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March 19, 2008

Grazia Magazine

Grazia Magazine

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Grazia Contemporary

A recent Grazia (May 2007) with someone who passes for being a "Celebrity". The recent covers have changed from the earlier versions of Grazia with the head of the chosen "celebrity" replacing one of the letters of the masthead. Noticeable on this cover is the fact that there isn't a any kind of special promotion such as bags or shoes inside. It may well be that May is a thin time for products (as well as "celebs"). Autumn is too far away and all the designers have released their summer items and spent thier promotional budgets. A range of even more minor "celebrities" provides some teasers.

New Kid on the Block

Every now and again a magazine comes along that captures the moment. Marie Claire did it in the Eighties, the lads' mag Loaded did it in the Nineties. Grazia's news-'n'-shoes format is doing it right now. The word its readers use again and again is 'addicted'. (Observer March 2007)

Who is Behind Grazia Launch in 2005 & How Much Did it Cost to Establish it ? 

Grazia was launched two years ago based on the hunch that there was a gap in the market for a weekly magazine for women who buy monthlies. The format was inspired by Italian Grazia, a highly successful weekly fashion glossy which began in 1938. However lots of media experts said the idea would never work in Britain. Weekly magazines are notoriously expensive to pull off. EMAP, the company behind British Grazia, shelled out £16 million for the launch, making it the priciest magazine start-up ever. Meanwhile there were whispers that designer brands would not want to buy into a celebrity weekly format. 'People thought we were barking,' recalls EMAP's CEO Paul Keenan.  (Observer March 2007)

How Well is it Selling?

In last month's ABC figures its circulation had risen by 23 per cent. Combined sales over a month exceed 700,000, which means it outsells Glamour - the biggest-selling women's monthly magazine. Although this is nowhere near what traditional women's weeklies used to sell in the Seventies (Observer March 2007)

Who is its Target Audience?

In a way, the very success of the magazine lies in this unpretentious 'does-what-it-says-on-the-tin' style of publishing. Grazia is neither highbrow nor lowbrow. In fact, it is 'nobrow'. The launch team realised that old-fashioned class distinctions no longer work in Britain and that people are much more complex than their old socio-economic brackets suggest. In fact, actual social mobility is slower than it's been in generations but culturally we Brits pride ourselves on our ability to move both up and down. We can be intelligent and like disposable, trivial things; be broke but still hanker after quality. (Observer March 2007)

This all-inclusive mix is a clever trick. It means successful women, who thought women's weeklies were for their grandmothers, aren't embarrassed to be seen buying the magazine. (Observer March 2007)

'I would argue that there's virtually no reading matter in it at all,' says Angela McRobbie, professor of communications at Goldsmiths College London and an expert on women's magazines. 'At the same time the tone is such that it is perfectly acceptable for a middle-class graduate to read it.' (Observer March 2007)

Is it just another traditional Woman's Magazine?

One could argue that what makes up the essence of Grazia is still traditional women's magazine fodder - diets, kids, celebrities, love affairs, shoes, recipes, dating, parties, lipstick. (Observer March 2007)

Getting the Cover Right

The right cover image is crucial. So is the right story to go with it. By publishing weekly, Grazia has managed to turn these beautiful women's lives - both pampered and chaotic - into soap operas. As Linda Grant says: 'I am truly fascinated by whether Jennifer Aniston will ever recover from Brad Pitt. Or whether Kate Moss will ever see the truth about Pete.' (Observer March 2007)

Grazia's cover images have become instantly recognisable on the newsstands - where, incidentally, the traditional monthlies now struggle to stand out. In the early days, when the magazine was still in research, the team followed Italian Grazia's lead and used models on the covers. 'But in focus groups they bombed,' says Nicola Jeal, editor of Observer Woman, who was a consultant on the launch of Grazia. 'Then we tried beautiful air-brushed pictures of celebrities but they didn't take off either. It wasn't until we tried glossy real-life paparazzi pictures that the reaction totally changed. Women loved it.'  (Observer March 2007)

Grazia Cover 1

This Grazia is a little older than the earlier one and the masthead Grazia overlays the head of the "celebrity" in question. Its not a very elegant solution so the one above has been the preferred re-design. This one has the classic "HOT BUYS" which many do. Seems to be an obvious answer here to the typical question of how do these magazines promote consumption!

Capitalising on "Celebrity"

Despite appearances, our obsession with celebrity is a relatively new phenomenon - mushrooming in the past 10 years, partly due to the gap left by Princess Diana and partly encouraged by the popularity of bitchy gossip sites on the internet. The selling power of a handful of A-list women is difficult to underestimate. The Grazia cover girls are a select band: so far Kate Moss has featured 12 times, Jennifer Aniston 13 times, Victoria Beckham 17 times. We can't, it seems, get enough of them. Other favourites are Angelina Jolie, Sienna Miller and Madonna. (Observer March 2007)

(Sounds like a lack of "celebrities" to me :-). Anybody wishing to apply for the position of "Celebrity" can get career advice from the Celebrity Plus Training Agency [This is a full equal opportunities agency but intellectuals need not apply]

Fashionistas are Afficionados 

Stores like Topshop change their stock every week and, unlike the monthly magazines, Grazia is able to keep up with the turnaround.
Tania Littlehales is the PR for Marks & Spencer. 'Our designers definitely have Grazia and Grazia's readers in mind,' she says. Last season a navy-blue trapeze-style mac which was featured in the pages immediately sold out. 'Our designers can translate looks on the catwalk to the shop so quickly these days. We call it "fast fashion". We even hold back some of our budget specifically so we can respond quickly to new trends. Fashion is quicker and a weekly magazine like Grazia can cover that.' (Observer March 2007)

Can the monthly magazines compete? (Do we care ?)

Sally O'Sullivan... thinks there's still room for both. 'There are still some fantastic magazines out there. The magazine audience in this country is huge and we produce the best in the world. A woman will very happily buy Grazia as well as her favourite monthly, be it Vogue or Marie Claire. A monthly gives you a totally different experience.'  (Observer March 2007)

Grazia 2


Guardian analysis of Grazia March 2007

David Rowan Editor Jewish Chronicle interviews Fiona MacKintosh of Grazia 

Glossary of Magazine Terms

Glossary of Magazine Terms

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Ad-get Features: These are closely linked to advertorials. This involves a special theme being proposed in order to sell advertising space in the magazine. This is a slightly murky field. For example the Times Higher Educational supplement might tell publishers when it is going to carry features and revews on a particular subject area such as ‘Media’ for example. Obviously this is likely to attract more buyers than usual from University media departments. But the publishers of Media textbooks will have no say in exactly what is written in the features or the reviews. With ‘lifestyle’ magazines this relationship breaks down rapidly and there is likely to be close collaboration between advertisers and the magazine.

Advertorials: sometimes known as ‘special features’ these are pages for which the advertiser pays but the pages are designed and written in the style of the magazine’s editorial. They are either done by the magazine’s own staff or else they are freelance writers working to the magazines style sheets. They help to ‘deliver the reader to the advertisers’ by deliberately blurring the difference between the editorial content and the adverts. In many ways they can be seen as an attempt to fool readers into thinking that the content is in some way ‘objective’. Certainly the net effect is - except to the exceptionally alert reader - to provide an underpinning of the product concerned. Researching 1966 for IPC (a magazine company) showed that readers assume that the editor has in some way been involved in the selection of the product shown in the advertisement feature. The closer the match between the advertisement feature and the editorial style of the magazine the more readers are likely to believe that the editor is endorsing the product. The brand values of the magazine will feed into the product being featured. The December 2004 GQ ‘GQ Promotion’ of a Volvo 4 wheel drive estate which lends an air of excitement to the product is effectively part of a campaign to reposition in the car market as something more ‘lifestyle’ linked to adrenalin rather than as in Britain an image of staidness and safety features. Clearly primarily aimed at younger men. These features are meant to carry a truth ‘warning’ indicating that it is some kind of advertisement.

AIDA. Advertisers have worked for many years trying develop models of consumer behaviour. Many work to a behavioural model called AIDA = Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. In this model the purpose of advertising is to raise awareness, then stimulate interest which leads to the creation of desire and subsequently action. Action wouldn’t necessarily take place for some time especially in the case of something big like car adverts for example. This meant that advertisers had to multiply the number of messages to reinforce their sales force. This model is dependent upon a ‘rational’ consumer acting in a linear way. Also many adverts failed to stimulate action or desire. Now most advertising strategies rely upon 2 main behavioural responses: raising awareness and stimulating interest.

AIR: see Average Issue Readership.

Average Issue Readership

Burst Advertising (also see Drip Advertising). Burst advertising concentrates on a range of vehicles with high frequency. This can be targeted at crucial times of year. For example the expensive Swiss watches advertised before Xmas (Cartier / Breitling) in GQ will also be present in the quality Newspapers (Financial Times, Independent, Telegraph, Times, Sunday Times etc). They will also be in magazines such as The Economist. GQ is the sort of magazine often consumed whilst waiting for business meetings or travelling to them and can be bought more for the adverts than the editorial content.

Circulation: Circulation differs from readership. A magazine will almost certainly have more readers than it has buyers. Each magazine generates figures which suggest the actual multiple involved. In other words whether it is 2 or 10 times the number of readers to buyers. Let us take GQ. It has a circulation of around 100,000 if its index comes out as 10 then it will have 1 million people reading it.

Consumer Magazines: These aim at leisure interest giving readers , advice information and entertainment relating to the reader’s leisure time. Magazines on cars, boats, bycycles, windsurfing, cinema etc. The actual quality of the writing and the target audience will of course vary. What links all these magazines is the fact that they will carry adverts to encourage the reader to consume relevant products in some way. Buying a car or a DVD or going to a film.

Coverage (Advertising). Coverage is the number of the target market reached. Coverage is usually measured in Average Issue Readership (AIR) for print media.

Cover lines : Information about major articles given on the front page of a magazine

Drip Advertising. (also see Burst Advertising). Drip advertising tends to focus on keeping up an awareness of a brand. You might see a a body product being advertised in a drip way after an initial Burst campaign to create awareness. Because perfumes etc are relatively cheap and regularly consumed it is important to keep brand awareness up. Buyers are likely to consume several times a year so it is important to try and maintain brand loyalty.

Frequency (advertising) is the number of times the target market is reached.

Left-side third: A lot of important information designed to attract potential readers is placed in the left-hand side vertical third of the front cover page. This is in case the magazine is displayed in a horizontal shelving system rather than a vertical one.

Lifestyle Magazines: a sub-genre of consumer magazines. Where titles are not clearly about one activity or interest they are likely to be about lifestyle. Most of these are for women and girls but since the 1990s several new ones have been aimed at men such as FHM, Loaded, Front and GQ. These have so far been very successful. A critic Cynthia White as far back as the 1970s asked of women’s magazines how far they supported acquisition as a primary goal of life thereby relegating or downgrading other goals in life. This can now be asked of men’s ‘Lifestyle Magazines’.

Magazines / Technology and Ads: For many years magazines benefited from having full colour reproduction. This kept key advertisers such as food, drinks, fashion and cosmetics. As technologies changed and colour became more available for newspapers so magazines had to develop new arguments. They have to convince Media Buyers that it is ‘common sense’ that women’s monthlies have more loyal readers than say newspaper colour supplements. They convince media buyers by going out and doing ‘qualitative research’.

Market Penetration: This term refers to the % of potential readers who actually buy the publication.

GQ would be looking at all males in the UK between say 18-30.

Masthead: The title of the magazine or newspaper. It is usually placed at the top of the front cover for display purposes

Media Planner (Advertising). Media plans are usually constructed to cover a year-long campaign. They are made with the client to discuss timing (Xmas for perfumes Feb/ Mar for new fashions etc). The planner makes sure that the campaign fits in with the rest of the marketing mix. It is important to ensure that outlets have sufficient stocks. Media planner is given information on who uses the brand, who uses competitors brands, who buys it who influences the purchasing decision. (Parents / Friends / work colleagues / experts etc. This influences the ‘creative’ brief. The media planner then draws a map of media audiences which would achieve the greatest coverage of the advertising target at the lowest price based upon media research. Usually several different plans are drawn up. Contingencies are also built in. If an economic recession takes places then sometimes one area of media will be dropped. This is often newspapers and magazines as for many (not al products TV exposure is more important). Please note for a magazine like GQ for example this might affect car and perfume ads but not high fashion which doesn’t tend to use TV precisely because they are targeting exclusivity and status not mass markets. Media planning has to create a balance in each plan between the number and frequency of the target audience reached set against the budget. Media planners traditionally compare the relative costs of delivering audience on the basis of its cost per thousand members of the target audience. This approach works best where delivering the greatest volume of the target market is important. It is calculated on the basis of the Rate Card price divided by projected numbers, divided by 1000. In 1992 the cost in women’s lifestyle magazines varied between £7.93 for Cosmopolitan to £18.67 for Harpers and Queen. This isn’t the real cost and is also based upon the readership rather than the precise target audience (that would differ considerably between Harpers and Cosmopolitan for example). Harpers is aimed at the A/B income level whilst Cosmopolitan is primarily C1 /B / A .

Advertising planners also build in other factors such as quality of editorial content. All these extra values are when factored in to produce a Valued Impressions per Pound (VIP) rating. Quality f editorial, production etc is multiplied by the audience and divided by the cost. On this basis the Financial Times is ahead of the Sun.

With magazines the editorial will be made to fit the space created by the adverts. Ads pay for more pages to be printed.

Plug: Information about the contents of a magazine or newspaper given on the front cover

Puff: Words or phrases on the cover of a magazine used to boost status

Product / Brand Awareness. ( Analysing the Adverts)

Raising Awareness. Adverts have to compete with other adverts, often with editorial content and with general consumer resistance. Because of the this the ‘creatives’ see the most important job of an advert as grabbing the reader’s attention. Some make assumptions that because interests and social life are so heavily gendered the best way to reach the attention of women is to use animals, royalty, weddings, babies fashion and astrology. For men it’s sports, sex, cars, politics, wars and disasters. In this way advertisers can help to create gendered stereotyping for example. Involving readers or providing shocks are common ways of raising awareness.

       News’ stories become a powerful advertising discourse. Constant product modifications, re-launches and redesigns reflect a need to be constantly be seen to be modern. ‘New improved’ maintains brand loyalty. Features on luxury cars are introduced lower down the market range. By revamping a product it also allows the possibility of creating more editorial comment in reviews / interviews etc.

       Prominence involves using a personality, event or object that the target market collectively recognises and understands. It is part of a shared cultural knowledge. (Madonna in Versace spring 2005 GQ) for example.

       Co-option an advertiser uses a major news or media event or other advertising campaigns for their own advertising. With food for example a government health recommendation of five pieces of fruit and veg per day can be used in diet adverts for example. Pollution can get body product makers inventing new protective creams etc.

       Arousing curiosity. Ask the question ‘Why’. For example ‘Why our moisturiser has red hot chillies in it ‘. In women’s magazines especially the ‘how to...’ Construction. - How to get a boyfriend / Lose weight while eating even more ice cream / how to find out if he’s cheating on you.

       Showmanship. When you have nothing to say use showmanship. Is there anything new to say about shampoos for example? The brand therefore needs high production values to give a sense of something ‘added value’ elevating the product.

       Sustaining Interest. The existence of editorial content is paradoxical because although mass media provide coverage it is difficult to grab interest and attention for products. Advertisers believe hat the consumers are often in the wrong frame of mind to receive advertising messages. ‘Creatives’ therefore try and make ads stand out by having better production values than the editorial. Sometimes humour and other devices can be used to break down consumer resistance.

       Getting around the media-wise consumer. The use of parody is becoming common to try and get around the sceptical consumer. The point is often not to be appearing to sell at all. The point being to allow the consume space to make up their own mind rather than feel that they are being manipulated. This leads to try it out , make up your own mind, we think you’ll agree with us ,if you do be careful! you might be seriously tempted.... type of advert.

       Distraction. This is used to break down the resistance of the consumer. Look for strong visuals and graphics in the magazines. Haagen Daas co-opted greater discussion in the media about ‘adventurous sex’ as a way to keep your partner suddenly linking ice-cream to sex. Erotic imagery distracted the consumer as well as being suggestive.

       Creating Consumer Pride. Much advertising is meant to assure existing users that they have made a wise choice encouraging to return to that brand which is still the best.

       Fear, Guilt and Insecurity. Problems with spots, keeping boyfriend / girlfriend, career failure, not fitting in, loss of status and esteem, loss of face, loss of wealth. Creatives create the fear and then answer these with ads such as tension - relax with our ...., distrust of business - caring capitalism / corporate charity.

       Fantasy and escapism. The Bounty Bar on a tropical island is to associate myths, metaphors and associations with a Brand.

       Consistency, familiarity and authority. People like to do business with people they know so advertisers try to establish their brands as trustworthy and familiar. How do advertisers make their claims credible? One way is by sheer dominance of the market-place. Getting a famous / neutral person to endorse the product. Science especially with body products for example. Words such as ‘Hydra Renewal’ (there is water content in the product)give an air of a laboratory. Use of ‘Experts’.

       Memory and action. Much of the advertising in lifestyle magazines such as GQ uses an indirect form of selling associated with an emotional experience or a value ‘ Pernod :Free the Spirit’ for example. ‘Carlsberg. The best lager in the world, probably’. There is a positive emotional response. When it comes to buying this is likely to differentiate the brand from say 5 other different lagers at the bar. Nike’s ‘ Just do it ‘ ads.

‘Surrogate’ Advertising. Traditional media such as radio, TV newspapers generally consume these media for the editorial content. For this reason the media audience for these surrogate media will always be distinct from the brand’s target audience. This will give an advantage to the specialist magazine.

Time of Consumption. Monthly magazines consumed over a month give a more protracted exposure than a daily paper.

January 27, 2008

BBC: The Move to Multicasting

BBC: Moving to a Multicasting Environment and Creating a Vibrant Digital Public Sphere for the 21st Century

Sir Michael Lyons

Sir Michael Lyons: Chair of the BBC Trust

The best and bravest brains in media policy need to think outside of the top-slicing box. Britain once again needs to lead the civilised world into a new media era, to protect the creation of valuable but vulnerable programming and creative artists.(Maggie Brown Media Guardian)


The development of the content of the BBC Online which I generally consider to be an excellent public resource has not been without its controversial side. This has  particularly come from firstly:  those who had no concept of how the web could be developed and how that development could be influenced by strong Broadcasting institutions with their roots in 'old media'; secondly those who have a strong vested interest in the BBC failing such as News Corporation.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the future of what was once called broad-casting (the production of a limited amount of content targeted at  large to very  large audiences has largely been a thing of the past for several years. There will of course always be occasional events which comfortably generate local audiences of more than 10 million at the time but these will become increasingly rare. Massive stories about Royalty, England in a World Cup Final (if it ever happens again), probably the upcoming Olympics in certain finals if there is a national interest (oh and Dr. Who! ):

The Doctor Who Special on Christmas Day won a 50% share of the total television audience, averaging over 12 million viewers and peaking at 13.8 million. These are the Doctor's best viewing figures since the Tom Baker days of 1979. (Caroline Thompson operating officer for the BBC Jan 2008)

It is many years since the BBC was promoting a heavyhanded patrician Broadcasting policy largely dominated by a Reithian discourse that was often accused of being elitist. This posting starts to explore the history of BBC online and the policies that have underpinned it. It also looks briefly at the enemies of the BBC in the populist broadcasting / multicasting domain as well examining the pusilanimous attitude of New Labour in the face of  the  populist freemarketeers such as Sky and its ilk circling around  an increasingly embattled BBC which is doing an excellent job. This blog takes the position that many people don't know what they've got 'til its gone'! As far as I'm concerned everybody who is taking out a subscription to Sky is banging a nail into the future of high quality British multicasting. 

The Development of BBC Online 

25 April 2006:

The BBC today unveiled radical plans to rebuild its website around user-generated content, including blogs and home videos, with the aim of creating a public service version of

Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, also announced proposals to put the corporation's entire programme catalogue online for the first time from tomorrow in written archive form, as an "experimental prototype", and rebrand MyBBCPlayer as BBC iPlayer. (ibid)

It was announced that  all future BBC digital output and services around three concepts -

  1. Share
  2. Find
  3. Play

Mr Highfield said the share concept would allow users to "create your own space and to build around you", encouraging them to launch ther own blogs and post home videos on the site. (My emphasis)
At the heart of the play concept is MyBBCPlayer, which will allow the public to download and view BBC programming online and was today rebranded as BBC iPlayer. (My emphasis)
The find concept relates to next-generation search and unlocking the BBC archive. From tomorrow internet users will for the first time be able to search for details of the corporation's entire programme catalogue as far back as 1937. (My emphasis)

Is it "All About Audiences"?

So, as far the Trust is concerned this is not a debate about the interests of broadcasters. In our view it's not even about the interests of the BBC, narrowly defined. It is – or it ought to be – a debate about the interests of audiences.(My emphasis: Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust, to the IPPR Oxford Media Convention 17 January 2008)

I would go further and in doing so seek to expand the remit of the debate into broadcasting into that of cultural policy in general. As with other policy environments and discources this raises the issue of citizenship. Just as there is a concept of social citizenship so there is a concept of cultural citizenship.  

It seems the 'New' Labour government can't keep its hands off the BBC for a moment and there is already another round of examining the public servivce broadcasting (multicasting) systems in this country. At the heart of this is the continuing attempt to remove some of the BBC's rights to the whole of the licence fee which is often simply described as "another tax" by the more simple minded. Rather than being this it is a licence fee which runs a core element of what can be described as cultural citizenship which ensures that there is a good system of representation at the heart of the British nation, a system which isn't controlled by government but which has accountability.

This blog argues that it isn't "all about audiences" rather it is all about the creation and maintenance of a system of citizenship which has public service broadcasting / multicasting at its very heart. Those citizens are also the audiences. My concern is the construction and discourse which turns a citizen into an 'audience' and is something which will be discussed in greater depth on this blog. Here I wish to underscore the point that as the World moves towards an increasingly digitised and fragmented mediascape a core concept about media which needs to be maintained is that of citizenship.

The Changing Media Environment

Many people have a stronger sense of themselves as individuals rather than as parts of communities. Minorities are becoming more confident about asserting their needs. Britain is becoming much more culturally diverse. We see increasing numbers of people who identify with multiple communities – social, cultural or geographical. There's a rising demand for personalisation and customisation – for services crafted just for you. (Sir Michael Lyons ibid)

Lyons then proceeds to make the following key points:

  1. The BBC cannot cherry pick its audiences as commercial broadcasters can. Because of the way it is funded, and because its Public Purposes mean that it has to engage with everyone in the UK, the BBC has to find ways to reach all its audiences in all their complexity. (My emphasis)
  2. This doesn't mean that every programme or piece of online content has to satisfy every individual licence fee payer – although some kinds of BBC output should appeal to very large sections of the audience. (My emphasis)
  3. But it does mean that every audience member must find enough they value from the BBC to justify the licence fee and to provide the means by which the BBC can engage with them in order to deliver its Public Purposes. (My emphasis)

I think it will be useful to start to unpack these ideas bearing in mind that I prefer the concept of the cultural citizen to that of "the audience".

...every audience member must find enough they value from the BBC

Firstly let us substitute the concept of cultural citizen from the nebulous one of "audience". I have no doubt in my mind that every single citizen in this country - and also many global citizens have gained enormous value from the BBC, even if after the time they have left school they never watch listen to or access  BBC  content again.

The embedded values and the links with education alone and the educational broadcasting alone have provided enormous added value to the country as a whole. Those who are mentally tied to quantitative research methods or "metrics", as the trendy term seems to be, will conveniently ignore all this embedded value which has significantly  contributed  to the  general Social / Political / Economic / Cultural  (SPEC) environment that is Britain today.

Secondly let us look at the notion of "every audience member...". Well I think this is certainly an arguable point. There is a national grid for electricity, there is a legal obligation for all houses to attached to the telephone system should the citizen require it, there is a nationally levied road tax which all vehicle owners MUST pay however little they use their vehicle. There is an NHS system which is always available to all even if some people never get have accidents and die peacefully in their sleep without a day's illness or if they decide to continually go private. All of these things are aspects of contemporary citizenship and all of them rightly allow for individual agency.

Given the importance of creating and maintaining a multicasting system which provides information etc in as unbiased a fashion as possible which can act as a core part of every single citizens training as a citizen the notion of Public Service Broadcasting / Multicasting is fundamental to our way of life and everybody who is working should be contributing towards this. In return for this we should be expecting high quality rather than the dumbing down which has been a feature of populist media otherwise known as 'lowest common denominator'. 

The Dangers of "Topslicing" the BBC Licence Fee

Sarkozy with supermodel

Sarkozy with a 'supermodel'. Oddly just as New Labour wants to dumb down the BBC as much as possible man of the Right in France Sarkozy wants a "French BBC"

One of the biggest dangers to the future of Public Service Multicasting and the future of the BBC as a powerful global player able to stand up the bullying of the 'Media Moguls' such as Rupert Murdoch and News International is the concept of 'topslicing' the BBC. This was something when the pusillanimous Tessa Jowell was the Culture Minister and is currently still being threatened. Given that this week we have already lost the culture minister with the resignation of Peter Hain citizens should be extremly dubious about the abilities of government ministers to be able to control this area.

Given that New Labour caved into Murdoch in their bid for power in 1997 everything that this governement do in relation to media and the BBC must be treated with an enormous amount of scepticism. Already the BBC has become the third most used site in the UK which is an extraordinary success story yet there is still whingeing in the wings about the license fee. The fact of the matter is that in terms of content and quality the BBC is topping the world league because to compare the use of Google or Yahoo is to compare using a TV company with a phone directory not an entirely adeqaute comparison:

The BBC website is number three in the UK. The two companies above us - Google and MSN - and the two companies below us, Yahoo! and eBay, are all the American giants. How we can adapt to that and operate on a global scale while still being predominantly funded through the UK licence, that's an issue for us.(Ashley Highfield)

From the perspective of public service multicasting Highfield's comments would be well served by some decent quality qualitative research into the length of use as well as frequency of access to the BBC website citizens make. It is something which can also be partially achieved through the BBCs own Analytics figures which I'm sure it has.  

What is topslicing?  

It is as Lyons elaborates below:

...the suggestion that a part of each licence fee should go to a body that would use the money to subsidise public service content from broadcasters other than the BBC.

Firstly let us as with the term "audience" analyse the underlying discourse that the BBC is dragged into here and seek to change it. Subsidise means to assist or to keep down the price of a commodity (Chambers dictionary defintion). 

Well the notion of 'topslicing' uncoincidently emerged from the Jowell era after the BBC got into trouble with the government over Iraq. Please note that all the bad things that were expected to happen after the invasion happened have happened and there were no "weapons of mass destruction". However in the wider political context topslicing must be seen as a method of disciplining the BBC by government. For this reason alone it is right to oppose it. 

"Topslicing" is more than this though. Throughout the period of 'New' Labour there has been a continual undermining of the BBC and the Public Service Broadcasting ethos. This has been very much because of the pressure applied on the BBC since the 1990 Broadcasting Act under the Conservatives and which New Labour have followed in their love affair with Rupert Murdoch. There will be more on the relationships with Murdoch and Greg Dyke's revelations after his resignation elsewhere in the blog.  

Thankfully the Guardian's media correspondent Maggie Brown has made the point loud and clear when it comes to topslicing:

What no one raised at the Oxford media summit is that the top-slicing idea, which may see the cutting down and undermining of the BBC, is quite at odds with international developments.

Just across the channel, French president Nicolas Sarkozy is not only besotted with Carla Bruni. He is also a huge fan of the BBC. So much so that he plans to end the French public service channels' partial dependence on advertising and turn them purely non-commercial

Why Give Licence Fee Subsidies to Commercial Enterprises?  

The reality is that as the new mediascape continues to develop there is less and less need for ITV and Channel 4.  This is proven by the decline in audiences, advertising increasingly moving online a corresponding crash in revenue for old media and in the case of ITV the crashing of the share price. A recent survey suggested that actually ITV had been doing alright on advertising revenue expressing surprise at the slump in the stock market value  In this latter case the market is 'pricing in' the future estimates of ITV advertising earnings. In an era which in media terms is driven by the equation:

What you want, where you want it , when you want it

Do we need these traditional old media companies?  

There is no need for all these traditional broadcasters. Personally I never use either ITV and very rarely Channel 4 (this was my favourite channel until the early 1990s when it became increasingly dumbed down). In the latter case this is to access the excellent John Snow and his team. I occasionally use Film 4. Increasingly audiences are migrating online. There are plenty of opportunities for commercial broadcasters to thrive there if they are any good. As it is they will have to compete with the BBC and increasingly the best quality Newspapers which themselves are increasing moving towards a multimedia environment. Indeed it is worth reminding readers that in a BBC made game on the rise of video-gaming made around 3 years ago David Puttnam commented that perhaps between 2015-2020 TV as we know it will have largely disappeared. 

When I research articles for this blog I never seem to get good links coming up from the search engines from ITV or Channel 4. Most of the articles are researched down to the current Google listing of page twenty and occasionally even beyond this. The BBC frequently comes up. Whilst this finding can only be taken at more of an anecdotal level it points to the fact that when it comes to doing serious work on the web the BBC along with the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Daily Telegraph score far more hits and I link into them far more frequently. As this is now a large film and media studies blog this might be taken as indicative that worthwhile content is not being provided by the commercial broadcasters and that their web presence is weak. If they can't find commercially viable audiences at a global level to pay their overpriced salaries then I certainly don't expect to subsidise them. It is a competitive commercial market and that is that!  

My own suspicion is that the era for these companies is largely over and that they will probably disappear perhaps to be replaced by a plethora of more adaptive multimedia companies online. The ITV is a dinosaur best forgotten unless Michael Grade can use its past content creatively while turning it around to face the multicasting age. It should be able to contend with players such as Murdoch but it will have to do so without government support, however it should also have its remit to provide public service broadcasting / multicasting removed. Let it be an honest provider of pap within the regulatory regime of the moment. Its shareholders and those working for it in the past had an easy time of it as the other half of a duopoly. Let them work for their money and convince shareholders that they are a better bet than Google or Myspace. Personally I wouldn't want my pension invested with them at the moment. 

Why is the BBC Different?  Cultural Citizenship & The Public Sphere

The BBC is different because it sets a benchmark by which all other multimedia multicasting companies MUST meet or beat. The BBC isn't perfect and never will be, but by setting the benchmark for standards which effectively have become those of cultural citizenship in the contemporary era it gives us all a foundation upon which to demand improvements in content and comment upon issues such as over or under representation of specific groups or issues. This in short should be the central axis around which any public sphere (Habermas) should revolve and evolve. These are the standards by which we as citizens and therefore license fee payers should be judging the BBC and the content of its developing multicasting environment. 

The notion of a genuinely interactive public sphere linked to access to knowledge and information and tied to a concept of citizenship is entirely antipathetic to commercial broadcasting models. Left liberalism has been so anti the patrician notion of the BBC that it has left the door wide open to rampant commercialism and as a result anybody foolish enough to try and change channels from BBC News 24 has to undergo a barrage of repeats of Big Brother or some other rubbishy "reality TV" show: thank you left liberal populists and your neo-con allies in News Corporation! 

The notion of having a vital and influential public sphere means that a public service broadcasting institution should have far more independence than it does at present from the government of the day. There is no doubt that the BBC has to go cap in hand to the government of the day when a spending review and an updating of the licensing fee is sought. This is not to say that Parliament should not have some say in how this sort of instituion is run. A standing select committee for this and other cultural policy matters should be an important role, however this should be entirely divorced from matters of funding. 

Funding through an automatically inflation-linked licence fee year on year should be the basic funding formula for the BBC however it should be able to access more funding when there is a specific case such as upgrading technologies on a national basis, such as instituting Freeview or BBC On-line for example.  

This doesn't mean that every programme or piece of online content has to satisfy every individual licence fee payer

The second point that Lyons made in relation to the role of the BBC overlaps with my comments above. With the notion of fragmenting audiences and overlapping identities being very much the order of the day, let alone issues of personal preference and taste this is clearly a pertinent comment.  We live in a media rich world which is getting richer by the day and offers extraordinary diversity. Pleasing all of the people all of the time is neither possible nor desirable providing most of the people most of the time with diversity combined with good quality is achievable. 

Providing a plethora of content and also an environment in which content can be at least partially created by users is fundamental to the future of media and in this sense the programme suggested by the BBC has been very perceptive in its notions of how to interact with new media trends. The problem is that the very cultural heritage which we as citizens have already paid for as citizens is so rich and of such good quality and continues to be that the commercial operators cry foul! They persuaded the government to reduce the power and effectiveness of online opportunities such as the BBC iPlayer. It is this that is anti-democratic and is a clear case of government acting in the interests of a minority but powerful commercial group against the interests of those people who voted it in in the first place. 

Of course this links into the first point made by Lyons:

the BBC has to find ways to reach all its audiences in all their complexity

Strange then isn't it that the government acts to curtail the BBC in an area of its key strength and advantage over crass commercialism. It is a case of citizens and audiences not getting the quality they deserve and have paid for already rather it is a case of commerce restricting access to increase its own bottom lines.  

What is the BBC hoping to develop?

Media City Salford Plan

The Proposed Media City Salford

The advent of the networking model of society which is symbolised by the development of the internet is increasingly effecting how we envisage new ways of working and communicating in the contemporary world. Here an extract from a recent speech by Caroline Thompson shows just how far the notion of a networking society is reaching into core institutions:

Instead of the old hub and spoke arrangement, where London is the hub and the regions are the spokes, the BBC of the 21st Century will be based on a fully networked model. A model that will harness the power of human networks, tapping into a pool of creative energy across the country.(My Empahsisis: Caroline Thompson Chief Operating Officer the BBC Friday 11 January 2008

The move of the BBC headquarters to Salford is an important move and underpins in a physical and rooted way the virtual possibilities of media which is imnportant. Nevertheless it is recognised that new media is fundamental to the future of the BBC: 

This will include the central Future Media team that leads the development of the BBC's offering across the internet, digital TV and mobiles, and also the Media Research & Innovation team. These are two of our most important businesses and, together with Future Media colleagues supporting programme-making areas based in Salford...The Director of FM&T, Ashley Highfield, believes this is a chance to reinvent Future Media and how the BBC goes about creating it. (My Emphasis, Caroline Thompson)

Rolling Out Web 3.0?  

Currently Ashley Highfield is  currently thinking beyond the Web 2.0 model already being developed and already more based upon audience interactivity to a Web 3.0 model: 

The web 3.0 world puts a layer on top of that you could call editorial. It says this is probably what you were actually looking at. It says we the BBC know who you are. We've built up a good relationship with you through CRM. We know you were looking for a cop show from the '60s well here's a really good one that we know you - because we know something about you - will enjoy. (Ashley Highfield)


Thus far I have examined the notion of topslicing as yet another attack on the BBC from a government which isn't worthy of including the name 'Labour' in its title as it kowtows to the media moguls.  I have also placed the debates about where the BBC should be going in the context of cultural citizenship. It is a concept that must be made central to the agenda of any serious media policy debate for it is this that will help to make Britain both competitive and a beacon of civilisation in less than ideal world. I have also examined somke of the thinking currently within the BBC and suggested that cultural citizenship is a term which should replace audiences. Issues of representation should always be at the heart of media debates and the BBC should seek to represent those aspects of life which more commercial media organisations are not prepared to risk. More funding of challenging films and programmes and increasing levels of access to older materials on the BBC are important aspects of developing a media manifesto for Britian's future.

Its a Free World 1

From Ken Loach's ironically titled It's a Free World 2007. We can do without this 'free for all' in media. Citizenship comes first!


Public Speeches by BBC Leadership 2008

The Trouble With Trust: Building Confidence In Institutions:Mark Thompson Tuesday 15 January 2008

July 19, 2007

The BBC Scandal: Public Service Broadcasting Undermined?

What Now For the BBC?


Like many users it has come as a shock to me that the BBC has had to admit to such a range of scandals and other shenannigens such as faking phone in results, alongside ridiculous 'errors' such as the trailer of the Queen apparently leaving photographer Annie Liebovitz 'in a huff'.  I certainly have a huge respect for the BBC as a media institution and for many decades it has led the World in the concept of public service broadcasting (PSB). It certainly became trendy amongst many media critics to knock the BBC for being elitist, top-down and all the rest of it. Perhaps a case of well meaning  left-liberalism  being blind to the dangers of  rampant commercialism which as Theodor Adorno pointed out realistically many years ago would lead to crass populism in the media. Adorno was of course castigated for being a "pessimist" by naive left-liberals.

Time to support Public Service Broadcasting to the Hilt!

Instead of looking upon this crisis as an excuse to hammer the BBC and ask for "Heads to Roll" along the lines of Daily Telegraph it is time for those serious about quality media to back the BBC and argue for  a return to an older system of public service broadcasting which predates the 1990 Broacasting Act.  Rather than trying to foist blame on executives in the BBC it is time to lay the blame at the door of the commercialisers. 

The 1990 Broadcasting Act, amongst other things, required the BBC to outsource a large per centage of its programming rather than producing everything in house.  This  was an action to be expected of a Tory government  in a move initiated by Mrs Thatcher  and  followed up by John Major. It was an Act directly attributable to the ideology of neo-liberalism. The editorial of the Financial Times is quite positive about the use of outsourcing however this requires a massive extra input of training to get these outside contributors 'up to speed', it will also require massive extra managerial effort to make these outsiders more accountable. this all amounts to uneccessary time and effort and money to get the BBC back into the state it was in in 1990 in terms of its organisational ethics! Is that really the way to run things? I doubt it!

The use of freelances and independent production companies is now a staple element in the BBC’s output, and rightly so. But this means that the organisation can no longer assume its programme makers have grown up with its values. Now it must communicate its editorial standards explicitly not only to BBC lifers but also to independent suppliers and those on short-term contracts. In addition it must be more rigorous in ensuring they are met.(My emphasis Published: July 19 2007 19:34 | Last updated: July 19 2007 19:34 )

The reality which the Financial Times is hedging around is that the continuous commercial pressure and the drive for ratings is dragging down the BBC to the standards of the lowest common denominator:

Part of the problem is self-inflicted. In pursuing mass audiences to underpin the legitimacy of the licence fee that is the mainstay of the BBC’s funding, the organisation has sometimes lost sight of the need to provide programming and services different from commercial media. This has led it into the territory of premium phone-line contests and wide-ranging digital ambitions that have helped make the Beeb less distinctive. (ibid).

Whilst the pathetic phone-line contest ethos should certainly be criticised and the programmes junked, I'm less comfortable about the comment upon the wide-ranging digital ambitions. It is ironical that the BBC is being used by the government to spearhead the national digital ambitions of turning UK broadcasting into a digital cornucopia by 2012. The government here is clearly wanting to auction off more bandwidth to mobile companies to provide video services such as live  Olympics which I assume was part of the bid to win the contest in the first place. No surprises then if Tessa Jowell gets a place on the board of Vodaphone or Virgin Media when she finally leaves office. Of course the Berlusconi empire may beckon given Blair's friendly relationship with him as well. 

Tessa Jowell

Under the circumstances it seems natural that the BBC should have wide-ranging digital ambitions, indeed as an aspect of cultural citizenship the BBC should have these ambitions. The problem is that the pusillanimous Blair government watered down the BBC's projects every time some pathetic commercial organisation felt challenged. Look at the furore about limiting the download times for TV programmes for example.

No crocodile tears for failing commercial ventures!

Let's not whinge about failing commercial broadcasters, the market is after all the market. The important issue at stake is that of cultural citizenship and the rights of citizens to have high quality broadcast / narrowcast media programmes. There is little doubt that public service broadcasting is best positioned to deliver this and in the UK this means the BBC. When the market can't compete with high quality public service it cries foul and tries to bring the service down to its own level.

When more equals less

When it comes to commercial broadcasting more seems to equal less if quality is used as a benchmark. Channel Four depending upon wall to wall Big Brother and its 'controversial' bits such as a commercially healthy bit of rascism seems to prove the point effectively. The reality bit about "reality TV" is the comercial reality! The key issue is that there is probably too much media and too little time for consumers to consume it all. The fact that the BBC has such a wide range of archive material, as well as the ability to create excellent new material - look at its world-beating website - means that commercial stations are seriously challenged. The reality seems to be that consumers don't want the pap that they regularly serve up otherwise they wouldn't be so worried. Advertisers are voting with their feet and following consumers to the internet. Lots of consumers like me are using the internet more than traditional media outlets and the BBC has positioned itself very effectively despite complaints from those with little knowledge or vision about emergent media forms. 

That the Blair government did nothing to change the situation and that Freeview, which has been a godsend for the BBC and its supporters, emerged out of commercial failure, bears witness to the pusillanimity of New Labour. The fact that Tessa Jowell in the debates around the White Paper of 2006 was discussing subscription services in the next round of Licence Fee negotiations and the possibility of sharing around licence fee monies with other broadcasters is clear evidence of just how in thrall New Labour has been to commercial pressures. 

PSB and Cultural Citizenship 

Like many others this blog supports the notion of the strongest possible Public Service Broadcasting system.  Thank heavens Tessa Jowell has been pushed sideways into managing the Olympics. It gives Gordon brown's government the opportunity to reshape Cultural and Media policy in the interests of British citizens and by extension World Citizens. As leading theorists such as David Held have proposed a key way forward for the globalising world is the development of world citizenship. This blog argues that cultural citizenship is an important component of this concept. The principle of public service broadcasting for all global citizens is an aspiration which can and should be furthered by the BBC. Historically the BBC is something Britain can be justifiably proud of. Look at the case of Alan Johnson for example who is an outstanding example of the BBC's finest. Imagine the deep embarrassement of people like this who could be tarred with the brush of the commercialism coming through the back door. The fact that so many journalists from Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world stood up for him bears witness to just how valuable an asset the BBC is in the fight for genuine global citizenship. 

Alan Johnston

When you are with one side from the conflict, you have got to put to them the very best arguments of the other side - the toughest questions

Alan Johnston's comments which seem to sumon up the BBC ethic of the highest quality journalism.  

No organisation is above criticism but the crisis today is not of its making, it is an inevitable product of the crass commercialism which has been espoused by neo-liberalism of all shades from Thatcher to Blair. Let us be clear on that and start to think about how to have a BBC free from both commercial pressures and a licence fee Sword of Damocles continuously over its head. Government can not always be trusted any more than any other institution. The task today is arguably not so much of the BBC having to sort itself out as the Government being rather more committed to principled public service broadcasting than it has been for the last 17 years. The fact that people such as Alan Johnson exist is evidence that there is still a deeply held ethos, but this will become ever more eroded unless the debate is reopened at a deeper level. 

May 18, 2007

Media Studies Education: Is the field Academically Downgraded?

How Far is it the Case that Media Studies is Downgraded as an Academic Subject?


It is always important for fields of study to be engaging in a self-critical evaluation of what is happening and where the field is going. The common scornful treatment of Media Studies on a continual basis makes it seem like a Cinderella subject. Is this justifiable and if so to what extent? It is no good hiding one's head in the sand and responding that it is just cultural elitism which brings forth this criticism. The issues are whether Media Studies as it is currently engaged with at A level is giving the students the intellectual and content grounding necessary for their development?

Below I have begun to review the history of the castigation of media studies as a 'soft subject' which has been going on for several years. It is noticeable that there is a conflation of Media Studies as a subject area with educational panics as a whole.  That it is very easy to do this is not helped by the fact that media studies chooses much of its content from the world of populist content.

English courses study The Colour Purple in which content raising isssues of race, identity, rights etc combines with narrative structures and use of language to make a heady and challenging mix for the A level student in a cross-cultural way. By comparison media students can be stuck with looking at a couple of articles on Posh & Beck.

The Colour Purple

I would certainly argue that the culture of 'celebrity' linked to consumption in 'late capitalism' is a very important subject. Whilst the likes of Theodor Adorno managed to do remarkable treatments of populist culture this requires a very high degree of sophistication. It is arguable whether AS students have enough of a world view and a historical view, leave alone a sophisticated enough analysis of ideology and discourse to make this a useful exercise particularly as the GCSE curriculum is so de-historicised.


Adorno, above, wrote The Stars Down to Earth, and Other Essays on the Irrational in Culture, edited with an excellent introduction by Stephen Crook (Routledge).

Denis Dutton in Philosophy and Literature 19 (1995): 424-30 comments (coincidently rather topically) for example:

Scientology boosts self-esteem largely by giving semi-educated, degreeless persons impressive certificates to hang on their walls, and Adorno is right that there’s a similar syndrome at work with most New Age esoterica, including astrology. (In literary theory, there are no certificates, of course — you just have to learn the jargon.)

One question for media studies to address is what should be studied at what age. The question also arises what is collusion with tools of ideology and what holds sufficient gravitas to provide a deeper levels of analysis? It is I suspect a tension which will of necessity be a part of media studies permanently, the issue then is one of balance. Here I differentiate between popular and populist see Abd Al Malik below. I fear that in recent years one has elided into the other.

French Popular Rapper: Abd Al Malik

As the BBC reports below media also has a task of examining wider cultural phenomenon. Here 'sub-cultures' can be extremely important for they often challenge the status quo in a directly socio-political way. These concerns should be the meat and drink of media studies, as they allow the deeper mechanisms of society to rise to the surface and be discussed.   

Abd Al Malik 1

French rapper of Congolese origin whose background and music embodies the spirit of the festival.

Abd Al Malik at Musiques Metisses

His latest album Gibraltar has already won four awards, including the prestigious Victoire de la Musique. It's an original mix of hip-hop, slam poetry and French philosophy. He sees Gibraltar as the symbolic meeting point of Africa and Europe. "The reason I called it Gibraltar was to use music to try and link our different cultures and people together."

Media Research a High Added Value Unit

I have been vaguely aware that OCR is planning to drop its Critical Research Unit in the forthcoming shake-out and reconfiguration of A2s. This is not only sad - it was my favourite unit - but potentially a step which can lead to a further downgrading of Media Studies in the eyes of highly aspiring students and those Universities which value higher level thinking and theoretical skills. For me the Critical Research Unit has been the saving grace of the OCR specification. It is something which can be used to hang academic credibility on. Research is what makes universities tick and increasingly research plays an important part in the economy of the newtworked society. More and more people are becoming involved in research based occupations. Media research combines the development of intellectual skills by dealing with both methods and methodologies, it also develops practical research skills and provides valuable experience and most importantly of all these are generic skills applicable to a wide range of subject areas, not just media. If one wishes to go down the instrumentalism path and make a vocationalist case then I rather think that there are more people conducting research than there are people being paid a proper income for making videos.

For an A level Student to be able to talk convincingly and enthusiastically about their developing research and research skills on their UCAS form is an important attribute. It is something which neither Cambridge University, Kings College London nor business people apparently sceptical about media can argue with.

For me  a more serious look at what the new specifications offer is a job for the next few weeks as the road shows and the marketing campaigns get under way. What I am certain of is that I shall be looking for the specification which challenges students with the quality of the content that can be worked into the units.  

Should We Focus on Different Content?

I would far rather media studies focus on the essential backgrounds of media history, politics and policy and the best of aesthetics rather than become stuck in the gutter of 'Celebrity' and 'Lifestyle'. Where it does conduct textual analysis let it be on texts which are a little more canonical, or if contemporary, have more content weight in them in the sense that they carry with them a huge cultural weight.

Baghdad 1

As my media students are confused about the difference between Afghanistan and Iraq and there is a British military presence in both, more encouragement to deal with serious News and News programmes might convince the Cambridge Universities of this world that media really does punch above rather than below its weight!

_Kes_ poster. Loach sixties social realism

Arguably to fail to teach about canons is something of a dereliction of cultural duty. Of course what exactly is canonical is another area of necessary tension within the subject area. What might be considered canonical within media studies, that we would expect students to know about? Should it be British social realism or Australian soaps? Where do recent representations of social history such as Vera Drake come in? My concern is that as concepts of 'class' in our 'post-idological society' have temporarily evaporated, that issues of social justice  - which includes issues of representation- have weakened within media studies.

Only the most hidebound of postmodern populists would really seriously argue that Shakespeare or Goethe is of the same cultural value as a bad graphic novel. In reality the cultural populism embedded in media studies seems more of a rationale for the promotion of cultural and creative industries than anything else, and as such can be accused of instrumentalism.  Whether a shift in attitude away from this would win over the insitutions such as Cambridge that have been sceptical about media studies reamains to be seen, however, it would satisfy many others who consider that the academic content of the subject is weak. 

Another concern is, why doesn't media studies attract those students who are studying European languages? The specifications are often extremely weak and tokenistic when it comes to dealing with the rest of Europe.  Despite doubts about the capabilities of students to sit through films with subtitles I have found that many students can become very interested if the content is appropriate. For 'Women and Film' I usually show Lucas Moodysson's Lilya 4Ever. This is a tough film but student's appreciate being treated like adults occasionally. As well as realism, and the condition of women, it gives the opportunity to discuss the political economy of 'Shock Therapy' devised and developed by this year's Reith lecturer Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs may have changed his position but at the time the programme was designed to destroy the Soviet System of social justice in the name of Neo-liberalism. The old, the weak and the poor are still suffering the fall out. This film can also easily be linked to a theme under the Contemporary British Cinema Unit on Globalisation & Diaspora (Last Resort, Dirty Pretty Things, Ghosts). Trust them, the students will respond! 

Media Cast as a "Soft subject" 

Currently Cambridge University has clearly come out against recognising Media as a 'proper A level'. This is often taken as an act of elitism and dismissed out of hand.  More worrying is the attitude of King's College in London Film Studies Department which is examined more closely below. It is encouraging that Oxford University has finally taken a more sensible line as the Independent reported in August 2006:

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. It proclaims the ambition to "break down the barriers of incomprehension and mistrust", which have defined relations between journalism and academia.

However journalism isn't Media Studies, journalists work within in the media but media is bigger than that and this article does tend to conflate the two.  A quick look at the web site of the Institute also shows that this is a seriously heavyweight research institute whic targets issues of international politics and the economy. In other words it focuses upon the big issues of life, not soap operas and the culture of celebity, lifestyle journalism and other populist fare. It is not as the Independent article seems to imply a nod in the direction of Media Studies. 

Even Film Studies Courses Take a Sceptical View of the Value of A Level Media 

At King's College London Department of Film Studies it is noticeable that on their current list of preferred A levels Media is excluded. This is especially worrying because they set themselves up as a theoretical department. It is not a department which can in anyway be described as elitist in the sense in which one might be tempted -mistakenly in my opinion - to write off Cambridge. Recent professorial recruitment includes Richard Dyer (favourite films here)  and Ginette Vincendeau (favourite films here) who have written a lot about various aspects of popular cinema and whose thinking A level media teachers and lecturers will be familiar with.

Entry Requirements

A/AS-levels: 3 A levels & 1 AS level (ABB/pass)

Compulsory subjects: A-level English (Literature or Language).
Preferred other subjects: Film Studies, History, History of Art, Modern Languages, Classics.

When I discovered this list of preferred A levels on their departmental website I emailed the department and got back a very polite response from Ginette Vincendeau explaining that whilst they were prepared to consider students with a media A level a large proportion of these students wanted to go and make films which wasn't a part of what King's College was offering. King's has recently strengthened its department, obviously  to be in a position to get a higher research rating and appeal to more aspirant students.

On my reading of the situation the fact that they accept History as a preferred A level over Media is a very clear message to Media studies across the board. The academic content on offer isn't up to speed!  Given that the OCR Media syllabus has a lot of opportunity to cover film studies this is a worrying development.

Raising Student Aspirations and Confidence in Media Studies 

I for one want my students to be able to aspire to the most well regarded Universities and it would appear that Media Studies is regarded as a weak subject by many of  these same Universities. Students rapidly get to hear of this; certainly in my previous post, which involved History teaching alongside some media, many of my tutor group would apologise and ask whether Media studies is considered by Universities as a 'legitimate' subject. This is a small amount of anecdotal evidence of course, but nevertheless it points up the danger that Media Studies is in continuous danger of appealing to those erroneously classified as "Less able". The whole principle of 'mixed ability' is that the creation of an aspirant cultural milieu will create a 'highest common factor' effect. Currently there is seemingly a danger of a 'lowest common denominator' effect. If my students can discuss the representation  globalisation and diaspora in contemporary British cinema at an interview then I shall feel I've done a good job in term's of readying them for the rigours of undergraduate life in hard to get to universities.

Grasping the Nettle 

Failure to grasp this nettle of content and deal with it will deem Media Studies to being permanently seen as a second rate A level when in fact it should be seen as a premium A level. This is because it should be proud of its interdisciplinarity. There is no doubt in my mind that it can be this, but I think it will require a different approach to be taken within the new specifications. Hopefully these issues will be being taken on board by the exam boards as a whole. Furthermore the QCA should be having a more important role because if Media is not being taken seriously at the highest levels of Academia we need to know why. As plenty of Oxbridge graduates enter the media industries in one way or another and the role of media in all sorts of spheres can hardly be denied, it is high time this 'second-rateness' was sorted out. Having an exam system where some subject areas are more equal than others is fundamently unsatisfactory. Here the Guardian report on business leaders attitudes in 2005: leaders were warning that universities need to encourage students to take "hard" subjects such as maths and foreign languages. There were currently shortfalls in the workforce because so many pupils now chose "soft" subjects, such as psychology and media, they said.

Universities themselves appear to believe this according to the Times in 2006:

Leading universities are warning teenagers that they will not gain admission if they study “soft” A levels in the sixth form.

The universities are insisting that pupils take traditional subjects if they want to be considered for degree courses. Those applying with A levels in subjects such as media studies or health and social care would rule themselves out.

The Daily Telgraph reports on the Cambridge attitude in 2006:

Cambridge University says students should study those subjects if they want to be a "realistic applicant" for its courses.

It has listed a string of A-levels on its website that it considers "less effective" preparation for entry.

The list includes subjects such as media studies, health and social care, performing arts, accounting and business studies.

The BBC also gave a similar report

There is a history of this problem as the NUT website of 2003 shows. 

Media Studies and Moral Panics in Education

Media Studies is often used as the prime example of a general decline in educational standards. The BBC has a useful page written by John Ellis analysing the press coverage of Media Studies and exposing the myths of this coverage:  

Why is Media Studies so handy as a self-evident sign of the decline in standards?

Mainly because the media are exactly that: self-evident. Entertainment, journalism, the internet appear to have no mystery about them because we use them every day.

But when you try to make a film, write an article or design an effective website, you begin to see how much skill is involved, both in making the stuff and equally in understanding how we understand it. Media Studies aim to reveal those skills underlying what we take for granted.

Unfortunately the subject examines journalism as a medium, and that makes journalists uncomfortable.

For in depth analysis discussing the construction of these panics in educational standards also see the research article from BERA.

Being Proactive on the Content

The emphasis on populist content apparent in the specification arguably can lull Media teachers into becoming complacent about the content knowledge and non-media specific analytical skills levels of their students. This tendency to pick the populist aspects of media largely eschewing the historical and political importance of media is clearly a concern of many people outside of the field. We can content ourselves with the thought that actually our students are very competent at reading intertextual references between soap operas / celebrity stories whilst ignoring the issue of who actually cares? But is this the situation we actually want?

Interestingly most of my students hate textual analysis options such as 'Celebrity and Newspapers' and 'Lifestyle magazines'. Over time I have gained a sense that if confronted with serious content students will take it seriously; certainly watching Ghosts and The Road to Guantanamo recently seemed to affect many students. Several were disappointed when I had to leave Ghosts unfinished as we only had time to do extracts in the British cinema half unit.


I shall be interested to hear other views and of people's other experiences on this issue of content. As far as I'm concerned we have a duty linked into concepts of global citizenship to provide more challenging content where possible, otherwise we leave ourselves open to accusations of collusion with populist taste manufactured by the middle classes for consumption by the lower orders. We also have a duty to raise current issues about media within the media, whether it is to do with Alan Johnson in Gaza or the worrying developments of Thompson taking over Reuters threatening the underlying news values:

Reuters’ editorial principles of integrity, independence and freedom from bias are world renowned. Those principles are guaranteed by the structure of the business - which prohibits any individual from owning 15 per cent or more of the company. That prohibition is being waved for the Thomson family, which will end up owning 53 per cent of the enlarged business.

With things changing so rapidly in the world of media as well as the world in general it seems to be important for media exams to be able to be bang up to date. Perhaps we should incorporate an exam where students go on the internet and research important media stories and write them up in a given period of time.  This would improve many skills and be a fun exam as well which is inherently dynamic. Let's use the media to examine the media and examine that research and reporting set of skills. there are lots of possibilities.

Always Historicise

It is ironical that the OCR history specification has had an option to do history of the media when this option isn't a core part of the media studies specification. As the influential critic Frederic Jameson has argued, it is always important to historicise yet this is ignored in the current OCR specification. 

Currently many student's concept of history is so bad that the begining of the Iraq war seems like ancient history. Their knowledge about events in the world is so weak that a few days ago one A2 student after seeing an extract of The Road to Guantanamo and being horrified by the inhumane and unjust treatment  of the detainees spontaneously burst out "Can't the police stop it!"  This is a sad crie de coeur from somebody about to enter into a university or HE course somewhere. Her lack of understanding of the world is at least partially our responsibility. Being involved in the world of Media should be as much a social science involving, policy, history and social research as it is a part of English which is the current default setting.

The Road to Guantanamo

There are of course possibilities to work in important issues to particular units, but it is something which must be worked at and joined up thinking isn't encouraged by the current specification. More attention to the wider issues which media is inevitably embroiled in should be one of our objectives as media teachers.  

Conclusion:Developing Dynamic Content

Of course it takes time and a lot of energy to develop contemporary resources but a task of Media Studies is to be responding to the changing world. By definition the content we deal with is more dynamic than most other subjects. Added to this technologies and delivery platforms and regulatory systems are subject to change. We can't all be experts in everything. For small media teams this puts extra strain on.  

Lecturing and teaching in the media field can be made much easier by sharing our resources and ideas in a networked way. Hopefully as we all get more familiar with the blogsphere we should be able to have nationally networked freely available continuously updated resources by working in parallel across the net. Hopefully those of you who visit this blog will use the resources and develop your own. Developing links and feeds is a media project in its own right and one which we can all contribute to and help establish our interdisciplinary subject area as one which has its finger on the pulse of change.  


Independent "What is the Point"

Guardian on business leaders attitudes in 2005 

Times on Media Studies 2006

BERA report on the construction of political and media panics over education

May 05, 2007

Ownership of the UK Magazine Industry

Magazine Ownership & Control in the UK

Return to Lifestyle Magazines Hub

NUJ Slogan

the determining context for production is always the market. In seeking to maximise this market products must draw on the most widely legitimated core values while rejecting the dissenting voice or incompatible objection to a ruling truth. Golding, P and Murdock, G (1977)


Perhaps more than other social scientists and media critics those following a Marxist methodology have been continuously concerned to highlight the fact that the press and media in general are usually owned by small numbers amongst the rich elites. Naturally these elites argue the Marxists will be encouraging both explicitly and implicity through this ownership, cultural and social practices amongst the general population which serves to distract them from the real issues of power and control which underly any society.

There have been a number of contributions within Marxist thought to developing research and analysis of the mass media of which magazines form a small part. There are many strands of Marxist thought. Amongst those which have contributed to the debate are followers of Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School, Berltolt Brecht. A useful survey of these positions is available at an Aberystwyth University site. Whilst I would wish to add to or amend certain entries such as the one on Adorno it nevertheless provides a useful overview of this area of media theory.  

Whilst the section Who Owns What provides an online tool for visitors to monitor ownership, the latter part of the posting doesn't seek to identify the precise units of magazine ownership which are  concentrated in the hands of a few companies. This will be dealt with in another posting. Rather, the concern shifts to the synoptic level of whether it matters at all if media companies continue to get larger and to control a larger market share. In doing so it raids some key elements of a debate which took place on the Open Democracy site some time ago but in a week when Reuters appears to be a target for a takeover bid, when Microsft and Yahoo are contemplating closer ties and when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is bidding for the Dow Jones the arguments are as pertinent now as they ever were.

Who Owns What?

Below I have borrowed the connections available online to an analysis for the International Federation of Journalists on European Media Ownership. If you go down to the table below  you will be able to link through to their  full table to identify who currently owns what in media terms.

As we have been using 'Loaded' as a case study of Lads' Mags earlier  select 'L' and then find   'Loaded'. You will quickly find that it belongs to the comapnay called IPC. Select that and another screen will come up where you will find that IPC is now owned by Time-Warner, one of the giants of the media world and indeed the business world in general. You will be able to find comments by various journalists about the working conditions they have found in the past at the various IPC magazines.

European Media Ownership: Threats on the Landscape

Below is an introduction to a survey of who owns what in Europe by Granville Williams for the European Federation of Journalists  This is followed by the interactive table:

This report concludes that there are major threats in Europe's media landscape. Some of the threats identified are political and private threats to public service broadcasting, power over global media in the hands of few, more and more media concentration, the threat to emerging markets in Eastern and Central Europe and regulation getting weaker as media power grows.

Media ownership, by title

Who owns your local paper or your favourite magazine? What else does that company own, and who controls it? Look it up here.

The Optician is filed under Optician, Die Zeit is filed under Zeit, and the Evening Posts should be under Nottingham, Reading, South Wales (Swansea), etc.

Click in the left-hand column to see titles in that range of the alphabet. Colours code for sectors.

Click: to see titles from...
0 - a .net UK (mags)
Bromley KM Extra UK (regional)
- b - 96.4 BRMB UK (bcast)
Oswestry - Border Counties Advertizer UK (regional)
- c - 95.8 Capital FM radio UK (bcast)
Montgomeryshire / Radnor / N Brecknock - County Times UK (regional)
- d - Dagblad de Limburger NL (regional)
Dziennik Wschodni PL (regional)
- e - E UK (mags)
Eyestyle UK (mags)
- f - (Unison) Focus UK (mags)
Fylde Extra UK (regional)
- g - Gabler Verlag DE (books) / / .cn / .fr etc US (online)
- h - Hachette Collections FR (books)
Jakt NO (mags)
i - j ibau DE (books)
JydskeVestkysten DK (regional)
k - l Kabel 1 DE (bcast)
Lytham St Annes + Fylde Express UK (regional)
- m - 102.7 Mercury Surrey and Sussex UK (bcast) UK (online)
- n - N24 DE (bcast)
NY1 News, New York, NY US (bcast)
- o - Oadby + Wigston Mail UK (regional)
Oyen - AB - Echo CA (regional)
p - q P.M. DE (mags)
Quo PT (mags)
- r - Réseaux + Télécoms FR (mags)
Rzeczpospolita PL (news)
- s - S + W Wales Trader UK (mags)
Színes TV Müsor HR (mags)
- t - T3 UK (mags)
Tyrone Times UK (regional)
u - v Ucluelet BC - The Westerly News CA (regional)
Vysokyj Zamok / Lviv UA (regional)
- w - Manufacturing Management - Demographic Data UK (other)
Wyvern radio UK (bcast)
x - z XFade UK (mags)
Zurban FR (mags)

How Much does Ownership and Media Concentration Matter?

It's all very having fancy tools to identify ownership patterns but does it really matter and why? There has been a recent important debate on the pages of Open Democracy about how much it matters whether the is a tendency to media concentration. Some people even debate whether  there is actually a tendency towards this concentration of ownership at all. Some argue that the market functions as a 'healthy market' and that weaker contenders are driven out as technologies and audiences change in a continually dynamic way.

In Open Democracy the debate was opened by Robert W. McChesney who pointed out the tendency for media companies to be growing more important in the world of global capitalism by value.

At the top of the global media system is a tier of fewer than ten transnational giants – AOL Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal, Sony, Viacom and News Corporation – that together own all the major film studios and music companies, most of the cable and satellite TV systems and stations, the US television networks, much of global book publishing and much, much, more. By 2001 nearly all of the first tier firms rank among the 300 largest corporations in the world, several among the top 50 or 100. As recently as 20 years ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find a single media company among the 1,000 largest firms in the world. 

By comparison McChesney was strongly challenged by Benjamin Compaine:

The notion of the rise of a handful of all-powerful transnational media giants is also vastly overstated. There is only one truly global media enterprise, Australia’s News Corporation. In the past decade Germany’s Bertelsmann has expanded beyond its European base to North America. And that’s it. The substantial global presence of all others is primarily the output of the same Hollywood studios that have distributed their films globally for decades. Nothing new there. 

In 1986 there was a list of the fifty largest media companies and there is still a list of the top fifty. And the current fifty account for little more of the total of media pie today than in 1986.

There is a bit of a problem with Compaine's argument because as he admits elsewhere in his article the media market has grown massively.  Writing this post a few years later it has grown significantly again as the likes of Google / Youtube, News International / Myspace battle it out on an increasingly global market. This is where he rightly notes new companies can spring out of nowhere. That is one of the dynamics of capitalism but at the same time there is always a tendency for concentration and consolidation as markets mature. 

This weeks rumours of a tie up between Microsoft and Yahoo emphasise both tendencies. Microsoft is moving towards being the worlds largest company which is multimedia and the core competition is Google which is also buying up companies to gain market position. as has been pointed out elsewhere in this blog Apple too is positioning itself within the music and video downloading market aiming at the coming digital phone revolution. Apple like Microsoft is building its brand in the consumer media world. But is has no games as yet nor does it have a link with search engines which are now creating more advertising income than many TV stations.  Whilst the media forms are highly dynamic the levers of control are shifting into a truly global dimension of an order which dwarfs Hollywood domination of movies. Expect some links between former computer companies and phone companies. The feel at the moment is 'you ain't seen nothing yet'!

Both McChesney and Compaigne  make useful points. Hesmondhalgh tries to move the debate to different grounds firstly pointing out that both participants ignored the issue of content and the issues of popular culture. Furthermore he points out they ignored the issue of risk in media production. Not everything succeeds he points out:

A crucial factor, ignored both by the McChesney/Chomsky approach and by Compaine and his fellow market celebrants, is the pervasive risk and uncertainty within the media business. The failure rate in the media industries is considerably higher than in other sectors. Misses enormously outnumber hits. Nearly thirty thousand music albums are released in the US each year, of which fewer than two per cent sell more than fifty thousand copies.

However Hesmonhalgh doesn't take these figures any further. Presumably a considerable number of the albums manage to get their money back which is the first law of capitalism and risk. Others may be speculative or produced by individuals and independents for love rather than money. Large media comapnies manage risk very effectively it is only when the markets are turned upside down through new technologies and different audience behaviour that trouble brews. EMI's current troubles regarding slumping music sales are a prime example within this market. However there is no shortage of people wanting music. The key issue that flows from this is the issue of stardom and celebrity which drives the top end of the so-called 'popular cultural' market. As the very definition of celebrity by extension means lots of people within the specific field  who are not celebrities then there must be a large market place which is strongly hierachised into a continuum running from massive success to to abject failure and bankruptcy. Without that how can one be a star?

Hesmondhalgh then moves the debate towards the issue of content:

But the crucial question for democracy is whether the output ultimately serves the interests of the owners and executives of the media companies – and those of their political allies. The answer is only a very qualified ‘yes’. There is sufficient autonomy for media workers to create products which do not always conform to the interests of the owners and executives of their companies. Cultural companies compete to outstrip each other in satisfying – and building – audience desires for the shocking, the profane and the rebellious. This may result in a deeply unserious and often trivial culture. But this is not the same thing as conformism, and serving the interests of big business. Indeed, much contemporary popular culture contains images which are fundamentally hostile to big business. Of course, no coherent programme bit of charity does no harm to the systemof democratic reform is outlined. But it would be absurd to expect such a programmatic politics from everyday media. (My emphasis).

This 'resistant' populism however, merely bears witness to an excellent level of ideological control. Providing business is making money from anti business consumers who have little genuine concerted political coherence then there is no danger, on the contrary it feeds the notion of democracy well. Rcok musicians haven't managed to solve World poverty because of systemic reasons as well as  the fact that a bit of charity does no harm to the system. If anything the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is likely to contibute more to the amelioration of poverty in Africa than Bono. One thing is for certain, nobody can genuinely expect Murdoch to have in control of a company in his portfolio a born again socialist who wants to turn back the tide of capitalism. If a resistant journalist on a a single programme says something which disagrees with Murdoch then who actually cares?

Hesmondhalgh is certainly on the ball when he notes that this American debate misses out the importance of the concept and committment to public service broadcasting within Europe particularly noting Compaignes neo-liberal idealism:

His assumption that the market is responsible for any increased diversity is particularly misguided. In fact, the remarkable range of high-quality programming on many European television systems is the result of a commitment to public service broadcasting.

James Curran gets back to the issue of whether media concentration actually matters in relation to the health of democracy concluding that it is especially important on three main grounds with a fourth important comment attached:

...private concentration of symbolic power potentially distorts the democratic process. This point is underlined by the way in which Silvio Berlusconi was catapulted into the premiership of Italy without having any experience of democratic office.

Berlusconi would not be ruling Italy now if he did not dominate a massive media empire that enabled him to manufacture a political party....

The second reason for concern is that the power potentially at the disposal of media moguls tends to be exerted in a one-sided way. Of course, this power is qualified and constrained in many ways – by the power available to consumers and staff, the suppliers of news, regulators, rival producers, the wider cultural patterns of society. But it is simply naïve to imagine that it does not exist.

The third reason for concern is that the concentration of market power can stifle competition. A fundamental reason for the long-standing deficiencies of the British national press, for example, is that it has been controlled so long by an oligopoly. No new independent national newspaper has been launched, and has managed to stay independent, during the last seventy years.

This is giving rise to a one-sided protection of our freedoms: a state of constant alert against the abuse of state power over the media, reflected in the development of numerous safeguards, not matched by an equivalent vigilance and set of safeguards directed against the abuse of shareholder power over the media.


I find Curran's arguments entirely convincing, ownership does matter and therefore it matters that the concept of public service broadcasting is not only kept alive but extended as the BBC has been  managing to do for the digital era despite frequent criticisms. Certainly any user of this blog will see how many BBC News items are referred to simply because there is good coverage. For this reason it is right to express concern now about the Broadcasting White paper of 2006 talking about the possibility of subscription services for the BBC is a potential weakening of the system.


This BBC story and interactive response from its audience is related more to TV and Radio nevertheless the general underlying issues of ownership and control of powerful media interests remains central.  

Project for Excellence in Journalism: Magazine Ownership This deals primarily with the situation in the USA however the pan naional nature of magazine and cross-media ownership means that there is some relevance to the UK.

The Campaing for Press and Broadcasting Freedom: Response to the 2001 Media Consultation on change of ownership rules

James Curran on Global Media Concentration

Hesmondhalgh here argues that despite tendencies towards concentrated ownership there is a danger of forgetting that parts of the media face severe market risks and fail.  Furthermore he argues that an overconcentration upon ownership fails to account for content and the possibility for media workers to produce content which challemges or subverts the overall intent of the large corporations.

January 21, 2007

Opinion 2

Moron TV: Big Brother; Commercialism; The Public Service Broadcasting Ethos


As noted in my Film Opinion One there is no mercy on this blog for crass commercial media products aimed at exploiting populist sentiment which belongs to the lowest common denominator. As Adorno and Horkheimer note in their article on the culture industry:

something is provided for all that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. (Adorno and Horkheimer, p 123).

Thankfully the denominator when it comes to so-called ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother can’t be described as ‘common’ in the sense of achieving approval from people in Britain. The large numbers of people taking the trouble to make formal complaints about this despicable programme can give all visitors some faith in the notion of the global Public Sphere – of which Web 2.0 is a part-, the question still remains whether this fissure which has opened in the sheer rock face of the culture industry can lead to something constructive. Can popular resistance really break through in a long term meaningful way? Can we get the media we would actually like?

Normally I avoid links to commercial organisations unless they pay or unless the product is technologically of interest and of good quality. When dealing with media products the policy is that if the content is deemed to be of sufficient quality and relevance as to be justifiable then it can be included.

As some visitors may have noticed there are links and products from Channel Four News programmes in the section which doubles as a news portal and offers media students the chance to get direct feeds to the better quality news programmes. The extremely dubious nature of Channel Four’s attitude to the whole of the Big Brother furore leads me to consider whether to include C4 links on this site or should it be voted off (by me)?

The Growth of Celebrity

At times it seems as though the growth of the discourse of ‘celebrity’ has grown alongside the increasing interest and use of the internet. As interest in user generated content grows so the weakest elements of the mainstream media resort to increasingly desparate survival tactics. (The continous profits squeeze upon the Music company EMI as it announced disappointing results last week is another example of change in the wind).

The culture of ‘celebrity’ received critical treatment at least as far back as Adorno and Horkheimer:

As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. It is even stronger than the rigorism of the Hays Office… (Adorno & Horkheimer, p 134).

Thankfully the totality of the culture industry has turned out not to be quite as homogenous as these Frankfurt School worthies were afraid of, nevertheless, the tendencies they identified all seem to be present in the ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother story.

The Irony of ‘Reality TV’ finally breaks through into the Real World

What could be better for the media company concerned than so called ‘reality TV’ than this mockery of the world actually impinging in a serious way upon the real social world.

Concerns were voiced that the BBC was covering the issue too much, but when a representative came before Newswatch to defend News 24’s coverage it was hard to disagree that a sordid little moron TV show had managed to become in danger of causing a major diplomatic incident and was the cause of concern in Parliamentary questions and debate.

I must say Ken Livingstone the Mayor of London came close to my thoughts when he argued that the Channel 4 producers had deliberately set up this confrontation to create the maximum degree of attention and controversy. A tactic of last resort as its failing formula and increasing desparation to find people who could be described as celebrity even in its most elastic construction.

There is little doubt that this programme should sink without trace in a few weeks time. As C4 increasingly turns itself into the worst possible version of what might be described as ‘Tabloid TV’ with psuedo-documentaries and continuous soft-porn style content, it serves to firmly underpin the notion of the importance of Public Service Broadcast TV.

The formula of Big Brother itself seems to have been invented by an increasingly wealthy ex Public School and Oxbridge character interviewed a few months ago in the Financial Times. That reminds me of Lindsay Anderson’s Oh Dreamland which has a little clip near the beginning of a Rolls Royce Parked behind a 1950s amusement complex. The camera then cuts to large numbers of working class people piling off coaches from London. The film charts their initial joy at having a flight from reality gradually become undermined by the dire quality of the content of the park.

These Big Brother antics attract the sort of audiences who would like to watch cock-fights, bare-knuckle fighting, bear and badger-baiting. This is the 21st century equivalent.

The joy of being able to vote somebody out of Big Brother is a mockery of democracy and an insult to the notion of real citizenship. Citizenship becomes spectacle as you pay 50 pence for the privilege of a telephone vote in any case although C4 will doubtless be trumpeting this a a modern form of ‘viewer democracy’ and ‘participative media product’.

I heard the interview with a senior exectutive from Channel Four at about 6.15 a.m. as he happily criticised the BBC for getting too much license fee and then point-blank refused to make any comment whatsoever about the controversy.

Well his senior executive pay packet was on the line and hopefully still is. Channel 4’s policy and behaviour this week has been seriously unethical and based purely on commercial greed. The 1990 Broadcasting Act has liberated the airwaves to junk TV. The stonewalling of this Channel 4 executive is the strongest possible argument for raising the license fee for the BBC to try and get this trash off air.

Bye Bye Channel 4 News – Sorry

I’m always being surprised that many of the links this site contains go to BBC sites, the trouble is they are so much better than the opposition most of the time. I have no doubts that Channel 4 News is an exception. Right from the first day of Channel 4 I have enjoyed C4 News on a regular basis, and it has always been interesting to compare the content and handling of stories with the BBC who at the end of the day still need to keep a weather eye on the government when it comes to increases in licence fees.

This raises further issues of media policy about whether the government of the day should have such a direct influence on an institution which we all pay for. Perhaps a more independent body of licence reviewers needs to be established.

After this I’m contemplating the notion that a separate licensed 24 hour news programme with a level of financial independence perhaps mixed funded partially by advertising and partially by a separate license fee controlled by a fully independent institution from government might be a sensible path. Perhaps the Channel 4 news organisation could be the anchor of this. In the meantime I’m afraid the link is going. I don’t suppose that will make the organisation quake but I hope that visitors to this site will make their views very clear to Channel 4.

I rather hope that this outburst will prove to be the demise of C4. Those media and cultural theorists who continuously decry the Frankfurt School as being ‘pessimistic’ and ‘elitist’ and underestimating the intelligence of the audience would at least have a practical case study upon which to evidence their claims. I’m am optimistic that Adorno and Horkheimer will be proved right.

For a moment there is a fissure appearing in the face of the cultural industry: can the popular masses led of course by the willing hordes of media theorists in the political vanguard escape the flight from the wretched reality described by Adorno and Horkheimer and actually develop some real resistance against the cultural industry. If like me you enjoy a regular supply of oxygen you are strongly advised not to hold your breath :-). The latest BBC story on this case reports the Association of Schools and College Leaders representative John Dunford as saying in response to demands from Alan Johnson demanding deeper cultural values in their approach:

Schools can hardly be blamed for one person’s bigotry when the 82% who voted to eject Jade Goody are testament to the work already being done by schools to develop respect, understanding and tolerance.

alan Johnson Minister of Education

This seems to indicate that nearly 20% or to put it another way nearly one in 5 of people who paid 50 pence for the priviledge of voting are effectively racist! No I don’t blame schools I blame the crass greed of people like Channel 4 executives who seek to profit from this sort of ‘controversy’. The production company behind Big Brother are called Endemol. Will they benefit out of this? asks this BBC story

Endemol seem to be one of these nebulous production companies which have sprung up in the wake of the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Interestingly they also provide the BBC with content such as Ready Steady Cook.
If you want to know what programmes to boycott or complain about then here is Endemol’s web site.
Its portfolio seems to fit Adorno’s astute comment of something is provided for all that none may escape remarkably well. Who is a pessimist and who is a realist! Get out there and prove me wrong please.

December 15, 2006

A Level Media. Web 2.0: An introduction

What is Web 2.0?

What was effectively ‘Web 1’ saw the development of the World Wide Web based upon the use of a graphical user interface in the form of a web browser which could run on Windows and Mac based PCs. The first of these was called Mosaic .

However although the Internet in its Web 1 version could be useful for gathering information and saw a rapid growth as many companies saw a presence on the internet as a magical tool for growth once the novelty of Web surfing had passed users of the web wanted something more.

The web wasn’t very interactive with the main real interactivity being confined to ordering goods or services over the internet such as travel tickets or books. Despite the hype and utopian hopes of some that was invested in the possibilities of the internet the power of the internet as a truly democratising media and communications tool had yet to be developed.

User Generated Content (UGC)

Web 2 is based on a set of new and developing software tools which allows people to communicate in radically different ways and ones which can by-pass conventional mainstream media institutions.

It is quite difficult to give a precise definition of the meaning of the term “Web 2”. Here is a page from the Guardian discussing the development.

The shorthand term for what is happening now is “Web 2.0”, a designation coined at a conference in 2004 by the web-business booster Tim O’Reilly, as describing “an attitude rather than a technology” (Guardian 4/11/06)

Wikipedia suggests that there is a ‘supposed second generation of internet-based services – such as social networking site, wikis, communications tools… that emphasise online collaboration and sharing among users.’ PC Pro doing a survey in its Feb 2007 edition (bought in December !) suggests that this is the best definition they had found. [Wikipedia itself is a ‘web 2’ based phenemoenon by the way]. We can argue that it is a definition reached by a collaborative consensus using Web 2 tools to define itself.

Six Key Technologies

PC Pro argues that there are currently six key technologies which form the basis of the ‘Web 2’ social networking experience. (here there is no inclusion of commercial developments such as Second Life which seems to include several elements of the social aspects of ‘Web ’. The six core technologies for PC Pro are:

  • Blogging
  • Social Networking
  • Podcasting
  • Democratic News
  • Modern Website Building
  • Contents Sharing


Blogging has become the most popular Web 2 medium. It is a medium which requires very little in terms of technology or knowledge about software. Current (December 2006) estimates reckon there are about 100,000 million blogs. The blog-tracking service technorati currently tracks over 59 million blogs with 1.3 million ‘posts’ being entered everyday. Whilst some estimates think that this phenomneon has peaked the culture and nature of blogging is clearly an new and important democratic form – in the sense of being readily available to large numbers of people in the advanced economies.

As a method of publishing an individual or small group of people’s ideas and perspectives on the world blogging is probably the most effective method yet invented.

There are some significant differences between a blog and a personal website which are integrally linked to its inherently dynamic form in relation to its content:

A blog demands updates on at least a weekly basis and should provide links to other interesting or relevant blogs. These links then provide futher links to other websites… (PC Pro February 2007, p 142).

Ease of use is one of the biggest advantages that blogs offer over traditional websites. Based upon simple templates they don’t require any knowledge of HTML (the mark-up language underlying web pages).

They work in all internet browsers and can be used by any computer regardless of the operating system (such as Windows or Mac). Wordpress is one of the more complex ones which allows more experienced users to customise their blog to get a particular look and feel to it. Nevertheless it is a straightforward process requiring no software knowledge:

This, quite rightly moves the focus away from the technology being used to the *quality of the content* (my emphasis, PC Pro Feb 2007 , p 143)

Because updating blogs is a fast and seamless process this means that a range of new possibilities is emerging. One such possibility is the rise of the ‘citizen jounalist’. People may not have had much training but almost anybody can report something. As discussed elsewhere in this this means that even the most important of the mainstream media news services are reviewing their attitudes to news gathering and editorial ways of organisaing the news agenda.

Perhaps the most famous of these blogs has come from Salem Pax. He is an Iraqui who had discovered blogging and whose blog became famous when the Iraq war started. With most Western Journalists ‘embedded’ with the frontline forces or restricted to a hotel in Bagdhad getting daily reports available to the whole world from a resident’s perspective was filling a gap which media organisations for all their sophistication were unable to deal with.

Finding your Target Audience

As with any other piece of media finding your target audience is fundamental to its success unless you want to write solely for yourself and your best friend.

Make it interesting / Make it relevant

It is obviously essential to make the content as interesting and as relevant to your target audiences as possible. this means that you first of all need to have your target audience / s well defined in your mind. For example the audiences I’m targeting this particular blog at are as follows:

  • The course members of my Weimar and Nazi Cinema Course
  • Other students who are likely to be very interested in this cinema.
  • Other people interested in German culture and history
  • Other people interested in European cinema

This blog is also about the history of European cinema taken from the perspective of the 5 major industrial countries in Europe during the 20th century. There are several courses run which explore this. As the blog develops it will link into the courses and a wider range of visitors will hopefully visit the site. Because the site doesn’t rely upon up to the minute information but is more historically based it will have longer term relevance. when new information comes to light then it can be easily added even if it is just in the form of of links.

Very dynamic parts of the site are provided through feeds in the sidebar. There are links to the current days screenings on Film Four, there is a link to a well develop cinema blog on alternative cinema. There is also a feed to regular podcasts from a commercial organisation. This should interest people who are also intersted in European cinema and so on. Static links are provided to a range of Cinema journals. Articles have a good range of embedded links built in. The idea is that there is a good range of resources available for people who have quite a deep interest in the area.

The commentary boxes will allow conversations and debates to develop thus there is a good area of potential interactivity should visitors wish to engage.

Another Audience

I also have a different but overlapping audience in mind for this site. I have some ‘A’ level media students and I wish to publish resources for them. This article is one of them. This article is also for a more general audience who may wish to find out more about New Media.

The same principles as above apply in terms of providing feeds and resources which are being continuously updated automatically. In this sense this specific blog is an early model of an ‘educational blog’. In media terms it can be seen as becoming part of a specific genre of blogs.

Blogs and Genre

Already some research is suggesting that the blogging phenomenon may have peaked. I would suggest that it is too early to call there is a lot of the world that is not yet networked also many people prefer to wait and consider the options. already there is a strong move in educational circles to develp blogging as a particular tool. this blog is effectively a part of that specific movement. Undoubtedly there are many other ideas bubling under the surface. It is likely that a range of blog genres will develop in quite a deliberate form. Now the first flush of just being able to do it is over content, relevance and target audience become fundamental. These are all standard media issues. It is the form and openess which make this media form different.

Getting Your Blog Noticed

The important thing, though, is to engage. Make a valuable or entertaining comment on a related popular blog and many people will click through just out of curiosity. There are countless “web rings” – loose affiliations of like minded blogs and bloggers -... (PC Pro Fe 2007 p 147)

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Sear Engine optimisation is another factor to consider. however it is something of a ‘dark art’ so don’t beat yourself up over it. Even an “and” isn’t meant to make a difference it does make a slight difference even on page one of a search term “Weimar and Nazi Cinema” or separate words “Weimar Nazi Cinema”. Your blog can be read by search engines and looking through a Google trawl you
are likely to find some blogs fairly high up the list. Indeed on one particular search term this blog appeared as the first entry in Google for nearly three weeks. currently it seems to have been banned altogether by the algorithms. It does appear quite high up in other search engines. There is a dark art to search engines and part of the job of those organising them is defeat those scams such as ‘google-bombing’ which artificially promote sites which often have noth ing to do with entered search term.

Don’t expect to hit the high rankings early. Pay attention to what your site is called. Clearly if your core target audience is ‘coarse fishing in the West Midlands’ then there are unlikely to be millions of hits generated by the search engine. Trying this today generated 52,200 hits. The last few thousand would have been thinly related. Thus the opportunity to get seen by your target audience which is very specific is good.

As your blog builds up a history of posts this is a parameter which is taken into account by search engines. There are many other ones including the use of headings, key terms and tags as well as things such as usage and traffic.

By comparison entering the term globally for “European Cinema” netted 12.7 MILLION hits. Even allowing for some very thin relationships a very general sweep like this is going to favour very large longstanding sites usuall part of commercial or educational institutions. So although the primary objective of this site is dealing with European cinema I wouldn’t be expecting this blog to come into the top ten pages for several months at least using this search term.

In general the better your site the more users it will attract and the higher up the search engines prioritisation your site will move. Try and develop your design to optimise search terms which target your primary target audience.

More to Come

I will be dealing with some of the other core Web 2 technologies another time. There is work on podcasting already underdevelopment as work in progress. ciao fo now :-)

December 10, 2006

British Cinema: The Irresistable Rise of the Multiplex


The development of the multiplex cinema has changed the face of film exhibition. Simultaneously multiplexes have contributed to the denuding of town centres of traditional entertainments, whilst contributing to the growth of cinema audiences. Prior to the development of the multiplex cinema audiences in Britain were at an all time low.

There is a seeming paradox that multiplexes offer more screens and fewer films. Below this phenomenon is explored in relation to the increasing domination of the global film industry by Hollywood. The problem of distribution and exhibition of British and /or other cinemas is also considered.

The First Multiplex

The first multiplex was built in a shopping mall in Kansas City in 1966. This happened at a time when the American film industry was suffering from the break-up of the big Hollywood vertically integrated companies. There were several reasons for this. Anti-monopoly legislation was introduced. This came at a time when TV had begun to steal audiences. Furthermore there was greater disposable income going into other leisure industries which were competing for the cinema audiences. By the 1980s the multiplex model dominated the American exhibition system and the time was ripe to open up new markets.

The Multiplex in Britain

The first British multiplex opened in Milton Keynes in 1985. It had ten screens seating over 2,000 people. It also had a restaurant, brasserie and social club. It was positioned to have a cachment area of approximately 1.5 million people within 45 minutes drive. This kind of metrics is important to decide where to site multiplexes.

There were 2 or more showings of individual films each evening and there would always be at least one U Rated film which helped to make the venue attractive for families. It was now possible for Adults to watch one film and children another.

The auditoriums were now designed with far better standards of comfort for the seating which is spacious and very relaxing. The screen can easily be seen from all the seats. Combined with the best screening technologies available the cinema could now offer a wide range of people a far better quality viewing experience.

The Milton Keynes Multiplex

The cramped, knackered seats, bad sight-lines, poor sound and small screens with poor facilities especially parking consigned the local independent cinema to history in most major cities over a ten year period.

Inside the Milton Keynes Multiplex

Much of the multiplex boom was linked in with the massive growth of the consumption led lifestyle economy usually concentrated upon out-of town shopping centres. These usually had free parking and often good rail connections.

The British Multiplex in the 1990s

Northampton Multiplex Cinema

The construction of larger multiplexes of over 8 screens was premised upon a catchment area of about half a million people living within a 20-25 minute drive away. Since 1991 there has been the development of the smaller multiplex 5-6 screens in smaller towns and cities such as Leamington-Spa, Lincoln and Kettering.

During the 1990s five companies dominated the multiplex market controlling about 88% of the screens. These are: Rank Odeon , National amusements / Showcase, UCI, Virgin, Warner Village. There is now a return to ‘brownfield’ sites with ‘megaplexes’ being constructed. There is a 31 screen megaplex being built on the Battersea power station site, and a 21 screen venue has been built in Bradford. The Star site in Birmingham has 30 screens and is part of a large shopping and restaurant complex. Technically in the inner city it has good proximity to the motorway and nearly 3,000 car parking spaces are available.

The multiplex can be seen as part of the ‘MacDonaldisation’ of society by providing a homogenised entertainments service. The buildings, unlike the Odeons of the 1930s, are frequently system-build and standardised. Carbuncles on the face of the British built environment, pure money generating machines. The labour systems are increasingly de-skilled as fewer, less skilled, projectionists can operate the largely computer based projection systems. The buildings are designed to create a through-flow of people so seats in the foyers are rarely provided. Membership of Trade Unions is discouraged for the workforce. (Hanson, 2000).

Less Choice Not More

David Lister has summed up the position in Britain with a strong degree of scepticism as he comments below:

Another Cannes staple is the lack of British films, an omission usually more than compensated for by a performance of a British government minister. The sun, sea and crowds tend to give our visiting ministers a sense of euphoria or perhaps just heatstroke. Labour’s Chris Smith once announced that he intended all British multiplexes always to show at least one British film. Guess what, it never happened.

The expansion of screen numbers has paradoxically seen fewer films being screened. Instead blockbusters are often being screened on several of the screens each night: ‘A small proportion of major Hollywood studio films receiveore a disproportionate amount of resources in terms of marketing and screen time.’ ( Hanson, 2000 : 55 ). Multiplexes often hold over successful films for extra weeks to maximise their profitability. As a result independent films rarely get a look in despite the promises that were made at the time the first multiplex opened in Britain that one independent film would always be available.

During 1997 of the 284 films exhibited in the UK 153 were American and 21 were US/UK joint productions. The distribution of most of the Hollywood films went through 5 major distributors: UIP, Buena Vista, Twentieth Century Fox, Columbia and Warner Brothers.

The rest of the distribution sector is comprised of small independent companies promoting most of the British, other European, and other overseas films. These films are finding it much harder to get screen time despite the fact that there are more screens.

Independent cinemas have been unable to compete with the multiplexes even when trying to show mainstream products. This is because unacceptable conditions are placed on the exhibitors, such as taking a certain number of products from a distributor. In any exhibitors have managed to make good profits and this section of British cinema continues to be successful. This is at the expense of British and other non-Hollywood coming to screens.

Here’s how it works. The lower the risk of the film not attracting big audiences the greater the per-centage cut of the takings the distributor takes. this automatically makes small budget films a big risk for exhibitors because the marketing budgets are so small. Remember hollywood blockbusters sometimes spend 50% – Yes, that is half of the budget! – on marketing. The marketing budget of a film like Titanic will be more than the cost of several British films added together.

Overall there is an illusion of diversity and consumer choice being promoted. Hansen (2000) rightly notes that the situation is ambivalent on the grounds that multiplexes replacing badly designed, uncomfortable cinemas or providing a service where none previously existed is the upside of this development. But this point needs to be developed further, surely neither situation is satisfactory. Multiplexes only serve the interests of large-scale commercial enterprises. Both planning issues and issues of cultural citizenship issue need to be addressed. cultural citizenship is the matter of rights of represntation of people. Arguably these rights are overridden by the greed of large companies.

Planning and Environmental Issues

Many contemporary urban planners are stressing the importance of ‘polycentric’ planning, that is the importance of developing local community ties as well as reducing the huge traffic flows on motorways which has been encouraged by the out-of-town development.

It isn’t just a British phenomena it is a worldwide one. Below is an image of the first multiplex in Vietnam:

First Multiplex in Vietnam

Locally available entertainments which are not reliant upon car usage and which can provide high quality viewing and be sensitive to the expressed needs of the local audience in terms of programming would be an extension of cultural citizenship in the face of rampant commercialism.

Here is a link to Friends of the Earth criticism of the multiplex

Where do we want cinema to go?

This ambivalence about cinema and its role in British culture is one which isn’t discussed enough. Do we want huge sheds primarily designed to part teenagers and people in their early twenties from their money whilst closing down alternative avenues? We can certainly say that what we have now is ‘popular culture’ in the sense that enough people go for the spectacle for the industry to exist. Should multiplexes be forced to take a certain amount of european Films? would this just lead to the creation of quota quickies. Is the problem worth worrying about?

It certainly seems to be the case that the multiplex system totally dominates British cinema and that it is geared up to showing Hollywood productions and maximising profits. Exhibition companies tend to do well out of this and in Britain we can’t complain too much as many technicians are employed in making Hollywood films. To some extent Hollywood films create a sort of global popular culture although the audiences that enjoy them may read them differently according to their own experiences.

Lots of room for dicussion here so please make use of the comments boxes. Ciao fo now :-)

December 08, 2006

The British Cinema Research Programme

Researching British Cinema


Whether you are doing a sixth form project, undergraduate dissertation or engaged in postgraduate work on British cinema there is likely to be something useful in this for you. You may be trying to find articles, supervisors, ideas for research projects. This is likely to be a very dynamic page. Please leave comments in the comments box providing URLs to interesting courses, conferences and pages concerning British cinema. Please enjoy :-).

Interesting Websites and pages on British Cinema

The Best 100 British Films?

Ethnicity & Representation

Asian-British Cinema

British-Chinese Cinema

British Studios

BBC page on Ealing Studios

More on Ealing from Wicked Lady

Journal of British Cinema and TV

Profile of Andrew Spicer

BBC/Open2Net Nation on Film

Intute film pages

Grierson in South Africa from Screening the Past

A Web-based bibliography of British Cinema

Regular Film Festivals

Broadway Nottingham on British Silent Cinema

Good Media Sites

BBC Film-Network Home Page


Examples of Sixth Form Media Practices

OCR A Level Media for British Cinema: from Longroad 6th Form College

Northallerton College

University Level Courses

British Cinema History 1930-1995
(Masters Level)

Film and Television History

(Third Year undergraduate course)

Cinema and Nation: British Cinema
. A second year unit @ Sussex University

Contemporary British Cinema . A third level course from Sussex

MA in British Cinema @ Hull University

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