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

Series:

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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Introduction

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I was not trying to Americanize anything. In fact, I thought it would’ve been a mistake … That’s like taking a jazz riff and putting it in the middle of a Beethoven symphony. You don’t want to do that. You want to do it your way. Do it your way, but do this, because this is going to help you.

Charles Munro, former manager of European operations, Frank N. Magid Associates. Interview with author.

They were sworn to proprietary secrecy and stayed incognito as much as possible. The acute fear of Americanization and dumbing down of British broadcasting permeated the environment. One clandestine client meeting took place in a butcher shop. Some meetings were, for many reasons, so secret that rooms were swept for microphones and listening devices. Meeting rooms were changed on a regular basis. At times, code names were used. To say the working environment in the United Kingdom in the 1990s at times could be challenging is an understatement. Occasionally, it almost resembled parts of a James Bond movie or a John le Carré spy novel.

Shortly after an article in The Guardian had featured a narrative describing how News at Ten—the flagship late evening news on Independent Television News (ITN)—was creating an Americanized product by using Frank N. Magid Associates, the consultancy company was let go. British newspapers had described ←1 | 2→Magid staff members as news doctors, aiming to sensationalize and trivialize British television news by inoculating presenters...

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