IntroductionIn the age of globalisation, media has essentially come to be linked with the capitalist economic system in which the market is the ultimate arbitrator. Modern western democracies vouch for the free market in all sectors in which players have competitive freedom. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a state-owned media company that began as a public service but now has commercial operations also albeit in separate channels to meet the challenges of globalization. Over the years, BBC has grown to be a mammoth media house that incorporates radio, television and the internet.
The organization has increased its strength through cross-fertilization of staff and ideas between the various outlets. In the UK, it has little competition even though some private commercial media houses, typically in television, have come into existence recently. Mission, Objectives and StakeholdersBBC’s main mission is to create innovative and high quality programming. The four defining objectives as laid out by BBC is 1) to inform the national debate by providing in-depth, informative and impartial news across various news outlets, 2) to express British culture and entertainment, 3) to create opportunities for education, and 4) to communicate between the UK and abroad (King-Shakleman, 2000). The commercial media market can be classified as the content market, the advertisement market and the consumer market.
Hence, the stakeholders for BBC are the consumers, the advertisers, the government, the national and the international community. The classification runs across the value chain of the media industry, through investment, production, distribution to end users and consumers. The end-use consumer looks for interesting content that the program houses provide the distributor. The advertiser also looks for the same interesting content on which it can advertise its products and impress the consumers (McChesney, 1999, p 107-9).
The core problems of media reforms in western democracies, according to McChensey (1999), are the result of “a profit-driven, advertising-supported media system: hypercommercialism and denigration of journalism and public service” (p 109). Hence, content provides the key competitive advantage to the market dynamics of the media market. The commercial broadcast industry – comprising of television and radio - is driven by the advertisement-oriented culture that results in cloning of programs across countries, predominantly in the sphere of entertainment, rather than news or public service oriented programs.
This is driven by the trans-national media companies’ urge to follow profits through advertisements. However, BBC is to some extent insulated from the commercial pressures because it has a regular flow of income being a state-run organization and public service dominated. However, as competition from the private sector is picking up, both from national information and commercial media houses as well as the international media houses, BBC can no longer maintain a status quo and has to develop commercial strategy choices.
Internal and External CompetitionThe external competitive environment for BBC may be analysed on the basis of the PESTLE model, that is, considering the political, economic, social, technological, legal and ethical scenario. The political environment for BBC is favourable since the government-owned media organization is a highly respected one globally. BBC attracted a large viewer and audience base particularly in times of global crisis, like for example during the Iraq and Afghan wars, and after terror incidents like 9/11 in 2001 and the London train bombing in 2003.
The most significant element of global media scenario is perhaps the emergence of trans-national media organizations. Through the 1980s, there was a wave of deregulation and liberalization in the media environment in almost all countries, including the United States and Europe. By the end of the 20th century, not only did the regulatory environment of media change, the society changed towards greater individualism. As a corollary, all business organizations are now expected to develop a customer orientation, which resulted in BBC shifting focus from a pure public service organization to a mix of public service and commercial operations.
The economic environment at present is now not very favourable because of the global financial meltdown which has reduced advertisement revenues. The television industry in the UK is gradually making a transformation, with digital platforms replacing the analog. In 2001, 23.7 percent of UK households had digital satellite connection, 6.7 percent had analog cable, 8.2 percent had digital cable and 5.2 percent had digital terrestrial (ofcom). News is provided by BBC1 and ITV, soaps by ITV1, ITV2, C4, C5, UK Gold and BBC1, comedy by all the private stations as well as BBC1 and BBC2, factual programs by BBC2, ITV and Sky, light entertainment by BBC Choice and ITV.
ITV has a greater audience share, having overtaken BBC over these years. Although BBC 2 has been increasing its market share, other private stations have increased commercial operations even more. Since ITV is a conglomeration of a number of regional companies, documentary-making has become more wide-based, incorporating regional and global issues. Also, financial crunch in the 1980s forced the British television industry to be more market-oriented and less regulated by government authorities.
This, of course, has also meant that the market for serious, educative documentaries have been diminishing while that for sensational “stories” is growing. In the 1990s, BBC adopted an aggressive expansion policy of expanding into international markets, thus expanding the program content base from the regional to the global. This has opened up more opportunities for documentaries on travel, cultures, global politics and so on (ofcom). The Social environment, again, is favourable since the long heritage of BBC has meant that the organization is highly credible in all parts of the world.
The technological environment is favourable as the broadcast technology is undergoing radical changes with various media and entertainment choices coming into the market. Technologies like digital radio camera are transforming media activities like news, sports, outdoor broadcasting and electronic news collection. Digital platforms are not only more cost effective but also provide improved broadcasts and the possibility of immense speed and flexibility than analog radio and camera that had been the norm for many decades (Shephard, n.d, p2).
The legal environment is also favourable because it is a government organization. The ethical environment of the television market worldwide, and in the UK in particular, has deteriorated. However, the commercialisation of media has led to trivialization of news to the extent that BBC has often had to alter bulletins to increase the proportion of crime, showbiz and gossip (Mullan, p 99). In the age of globalisation and consumerism, media has essentially come to be linked with the capitalist economic system in which the market is the ultimate arbitrator. In this set-up, global media has shifted focus from hard news and analysis to ‘infotainment’, which is defined as the “blurring of the division between ‘news’ and ‘entertainment’” (Pearson & Philip, 2001).
The docusoaps, which are typically the infotainment products, are a bastardization of the Direct Cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, following people with 16mm hand-held camera and battery-driven portable tape-recorders and the cinema verite or the “fly-on-the-wall” genre of shooting in available light and natural sound. The topics of such documentaries are typically the trivial, like Helen Fitzwilliam's and Paul Buller's 1996 seven-parter, Hollywood pets on ITV.
Such documentaries are mostly aired on ITV channels and the cable television, attracting over 50 percent viewers (Witson, 1999, p 101). However, many of these docusoaps have encountered ethical issues. The 1997 docusoap aired on BBC1, Driving School, was first accused of having invented scenes. The character, Maureen, who failed the driving test a number of tests, apparently set her alarm clock at 4a. m but the shot was taken later. Hence, the documentary was accused of ‘faking’ the shot and camouflaging it as true.
The media, which hounded the documentary, did not distinguish between reconstruction of the event and distortion of truth. It is accused of “abusing public trust” (Witson, 1999). Regulations were even imposed and fines imposed on such “faking” in documentaries in the British television.