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American Consultants and the Marketization of Television News in the United Kingdom


Madeleine Liseblad

American Consultants and the Marketization of Television News in the United Kingdom provides  unprecedented insight into American news consultants’ role in reshaping British television news during the 1990s. In 1986, American research and news consulting company Frank N. Magid Associates began infiltrating the British market. Five years later, the company was consulting for an extensive list of British client stations in preparation for the 1991 Independent Television (ITV) franchise auction. Their efforts were controversial, prompting public outcry against the "Americanization" of British television news. Despite the hostile climate, Magid’s efforts were successful. Nine of their eleven client bidders emerged victorious from the franchise auction. This was only the beginning. Throughout the 1990s, Magid employees crisscrossed the country with research studies, business and marketing plans, and writing and storytelling seminars. At the time, this was the company’s largest venture into international television.

American consultants’ work abroad is important. They spread the U.S. model—the origin of today’s on-air style—and changed television news globally by working with indigenous media. Yet, despite their vast influence, limited research has been conducted on their international efforts, largely because of proprietary material. This book is based on unprecedented and unrestricted access to Magid’s archives. In addition, interviews with Magid staff and U.K. journalists allow for a comprehensive examination of the marketization of British television news, attending especially to how news became better tailored to the medium and audience; the key concepts that Magid advocated to be integrated into U.K. news; and the societal forces at play in this transformation.

American Consultants and the Marketization of Television News in the United Kingdom is a recommended read for anyone interested in journalism and television history, Americanization, media economics and sociology.

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Some spend spring break on a sunny beach. I spent spring break 2016 in a dungeon in Marion, Iowa. But it is not as bad as it sounds. For a television news history geek, it was the ultimate spring break party.

This research literally and figuratively arose from the depths of “The Dungeon,” the nickname for the Frank N. Magid Associates archive. Magid—one of America’s leading research and consultancy companies—had previously not allowed external scholars to examine its television material. The information has been considered a trade secret and, therefore, kept private. However, I was given unconditional and unrestricted admittance; the company did not place any restrictions on what materials I collected, nor any restrictions on what I could write. As a result, this book provides a unique and rare insight into news consultants’ methods and recommendations.

The archival material provided the impetus for this book. In addition, in-depth interviews with Magid staff and U.K. journalists—all active in the 1990s—advanced the project, allowing for a comprehensive analysis. This book is distinct in many regards; the material and focus are truly unique. It explains how American consultants worked abroad, how Magid staff members and British journalists experienced changes in television news, and what they saw and felt. The heart of this book is the evolution of television news storytelling.

The 1990s was a decade of tremendous change for European broadcasting. Public service television now had to compete with commercial television. Changes...

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