From Networks to Netflix: A Guide to Changing Channels – edited by Derek Johnson

In addition to the first edition chapters available below, please visit the publisher’s website to get the newest, significantly updated version of From Networks to Netflix, which features both revised and brand new chapters.

Now in a second edition, this textbook surveys the channels, platforms, and programming through which television distribution operates, with a diverse selection of contributors providing thorough explorations of global media industries in flux.

Even as legacy media industries experience significant disruption in the face of streaming and online delivery, the power of the television channel persists. Far from disappearing, television channels have multiplied and adapted to meet the needs of old and new industry players alike. Television viewers now navigate complex choices among broadcast, cable, and streaming services across a host of different devices. From Networks to Netflix guides students, instructors, and scholars through that complex and transformed channel landscape to reveal how these industry changes unfold and why they matter. This second edition features new players like Disney+, HBO Max, Crunchyroll, Hotstar, and more, increasing attention to TV services across the world.

An ideal resource for students and scholars of media criticism, media theory, and media industries, this book continues to offer a concrete, tangible way to grasp the foundations of television—and television studies—even as they continue to be rewritten.

The transformations reshaping the television industries do not stop just because television scholars decide to publish books about them.  While the newest version of From Networks to Netflix confronts the many changes since the publication of the first edition in 2018, ongoing industry developments demanded more attention even as the book went to press in mid-2022.  Arguments about vertical integration and corporate ownership strategy came into question as broadcast assets like The CW went up for sale.  Confidence in the disruptive power of streaming services faltered as Netflix subscriber growth began to slow for the first time.  The insights offered by the book will perpetually need to be revisited as the industry relationships, practices, and strategies it tries to make sense of continue to evolve.

That process of reconsideration is not just a fool’s errand, however.  While each revision can only be a snapshot, reading across those instances reveals the work TV scholars do to make sense of that transformation.  With that in mind, chapters from the first edition of From Networks to Netflix still provide useful insights.  They are snapshots of an earlier moment in this process of industry change, and reading them in dialogue with the newer research in the second edition can reveal the vectors along which change has been unfolding.

Two types of chapters from the first edition are provided for download here.  On the one hand are a selection of chapters that were not updated for the second edition: in some cases because the television service in question had gone defunct, in others because the story, while still important, hadn’t changed enough to warrant a revision.  On the other hand are chapters that were revised for the second edition, but so significantly that a look back at the form they took in the first edition would be instructive.  This includes the original introduction to the book, but also chapters that had to transform as the companies they explored changed names, strategies, platforms, and more.

Revision is at the heart of any research project, especially one concerned with understanding the present moment, and with luck this resource will make it easier to see how that process unfolds.  Instructors might consider pairing these first edition chapters with second edition chapters, not just to track changes in our critical perspectives over half a decade, but also to help students better understand the process of revision and long-term research.

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“Pop: Television Guides and Recommendations in a Changing Channel Landscape” - Derek Johnson

Reflecting on the function of program guides, the emergence of TV Guide Network as a channel about channels, and its transformation into entertainment service Pop in an age of non-linear television, this chapter—the original introduction to the first edition—explores how and why channels matter as guided frameworks and curated recommendations for the experience of television.

 In the second edition, consider reading alongside the new introduction, Marc Steinberg’s chapter on AbemaTV, or Ramon Lobato and Eleanor Patterson’s chapter on The Roku Channel, all three of which explore the persistence of channel and scheduling logics in streaming platforms.  


“Alabama Public Television Network: Local Stations and Struggles over Collective Identity” - Allison Perlman

Using the history of the Alabama Public Television Network as its case study, this chapter demonstrates the continued salience of local television to local communities and illuminates how local public television channels have been, and continue to be, critical spaces for the construction of local identities.

Consider reading alongside Michele Hilmes’ second edition chapter on PBS and the creation of a national public television system in the US.


“DR: License Fees, Platform Neutrality, and Public Service Obligation” - Hanne Bruun

The Danish radio and television corporation, DR, has public service obligations, particularly as a license fee funds all its activities. The continuing management of these obligations—and the content produced—will depend on political discussion of what “public service” is or should be in the digital era.

Consider reading alongside Xiaoying Han’s chapter on Mango TV and the negotiation of state power in China, new in the second edition. 


“ESPN: Live Sports, Documentary Prestige, and On-Demand Culture” - Travis Vogan

This chapter explores how the sports media outlet ESPN works to maintain is self-named “Worldwide Leader” status in on-demand culture by stressing the value of the live sports it carries across platforms and by accompanying this coverage with documentaries geared toward the “binge-able” consumption that characterizes digital streaming services.

Consider reading alongside Jason Lopez’s chapter on ESPN+, new to the second edition, which considers the channel’s movement into the streaming economy, or Myles McNutt’s chapter on the Starz and its own navigation of value in relation to the idea of prestige.


“The Weather Channel: Genre, Trust, and Unscripted Television in an Age of Apps” - Jon Kraszewski

This chapter focuses on ways different players in the television industry constructed the generic identity of unscripted programs on The Weather Channel. Station executives billed them as “docu-series.” Some cable companies billed them as “reality TV.” How did these different classifications entail different value assessments of The Weather Channel itself?

Consider reading alongside second edition chapters focused on television genre such as Juan Llamas-Rodriguez’s chapter on Telemundo and the telenovela (new to the second edition) or Peter Alilunas’ updated chapter on Playboy TV and pornography.


“TLC: Food, Fatness, and Spectacular Relatability” - Melissa Zimdars

By working to combine stories of the spectacular into the everyday, TLC’s programming and branding strategies support, and perhaps even bring about, alternative and more compassionate discourses connecting food and fatness in the context of the “obesity epidemic.”

Consider reading alongside Martina Baldwin and Suzanne Leonard’s chapter on Bravo and its lifestyle branding, new to the second edition.


“MTV: #Prosocial Television” - Laurie Ouellette

This chapter examines MTV to consider how television “governs at a distance” in an increasingly deregulated, branded and interactive mediascape. Situating prosocial TV within the broader ascension of neoliberalism, I argue that the concept of the public interest in US broadcasting has been reinvented in cause-oriented terms that are lucrative for media corporations.

Consider reading alongside Kristen J. Warner’s second edition chapter on ABC and its efforts to pursue more diverse and inclusive representation. 


“A&E: From Art to Vice in the Managed Channel Portfolio” - David Craig and Derek Johnson

The complex history of A&E reveals a creative and strategic process of media management characterized less by major breaks and more an expansion via growing multiplicity of tastes, demographics, and ideologies across a range of subsidiary channel outlets and services.

Consider reading alongside analyses of taste, demographics, and edge in Jacob Mertens and Lauren E. Wilks’ chapter on Adult Swim, new for the second edition. 


“Spike TV: The Impossibility of Television for Men” - Amanda D. Lotz

The case of Spike, once promoted as the “first cable channel for men,” illustrates the challenges of constructing a gender-targeted cable channel brand.

Consider reading alongside Nick Marx’s second edition chapter on Comedy Central, particularly in its focus on cable television’s investment in masculinity and male audiences.  


“Disney XD: Boyhood and the Racial Politics of Market Segmentation” - Christopher Chavez

The launch of Disney XD is based on the presumption of a universal boyhood. However, Disney’s decision to target children based on gender while simultaneously obscuring children’s racial identities provides significant insights into which kinds of cultural differences television industries deem appropriate to acknowledge in children and which are not.

Consider reading alongside Susan Noh’s chapter on Crunchyroll for its shared interest in the intersection of race and niche brand communities, new to the second edition.


“Disney Junior: Imagining Industrial Intertextuality” - Kyra Hunting and Jonathan Gray

This chapter examines how Disney Junior uses intertextuality as an economic strategy, creating less a selection of particular programs, and more a network of connections with other Disney properties from across their history and holdings, thereby selling the entire Disney “family,” not just individual texts or the channel itself.

Consider reading alongside the authors’ second edition chapter on Disney+, which examines strategies the new streaming platform borrowed from Disney Junior; alternatively, compare the discussion of Disney’s conglomerate content strategies to those discussion in Caryn Murphy’s second edition chapter on The CW. 


“AwesomenessTV: Talent Management and Merchandising on Multi-channel Networks” - Avi Santo

This chapter focuses on the career of Lia Marie Johnson, one of multichannel network AwesomenessTV’s most prolific YouTube celebrities, demonstrating how the network leverages her following across genres, formats, platforms, and licensing partnerships to extend both her and Awesomeness’ brand into new markets.

Consider reading alongside Stuart Cunningham, Smith Mehta, Gabriela Lundari, and Guy Healy’s chapter on YouTube, new to the second edition, which explores the social media entertainment economies in which these creators operate. 


“ISAtv: YouTube and the Branding of Asian America” - Lori Kido Lopez

This chapter explores how the Asian American YouTube channel ISAtv utilizes the structure and frameworks of television channel in new ways as it remediates television into this online platform. The case of ISAtv also reveals how televisual branding strategies can politically support the Asian American communities often rendered invisible within corporate media.

Consider reading alongside Aymar Jean Christian’s updated chapter on Open TV and Julia Himberg’s chapter on Revry (new to the second edition), which both explore the political and representational potential of new streaming platforms. 


“East India Comedy: Channeling the Public Sphere in Online Satire” - Subin Paul

This chapter examines how online channels contribute to the public sphere in India. Using a case study of East India Comedy’s (EIC) YouTube channel, this study shows that EIC supports, through satire, a form of public dialogue that is largely missing in broadcast channels and traditional media.

Consider reading in relation to Michael Curtin and Yongli Li’s second edition chapter on iQIYI and the new cultural possibilities in China brought about by streaming television. 


“Twitter: Channels in the Stream” - James Bennett and Niki Strange

Video is increasingly pervasive on social media, with platform operators and social media agencies acting in competition and cooperation with traditional television industries. In such a context, this chapter argues that social media platforms increasingly come to function like television channels, challenging us to consider digital media as television.

Consider reading alongside Matthew T. Payne’s second edition chapter on Twitch.TV which explores the intersection of televisuality and social media platforms. 


“BBC Three: Youth Television and Platform Neutral Public Service Broadcasting” - Faye Woods

This chapter explores the 2016 “reinvention” of BBC Three as a “platform neutral” on-demand channel delivered in national and global digital spaces across the BBC iPlayer and social media platforms, arguing that the move pulled at preexisting tensions between public service broadcasting, commercial television, and the youth market.

Consider reading alongside Barbara Selznick’s second edition chapter on Freeform and its parallel construction of a youth market in conglomerate cable television. 


“WWE Network: The Disruption of Over-the Top Distribution” - Cory Barker and Andrew Zolides

This chapter explores the effects of disruption brought on by the launch of WWE Network, specifically changes in production practices, industrial relationships, narrative development, and fan engagement. Despite rhetoric that streaming video opens doors for new, diverse sources of content creation, the system privileges those powerful enough to afford risks.

Consider reading alongside Deborah L. Jaramillo’s new second edition chapter on Peacock, the streaming service that absorbed WWE Network, or Gregory Steirer’s new chapter on HBO Max, which explores the conglomerate strategies behind streaming distribution.


“CBS All Access: To Boldly Franchise Where No One Has Subscribed Before” - Derek Johnson

For streaming service CBS All Access, the production of exclusive original content like Star Trek: Discovery encouraged audiences to subscribe in order to maintain access to franchises once freely available via broadcast; yet this franchise strategy simultaneously revealed the challenges of adapting broadcast legacies to that new industrial environment.

Consider reading alongside the author’s second edition chapter on Paramount+, the streaming service that inherited CBS All Access strategies and programming libraries, as well as Erin Copple Smith’s chapter on Nick Jr., which explores the value of intellectual property across the Paramount Global conglomerate.