Cinema and Media Studies Streaming Television
Karen Petruska
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0347


Television scholars have been exploring changes within the television industry for decades, with studies of “new” media like cable and satellite television acknowledging the innovative possibilities created by technological advancements while also reasserting the relevance of long-standing modes of practice and conceptual understanding. As such, the emergence of digital technologies as integral to television distribution has inspired work focused on similar themes of change and continuity. While digital technologies span a wide variety of media, this bibliography focuses on streaming television, and as such, related works about streaming video, which may include cinema, gaming, and mobile or social media, may not be included here. There are a variety of reasons for this focus on television, but perhaps most importantly, the content that has consistently animated streaming businesses like Netflix is best called “television,” because it tends to be viewed at home, on small screens, with programming that is serialized or episodic and produced by major media conglomerates. One other caveat is that “streaming television” is only one of a host of common terms to refer to television viewed through the Internet today. Other common terms include convergence, spreadable media, connected viewing, transmedia, web TV, Internet-distributed TV, binge viewing, and subscription video on demand (SVOD), among others. This breadth of keywords demonstrates not only that this is cutting-edge work, but also that scholars and the industry they study are constantly working to pin down an ever-changing research object. To define this evolving area of study, then, this article prioritizes work that builds upon historical and theoretical foundations for the exploration of streaming television. The section organization highlights history, industry, and audience, with additional sections reviewing book-length studies, both single-authored and anthologized. Positioning an entry in any single category is not meant to limit the scope or significance of the work; as such, authors may appear across sections, and some works could comfortably fit under more than one section because the work in this article is nuanced and may feature multiple methodologies. Nevertheless, the section categorizations seek to make sense of a developing subfield and a complex set of objects. The streaming landscape is only becoming more competitive, through the emergence of new streamers (like Hulu and Amazon) and of traditional media companies creating streaming portals (the BBC iPlayer, HBO Max, Paramount+, Disney+, etc.). As such, Netflix may not always be the dominant player in the United States, just as it is often not the dominant player abroad, and for this reason, Netflix is not separated out as an organizing category. This article argues that scholarly work exploring how we study streaming television provides essential tools to understand the industry and its content, now and for years to come.


The single- (or dual-)authored works in this section derive from many of the leading scholars in the emerging field of streaming television. Taken together, they explore foundational concepts and methods to conduct analyses of streaming television, alongside questions about how to continually refine definitions of an ever-shifting object. Lotz 2014 is a foundational text for the field, providing a useful primer on what television has been, what it seems to be becoming, and what that means for those who study and enjoy the medium. That work has since been updated by Lotz 2017, a short book that unpacks critical terminology for the study of streaming video. Robinson 2017 employs the concept of liminality to consider major transformations at all levels of the television ecology, including audience, industry, and regulation. Two books in this section spotlight Netflix. Jenner 2018 is one of the earliest book-length scholarly histories of Netflix, in which the author traces how the company came to be a major player alongside legacy brands. Lobato 2019 brings distribution studies together with global media theory to position Netflix as an example of how a major corporation has attempted to enter a variety of international markets. The author discusses the ways infrastructure, policy, audience practices, and corporate logics influence the global movements of television. Johnson 2019 also explores a non-US context in its survey of the British television industry and how it has adapted to technological changes. Moving beyond established legacy companies, Christian 2018 concentrates on a number of independent streaming companies. Distinctive features of this book include the author’s work to produce content for the web and to advocate for diversity in television by supporting work that features diverse perspectives and performers. YouTube can be difficult to define, but two works position YouTube within television studies. First, Burgess and Green 2018 works to delimit and describe the enormous and chaotic entity that is YouTube, based on the metadata of user activity it collects. Second, Cunningham and Craig 2019 delivers a thorough overview of the emerging social media entertainment sector. With a strong focus on YouTube itself, this book extends its reach by developing an analytical framework able to account for Chinese powerhouses like Youku and Weibo and US-based players like Facebook. Bury 2017 describes conclusions reached after a wide-scale audience survey of audience streaming practices and preferences and features a particular attention to fan activity.

  • Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2018.

    Centered around a large-scale study of YouTube’s most popular content in 2007, this second edition adds contemporary examples to its original data, pulled from metrics of programs categorized as most viewed, discussed, favorited, and responded to. Among the themes that run throughout the book are the tension between YouTube as an amateur site versus a professional one, an exploration of its various efforts to monetize and organize content, and the different ways its users have exploited the site’s functionalities.

  • Bury, Rhiannon. Television 2.0: Viewer and Fan Engagement with Digital TV. New York: Peter Lang, 2017.

    DOI: 10.3726/978-1-4331-3870-6

    Reaching across the fields of television, Internet, reception, and fan studies, Television 2.0 delivers the findings of a major audience survey (conducted in 2010) to add a scholarly perspective to the audience studies conducted by corporate entities like audience measurement companies. Approaching television as a hybrid object, this book engages in a process of reassemblage across television’s industrial, textual, and reception practices by exploring television’s merging with Internet technologies. In addition to spotlighting fan practices and community building, the author gives insight into novel audience viewing strategies like bingeing.

  • Christian, Aymar Jean. Open TV: Innovation beyond Hollywood and the Rise of Web Television. New York: New York University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt1pwtbdd

    A distinctive work of streaming TV scholarship, this book focuses on open television, offering a series of case studies of independent web-distributed series to create a history of efforts to produce content beyond the major media companies. This book explores the author’s own experiences developing independent web TV alongside the insights of over one hundred indie creators and executives interviewed for the book. In addition, the author is committed to identifying and supporting content created by, featuring, and aimed at marginalized communities.

  • Cunningham, Stuart, and David Craig. Social Media Entertainment: The New Intersection of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. New York: New York University Press, 2019.

    Putting forward the term “social media entertainment” (SME) to describe the original content produced by companies like YouTube, Youku, Weibo, Facebook, and other social media sites, the book outlines this emerging “proto-industry.” Based on site visits, interviews, and industry research, the authors map the players and content types, explore the production cultures and business models, and consider the degree to which SME may disrupt the legacy practices of the industry.

  • Jenner, Mareike. Netflix and the Re-Invention of Television. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-94316-9

    Jenner discerns that while Netflix is disruptive, it ultimately has not restructured television but has instead inserted itself into the established power hierarchies. Using a consideration of “choice” and “control” as through lines to connect the three sections, the book first positions Netflix within media history in chapters about remote controls, VCRs, and digital time-shifting technologies, before moving on to spotlight binge viewing, branding, and quality discourses, and then ending with a discussion of Netflix as a transnational service.

  • Johnson, Catherine. Online TV. London: Routledge, 2019.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315396828

    One distinction of this book is its focus on the UK television industry, but it also lays out critical conceptual frameworks through which to explore the merging of television with the Internet. Johnson explores what is television now by considering it through “content,” “services,” and “frames.” The author does not go so far as to employ “post-television” rhetorics, yet nevertheless contends that television has been changed in some profound ways by the Internet, particularly in our sense of television as a public “service.”

  • Lobato, Ramon. Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution. New York: New York University Press, 2019.

    This book brings together media industry distribution studies and global media studies to explore how Netflix has been received in different national contexts during its rapid global expansion. With a focus on global geography, Lobato studies the uneven progress of Netflix, highlighting the ways content is often unavailable internationally due to geoblocking or other regulatory structures meant to prioritize local content. International territories featured include India, China, Japan, the EU, and Canada.

  • Lotz, Amanda D. The Television Will Be Revolutionized. 2d ed. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

    Written as many changes to television were still in development, and then revised for the second edition, this book constructs a significant historical frame for approaching the discussion of streaming television. In this exploration of post-network television, the author considers audience practices, production strategies, and cultural understandings of television in chapters that explore technology, creation, distribution, financing, and audience measurement as critical ways to unpack what television is becoming.

  • Lotz, Amanda D. Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, 2017.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.9699689

    Inspired by Lisa Gitelman’s discussion of protocols, Lotz contends that cultural understandings of television and its practices are as important in our discussions of streaming television as the distribution technologies that enable it. Employing the term “portal” to distinguish streaming television from legacy models, the author identifies two major factors that derive from nonlinear distribution to distinguish these portals, including the subscription model and the increased contact between creators and audiences through vertical integration.

  • Robinson, M. J. Television on Demand: Curatorial Culture and the Transformation of TV. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.

    Robinson organizes this study of streaming television around five “facets”: viewer behavior and measurement, industry, program development, and regulation. Though this book argues strongly against the imminent demise of television, it nevertheless finds this moment distinctive because of how each facet of the industry has been changed by “nichification.” Broader conclusions unpack key transformations of the contemporary moment, organized around metaphors and the power of liminality to disrupt old practices even while it creates new opportunities.

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