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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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3 Crossing the Atlantic: American Consultants Tackling Research, Training; Similarities and Differences Between the BBC and ITV

Code Names and Listening Devices

Extract

One of Magid’s hallmarks, we knew how to test new ideas … if you have never tasted steak, hamburger is terrific and you can’t describe how steak tastes to make someone say, oh gee, I would like to have that rather than hamburger.

Joe George, former executive vice president and director of marketing,Frank N. Magid Associates. Interview with author.

American research and news consulting company Frank N. Magid Associates’ entry into the British marketplace largely came because the company was in the right place at the right time. In 1986, two years before the 1988 White Paper on U.K. broadcasting, Magid provided a report for London-based Worldwide Television News (WTN).1 WTN provided international news coverage and one of its clients was the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in the United States. That is where the Magid connection comes in—ABC was a mutual client. WTN asked Magid to research the potential for the company’s success in launching tailored international television reporting services to local American television stations.

Magid found that WTN would be competitive, mainly because local news directors felt their international news coverage was boring and needed some pizzazz; their international services were not responsive to their coverage needs. But despite Magid’s finding that opportunities did indeed exist, this project did not ←81 | 82→move forward. Perhaps it was not initiated because Magid also found evidence that WTN needed to be cautious in its approach—the company suffered from low brand recognition in...

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