Research report

Once were peripheral: creating media capacity in East Asia

30 Mar 2007

Critical scholarship often views media concentration as an expression of corporate capitalism: that is, powerful media owned and supported by wealthy private interests. This paper is about critical mass in media industries. The emphasis, however, is on emerging production centres rather than ‘structures of dominance’ emanating from North Atlantic corridors of power. While the paper touches upon the manner in which U.S. and European media businesses move outwards and into East Asian ‘frontier markets’, the key point is development of export capacity. In particular, the discussion draws attentions to the cultural export strategies of countries without the advantages of English language, extensive distribution networks, market maturity and economies of scale – all features of Hollywood’s global dominance in film and television (Miller et al, 2001).

The emergence of new media production capabilities in South Korea, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, impels us to reconsider analytical methods. Many so-called ‘Western-centric’ approaches are inadequate. But so far scholarship has failed to advance convincing alternatives. The paper is organised into three sections. The first section examines limitations within political economy, cultural geography and cultural studies approaches as they apply to Asian media development. The paper then proposes a five-part framework of internationalisation that suggests a more balanced appraisal of challenges confronting mid-size markets seeking to target international content markets. More specifically, the framework critiques approaches that argue that global integration is normatively disadvantageous to peripheral industries and societies. The growth models for emerging media economies are (1) de-territorialization (low-cost outsourcing) (2) isomorphism (cloning culture); (3) cultural technology transfer (co-productions and franchises), (4) niche markets (breakthroughs); and (5) cultural/ industrial milieu (local clusters).

The second section of the paper examines how these models might apply to the People’s Republic of China. China has a large domestic market and a legacy of protectionism and sovereignty in most areas of cultural production. The success of its East Asian neighbours, particularly South Korea, is the catalyst for a reassessment of policies to stimulate innovative activity in media production centres and in doing so reach out to the world with more than just propaganda.

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