Changing channels : an historical political economy of commercial television in Australia : 1954-1998

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2008
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- In this thesis I outline the theoretical framework within which this history of commercial television is analysed. I start with a consideration of the role of theory in historiography and argue the necessity of making clear the theoretical background, without becoming hostage to theory. Choosing from a number of historical approaches that could inform this preparatory work to a more complete history, I ague that commercial television has become an institution of 'historically contingent social relations' (Mohr 2000, Introduction: Structures, institutions and cultural analysis', Poetics, 27, p.S8). Therefore, this is the history of the creation and development of a social institution. From its start commercial television was conceived of as a form of broadcasting undertaken for profit and funded by advertising, in contrast to the public service broadcasting sector financed by state mechanisms. Both activities are economic, but with different characteristics. This is not the history of the businesses that made up commercial television, but I argue it is necessary to consider the frames that can be drawn from political economy and mainstream economics, because questions of economics and politics are at the heart of the creation and maintenance of the commercial television system. To do this I attempt to broaden what has to date been regarded as the political economy approach to media history by turning to the in sights offered by economic sociology and field theory. My argument is that these insights allow a move away from the unproductive synchronic structuration of the base/ superstructure model towards the diachronic structuration of fields or networks. Here the work of Neil FIigstein (e.g. FIigstein N 2001, The Architecture of Markets: An economic sociology of 21st Century capitalist societies, Princeton University Press, Princeton) and his sociology of markets as fields of socially structured exchange is central. This, I argue, gives a better account of the structure or structuring of commercial television as a social institution, the agency of those who inhabited or acted upon that structure and the means by which it was reproduced and transformed from one period to the next. This work allows me to advance the argument that commercial television is a network of three connected markets - audience commodity, program supply and station/broadcast licence markets. By tracing the trajectories of emergence, stability and crisis in each of these markets the shape of the history of commercial television as a social institution can be fleshed out. In so doing the crucial role of the state in the formation and maintenance of this institution is also examined. It is also recognised that commercial television is importantly a form of cultural production. Using the term cultural production I mean to include the processes involved in the production, exchange and consumption of programs, (Williams 1974; Miege 1989; Lacroix and Tremblay 1997). Specifically it is a form of large scale cultural production within a capitalist economy. I will argue that the creative team, whether within the broadcast organisation or in the network of independent producers that formed around the broadcasters, is an essential element in large scale cultural production. The management of the creative team, through the practice of formatting, provides an efficient means by which large scale capitalist cultural production is managed and commodified. This means that concepts of genre assume a new importance in the analysis of the history of commercial television as cultural production. Three hypotheses about the transformation of the markets are examined in the main body of the work. Hypothesis 1 The program station market emerged between 1956 and 1964 with the extension of commercial television to the country and the licensing of the third capital city stations. It then entered a period of relative stability until approximately 1980 when the increasing speculative investment in stations and the ownership policy changes of 1986/87 precipitated a period of crisis, before stability was restored after 1992 and tenure was established by 1998. Hypothesis 2 The audience commodity market emerged quickly between 1956 and 1958 remaining relatively stable until the entrance of the third capital city stations instituted a growing crisis of competition, in combination with the move of advertising strategy towards market segmentation. Stability was restored by the advent of colour television in 1975 and the effect that had upon viewing, but the market entered another period of crisis in the late eighties over the change in the way of calculating the audience commodity with the use of people meters. Hypothesis 3 a) The program supply market has been the most subject to instability and in parts subject to market failure that provoked state intervention. The foreign program supply part of the market emerged quickly, became stable, but became unstable in the early sixties when it entered a crisis of competition. This was resolved only by collusion to restore stability until further crises occurred in the early seventies and late eighties. b) The local program supply market has had varying periods of emergence depending upon the generic type of program, with those programs supported by regulation being subject to market failure, chronic instability and periodic crisis. To explain why this was so, I propose a frame with a more complex notion of cultural production, which will lead later in the thesis to the proposition that, over the long run, regulatory intervention has failed to adequately support the market.
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