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Bringing distinctive TV drama? The role and effectiveness of public service media as lever for tv drama production: a two-case comparison

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With discussions on the role and effectiveness of public service media in a networked media ecology taking place alongside budget-cuts and (enforced) organziational efficiency, notions of ‘distinctiveness’ are often reflected in policy discussions. Especially during recent cutbacks, policy statements often reflected a ‘back-to-basics, back to core business’ rhetoric. Distinctiveness is then often referred to a proclaimed ‘need’ to better emphasize the core mission and substantiate itself from other (private) players in the market. Hence, distinctiveness traditionally relates to distinct core values and tasks of public broadcasting (diversity, universality, quality, etc.) and key characteristics of its workings (being relatively independent from commercial or political influences). However, and in recent years this has been more clearly articulated in policy discourse and enforced PSM obligations (see UK, Flanders, Netherlands, Norway, etc.), distictinctiveness is no longer exclusively linked to what public broadcasting operators are offering, and on which platforms. Distinctiveness is now also used to describe a specific, separate role for public broadcasters, namely that they should use their position to strengthen market activities. As such, distinctiveness is no longer tied solely to public interest, but also to the surrounding ecosystem, with PSB serving as a ‘lever’ for market innovation, creativity and production (Barwise and Picard 2014, Donders and Raats 2015).
This paper questions and examines the notion of ‘distinctiveness’ with regard to the strategies and output public of service media (VRT/Belgium and DR/Denmark to be more specific) when it comes to the production of audiovisual drama. It does so by:
(1) Theoretically contextualizing the notion of distinctiveness to the core characteristics of public broadcasting and, based on scholarly work by Murdock (2005), Collins (2012), Raats and Donders (2015) and Gunn and Syvertsen (2015) among others, describing to what extent the idea of public service media as a driver for the audio-visual industries complements or contradicts traditional roles of PSB.
(2) Comparing public service media strategies for TV drama financing and distribution in two markets: the Flemish (i.e. Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) and the Danish market. Both cases are characterized by huge popularity of domestic tv drama and both markets are non-Anglophone with a limited market size and hence, theoretically, limited capacity for production and export. Both cases furthermore show a crucial role of the public broadcasters as part of developing and sustaining tv drama in those markets. However, the underlying policy impetus reflect clearly different views on TV drama strategies, with policymakers employing TV drama in Flanders as a driver for a ‘healthy’ independent production sector (especially in VRT’s most recent management contract) and DR drama clearly driven by distinct public service characteristics. Having the said that, the latter case in recently proved its success in terms of distribution strategy, combining clever marketing and commercial strategies to secure higher budgets and at the same time enlarge the market scope of DR’s drama series.
The case comparison builds on a document analysis of enforceable policy regulation with regard to tv drama (in charters, management contracts, etc.) and an analysis of existing TV drama series since 2009. By analysing the amount of audiovisual drama productions, the composition of budgets and partnerships involved in production and distribution, we examine the role of Public Service drama as part of a ‘lever’ for its surrounding ecosystem: To what extent are these strategies driven by a clear ‘distinctive’ role within the ecosystem? And to what extent do they effectively contribute to a more sustainable ecosytem for television productions?
Given difficult accessbility of budget compositions, and the lack of systematic longitudinal comparisons of tv drama offerings, our analysis combines various sources. On the one hand the analysis builds on a close reading of policy documents related to TV drama (DR and VRT management contracts and statements of programme policy). On the other hand, the analysis builds on an inventory of TV drama series and their respective relative financing compositions from 2009 to 2015. The findings derive from a 2014 analysis of TV drama financing in Flanders and data gathered from the DR and VRT research departments, which are complemented with findings in annual reports and expert interviews with key stakeholders (tv drama production heads).
Original languageEnglish
Publication year22 Sep 2016
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sep 2016
EventRIPE@2016 Public Service Media in a Networked Society? - Antwerpen, Belgium
Duration: 22 Sep 201624 Sep 2016


ConferenceRIPE@2016 Public Service Media in a Networked Society?
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