Streaming media platforms purport to offer frictionless delivery of programming, sent via the miraculous ethers that compose the cloud. The companies behind these platforms would prefer for streaming to remain a “palatable abstraction” in the eyes of their users, and their visions of the infrastructures that power their services gloss over the site-specific intricacies of these systems (Holt and Vonderau 72). This starter kit considers what can be gleaned by adopting an infrastructural approach to streaming media cultures, thinking across streaming industries to engage with the uneven maps of streaming infrastructures created by corporations and researchers. Focusing on streaming video and streaming music, this starter kit concentrates in particular on case studies of Netflix and Spotify, two streaming services that aspire to global availability and which have been investigated by scholars who have begun to peer inside and think around the black boxes that obscure their infrastructures. Taken together, these texts and representations of streaming infrastructure begin to sketch an approach that cuts across industrial and disciplinary boundaries, and which could prove fruitful in relation to other streaming cultures, including livestreaming, online multi-player gaming, Esports, and user-generated media distribution.
Foundations: Media Infrastructure Studies
Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, eds., Signal Traffic (University of Illinois Press, 2015).
- Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau, “‘Where the Internet Lives’: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic, ed. Parks and Starosielski, 71–93.
- Christian Sandvig, “The Internet as the Anti-Television Distribution Infrastructure as Culture and Power,” in Signal Traffic, ed. Parks and Starosielski, 225–245.
Lisa Parks, “‘Stuff You Can Kick’: Toward a Theory of Media Infrastructures,” in Between Humanities and the Digital, ed. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg (MIT Press, 2015), 355–373.
Flows, Streams, and Clouds
Raymond Williams, “Distribution and Flow,” in Television: Technology and Cultural Form (Routledge, 2003), 77–120.
Benjamin Burroughs, “A Cultural Lineage of Streaming,” Internet Histories 3, no. 2 (2019): 147–161, https://doi.org/10.1080/24701475.2019.1576425.
Tung-Hui Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud (MIT Press, 2015).
Infrastructural Approaches: Industries
Jeremy Wade Morris, Selling Digital Music, Formatting Culture (University of California Press, 2015).
Amanda Lotz, Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television (Michigan Press, University of Michigan Library, 2017), open access, http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9699689.
Ramon Lobato and James Meese, eds. Geoblocking and Global Video Culture (Institute of Network Cultures, 2016), open access.
Infrastructural Approaches: Platform-Specific Case Studies
Maria Eriksson, Rasmus Fleischer, Anna Johansson, Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music (MIT Press, 2019).
Jeremy Wade Morris, “Music Platforms and the Optimization of Culture,” Social Media + Society (July 2020), advance online publication, https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120940690.
Ramon Lobato, Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution (New York University Press, 2019).
Timm Böttger, Felix Cuadrado, Gareth Tyson, Ignacio Castro, and Steve Uhlig, “Open Connect Everywhere: A Glimpse at the Internet Ecosystem through the Lens of the Netflix CDN,” ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review 48, no. 1 (January 2018): 28–34, https://doi.org/10.1145/3211852.3211857.
Elia Margarita Cornelio-Marí, “Digital Delivery in Mexico: A Global Newcomer Stirs the Local Giants,” in The Age of Netflix, ed. Cory Barker and Myc Wiatrowski (McFarland, 2017), 201–228.
Environmentalist Approaches: Streaming’s Environmental Costs
Laura U. Marks, Joseph Clark, Jason Livingston, Denise Oleksijczuk, and Lucas Hilderbrand, “Streaming Media’s Environmental Impact,” Media+Environment (October 2020). https://doi.org/10.1525/001c.17242.
Matt Brennan and Kyle Devine, “The cost of music,” Popular Music 39, no. 1 (February 2020), 43–65, doi:10.1017/S0261143019000552
A collection of sites, images, and videos that display corporate imaginaries of streaming infrastructures.
These blogs are useful repositories for tracking developments in software and infrastructure, but they also showcase the ways in which corporations tactically position infrastructure as proof of innovation. On these blogs, infrastructure is a solution rather than a problem. When infrastructure is no longer useful in constructing a corporation’s brand image, it is offloaded, as in the case of Spotify, wherein its data traffic was offloaded to the Google Cloud Platform.
- On Netflix Open Connect: Ken Florance, “How Netflix Works With ISPs Around the Globe to Deliver a Great Viewing Experience,” March 17, 2016.
- On the global scaling of Netflix’s streaming service: Shashi Madappa et. al, “Caching for a Global Netflix,” March 1, 2016.
- On the migration to GCP: Niklas Gustavsson, “Views From The Cloud: A History of Spotify’s Journey to the Cloud, Part 1,” December 9, 2019.
- On the Listening Together campaign: Gandalf Hernandez, “Listening Together, Miles Apart,” September 3, 2020.