New Flows in Global TV provides a pioneering investigation into television distribution worldwide and the global trade in television program formats. Topics include explorations of how shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Big Brother are reformatted for audiences in diverse markets such as Argentina, South Africa, the Middle East, and China; the international circulation of Dallas in the 1980s; and Australian and United Kingdom programming exports in the last decade. Moran argues that distribution is the crucial link in a chain that dictates the consumption and purchase of television content. Consequently, New Flows in Global TV will be a key text for scholars of global media, providing comprehensive insight into the cultural, social and economic exchanges underlying media programming.
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About the Author
Albert Moran is professor in the School of Arts, Media, and Culture at Griffith University in Brisbane
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New Flows in Global TV
By Albert Moran
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
The choices TV programmers make about what gets made reflect more than their attempt to please audiences and tap the cultural Zeitgeist. Behind the creative task of bringing programs to audiences, TV is a business. That matters because the way TV conducts its business has a direct impact on the process by which programs are selected, financed, and produced. Reality TV may have captured the attention of audiences, but it also looks good on the books and balance sheets of those whose business is television (Magder 2004: 133).
Back in 1920, French filmmaker Abel Gance wrote that the time of the image has come (Wollen 1968). The proposition was extremely prophetic of the cultural and social world we face in the new millennium. Never have picture and sound been so apparently abundant. The Age of Television continues apace with a spiralling multiplication of visual content of all kinds, delivered not only through older 'first-wave' and 'second-wave' screen technologies but also through 'third- wave' technologies such as the computer and the mobile phone (Turner and Tay 2009). At the same time, television itself is claimed to be entering a new phase, where it is increasingly deterritorialized (Morley and Robbins 1995; Morley 2000). The newer technologies such as satellite and digitalization, driven by larger political, economic and social agendas, have seen television enter a post-broadcasting phase (Griffiths 2003). The modern age is, to quote the title of a recent collection of essays on the subject, 'television after TV' (Spiegel and Olsson 2004).
At the same time, it is worth recalling that television has always been characterized in terms of this kind of abundance. In his classic pioneering study of US broadcasting history, Barnouw (1970) titled his volume dealing with US television The Image Empire. Meanwhile, Tube of Plenty was his name for a subsequent composite volume based on the two-volume history (Barnouw 1992). Whether we accept that the abundance is recent or dates back further, the matter remains the same. Excess is a feature of delivery, so the task at hand in thinking about television in the present is to study this phenomenon of exchange. In fact, television itself has been much analyzed in terms of two sectors. At one end of the process, the medium is grasped as a site of reception and audience activity (Jensen 2002). How viewers watch programs and what they make of them can tell the researcher much about the society and the times. Meanwhile, at the other end of this communication chain, the institution of television is understood in the light of organization, production and programming. To the extent that the business of distribution is recognized at all, it is assumed to be a facilitating service that joins the other two sectors together, the connection that links the beginning and end of a program's journey from inception to broadcast (Wright 2005).
This is, however, a mistaken view of the situation. Distribution is the master element in the circuit across the field of television (or any other media, for that matter). In a classic study of the US motion picture industry that appeared in 1944, Huettig explained that, although drawn to studying the US industry at its glamorous point of motion picture production – Hollywood – it turned out to be much more important to do so from the financial centre of New York where distribution was organized (Huettig 1944). This remains the case with television. Distribution helps to organize the supply of program content and the production of that content, and it dictates the terms under which the consumption of that content takes place. Distribution regulates markets and orchestrates supply to those markets. It is at the very centre of the communications process.
Flow and the 'spatial turn' of communication studies
This book, then, has to do with television program distribution. It is especially concerned with new streams of program content in television across the world. The issue of what characterizes program content will be addressed shortly. For the moment, however, the emphasis has to do with inquiry into the distribution sector. This study deals with the subject under the label of new flows in global TV. The term 'flow' has been a favourite term for characterizing key features of television content. For almost 40 years, researchers and teachers have stressed the four-letter 'f' word not least because of the apparently irrefutable ontological status that the concept has acquired in relation to television study and understanding. The term 'flow' has been a favourite one in the analysis of program scheduling ever since the early 1970s, and it has a strong underlying presence in two seminal studies that have become classics in the field (Williams 1974; Nordenstreng and Varis 1974). Coming to the medium after prolonged researching in the field of literature, Raymond Williams suspected that television viewing entailed a different form of attention than did film viewing. The distinctiveness of the former appeared to lie in a ceaseless stream of apparently heterogeneous images and sounds, a trend that was especially evident in television offerings he encountered in the United States (Williams 1974: 62–75). Nordenstreng and Varis's television project was markedly different and more 'scientific'. Sponsored by UNESCO, their study was also more international, concerned as it was to trace the movement of television program exports on a world scale. Coincidentally, the term 'flow' was used in the two studies. Subsequently, both inquiries have been challenged in different ways in recent years (Thompson 2004; Sinclair, Jacka and Cunningham 1996; Tunstall 2008). Nevertheless, it is still possible to recognize that the term 'flow' has a useful methodological dimension in our understanding of the institution of television. The idea of flow is a valuable one because it joins verb and noun together. It unites carriage and content. Flow may be thought of as movement, as the activity that pushes an entity from one place to another, creating or using a channel or stream. Flow may also be imagined as an object, as an entity or content that undergoes such a displacement. In other words, the idea of television flow can be seen to join the notion of transportation with that of communication.
Carriage and content in the apparently new era of global television are the objects of study in this book. Of course, media have always had a spatial dimension as well as a communicative one – even if that relationship was loosened with the coming of wired and then later radio telegraphy (Czitron 1982; Carey 1989). Electronic media have tended to obscure the physical dimension of communication, and the term 'flow' is useful in reminding us of the spatial aspect of transmission. The term is also valuable in suggesting the textual or semantic dimension – the message component – of television. In short, as two Nordic researchers have pointed out, television mediatizes space just as it spatializes media (Folkheimer and Jamson 2006).
This geographical idea has taken on a particular saliency in the recent present, with what has been called the 'spatial turn' of media studies (Aksoy and Robins 2000; Shiel and Fitzmaurice 2001; Hay 2001, 2004). This approach is one that emphasizes the physical and material dimensions of media, whether as institution, process, representation or object of consumption. Applied to television, the method is concerned to ask about the place and location of what Hay has called the televisual. Hay writes:
The importance of a geographical understanding of television lies in recognizing that television always has been produced for, has circulated across, and has been engaged at particular sites. Consequently, what is understood as the 'televisual' has never been a discrete object but a set of practices and or attributes – always attached to, situated within, and dispersed across different environments (Hay 2004: 976).
Hay's own background lies in the discipline of geography, and his recent work signals an awareness on the part of some geographers at least that studying the physical dimensions of communications can constitute a significant contribution to cultural geography and a geography of communications (Storper 2002; Stober 2006). For the most part, however, geographers have been slow to initiate inquiry into the material dimensions of communications (Stober 2006). This has not been the case with media scholars (Jansson and Falkheimer 2006; Ek 2006). Instead, in recent years there have been signs of a reawakening and a renewal of a long-standing tradition of media inquiry that stresses the centrality of place. The expanding engagement with the spatial dimensions of communications probably began with Innis (1950) and McLuhan (1962), accelerated with scholars such as Williams (1974), Anderson (1991) and Carey (1989) and became a major focus of analysis with such writers as Morley (2000), Couldry (2000, 2003) and McCarthy (2000).
Spaces of television delivery
Even beyond this growing concern with place evidenced by media researchers, there are more pressing reasons for inquiring into the distribution of contemporary international television. Three justifications can be mentioned. The first is immediate and practical. While particular analyses exist concerning the export of programming from one national territory to other parts of the world and their insertion into local programming schedules in such studies as the international circulation of Dallas in the 1980s (Silj 1988), Australian soap opera exports in the 1990s (Cunningham and Jacka 1996a) and overseas sales of UK television programming in the new millennium (Freedman 2003; Steemers 2006a, 2006b), these are all concerned with an older and familiar form of program content. By contrast, New Flows in Global TV is a pioneering investigation into how the kinds of exchange associated with less familiar and more novel forms of television programming work. No other volume has concentrated on placing world distribution at the centre of its inquiries into global TV. This study does exactly that as a means of getting a firmer grasp on contemporary dynamics of the cultural, economic and social exchange that takes place at the centre of world television.
A second reason for this investigation is more conceptual. It has to do with the perceived recent globalization of culture and communications, including television. McLuhan anticipated a media global village, and particular screen institutions such as Hollywood are now said to be global if not planetary (Olson 1999; Miller et al. 2005; Cooper-Chen 2005). Certainly, recent years have seen a sharp growth in the study of international media and communications. The fact that television markets are now increasingly multilayered, existing at local, regional-national, national, world-regional and global levels (O'Regan 1993; Straubhaar 1997, 2007; Chalaby 2005a), creates the opportunity and the necessity of many different forms of market investigation. Multi-regional and multi-national comparisons of different media phenomena are one such type of analysis. The present investigation constitutes another kind of inquiry. It concentrates on global-regional and global -national connections in the distribution of television programs. In short, the study seeks to contribute to the ongoing understanding of the phenomenon of globalization, particularly as it operates in the domain of television.
The third justification for this study is methodological. An engagement (or re-engagement) with geography studies highlights the methodological flexibility of media and communication inquiry. The latter is a field of study and not a discipline. However, in its short history it has been prepared to draw on more established disciplinary outlooks and research strategies from the humanities and social sciences. Media and communications are constantly changing in their technologies, their output and their relationships with sites of power and influence, so it is necessary for new research approaches, novel investigative techniques, exceptional insights and procedures derived from other disciplinary areas to be incorporated into the field to help investigators extend their purchase on the realities with which they deal.
The phenomenon being investigated in this volume is the worldwide system of television circulation. I have postponed specifying what might be meant by the phrase 'global television' up to this point, but it is necessary to do so now.
Is global television synonymous with a television globalization or a globalized television industry? Is it better addressed using a more neutral term such as 'transborder television'? Are we in an era of post-broadcasting television? How does present-day international television fit into this domain? To answer such questions, it is necessary to take bearings on the state of television at the present time (Parks and Kumar 2003; Spiegel and Olsson 2004; Straubhaar 2007). Five different but interconnected spatial levels at which various television systems have operated are important. These have already been identified as the local, the national-regional, the national, the world regional and the global (O'Regan 1993).
The five levels are interconnected, even if they can also be thought of separately. Like the waters of the high seas that here and there go under particular names such as the Irish Sea or the Pacific Ocean without ever losing their liquidity or mobility, so television in any place has always existed at various interrelated levels. Of course, the strength, connection and significance of these levels have differed considerably over time. During the first seven years of television service in Australia, for instance, television was predominantly a local metropolitan affair, with transmission and reception limited to a particular radius in the state capital cities (Moran 1998, 2005; Moran and Keating 2007). The development of a cable landline infrastructure encouraged the emergence of a regional-national system alongside this local system, and eventually a more completely national system. Australian television is also cross-border and transnational, showing itself to be part of several world-regional television systems. Linguistically, it is a member of an Anglophone media region. Culturally and politically, it is part of both a European cultural region and a British-diasporic territory (Tunstall 2008). Geographically, Australian television can even claim to be a (weak) component of an Asian-Pacific mediascape (Cunningham and Jacka 1996b).
Chalaby (2005) has identified four of the five levels recognized here. He calls the last, mega level of television 'global television'. However, it is worth recalling that an older term, 'world television', is also an appropriate label for such a configuration (Straubhaar 2007). Television at this level has certainly grown over the past 80 years. Skeletally present before and after World War II, when audio-visual broadcasting was being inaugurated amongst the wealthiest, most advanced nations of the West, global television or world television is now an increasingly visible and powerful component of the total accumulated system of television across the planet. Equally, though, one should always bear in mind that this growth occurs alongside changes in the visibility and power of the other levels of television. The planet's television is also marked by different spatial arrangements, as is the case with those systems existing at the other levels.
Chalaby (2005) identifies four interconnected components of this planetary system that are complexly integrated and changing (2005: 14–17). First, there is the media industry component, itself composed by seven giant transnational corporations supplemented by other multinational organizations with strong regional sales or those with global reach specializing in niche markets. Clearly, a body such as BBC Worldwide is such a player, even if it belongs to a second tier rather than to the first. Second, there is a technological infrastructure in the shape of worldwide communication networks that include cable, satellite and the internet; this infrastructure facilitates and maintains the operation of these organizations. Additionally, there is the news and entertainment content and associated data and services that circulate through the system. Finally, there is the global regulatory regime that includes various international bodies, technical and trade agreements, and legal decisions and ordinances.
Such a scheme is rudimentary, and various other interconnected sectors might and should be mentioned. One such domain, for example, is the vital matter of television and media labour, with matters such as employment, worker association, new technology, skill and craft in constant flux and contestation (Miller et al. 2005; Wasko and Erickson 2008). In fact, a fifth interconnected component should be added to Chalaby's quartet model of global television. This has to do with what Waisbord (2004) has called the growing 'interconnectivity' across the sector of global television that witnesses an increasingly common, transnational and transcultural adoption of practices, outlooks and goals among the giant corporations and the many smaller organizations that facilitate their operation, including their human infrastructure of directors, managers, executives and assistants. This milieu provides the cultural glue that helps to hold the system of worldwide television together and facilitates its operation.
Excerpted from New Flows in Global TV by Albert Moran. Copyright © 2009 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Issues
Chapter 2 Places
Chapter 3 Rhetorics
Chapter 4 Stars
Chapter 5 Languages
Chapter 6 Geographies
Chapter 7 Envoys
Chapter 8 Piracy
Chapter 9 Outposts
Chapter 10 New flows in global TV