Assessing Television Habits


To get our heads around collaborative ethnography, I think it’s best that we first define ethnography. Brian Hoey (2014), anthropologist, ethnographer and author says that “the term ethnography has come to be equated with virtually any qualitative research project where the intent is to provide a detailed, in-depth description of everyday life and practice”. Hoey then goes on to explain that ethnography provides a detailed cultural representation from an emic perspective. Emic basically means research taken from an insiders view. This is the basic understanding of ethnography, but what we want to look at is collaborative ethnography. “What’s the difference?” you say.

Luke Lassiter, professor of humanities at Marshal University, introduced the idea of collaborative ethnography in 2005. By this, he aimed to state that although ethnography itself is collaborative in nature he wants collaboration to be at the forefront when undertaking ethnographic studies and for collaboration to really be the main idea during studies or “center stage” as he puts it (2005). Lassiter points out that collaboration should be more than just between the ethnographer and their subject, it should be between other researchers also. It should include multiple authors, consultants and their communities as active collaborators.

So, why use collaborative ethnography to analyse television audiences? Don’t graphs and statistical data do that for us already? While standard research methods of statistics and data can be useful in gauging quantitative information around television and its audience it lacks, lets not say truth, but personality. You could measure how many times people watch a certain show or how many hours a day/week/month they watch TV but what those results really lack is emotion. Obviously it is quite difficult to measure emotion but as least that’s what ethnographers are for. To gain emotional insight into personal feelings about not only television shows and how they make them feel, but the feeling that television in general gives them or how they felt when they used to watch a certain program. Having completed an interview with my mum for last week’s blog post, you can see how much emotion one person can have tied to one show. To them, television doesn’t just represent a funny show that was once on but it represents a time and place, maybe of better memories or maybe of worse.

One thing I have always thought about television audiences and ratings was how do they really know how many people watched that one particular show. How do they know that over 2.2 million people in Australia watched the Masterchef finale? How do they know that The Bachelor had 898,000 viewers on its first night? Do they phone people mid show to take a tally? These numbers, which are calculated by Oztam, are all quantitative. They don’t recgonise the viewing habits of the audience. What if you’re flicking between channels does that count as watching the show? What if you’ve recorded the show and planned on watching it later. Are those habitual ways anaylsed by numbers? This is where ethnographic studies can lend a helping hand media and communication students and experts. What we want to know is HOW you watch your TV. Although these questions really have to be summed up by numbers, the numbers represent a much larger area emotion, in comparison to just “how many people watched this show”. In a study by Yahoo7 they have found that the way we watch our programs has changed with 52% of millennial’s watching TV shows on mobile devices, which is up from 17% in 2013. 53% of respondents said that they regularly use their smartphones or tablets to watch TV shows. And, that the majority of viewers (75%) use their mobile phones to check facts, storylines, trivia and statistics on the programs they’re watching. Isn’t that an interesting little statistic you never would have thought of considering.

It can be hard at times when wanting to analyse ethnographic results, for them to not end up in a graph or table. This can be some of the limits with ethnography on such a wide scale. It can be hard to represent culture and individual feelings so I guess humans put it down to what is more humanly understandable… statistics. It has proven hard to me to clearly find room for ethnographic results in large quantities, which are useable for academic support in a journal or similar. By this I mean that it is hard to prove yourself without a lot of back up and the easiest way to do that is with data and graphs.


B&T Magazine 2015, TV Habits Moving Mobile Says New Yahoo7 Survey, viewed 17th August 15,

Hoey, B 2014, “A Simple Introduction to the Practice of Ethnography and Guide to Ethnographic Field notes”, Marshall University Digital Scholar, pp. 1-10.

Lassiter, LE 2005, ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 15-24,

OZTAM 2015, Consolidated Metropolitan Top 20 Programs 5 City Ranking Report – Free To Air Only Week 31 2015 (26/7/15 – 1/8/2015), viewed 17th August 15,

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