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Underground digital audiences

Professor Annette Hill (MKV Lund University)

Media industries face the pressing problem of unmeasured digital viewers.

The case study of the cult television drama series Utopia (Channel Four, Kudos) is used to explore the lived reality of the unmeasured audience, analysing formal and informal relations across production and reception practices.

Utopia attracts underground digital audiences. The drama’s dialogue about geo-politics and subversive tactics resonates with digital viewers who deeply distrust neoliberalism and shadow democracies. Rather than picturing the unmeasured audience as one big, immovable problem, we can see the many faces of piracy in the activities of Utopia fans. We may consider these fans as self-informing media citizens, consumer choice advocates, de-centralised media sharers, and activists. They see themselves as ordinary people who like being treated as intelligent viewers and who want to watch drama in their own way, streaming and binge viewing, without commercial breaks.

Overall, the research argues for the soft power of illegal viewers, users and fans. Underground digital audiences push beyond commercial frames, engaging with culture in ways that complicate, frustrate and outpace traditional media.

Watch this short interview, with Professor Annette Hill, to find out more about underground audiences: