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JAMCO Online International Symposium

25th JAMCO Online International Symposium

December 2016 - June 2017

The Current State and Challenges of International Broadcasting in Key Countries

Commentary: Content Increasingly Faces International Competition

Takanobu Tanaka
Senior Researcher, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

Our latest JAMCO symposium presents professionals and researchers from the United Kingdom, Turkey, China, Korea, and Japan to report on their countries’ distribution of broadcasting content for overseas audiences, looking at the historical background, types of services, sources and targets of distribution, methods, strategies, and motives. Strategies and business models for international distribution differ due to various factors such as priorities or content at which a particular county excels.

As far as aims are concerned, the reports from the respective countries indicated how, for example, “China is intent on bringing the Chinese viewpoint to the world” and “Turkey wishes to transmit its different viewpoint.” These observations show the political intent of bringing to the forefront views competing with those of the United States and Europe, as a result of which broadcast content is heavily news-oriented. For Korea and Japan, on the other hand, content that may initially have had a political purpose now seems more commercially oriented. Content produced in Korea consists mainly of dramas and variety programs, while Japan is presenting more animation. Where the BBC is concerned, content marketer BBC Worldwide is business-oriented, but BBC World News and the multilingual BBC World Service are news-oriented channels. The BBC World Service, in particular, for which a higher government subsidy was recently approved, has a vigorously political orientation. The BBC thus uses several routes for achieving economic and political objectives.

Despite such differences, the countries also shared similar viewpoints. The one that left the strongest impression was the drive to disseminate content. Each country positions this as an important part of their national policy, and the eagerness they demonstrate in promoting content has naturally stoked international competition. At the annual meeting of the Royal Television Society, the current international content market was described as a “bubble”: because content producers are unsure of what will sell and are searching for the right formula, as one participant observed, broadcasters are producing more original programs, more sports, more news, and more entertainment shows than ever before.

Participants’ presentations at the JAMCO symposium gave the impression that all the countries are involved a process of trial and error, working to identify what will sell on the global market and make them stand-outs in a market overflowing with content. The reports from China and Turkey described how those countries are trying to produce big-budget, high-quality programs, a strategy similar to that of the BBC. The BBC Worldwide report describes producing premium contents aimed at high-end viewers. The BBC already has an established reputation for quality, so it is far ahead of other countries in this respect. Probably because Japan and Korea already have superior content, the former in the animation genre and the latter in the drama genre, the reports from Japan and Korea appeared to place more emphasis on how content is provided and the advanced business models used rather than on content quality.

The BBC has recently begun to prioritize its content, providing a more extensive lineup of streaming on-demand services: for example, BBC3 switched from television broadcasting to online only in 2016; BBC Player, based in Singapore, was started up; and in the United States BritBox is available. It appears that the key element in overseas expansion of content is not only through broadcasts but also by making effective use of the Internet. Efforts will also be needed to gauge local needs and build connections. Examples of this are a Korean broadcaster setting up a subsidiary broadcasting company in the United States, as introduced in the report from Korea, and BBC America, which also produces programs in the United States. As international competition for content heats up, brand power, original “killer content,” active use of online resources, and connections with local viewers will be vital in order to stand out.

The countries participating in this symposium are devoting more efforts than ever to presenting international content in 2017. Here is a rundown of each country’s latest endeavors.

In his 2017 New Year’s address to staff, BBC Director-General Tony Hall emphasized that disseminating more content internationally will be a priority over the next ten years. He noted that the BBC is already a major British export that will be even more important now that the UK has decided to leave the European Union. He highlighted the importance of maintaining the BBC’s world-class production skills and emphasized that BBC Worldwide must remain an important presence in order to distribute BBC-produced material on a global scale, and said that he considers BBC Worldwide one of the BBC’s most important components for building a path to the future.

China’s report noted that CCTV’s reputation for politicizing content and bureaucratic stodginess has hindered Chinese television’s development of overseas markets. Overcoming those images is a challenge facing CCTV. One move in this direction is that as of December 31, 2016 CCTV separated its international department from the main broadcaster and began offering services as the China Global Television Network (CGTN). Six international broadcasting channels under the CCTV brand—in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian, and English-language documentaries—have been placed under CGTN to refresh the brand. CGTN also distributes content to Twitter, Facebook, and other social network services, which are banned in China, and provides mobile content as well. CGTN is headquartered in Beijing, within the CCTV apparatus, and in addition to foreign production and broadcasting bureaus in Washington D.C. and Nairobi, it plans to open a new base in London soon. When the CGTN service was inaugurated, Chinese president Xí Jìnpíng sent a congratulatory message in which he urged CGTN to present Chinese news and views to the world, give world audiences a better understanding of broad and multifaceted aspects of China, and highlight China’s role as a builder of global peace. Only time will tell whether the change of name can distance Chinese television from its politically tinged image.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, TRT’s English broadcasting arm announced on January 13, 2017 that it would enter into a partnership with Turkish satellite Turkosat and global satellite distribution company Globecast to broaden its viewership area. Under this arrangement, TRT plans to cover 190 countries in the first half of 2017. TRT chairman Şenol Göka said that his network would broadcast news to the world from the humanitarian viewpoint and bring a new perspective to international news. But as noted in Turkey’s report, “TRT’s image of the mouthpiece of the government which seriously undermines its role as independent news and information provider not only damages its standing at home but also casts doubts on its soft power in the international arena.” Thus it remains to be seen whether widening its broadcast area will bring the results that TRT expects.

Each of these countries is taking an increasingly active stance in promoting content on the international stage. But is the current course of action of spending prodigious sums to produce programs and broadcast them internationally sustainable? At the annual meeting of the Royal Television Society, Tim Davie, CEO, BBC Worldwide, commented that while the party may go on for two or three more years, producers need to keep an eye on where money spent on production is going. Many programs produced for international consumption are not bringing in commensurate returns, and he voiced concern that the bubble might eventually burst. With the international content bubble continuing to inflate, it will be difficult for all countries to fully achieve their political and economic goals.

The report from Korea presented a rather bleak picture, noting that the foundations of international distribution of the Korean wave model could be affected if programming aimed at China and Japan continues to lose popularity. Even so, economic benefits are not the only objective of international content distribution. According to the Korea Foundation, a government body promoting international exchanges, as of the end of January 2017, 1,652 Korean wave fan clubs had been formed in 88 countries and territories around the world. Members total 59,390,000 persons worldwide, greater than the population of Korea itself, which stands at 51,700,000. By region, Asia and Oceania has 40,100,000 members, Europe 10 million, North and South Americas 9 million, and the Middle East 190,000, figures that indicate the popularity of the Korean wave around the world. This survey result shows the positive effect of content on increasing the number of fans of Korea.

As Japan’s report points out, JAMCO has supported international distribution of content for many years with the goal of encouraging international exchanges. Such exchanges may tend to be put on a backburner with greater priority given to political and economic matters, but JAMCO, the Japan Foundation, and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue to hope that the international distribution of content they promote will contribute to deepening intercultural understanding.

Takanobu Tanaka

Senior Researcher, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

B.A., Sophia University, Department of Foreign Language
M.A., University of Leeds, Studies of International Society and Culture
Ph.D., Nagoya University, International Development

Working at NHK as a broadcast journalist since 1988, moved to NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute in 2011. Main research themes include disaster broadcasts, international cooperation and global trends on public media.

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