Shawna Kidman

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego, specializing in media industries, specifically: broadcast and cable history, streaming content and digital distribution, copyright law, media audiences, and contemporary issues related to pop culture and society. Most of my research and teaching is about understanding how corporate, legal, and financial systems shape our entertainment landscape. Using business and legal history, communication theory, and cultural studies, I work to contextualize and historicize media texts and practices. In looking at the structural interdependence of different media industries and different media cultures, my works takes a trans-industrial approach to the field of media studies.

In Comic Books Incorporated: How the Business of Comics Became the Business of Hollywood (UC Press, 2019), I explain why comics are so ubiquitous in Hollywood, and how they came to take over corporate multimedia production of the 21st century. Covering 80 years of history, I show how many current trends in the media business—like transmedia storytelling, the cultivation of fans, niche distribution models, and creative financial structuring—have roots in the comic business. As a result, even though comic books themselves have a relatively minuscule audience, and have suffered declining sales for decades, the form and its marquee brands and characters continue to gain in global prominence and popularity.

My current research includes two large scale collaborative projects, the MACRO Lab, and Swarming Comic-Con, as well as ongoing research on the Franchise Era (2008-2020) in film production, and a new book on the political economy of movie theaters in the United States. These methodologically oriented projects all aim to use empirical research (ethnographic, statistical, financial, archival) in new ways to shift public perspectives about how our current media system came to be.

I earned my Ph.D. in Media Studies at the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. Before that, I worked in the film and television business, primarily in development. As a  television and film scholar with real-world working experience, I bring to UCSD a practical approach to media studies, but one deeply informed by history and theory. I bring this love of history and this dedication to analyzing material structures to all of my work, with the hope that more robust media education and scholarship will bring improvements to contemporary cultural production.