The Topic of the Article
The article (or essay) “Free TV: File-Sharing and the Value of Television” by Michael Z. Newman is devoted to the topic of TV file-sharing (for example, with the help of BitTorrent) and its impact on the shifts in the TV’s value and status.
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Outline of the Author’s Thesis
The author describes P2P TV file-sharing as another variant of “free TV” that, unlike the usual TV service, is much more non-commercial (directly and indirectly) and claims that the development of this new kind of television affects the concept of TV and leads to its change. The article is aimed at considering and understanding the change and its implications with the help of historical analysis of traceable developments and investigation of filesharers’ opinions on the existence and legitimacy of this new kind of television.
The first part of the author’s arguments illustrates and defends the point of the TV file exchange influencing the perceived status of television. The author explains that there are differences between the perception of TV and other social media that are caused by the historical development of television. The issue of TV shows piracy does not arise too often since this kind of mass culture is typically perceived as free of charge. Still, the situation is changing, and Newman explains the three aspects of this transition.
TV used to be regarded as a less valued “feminized” type of mass culture, but the author points out that the existence of TV file-sharing demonstrates the growth of its perceived value. On the other hand, the author admits that by using it for free with the help of P2P sharing, users obliterate its commercial value. This is the reason for the transition of TV to the private goods category: TV file sharing is perceived as a danger by the industry, and it attempts to rectify the situation by providing legal alternatives. This leads to the transfer of the status of TV from the public to private.
Another aspect of cultural change is the end of the feminization of TV: the new type of television targets another audience, one that is technologically-savvy and primarily masculine. The technological advancement and the transition to active usage (instead of passive viewing) serve to raise the level of this kind of culture to a more appreciated and valued one. Finally, the author also points out that traditional TV corporations tend to be restricted locally and temporally while the P2P file sharing destroys these limitations. Thus, the author demonstrates that the status of TV is changing because of file-sharing from the point of view of at least three aspects: the cultural status and value rise, the good turn private (instead of public), and the limitations that used to be imposed on it are removed.
The second part of the essay is devoted to the rationalization of P2P by its users who need to find an explanation for the morally, legally, and politically questionable method of sharing. For that, the author cites and analyzes the messages from users from different countries, including the US, Canada, and Australia. The rationalization techniques are based on typical arguments: the fact that TV is technically free-of-charge or already paid for and the fact that it is more convenient to create one’s own TV schedule and avoid the typical limitations (the legal reasons for which may be not understandable from the point of view of the consumer).
Moreover, the contempt for low-quality mass culture is still reflected in another rationalization technique: the process of watching TV shows with the help of downloads is viewed as more acceptable than using the set. Apart from that, it is a common concept that TV sharing is more legal and moral than, for example, music sharing. The author then dwells on the countermeasures of the industry (legal download options) and demonstrates that the changes in the phenomenon of file sharing and its culture (including rationalization), the status of TV culture, and the reaction of the industry exert influence on each other.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of the Article: An Assessment
The weaknesses of the article are mostly formal. Since the article is termed as an “essay,” the absence of properly spelled methodology and other aspects of research will not be described as a weakness. Apart from that, an essay is probably not entitled to the same structure as that of an academic article proper. Still, it should be pointed out that the work (especially it’s second part) would benefit from a more detailed structure (for example, titles for a particular type of evidence). The same can be said about a clearly articulated conclusion. The comprehensiveness of the study complicates the navigation for an essay without such a structure.
A major strength of the article is the development of a relatively underrepresented topic. Newman states that the study of sharing trends has been developing during the past decade, but it tends to neglect the aspect of TV, which makes the research in this area more necessary. Similarly, it can be pointed out that the study is carried out in an emerging and rapidly developing field. The topic is discussed from various angles, and the research is very extensive. The aim of the study is achieved. The analysis of the reasoning of filesharers can be of practical use and support the creation of strategies for elimination or legalization of this new phenomenon, even though the author does not emphasize this fact.