Selected Publications

Ryan Stoldt studies Netflix, influencers, and any other form of entertainment you consume online. His scholarship critically questions how platforms shape the ways people create and consume media, particularly focusing on the relationship between data, analytics, and personalization algorithms.

Netflix: Streaming Channel Brands as Global Meaning Systems

Published in From Networks to Netflix: A Guide to Changing Channels (2nd Edition)

Tim Havens and Ryan Stoldt

While the discourses of techno-utopia correctly identify some of the main differences between Netflix and conventional television channels, in their over-reliance on technological differences, they gloss over many of the continuities between them. Ultimately, what makes the television channel useful as a cultural category is its capacity to brand program content at the broadest possible level, beyond those offered by directors or genres or even production houses. The recognition that brands have multiple levels of meaning—what is often called the brand hierarchy—proves central to understanding how Netflix functions as a channel. Much like its broadcast-era forerunners, Netflix crafts a corporate identity that can encompass the wide diversity of programming it offers to compete with other subscription streaming services. At the same time, it uses more precise forms of branded differentiation to help viewers navigate the wider range of content available to them.

Interactive Television as a Cultural Forum: Storytelling and Meaning-Making in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Published in FlowTV

Ryan Stoldt

Because audience choices in interactive television shape what narrative is told, audiences of the same program may consume and interpret drastically different content. So, what happens to audiences’ ability to share ideological interpretations of texts when individuals’ experiences with the narrative of texts differ? If there is not a singular “canonical” narrative for fans to consume and interpret? I argue interactive television still raises questions that offer a cultural forum to take place, but that the types of questions people encounter in interactive television may already be filtered through cultural lenses they adhere to. So, the narratives people see and their interpretations of the programs’ messages in interactive television may be more personalized for specific interpretations than programs that offer a singular narrative for audiences to decode.

Professionalizing and Profiting: The Rise of Intermediaries in the Social Media Influencer Industry

Published in Social Media + Society

Ryan Stoldt, Mariah Wellman, Brian Ekdale, and Melissa Tully

This study explore the tensions between travel influencers and destination marketers that shape the way travel is promoted, labor is compensated, and professional structures are negotiated. We examine a new breed of travel and tourism worker—intermediaries who seek to professionalize and formalize the relationship between influencers and destination marketers while simultaneously solidifying their own role within the industry. By examining the relationships between digital content creators, destination marketers, and third-party intermediaries, this article provides insight into how digital media industries negotiate the tension between participation and control.

Ethics of Authenticity: Social Media Influencers and the Production of Sponsored Content

Published in the Journal of Media Ethics

Mariah Wellman, Ryan Stoldt, Melissa Tully, and Brian Ekdale

Media coverage of influencer marketing abounds with ethical questions about this emerging industry. Much of this coverage assumes influencers operate without an ethical framework and many social media personalities skirt around the edges of legal guidelines. Our study starts from the premise that influencer marketing is not inherently unethical but, rather, the ethical principles guiding production of sponsored content are not well understood. Through a case study of the travel and tourism media industry, our findings demonstrate that influencers use the concept of authenticity as an ethical framework when producing sponsored content.

Geographic Disparities in Knowledge Production: A Big Data Analysis

Published in the International Journal of Communication

Brian Ekdale, Abby Rinaldi, Mir Ashfaquzzaman, Mehrnaz Khanjani, Frankline Matanji, and Ryan Stoldt

This study uses computational methods to provide a comprehensive analysis of geographic distribution of journal authorship in the field of communication. Our findings demonstrate a proportionate decline in Northern American authorial dominance over time, although scholars from the region continue to publish far more often than scholars from any other part of the world. Further, scholars in Northern America and parts of Europe publish in higher-ranked journals and are cited at higher rates than their colleagues in the Global South, who are more likely to publish in lower-ranked and regional journals. Overall, these geographic disparities in journal authorship demonstrate the enduring colonial legacy of scholarly knowledge production in the field of communication.

Trust in Online Search Results During Uncertain Times

Published in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media

Ashley Peterson, Andy High, Raven Maragh-Lloyd, Ryan Stoldt, and Brian Ekdale

People’s propensity to trust technology corresponds with perceptions of higher quality in search results, though the effect was stronger with people’s belief in Google’s search algorithm factored into the relationship. Overall, increasingly specific assessments of layers of technology help explain why people evaluate search results to vary in quality.