The streaming network: Conceptualizing distribution economy, technology, and power in streaming media services
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionColbjørnsen T. The streaming network: Conceptualizing distribution economy, technology, and power in streaming media services. Convergence. The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1354856520966911
Despite there being more than a decade since the introductions of Netflix’ and Spotify’s online services, few attempts have been made to thoroughly examine and conceptualize streaming and streaming services across culture and media industries. The argument proposed here is that streaming constitutes a distinct form of digital media distribution network, what I refer to as the streaming network. The article asks what constitutes the parts or nodes of such a streaming network, and further what the power relationships between the various parts are. The analysis uses Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, and Kindle Unlimited as examples, building on a wide array of primary and secondary document sources. The analysis contains a stepwise discussion and visualization of how human and nonhuman actors in this streaming network are connected by way of flows of content, data, and money, as well as by relationships of control, access, and exposure. The argument draws on theories of network power, platform power, and algorithmic power. The analysis highlights the asymmetrical relationships between, on the one hand, users and content providers, and on the other, streaming providers and device and software makers. No single actor in the network is able to exercise full control, but users and content originators are seen as particularly vulnerable. Streaming providers and device and software makers are able to maneuver the network to strengthen their relative position.