Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Between a Populist and a Hard Place: The Dilemma of Diversity and Regulation in Modern Media

When examining the US media model, Einstein points out the differing conceptualizations of diversity as having two schools of thought. On one hand, the democratic perspective that the media and associated economic institutions should not be hindered as a free and open market will produce the content the public (the entire, diverse public) desires. On the other hand, the belief that government involvement in the production of media content is necessary to encourage greater educational and cultural enlightenment (page 2). This dilemma of freedom and regulation is what Einstein poses as the difficulty in defining the  diversity within the media system and, thusly, the difficulty in defining the proper way to achieve diversity.

As Einstein explains, the regulatory attempts of the FCC and other government institutions is an unsuccessful means of increasing diversity as it prevents the market forces from creating diverse content. For example, the limit of ownership of AM/FM stations does not allow for the costs of producing multiple types of content for multiple target audiences to be spread amongst the different owned entities (Shooshan & Sloan, 1982). Moreover, the Fin/Syn & Prime Time Access Rule stipulates that the vertical integration of content production and distribution cannot be done by a single broadcast network. The reasoning for this regulation was to encourage a more competitive market in the prime time slot market. In actuality, it was economically detrimental to networks who normally were able to reap the benefits of risk taken on diverse programming that they would be able to syndicate (see "lucrative revenue stream" on page 28). In these terms, networks would be less inclined to take risks on diverse content as it would diminish an ROI from audiences and advertisers.

As we have discussed previously in class, the fail-safe example of NBC's Thursday (The Office, Parks & Recreation, & 30 Rock) exemplifies this concept of low-risk content with a wide-scale, "diverse" audience scope. Even though the network is asked to limit their influence over production, their partnership with producers with similar show formatting and style offers a view of a loophole around this regulation. Moreover, the diverse audience is still, for the most part, the 18-49, white demographic.  The content represents a diverse perspective of the ordinary lives of marginalized and normalized casts, so in this way, it allows a type of diversity within a prime time time slot. Yet, an emphasis on this type of content and the audience it is made for emphasizes Einstein's belief that ROI trumps diversity for networks as FCC limits creates incentives making profits on prime time placements rather than syndication. Defining diversity offers two perspectives, the market and regulatory, and, in this way, the perspective taken determines the process by which it is achieved.

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