Like many other spheres of contemporary life, the mass media have been profoundly affected by the processes of globalization. During the 1990s, the global media landscape was transformed as a result of the deregulation and privatization of broadcasting and telecommunication, enabling a quantum leap in the production and distribution of media products across continents and in real time.
The globalization of media, and especially of visual media, is helping to make Marshall McLuhan’s dream of a “global village” a reality. In the era of “real-time” communications, people all over the world can watch live as events unfold, such as the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September, 2001, the tsunami that overwhelmed southern Asia in 2005, or major sports events such as the football world cup or Olympics.
With the convergence of television and the Internet and the growing availability of broadband, media consumers today can share information and entertainment programs and, with digital devices, even generate and distribute their own media content. Whether the audience is enjoying sports or watching news reports of military conflicts or natural disasters, music videos, soap operas, or game and chat shows, the globalization of the media has enabled the creation of a thriving international market, which now encompasses the globe (Thussu 2007).
Opening Up The Media Market
It has been pointed out that the globalization of the media is not entirely new: during the nineteenth century the world was connected by cable and wireless telegraphy, and news agencies such as Reuters were early examples of global media (Boyd-Barrett and Rantanen 1998). However, in almost every country, the media, historically, were considered a national institution. The state played an important role in the development of the private press (through subsidies) and especially in the growth of radio and television, key media for national integration and a sense of cultural identity, with a remit to inform and educate as well as entertain. In the communist world, the mass media were considered part of the legitimate state propaganda machinery. In many developing countries, too, the mass media were used by ruling elites to retain their hold on power. Before media globalization, with the possible exception of broadcasters from major powers such as the United States, television networks, for example, traditionally saw themselves as operating within and for the nation-state, making programs for citizens rather than consumers. With the globalization of the liberal model of the media, national broadcasters no longer have a monopoly on the airwaves. This has meant a dynamic media, challenging state censorship and widening the public sphere, while at the same time also leading to the concentration of media power in a few, unelected, transnational corporations (Herman and McChesney 1997; Baker 2007).
The political and economic opening up of markets at the end of the Cold War, through international agreements under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in order to encourage privatization and deregulation, relaxed restrictions on media ownership. The subsequent rush of mergers and acquisitions led to the concentration of power in a few large media corporations mainly based in the USA and Europe (Herman and McChesney 1997; Bagdikian 2004; Boyd-Barrett 2006; Thussu 2006; Baker 2007). At the same time, new markets opened up: the former Soviet bloc and emerging economies in Asia provided a growing and increasingly affluent class of media consumers.
Benefiting from globalization, transnational media corporations, such as Disney, AOL-Time Warner, and News Corporation, came to dominate the global media industry by virtue of their ownership of multiple networks and production facilities and the huge increase in transnational traffic in media products. The USA leads the field in the export of audiovisual products. Through its political and economic power, its media are made available across the globe in English or in dubbed or indigenized versions. From news and current affairs through youth programming (MTV, the world’s biggest television network, reaching 418 million households), children’s television (Disney), feature films, and sport (ESPN) to the Internet (Google), the United States is the global giant (Thussu 2006).
The USA is particularly strong in exporting filmed entertainment: Hollywood films are shown in more than 150 countries worldwide and dominate market share in most countries. In 2005, more than half of the US film industry revenues came from foreign markets. According to the Motion Picture Association, in 2004, the worldwide box office was worth $25.24 billion, with the world’s top 10 grossing films being produced by Hollywood (Miller et al. 2005).
Satellites And The Growth Of Global Television
The globalization of the media has been made possible by digital technologies and the growing availability of affordable communication satellites. During the 1990s – the decade of globalization – more geostationary satellites were launched than in the previous three decades combined, enabled by international agreements on telecommunications, especially the WTO’s Fourth Protocol (also referred to as the Basic Agreement on Telecommunications Services; Thussu 2006).
The resulting proliferation of satellite and cable television has led to unprecedented growth in new television networks. In Latin America, for example, PanAmSat, the first private satellite service for the continent, launched in 1988, revolutionized broadcasting, providing direct-to-home (DTH) television services. In Asia, the launch in 1990 of AsiaSat made such broadcasters as STAR (Satellite Television Asian Region), part of News Corporation, a possibility. In less than a decade from its launch, STAR could claim to be setting the pace of media in Asia, broadcasting 40 services in eight languages and reaching more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries. In the Arab world, the regional satellite operator Arabsat enabled beaming of programs across the region and among the Arab diaspora, as with the pan-Arabic entertainment network Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC), as well as news organizations such as Al Jazeera. All these networks are now supported by online and mobile delivery mechanisms (Thussu 2006).
One reason for the growing demand for transnational media is the result of a huge movement of people through migration. According to a report of the UN Global Commission on International Migration, the world had nearly 200 million migrants in 2005, partly as a result of the globalization of commerce and communication (UN 2005). Transnational satellite broadcasters and online media companies have tapped into these emergent geocultural and linguistic groups (Chalaby 2005).
Global Media: Flow And Contraflow
The resulting growth of multichannel networks has made the global media landscape more complex: it is now multicultural, multilingual, and multinational (Sinclair et al. 1996; Thussu 2007). Digital communication technologies in broadcasting and now broadband have given viewers in many countries the ability to access simultaneously a vast array of local, national, regional, and international media. A whole range of television networks is now available to viewers around the world: news (CNN, BBC World, France 24, CNBC, Bloomberg), regional news networks (Sky News, Star News Asia, the pan-Arabic news network based in Qatar, Al Jazeera), documentary (Discovery, National Geographic), sports (ESPN); and entertainment (Cartoon Network, Disney, HBO, Paramount, MTV), to name the most prominent genres.
Though the media flow from the west (mainly the US) to other parts of the world has increased, there is a small but significant flow in the other direction, from the non-western world. Such countries as China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and India have become increasingly important in the circulation of cultural products. Japanese animation, film, publishing, and music business was worth $140 billion in 2003, with animation, including manga (comics), anime, films, videos, and merchandising products bringing in $26 billion, according to the Digital Content Association of Japan. South Korea has emerged as a major exporter of entertainment – film, television soap operas, popular music, and online games – especially within east Asia, prompting commentators to speak of a Korean wave (the “Hallyu”) sweeping the region.
One key example of transnational media flow is the Latin American soap opera, the telenovela, which has become global in its reach: by 2005 the telenovela had developed into a $2 billion industry, being broadcast in 50 languages and dialects and reaching 100 countries from Latin America to southern and eastern Europe, to Asia, Africa, and the Arab world (Martinez 2005).
Another major non-western presence in the global media market is the growing visibility of India’s $3.5 billion Hindi film industry, which, in terms of production and viewership, is the world’s largest: every year a billion more people buy tickets for Indian movies than for Hollywood films. More films are made in India each year than in Hollywood, but their influence is largely confined to the Indian subcontinent and among the South Asian diaspora, though in recent years many “cross-over” films have changed this situation (Kaur and Sinha 2005). The unprecedented expansion of television in the 1990s and early 2000s has also boosted the movie industry, with the emergence of many dedicated film-based pay-channels. The globalization of Bollywood has ensured that Indian films are increasingly being watched by an international audience as well as a wider diasporic one: Hindi films are shown in more than 70 countries and are popular in the Arab world, in central and southeast Asia, and among many African countries.
In the arena of news and current affairs, such contra-examples may include the panLatin American news channel Televisora del Sur (“Television of the South,” Telesur) based in Venezuela; Russia Today (RTTV), the round-the-clock English-language global television channel launched in 2005; and CCTV-9, the English-language network of China Central Television, in operation since 2003. Al Jazeera, which since its launch in 1996 has redefined journalism in the Arab world, is the most prominent example of contraflow in global media products. By 2006, this pan-Arabic 24/7 news network was claiming to reach 50 million viewers across the world, challenging the Anglo-American domination of news and current affairs in one of the world’s most geopolitically sensitive areas. If the live broadcast of the 1991 US military action against Iraq contributed to making CNN a global presence, the “war on terrorism” catapulted Al Jazeera into becoming an international broadcaster whose logo can be seen on television screens around the world (Lynch 2006). With the launch in 2006 of Aljazeera English – and its claim of “setting the news agenda” – the global news-scape is likely to become more diverse.
Aljazeera English is an interesting example of media glocalization, drawing on the professionalism of the BBC’s public service ethos but aiming to privilege a southern perspective on global issues. Such hybridization is not uncommon and helps in a better understanding of strategies being adopted by the major western media corporations to maximize their entry into emerging markets around the globe (Robertson 1992). Conforming to what Sony once characterized as “global localization” – content and services being tailored for specific cultural consumers – a glocal media product is an inevitable commercial imperative. Glocalization strategies exemplify how the global can co-opt the local in order to maintain its dominance. This localization trend is discernible in the growth of regional or local editions of western or, more specifically, American newspapers or magazines; the transmission of television channels in local languages, and even producing local programming, as well as having local-language websites.
Major Hollywood studios are increasingly using local production facilities in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Columbia TriStar, Warner Brothers, and Disney have set up international TV subsidiaries to produce English-language co-productions, to be followed by country-specific programming. Sony has contributed to local-language film production in Germany, Hong Kong, France, and Britain, and television programming in eight languages. Global media companies are particularly keen to consolidate their position in the world’s two largest, and hitherto not fully explored, markets: China and India. Cartoon Network has indigenized operations in India, producing a series based on the Hindu religious epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharat, while Disney Consumer Products has established more than 1,800 “Disney Corners” in Chinese department stores.
STAR TV has aggressively adopted the policy of indigenization in offering localized channels, including STAR Chinese Channel (for Taiwan), STAR Japan, STAR Plus and STAR News (for India), and VIVA Cinema (for the Philippines). Among the business television channels, too, Asia is a priority area. By 2006, CNBC Asia, CNBC-TV18 (India), and Nikkei-CNBC (Japan) were available in more than 34 countries across the Asia-Pacific region. CNBC also had an alliance with China Business Network, a subsidiary of the Shanghai Media Group.
In the Middle East, western or westernized TV platforms such as Orbit and Viacom’s pay-TV joint venture Showtime are increasingly localizing their content, as well as using subtitles for American programming and moderating language and depictions of nudity and sex. In Latin America, prominent US brands include MTV Latin America, Canal Fox, CNN En Español, Fox Kids Network, and Fox Sports Americas.
In print media the localization process is well established. Newsweek has a network of local-language publications in Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Arabic, and Polish. The regional editions of major US business publications such as the Asian Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, Fortune Asian, and Fortune China have a small but influential pan-Asian readership. In Latin America, US presence includes the Wall Street Journal Americas as well as Time magazine, published as a supplement in leading newspapers in nine Spanish-speaking countries. America-Economia, a Dow Jones publication, is Latin America’s leading pan-regional business magazine, published bi-weekly in Spanish and Portuguese, while Fortune has a Latin American edition, Fortune Americas. Many international media brands publish multiple international editions of magazines, like Reader’s Digest, Esquire, and Good Housekeeping. This localized content is supported by regionalized advertising, increasingly deploying regional and national languages and using cultural values to sell consumer and other products through the different media.
As US-led western media conglomerates have regionalized and localized their content to extend their reach beyond the elites in the world and to create the “global popular,” many southern media organizations have benefited from synergies emerging from this process. Some have skillfully used their position within a media conglomerate, drawing on technological and professional expertise to grow into global operators. In addition, the globalization of western or western-inspired media has contributed to the creation of professional careers in media and cultural industries. The localization of media content and outsourcing of digital media for transnational corporations – from Hollywood post-production to animation and digital data management – have provided the impetus for the formation of important global hubs for creative industries: by 2005, for example, India had emerged as a key destination for outsourcing media content (UNESCO 2005).
During the 1970s and 1980s, UNESCO studies, conducted amid heated debates about the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), suggested that there was generally a one-way traffic, mainly in entertainment-oriented programming, from the major western exporting nations to the rest of the world, resulting in a global imbalance in the media.
In the era of globalization, it has been argued that the one-way vertical flow has given way to multiple and horizontal flows, as non-western media content providers have emerged to service an ever-growing geocultural market. However, a word of caution is advisable. The prominent examples of media flows from India, Brazil, and Qatar may give the impression that global media have become more diverse and even democratic. A careful analysis of the reality of global media flows would demonstrate a more complex process.
Despite the growing trend toward contraflow, the revenues of non-western media organizations, with the exception of Japanese animation, are relatively small, and their global impact is restricted to geocultural markets or at best to small pockets of regional transnational consumers. None of the Latin American telenovelas has had an international impact comparable with the cult following of Friends or Sex and the City, and, despite the growing presence of Indian films outside India, their share in the $200 billion global film industry (valued in 2004) was negligible.
As trade figures demonstrate, the circulation of US media products still continues to define the “global.” One result of the privatization and proliferation of television outlets and the growing glocalization of US media products is that American film and television exports witnessed a fourfold increase between 1992 and 2004 – from $2.5 billion to $10.4 billion (US Government 2005). The extensive reach of US-based media, advertising, and telecommunications networks contributes to the global flow of consumerist messages, helping the US to use its “soft power” to promote its national economic and political interests (Nye 2004).
Critical theorists have argued that the transnational corporations, with the support of their respective governments, exert indirect control over the developing countries, dominating markets, resources, production, and labor. In the process they undermine the cultural autonomy of the countries of the south and create a dependency on both the hardware and software of communication and media: “transnational corporate cultural domination” is how one prominent scholar defined the phenomenon (Schiller 1992, 39).
In such an analysis of global media flows, however, the audience and media content were largely ignored: that the content can be interpreted differently by different audiences and that southern countries may be able to innovate and improvise on the western products were discounted. While some have argued that the global-national-local interaction is producing “heterogeneous disjunctures” rather than a globally homogenized culture (Appadurai 1990), others have championed the cause of cultural hybridity, formed out of an adaptation of western media genres to suit local cultural conventions (Kraidy 2005).
Such hybridization of the media takes shape within a broader new-liberal ideological framework. It could be argued that glocalized media are contributing to a culture that celebrates the supremacy of the market and liberal democracy, as defined by the west. That the message is in local languages may in fact be a more effective way of legitimizing the ideological imperatives of a free market system: one that privileges the private and undermines the public media.
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