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Analytical Essay on Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practices

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Study Case

The reason for why an award show was selected as a case study in this paper, is because liveness is very much the central concept in a show like this. The elements that float around in the bubble of the concept of liveness, are all things that can be applied to a media event like this. An award show is a combination of a broadcast that shows pre-recorded and live performances, but also verbalized interactional moments such as an acceptance speech. The Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs) are known as the award show that honors the music that performed well on the Billboard Charts, which is the chart that is “widely considered to be the ultimate authority in the music industry” (“About,” n.d.). Billboard themselves claims that the award show is the second largest pop music show of the year, possibly after the Grammy Awards. Finalists of this award show are “based on the key interactions with fans of music, as well as album and digital songs sales, radio airplay, streaming, touring and social engagement, tracked by Billboard and its data partners, including Nielsen Music and Next Big Sound” (“About”). Since 1940, the Billboard Charts have been the fundamental chart for ranking the popularity of artists and music, and have been the measure to determine success in music.

Originally, the idea was to choose a reaction video of some sort and study the behavior and interaction of the people in the video reacting to a musical performance only. This idea progressed into sampling a three-hour long YouTube Watchalong live stream for two reasons. First off, it was difficult to find content of more than one person reacting to the same performance, and it was almost impossible to determine whether or not these people had indeed watched the performance live or not. The reason for why more than one person was needed, is because otherwise there would be no comparison and they might not react as much to the video as they would when there is someone else in the room. Secondly, using a live stream Watchalong as a case study legitimizes the fact that the video was live at that moment. Furthermore, there are various platforms that offer live stream services and truthfully there were probably a handful of people who live streamed a Watchalong to this particular show. However, live streams are often not uploaded after they end, generally due to copyright issues from Billboard. The case study video does not contain the content of the video broadcast that was being watched by the hosts and the viewers, which is the most probable reason for why this video has not been taken down.

This Watchalong by the channel “AfterBuzz TV” was chosen because this digital broadcast network provides “expert hosts” to make comments on the shows that they have watched and they engage with fellow fans (“About AfterBuzz TV,” n.d.). The two women in the sample have more expertise in the entertainment industry than any regular viewer, this provides more useful data to analyze. However, one limitation would be that the women being experts in the field might not give the most natural reaction since they know what the viewers want to see and they know how to interact with the audience.


YouTube provides the option to click on certains timestamps in the video and read the live chat comments that were made at that moment, which is an effective tool to use when liveness is being studied. The textual analysis will be performed on seven short clips that were chosen from the three-hour long video, each of these clips being under 10 minutes long and some of them are just a short moment. These samples were either chosen based on the amount of interactivity that the clip showcased or if it demonstrated an unusual activity performed by the hosts or the viewers of the Watchalong. The whole video was thoroughly watched and notes were continuously written down about any interactions between the live chat and the Watchalong hosts. If there was anything notable happening between either the hosts or in the way the hosts used the media that they had with them, then this was noted too. The chapter about the findings in his paper will make general comments about the case study video, but will mainly focus on the seven selected clips as three hours is simply too long to analyze.

The first sample was chosen based on the interactivity between the chat and the hosts, since they respond back to each other and they fuel the discussion about the crossovers of the country music genre and pop music genre. The second sample showcases the online liveness of the live chat since the users are commenting about the same things that the hosts are talking about. The third clip grasps the developed idea of a media event, since the host is looking through a social media hashtag #BBMAs on Twitter, and so uses multiple media platforms to experience this event. The fourth clip was chosen because it demonstrates a malfunction in communication between the hosts and the chat. The users of the live chat are commenting but it is being ignored by the hosts until some time later. This is questioning the idea of online liveness. The fifth sample shows a different form of interactivity as the hosts are responding through the live chat to a user, which is why this clip was chosen. The next sample showcases the interaction between the two hosts, it happens in a way where they are excluding the viewers, indicating how aware the hosts are of the level of liveness in their situation. The last sample consists of two short clips that illustrate the shared experience of the hosts as they disclose their experience very directly to the viewers.

Method and operalization

The central question of this paper is how liveness as a user experience is constructed around the live stream, meaning that liveness is being researched through analyzing experience. An individual’s experience is subjective and it would be difficult to answer this question using a quantitative approach because the data that would come out of that would be too diverse and scattered to make a solid argument. Facts and statistics that are generated by quantitative research are definitely useful, but a lot of times these statistics will keep the reader wondering “why.” Qualitative research is appropriate when attempting to answer the main question of this paper since it’s an open ended question that needs rich data which only qualitative research can provide (Bryman, 2016a).

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Digital ethnography is the main methodology of this paper, which will be elaborated later. Ethnography is an approach that is often used when doing qualitative research in social studies. It allows the researchers to get a closer insight on behaviours, practices and experiences of a particular group that they immerse themselves in. Through participant observation researchers gather data, although ethnography is more than just observing as the researcher will typically gather interviews or collect other types of documents as data (Bryman, 2016b). With this is mind, a legitimate question is how an ethnographer gets engaged in a group when it is in cyberspace. Ethnography may not seem to be an obvious method to collect data on the internet, since the internet seems like a “placeless space” (Bryman, p. 447) and seems to go against the grain of ethnography, however, studying what people do online can tell us more about what they do offline.

The reason for why this method suits this case study, is because digital ethnography invites researchers to examine how people live in a digital and sensory environment (Pink et al., 2016). The hosts of AfterBuzz TV are doing a live stream that requires them to watch a broadcast of a media event on the television in front of them and also have a headset with a microphone on to review the broadcast and converse with each other while responding to the users of the live chat. They’re using a laptop and their smartphones to read the live chat and use various social media such as Twitter and Instagram. This shows that digital ethnography is relevant for analyzing these particular samples since the space is a digital and sensory environment.

The theoretical concept of liveness is being studied through the empirical indicator that is participant observation. Bryman (2016b) writes about how participant observation is practiced in cyberspace. There are various ways to go about this, such as engaging in online discussions on forums or chat rooms, conducting online interviews or even ethnographic content analysis. “Netnography” or online ethnography is one of the most significant approaches to conduct ethnographic research on online communities, and it relies mostly on observation. This is the most appropriate approach to study the chosen samples, as the event is in the past and it is not content that can be participated in any longer. Bryman further mentions four prominent types of online community studies, where each of them have a different focus on participation levels and whether or not the research is online and/or offline. The relevant approach for this case study is the first type that he mentions, which is the study of online communities only, with no participation. He argues that typically this type of study takes the form or “lurking” and it is conducting an analysis without the members of that online community being aware of the ethnographer’s(s’) presence. It can be considered as a form of covert participant observation, except the members of the community don’t know that they are being researched in any way since they don’t know about the presence of a researcher. This is especially applicable since the research is through the internet. It would be difficult to observe everything that is displayed in the samples which is why focus points were chosen. They are each related to previously discussed sub-theories; the interaction between participants, their shared experience, the way they might experience online liveness as well as experiencing faults in the live stream set up. Observations were done in the same manner as usual ethnographic fieldwork, which is writing field notes and then analyze that data. This means that there is no further software required to organize or manage the data, as most of it is written observations sorted by timestamps of the video.


When reading the previous paragraph one might wonder how reliable or ethical this research really is. Every research has its limitations so that will be discussed here as well. First off, when doing an undergraduate research project it is unlikely to conduct a full-scale ethnography. Ethnographic research can take months or even years, and even then there is usually not a complete answer to the research question. Despite that, ethnography is still used for small research as it is an insightful method that delivers rich data that includes a detailed representation of participants’ behavior and practices, it also can help with identifying and analyzing unexpected data. Short ethnographic research that only focus on one particular aspect of a topic can also be called “micro-ethnography” (Bryman, p.424).

The second limitation is related to ethical issues that ethnography brings about. When participants are involved in research, informed consent is crucial. Usually researchers make participants sign consent forms, however in this case study the video is already uploaded online for everyone to watch. They have had to accept the terms and conditions of YouTube and decided to live stream the event. Additionally, AfterBuzz TV is an online broadcast network that must have dealt with copyright issues, which means they know about the fact that the content of their videos are probably used too. The live chat users decided to post their comments online, knowing that their comments will be read out loud in the live stream. It would be better to ask for consent, but it is impossible to contact the people in the live chat since their details are not given except their display name, which makes them pretty much anonymous anyway.

The next limitation of this research would be the problems of generalization (Bryman, 2016b). The scope of the findings in qualitative research is restricted. When the sample size is small, when the period of time that was put into the ethnographic research was short and when the research is based on only the opinions and observations of one researcher, how can that ever be representative of all similar case studies? Therefore we need to know that a research like this is not meant to represent anything, but the goal is rather to gain insight into a theory or add to the existing discussions of these theoretical ideas.


  1. About. (n.d.) Retrieved from
  2. About AfterBuzz TV. (n.d.) Retrieved from
  3. AfterBuzz TV. (2019, May 1). Billboard Music Awards 2019 Watchalong | AfterBuzz TV [Video file]. Retrieved from x=2&t=9725s
  4. Bryman, A. (2016a). The nature of qualitative research (Fifth ed.). In Social research methods (pp. 374-406). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Bryman, A. (2016b). Ethnography and participant observation (Fifth ed.). In Social research methods (pp. 422-464). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. Pink, S. et al. (2016). Digital ethnography : Principles and practices. London: Springer.
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