which research is carried out currently and on local levels outside the dominant Anglosphere is a goal of several initiatives emerging from Critical Studies in Television. The one discussed in the course is the blog CST Online. The participants worked together in groups to pitch ideas for posts on the CST blog that can present their research to an international academic and industry audience.

Pia Majbritt Jensen and Cathrin Bengesser discussed challenges in researching young and transnational audiences within the VoD paradigm. In their talk, they presented methodological considerations, findings and reflections on two recent research projects they have been involved in: Screen Encounters with Britain and Reaching Young Audiences. In the discussion, participants discussed issues surrounding establishing trust towards audiences, which vary not only according the age groups but also according to the geographical placement of audiences and topics discussed.

Vilde Schanke Sundet from Oslo University presented the participants with an overview on the changes that VoD has introduced to the Norwegian production landscape, based on her recent book recent book Television Drama in the Age of Streaming. She focused on the productions of the Norwegian public service broadcaster NRK, which was part of the first Netflix original production Lilyhammer and has gained broad international recognition for their online teen drama SKAM. With the participants she discussed the challenges of access to exclusive industry informants; a challenge shared by many.

Susanne Eichner from Film University Babelsberg in Potsdam discussed the impact that the rise of transnational VoD services and streaming distribution have had on the properties of the audiovisual texts we see on there. Under the heading ‘Transnational Grammar’ she discussed ways in which films and series produced for a global market tend to address universal topics such as family and gender roles as well as transnational topics, e.g. relating to global threats like terror. At the same time, she highlighted how they employ strategies to locate series in concrete places through image, sound and (pop-)cultural referencing. Examples for this can be seen in shows like Deutschland 83.

Tim Raats from Vrije University in Brussels gave participants an introduction to the different funding structures for TV and VoD fiction that are prevalent in Europe, focusing specifically on the small markets. For Europe’s small markets the difference to the economies of scale and scope achieved in the US is particularly pronounced, challenging broadcasters, streaming services, producers and distributers to come up with new innovative ways of funding, e.g. through co-productions across the public-private divide. The Flemish market, which he focused on, provides a rich example for this. Following the talk, participants discussed further examples of new funding models, such as the co-financing of Borgen between DR and Netflix.

The participants as well as organizers were happy about the course offering opportunities for meeting and hearing about the work of young scholars far beyond Europe. Some of the work of the young scholars participating in the course will be featured on the CST Online blog over the coming months. The list of topics to discuss in next year’s iteration of the course was long, ranging from VoD in the global periphery to algorithms to green production.