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Preface

Part I
The Emergence Of American Television: The Formative Years

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

Part II
One Nation Under Network Television: The 1950s

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

Part III
The Years Of Plenty: The 1960s and 1970s

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

Part IV
Toward and Video Order: the 1980s and 1990s

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

 

 

Narrowcasting and Globalization

While mighty adversaries—government regulators, broadcast networks, cable, and program producers—battle for the future of American can TV, the shape of that future remains uncertain. But the current trends suggest that by the next century U.S. video will crystallize somewhere between a minimalist system of network broadcasting/cable narrowcasting, and a maximalist arrangement in which globally organized megacorporations control mass entertainment and information at every stage of commercial exploitation.

Narrowcast TV would mean more channels, more choice, a medium more responsive to individual differences within the U.S. population. That was certainly the vista of Austin Ranney of the American Enterprise Institute, who in the early 1980s wrote about the narrowcast future possible through cable. He called particular attention to the prediction that new technology would soon make interactive cable a possibility. And when viewers could "talk back" to the sets and electronically vote on pressing issues, American TV would have achieved "the old dream of town-meeting-style direct democracy for millions of citizens, perhaps even for the national electorate."

Less civic in its concern, the advertising agency Lintas: U.S.A. also foresaw the imminent death of mass media—from mass-circulation maga­zines to network television—in a fragmented decentralized future that would render mass media irrelevant. Speaking before the American Ad­vertising Federation in June 1989, the agency's executive vice-president for business development, Don Peppers, argued that in the contemporary "consumer information economy," where many different media compete to satisfy the predilections of individual consumers, the homogenized product offered in the past was rapidly losing its popularity. "Gathering the family around and watching I Love Lucy has declined," Peppers noted. "Network and program loyalty and attention spans have gone down." Alexander Kroll, head of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency, was even more direct when he claimed in late 1989 that "the individual is poking his head out of the mass tapestry and sticking his tongue out at us.

In the Lintas model, advertisers would require what Peppers called "precise information through a whole range of communications vehicles to reach people effectively." He predicted that marketing strategies would become increasingly narrow, to be based ultimately on information gath­ered from records of purchases that detail individual buying habits and personal tastes, a fine-tuning that Keith L. Reinhard, chairman of the DDB Needham Worldwide advertising agency, characterized as "personal media maps" that chart the reading and viewing habits of consumers.

Furthermore, in this future where fragmented media have replaced mass media, advertisers will be able to market to specific buyers rather than collections of buyers. General Motors, for example, is already researching interactive advertising techniques that would interrelate and exploit vari­ous electronic media now available in the homes of consumers, among them television, telephones, personal computers, and facsimile machines. As one GM executive explained it, the corporation's goal is to discover ways to employ all these media "to communicate with you on a one-to-one basis."

As well as in predictions about a decentralized future, the inexorable slide toward television narrowcasting is indicated in the experiences of network radio four decades ago. When national video emerged in the early 1950s, it killed network AM radio, in great part because radio was limited in scope and size, and it was controlled by the same networks scrambling to board the TV bandwagon. AM radio became so unpopular and decentralized, in fact, that late-blooming FM radio soon carved out a formidable spot on the economic spectrum. To thrive, even to survive, stations on both radio bands were compelled to develop formats appealing to specific tastes within a diverse but local public. The result was narrowcast radio in which many formats appeared, and cumulative ratings above 6.0 were considered successes in markets where dozens of outlets competed for listeners and advertisers.

The major difference between audio and video, however, is that the former was and is considerably less expensive to program than television. Most radio stations remain relatively inexpensive community operations, and the rump services that now pass as national radio deliver only a few minutes of news and/or features to subscriber stations each hour. Although TV serves more people than radio, narrowcast video—even those outlets programming old movies and well-used reruns—has sizable expenses that must be borne by advertisers or subscribers.

Narrowcast television has within it, moreover, the potential of self-destruction. Because it is so lucrative, television invites economic concentration and monopoly. In American society, where profit-oriented businesses control the air, and federal regulation has been chronically weak, fewer and fewer large corporations inevitably maneu­ver to increase their leverage within the industry. In the name of stockholder dividends and efficiency, corporate concentration leads to standardization, mass marketing, and a lack of diversity—the exact opposite of narrowcasting. As discussed in Chapter 11, there are structural forces working against such an eventuality. Sociologist Todd Gitlin recognized the potential of such a development when he concluded that "the brave new cornucopia is likely to create only minor, marginal chances for diversity of substance—and fewer and fewer as time goes on." He continued:

The workings of the market give Americans every incentive to remain conventionally entertainment-happy. Conglomeration proceeds apace. Homogeneity at the cultural center is complemented by consumer frag­mentation on the margins. Technology opens doors, and oligopoly marches in just behind, slamming them. There can be no technological fix for what is, after all, a social problem.

Questions inevitably emerge after fifty years of network television: Will commercial broadcasting remain influential enough with viewers that it will remain feasible for business to use—or to begin using—TV strategies in marketing goods and services? If the medium is moving toward a mixed narrowcast and subscription future, what will be the fate of the networks as communicators of a homogeneous national experience? What will be the future of television as a medium of social and political importance? Who will control television?

These are questions that emerge from an industry in flux. Leveraged buyouts and threats of hostile takeovers may be creating massive communications corporations, but these are usually deeply in debt and therefore creatively constrained. Network ratings continue to fall to the point that CBS, once the industry's leader, faces a dismal future with old series that are losing their appeal, new series that do not attract viewers, and billions of dollars invested in sports programming. Although the network continues to realize a profit, its loss of popularity is unprecedented. As the president of one CBS affiliate lamented in late 1989, "We have, in the November ratings book for Monday through Friday, a single-digit rating, which has never happened before in our history."

Even the advertising industry is suffering because of the turmoil in television. As Michael Lev reported in the New York Times in November 1989: "Television has not experienced a year of robust advertising growth since 1984, when revenues grew 18.5 percent. Since then growth has been held to single-digit increases that have barely kept pace with economic growth." Whereas TV advertising revenues for cable and broadcast reached $26.9 billion in 1988, much of that 7.5 percent increase came from advertising during the Olympic Games. Growth in 1989 slowed to 6 percent in 1989, and it was anticipated to rise only 7 to 9 percent in 1990.

The three broadcast networks continue, however, to convince advertisers that even with less than 68 percent of the prime-time audience and rising costs-per-thousand viewers delivered, they provide the largest possible exposure for commercial messages. But ABC, CBS, and NBC have had to adjust their economics to the new reality. Comparative statistics from the November sweeps in 1984 and 1987 illustrate that the networks have had to accept fifteen-second commercials as a normal part of commercial time. Swelling from 6 percent of prime-time advertising in 1984 to 36 percent in 1987 (and up from 11 percent to 43 percent in weekday advertising), the quarter-minute spot has triggered an increase in the monthly number of commercials on network TV—up in prime time from 3,952 to 4,667, and on weekdays from 8,474 to 9,877. Where there was only a slight rise in total commercial minutes in prime time (up from 1,916 to 1,954), and a decrease in weekday TV (down from 4,601 to 3,984), the bombardment of the audience has prompted outcries against commercial clutter."

Although the networks by late 1988 attracted only 59 percent of the viewing audience from sign-on to sign-off (independents drew 25 percent; still cable received 16 percent), they still received 81 percent of the advertising dollar. And presale of prime-time advertising for the 1989-1990 season led media analysts to predict record profits for the three TV networks in 1990, possibly exceeding $600 million.

Cable TV continues to expand the narrowcast reality. Although some predicted a slow growth rate for cable in the 1990s, peaking at about 60 percent penetration, the industry in mid-1989 reported wiring 10,000 homes each day, 300,000 households per month. And gross advertising revenues for cable in 1989 were expected to reach $1.5 billion, a rise of 40 percent over the previous year."' Even half of the audience for the leading broadcast network, NBC, now watched it on cable TV.

There were misgivings, however. Local operators, no longer under the control of city cable commissions, continued to wrestle with viewer complaints about everything from poor reception to R-rated program content. Because local operators make money from home shopping ser­vices, the several networks selling trinkets and fashions—Home Shopping Network, J. C. Penney Television Shopping Channel, QVC Network—often occupied several channels, while local operators dropped more popular (but less profitable) networks. The arts, education, minorities, government, business, children, and other specific tastes continued to be served; but many such channels survive only through subsidies from large MSO's such as TCI, which then point to cable diversity as proof of their industry's value to a pluralistic society

Attempting to understand the direction of television in this time of flux, Electronic Media in early 1988 asked several analysts to act as seers. For those seeking a return to the past glories of free programming, or for those wishing to discover calm in contemporary TV, these experts were not encouraging. Among their predictions were the following:

  • During the 1990s one of the three major networks will either cease operations or sell out to its affiliates and become a cooperative entity.
  • U.S. television will accept more foreign programs, thereby speeding up the process of globalization in video.
  • Continued fiscal woes and technological advancements will precipitate even more changes in the restructuring of traditional TV and programming.
  • Networks will cooperate more with cable in producing joint programming ventures.
  • There will be further fragmentation of the network audiences as cable penetration increases; result will be inability of the networks to command increasing prices from their advertisers.
  • Traditional notions of mass marketing may soon be anachronistic as TV moves increasingly to target marketing and programming—and this will enhance cable stations more than it will network broadcasters. If the networks do not follow suit, they "could one day find themselves like Look and Life magazines with the largest audience circulation but some of the smallest revenue shares."
  • "From now on everyone is playing by different rules. Everything and anything is possible. "

Although such prognostications indicate that the TV business is in turmoil, they do little to promote clarity. It is possible, however, to discern that future by observing developments in other countries. Around the world vast conglomerates have been purchasing communications industries, synchronizing their video, radio, publishing, and phonograph subsidiaries into synergistic megacorporations. The goal has been to service vast geographic areas with operations able to take a creative idea and exploit, distribute, and market it from concept to rerun.

In this profitable process an idea could originate as a magazine article, then move through the continuum from book to big-screen motion picture—whose sound track is marketed on cassette and compact disc—to prerecorded videocassette, pay-per-view feature, pay-cable attraction, and first-run release to broadcast networks—then into syndication to cable or independent outlets. Along the way, too, it could be made into a radio or television show, a miniseries, or a full series—or a sequel, which itself could follow the same exploitative process.

The "warlords" maneuvering toward such vertical integration include the French publishing house and TV giant Hachette; corporations owned and/or controlled by the Australian-American Rupert Murdoch; the West German corporation Bertelsmann, AG; the Silvio Berlesconi conglomerate, headquartered in Italy; and the Robert Maxwell communications empire, headquartered in Great Britain. The cause of much of the tumult in American television has been the fact that until the creation of Time Warner in mid-1989, a U.S. warlord had not entered the field. And while its appearance was awaited by the industry, many foreign companies have been spending deflated U.S. dollars to acquire prime American communications properties for their own conglomerates. Among these have been:

    Sony (Japan)
    CBS Records
    Columbia Pictures Entertainment (TV/movies)

    Matsushita (Japan)
    MCA/Universal (TV/movies)

    Bertelsmann (West Germany) Doubleday (books)
    Dell (books)
    Bantam (books)
    RCA Records
    The Literary Guild (book clubs)

    Qintex Productions (Australia)
    United Artists (movies)
    Hal Roach Studios (movies)

    Maxwell Communications (Great Britain)
    Macmillan (books)

    Television South (Great Britain)
    MTM Productions (TV)

    Thames Television (Great Britain)
    Reeves Communications (TV)

    Pathe Entertainment/Giancarlo Parretti (France)
    New World Entertainment (movies)

    News Corporation/Rupert Murdoch (Australia)
    Numerous magazines and newspapers
    20th Century-Fox (movies)
    Harper & Row (books)
    Metromedia (TV network)
    Fox Broadcasting (TV network)

Interestingly, the inability of the U.S. corporations to come together to compete with the emergent transnationals was upsetting the global balance. British communications magnate Robert Maxwell told ABC News in June 1989 that the United States needed a standard-bearer to represent American interests in the global telecommunications scramble. Speaking with Sander Vanocur on Business World, Maxwell approved the merger of Time, Inc., with any of its suitors—Paramount Communica­tions, Cablevision, and the eventual winner, Warner Communications—as presaging the formation of a U.S. global conglomerate.

These financial maneuvers, Maxwell said, were "very good for America. In particular, if the Time-Warner merger had gone through as was originally contemplated, that would have created a United States giant that would have matched any of what we could do in Europe, with or without the Japanese." Maxwell continued:

The information business is like energy or money: it is scarce, it is valuable, it is important, and it is moving globally. And this is why you see so many mergers on a national and international scale. It will continue until there are about ten megacorporations who will control communications in the world, without in any way harming national interests or regional newspapers or television and so on. The globe is becoming one village, and you need to have information and media companies to be global.... Time's a very very fine corporation.... the United States needs to have a major flag-carrying corporation.
Vanocur: You've not mentioned, till this moment, synergy. Is that an over­worked word?
Maxwell: It is not overworked. Synergy is a good thing in money terms. But the technology isn't yet completely in place where you can take an author's work, like your own, and convert it into a film, a radio play on CD-ROM disc. It's coming into place. It will be in place in about five years time. This is one of the reasons why globalism is so much to the fore.

Not all Americans shared Maxwell's transnational vision. Some, like media scholar Ben Bagdikian, have indicated that the appearance of any U.S. conglomerate would be inimical to the variety offered by competitive communications media. As Bagdikian explained it on ABC's Business World in June 1989, "I think we have to make a decision in this country on how much we want to sacrifice the diversity of media in this country— of news, of information, of television programs, of entertainment, of cable, of book publishing, of magazines—how much we're going to sacrifice our choice in those things in order to let a few American companies become as big as the super giants around the world."

On the other hand, the situation is reminiscent of the dilemma perceived by the U.S. Navy following World War I when, with foreign radio companies threatening to get a jump on U.S. corporations, the Navy helped to overcome antitrust conflicts and establish the Radio Corporation of America.

The most obvious U.S. player in global entertainment competition is the megacorporation Time Warner, Inc., which was formed in mid-1989 by the $14 billion purchase of Warner Communications by Time, Inc.—this following a costly legal battle with rival Paramount Communications. Time brought to the new union holdings in magazines (Time, Life, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated), basic and pay cable (BET, CNN, TNT, HBO, Cinemax, Viewers' Choice, The Fashion Channel), phonograph records (Time-Life Records), book publishing (Time-Life Books; Little, Brown), and distribution (Book-of-the-Month Club, History Book Club).

Warner Communications provided film production and syndication (Lorimar Telepictures, Warner Brothers), home video (Warner), televi­sion stations (50 percent of United Television), cable systems (Warner Cable, 82 percent of American Television & Communications), cable programming services (Cable Value Network, The Fashion Channel, Movietime, Shop Television Network, 17 percent of Turner Broadcasting), phonograph records (Warner, Elektra, Atlantic), and music and book publishing (Warner Books, DC Comics).

As an interesting reflection of the times, the Time Warner deal quickly precipitated speculation about the next combinations: some suggested Time Warner would soon acquire Pathe Entertainment of France or Turner Broadcasting; or that Walt Disney Company would merge soon with either MCA or Columbia Pictures or Paramount Communications; or that Paramount would merge with MCA, Tele-Communications, Inc., the Tribune Company of Chicago, or perhaps even Time Warner.

With potential profitability so enormous and such multibillion-dollar transactions happening or pending, the leap into transnational media has clearly been on the minds of the U.S. television networks. When Thomas S. Murphy of Capital Cities/ABC testified before the Senate Communications Subcommittee in 1989, he spoke about competition and the American public, but he concluded with a broader reference: "In order for us to compete effectively, I believe that the network companies must be freed from many of the restrictions that inhibit our ability to be full players in the burgeoning domestic and global programming industry." Capital Cities/ABC, however, had already demonstrated its desire to make foreign investments. In February 1989 the corporation purchased a sizeable percentage of the West German media conglomerate Tele-Munchen. ABC also pursued ventures in Spain and elsewhere.

At NBC Robert Wright was already on record predicting that by 1994 his corporation would be "a much bigger company engaged in multiple networks and the ownership and production of programs seen worldwide on cable and over-the-air television." Appealing to the Senate Communications Subcommittee to make his corporate dreams come true, Wright again disclosed that NBC had global aspirations. In maintaining that the FISR "harm America's position in the exploding international video marketplace," he argued:

Only the networks, potentially this country's strongest competitors, cannot fully participate in the global arena. We watch as the Australian News Corporation and Qintex buy up Hollywood studios. But the American networks can't do what they do, at home or abroad. We can't produce programs in the United States with foreign money, and then export those programs. We can't buy the foreign distribution rights to a theatrical movie if it has ever been on television. About the only incentive, or the opportu­nity we have, in fact, is to produce abroad solely for foreign markets because that way we don't trigger the rules.

Indeed, television is moving toward rearrangement into global spheres of influence. At a time when TV around the world—broadcast, local, and cable—is controlled by fewer and fewer corporations, there are those in the United States who agree that the time is ripe for one or more American standard-bearers. Especially attractive to U.S. video interests is the integrated European Community to be finalized in 1992. This eco­nomic "United States of Europe," composed of twelve Western European nations, constitutes a rich and sophisticated market comparable to that of the United States. With its plan to foster a robust and cooperative Euro­pean communications reality, "TV Without Frontiers," the EC has im­posed quotas of 50 percent on foreign television products permitted on its screens. Still, possible financial rewards for entertaining the EC remain massive. And with the restructuring of Eastern European economics in the wake of the collapse of Communist authority, the European market for television appears all the more potentially profitable.

By the end of 1989 many U.S. communications corporations were rushing toward involvement in European television. By its purchase of 49 percent of Zenith Productions of Great Britain, Paramount Communications enhanced its European presence. When Warner Brothers, a division of Time Warner, acquired one-third of the Swedish pay-television market, one of its corporate presidents explained, "This is Warner Brothers' first investment outside the U.S. in a broadcasting pay television service. We will not stop in Sweden."

Meanwhile, NBC solicited foreign partnerships, and Capital Cities/ ABC announced plans to produce in Europe for Europe with European partners. As explained in September by J.B. Holston, the vice-president and general manager of NBC International, these were propitious times. "It's a good time for larger players in the entertainment industry around the world to sit down and find ways we can work together," he noted. "The marketplace is becoming increasingly global. We need real partnerships and alliances that would include swapping directors and equity. If not, we're going to wake up in three years and find the industry dominated by two or three individuals."

To a degree, U.S. television has always been international. Industry success has been augmented by foreign syndication of American-made programs, network investment in foreign video infrastructure, and the reliability of profits from foreign dealings. But globalism transcends such limited exploitation of product. Instead of the old multinationalist view in which the world was approached as a collection of different countries and distinct markets, globalism is an integrationist mindset that considers the world and its citizenry in singular terms: people everywhere eat the same, want the same, react the same. As Ted Levitt of the Harvard Business School explained it, "Increasingly, all over the world, more and more people's preferences regarding products and service and qualities and fea­tures are getting more and more alike." For Levitt, the global corporation is one that is "organized and operated to treat the world—or major seg­ments of it—as being a single or similar category.

Today, global advertising has been achieved through the universal attractiveness of sports and popular music and the ubiquity of television. Particularly attractive have been recent Olympic Games and World Cup soccer championships, which have drawn billions of viewers worldwide." Tina Turner and Madonna have performed on soft-drink commercials that have been televised around the globe. The potential of music to maximize audience size was demonstrated, too, in the Live Aid concert in July 1985. This sixteen-hour rock 'n' roll concert linked musicians and a planetwide audience via satellite from Australia to Philadelphia to London to the Soviet Union in a selfless effort to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. The affair generated more than $40 million in contributions, and it reached an audience estimated at 1.5 billion people.

In its extreme, globalism means the cultural homogenization of the world. Despite Robert Maxwell's pledge that it would not harm national interests or regional newspapers or television, its long-range implications are overwhelming. Much as national broadcasting was the fundamental industry that amalgamated the American people into a single cultural unit—in appreciation of and in subservience to an American popular culture—to envision the world as a single market is to play to the common­alities of the human experience while ignoring or denigrating the particu­lars that make people different. It is mass marketing to the maximum. And much as this process leveled regionalism and deep cultural differences within the United States, so its success will be based on the glorification of an internationally common culture and the propagation of standardized values and attitudes throughout the planet.

One of the most important markets already experiencing the impact of globalism has been the Soviet Union. After decades of oppressive politics and similar TV programming, glasnost opened the Soviet window on the West and on the Far East—just as technologically advanced nations and the media conglomerates were recognizing Eastern Europe as a lucrative market for cultural software and hardware. Whether it is Sony selling TV sets in Moscow, Capital Cities/ABC feeding the 1989 Academy Awards to the entire U.S.S.R., Maxwell Communications peddling British television series to the drab Soviet TV system, or Turner Broadcasting sponsoring the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Games and allowing its CNN satellite signal to be used in preparation of Soviet newscasts, the impact on Communist culture promises to be enormous.

One Soviet broadcaster has told of the reaction to a British TV series televised recently in the U.S.S.R. The program from London included commercials for Kit-Kat candy bars and Singapore Airlines, both of which are unavailable in the Soviet Union. According to Uri Radzievsky, manag­ing director of worldwide development at Maxwell/Berlitz, "the first showing of the Kit-Kat commercial was met with interest. It brought back some of the good memories about this forgotten bittersweet thing called chocolate that disappeared from stores years ago. The second time the reaction turned into curiosity. The third showing caused outright aggrava­tion." And when the spots for Singapore Airlines showed "all the beautiful places it flies to"—none of which was in the Soviet Union—the audience was sent "into a state of deep depression."

While some have criticized such distribution as destructive to cultural differentness, Jack Valenti, as spokesman for the major Hollywood studios, has suggested that an Americanization of the world via the export of U.S. television and film products would be a function of international democracy. Questioned by conservative political commentator John McLaughlin on the CNBC discussion show McLaughlin, Valenti expressed the attitude that is fueling globalism:

McLaughlin: Europeans and Canadians complain that they're becoming too Americanized. Surely, you can appreciate the validity of that concern, Jack Valenti.
Valenti: Well, that's a decision that's taken by the citizens of that country. I mean, who's wise enough to say to the people of France or Germany or Great Brit­ain, "You should watch this and not watch that"? These are free countries. And so if they're becoming "too Americanized" it's not anything that's being foisted on them by America. It's the people ofthat country making their own decisions about what they want to watch. I find that reasonable.
McLaughlin: You want to help them to be able to reject their own culture? Is that what you want to do? Valenti: No, no, I want them to be able to be free to choose whatever they want. If anyone's culture is so flimsily anchored that a television show is going to cause them to rupture their connection to culture, it probably wasn't as deeply rooted as it should have been.

Clearly, the dominance of network broadcasting has been ebbing, irreversibly. And unless the American networks can become part of the larger transnational competition, they will become increasingly irrelevant in global telecommunications. A distinct era in the history of American mass communications has ended. One affiliate of each of three monopolistic networks, plus a few independent stations programming off-network reruns and local sports: in city after city this is the way commercial video was organized in the United States. The only new developments—UHF and public television—did nothing to undermine this basic design. UHF arrived too late to be important, and public TV never attracted audiences large enough to influence commercial television.

As American TV is being slowly rearranged, the dilemma foreseen by journalist E. B. White remains. Writing in 1939, he anticipated a critical, civilizing role for television, but he feared its effects might have cataclysmic results. As he expressed it,

I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision, we shall discover a new and unbearable disturbance of the modern peace, or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television—of that I am quite sure.

Television in the United States has had an imperfect past. While it helped to educate the nation, it was neither as constructive nor as flawless as it might have been. Network TV evolved with chronic inefficiency and amid chronic controversy. Nevertheless, its effects have been widespread, for it became the nation's chief informant, offering the populace via entertainment and informational programming a value-laden perspective on reality.

TV has not been the "saving radiance in the sky" wished by E. B. White. Its primal ties to commercial and political interests and its emer­gence at the beginning of U.S. entry into the Cold War destined the medium to be a partisan force in the capitalist struggle against the interna­tional spread of rival political and economic doctrines.

On the other hand, TV did not become the "new and unbearable disturbance of the modern peace" feared by E. B. White. If anything, its slow but inexorable exposure of the brute ugliness of modern combat has done much to counter aggressive energies and recommend civilized processes. In recent years, when transmitting live pictures from the scene of popular uprisings, when bringing congressional sessions and political seminars, when interviewing international allies and enemies, when offer­ing music and film and art of profound proportions, when encouraging public debate with articulate and balanced representation, when offering diversion that uplifts and entertainment that enhances and ennobles human experience, television is all that its most optimistic dreamers ever could have wanted. It just has never performed this well with consistency.

The legacy of television in the United States is mixed. With all shortcomings, and there have been many, it has been a fascinating arena of popular interest. Through all its commercialism and banality, monopolistic practices and prepossessing concern over profitability, it has visually brought the world into the average home. TV has educated and diverted and stimulated, and often it has flattered its producers and programmers. Often, too, it has insulted and distracted, manipulated and exploited, even distorted, propagandized, and bored.

Whatever its fate in the last decade of this century and beyond, through fifty years broadcast TV has exercised a singular influence in molding and defining the nation. Because of what it did and did not show, Americans in many ways are what they are. Spiritually, morally, economically, intellectually, historically, ideologically: in these and other ways Americans have found in national video an influential medium of communication, the potent impact of which has touched popular thought and action.

As it moves toward a globalist twenty-first century, it seems certain that television may slowly but inexorably do to the rest of the world what it has done in the United States. The understanding of TV as a corporatized, profit-driven enterprise is catching on through the world. State-controlled systems are yielding to privatization. New channels, cable TV, home satellite dishes, and videocassette technology are sweeping the planet. The new European Community will be a major market for media. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, economically exhausted by forced collectivism, are now emerging as massive areas for broadcast investment and enterprise. The Far East, the Middle East, and Latin America are also geopolitical amalgams in which the world media revolution is occurring.

Already there are signs of international cultural homogeneity. Whether it is a Kentucky Fried chicken franchise on Tienanmen Square in Beijing, or Dynasty reruns in socialist Algeria, or Disneyland amusement parks in France and Japan, or National Football League games played in Sweden and Great Britain—and televised throughout the world—American popular culture and mass media are leaping borders, chronic enmities, and the traditions of centuries. Importantly, too, the U.S. corporations providing media and culture are only part of a patchwork of national entities, all laboring to sell leisure and information to one world under television. Whether there will be U. S.-based megacorporations in the forefront of the global movement, or whether American manufacturers will be devoured by foreign conglomerates, is ultimately immaterial. The process is in motion; globally arranged media and transnational culture seem destined in the next century to entertain and inform the world.

 

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