Professor Catherine Johnson has been named as one of a select number of experts advising policymakers on how the digital media landscape is evolving.

A leading light in screen industry research and the University’s Director of Research in Media, Journalism and Film, she has been appointed to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) College of Experts.

It is the first time that the DCMS has pulled together a pool of experts like this, with Professor Johnson one of 49 academic experts from fields as diverse as data science, engineering, psychology and the arts & humanities on the panel.

“I’m delighted to have been recruited to the DCMS College of Experts. My expertise will help advise policymakers and will support DCMS with its work to drive growth and enrich lives - I can't wait to get started,” says Professor Johnson.

Streaming services have changed digital media landscape

“The College of Experts will provide expert advice to the Department to help them develop polices and strategies to address emerging issues, help guide and shape policy and ensure its work is really informed by the most up-to-date research and expertise.

“The media industry’s business models are changing massively because of platforms and streaming services Amazon, NetflixDisney+ and their ilk coming into an industry previously dominated by commercial and public service broadcasters. These new tech companies have very different business models and that is changing everything.”

If viewing habits were changing before the onset of COVID-19, then the pandemic has witnessed a sea-change in how entertainment is consumed. It is an area that Professor Johnson has written about several times for The Conversation, while her 2019 book Online TV outlined the broadcast landscape and how it had changed due to the easy availability of content via the explosive growth of internet-connected devices.

“I worked with the DCMS last year when I was a special advisor on an inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting, and I have worked with the communications industry regulator Ofcom as well,” she adds.

“With Ofcom I looked at audience viewing habits and in particular how people discover what they want to watch. People often make assumptions about changing audience behaviour based on their own viewing habits, or if they are of a certain age, their children’s viewing habits and it can be perceived that it is only what young people are doing that is the current trend. The kind of audience research we conduct at the University of Huddersfield is so useful because it can challenge or affirm those assumptions.

Public service broadcasting still popular

“There is a strong narrative around public service broadcasting and linear television which says that people are no longer watching live broadcast television. There is a tendency to see the change and focus on that.

But initial findings from some recent quantitative research that we have done suggests that people are still watching public service broadcasters’ channels and on-demand services with as much frequency as they are watching subscription video on-demand services.

 “A major challenge is that there are different forms of legislation in different places. Technology legislation tends to be separate from broadcasting regulation. These need to be thought about together, but that is very challenging as it involves bringing together separate pieces of existing policy. It is what we call convergence, and it is a real challenge for a policy framework.

“Working in interdisciplinary teams with experts in data science, engineering, psychology and the arts and humanities is a great opportunity to think about how to address convergence and help the DCMS to develop evidence-led policy.”


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