Streaming Culture: Subscription Platforms and the Unending Consumption of Culture

Written by Chloe Lawson

Streaming culture is increasingly dominating our world. So much so that it has been ingrained into our everyday lives. From the minute we wake up, by checking out the latest YouTube video that our favourite content creator has released. To the moment we close our eyes where beforehand we’ve aimlessly scrolled through hundreds of TikTok videos. Streaming is even prevalent in our dreams… Although it’s a bit hazy, I’ve used my phone in a dream before!

David Arditi, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, writes an informative and incredibly engaging book about how the ability to incessantly stream content has not only changed the way that we consume culture but how it’s also disrupted many different industries and changed the way we operate in society. This includes Arditi himself, who says that streaming culture has changed the way he teaches his students. 

Culture has different meanings. It can be associated with social traditions such as drinking alcohol at a party. On the other hand and in a completely different context it’s associated with bacterial growth, but it can also be associated with the education someone has had and whether they are ‘cultured’. David Arditi further underlines this in the book and references literary theorist Raymond Williams, stating that “culture is everywhere in our everyday lives” (Arditi, 2021). It therefore cannot be confined to one meaning.

Streaming culture is described by Arditi as both a noun and a verb. He states that as a noun it is the patterns of social interaction such as comments, likes and shares on websites like YouTube and TikTok and as a verb it is the act of consuming culture (put simply, watching it) using the internet and other communication technologies.

Using a wealth of case studies and examples that even a media-cultured millennial couldn’t consider, as you read you are enlightened by how streaming has affected the political economy. Arditi clearly demonstrates how streaming culture is intertwined with capitalism and throughout we are encouraged to look deeper at how media operates and understand that as one process changes, this often times affects the whole chain of interaction.

Remember the days of going to a store and buying a record, tape or CD? Well that in itself was a cultural practise. You would go to the store and interact with people that had either a similar/dissimilar taste in music to you. This in turn created cultures of people that could identify themselves with different genres. A few years later and with the rise of streaming services such as Spotify and the closure of much-loved stores such as HMV, that culture has since dissipated and moved online. We now see people sharing playlists or Spotify listening statistics on social networks and musing over our music tastes in the comments. This is still a cultural practise of some sorts, a difference is that it is a lot more digital. So, what does capitalism have to do with this?

Well, streaming services have, what Arditi likes to say, ‘disrupted’ the fundamental structures of capitalism. Companies seek to commodify so that they can create profit. Streaming culture disrupts this through the implementation of systems such as subscription services whereby a user pays an amount per month rather than paying to own the content.

A user of content is usually influenced to buy a product related to that content. However subscription changes this. With the music industry, users are no longer paying to own physical copies of the content (which has ultimately caused stores like HMV to close down) but rather choosing to subscribe for unlimited ‘rented’ content. With CDs there was a demand to create physical copies for people to own. However technology has allowed us to consume more without even needing to own a physical copy. The closure of music stores and a limited ability to purchase physical copies has essentially forced people into paying for subscription services and ultimately lead us to consuming more content than ever. Arditi writes that this increase in culture consumption through the emergence of streaming services has therefore changed the way that capitalism operates in our society.

Arditi notes that as we begin to run out of things to commodify, we have begun to commodify streams of data and streaming services play a big part in increasing the amount of data that is collected. This collection of data is valuable to businesses because it reveals purchase patterns and continues capital. It’s clear to see how the development of technology has meant that we have had to adapt and find new ways to create capital.

Overall, the analysis of the current streaming culture climate in this book is refreshing and draws attention to systems that the ordinary user would not usually think about. This book is fluent in it’s many examples, further underlining the disruption of streaming culture. Using anecdotes and relatable content, you are able to fully understand streaming culture on a scholarly level and I would therefore highly recommend this book to media lovers and students alike.

To purchase/read more about the book click here.

References:

Arditi, David. Streaming Culture: Subscription Platforms And The Unending Consumption Of Culture. (Emerald Publishing Limited, 2021)

Featured image courtesy of Pexels. Image licence found here. No changes have been made to this image.

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