The Rise of Digital Board Games in the Midst of a Global Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and many are trapped in their homes in isolation, a strange trend has begun to emerge in gaming: a rise in Digital Board Games. Berserk Games’ Tabletop Simulator is by no means a niche game, likely sitting in over one million players’ Steam Libraries. Despite this, the concept of ‘regressing’ to board games when more exciting games are readily available was a strange idea to many, with most players using in-built modding capabilities to make more extraordinary tabletop games of their own. Since March of 2020 however, Tabletop Simulator has seen a huge spike in players, greater than ever before. Of course during these unprecedented times, many gamers have been granted significant amounts of extra free time, and this clearly shows in statistics for all games across Steam. While this was bound to be the case, the spike in players of online, digital board games is distinct to this broader trend – simply put, more players are craving a board game experience than ever before.

There’s something so intensely tactile and personal about a physical, tabletop game. Rolling dice, tapping counters against the board to count spaces, moving the wrong piece or flipping the table in rage. While most video games are far from linear and rigid, theres an innate human unpredictability to a physical game that no coded events can match. It’s because of this that board games become the epicentre of fond social memories; every time a player forgets a rule in Monopoly, or adds a new wild card in Uno, the game becomes a completely unique and personal experience – for better or for worse – that only the players at the table can ever experience. This combined with the fact that board games are impossible – or at least incredibly difficult – to play alone, and that only people sat metres away from you are able to share in the experience, is what makes board games so special.

Tabletop Simulator‘s goal is simple: create a multiplayer, physics-based tabletop sandbox. The game has suggestions of games, of rules, of strategies, but insists that this should all be upheld by the players and the players only. The game merely gives players a cursor to grab and move pieces and gives them free reign of the table. No event is scripted; the die doesn’t roll at the click of a button, the counters don’t move automatically – all the power is given to the players. Human mistakes, fumbling actions, and strange interpretations of the rules are all facilitated by this format. The result of this is as close as many can get to the authentic board game experience without sitting around a table and actually playing one. It is no wonder, then, that despite many leaving the board game format behind, to pursue the more exciting digital world of gaming, so many players, cooped up in their homes, missing their friends and family, have leapt into the world of Tabletop Simulator. For many, at least for the near future, the game is one avenue to allow players to feel pure, authentic and chaotic human interaction from the loneliness of lockdown.

Free Labour in YouTube’s Capitalist Society

Digital media has had an undoubtedly huge effect on the world of work in many positive, but also many problematic ways. One of the many branches that digital media has unlocked is a whole new sphere of occupations; not only are there new ways to work, there are entirely new – and entirely digital – places to work. In 2007, YouTube launched its ‘Partner Program’ (Official YouTube Blog, 2007) after growing astronomically in 2006, creating advertising spaces on and around particular users’ generated content and offering said users a cut of the profits made from this. To users at the time, the partner program represented greener pastures on the horizon, where users could now be paid to create content that they were otherwise gladly making purely for their own personal interests (for free). This essay, however, will explore how digital media has bolstered the concept of ‘free labour’ and changed the way people work. Concerning user-generated content production, particularly on YouTube, this essay will discuss the impact of the YouTube Partner Program, its creator-centric facade and its sinister exploitative underbelly, which solidifies and embodies the notion of immaterial labour.


An Introduction to Free Labour in the Digital Age

Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited. (Terranova, 2000)

Terranova wholly and eloquently summarises the dangers within the concept of free labour. Free labour or immaterial labour is a term for labour that produces no ‘material’ goods (i.e produces cultural or personal rewards as opposed to currency or ‘material goods’) for the labourer (Hardt and Negri, 2001). The danger, as Terranova explains, is the practice of commodifying – or transforming into trade value – these tasks and activities that are not generally understood as traditional ‘labour’ due to them yielding immaterial results. In the early internet days, as Terranova goes on to explain when summarising the case of The AOL Community Leader Programme, corporations like AOL manipulated people into free labour by attracting users of their sites to moderate chat rooms and community boards purely for fun, cultural and social reasons, something which has since become widely understood as ‘real’ labour that should certainly be rewarded like any other professional occupation, resulting in legal action to be taken against the offending corporations (Priceonomics, 2014). Since the AOL controversy, users have become wiser to outward exploitation of this calibre, yet online corporations have arguably only become more exploitative and manipulative, deeper disguising what is actually labour within the services of the sites they host.

In 2012, Facebook announced that the average revenue it makes per individual user of its then 955 million monthly active users quarterly was $1.21 (Facebook, 2012); with companies like Facebook making extortionate amounts of money from the content users, immaterial labour is clearly easy to lace into online services. Of course, many users extract immaterial value, whether that be social or emotional value, through generating content for sites like Facebook due to the networking service they present, so the argument of whether Facebook is forcing free labour out of its users is incredibly debatable. The point still stands that the users’ role in producing a current of profit exclusively for the corporation sitting beneath the facade of the site or service they provide is often overlooked by the very users in question, and the ethics of this lack of transparency are certainly something that should be discussed. Nicholas Carr puts this bluntly when comparing this type of business to sharecropping in agriculture – where a landowner will allow a tenant to use and work the land for a cut of the produce – explaining that:

One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few. (Carr, 2017)

The premise of this business model is that the ‘many’ performing the labour make insignificant amounts of money through advertising revenue, but when every cent of every user’s revenue are totalled into one bucket, the ‘few’ snatches a lot of money exclusively for themselves for doing essentially nothing. Besides the obvious parallels between sharecropping, the print industry and alike, the premise of this business model on this sheer scale is undeniably something that could only be achievable in the digital age due to the advent of the internet and digital media and is certainly a potential downside to Web 2.0.

In the argument of what constitutes actual labour, reward for labour is at the epicentre of the debate. In the traditional sense, the word ‘labour’ implies work that one is employed to do, usually for a reward, which is usually payment in the form of money. Of course, alongside this, volunteer work is understood as work done for free, usually with the ‘reward’ for the labour being something else of value to the person performing the labour. In the case of a volunteer shop assistant, for better or for worse, the personal value the volunteer may be rewarded with could be experience working a shop, to further the future of their career. In more specific industries, such as film or journalism, often people will volunteer for labour for the sake of exposure, to make a name for oneself. It is acknowledged by most that this type of free labour for ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’ is manipulation – to the point where it has become a niche internet meme of its own (Estrada, n.d.) – yet this type of work continues on despite diminishing returns for the labourer, because independent content generators being manipulated believe that they are receiving value for their labour.

This argument is not about experience nor exposure being invalid or invaluable reasons to work. It is more that if certain corporations can offer these rewards and a monetary incentive, all – or at least most – corporations should. Digital media, for many reasons, has only made this form of work more common. Many users of the internet are under the pretense, or at least are ignorant to, laws that apply to their actions – whether that be copyright laws for photographs, music or art, or labour laws that ensure employee rights are upheld – due to the free and open nature of cyberspace, meaning that work is ignorantly stolen leaving the labourer unpaid. On top of this, the internet is a free-for-all for business startups and small companies that may be financially lacking, who recruit workers with the promise of reward later along the company’s timeline. These are just a few possible explanations why digital media has extended this older work model and enforces the notion of free labour.

It is not just the rewards of labour that have been changed by developments in digital media, types of labour have evolved; new ways to work, like remote working, are becoming feasible and entirely new occupations have been birthed from all this change. With most, if not all jobs requiring a comprehensive understanding of modern technology and social networks, it is not a stretch to say that the world of work has become technology-centric, with digital media infecting even the most isolated of jobs. With new jobs being born out of necessity, it is difficult to maintain a single definition of the word ‘labour’ broad enough to include modern and digital labour; the line of what is and is not ‘labour’ in the digital age is blurred. A perfect example of this is the discussion of review sites, whether it be establishment reviews, such as TripAdvisor, or film review sites like IMDb or Letterboxd. The main premise of these sites is that users review places they’ve been or films they’ve seen so that fellow users can gain an insight on a place or film without being there or seeing it. These sites are so effective because they are born of necessity for a platform and their shared simple premise is very attractive to users. This becomes problematic when a user considers that they are the fundamental driving force of the platform; without the content produced by the user-base, the sites would cease to function entirely.

The sites that host this content gain money from advertising revenue, brand deals and similar streams, while the producers of the content, the users, see nothing of this money. The debate that stems from this is once again a question of value – as previously mentioned, reward for labour does not necessarily equate to financial reward; writers of the content must receive some form of personal reward that is valuable to them, else the user base of the sites would drop significantly. If a writer eats at a terrible restaurant or watches a terrible film, they may feel rewarded through warning other readers. In this case, the readers, too, are rewarded for their use of the service, as they save time and money by avoiding poorly reviewed places. Peter O’Connor eloquently summarises why these platforms have such great success and why they are so ‘rewarding’ to their users: ‘By making it easier for consumers to disseminate their viewpoints, and facilitating access to such opinions, the Internet is having a profound effect on how consumers shop.’ (O’Connor, 2008). The owners of the sites acknowledge this as the reward for users’ labour, with monthly emails praising writers for how much they’ve helped readers and incentivising the production of further content with meaningless milestones, for example on TripAdvisor ‘You can collect points to reach new levels and unlock badges along the way!’ (TripAdvisor, 2019).  While there is undeniably personal value for the users, the revenue that the site owners receive is largely generated from the content produced, but whether this revenue is of greater value than the value the users gain from the service is difficult to discern. Problems like this are certainly not exclusive to jobs in the wake of the rise of digital media, though digital media has been integral in the creation of these platforms and has undeniably allowed this arguably exploitative form of labour to grow further.

YouTube’s Capitalist Society

Despite all the hype surrounding the innovative uses of the internet as a public medium, it is still a medium constructed in a capitalist era…  it is susceptible to the same forces that… defined the nature of radio and television, media once hailed for providing innovative ways of communication… Nowadays, both media have transformed and produce commercial, formulaic programming for the most part. Advertising revenue has more impact on programming than democratic  deals. (Papacharissi, 2002)

Papacharissi’s fears of the internet are incredibly apparent within YouTube. The rise of YouTube echoes the rise of television and radio with great similarities. Upon launch in 2005, YouTube was a bare-bones video hosting site that had as much potential of freedom as the internet itself did; users could share whatever video content they wanted to whoever they wanted for ‘free’. The platform quickly developed into more than just a pool of random videos as creators started uploading to their own schedules, driving traffic not just to a single video, but to the creator’s entire channel of content and content to come. Just like in film, television and radio, specific creators were cast into stardom and built up huge fanbases who would log in every upload day to catch the latest video as it went out – ‘YouTuber’ was quickly becoming an acknowledged profession. The ‘subscription’ service allowed creators to see how many fans they had, and provided easy access to their content for subscribers. This perfect blend of features was unstoppable in propelling YouTube into one of the fastest growing websites of its time (O’malley, 2006). Google was quick to see the capital potential of the platform, purchasing it in the early days of its extreme growth (BBC News, 2006). It was with Google’s purchase that YouTube’s focus for free and open sharing of video content began to take larger leaps towards a focus on generating revenue – understandably, as YouTube had been losing money since its launch. YouTube began ‘partnering’ with channels that had content ‘attractive for advertisers’ (Official YouTube Blog, 2007), offering them a fifty-five percent cut of revenue for every advertisement placed on or around their content (with YouTube/Google taking the remaining forty-five percent) (Peterson, 2013). YouTube since Google’s purchase has only echoed what Papacharissi describes of the television, radio and the internet more and more, with the free and open expanse of communication on YouTube getting dozens of limiting policy changes, prioritising revenue over the very user base that allow for that revenue stream to be a viable one in the first place.

YouTube has quickly evolved from snapping quick videos and posting them for the world to see to scheduled professional production of videos as a full time occupation. YouTube of course still offers free video sharing for all, but the community and the corporate underbelly of the platform undoubtedly have shifted focus onto the professional, money making users. It is hard to fault YouTube for what it has become, offering thousands of users genuine financial reward, however small a cut, for doing what they love. Unfortunately however, these top creators are just the tip of the iceberg of the user base, and what lies beneath the surface is what makes YouTube so problematic. YouTube has become an archetype for vicious capitalism. John Bellers’ famous statement of the poor making the rich in Proposals is impressively applicable three hundred and seventeen years later to the state of YouTube, as I will go on to discuss.

As a good and plentiful living must be the poor’s encouragement; so their  increase, the advantage of the rich; Without them, they cannot be rich; for if one had a hundred thousand acres of land and as many pounds in money, and as many cattle, without a labourer, what would the rich man be, but a labourer? … the labour of the poor being the mines of the rich. (Bellers, 1696)

By 2013, YouTube’s Partner Programme was at its broadest. YouTube themselves were still accepting partnership requests that met their then unspecified and unspoken requirements and taking forty-five percent of the earnings, but had additionally handed out power over partnership to Multi-Channel Networks. These networks were businesses separate from YouTube and Google that offer YouTube Partnerships and other services to help channels grow in exchange for a further cut of the creator’s revenue (Google Support, n.d.). MCN’s (Multi-Channel Networks) had much lower requirements for acceptance, meaning a lot of small creators jumped into long, unbreakable contracts stripping them of upwards of sixty percent of their total revenue just to reap the benefits of the partner programme. Harking back to Bellers’ ‘poor making the rich’ argument and Carr’s sharecropping analogy, YouTube themself and Multi-Channel Networks represent the landowners, and users become labourers of the land, who keep the platform afloat for themselves and each other. Additionally to this, for a long time, well established media properties owned by huge corporations were granted a larger cut of revenue than YouTube’s independent creators in order to make the platform more advertiser friendly and generate more revenue for the corporations and Google. While this was allegedly equalised in 2013 (Peterson, 2013), its effect is visible even six years later, with roughly half of the video spots on the ‘Trending’ feed being dominated by well established corporate entities or properties, despite independent content with similar view counts more so fitting the definition of ‘trending’ not even being included (YouTube, 2019). As evidenced by all the effects above, one could argue that YouTube has almost become a capitalist society of its own.


YouTube, Ad Revenue and Free Labour

It is almost an understatement to say that YouTube has been a driving force in the growth of digital media, fundamentally changing how media is consumed in the twenty first century – the effect of which is evident in other streaming services, like Netflix (Recode, 2017). YouTube’s effect on the digital workspace is equally dramatic. It has generated professions not just for independent personalities who wholly create their own content and post it on the service, but also for teams of content creators, just as in the television and film industries. For example, certain channels may uphold an individual entertainer as the face of the operation with video editors, marketers, producers and alike all orchestrating the content underneath. Additionally, YouTube itself hires employees as a business themselves to keep the platform afloat, with MCNs doing the same. YouTube’s sheer scale has opened up new opportunities for work and entirely new jobs have been created in the wake of its growth. On the other hand, the aforementioned ‘YouTube Society’ that has emerged from the platform undeniably promotes exploitative behaviour, to the extent where it is no exaggeration that in mainstream digital media, no online media platform epitomises the aforementioned dangers of free labour quite like YouTube.

The platform encourages a form of meritocracy in the sense that those that dominate YouTube with the largest subscriber counts and paychecks are ‘selected’ based on the quality of their content; the biggest YouTubers on the platform have earned their rank on the ‘Most Subscribed’ ladder through attracting the most viewers and most shares from viewers – PewDiePie would not have become the most subscribed YouTuber in 2013 (Cohen, 2013) if viewers did not enjoy and share his content enough to elevate him to that level. While this is a neutral system on the part of the service provider in theory, as the users decide who deserves the top spot, corporate interference has undoubtedly swayed this into bias territory. As corporations flooded YouTube to reap the benefits, they became the most advertiser-friendly content on the platform and were elevated in search results and homepage spots almost automatically. Additionally, users are more likely to stick to the content creators and entertainers they enjoy the most and rarely expand their horizons to smaller channels.

In 2018, YouTube shook the core of its platform by enforcing a harsh new requirement for YouTube Partnership, including partnership through an MCN. It stated that ‘starting today we’re changing the eligibility requirement for monetization to 4,000 hours of watchtime within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers.’ (YouTube Creator Blog, 2018). It meant that until a creator reached one thousand subscribers and four thousand hours of watchtime per year, a creator could not be partnered by any means, and thus not be paid for their content.  It is here that the problematic side of YouTube’s influence on work promotes free labour and by exploiting its own system. To reach the requirements of the partner programme, a YouTuber needs to grow their audience, theoretically, through engaging content. YouTube’s system does not necessarily promote engaging content, rather ‘fresh’ content that will make the most ad revenue and garner the most watchtime, usually promoting content with statistics that imply video quality – i.e high like-to-dislike ratios, high view counts and from users with high subscriber counts – by displaying them on the homepage or trending tab (Covington, Adams and Sargin, n.d.). This means that in creating engaging content, a creator will perform free labour and often investing their own finances into a video, in the hopes that they will rise the search ranks and gain views. YouTube’s algorithm will analyse the aforementioned statistics of the video, and in the case of a new channel, will see that the view count is very low, most likely discounting the like-to-dislike ratio from the calculation, as due to low sample size it is not necessarily a fair gage on how engaging the content is. As a result of the other statistics, the video will most likely not be promoted to users and the channel will not gain subscribers, as it is far less advertiser friendly than its competition. New channels are not just at a disadvantage, but the algorithm is actively working against these channels becoming popular. On the other side, established companies and properties are not only likely to gain subscribers and views through cross promotion on other popular media (for example, a chat show could promote their YouTube Channel on television and gain subscribers, theoretically without performing any labour in creating content for the platform), they are actively promoted by YouTube due to their appeal to advertisers. The established large scale YouTubers (in Bellers’ words ‘the rich’) dominate the platform, and as more new channels are created (‘the poor’), ‘the labour of the poor’ becomes ‘the mines of the rich’; The platform promotes free labour of small channels to generate content and culture for the platform to gain subscribers to be paid for their work, but does not reward this and in fact works against them in order to make it easier and quicker for the bigger and more established channels to take more money for themselves and for YouTube. An example of this in action is the rise of the YouTube channel Jablinski Games, created by Hollywood star Jack Black (Black, 2019), which within one week of creation and with merely twenty nine total seconds of content, gained one million subscribers (Socialblade, 2019). Without taking into account the quality of the content, it is clear to see that such huge channel growth in such a short amount of time from a single video is not a natural occurrence in the history of YouTube, the reason it was possible for Jablinski Games to explode like this is due to Jack Black being a well established star. His videos were almost immediately promoted on YouTube trending, due to his celebrity status, and he was able to cross promote his channel on Facebook to his millions of followers.

As outlined earlier in this essay, it is important to note that this type of free labour is not exclusive to YouTube and has been present for years in other industries and is comparable to work ‘for exposure’. On the other hand, this is not usually outspoken or in the case of YouTube, even promoted to such an extent. Usually, free labour like working for exposure is kept under wraps due to its exploitative nature, but YouTube seems to embrace that it relies on the free labour of its small users to keep the larger users afloat, and with policy changes it seems to be sealing it in as a fundamental part of its service. Just as with Facebook, TripAdvisor and the sharecropping of agriculture, labourers are forced to work fields that they do not own, making little to no reward for themselves and the corporation heads or landowners milk the profit. Digital media did not invent sharecropping, but has catalysed a whole new industry of sharecropping. While positive effects have come from digital media’s influence on the world of work, it is without a doubt that without a platform like YouTube at the forefront of digital media, exploitation on this grand scale could not be possible and certainly would not be encouraged.

One of YouTube’s core values is to provide anyone the opportunity to earn money from a thriving channel, and while our policies will evolve over time, our commitment to that value remains… (YouTube Creator Blog, 2018)

… If you’re Jack Black.

Thanks to Alfie Bown for his feedback and input into the discussion.



Continue reading “Free Labour in YouTube’s Capitalist Society”

Horror/Slasher Movies

Horror Movie

Horror/Slasher is a hugely popular genre, which people just cannot resist watching. This article will break down the genre, it’s codes and conventions, narrative structures and more. Be sure to check the hyperlinks for sources and examples!

Let’s Play: Name That Movie!

Let’s Set the Scene:
There is a killer on the loose. Tension is high in the college and students are dropping like flies. A girl and her best friends begin to investigate and find out about the killer, as the police are following cold, near dormant leads. On the other hand, it becomes apparent that the more they learn, the more danger they’re in. The girl and her best friends go to a dangerous situation due to the circumstances, like a party. This becomes a bloodbath. The protagonist’s best friend is killed brutally in front of her. The killer is revealed to be someone right under our noses the entire time. A motive is given and with the help of some information given earlier in the film, the girl manages to escape the killer to tell the tale,

Worked it out yet?

Well, of course, as you probably guessed it was a bit of a trick question. This synopsis, with a few discrepancies in the stories here and there, generally applies to a chunk of the horror/slasher genre. This is a very formulaic, general and cliché set of codes and conventions which can be spotted, at least in part, across a variety of horror films.

codes and conventions

Unfortunately, the conventions of Horror/Slasher movies have become so overplayed that they’ve become a set of tropes, a set of shortcuts that crop up time and time again in movies. Rather than being the defining thing of a genre, or a baseline, as conventions should be, some movies take these conventions as a script written for them and their work entirely consists of them. Generally speaking, there are a few common baseline conventions which tend to crop up to set the scenes.

Helplessness is key to charge any sort of emotion in the horror genre. Without the characters being in a state of peril, simply put, it isn’t a horror movie. There are a lot of ways this is done, mostly through characters’ physiques – i.e  the protagonists not being as physically strong as the enemy, for example in the cases where the lead characters consist of smaller teenagers, usually girls in horror movies (as you’ll learn as this article goes on) against a larger, brawny brute, or even a highly functioning psychopath who has every step the protagonists take mapped out before they even take them. Another way this is achieved, and this one applies to nearly every horror movie, is through the use of a secluded location. A burning question that if left unanswered will ruin a horror movie is: ‘Why didn’t they just call for help?’. Use of a secluded location is the easiest wrap up to that question and all of its stems. Whether it be an abandoned city, a spooky cabin in the woods, even space. As long as they’re trapped alone with noone to save them, peril is much easier to create. Conveniently there is no cellular service in these kinds of places, which helps tie up that loose end too. Another classic convention is that characters don’t treat the situation seriously. There will always be a character who laughs off the danger, or maybe the characters will decide to turn up to places where they could be at risk because they’ve put the situation out of their mind. Also, the idea that locking oneself in a room is apparently safe. Usually a protagonist will jump to the conclusion that they must hide somewhere instead of running away or trying to escape. Either that or they will willingly walk towards and investigate a strange incident.

Another trope that crops up very often is a fake scare- the tone will be set and the audience will expect a scare, but the scare is just a perfectly normal event, like someone making the protagonist jump, etc. Another classic is the stereotypical use of pathetic fallacy – i.e a dark and stormy night – OooOOOoOoOOoh! 


The most notorious stereotype of all is the ‘Final Girl’ trope. The ‘Final Girl’ stereotype states that someone has to live to tell the tale, that it’s most likely the protagonist and that it’s most likely a young woman – hence, ‘final girl’. Theres also a clear correlation which shows that these girls have to be chaste in a good count of cases. Laurie Strode from Halloween, Alice Hardy from Friday the 13th, Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street – hell, even Ellen Ripley from Alien to some extent even shares this. The ‘final girl’ theory, written by Carol J. Clover in her books Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film and Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film is defined by a few characteristics, which are described rather eloquently here:

“The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of the one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl. She is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; whom we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again. She is abject terror personified.” – C.J Clover, Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film

Not only is this a convention of slasher/horror films, it also is an extreme example of stereotyping and representation of women, and arguable sexism that the filmmakers choose to use simply for the sake of following a ‘satisfying’ narrative.

Other stereotypes include the alpha male jock character, who always takes charge, the whore, who is an ‘impure’ popular girl who is far from chaste and for some reason always dies first because of this, the misleading character who ends up being a villain the whole time and finally the stoner/pervert character.


Mise en scene

As with all movies, mise-en-scene is not usually something you can spot all of across loads of different movies. No one movie is exactly identical to another, though there are some clear things that tend to carry across into plenty of movies.

Colour is a common toy to play with in most genres, and most genres have a conventional scheme. With horror movies, it’s green or blue. Blue being cold and harsh and causing the audience to feel more sad and off, green being dirty, eerie and unnerving and giving the audience a feeling of unease. This also ties into Production Technology, as it is nowadays mostly pushed through the use of colour grading.

Related image

Related image Another common colour convention is high contrast. A high contrast image with a low-key light tends to make darker details completely invisible in darkness but also makes richer details much more prominent. Things from eyes all the way down to deep wrinkles are far more accentuated and this can be an incredibly powerful effect because of it. Even something as harmless as Teletubbies looks scary in high contrast.
Image result for why is high contrast scary

This is mostly used when something needs to be shrouded in darkness and needs to be intimidating. This was used to great effect with the spooky nun lady in The Conjuring 2, with her deep black robes, stark white face and deep blood red mouth.
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(I don’t know about you but I find that proper scary.)

Low-key lighting is another classic horror convention when it comes to mise-en-scene. It really sells darkness effectively without the screen being pitch black. This low-key look is done in almost every horror movie at some point in the darkness. One of my favourite usages is in The Exorcist as the Priest arrives (one of the strongest and most memorable images in the entire movie). The lighting is so low-key it reaches a chiaroscuro type effect, giving off a strong noir vibe and really adds creepiness to the scene.

A more contemporary lighting effect that crops up in modern horror films mis-en-scene is the use of lighting in reverse of what is expected. A usual use of high-key lighting implies safety and purity. Warm colours give you security and make you feel comfortable seeing what is going on in full and as if you were in a tungsten lit house. It’s a cosy feeling. Modern horror rather predictably plays on this thought and turns it on its head, throwing your subconscious mind off by throwing horror into a warm scene. Once again The Conjuring 2 comes to mind with the very same shot shown earlier.

Due to the hallway of the house being incredibly well lit and warmly toned, the stark contrast of Valak at the end of the corridor is quite jarring. It’s a super effective scene and hits harder this way, than if it were just another jumpscare. The setting of horror films is very similar to lighting. Conventionally, a horror film will be set, as aforementioned, in a secluded location where no help is available, for example The Woman In Black‘s setting of a fairly stereotypical spooky old house. However, once again as the years have gone on horror films have slowly started bringing the spooks all the way to your front door, throwing terrifying experiences into a nice house and playing with the viewer’s senses of security. A very good example of that – which isn’t quite as in-your-face as something like Paranormal Activity – is Sinister, setting itself in a quaint little house not too different from yours or mine and stereotypically spooky.


Once again delving back into the more Production Technology side of Horror but a genre convention, one of the most classic things to do in a horror is use the camera to your advantage. Cinematographers of horror have a few tricks up their sleeves that they capitalise on across nearly every single horror movie. One of the most common tricks is a simple Dutch angle, or titled frame. This helps sell unease to the audience because the scene isn’t as straight as it used to be so it really pushes this feeling that something is just slightly off about a scene. Here’s a classic use in The Twighlight Zone.

Another classic cinematography technique in horror movies is lining a scare up on the left third. There are countless examples of this in Western cinema, as we read from left to right, which draws our eye to the left naturally. This means the first place you’ll look when it cuts to a scene is the left hand side of the frame and 9 times out of 10 that’s where the scare will be. This is further pushed by the cinematographer’s use of phi, trying to force the viewer to look in that golden direction where the scare seriously hits them. Another way this is achieved is through racking focus. Essentially, any way a cinematographer can guide the viewer’s eye, you’ll see crop up in horror.


Semiotics, or enigma, is nice and eloquently put here by Nick Lacy when talking about Barthe’s Narrative Codes:


To put it in short, an audience will see sign or enigma in a text (or in this case a film) and fill in the blanks using intertextuality. They’ll associate a feeling, image or sound – a sign -to another thing through the context brought from other texts in the genre or even other life lessons in general. Blaringly obvious signs are things like knives, indicating that there’s a killer on the loose, pentagrams – specifically upside-down ones – implying the religious imagery of perversion and evil. The same goes with crosses/crucifixes and upside-down crosses/crucifixes, tending to convey a demonic attachment or an attachment to the antichrist. More recently Ouija boards have become a symbol of poltergeists and once again demons. These signs are chosen because people take this fear of the unknown and take the religious associations very seriously. Even if you don’t believe in such things, a sense of dread and unease certainly comes with these items.

Another piece of imagery that has forever stuck with the horror genre is simply the imagery of eyes. Eyes hold most of the expression and have become a strong symbol in the horror genre. The gaze can tell a story for itself, whether it’s menacing and unnatural, like in The Ring:

Glaring and simply uneasy, to show the intent of the character, like in Psycho:

Or even, pulling from Psycho again, vacant and lifeless, like the eyes of a dead person:

Punching in on a close-up of an eye is not only a convention in the mis-en-scene of the horror genre, but has at this point become a staple piece of symbolism in it too.

Soundtrack is another classic example of semiotics in horror, but also the production technology side of horror. When rising strings kick in, you are to expect a scare from your brain’s desire to know what’s next, through intercontextuality. When a droning sound holds, you are to feel uneasy for the sake of the character. When a large orchestral hit sounds, the scare is ramped up by 10 because you feel threatened by the sound. A contemporary and intriguing use of soundtrack used in Paranormal Activity, particularly is the use of low frequency rumbling tones. This triggers the brain to expect something bad to happen, as it is a similar frequency to waves that accompany natural disaster and also believed to accompany real paranormal activity. This has been dubbed as the ‘Fear Frequency’ and it’s worth looking into if you’re interested in sound design. The movie also plays with this by not only putting it in in times of peril, but also taking it out in times of peril too, leaving the audience completely unsuspecting of any scares without this pre-warning that they eventually become accustomed to.



Narrative Structure

Narrative structure is fairly similar across all lines of horror. Usually, we can apply some extent of Todorov’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ theory onto them.

Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure - Monomyth

Take Scream, for example. The film begins with a prologue, with Drew Barrymore’s infamous death scene, but past that we enter the Hero’s Journey for Sidney. The film starts with an ordinary world and the Call to Adventure is the spark of the killings and their ties to our protagonist. At this point we sort of jump ahead in this case, reaching the the point where our protagonist crosses the threshold by being thrown into the situation by the killer phoning her. She makes an enemy fairly early – Gale, the reporter. Thus begins the many tests of the movie. One of the more in-your-face tests is the test of Sidney losing her virginity. Scream pokes fun at the final girl trope throughout and this is one of the most obvious ones. The first time around is played off, but in the second time, when Billy tries again at the Party, there is an outright narration of the virgin trope. Literally immediately after, Billy is stabbed in the back by the killer and thus presents the Ordeal – the final test, if you will. After gathering the information she has, Sidney now has to defeat and escape the killer, in order for the story to be complete to the final girl trope. Not surprisingly, she finds the motive of the killer(s) and then works to defeat the enemy. Afterwards we reach back to the ordinary world as Gale reports the news in the closing scene. You could argue that the film has a multi-strand story, as Gale undergoes a more selfish Hero’s Journey too, with the Call to Adventure being the return of the killer and with her strong belief that the killer of Sidney’s mother has been falsely accused. The tests are the many attempts to uncover the true identity of the killers, the ordeal is finding them and ultimately saving Sidney’s life and obviously the closing of the film is the resolution for her story too.
Generally speaking, Horror as a genre closely follows this Hero’s Journey format, but with slashers and more conventional horror films switching up the ending for a Final Girl format. Overall I’d state that a closely bonded multi-strand story line, like with the case of Scream is very common in horror as a genre. The strands are very tightly intertwined throughout, which may not be the case in other genres. Even in the most basic group slasher movies, the characters all have their own story branch, but are all incredibly tightly intertwined throughout and you could interpret the killer as another strand as usually a motive is presented throughout the film and obviously while linking with the other strands, it’s usually a very separate story, or side to the coin, that the protagonists are following. Horror movies are fairly closed off narratives. Even films with sequels end pretty straight up and wrap up all the loose ends and don’t leave it open for a sequel that maybe an adventure movie would. We always finish the Hero’s Journey in each film – nothing is left half-way to be closed off later.



Video Games, Aggression and Audience Theory

vid games

The age old debate “Do Video Games Cause Violence?” is a classic heated discussion of not just a vital medium in the media industry, but also, at it’s base level, a discussion of audience theory. In order to fully understand whether or not video games negatively effect the brains of the players, we have to learn about the way the brain consumes media and how the brain processes emotional responses to said media. In the case of video games, it goes without saying that there is a huge impact on the brain, usually featuring highly brain-intensive situations, whether it be anywhere from a puzzle game to a high octane first person shooter. The brain, as you can imagine, certainly is not short of things to do – unless the game is unnecessarily boringThe brain will be constantly occupied, thinking deeply about solutions to problems, surveying landscapes and understanding new worlds or even triggering high speed instincts, which is what sets video games apart from other media, like film and television for example. This is why video games as a medium are so highly praised, improving hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills and alleviating stress. Essentially by playing games a consumer is training themselves to do many things, which in some cases is an excellent thing, with puzzle games like Picross, KAMI and Portal honing in on puzzle solving skills. On the other hand, there is the side of things like first person shooters, i.e Call of Duty and Battlefield highly training hand-eye coordination, speeding up reflexes and generally getting adrenaline flowing. These two examples have a high competitive factor on top of this, which gives depth and reason to entering the world. With something like CS:GO or DOTA 2 there are incredibly high levels of adrenaline and competitive urge to the extent where it has become a full blown electronic sport and profession to play these games.

Image result for esports

To say that this doesn’t influence the brain would be a complete lie. This does, however, include negatively effect too. It is a well known fact that games can become incredibly addictive for a start. Immersing oneself into a world that is rich in lore and pulls you in just by existing in a satisfying way is more than likely going to negatively effect someone interested in the type of games. MMOs and RPGs are most famous for this, with such games as World Of Warcraft – a game currently 13 years old – still retaining it’s original player-base and causing serious addiction. The world is incredibly realistic, with a full blown economy, a breathing population of real people and hugely social guild features. People were fully able to – and some fully prepared to – lose themselves in this virtual expanse and a huge amount of people did – in fact, the same amount of people as the total population of Germany, Belarus and Sweden combined did. Another big problem – or alleged big problem – in the increase in aggression from playing video games. This is probably the most notorious debate of all video game debates. The debate stems from the belief firstly that video games cause aggression and  more specifically that violent video games are a cause of this. First of all,  it is fact that with a high level of focus comes potential frustration and by nature all tests, activities and puzzles cause this. This means it pretty much goes without saying that playing video games can get intense and frustration can ensue. Does this cause aggression in general however? No conclusive evidence has been found. There are several tests that have checked for a correlation of aggression with violent video games and huge waves of mixed results have come back. There is no conclusive proof that explicit violence affects a gamer’s level of aggression. In fact, there is conclusive proof of the opposite – that higher aggression levels are caused by frustration instead – this was tested on Horizon using a game called Bastet (Bastard Tetris), which will pick blocks based on helpfulness: there’s a 70% chance that the next block you are given is the worst possible block for the situation, a 15% chance it’s the second worst possible block, a 9% chance you’ll get the third worst possible block and a 6% chance that you’ll get a useful block. Obviously being designed to frustrate a player, aggression levels bumped up higher comparatively to players playing regular Tetris. Despite great assumptions and apparent correlations between mass murders and the consumption of violent video games, there is such a high level of conflicting evidence that nothing can be proven, though it’s most likely true for mentally unstable individuals, who fail to form a wall between reality and a game, though to most players appreciating the art form and playing as a hobby, just like watching TV, this notion seems ridiculous and almost completely inapplicable to them. Most of these so called correlations have no real evidence backing them, except for the fact that the person just so happens to play video games as well as being a serial killer – remember that 42% of Americans play video games and in 2013, more than 1.2 billion people regularly played games, so these ties, statistically are no surprise. On the other hand, until we find conclusive evidence, we cannot prove that these ties are not more than just simply a violent individual just happening to own games too. The lack of evidence works against both sides of the debate and truly until this evidence arises, we shan’t know.
But how does any of this this relate to audience theory? Well…

Hypodermic needle

The Hypodermic Needle Model is an early method of understanding how an audience takes in media. In essence, it suggests that an audience consume the media and immediately take in all the messages of the media the same way in one specifically designed way. Many definitions will call this a ‘Passive Audience’, as in, they do not object to anything and are impressionable and that the media is consumed one-hundred percent as intended. I would describe it as a black and white look at the product with no grey areas, but really there isn’t even a secondary colour, it’s the thought that everyone has the same view with no questions. The name is rather apt then; like through a hypodermic needle, the substance (in this case, the product) simply is pushed into the body (or in this case, the brains) of the audience and that’s that. This model is considered bonkers at this point, we know that no human thinks the same way as another, we’re all individuals and not one clump of brains that all are impressionable and open to everything. Each person has different morals and each person will accept or reject certain statements too. Gaging responses wasn’t truly written in detail about until people began to question the plausibility, or in this case, the ridiculousness of the 1920s Hypodermic Needle Model. In 1973, Stuart Hall devised a new model, defining a set of specific responses that audiences can take, which seem like no-brainers to us now.


This model was the Encoding/Decoding Model, which explores the different ways that audiences decode media, as opposed to ‘consume’. The term consume has become increasingly out of date as we begin to understand psychology further, as this refers to the idea of just taking the media in simply. Hall refers to it as ‘decoding’ or ‘reading’ in his theorem, the reason for it has been eloquently summed up in the below quote:

“By the word reading we mean not only the capacity to identify and decode a certain number of signs, but also the subjective capacity to put them into a creative relation between themselves and with other signs: a capacity which is, by itself, the condition for a complete awareness of one’s total environment” – The Cultural Studies Reader. Edited by Simon During. 2nd edn. London, England: Taylor & Francis.

In short, Hall talks about three main hypothetical positions, or stances on interpreting media:

  • Dominant-hegemonic Reading
    • The decoder takes connotations from the media straight up with no questions. Taking in the media “Full and Straight” is how it is described.
  • Negotiated Reading
    • The decoder accepts the connotations from the media, accepting what would be the ‘preferred reading’, though applied differently per person. In essence, modifying the media in order to accept it further by applying it to themselves or by reflecting themselves. An example of this is the many layers of Christianity as a religion – it’s all the same book, but many different people take many different stances.
  • Oppositional Reading
    • Simply put, rejecting the code. The exact opposite of dominant-hegemonic reading.


uses and gratifica

The Uses and Gratifications Theory is one of the leading interpretations of the consumption of media and bases itself around the audience’s reasoning for using – reading/consuming – the product. This is famously explained in a quote from Elihu Katz, where he begs the question of “what media does to people”, as opposed to “what people do with media”. At a base level it states that audiences only consume the media they need in their lives, as in, they aren’t cracking a code – ‘consuming media’ – unless they want/need to. This is once again kicking out the Hypodermic Needle Theory and shutting down the idea that an audience is completely passive to all media. According to the theory, the piece of media must be able to provide one of the following to a reader:
Identification: The consumer can pick apart the product and identify with it and apply thoughts that the product raises to their own lives.
Education: Learning from the product.
Entertainment: Gaining pleasure and enjoyment from the product.
Social Interaction: Gaining conversation points and topics to talk about and discuss with other people – sharing an experience and gaining discussion about it.

(Sources: 1, 2)


What does this have to do with video games and aggression you ask? Well it’s more meta than that. On the side that firmly believe that violent video games cause people to become aggressive and violent, they are essentially applying the hypodermic needle model to games and players. They’re assuming that if a player plays a violent game, they immediately and uncontrollably accept everything within the content as acceptable and the games implant this subconscious urge to replicate in-game content (i.e violence). In thinking this way with no given evidence for why, you are implying that this outdated method is taking effect. There are of course people on this side who hypothesise, as opposed to believe, that violent video games do cause people to become more violent, which are inclined to test their hypotheses, which come out with, admittedly, some results that are substantial. Taking a step further into the meta, the people who firmly believe with no necessary evidence that video games do cause violence and aggression due to their violent nature are reading the assumptive media in a dominant-hegemonic position, whereas someone who is waiting for evidence may be more negotiated or oppositional in terms of their position. You could even argue that hearing the statement that ‘Violent Video Games cause aggression and make people violent’ and believing it outright is the reader succumbing to the Hypodermic Needle method.

video games violence

Overall, then, can we say conclusively that violent video games cause aggression? Of course not, not without substantial evidence. On the other hand, can we say that they 100% do not? Not even slightly, despite lots of evidence being on this side, the only way to disprove or prove this notion would be to get evidence from the other side, as until we know for sure it would be lying to outright state that they do not cause aggression. So why does this debate continue? Because it is about more than just aggression – it is about audience theory, about bias, about fact and fiction and a battle of the in-depth psychology of audiences, not just as a whole, but individually.

Task 4 Understanding

Regulatory and Professional Bodies

Regulatory bodies are essentially the authority who are responsible for regulating what is released to the public in the media. They help protect an audience from offensive material to avoid complaints or uproar. Examples of regulatory bodies are:

  • BBFC
    • The BBFC are responsible classifying films in the U.K. The BBFC are an independent, non-governmental body and is made up by members of a council and examiners who provide the classification for movies. Any movie shown in a cinema or due to be released on DVD has to be reviewed and given a rating. They help protect the public from viewing anything too indecent when they go to watch a movie. They also give reasoning for their ratings and give information on what people could expect to see when they are watching the Movie. Their main area of concern is what is being shown in the movie making sure that there is nothing obscene or unsuitable for the age that it is aimed at. An example of the BBFC’s more infamous ratings is the Clockwork Orange case.
      • Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was a film about violence and how the future of England would be influenced by it. It shows the story of Alex, who begins as a violent individual, with the story ending with Alex suffering from the comeuppance of his own actions. Though there are many misconceptions about this film’s release in Britain, the BBFC never rejected the film and rather controversially accepted it giving it an X rating (viewable for 18+ only) saying:
        • “Disturbed though we were by the first half of the film, which is basically a statement of some of the problems of violence, we were, nonetheless, satisfied by the end of the film that it could not be accused of exploitation: quite the contrary, it is a valuable contribution to the whole debate about violence” – Stephen Murphy, then BBFC Secretary

      • In 1973, two years after being accepted, the film became more controversial when reports began to flood in of ‘copycat violence’ and, rather ironically, threats jeopardising the safety of Kubrick and his family were made, causing Kubrick to withdraw the film from the UK. It wasn’t until after Kubrick’s death that the film returned to Britain, thanks to Kubrick’s family’s permission in 1999.


  • Ofcom (Office for Communication)
    • Ofcom regulate communication services and they also regulate broadcasting licences. Ofcom is run independently and has a main decision making board which meet at least once a month. They also have a policy management board, Content board and committees. They have annual reviews of the board to ensure that they are representative of the public. Ofcom make sure people in the U.K get the best out of their communication services whether it’s from phones, internet, television and Radio. Ofcom help protect the general public from things like scam calls, making sure a range of different programmes are shown, that there is no harmful or offensive material in programmes on the radio or television and there’s a wide range of electronic communication services. The rights and interests of the consumer are protected well as they make sure that nothing obscene is broadcast especially anything before the appropriate watershed. They are most concerned about scam calls and offensive programming being broadcast. An example of Ofcom’s work would be the Russell Brand/Jonathon Ross fine on the BBC.
      • Russell Brand and Jonathon Ross released a large amount of explicit, intimate confidential information about Georgina Baillie on the  25th October, 2009. This was all offensive, humiliating and demeaning material which should not have been aired. Therefore the action taken was fairly severe.
        • “A fine of £70,000 was imposed for the breaches of Rules 2.1 and 2.3; and a fine of £80,000 imposed for the contraventions of Rule 8.1.” – Ofcom

        • The presenters’ shows were taken off air on BBC frequencies for a period of time following this too.
  • PCC (Press Complaints Commision)/IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation)
    • The PCC is the press complaints commission and has been replaced by IPSO. IPSO is the Independent Press Standards Organisation and is responsible for monitoring standards in the news. The reason they exist is to uphold professional standards of journalism in the UK. They do what is possible to address complaints made by the public who believe that a journalist has broken what is called the Editors’ Code of Practice, which was originally put in place by the PCC. In short, the code ensures that journalists must be accurate, respect privacy of individuals, avoid harassing individuals,  be mindful of children in all cases, particularly in sex cases, be mindful of hospitals and their non-public nature in areas, be mindful when reporting on crime and other regulations which tend to spread across the whole of media (including regulations on discrimination and etc.). An example of the work of the PCC, before it was replaced, is their response to reports by the Scottish Sunday Express in 2009 making an article about the Dunblane School Massacre in 1996.
      • The Express wrote a front page article following the survivors of the shooting, scrutinising them for ‘shaming’ the memory of the deceased with “foul-mouth boasts about sex, brawls and drink-fuelled antics”. The paper ripped photos from the survivors’ social network account and used them in the paper, despite there being no real need to write the article, humiliating the survivors, in the first place. The PCC stated the following, after upholding the complaint, expressing the failure to respect the teens’ private lives:
        • “[The survivers had done] nothing to warrant media scrutiny, and images [from social networking sites] appeared to have been taken out of context and presented in a way that was designed to humiliate or embarrass them” – The PCC

  •  ASA
    • The ASA regulate Adverts across all forms of the media in the U.K. The ASA is built up of a senior management team and a council, which deals with complaints about advertising. The ASA review thirty thousand advertisements every year and these ads, if considered inappropriate have to either be amended or withdrawn. The ASA continuously help protect audiences from indecent things that may be shown in Adverts their main goal is to ensure that adverts are responsible and appropriate. They look into every complaint that gets made and out of the 31,136 complaints made in 2013 4,161 either had to be amended or withdrawn. Although acting largely based off complaints, they try to be as proactive as possible by taking action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements. They work very closely with Ofcom. A noteworthy case of the ASA’s work is their work with a complaint for an atheist bus campaign.
      • In January 2009, the ASA ruled judgement onto a bus campaign  launched by the British Humanist Association which read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The advert, largely due to the earlier section of the quote and I’d imagine somewhat due to the fact it is larger than the text that follows below (although clearly a more stylistic, typographic choice than a ploy to offend), caused over 326 people to complain. The ASA assessed these complaints and questioned the potentially offensive wording to those who follow religions. The ASA concluded that the ads were unlikely to mislead or cause widespread offence and the cased was closed. The complaints in question were about the adverts being offensive and misleading, with the company no being able to substantiate the claim that God does not exist. The word “probably” is used in said claim, completely invalidating this argument as they are not claiming to know 100%. The word “probably” is essentially a successful loophole, while getting across the point and not attempting to mislead. The word “allegedly” is another popular choice of word here. Due to the “Stop worrying and enjoy your life”, the ASA ruled that it was not trying to offend and more get across a happy, friendly slogan. (source)Atheist advertising campaign launched 
  • The Gaming Industry
    • There are many companies within the gaming industry which help regulate and improve the business. These include
      • TIGA (The Independent Games Developers Association)
        • Launched in 2001, TIGA was created in order to represent the interests of video game developers in the UK. They were a founding member of the European Game Developers Federation (the EGDF) who are a federation who ensure the stability, vibrancy and creativity of game developers in the EU. They provide a platform for collaboration and discussion within the community.
      • IGDA (The International Game Developers Association)
        • The IGDA are a non-profit organisation who are very similar to the EGDF, except on an international level. They work hard to identify and speak out on issues in the industry, connect members with peers and expand the reach of the developer community.
      • PEGI (Pan European Game Information)
        • The main regulatory body for the gaming industry, currently would technically be the ISFE, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe. They set up what is known as the PEGI rating system, which is now a legal requirement in the UK. PEGI ratings are put in place in order to regulate games and rate them for their appropriateness for specific age groups.
  • BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts)
    • The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is an independent charity organisation which does its best to promote, support and develop the television and film industry by rewarding creators in the BAFTA Awards. They offer members workshops and classes across the world to inspire creators and benefit the public.
    • “BAFTA identifies, rewards and celebrates excellence at its internationally-renowned, annual awards ceremonies whilst providing opportunities for the public to find information and inspiration through its year-round programme of events” – BAFTA Mission Statement

  • CRCA (Commercial Radio Companies Association)
    • The CRCA is a trade body for commercial radio within Britain. They manage the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre, which regulates advertisements before they are broadcast. They work hard to aid advertisers whilst also criticizing work which may breach any codes set by Ofcom. (source) It also jointly owns Radio Joint Audience Research Ltd (with the BBC), which researches into radio broadcasting as an industry (source).

Regulatory Issues also exist and are problematic. These issues include:

  • Control of Ownership
    • Ownership is regulated thoroughly in the media industry. The reason for this is not to limit success, but more to stop a monopoly (see below) occurring. A monopoly is where one person or business gains so much power over an industry that it is all powerful over certain aspects. When a company has this much power, it then has sway, not only over the industry but over the public. For example, all newspapers would have the same view and there would be no competition, as all of the media would be owned by the same company.
    • What a monopoly means for the audience is that the same type of stories and alike would be told across all aspects. Similar films, TV shows and newspaper reports and alike would start to crop up. This would cause a level of uncertainty, as the public would be unsure on what to believe, as the endless streams of the same stories could all be bias.
  • Taste Vs. Decency
    • Taste and decency are keywords when referring to censorship. They divide a line between obscenity and appropriateness. Anything can be seen as morally wrong by anyone in a given audience. Taste and decency implies that censorship must be done tastefully but also must ensure that the media stays decent. For example, when rating a film, the BBFC may choose to cut certain elements of the film. Take that the film depicts scenes of a very sexual nature. The BBFC must chose whether this is done tastefully, in the sense that it helps move the story along, and if cuts need to be made, to ensure that the scene is cut to be decent – i.e to censor anything that is quite clearly not tasteful, in order to be decent to the audience. It is all up to personal opinion and therefore becomes a big problem in regulation. Many disagree on taste and decency arguments.

One thing that we can all agree on, however, is that there were far too many acronyms in the media industry.

Creative Media Task 3

Legal and Ethical Constraints in Media

Just like with any industry, there are many constraints which have been put in place to protect the audience and stop any issues arising against creators. These constraints are set by regulatory bodies, who ensure the codes aren’t broken, stopping any obscene content reaching and harming an audience in any way.

Legal Constraints

  • Legal constraints are laws that you have to follow, with no alternative, that regulate what is emitted in the creative media sector. If broken, fines and investigations from the police ensue as a consequence.
    • Legal constraints include:
      •  The Broadcasting Act, 1990
        • The Broadcasting Act was an act to reform British Broadcasting, in the sense that it would sort out the public’s issues with Television and Radio.
          • Effects on Television
            • The act prompted the creation of Channel 5, the fifth terrestrial channel in the UK and aided the growth of multichannel satellite TV. It also forced the BBC into an agreement, breaking their ‘all in-house’ production scheme, pushing them to source at least a quarter of its output from independent production companies. It also allowed the companies behind the ITV franchises to expand into other businesses, which led to the foundation of the ITV PLC. that we all know today.
          • Effects on Radio
            • The act meant wonders for radio, sparking the launch of three independent national radio stations, two using AM band channels on medium wave frequencies previously used by the BBC and the third using FM broadcasting channels on frequencies previously used by the emergency services. It also allowed plans to be made for local and regional commercial radio stations using untouched areas of the FM band.
        • This also brought in the Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority, which today have both been replaced by Ofcom.
      • The Obscene Publications Act, 1959 (and 1964)
        • This act made it an offence to publish content which will “deprave and corrupt” the audience. This includes any form of pornography before a certain time and any extreme sexual activity at any given point.
          • Effects on Television
            • No content deemed obscene through the Miller Test of Obscenity for audiences which can be shown on television. Any pornography must only be aired after a watershed and warnings before programmes are required to ensure the viewer is completely aware of what the program may involve.
          • Effects on Radio
            • No obscene content is allowed to be aired on the radio.
        • One of the most recent cases of the Obscene Publications Act being put into effect was in 1991, with the release of ‘Lord Horror’, a graphic novel set in World War 2, depicting the extreme anti-semitism of the age through it’s main character. The book was labelled obscene and was banned, with police confiscating all 350 books in storage at Savoy Books. The case was then overturned due to an appeal in 1992, yet the police continued to confiscate copies of it despite this, due to another book in the same storage which hadn’t had it’s case overturned. (source)
      • The Race Relations Act, 1976
        • The act was a law that attempted to abolish racial discrimination.
          • Effects on the Media in General
            • The media now had to be incredibly careful that discrimination did not occur in any form. For example, on television and radio, it is important that any racial discrimination is cut or avoided in the first place to evade offending anyone.
              • One example of a kerfuffle with this legislation is from 2008, when the BBC launched an inquiry into an advert, where they sought out a “young, zany Oriental or Asian person with a science background” to front a series. This caused somewhat of a squabble due to fact that the Race Relations Act states that job requirements leading to one or more racial groups being favoured over others is classed as indirect discrimination.
                • The BBC responded with “The wording of the messages was inappropriate and they should not have been sent out. It is now an internal matter.”
              • (source)
      • The Copyright and Intellectual Property Law
        • This law is put in place worldwide to ensure that the creator of a piece of art, video, literature, music, etc. is always known as the creator. The creator owns the copyright to something, which they can distribute licenses, for people to use the work with, but all follow strict guidelines. Apart from few cases, close to all uses of another person’s work must be permitted in writing by the copyright holder and the creator must be credited appropriately.
          • Effect on Television
            • Music or clips cannot be shown without correct permissions
          • Effect on Radio
            • Music cannot be aired without correct permissions. Music is protected by PRS and PPL, meaning a license from both of these are required to play copyrighted music on the radio, or anywhere for that matter.
      • Libel Law
        • Libel Law is legislation that states that false information cannot be conveyed in order to give impressions not intended, for example, falsely quoting someone to portray someone in a negative light.
          • An example of this is a battle between The Daily Telegraph and the British model Naomi Campbell, where it was falsely claimed that she organised an elephant polo match in India. This not being true, The Telegraph were brought into court, where Campbell won substantial damages and received a public apology.

Ethical Constraints 

  • Ethics in media are taken very seriously in order to defend the audience from offensive material. Although not taken lawfully as seriously as legal constraints, they are still, morally, just as important. There are so many people in the world that it’s important to stay within society’s guidelines of political correctness, in order to avoid angering or offending anyone. This can be caused through misrepresenting topics like gender, race and religion, for example if a company were to portray one religion as better than all others, this would of course run into some complaints. Although not officially regulated, for example by law, the producer of the piece has to make a moral judgement call in order to ensure the safety of their audience and face any consequences which may arise.
    • Example:
      • In Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 the infamous shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown was plastered all over the news. The shooting was committed by Police Officer Darren Wilson and was reported on by many news agencies, namely KSDK and The New York Times. In August KSDK, while reporting, showed a video of Wilson’s house, but did not release the address publicly. This was an ethica
        l issue that stumped many, as Wilson’s privacy was legally maintained, as his address was not disclosed, however some found it a violation of his privacy, in a sense morally, as his home was broadcast publicly without his permission. This obviously caused a stir as to whether it was ethically acceptable to air this.

      • When reporting on the death and upcoming funeral for Brown, the Times worded descriptions, to some, incredibly inappropriately, stating that Brown was “no angel”, implying the idea that Brown was a bad kid, which caused a huge backlash. The editor of The New York Times had to judge whether the public would read this as a dig at Brown or read it literally as the play on words it was intended to be (referring to a vision Brown had earlier in the year about an angel), to emphasise that he was not the ‘perfect human’ an angel would be, due to his background, dabbling in drugs and alcohol and having scuffles with neighbours. This ethical conundrum caused many to be angered by the wording, however unintentionally it was.
  • The TV station later apologised saying it was a “mistake”.
  • The Times officially apologised, claiming that it was poorly worded – with writer John Eligon saying “I wish I would have changed [the phrase]”

The way producers now deal with such ethical issues is through what are known as the ‘Editors’ Codes of Practice’, which are ground rules in order to stop any offensive material reaching and offending the public. In the BBC, for example, all producers have to follow strict guidelines. In brief, they have to:

– Be Objective (Impartiality)

– Be Accurate

– Be Fair

– Give a full and fair view of people and cultures

– Have editorial integrity and independence

– Respect privacy of any individuals



The Structures and Techniques of Television Advertisement


Advertisers use a huge variety of techniques when creating their promotional material in order for them to be as successful as possible. These are advertising conventions, which reflect the many specific needs of certain consumers. The theory behind it is that as an advertiser ticks off appropriate conventions and techniques when creating an advert, they will get closer to what their target audience want to hear. Not only does this influence the decision of the target market, persuading them, it also gives them a feeling of belonging to the brand, as the advert is tailored to suit them. Before these conventions can be put in place, the advertisers must identify and classify their target audience.

Audience categorisation methods are ways of classifying consumers who want the product in question. It’s very important for advertisers to classify an audience in order to gain a target market as it gives them a bar in which to produce the advertisement to. For example, if an expensive car company wanted the most effective audience to target the advert towards, they wouldn’t aim the promotional material towards a lower-salary audience. The reason targeting is used is to ensure the company have an effective advert, which pulls in the correct consumer-base in order to maximize impact and increase sales.

  • Demographics, such as age and gender are very common and expected ways of classifying an audience. Advertisers may be attracted to start the process of classification with these methods, as it gives a general view of the target audience, which can later be narrowed down to further specifics. For example, a women’s product is most likely to be more effective when marketed towards women, or household products, like cleaning supplies, are most likely to be more effective when marketed towards adults than children.
  • Standard Occupational Classification is classifying an audience by their profession and social grade. This method sieves an audience, essentially, by how much money they hold, for example, expensive products would market towards wealthy audiences. Most companies would refer to social grades of a household, A,B,C1,C1,D,E. This is known as Socio-Economic Classification.
  • Psychographics are an effective method of audience classification also, as they allow companies to market directly towards the interests of the consumers. Psychographic classification separates audiences by their interests and mindset, meaning targeting the audience becomes more personal, in comparison to by age or earnings. Originally, psychographics were mapped in a hierarchy of needs, created by Abraham Maslow.
    After Maslow’s research, Young and Rubicam created their own hierarchy of needs, and divided consumers into different psychographic sections. Theoretically, every person fits into the following 7 social groups which correspond to a specific need in life. This is the Cross Cultural Consumer Characterisation, or the 4 Cs.

    • The Explorer – Need for Discovery – New or crazy products would be marketed towards the explorer.
    • The Aspirer – Need for Status – Posh, impressive or expensive products would be marketed towards the aspirer.
    • The Succeeder – Need for Control – Similar to the aspirer, except these products are bought more as a reward for their hard work.
    • The Reformer – Need for Enlightenment – Authentic, interesting products are marketed towards the reformer.
    • The Mainstream – Need for Security – Popular, reliable brands are marketed towards the mainstream.
    • The Struggler – Need for Escape – Products which seek to improve lives are more marketed towards the struggler.
    • The Resigned – Need to Survive – Familiar brands, or the brands they personally are familiar with are what they seek, making them, arguably the hardest audience to market to.
  • Geodemographical Classification is classification based on location. If a person lives in a more wealthy area, more expensive products may be marketed there. Also, if products are more popular in certain areas they would be marketed more towards said areas.

Example 1

Smirnoff: The Apple Bite
This advertisement is very stylish and modern, introducing the idea that this isn’t necessarily just a drink to get drunk with, as some perceive Smirnoff to be on some occasions, and it is more a posh, rewarding drink that is to be had with a meal or on a posh night out – deviating from their familiar brand. This instantaneously sets the bar that this product is aiming for a more upper class, wealthier audience. The imagery used in the ad is very surreal and strange, along with twitching visuals and peculiar effects, which convey the idea that the drink itself is an odd, interesting experience. This reflects what Young and Rubicam suggested about ‘The Explorer‘ in their 4 Cs. The explorer’s market is a market in which anything funky and new could interest them. The combination of the drink and its promotional material help to really emphasise that this is the product for the explorer. Likewise, going off the base of the previous point, the succeeder may be drawn towards the product due to the posh, reward aspect of the advertisement, as if its saying “Go on treat yourself” (with its biblical theme mimicking Adam and Eve, particularly with the snake being the bartender). It’s clear that these groups are the market that the company are attempting sell to and not, say, the Struggler, which would be searching for a stronger, more bog standard drink, without all the intrigue that the dark, modern theme conveys.

Example 2

Go Compare is an infamous example of a company falling down onto a convention and becoming hugely successful because of it. Due to the boringness of finding car insurance and the other services GoCompare provide, this cannot be reflected in an advert, i.e – It would be tedious to watch. That is why GoCompare fell back on the technique of character creation. This is where the advertisers create a character who is funny, memorable or relatable in order to catch the viewers interest and help sell the product. Gio Compario, as he is called, is the character that came as a result. The song he sings is catchy and memorable, whilst explaining what GoCompare is. When an advertiser uses a catchy song and character, they are attempting a viral, comedy marketing scheme, as opposed to an informative and educational one. They are persuading the audience by using such a silly theme tune and pushing the name into the viewers’ heads. Because of its obnoxiousness, everybody knows who and what the Go Compare man is and can probably recite the lyrics of “Go Compare!”. This is exactly the tactic of the advertiser. The lyrics present a tone for people like the the Struggler, as they push the idea that “you can save a pretty penny” or “save your spondoliks”. The idea that the advertisement is clearly pushing to a struggler is bolstered by the informality of the advert and in-your-face nature of the ad, not to mention the fact that this advert was plastered all over daytime television hinting that the target audience for the ad is unemployed/lower salary members of the public, that need their money elsewhere than car insurance. The slogan “You can thank your stars that you went to GoCompare!” only emphasises this point.

It could also be interpreted that this ad is somewhat aimed towards the Succeeder, giving off the idea that you should get a bargain and save your well earned money for other things, like overly expensive coffee. It is very much implied that the two guys are successful individuals. You could also interpret that this ad is meant to push the company into the mainstream, as at the point of the ad they were trying to set up a bigger brand than they had, by emphasising just how great it is, as if its been a household name all the time. Following this advertising scheme, we can see that the brand has now dipped into the mainstream, with the lyrics infecting near enough anyone from any age group, sex or profession.

Example 3

The Sony Bravia advert ‘Paint’ is a classic example of an advert breaking the norm and showing off. At this point, Sony is such a big company that it’s somewhat doubtful that one hasn’t heard of it, so Sony no longer has to make the big push to give as much information about their products as possible. That’s when experimental adverts arrive, like this one. This advert is basically just an over-the-top method of saying ‘Sony TVs are the best’. The words “Colour like no other” and the TV’s branding popping up at the end of the ad pushes the idea that Sony TVs are powerful, by making the impression that nothing even comes close to Sony’s design. Firstly, this marketing, implying that it’s the best of the best, would intrigue both the Aspirer and the Succeeder of Y&R’s 4Cs and it’s obvious that these are the main target audiences of this ad, at least from the branding, expressing the impressiveness of this gadget. That being said, the ad is a very intriguing style of ad. We can see that due to the abstract nature of paint fireworks that Sony are pushing their familiar brand out of the mainstream and towards the Explorer. Not many adverts follow the ‘interesting’ code like this one, yet they are clearly effective due to the impact they give. Sony are trying to push into the abstract theme in order to grasp people who want exciting things, like the aforementioned but also the Reformer, to some extent. There is no doubt that this advert is marketed towards the more upper class members of society, or at least not marketed towards lower wage members, despite the ‘cheap but good’ image that Sony is famous for.

Advertisers measure audiences in order to find out the most effective times and places for their advertisements to be optimal at grasping consumers. Audience measurement is a method of finding who watches the ads, when do they watch them and how many people watch them.

BARB, the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, use board members’ television information to match people to their programme and channel, to check the data analytics and ratings of a show/channel. They use a box which monitors audio from a television to work out which programme is being watched (which is later matched to a channel) in the household, which a remote to choose who is watching – whether they be male, female, child, teen, adult etc. This is similar to other companies, called television research agencies, which work with audience measurement panels, who also track the amount of people in an audience. This data is then all compiled and released as statistics for channels, TV show producers and advertisers to use. Advertisers can then find prime spots for their ads, in order to maximize exposure to their audience, for example:
– Foxy Bingo, a bingo website with ‘jackpots to be won’ sponsors a lot of daytime television, including ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’. If a product, like Foxy Bingo, generally is marketing towards, what Y&R’s 4cs call ‘The Struggler‘, then they will check the figures for who’s watching what, trying to find unemployed/lower wage people, who will be more attracted to bingo, as they would hope to win money as a release from their lack of it. Daytime television shows, especially well renowned ones, like ‘Jeremy Kyle’, would be prime time for this, as a huge amount of people watch the show live, and if they’re watching daytime television, then they aren’t working the standard hours – implying unemployment. This means that Foxy Bingo has bigger exposure to potential consumers in their target market, due to the 2 million+ (as of 2009) viewers of ‘Jeremy Kyle’. Without the figures of viewers from BARB and other Audience Research Panels, Foxy Bingo might have placed their ad elsewhere on television and lose out on potential consumers. Likewise, if Foxy Bingo would ask focus groups on which Daytime TV show is their favourite, they would probably find ‘Jeremy Kyle’ towards the top of the list. Foxy Bingo then start thinking that these shows are an ideal place for their advertisements.

Somewhat similarly, ThinkBox uncovers trends in the media industry, giving insights on audience engagements with advertisements and how to further improve advertising to suit the needs of the current generation. They help measure audiences by monitoring fluctuations in viewership giving extensive knowledge to advertising companies on how to improve their ads.

Other methods of audience measurement are questionnaires and focus groups. This involves direct communication with an audience, either through giving them a survey or talking to them. These methods don’t give statistics but opinions, i.e – it’s not representative of an entire population of viewers, which these statistics could show. These methods are effective at seeing types of audiences, what they watch and what ads would appeal to them, as opposed to ratings and analytics. Face-to-face interviews, whether with public members of focus groups are effective at finding what channels a person watches and ads that have grasped them. This can then be conveyed to the advertising agency to find spots on TV that reflect data pulled from interviews. Questionnaires give the same data, except less data could be collected due to people not bothering to fill in the survey. Surveys can get a lot more concise and easily-collectible data. Although effective, these don’t give representative figures that span across a whole audience.