One of our most exchiting cases include Utopia – a British conspiracy thriller drama series that first aired on Channel Four in 2013-2014. This unique drama series was axed after its second season due to poor ratings, despite rave reviews and loyal fans. Part of its demise was the problem of the unmeasured audience as fans watched when, where and how they wanted, inside and outside Britain. The cult television drama series is used in this research project to explore the lived reality of the unmeasured audience, analysing formal and informal relations across production and reception practices. Data from over 20 production interviews and 50 audience interviews is used to explore contemporary cultures of viewing.
Read the full report here: utopia
Utopia attracts underground digital audiences. The drama’s dialogue about geo-politics and subversive tactics resonates with digital viewers who deeply distrust neoliberalism and shadow democracies. Rather than picturing the unmeasured audience as one big, immovable problem, we can see the many faces of piracy in the activities of Utopia fans. We may consider these fans as self-informing media citizens, consumer choice advocates, de-centralised media sharers, and activists. They see themselves as ordinary people who like being treated as intelligent viewers and who want to watch drama in their own way, streaming and binge viewing, without commercial breaks. Overall, the research argues for the soft power of illegal viewers, users and fans. Underground digital audiences push beyond commercial frames, engaging with culture in ways that complicate, frustrate and outpace traditional media.
Below you can read about what this research meant to the creative team behind Utopia
Dennis Kelly (Writer, Utopia): It was very exciting and moving to read this. It’s not only a great record of what we were trying to achieve with Utopia but also of how an intelligent audience interacts with a show, broadens it and helps it live way beyond it’s original broadcast. It succinctly captures the making, the viewing and the discussing of Utopia and perhaps gives a glimpse into why a show this odd and fucked up couldn’t really survive in our existence for very long.
Marc Munden (Director, Utopia): This is a beautiful thing! Epic and detailed, mixing technical and creative views with the voices of audiences and their views of Utopia. As a filmmaker, it’s so rare to be party to such feedback on television, so it’s inspiring to hear of the audience interaction that has taken place around the series.
Cristobal Tapia de Veer (Composer, Utopia): This is great, because it feels as if Utopia and its audience have a relationship close to a band with its fans. It’s not disposable and forgettable like most shit on tv.
Alistair Petrie (Actor, Utopia): I was in shock after reading this report. To see the analysis of the drama and responses from the fans is terribly humbling and endorses my sense of privilege of being a part of this unique drama. The relationship between Utopia and its fans is special, long term and a wonderful alchemy. Utopia invites its audiences to look hard at themselves and the world around them; and they do this in a way that is curious, sometimes surreal, often emotional but also with humour. The fans have taken ownership of it in the best way, embracing the drama and continuing its legacy. Perhaps its greatest pay off is that people talk of Utopia in the present tense when they discuss it. Fans say ‘Utopia is this or that’ not ‘was this or that’. On it lives as well as the questions it asks.
Douglas Wood (Group Director, Research & Insight Endemol Shine): This unique research allowed us to peel back the layers of audience engagement beyond the traditional boundaries to reveal a universe that is rarely explored or reported. It was a revelation to see how this rich content resonated with audiences who often sit outside established methods of linear TV measurement and how important the relationship between creator and viewer can be.This research adds to our collective knowledge about these increasingly diverse and mobile audiences who are consuming TV content in a more personalised and selective manner.