Diversity and The Future TV Channel Guide

I love speculation like this. I have also spent a bit of time thinking about how network/media expansion and diversification relates to diversity. The word diversity is complicated. People often use it to talk about race or class or gender in a way that doesn’t skeeve people out. The implicit assumption is that media reflects and perpetuates the dominant power structure in a society. In our society that could be more precisely stated as: white hetereonormative able-bodied masculine-centric ideas dominate media. The fun question becomes: does a change in the media playing field — or structural change like that imagined here — present a chance for something Other to get some face time on media. There is always that kind of hope with any new media or technology advancement. And, historically we see moments of increased diversity with new medias but then an eventual re-ordering of the guard. Over time, diversity tends to be incremental even when change is massive and structural.

There are two ways to think about diversity and imagined futures of Internet-broadcast mergers. On the one hand, diversity of media ownership could increase. Something like Postbourgie.com or ForHarriet.com or Feministing.com could become branded channels or direct owners in this new eco-system. Assuming they keep their founding missions to focus on race, race/gender, and feminism respectively then we might see different kinds of people and experiences on the TV of the future. That would lead to the other way to think about diversity, i.e. an increase or change in the types of people on the media and the types of stories told through the media. Diversity in ownership and diversity in production — those are the two possibilities.

How do those possibilities hold up when we extrapoliate from what we know about current “new” media to imagine a future “new media”? International Business Times reported on the empirical reality of one form of diversity in new media, contrasting it with traditional media. A graph from that report:

From IBTimes

We’re all playing with tea leaves here. These tea leaves suggest that some of the players on the imagined TV guide of the future wouldn’t move the needle much among media production relative to traditional news media. That’s not a perfect analog to broadcast media but other reports on diversity there might suggest new media would be a slight improvement if all other things remain fairly constant. You can look at reporting on diversity in “Hollywood” and among the broadcast stations.

Of course, we’re doing some theoretical work when we assume that diversity among editors and owners necessarily leads to greater diversity in programming and media representation. Media sociology has done a lot of work there. Analyzing the effect of new networks on television diversity, researchers find that new networks expand the number and type of broadcasting but traditional media remained somewhat stable in their offerings. But that is getting at a difference in what’s being proposed here: these new networks compete for space whereas new-traditional media proposals would be merging rather than expanding the landscape. I don’t know what happens there.

The gist of other research is that there are a lot of constraints on any media form to reproduce content we might call normative. Advertising is a big constraint. Changes in ownership or editorial make-up cannot always overcome the pressure of the dollar bill that likes a product that won’t get in the way of sales. Non-challenging content is often viewed by advertisers as the safest vehicle for marketing. And, diversity is often seen as a threat to that.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

Tressie McMillan Cottom

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Award-winning sociologist, professor, and writer. Faculty associate at Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Newest book, THICK, out now. www.ThickTheBook.com

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

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