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The politics of content prioritisation online governing prominence and discoverability on digital media platforms

Mazzoli, Eleonora Maria (2023) The politics of content prioritisation online governing prominence and discoverability on digital media platforms. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004517


This thesis examines the governing systems and industry practices shaping online content prioritisation processes on digital media platforms. Content prioritisation, and the relative prominence and discoverability of content, are investigated through a critical institutional lens as digital decision guidance processes that shape online choice architecture and influence users’ access to content online. This thesis thus shows how prioritisation is never neutral or static and cannot be explained solely by political economic or neoclassical economics approaches. Rather, prioritisation is dynamically shaped by the institutional environment and by the clash between existing media governance systems and those emerging for platform governance. As prioritisation processes influence how audiovisual media services are accessed online, posing questions about the public interest in such forms of intermediation is key. In that context, this research asks how content prioritisation is governed on digital media platforms, and what the elements of a public interest framework for these practices might be. To address these questions, I use a within case study comparative research design focused on the United Kingdom, collecting data by means of semi-structured interviews and document analysis. Through a thematic analysis, I then investigate how institutional arrangements influence both organisational strategies and interests, as well as the relationships among industry and policy actors involved, namely, platform organisations, pay-TV operators, technology manufacturers, content providers including public service media, and regulators. The results provide insights into the ‘black box’ of content prioritisation across three interconnected dimensions: technical, market, and regulatory. In each dimension, a battle between industry and policy actors emerges to influence prioritisation online. As the UK Government and regulator intend to develop new prominence rules, the dispute takes on a normative dimension and gives rise to contested visions of what audiovisual services should be prioritised to the final users, and which private- and public-interest-driven criteria are (or should) be used to determine that. Finally, the analysis shows why it is crucial to reflect on how the public interest is interpreted and operationalised as new prominence regulatory regimes emerge with a variety of sometimes contradictory implications for media pluralism, diversity and audience freedom of choice. The thesis therefore indicates the need for new institutional arrangements and a public interest-driven framework for prioritisation on digital media platforms. Such a framework conceives of public interest content standards as an institutional imperative for media and platform organisations and prompts regulators to develop new online content regulation that is appropriate to changing forms of digital intermediation and emerging audiovisual market conditions. While the empirical focus is on the UK, the implications of the research findings are also considered in the light of developments in the European Union and Council of Europe initiatives that bear on the future discoverability of public interest media services and related prominence regimes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2023 Eleonora Maria Mazzoli
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > ZA Information resources > ZA4050 Electronic information resources
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Tambini, Damian and Mansell, Robin

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