Study explores how companies use voyeuristic practices to create entertainment value

Schulich School of Business

A growing number of businesses across a wide range of industries are successfully commercializing voyeurism – the practice of providing a glimpse into the private life of another person to give audiences a revealing and entertaining experience.

From MMA (mixed martial arts), which offers an up-close look at the intense violence of a no-holds-barred fight, to celebrity lifestyle news programs and reality TV shows like Survivor, Big Brother and Love Island, voyeurism delivers excitement, thrills and shocks to entertainment-hungry consumers.

A new paper forthcoming in the journal Academy of Management Review titled “Commercializing the practice of voyeurism: How organizations leverage authenticity and transgression to create value,” explores how companies use authenticity – a sneak peek into the real life of others – and transgression – viewing the forbidden – to generate a distinctive experience for audiences.

Maxim Voronov
Maxim Voronov

The paper is co-authored by Maxim Voronov, professor of Organization Studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business; Trish Ruebottom, an associate professor of Human Resources and Management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business; Sean Buchanan, an assistant professor of Business Administration at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business; and Madeline Toubiana, an assistant professor of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Management at the University of Alberta. Ruebottom, Sean Buchanan and Toubiana are all Schulich PhD graduates.

“When it comes to leveraging voyeuristic practices, it’s often a very thin line between creating entertainment value and creating negative emotions such as anxiety and guilt that disengage audiences,” says Voronov. “For example, left unchecked, reality TV could easily move beyond being a guilty pleasure toward becoming something that makes audience members feel too guilty to watch. It’s not simply authenticity or transgression that create value, but rather the audience’s emotional responses to these two dimensions.”

According to Voronov, emotional optimization involves efforts to reduce undesirable emotional responses by dampening the authenticity or transgression in the voyeuristic practice while reinforcing the associated desirable emotional responses. This can be done by utilizing various mechanisms, including shielding audiences, depersonalizing performers, and creating the impression that performers are consenting or willing participants in the voyeuristic practice.

Voronov cites MMA fighting as an example of shielding audiences to create the desired emotional response. “The use of cages in MMA, as opposed to less constraining barriers used in boxing or the lack of barriers in traditional martial arts competitions, increases the sense that MMA fights are more violent and dangerous, while simultaneously shielding audiences,” says Voronov.

A copy of the study can be found here.