Manufacturing the digital advertising audience.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
How does a new medium create its audience? This study takes the business model of
commercial media as its starting point and identifies industrial audience
measurement as a constitutive operation in creating the sellable asset of advertisingfunded
companies. The study employs a qualitative case study design to analyse
how a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) company harnesses digital
behavioural records generated by computational network infrastructure to turn
network subscribers into an advertising audience product. The empirical evidence is
based on a three-months intensive fieldwork at the company office.
The analysis reveals comprehensiveness, openness and granularity as the
historically new attributes of computational data vis-à-vis traditional audience
measurement arrangements. These attributes are then juxtaposed with four kinds of
business analytical operations (automatic data aggregation procedures, the use of
software reporting tools, organizational reporting practices and custom analyses)
observed at the research site to assess how does computational media environment
rule key audiencemaking practices. Finally, the implications of this analytical
infrastructure are reflected upon three sets of organizational practices. The
theoretical framework for the analysis is composed by critically assessing
constructivist approaches (SCOT, ANT and sociomateriality) for studying
technology and by discussing an approach inspired by critical realism to overcome
their limitations with respect to the objectives of the study.
The findings contribute toward innovating new digital services, information systems
(IS) theory and the study of media audiences. The case opens up considerable
complexity involved in establishing a new kind of advertising audience and, more
generally, a platform business. Sending out advertisements is easy compared to
demonstrating that somebody is actually receiving them. The three computational
attributes both extend and provide summative validity for mid-range theorizing on
how computational objects mediate organizational practices and processes. Finally,
the analysis reveals an interactive nature of digital audience stemming from the
direct and immediate behavioural feedback in an audiencemaking cycle.
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