The global consumption of music
American rapper Ludacris and soul star Akon recently launched MTV Arabia at a special show in Dubai.
As part of the even larger Viacom company, MTV Networks already reaches viewers in 160 states and now has access to potentially another 50 million cable viewers in the Middle East, further expanding its global network.
However, the output of MTV Arabia will not be a simple copy of material used by its sister European and American channels, but has been specially formatted in ways that both respect and represent Middle Eastern youth culture.
As well as investigating the types of local message delivered by global companies, this case study of MTV Arabia also focuses on another important aspect of the new geography of Transnational Corporation (TNCs): namely, that important markets – comprised of significant numbers of wealthy people – are increasingly found in many more of the world’s nations than in the past.
The global geography of MTV
A Level study tips
MTV Networks is a major TNC, whose activities straddle the tertiary (services) and quaternary (information creation) sectors.
Part of the Viacom media group, it has broadcast music videos and original programming since 1981 when MTV (US) was first launched. Since then, MTV has gone global.
According to The Times (16 November 2007), it now has experience of broadcasting 141 channels in 32 languages to 160 countries.
The global geography of MTV Networks is part of a plan that the firm’s managers call their 360º strategy. Recently, the geographer Clayton Rosati reported on this in the RGS-IBG journal Transactions (2007:4, pp 556-575), quoting MTV Networks strategy documents that talk of the firm’s “full spectrum” marketing policy and of its on-going attempts to cast “a wider net” when seeking audiences.
To achieve 360º is no easy matter. It involves making acquisitions and mergers with other existing companies as well as setting up new regional service providers.
For instance, MTV Networks has grown over time by setting up additional channels such MTV Base in Africa in 2005 (finally reaching the world's last major populated area not previously served by MTV Networks). MTV Base Africa is available to around 50 million viewers across 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa via satellite, and via free-to-air networks in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
MTV Arabia is the most recent new regional start-up and is the result of “a local deal with Arab Media Group to secure the channel a satellite footprint across the Middle East” (The Times, 16 November 2007). A web and mobile version will complement the television, and Viacom will also present an Arab version of its Nickelodeon children’s channel.
With content now increasingly moving from TV channels to the Internet, MTV Networks was disappointed when it failed to buy My Space in 2005 recently (instead, Rupert Murdoch acquired it). The company knows that to expand further in the future it needs to continue looking for ways to distribute more content via the internet and has been working to develop ideas with Google since 2006.
MTV timeline 1981-2007
August 1981 MTV: Music Television launched by Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment. The first music video shown was Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles.
1984 The network produced its first MTV Video Music Awards show.
1985 A second music channel was introduced, named VH1 (Video Hits One).
1985 Viacom bought Warner-Amex and took control of both MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon (also originally owned by Warner-Amex), re-branding the three as “MTV Networks”.
Early 1990s MTV Networks developed cartoons, notably Beavis and Butthead, Celebrity Deathmatch, and Daria. New overseas MTV channels began to be set up.
1999 By now MTV Networks was the 6th largest global cable channel, worth $400m annually.
1999 MTV Networks shifted its focus to comedy shows like Jackass and soap operas such as Undressed and later The Real World.
2002 MTV Networks aired the very first episode of The Osbournes, based on the everyday life of Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon, and their children Jack and Kelly.
2005 Viacom/MTV lost its attempt to buy Myspace (beaten by Rupert Murdoch).
2005 MTV Base in Africa begain airing.
2006 Total MTV Network sales reached US $1.3 billion, employing 1100 world-wide. Viacom-owned networks were now broadcasting 141 channels in 32 languages to 160 countries (from MTV Philippines to MTV Portugal).
2006 MTV Networks began talks with Google to investigate online music video distribution opportunities.
2007 MTV Arabia launched.
Consumption of goods and services, including music, is growing all over the world and not just in rich nations.
In a two-speed world, significant numbers of affluent people live in almost all of the world’s nations – from Nigeria to Indonesia (although in many cases, the rich live alongside others who still live in unimaginable poverty).
This means TNCs look at the world’s nations not just as possible places where they can make products using cheap labour – but also as places where markets can be found.
Media providers such as MTV Networks and Disney are very excited at the market potential now found in some of the world’s most populated regions. In a country like India (1 billion people) even a small percentage of rich people represents a massive market.
A strengthening of Middle Eastern economies has prompted an explosion of programming aimed at cash-rich young Arabs. Demography is important here too. MTV Arabia is excited by the youthful population found in nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Two thirds of the Arab world is younger than 30 - and many of these are fans of cutting-edge music, especially hip-hop which MTV Arabia will specialise in broadcasting.
Making the most of a local market is not always an easy matter and firms employ a range of strategies that geographers call glocalisation. This is not a mis-spelling of ‘globalisation’. Rather, it is a term that recognises that globalising processes take place in a local context.
Products and services sometimes need to adopt and respect local customs if they are to succeed (see World wide web case study). Reporting on the launch of MTV Arabia, The Times (16 November 2007) reports: “There will be none of the licentious lyrics and flesh-baring videos that mark out its sister Western channels”.
“We will respect our audience’s culture and upbringing without diluting the essence of MTV,” Bhavneet Singh, managing director of emerging markets, MTV Networks International, says. “Everything will be tasteful. What is acceptable in Egypt might not be so in Jedda.”
“We will have shows presented by local stars, such as Jeddah Legends,” Mr Singh says. “The lyrical themes found in Arab hip-hop are not so different to the rest of the world. It’s about hanging out at the mall but also about your parents wanting you to marry when you aren’t ready yet.”
The Times continues: “MTV favourites such as Pimp My Ride and the practical joke show Punk’d will be amended for Arab audiences, but the scatological South Park would be too controversial, Mr Singh concedes. Culturally sensitive editors will make cuts to contentious Western videos, although local artists will account for 40 per cent of the music aired.” The newspaper sums things up by remarking that “Pimp My Ride will return after the call to prayer”.
Local innovation can also spell business success for TNCs. Rather than simply exporting American and European music to Arabia, MTV wants to develop new music acts using fresh talent – because they know this is likely to be an even bigger success with local people. Mr Singh says: “We want to break the stereotypical image of Middle East youth. I want to take the best new rappers from a basement in Egypt and put them on the first MTV Arabia international awards show, shown across all our outlets.”
Want to use MTV as a case study, either for course work or to support exam preparation?
On-line research can get you started, with Wikipedia telling you the basics (although there is no guarantee that its facts are up to date). More importantly, Wikipedia provides links to the many official MTV sites, where reliable information on the many different channels’ various histories, activities and audience can be found.
To make the case study work effectively as part of your geography, you need to know more than its history and whose videos they play. You can explore important geographical concepts – such as space, place and inter-connectedness - through use of this case study. For instance, try and answer the following questions (look up the meaning of any terms you do not recognise):
What is meant by a spatial division of labour and does Viacom / MTV Networks have one? How does the company help link together the work of different groups of people in different countries?
What happens to the firm’s profits from Viacom / MTV Networks’s overseas operation?
Does Viacom / MTV Networks produce exactly the same product for all different markets, thereby creating a shared consumer culture for groupings of countries?
Or does Viacom / MTV Networks change its products and services for different places in the global market place? Do they acknowledge cultural difference or do their products remain exactly the same for all of the markets they group together?
This article is written by Dr Simon Oakes, a Principal Examiner in A-level geography for both 2008 and existing (legacy) courses.
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