The core task of media management is to build a bridge between the general theoretical disciplines of management and the specificities of the media industry. Media management is, however, neither a clearly defined nor a cohesive field but rather a loose agglomeration of work by researchers from various scientific fields. The syllabi from the rash of media management courses that have sprung up over the past decade all over the world exhibit very few commonalities, and an enormously diverse range of theories, topics, and core readings. Notable is that very few of these courses stem from management or business schools. The majority come from mass communications and journalism or economics institutions (Küng 2007).
In contrast to media economics, which since its emergence in the 1970s has acquired an established set of theoretical approaches and an extensive body of literature, media management is still embryonic; the International Journal of Media Management was established only in 1998, the Journal of Media Business in 2004, the European Media Management Association (EMMA) in 2003, and the International Media Management Academic Forum in 2004.
Scope Of The Field
As Albarran and colleagues have observed, the field of media management “crosses interdisciplinary lines, theoretical domains, and political systems” (2005, 3). This, combined with its newness, has given rise to a fragmented body of literature, one that covers all the major dimensions of management theory – strategy, finance, marketing, operations, technology, human resources, and so on – but falls short of constituting a robust basis for understanding the practice of management in the media sector. It is therefore not possible to provide a clear overview of the scope of media management. But a number of strands can be discerned. In the main, these reflect the “host” disciplines of the scholars responsible.
To date, the major contribution to the field has been from media economists. While there is much overlap between media management and media economics, the former tends to focus on the activities of individual media organizations while media economics tends to work at an aggregate level – usually sector or market – with a focus on industry structures and the deployment of resources, particularly financial ones, to meet the needs of audiences, advertisers, and society. A number of media economists have strayed purposefully into the field of media management. Here, they have focused on issues related to strategy formulation and implementation by large media organizations, most often applying rationalist models from the industrial organization (IO) school, and looking particularly at the antecedents and/or consequences of change in the sector and alignment between firms’ environment, structure, and performance.
The work of political economists and scholars in communication has supplied understanding of the broader strategic environment of the media industry. These scholars combine economics, politics, and sociology perspectives to analyze the structure of the media industries, and regulatory and policy issues, looking particularly at the economic determinants, ownership structures, and political allegiances. Typical examples would be Tom Burns’ seminal study of the BBC (1977), Michael Tracey’s study of how political, technological, and economic forces have undermined public service broadcasting (1998), or Jeremy Tunstall and Colin Palmer’s study of media moguls (1991).
Marketing theory, itself a substantial constituent part of management theory, has been applied with increasing frequency to the media in recent years. Branding is a particularly prominent issue, as media organizations seek to find ways to make their products stand out from an increasingly competitive field. A more pragmatic set of economically influenced insights on trends, practices, and defining characteristics of the media industry comes from analysts and consultants who have worked in the industries. These include texts such as Michael J. Wolf ’s Entertainment economy (1999) and Harold Vogel’s Entertainment industry economics (2007).
From a historical perspective, study of media management reflects changes in the strategic environment of the media industry. The 1980s and 1990s were characterized by liberalization, deregulation, and globalization, and scholars responded by focusing particularly on issues of industry structure, the growth of the conglomerates, and transnational management in the sector.
Toward the end of the 1990s, a first and second tier of global media conglomerates became established. These were multiproduct, divisional entities that presented a more complex management task, and scholars began to focus on the specific challenges they presented, applying tools such as the resource-based view (RBV; Chan-Olmsted 2006), theories of organizational culture (Küng 2000), and multiproduct business models (Picard 2002a, b).
The turn of the millennium saw dramatic developments in the media industry’s underlying technologies. This gave rise to a flurry of research looking at the emerging digitally based distribution architectures and their ramifications for the public and the established media industry (Shapiro & Varian 1999; Evans & Wurster 2000).
Current Research Emphases
Management is an applied discipline and current research foci are driven by developments in the industry. This, when combined with the diverse backgrounds of researchers in the field, means that current research strands flow in many different directions. In terms of media management, three topics are prominent currently.
The first is creativity. Creativity has always been central to the media industry – cultural goods can rarely be standardized on a long-term basis and this, combined with the fickle nature of customer demand, means there is an incessant need for novelty. However, technological advances have increased the number of media products available to consumers and led to the emergence of entirely new product categories. This has increased both competition and need for creativity, since the higher the levels of ongoing creativity, the greater the potential for competitive advantage.
A second area of research looks at new content forms and their implications. While the largest players in the industry are focusing on blockbuster products that can be reformulated for many different platforms and marketed globally, some of the most energetic growth in the sector is coming from contradictory trends. The first is niche products. Technology now allows specialized content to be matched with specialist audience niches, and consumers are showing a preference for targeted products over generalized ones. This is giving rise to a process of “demassification,” where the appeal of “mass” products is dwindling and that of niche products growing. The second is the growth in user-created social-network-spawned media. A vast amount of information is now being created, stored, and shared by users, often in social networking sites that combine personalized content with a participatory context. This type of content represents both a growth opportunity and a challenge for established industry players.
The media industry is, however, not just about content. It is also deeply and symbiotically linked with technology. It was born out of technology and adjusting to technological change has been a consistent and longstanding challenge. However, while technological advance has always been present, the volume and velocity of the changes now under way have created a peculiarly challenging environment. The third research stream analyses these changes and explores their ramifications for the industry and audiences.
The field of management in and of itself represents a number of intrinsic challenges to researchers. First, there is the problem of breadth. The body of scholarship relating to matters of management is an enormously dispersed body of literature. Second, there is the problem of pluralism. Over recent decades, a profusion of new concepts, approaches, and schools has developed, leaving the field more and more fragmented, differentiated, and complex. Third, there is the problem of compartmentalism – or incommensurability.
The various concepts and theories within the field are not only diverse but contradictory and inconsistent, and do not lend themselves to the creation of a solid, coherent foundation for media management. If we add to this the fact that the media industries themselves are far from monolithic, representing a diverse set of industries, operating in all kinds of geographic segments, and catering to many different types of audiences, considerable conceptual and contextual breadth of expertise is required by the researcher.
Future Directions In Research And Theory
As said, the field of media management is new and unformed. There have been relatively few attempts to apply mainstream management theory to the media industry in a rigorous way. Much basic groundwork remains to be done in the shape of systematic application of management concepts to the industry, highlighting the specificities of the sector and concepts of particular relevance.
In terms of strategy, many insights have come from application from the rational school. This will certainly continue: issues such as strategic positioning, competitive dynamics, and diversification strategies are not likely to lose relevance. But with the increasing dynamism and complexity of the media industry’s environment, it is increasingly difficult to make the necessary assumptions to carry out such research. Therefore, a wider set of tools needs to be adopted, specifically concepts that link the environment, strategy, and the organization. Many of these can be found in adaptive and interpretative areas of management theory.
As its name suggests, the adaptive school is concerned with strategic change. It seeks to understand the systems and processes by which an organization responds to changes in the environment. Particularly relevant to the media sector are concepts concerning the interplay between technological change and organizations.
The interpretative school of strategy focuses on the less obvious elements of organizations that influence strategic outcomes, namely the deeper, “hidden” aspects such as mindset and belief systems, values, motivation, and emotions. These elements are often sidelined by researchers because they are subjective and/or unconscious phenomena that are difficult to access and interpret. However, they are particularly important in media organizations, partly because the individuals who choose to work in the sector are often motivated to do so because of their own “higher order” needs, and partly because of the tremendous influence that the media industries exert over our lives and societies. There is ample evidence of the relevance of concepts from this school: for example, culture is an important factor in established firms’ ability to respond to new technology, and mental models can lead incumbents to reject such technologies, as evidenced by the music majors’ responses to the Internet.
Applying such models will require a broadening of research methodologies, specifically the use of contextualist, constructivist, processual, and pluralist approaches. A contextualist orientation includes the organization’s internal and external environments in the widest sense, and particularly social and historical influences (regulatory and technological ones are well covered) in the research frame. A constructivist perspective is necessary because organizational realities do not exist independently of their observers: environments, organizations, and strategies are constructed rather than natural objects. Processual approaches do not assume a linear relationship between formulation and implementation, but rather seek to understand strategic processes, including the multiplicity of nonrational elements that can affect them. Finally, pluralism is necessary because both the industry and the changes taking place in it are complex phenomena. Multi-lens analysis can accommodate the untidy, idiosyncratic, and dynamic interrelatedness of organizations and their strategic activities.
- Albarran, A. B., Chan-Olmsted, S. M., & Wirth, M. O. (2005). Handbook of media management and economics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Burns, T. (1977). The BBC: Public institution and private world. London: Macmillan.
- Chan-Olmsted, S. M. (2006). Competitive strategy for media firms: Strategic and brand management in changing media markets. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Chan-Olmsted, S. M., & Chang, B. H. (2003). Diversification strategy of global media conglomerates: Examining its patterns and determinants. Journal of Media Economics, 16(4), 213 –233.
- Doyle, G. (2002). Understanding media economics. London: Sage.
- Evans, P., & Wurster, T. S. (2000). Blown to bits: How the new economics of information transform strategy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
- Küng, L. (2000). Inside the BBC and CNN: Managing media organizations. London: Routledge.
- Küng, L. (2007). Does media management matter? Establishing the scope, rationale and future of an emergent academic discipline. Journal of Media Business Studies, 4(1), 21–39.
- Picard, R. G. (ed.) (2002a). Media firms: Structure, operations, and performance. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Picard, R. G. (2002b). The economics and financing of media companies. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Shapiro, C., & Varian, H. R. (1999). Information rules: A strategic guide to the network economy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
- Tracey, M. (1998). The decline and fall of public service broadcasting. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tunstall, J., & Palmer, M. (1991). Media moguls. London: Routledge.
- Vogel, H. L. (2007). Entertainment industry economics: A guide for financial analysis, 7th edn. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Wolf, M. J. (1999). The entertainment economy: How mega-media forces are transforming our lives. New York: Times Books.