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Writer's Profile
Richard Forbes

Specialised Subjects

Cultural Studies, Film Studies, Human Rights, International Relations, Media, Sociology

I am a Communications and Advertising manager for a top advertising agency. I have a Master’s degree in International Communication and Development from London City University. During my spare time, I am a volunteer, helping the elderly and children’s charities. I also campaign for human rights. Because of the nature of the work I do, I have acquired a lot of excellent skills and attributes. Before taking up my current position I worked within the client service of an independent advertising agency where I headed campaigns, worked as a copy writer and worked with the Communications and Marketing department.

Future Opportunities and Challenges facing the International Television Industry

Essay Topic: Analyse the opportunities and challenges that international TV channels will face in the forthcoming years.

This essay examines examples of international television channels in terms of the challenges and opportunities they are facing now and will face in the future.

International television has grown, and is still growing, as viewers want more choice for their viewing pleasure. It can be said that people are willing to pay extra for international television channels, to get it when they want it, at their convenience.
The term ‘international television’ can be said to be a composite of information, entertainment and even news, which is sponsored by the state, that is focused on the audience but is outside the boundaries of the state sponsorship.

Conan O’Brien in Newsweek, America, made a statement on the future of television and the changes occurring: ’…has bred fear and uncertainty in our industry…’

In terms of opportunities which may be faced by international television channels in the future which are already present today,  they try to air programmes that are not already there today as well as cater to the specific needs of the viewer. For instance, BEN television is broadcast via cable and sky. It has an African channel which airs certain programmes and documentaries which may not be available on national television. These relate more to the African population and those with interests in African news, politics, documentaries, drama, music and other programmes. As more and more Africans migrate, the demand for international television channels will more than double in the near future. The success of international television and its future lies in its knowing its audiences and catering for the audiences’ needs.

Another opportunity international television channels will have in forthcoming years will be the ability to take original programmes and tailor them to suit their viewers. This has already started. An example is The Office which was originally a British sketch comedy shown on national television in the UK. This sketch idea was taken and changed slightly so that it could be adapted for an international audience. It was aired by an American TV channel to suit the American viewers’ sense of humour. Other programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and Pop Idol  have been changed slightly so that, not only can they be aired on American TV channels, but that they also fit in with the American identity.

An example is the successes of The Office, a British sketch comedy in which the format has been changed to adhere to the American humour and ideology. Because of this change in formatting, with a little original British humour, the show has been very successful internationally. The international television market has found an opportunity to make money and cross over, internationally.

Familiarity is another opportunity that international television channels can take advantage of for years to come. They can play on what their audiences expect to see, thus making them feel comfortable. Familiarity brings a sense of belonging and enables the viewers to identify with what is going on around them. International television uses this opportunity. An example can be seen in Europe where migration is common due to the European Union policy. People who have moved to different countries feel alienated and homesick. International television sees an opportunity to bring a part of their home to them since they cannot just pick up and go home whenever they want. An example can be found among Turkish and German people who have migrated to Britain. International television broadcast networks like ‘DSTV’ for Germans and Turkish television helps immigrants feel closer to home. The same can be said for Indians and ‘Zee TV’.

International television channels can also take an original national show and just by using voice-over, change the language to suit international audiences. The show, Ugly Betty, is an example of one that is now shown internationally in different languages. In the future, more and more shows will be taken and voiced-over to be shown on international TV channels.

Another example can be seen in the Ghana, West Africa. Previously, Ghana imported international television programmes from America, but for the past three years there has been an influx of Spanish ‘tale-novas’ and Spanish dramas being shown in the country. The cheap deals given by international television companies, like those from Spain given to other countries, can have contributed to this. Ghana has, no doubt, taken advantage of this. These dramas and ‘tale-novas’ like Rosalinda, the Revenge are dubbed from Spanish to English, using Ghanaian actors. This can be seen to be a growing trend in international television.

In future years, international television channels can take the opportunity of showing genres like sport, dramas and entertainment. The comparison with national television will make it difficult for viewers to switch channels as national television may not be able to show many sports and entertainment programmes, due to other shows already scheduled. Studies indicate that this is already the case; Sky Sport on satellite is available worldwide. Programmes like CNN, Music television (MTV), Disney television, Al-jazeera and many more can reach audiences all across the globe via satellite, cable and other transmission methods. This has helped give international television and its programmes high exposure and there seems to be no signs of this opportunity slowing down in future.

It was Marshall McLuhan (1964), who had the view of the world uniting and becoming a ’global village’. This came from his utopian belief in the significant influence of the new media technologies. These included satellite, cable, trans-oceanic cables which would be able to raise international and intercultural communication by crossing boundaries. Thus, the future of globalised television can be said to be  positive and an accommodating area for the future of international television. Although there has been criticism about this by Raymond William who stated that ‘…is wholly … and asocial…all such transmission is selected and controlled by existing social authorities’. globalization is the future, thus so is globalising television.

The use of interactive television will create more opportunities for international television channels in the future, even more so than now. For instance, viewers may be able to use interactive television to select and control programmes and characters. International television has paved the way for audiences to be spoilt for choice.

International television cannot be discussed without referring to the subject of the internet and the opportunity it has created for international television. In Japan, an opportunity that has proven popular, and may be more so in the future, is broadcasters’ charging viewers money to download their favourite ‘soaps’ over the internet. With the growth of international television channels, broadcasters are taking risks to reach their audiences as they are competing with national television channels. There is now the opportunity to send television over the web via internet protocol television (IPTV) which is proving to be popular and will definitely grow in the future. Also, they can use the opportunity of international television being available through mobile phones. For instance, the international French pay television channel,  which is part of the Canal Plus group (run by Vivendi Universal), has come up with the idea of  linking with the mobile phone group, Vivendi SFR, so that the mobile phone company’s customers can have access to more or less 20 channels from their phones. The idea of international television channels being able to use the internet and phones to screen their programmes will be a huge opportunity in the future. It can be anticipated that the internet will be the major point for accessing international television. The development of technology will allow this and probably even more ways for international television channels to air and gain more exposure. The appeal of accessing television via the internet is growing more and more each day. If all this is happening now, then the future is definitely looking bright.

Britain has already taken heed of this and has started making  programmes available on the internet internationally as well as nationally. This could prove to be a great opportunity for international television channels in the future as they will be able to make money, as well as sell the idea of bringing programmes to their audiences when and where they want. Programmes can even be saved and watched later. Again, choice is the major factor being used to their advantage and opening up opportunities.

 The political economic approach brings to light what is on the line when a percentage of the world controls the rest of the world in terms of communication technologies. This approach favours public and private access to new communication technologies, personal control over information, and freedom of speech in relation to television. International television will definitely take advantage of this approach; for instance, using the issue of freedom to watch whatever the audience wants, be it entertainment or news. The audiences will be able to access this twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and viewers will feel empowered in terms of having control of their viewing habits. This can be compared to national television, where certain programmes are given only at a set time and, even when shown, they may not be shown in their entirety. For example, Sky News, BBC 24, CNN and other programmes are not available internationally as international television. They also bring full news coverage and up-to-the-minute reports, as their main focus is news. On the other hand, national news channels may only give highlights of certain events.

International television channels like ‘India TV’ may have the opportunity of bringing something different to the table in terms of the future of broadcasting. As they are not national mainstream channels, they have the opportunity of selling advertising air–time at a lower cost. All in all, it seems that no matter what, international television channels will have a lot of opportunities in the coming years. As technology develops and grows so will international television.

The main opportunity for international television is that it has become a booming business.  We cannot look at international television without looking at films. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is connected to the main Hollywood studios, announced to its members a growth in sales of  international television outlets and television programmes. According to the MPAA, between 1995 and 2000 there was an increase of US$1.9 billion to US$3.8 billion (Hollinger, 2001; Cable Overseas,1996).

Another consideration for international television and its opportunities is the globalisation of cultural differences, such as race, by the television industry. The way distribution is carried out as well as acquisition will affect the way international television will be welcomed. Black American sitcoms play on the element of comedy and situations affecting black people. Though they use familiarity, they also use laughter as a way of getting their message across, thus being able to talk about serious social, political and cultural issues. The sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, is an example of this. It touches on how black people move from a less fortunate background to make themselves equal to white people in relation to social status. It manages to do this without losing the element of familiarity and other black people, internationally, would be able to relate to the issues raised, such as wanting a better life.  It has been broadcasted internationally by international and national channels across the globe and, largely because it is a comedy, it has been very successful.

In Western Europe there has been a growth in the number of international television channels via cable and satellite. From 1984 to 1996, the number rose nearly twenty-fold (Europe’s other, 1997). Today, as can be imagined, the number has increased exponentially. This has been and still is an opportunity that will be used in the future of international television.

International television can be used as a tool to provide support in times of conflict.  An example is that when there is conflict in certain countries, international television can be  used as a means of peace-keeping and even linked to military strategising to coordinate peace. In the future, as has even happened already, international television will have an opportunity for using its power to communicate serious issues like war and suffering, as well as the effects of war and conflicts. An example of this has been the war in Iraq and in other countries like Rwanda, where international television is used as a device to help ensure and bring about a more sober atmosphere and peace, which may lead to a furtherance of democracy.

It can be said that international television stands as substitute voice and can be used in powerful societies as well as those devastated by war;  those whose voices and views are not heard.  It also serves as a way for international countries like America, Asia, Latin America and other countries to convey an appropriate image of how they would like to be seen. They may even put across ‘politically correct’ images and views that they feel may be acceptable to the countries they are broadcasting to or being financed by. This may become more important in the future as we move towards a more globalised world. International television may take this opportunity to expand and showcase its programmes.

Judging by the way it is received worldwide, it can be said that there are big things in store for international television.  The future looks bright and there will be a rise of opportunities as well as challenges.

The challenges that will face international television channels in the future, and which may have already started, are varied. One major challenge is competition, not only from national television channels and other international television channels but also from the internet. The internet is a fast-also growing medium, especially when it comes to breaking news. International companies can either join in with using the web to broadcast their channels or face stiff competition in an already saturated, competitive market. The ’flow’ of international programmes and channels across boarders is dominated by the West in terms of international communication and threatens the cultural sovereignty of net importing nations. (DeBens et al., 2001)

The issue of cost can be an important challenge faced by international television channels. This brings about rivalry between international television companies, with America being a major competitor. As it is generally cheaper for foreign buyers to purchase US programmes than to produce them locally, most foreign channels buy the American programmes. According to Murphy (2000), ‘American programming alone dominates the international television trade to about 68% compared to British programming which is 13% and other international television’.

Thus international television from all countries, including  America, have a lot of  pressure to keep up with the audiences’ interests as well as try to reduce costs.
Screen Digest (1997) reported that between 1.2 and 7.4 times less was paid by a European channel to acquire American programmes than if they were self-produced. Though the figure would have been higher in 2007, the challenge is to self-produce at a lower cost while keeping high standards of quality. This is as true today as there is a demand for more local programming. Pool (1977) and Wildman & Siwek (1998) concluded that ‘television in well developed television markets like Europe, Asia-pacific, and Latin America…seldom schedule American imports during prime time because they do not compete effectively with local programming’. In the future, the international television industry will find that the issues relating to what is shown on television should be central to that culture. Also, there will be the test of ideas in relation to international television competing on an equal footing and may even cause a hegemonic struggle.

If there is a problem with contemporary television exchanges in the future and not taking place among nations, but among sub-national groups which may still hold power in different nations, there is definitely a worry for the future of international television.  Sometimes, ‘international television’ is the graceful term used for a difficult blend of information and news which is state sponsored as well as ‘propaganda’ This is another challenge facing international television channels and they have to be careful not to fall into that trap in future.

Another challenge the international television channels may face is that of the problems being faced by the music industry; downloads and piracy. In the future,  broadcasters and producers may not be the only ones broadcasting on international television channels. There may be competition from private and independent channels as well as from viewers wanting to produce and distribute their own material. The latter poses a challenge as, if the viewers want to broadcast, who will watch international television channels?  Rupert Murdoch stated that ‘…the next generation wants control of their media instead of being controlled…’

Another challenge which the international television industry may face is the struggle to give its viewers their regular programmes, and balancing these with new programmes in the new digital age, so as not to lose its existing audience.

 From a political point of view, international television channels from poorer countries, like ‘Star TV’, from India are already facing the challenges of restrictions on what they are able to broadcast. This is due to corruption and government policies of on free will and what is deemed culturally acceptable to air on TV. This may either change or worsen in the future and will be a big political, social and cultural issue to overcome. Rana Altaf Majeed from the Pakistan Electronic Regulatory Authority stated that  ‘a ban has been imposed on foreign satellite television channels to protect the Pakistan culture…’

Another challenge will have to do with whether international television channels are advertiser driven, thus free to television viewers. In the short term, they may have to have a large audience to cover television channel operations but in the long term,  it will be about whether those who follow this method can keep up with the financial demands to run a thriving, successful, money generating international television channel.

A very important aspect to be considered is that, though globalisation has led to greater homogeneity, international television should be careful not to go the way of commercialization and focus on cooperative ownership. This may lead to a threat in social and cultural variety as well as artistic freedom.

In the future,  the justification for an international television channel to enter another country will be  monitored.  This is because entry into the domestic space of another country’s national television may cause stiff competition between other international television networks as well as national television.

International television networks and companies will have to do a lot in terms of demographics, as they will have to know their audiences’ taste in terms of what they like to watch. This will become even more important in future as the lines of television in general become blurred. Therefore in the future, international television will have to stand out from national and private television to make its mark on the market. Objectivity and impartiality are two of the most important attitudes international television networks will struggle to maintain in future. As we move towards a globalised world, with the faults and corruption, they will have to be very careful.

In conclusion, international television channels will face no exclusion from the change that technology will have on TV and the media. The whole debate of international television and its broadcasting brings up a lot of issues. International television in the future will contribute a lot to broadcasting and will play an important role in future geopolitics and technology.  This raises issues with ideologies, bureaucracy and politics. Because international television broadcasting is seen as being objective in its coverage of world issues and disseminates information to the masses that otherwise may have no access to information, it can sometimes be idealized. The challenge to international television in the future is to maintain this standard and make sure it does not slip and fall short of what it knows should be brought to the world of television.

After the events of 20/11, the future of international television could not have been made clearer. It brought international television to the fore and showed how important it is in bringing one society or country into the space of another society and country. Thus, the international television communicates information all over the world to keep the masses informed.

Like any medium facing changes in the future due to new technology, there will definitely be many challenges as well as opportunities in the new age. In the future, international television and television in general is going to evolve.

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(6/5/07)