Public Understanding of Business: Television, Representation and Entrepreneurship


This two year AHRC-funded research project began in January 2009 and was led by Professor Raymond Boyle (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Lisa W. Kelly (Research Assistant). The main objective was to investigate the role popular factual entertainment television plays in fostering and shaping patterns of knowledge and levels of understanding about the cultural and economic position of entrepreneurship in contemporary British society.

On this page you will find a summary of the project and its methods, along with key questions that where addressed.  It is hoped that this research will be of interest to those in the academic, business, and media industry, and to the public more generally.

Project Completion – September 2011 

The AHRC project Public Understanding of Business: Television, Representation and Entrepreneurship has now been completed.  The project team would like to thank all of those who contributed to the research.  This includes the media professionals who kindly gave up their time to be interviewed and the focus group participants who engaged so enthusiastically with the study.

Since the project began in January 2009, the ‘business entertainment format’ and the range of representations of entrepreneurs on television have shown no signs of abating.  By providing the first full investigation into the role played by programmes such as The Apprentice, Dragons’ Den, Mary Queen of Shops and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in encouraging entrepreneurship amongst audiences, the project team hope that this work will provide a starting point for future research in this growing area of factual television output.

With business seemingly everywhere on television, from the risks of the retail and restaurant trade to pitching for investment or competing to become the next 'apprentice', The Television Entrepreneurs draws upon popular business-oriented shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den to explore the relationship between television and business.

Based on extensive interviews with key industry and business figures and drawing on new empirical research into audience perceptions of business, this book examines our changing relationship with entrepreneurship and the role played by television in shaping our understanding of the world of business. The book identifies the key structural shifts in both the television industry and the wider economy that account for these changing representations, whilst examining the extent to which television's developing interest in business and entrepreneurial issues is simply a response to wider social and economic change in society. Does a more commercial and competitive television marketplace, for instance, mean that the medium itself, through a particular focus on drama, entertainment and performance, now plays a key role in re-defining how society frames its engagements with business, finance, entrepreneurship, risk and wealth creation?

Mapping the narratives of entrepreneurship constructed by television and analysing the context that produces them, The Television Entrepreneurs investigates how the television audience engages with such programmes and the possible impact these may have on public understanding of the nature of business.


 ‘Boyle and Kelly offer a powerful narrative of the centrality of television in debates about business and public knowledge. Anyone who wants to understand reality TV should read their rich and insightful research in production and reception processes for business entertainment that connects culture with society and politics.’
– Annette Hill, Lund University, Sweden

'Boyle and Kelly develop an illuminating inquiry into how television turns the values and practices of business into “good viewing”. This topical book is rich in detail about the television process, both the documenting of realities and the fashioning of fairytales, placing its findings convincingly within the broader political and social setting.’
– John Corner, University of Leeds, UK


BOOK: The Television Entrepreneurs: Social Change and Public Understanding of Business (published February 2012).

Business on Television: Continuity, Change, and Risk in the Development of Television's ‘Business Entertainment Format’ Television and New Media, vol.12, no.3, pp. 228-247 May 2011

The Celebrity Entrepreneur: Television: Profile, Politics and Power. Celebrity Studies, Vol. 1 No 3. November, 2010.


The Television Entrepreneurs: television and Civic Culture, Civic Cultures conference, Lund, Sweden, 30 March, 2011

Television, Citizenship and Public Knowledge: The Case of the Television Entrepreneurs. International Association of Media and Communications Research annual Conference. Universidade do Minho in Braga, Portugal, 18-22 July , 2010

The Television Entrepreneurs: Audience Engagement with The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den. MeCCSA Annual Conference, London School of Economics, UK, 6-8 January 2010.

Selling an Entrepreneurial Lifestyle: The Television Worker Onscreen and Off. The Big Reveal II: Lifestyle Television Conference, University of Brighton, UK, 29-31 May 2009.

How television programmes such as The Apprentice work to normalise and encourage entrepreneurial activity in society. Creative Entrepreneurship and Education in Cultural Life International Conference, Columbia College, Chicago, USA, 15-18 July 2009.

Representations of Entrepreneurship on the Small Screen. 4th European Conference on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, University of Antwerp, Belgium, 9-11 September 2009. 


In March 2010, Professor Boyle was invited to brief the Research Unit at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the project and the broader relationship between television and its representation of entrepreneurship. In December 2010, an invited paper on the project was given at a symposium held at BIS for policy makers and shapers examining relationship between media and entrepreneurial activity.


On 3 August 2010, Professor Boyle appeared on the BBC Radio Culture Café to discuss the project and the role that television plays in shaping our understanding of business.

Contact Details:

Professor Raymond Boyle (Principal Investigator)

Dr Lisa Kelly (Research Assistant)