2016 was another busy year for the research team. In particular it has been an important year for Amy who is approaching the end of her PhD study.
With both the BBC and wider public sector under increased pressure to demonstrate ‘value for money’, this critical examination of current BBC arts strategy reveals the tensions between public service ideals and meeting the requirements of a more competitive, ratings-led broadcasting landscape. Whilst public service broadcasting has traditionally been positioned as a platform on which the arts can thrive, the picture painted by many within the field today is one of commissioners reluctant to take risks and programming increasingly pushed to the margins of broadcasting schedules.
The study also highlights a detrimental dearth in arts provision created for and originating from the nations and regions of the UK outside of London and Glasgow, with particular focus on the situation in Wales. Looking ahead, this has provided a catalyst for potential further research concerning the disparities between London and the rest of the UK in terms of both arts broadcasting and wider cultural sector funding, and the subsequent impact of this on national cultural life and identity. This seems particularly pertinent at a time when major political events such as the Scottish and EU referendums have provoked further reaching questions and debate around the nature of nationhood, belonging and alienation.
The final thesis will be the culmination of three years of study and will be submitted in early 2017. The research will be published in the coming months.
In the spring this year I was delighted to hear that I had received funding from Cardiff University through their CUROP research scheme. The scheme provides summer placements for Cardiff undergraduates in the University’s research environment working on staff-defined research projects.
In June I was joined by Isobel Ford (BA English Literature) and over the summer we undertook a detailed quantitative analysis of the scheduling of arts and music programmes on UK television since 2011. Using content analysis, we measured a number of factors including the expertise and gender of the presenters, the style and scheduling of the programming, and the art forms that were mediated.
This analysis revealed some fascinating trends in arts television in the UK in terms of form and scheduling. Isobel presented some of the research at a poster exhibition for CUROP researchers in November and we will continue to make that data publicly available over the coming months.
Isobel wasn’t the only one presenting research this year. In November I was invited to be a panelist at the 6th European Communication Conference (ECREA) in Prague. The panel was on ‘European Television Production in the Post-network Era’ and I gave a paper entitled ‘It needs to reinvent itself or die’: The production ecology of arts television. The session was a successful one and particularly illustrated the current context of independent production that has implications for the delivery of arts content.
I also attended the RIPE@2016 conference, which considers the future of Public Service Broadcasting (http://ripeat.org/). Academic and industry participants from all over the world met in Antwerp to discuss the current challenges facing public broadcasters relating to financing, audience fragmentation, political support and increased global competition. While the landscape is challenging, the value of pubic service, not least in the delivery of niche genres, is clear.
In July Amy attended the 2016 ECREA Doctor Summer School at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. The two-week programme brought together early career scholars from across Europe and beyond to discuss contemporary issues in media, communication and cultural studies.
The summer school provided Amy with an opportunity to discuss ongoing work and network with fellow participants and senior researchers from across Europe. The primary focus of the summer was on ‘student feedback workshops’, which allowed each participant to present their work and receive in depth feedback on their PhD project. Amy’s presentation centred on issues around diversity and regional representation within arts broadcasting and received much positive and constructive feedback from other attendees.
Evidence to the Future of TV Inquiry
One of the aims of this project has been to directly contribute and shape the landscape for policy relating to public service broadcasting in the UK. We believe strongly that a healthy public service media system is crucial to the sustainability of arts broadcasting in the UK. To that end, the research team was keen to be part of Lord Puttnam’s public inquiry into the Future of TV (http://futureoftv.org.uk/report). In April a team of us in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (Cardiff University) hosted a public debate on PSB in Wales.
Amy and I followed this with a submission of written evidence to the inquiry on ‘A Future for Public Service Television: Securing the Future of Arts Broadcasting’. This evidence was a key part of the final report of the inquiry and a number of our proposals were integrated into the concluding recommendations. We will continue to look for ways to create impact through our research.
What Next in 2017?
2016 was a very busy and important year for PSB, arts and this project. 2017 is likely to continue in that vein. BBC Charter was agreed, though the role of BBC Studios and its impact on arts appears to be a particular area of uncertainty for a number of producers interviewed for our present research. Inherent in this are concerns around the future sustainability of public service genres such as the arts as BBC production and commissioning becomes more commercialized over the coming years. Discussions on the future of Channel 4 and the possibilities of privatization also continue and will undoubtedly be a major theme for the year ahead.
We hope to continue adding to the both the depth and range of the research over the coming months. We are keen that the research looks beyond the specific context of the UK to consider how this programming is delivered in other national contexts. Doing that international comparative work will be a major ambition for us and we are currently working on ways to realize that ambition. I have been invited to be a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Sydney and will work with colleagues there on examining the landscape for arts broadcasting in Australia.
2017 also began with the sad passing of John Berger on the 2nd of January. Berger was a prominent figure in arts broadcasting whose seminal work Ways of Seeing (1972) not only challenged the dichotomy between high and low culture, but also the entire arts documentary tradition. As Sukhdev Sandhu wrote on the programme’s 40th anniversary, the series constituted a ‘key moment in the democratisation of art education’.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to this research, particularly Isobel who worked so diligently with me over the summer. We look forward to making more connections in 2017 and opening the discussion to new people and places.
Happy New Year
Caitriona & Amy