Papua New Guineans and Norwegians are familiar with Dawson and his creek, Rachel and her friends, Oprah and Dr. Phil, in the same vein that Americans are now avid fans of ugly Betty and worshipers of their own American Idols. This phenomenon has been possible over the past few decades because of globalization. Jonathan Bignell (2004) defines globalization as “the process whereby ownership of television institutions in different nations and regions is concentrated in the hands of international corporations, and whereby programs and formats are traded between institutions around the world.” Structural and Technological changes guide the growth of this practice that directly affects economic and cultural issues. From being an isolated, national industry, television has evolved to being an open medium for a global trade of content.
The television medium has been liberalized and privatized, giving way to a deregulation of local broadcasting laws and censors (Waisbord, 2004). With their programs, international media companies freely penetrate broadcasting systems around the world. Cultural borders are now flexible, blurry to some extent, because of these structural changes. Progressive and liberal shows like Will & Grace are now available for viewing in culturally far-off countries like the conservative Philippines. Technological innovations such as satellites and the internet also contribute to the promulgation of globalization. Involved and interested parties immediately and conveniently do business through an established technological network. Utilizing these innovations, foreign news networks such as BBC World, can easily transmit a live feed from its London studios to any point in the world.
Taking advantage of this evolution, Western media institutions, particularly that of the U.S.A., controls this “buy and sell” system. The “emergence of a multi-channel, liberalized environment” served as an inviting opportunity for large production outfits to benefit from the “increased demand generated by the explosion in the number of television hours” (Waisbord, 2004). Keeping an eye on earning an easy profit, Hollywood spearheaded the practice of exporting shows to various countries. The influx of American soap operas like Dallas and sitcoms like Cheers in the 1980s marked a lasting command of the trade that also propagated the American system of programming in most countries that it reached (Bignell, 2000).
However, as commercial television principles grew to be more uniform and the overall industry developed, other “domestic industries” have begun producing and selling content that “catered to audience niches”. “What was good for Hollywood could, under the appropriate conditions, also be good for other production companies based in other countries as long they could master the game of commercial television.” (Waisbord 2000). Now, media companies from Australia, Japan and most notably, Western Europe, have established a stake in this market as well.
Reality TV Formats: Culturally Specific but Nationally Neutral These new players’ successful shows in the international trade are correspondingly new and different from the canned programs initially made by Hollywood. Responding to a demand administered both by local protectionist laws that require television content to be closer to a country’s native identity and values and by viewers who statistically prefer local content (Dhoest, 2004), new major production outfits started to create more room for their program’s localization. The trend started with broadcasters acquiring just a show’s script or storyline while they produce it locally, employing their own language, actors and location. Veering away from canned programs that are fully-produced and ready for immediate broadcasting, companies from the USA and Latin America are able to enter various “protected markets” like Europe and Asia by “selling scripts, packaged formats or partnering with domestic companies in co-production arrangements” (Waisbord, 2004).
Formats, defined by Bignell (2000) as “the blueprint for a program, including its setting, main characters, genre and (production) form and main themes”, differently “thematize” the question of culture. The structure of program formats is based on cultural values that go beyond national specificity. Waisbord (2004) elaborates on this: …format shows are less prone to have specific references to the local and national, precisely because they are designed to travel well across national boundaries. Formats purposely eviscerate the national. Could we say that Survivor/Expedition: Robinson is unequivocally a Dutch show?…What is British about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Because formats explicitly empty out the signs of the national, they can become nationalized – that is, customized to domestic cultures.
This quality of formats explains its popularity in global television today and also leads to another facet – profitability. Producers market formats because it sells better than canned shows, which have little room for localization. Cultures are thus commodified through format trade. (Robertson, cited by Waisbord, 2004)
It is important to note that the popular formats in the market right now are mostly reality programs. With its simpler structure and concept, the reality genre extends the opportunity for acculturation. Since reality television shows do not call for particularly known actors to play roles, or a single location to be set in, or one steady plot to follow, domestic companies can inject more of their tastes and approaches that they could in a dramatic narrative format. It is interesting that while the globalization of program/formats represents a blurring of national/cultural borders, reality television programming also essentially obscures the different standard genres.
But just because formats are “glocalized” (globalized and localized at the same time, Robertson, p. 3 cited by Waisbord, 2004) it does not mean that they are entirely “malleable” by the local franchisers. “Copyright holders ultimately determine what changes can be incorporated; they remain ‘the authors” of the text despite a variety of national adaptations and audience’s interpreatations” (Waisbord, 2004). This point could perhaps be connected to the quality-control that format creators would like to maintain to keep their product it attractive to potential buyers, taking cue from the saying, “why fix it if ain’t broke?”
Aside from its cultural flexibility, local television networks invest in these “commodities” because they are low-cost programming with a “good track record”. The formats’ malleability and “tested run” as a production ensures corporations of lower costs that “eliminates some of the highest fixed costs that fiction programming demands” (Waisbord, 2004). According to Bernard Wainraub’s (2000) research, CBS’s average expenditure for a Survivor episode ($200,000) is three times the cost for a single episode of King of Queens ($600,000). There is also less risk in buying a format franchise because the format presents a predictability of how it will fare. Its run on its country of origin and other countries that have produced it gives the interested corporation a history to look at and base its future version on. Reality formats are also attractive to producers because it offers a multimedia approach on drawing in a larger audience. Shows like Big Brother integrate the internet (interactive website), mobile telecommunication (updates, phone games) and a more consummate partnership with its sponsors (promotions, competitions).
Philippine Television Programming and Global Formats
Third-world nations, specifically those in East Asia, have been the target markets for formats, according to John Langdale (1997), an economic geographer. Since their economic conditions are not as favorable, countries in this region are not prone to construct new shows that require a full-on production process (e.g. fiction narratives, documentaries). With this in mind, the study will focus on the Philippines and its reception and/or resistance of foreign program formats. The Philippines is not new to importing foreign content. In fact, according to Michael Keane and Albert Moran (2003), Philippine television first started as a platform for “predominantly foreign programming.” The noted television researchers-cum-critics elaborate that this is caused by the primarily “private, commercial and entertainment” orientation of local television in its early years (1950s-60s). Also, this occurrence takes root in the so-called “colonial mentality” that was fresh at that time when the Americans “left” the country only to leave a lingering mark in Filipinos’ minds (Tuazon, cited by Keane and Moran, 2003). Taking cue from this trend, local programmers followed the foreign, particularly American imprint of production.
As locally produced programs gained more following with the increasing middle and lower classes at that time, it was also noticeable that most of the programs ran on foreign inspired concepts, particularly in news programs and variety dance shows. At the same time, foreign content would go through two different types of adaptation processes which answered the call of viewers’ increasing demand for local subjects. Keane and Moran named the two types minimal adaptation – “narratives of foreign genres and programmes are minimally altered such as where programmes are dubbed into the lingua franca” – and format re-versioning – “format adaptation, whether cloned…this is licensed or where an entirely) new local version is refashioned from the (original) programme.” Minimal adaptation has been widely used in the 90s where in Latin American telenovelas invaded the country. Marimar and Monica Brava told us their typical Cinderella-rags-to-riches stories in Tagalog. Today, Korean, Taiwanese and Japanese characters fill the local television airtime with their humorous love stories delivered in the local dialect. From “breaking” or borrowing foreign shows’ concepts like Dawson’s Creek and 7th Heaven to produce “local versions Tabing Ilog and Munting Paraiso, Philippine television has since kept up with the global trend of formal franchising formats.
The new millennium ushered the entry of local versions of game shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire and The Weakest Link both produced by UK-based Celador (now under the Endemol group). Both versions were produced by Viva Television Corp., an independent production outfit and were aired on minor television channel, IBC 13. Both game shows reach relative success on their two-year run (2000-2002) by much or less subscribing to the formats’ standards. Major industry players ABS-CBN and GMA on the other hand created GAME K N B and Korek Ka Dyan to compete in the market. While running on the same primetime block and featuring similar “high-tech” sets, distinctive hosts and an intellectual question and answer approach, both claimed that their shows were Filipino-made. With a number of revisions and rescheduling, GAME K N B? is still a viewer favorite.
Dabbling with a few shows that were arguably foreign inspired (Starstruck, Search for a Star by Star Search, Extra Challenge by Fear Factor, Born Diva by The Swan), ABS-CBN and GMA are have also engaged in acquiring official formats. GMA has bought narrative formats like Lupin (Animé), the soon-to-be shown Marimar (Televisa) and their own edition of the singing competition Celebrity Duets (FOX). ABS-CBN has invested on the popular reality format Big Brother (Endemol) to spruce up its primetime lineup. The teleserye ng totoong buhay has created such a multimedia phenomenon in the Philippines as it has in other franchisee countries.
Riding this wave, ABC 5 has decided to acquire the famed Idols format. The network, which has primarily been showing foreign canned programs such as the U.S. sitcom Friends since it started, has decided in its recent reorganization in late 2004 to expand its programming and audience reach. Together with the creation of local productions such Shall We Dance and acquisition of the legal rights to air Philippine Basketball Association games, ABC 5 has banked on Idol to gain a stronger audience hold. Another factor that encouraged this decision is the singing competition program trend that has been on Philippine television since the 80s (RPN 9’s Ang Bagong Kampeon). This trend carried on with Pinoy Pop Superstar (GMA 7) Search for A Star in A Million (ABS-CBN). Initially created by Simon Fuller and Simon Jones of Fremantle Media for British television, Pop Idol ruled the ratings game in its two-season on-air run. The show operates on the singing competition structure that features aspiring amateur singers who go through three judge’s “supervision” and vie for a considerable amount of money and a recording and management contract among other things. But the creators injected a reality television factor that is partly encapsulated in the widely appreciated audition phase of the program.
Filled with genuine humor and human-interest storylines, the audition phase of the competition anchors the contestants in the program, giving them faces, names and images that resonate throughout the whole competition. The “journey” of these contestants from being anonymous citizens to pop stars proves to be appealing to the audience; this chronicling of their immediate rise to stardom and affluence provided a relatable connection to most of the audience. The format’s success is also attributed to the innovative addition of home viewers’ participation, or even power as others may put it, in selecting the winner. The resident judges’ witty remarks stretch the human interest slant of the program as they either “damage or aid” the contestants’ standings (Holmes 2004). This has led Fremantle to sell the format to a significant number of countries. According to the company’s official website, the Idols format is currently “aired in over 40 territories” which include Armenia, Brazil, Finland, India, Kazakhstan and South Africa. “The global number of votes for Idols has now exceeded three billion”, the website continues.
Arguably the most successful version of the format is American Idol. Debuting on 2002 on FOX, it is now considered one of the biggest shows in US television history. With an average estimated audience of 37 million in the States alone, it has also broken records in the audience voting. American Idol has served as the prototype. Simon Cowell, in his 2003 book, I Don’t Mean to Be Rude, But …., divulges that the creators of the show had targeted to put Idol in the American market, seeing its wide reach and influence and a more stable ground for their “star-making” aims. It has spawned a phenomenon worldwide – its most recent season was broadcast in 55 countries.
The Philippines in particular has caught on American Idol-fever. Since its third season (the first to be aired on local television), the show has been shown on two outlets – cable television channel Star World and ABC 5. This shows a sense of urgency for the program, providing two channels to better reach a wider viewership (Star World – classes A & B; ABC – middle to lower classes). Google Trends, an internet tool that measures the most popularly searched terms on Google, records the Philippines as the number one source of American Idol queries over the past year. Multimedia synergies also attest to show’s importace. Another indicator of the show’s sensation is the relative success of its former winners’ and finalists’ careers in the local music industry.
From this, it is understandable then that ABC 5 decided launch Philippine Idol despite the reported high cost of the franchise. The program ran from 30 July 2006 to 10 December 2006.
With no substantial data (official ratings and profit information), the general impression that engulfs Philippine Idol’s run was not the same with that of previous American Idol seasons. During the first season, the show was frequently rescheduled – performance nights would move from Saturday to Sunday and result shows from Sunday to Monday. Advertisements are noticeably mostly that of San Miguel Products and Smart Communications, corporations which are under the same company as ABC 5. In addition, the winner and finalists of the local Idol do not have the same recall and success.
B. Statement of the Problem / Research Questions & Objectives This study’s main goal is to determine what happens when a television show of transcultural origins is shown on Philippine television. The researchers would like to know how the Filipino viewer receives such a show and what factors are involved in their reception of the show whether it is positive or negative. This study aims to take a look at how Philippine Idol as a foreign program format was received by the Filipino television producers, industry and the viewing public. Hence, it will answer the following research questions:
How receptive/resistant are the Philippine television decision-makers and audience to a local version of a transcultural TV format like Philippine Idol?
• What are the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the Idol format that were taken into consideration during the negotiation between Fremantle Media and ABC 5? How did they agree on creating/producing a Philippine version of this international format? • How did the producers of Philippine Idol localize the Idol format so it can be catered to the Filipino viewers? How did they market this localized program to the Filipino audience? • How did the Filipino viewers react to Philippine Idol? Did the show appeal to the Filipino audiences’ taste?
C. Significance of the Study
The phenomenon of international program format franchising brings another dimension to the widely acknowledged power that television as medium has. Aside from being primarily an outlet for a nation’s cultural identity, television has now been a platform for globalization, a freer platform for international exchange of cultures and ideas. The discourse that this phenomenon spurs is what the study aims to discuss and analyze explores the trade between the format creator and the format purchaser, the different factors on which cultural ideas are married to produce an entirely new identity through a program. The study stands on this exchange of conditions and the separate efforts of both the producing and receiving parties to inject their own set of values and cultural traits. It also extends to the discourse between the receiving local network, through the produced local version of the format and the target audience. With the use of a three-tiered approach that thoroughly analyzes a broadcasting process, this thesis hopes to contribute a gauge of the Filipino producers’, broadcasters’ and ultimately, the Filipino audience’s corresponding level of receptiveness to an acculturated program format.
The results that would come from the filter covering the discourse between the program format producers and local producers acquiring the format would contribute to study of media globalization, how the Western hegemony operates and how the receiving nation accepts it or otherwise. The second filter would contribute to national identity building by finding out how the local producers acculturate the program format through actual production and broadcasting methods. The audience study of the thesis offers the classification and analysis of viewer typologies and the equivalent degree of their reception to the localized version of the format. On a more concrete and specific level, the results of this thesis study is accessible to the television industry as an aid to parties interested in acquiring a foreign program format.
D. Scope and Limitations
In order to conduct the study, three filters of acculturation are being proposed based on the theoretical framework that the group is proposing to work with. All three filters are a crucial part of determining how the Filipino market (media and audience) received the show. These three filters are production, broadcasting and audience. This thesis approaches this framework with Philippine Idol as a case study. A cooperation between the researchers and the local producer, ABC 5 through Philippine Idol Unit Head Percival Intalan, has been forged to effectively conduct this thesis. The Philippine Idol production unit willingly agreed to grant the researchers with first-hand data, in the form of in-depth interviews.
In turn, the researchers have agreed to offer the results of the study for the producers’ prerogative. To cover the filters affecting production and broadcasting, the study utilizes in-depth qualitative interviews with the program’s primary producers – Perci Intalan, ABC 5 Vice President for Creative and Entertainment Production; and Anthony Pastorpide, Philippine Idol Supervising Producer. Initially targeted for this filter, was an email correspondence with the Fremantle representatives based in Singapore who were directly involved in Philippine Idol, but the said method was not ideal considering the representatives’ availability and given timeframe for the research study.
Since the program ended (December 2006) seven months prior to the start of the study (July 2007), this limitation would also include further analysis from the producers’ part. The producers’ perspectives by this time are in a reassessment state on how they treated the program.
The same condition applies with the audience that deals with the third part of the study; Philippine Idol viewers’ impression of the show, at this time, would not be the same as it was during the airing of the said program. To counter this, respondents were chosen through a snowballing method in order to ensure that the respondents have indeed seen the telecasts of Philippine Idol. . Viewers were surveyed for quantitative purposes and were subjected in focus group discussion for qualitative objectives. Determining the audience sample and the sample size is of utmost importance in conducting this study. Frau-Meigs says about the theory of situated acculturation, “The most loyal audience is composed of young houwewives (20–30), who did not go to university and who(stay at home. They are closely followed by young pgople (12–25), old enough to go to school but with no employment” (Frau-Meigs, 2006). Taking into consideration what Frau-Meigs said, this thesis narrowed down the age range of possible respondents to the ages of 16-25.
The sample’s socio-economic range is also influenced by Frau-Meigs’ drawn structure. She says, “reception of these programmes reaches the lower middle class” (Frau-Meigs, 2006). For the study, the audience sample was chosen from among viewers within class A, B and C. Again, taking into consideration the (time) limits imposed upon the study, the sample audience were composed of Ateneo de Manila University Students. Finally, taking into consideration the group’s ability to travel around the city to hand out surveys the number of survey respondents was pegged at 90 respondents.
CHAPTER II: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
This chapter provides a comprehensive view of studies, publications and articles that contribute to the sphere of study included in this research endeavor. In reviewing the existing scholarly works, we aim to discover and verify the proven ideologies that support and ground the study’s three main variables in question: 1) acculturation and the discourse between the global and local and the application in production that sequentially results from it; 2) the localization manifested in further production and broadcasting in a macro-level; and, lastly, 3) the audience reception and corresponding attitudes to the resulting “product”.
Waisbord places the root of the proliferation of program format trade in the discourse between capitalistic and established (mostly Western) media corporations and the other media corporations (mostly from the third world). With the changes that shaped current programming provisions (less strict policies that allow more foreign content) and technological standards (the development of satellites and other innovations that ease communication), a supply and demand relationship was set up between media corporations seeking more profit and smaller media companies searching for programming variety at a more cost-efficient way.
Big international media institutions grabbed the opportunity presented by the changes in the television industry. Waisbord continues to explain that the “principles of commercial television became standardized and industries (accordingly) matured.” American corporations were particularly quick to see this possibility and acted on selling their canned programs to interested buyers. The American mastery of the commercial television practice has propelled their system to be a standard in most Western-influenced countries. “What was good for Hollywood could, under the appropriate conditions, also be good for…other countries as long as they could master the game of commercial television.” (Waisbord 2004).
Canned shows like drama series and sitcoms were one of the most favored import-export products in the global television trade. This marked a significant transcultural phenomenon – foreign produced content with primarily foreign theme and style of production was entering different countries. This was an important moment, signaling the entry of foreign ideas across different cultures, some of which are not that familiar with any other culture than their own. Michael Keane and Albert Moran contextualize this occurrence in Asia, wherein local content is dominant over foreign produced shows (and they also take note how Philippine television deviate from this, as the said country was a former American colony). But as the Western companies were able to commercialize and market their canned programs for distribution, the other countries were led to consume them in their own preferred manner (Keane & Moran 2005).
As cultural borders are blurred, another change in the television industry called for another obscurity – that of program genres and types. Fiction and non-fiction formats and even more types of program formats are combined that gave rise to the reality television genre. Combining elements of music/singing performance/concert, documentary and an element of a public sphere forum, the Idols format fits in this category. Since the said genre has no specific set of stringent factors (storyline, character/actor, setting among others), it is open to revisions and
The rise of this genre, which has enough room for flexibility, enhanced the buyer-nations’ resilience in trying to inject their own national identity on the formats that they purchase Waisbord further expounds that formats, as culturally non-specific, are more attractive for interested media companies because they posses more room to insert a local flavor to it, a factor that makes local productions click with the viewers. Alexander Dhoest, in his article, “The Pfaffs Are Not Like The Osbournes” (2004), says that “What viewers always look for is the familiar: “familiar rights, familiar faces, familiar voices,” (Elsaesser 1994, as cited by Dhoest 2004). Therefore, the format or genre parameters may be “imported,” but the actual program content must be as familiar to the viewers as possible.” Divina Frau-Meigs provides the term acculturation to encapsulate the practice which she defines “dissymmetric power relations – without precluding the possible strategies to resistance to hegemony… that brings out domestic change after foreign contact…(and) Takes place in the cross-cultural setting of format migration.” Similarly, Waisbord devises the term, “glocalization” – the act to “think globally, program locally.”
Most research studies use the widely popular reality docudrama/gamedoc format, Big Brother, as a particular case study to discuss how localization works. Divina Frau-Meigs and They find the said format to befit the different aspects that happen in the acculturation. It effectively combines the fiction and non-fiction genres as it already borders to a narrative type of program. The interaction between the base original Endemol format and the localization is seen in greater scope and detail because the format allows a thorough showing of the “spontaneous” characters and storylines.
The researchers on the other hand decided to use the Idols format as the particular case study for the research. While the program format is arguably as known and circulated as Big Brother, the actual narrative element of format is confined to the audition phase. But what is interesting about the Idols format is how the “reality” aspect of the show lingers in a more creative and subliminal way until the actual winner and even finalists make it as pop stars. Su Holmes credits the “star-making” machinery that fuels Idol as a show. In her article, “Reality Goes Pop!” Reality TV, Popular Music, and Narratives of Stardom in Pop Idol, she explains that the Idols format possess an indirect way of constructing a narrative, having to use the song choice and performance to essay a contestant’s identity. There is also that personal (the contestant’s background and talent) to public (the marketing of the contestant to the audience) dynamic that enriches the show and keeps a hold on the audience.
The format initially establishes a relatable point for the audience in angling the contestants as real people who have talent and are having a chance at making it big through the competition/program. This audience participation extends to the format’s voting powers cast upon the home viewers. The contestant’s overall performance, the host’s spiels, the judges’ witty remarks compose a part of the public sphere that the format tries to emulate with the resultant factor that is the audience’s vote. Frau-Meigs acknowledges this practice in her study concerning Big Brother, but she also takes note that the direct involvement given to the viewers during the show’s actual run, though existent, is already narrow in degree as the factors presented for their participation (choosing of winner/s) have already been pre-selected by “producers, broadcasters and sponsors”. Though the study recognizes that this certain involvement keeps some of the audience hooked on the program, it still aims to find out how receptive the viewers are to the whole program.
A number of viewer typologies and motivations, drawn up by Frau-Meigs, are examined in Correa and Ebreo’s 2006 research study, Under One Roof: Pinoy Big Brother, Filipino Audiences and the Negotiation of Culture. They discuss type 1 as the viewers who see Big Brother as a “mirror” who represent themselves through the projected images/personalities of the housemates. This type’s corresponding viewing strategy holds no major resistance of the material and incites a “socialization process that requires internalization and constant re-evaluation of self-presentation procedures” (Frau-Megis 2005 cited by Correa & Ebreo 2006). Type 2 embodies the viewers who are still supportive of the show but are, on varying degrees, aware of the show’s “artificiality” and “reinforcement of stereotypes” through the characters and set-ups. These viewers also mainly watch because of the talk (social level) that is generated by the program. “Disgusted critics” who watch the show to stress their abhorrence and disbelief of the program. The researchers are influenced by the same operation (using the typologies) as the typologies are comprehensive to be used in the study of the Idols format.
Only in this thesis’s case, angling of the detailed research instruments geared towards the audience would take into consideration the more directly entertainment-orientation of the format at hand. Aiming to draw up with the Filipino viewer typology of resistance to the Big Brother format, Correa & Ebreo’s research study yielded results that “neither confirm nor reject the existence of such viewer types”. The Filipino audience turns out to be the “general, non-homogeneous yet homologous type… that exhibit characteristics similar to those demonstrated by each of Frau-Meigs’ types, but existing simultaneously with each other, such that a Filipino PBB viewer may either be a combination of any of the two: (a) Type 1 and Type 2; or (b) Type 2 and Type 3.” The viewers are represented by a viewing strategy that indicates a more or less informed nature of the Filipino audience of the Big Brother format. This is a noteworthy jumping point provided to this thesis as it confirms certain awareness to the program format practice. The study takes off from with the information that Filipino audiences are reached, if not fully receptive, to another transcultural format.
CHAPTER III: THEORETICAL, CONCEPTUAL, AND OPERATIONAL FRAMEWORKS
Divina Frau-Meigs (2006), a French scholar and professor, sees that most of the academic studies regarding the reception responses of the European audience to transcultural television formats have focused only on either genre or gender. Hence, with such limited scope, she claims that the critics have failed to perceive and evaluate other factors that could also have played a vital role in relation to the aforementioned subject matter. These include: 1) identifying the specific kind of acculturation process taking place in the cross-cultural migration of television programmes; and 2) considering the whole communication process, from production to reception, in a comparative manner. Having these observations, Frau-Meigs has pioneered and proposed a framework that addresses and recognizes these unobserved factors; that is, the Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media. This chapter discusses the abovementioned communication theory, which the researchers have seen appropriate and suitable for this TV production-related study. The first part of the chapter relays the theorist’s credentials in order to establish her credibility as a scholar and a prime mover of the field of communication. Then, the chapter’s succeeding parts delves into the theoretical, conceptual, and operational applications of Frau-Meigs’ theory.
A. The Theorist: Professor Divina Frau-Meigs
Divina Frau-Meigs is an American Studies and Media Sociology professor at the Institut du Monde Anglophone, Universitè Paris 3-Sorbonne nouvelle who specializes in media and information technologies of Anglo-Saxon countries. To date, she has written many publications about the media, technologies, screen subcultures, and the connection between media and technologies. Some of these include Les Ecrans de la Violence (1997), Médias et Technologie: l’exemple des Etats (2001), and Médias (2003). Professor Frau-Meigs has also been involved in doing research concerning media regulation and self-regulation. Moreover, she has been the Director of the Media Research Association and the Foreign Affairs Deputy Chair in the councils of the French Information and Communication Studies Society (SFSIC) and the European Consortium for Communication Research (ECCR).
B. The Theoretical Framework: Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media in a Nutshell Frau-Meigs’ Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media is a product of her efforts to study cultural diversity and culturization. She explicates this communication-related theory in her research, “Big Brother and Reality TV in Europe: Towards a Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media,” which has been published in the European Journal of Communication in 2006 (Vol. 21, 1). In this research, Professor Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) looks at the “cross-border circulation of reality programming (commonly known as reality television shows) among European countries.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 33) Using Endemol’s phenomenal reality TV show, Big Brother, as a case in point, and consequently, corresponding its elements and features with the whole communication process, from production to reception, she analyzes and tests the process of acculturation via the media. According to Frau-Meigs (2006), “when considering the acculturation process via the media, the asymmetrical relation does not just occur between a foreign production filter and a domestic receiving filter: the media themselves create an intermediary filter for this transfer.” (Frau-Meigs, 2001, p. 37 cited by Frau-Meigs, 2006)
This is a very important idea that she has raised in her previous works, which she has reiterated in this study. Certainly, it has helped in molding the fundamentals of Theory of Situated Acculturation. Such media filter, she explains, acts in a complex manner, placing acculturation in a specific communication setting, in addition to a cultural and a geopolitical one. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) The process of acculturation must be examined in the light of this communication filter which acts both on the initial foreign message production and the domestic reception. With this analysis, Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) says that the whole chain of audiovisual communication needs to be taken into account; that is, from production to broadcasting, then broadcasting to reception. That is why the framework she proposes has established media to be involved in three levels, which she labeled as “acculturation filters” – Filter 1 (Production), Filter 2 (Broadcasting), Filter 3 (Reception). In these filters, different trends of acculturation happen and different groups of people interact because of a television format that is transcultural in nature – a TV show that can be adapted by any culture.
Figure 1. A Model of Divina Frau-Meigs’ (2006) Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media (Correa and Ebreo, 2006, p.12)
1. Filter 1: The Transcultural Drive in Production (Transcultural Acculturation)
The first acculturation filter is related with the production stage of the communication process, and Frau-Meigs (2006) calls it, the “transcultural drive in production.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 37) It involves the interaction between a foreign television trend and a domestic television industry. These elements are represented by the creators/producers of an internationally produced TV format and a particular broadcasting company who desires to air this TV show in its (the network) country of origin, respectively. In this acculturation stage, the local television industry experiences a transnational acculturation through the foreign television format’s basic foundation and core values. Filter 1 revolves around the concept of being “transculturally acculturated” because the “transcultural principles” of an international format are forwarded and made applicable to different countries and in effect, requiring a homogenous adaptation.
Through constructing what is referred to as the show’s “bible,” in which the structure and rules of the format are stated, they facilitate the creation of a transcultural format, much in the same way as religion aimed at unifying different countries around a unique text, even before nation states have emerged. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) Hence, if the creators/producers agree to sell a franchise of their show to a local broadcasting network, the network needs to comply with everything written in the “bible,” so as to preserve the original nature of the product. Moreover, a transcultural acculturation – in terms of basic core values – of the franchised reality TV format to the accepting local television industry can also be seen. Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) points out that most of the reality TV shows that are cross-culturally migrated in Europe are extremely attached with the strong core values of the so-called “Anglo-American matrix”. This matrix includes: “1) nominalism (expressive power of language); 2) empiricism (pragmatic power of situations); 3) utilitarian (the economic power of exchanges); 4) presentism (the concrete power of emotions); and 5) the essence of work and production.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 38)
“This is so because the United States and the United Kingdom are in a more advanced and extreme stage of reality TV development; creators of formats following the genre of reality television pattern their products with those produced by the aforementioned strong nations.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006) Hence, even if a particular format does not originate from the US or the UK, it still possesses the Anglo-American matrix. With this, a certain fear that such matrix would promote hegemony has emerged. However, Frau-Meigs (2006) thinks that the first acculturation filter makes a matrix of Anglo-American origin acceptable by editing out this angst; and thus, leading to an appreciation and acceptance of values like individualism, competition, profit, and presentism. This is done through making the audience feel and letting them act like the participants. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) Moreover, the abovementioned angst is edited through being innovative; that is, partly opposing the transcultural drive – i.e. employing production elements that are not included/stated in the Bible. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) But, D. Frau-Meigs (2006) clarifies that despite this slight opposition and differentiation exhibited by a particular version of a country that adapted it, the transcultural drive remains unchallenged due to its flexibility.
2. Filter 2: The Intracultural Dynamics in Broadcasting (Intracultural Accultuaration) The second acculturation filter is associated with the
second part of the audio-visual communication process – broadcasting. “If in production, television can foster a transnational acculturation, thanks to the reality TV format and its adoption in different geographical areas and among different social classes, paradoxically, in broadcasting, the most prominent impact of this transcultural format is its intracultural dynamics.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 41) Thus, Frau-Meigs (2006) names this filter as the “intracultural dynamics in broadcasting.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 41) In this filter, it is evident that the broadcasting company which has acquired the franchise of the transcultural show, now, becomes the center of acculturation; it functions both as the one that is being acculturated and the one that acculturates. According to Frau-Meigs (2006), the second filter acts as a “transfer airlock aimed at making people accept the commercial audiovisual systems and in doing so shows the state of acculturation of the decision-makers and the producers of national television.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 51)
These people behind the local broadcasting industry conform to the national preference and identity recognition that [seem to] prevail[s] in its society. This is manifested through the “localization” of the transcultural show, so it would appeal to its local audience. It (the show) is marketed in such a way that the domestic viewers it targets can easily adapt and familiarize with the format. As Hill and Palmer (2002) put it: “what makes the format a creative business proposition is that it has been imported into countries where their own national characteristics can be revealed.” (Hill and Palmer, 2002, cited by Frau-Meigs, 2006) As the localization of the foreign television format is being done, the broadcasting network, then, unleashes its self-serving acculturation process – “to socialize the public to its own industrial modus operandi.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p.42)
In the realm of reality TV shows, for example, television networks have a tendency to interfere in people’s private lives such that they become prescriptive and didactic, enforcing rules and values to adopt. Moreover, D. Frau-Meigs (2006) observes that they put over their viewers, their primary subjects, and turn them into active, self-interested participants, while recruiting those most likely to serve the entertainment world and be game. And as the reality TV moves toward the core of pop culture, the media reinforce the general public’s acceptance that the economy generates culture. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) And as these intracultural dynamics of broadcasting works, Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) affirms that the transcultural drive in television is better promoted. 3. Filter 3: The Sparse Intercultural Prospects in Reception (Intercultural Acculturation)
The last of the three acculturation filters is primarily concerned with the audience’s reception and Frau-Meigs (2006) labels it as “intercultural prospects in reception.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 45) Since it is all about reception, this filter deals with the diverse and complex audiences – whether within or outside of a particular setting – that receive the transcultural television format. It is concerned with how these people react to this show and how they use it in acculturating their preferences and values. Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) observes that viewers of a particular transnational program across different countries have formed a “shared cultural space,” arising from the awareness that people in other countries are also watching the same program.
With this sense of common television activity, which Frau-Meigs (2006) coins as “co-presence”, these viewers become motivated to watch as they begin to feel that they belong to a “cultural system and a market in which the meaning of an object is tallied with the meaning others give to this object.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 46) Frau-Meigs (2006) says that the third filter shows a variety of strategies regarding reception. Co-present publics vie for the values that are being transmitted by television. Their meanings and their impact on youth socialization require symbolic exchanges and recognition of the stakes around the acculturation process per se. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) With such analysis, she presents three typologies of typical viewers who are fond of accepting transcultural reality TV shows.
Assessing these acculturation filters, Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) is able to develop the notion of “Situated Acculturation,” whereby “populations are offered a composite matrix that affects their national culture and allows for discursive practices about values, not just tastes.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 52) For her, this may reflect better the fundamental stakes at work in cultural transfers of television formats – dissymmetric power relations – without precluding possible strategies of resistance to hegemony they entail and the cultural bypasses they produce. (Frau-Meigs, 2006)
C. The Conceptual Framework: Big Brother as a Case in Point
Professor Divina Frau-Meigs (2006) has considered the phenomenal Big Brother (BB) as a case in point of her study about the Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media, because it has opened the way for a European migration of formats. Before this hybridized programme – a combination of game show, talk show, soap opera and docudrama – invaded the European screens in the late 1990s, exchanges in entertainment programming among the countries in this continent remains low, and in some cases non-existent. Through this reality TV show produced by Endemol, transcultural hybridization of formats and content became known throughout Europe. (Frau-Meigs, 2006)
Using BB as the transcultural television format variable, Frau-Meigs is able to conceptualize her Theory of Situated Acculturation by the Media.
1. Big Brother and Filter 1
In illustrating the transcultural drive in Big Brother production, Frau-Meigs employs the different European television industries and Endemol and its BB format to represent the domestic television industry variable and foreign TV trend variable, respectively. And following the trail of Frau-Meigs’ theory, it is inevitable that Endemol and their show Big Brother acculturate the European television industries that have adapted BB.
This transnational acculturation has taken place because there is a general format that must be followed by all countries that adapted it. As written in the so-called “Big Brother bible”, all BB adaptations must have the following: the Spartan house and lifestyle, the lengthy confinement (about a hundred days), the absence of any media, the panoptic principle of surveillance, the confessional obligation, the battery of tests, the eliminating vote and the exhibition of ordinary people’s private lives. (Frau- Meigs, 2006, p. 38)
The transcultural drive of BB is further strengthened by the general premise of the show’s structure of the tests and of the nomination; that is, “survival of the fittest.” (Frau Meigs, 2006, cited by Correa and Ebreo, 2006) Such premise is exercised among countries that air Big Brother. It starts with the nominations made by the “housemates” (this is how the BB contestants are called); they nominate two of their fellow housemates whom they want to leave the house and the competition. It ends with the decision via audiences’ votes. The nominated housemate who gets the lowest number of the viewers’ votes leaves the house. The process then continues until one housemate emerges as the “Big Winner.”
Frau-Meigs (2006) mentions that “Big Brother is an original, initial paradigm produced by an Anglo-American cultural matrix.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 38) The show’s elements such as the competition, promise of money, transparency, and separation from the family circle are definitely rooted from this matrix. As Big Brother is aired in European countries, these values are also communicated and transmitted to the European audience, even to those who are used to the opposing standards. For example, “some values connected to money and individualism, enter the Southern European countries’ spectrum.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 39)
But, such antagonism is remedied by editing out the angst against these Anglo-American values and consequently, instilling in them an accepting attitude towards these principles, through transforming the audience into the state of being “viewer-participants.” In this setup, they are placed on both sides of the screen (Frau-Meigs, 2006). Indeed, they are viewers of Big Brother but at the same time, they are also participants because the survival of televised participants lies on their hands.
Another manifestation of the acculturation process is through partly resisting the transcultural drive, like what the Spanish version of BB did in the past. In Gran Hermano 1, the Spanish housemates nominated everyone for elimination instead of just naming two people; hence, the viewers have been compelled to choose and take on the great responsibility for this unusual exclusion. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) Indeed, it is different but such movement has not really challenged the transcultural drive. Rather, it has dressed up the homogenizing transnational tendencies of the format and its dominant Anglo-American matrix. (Frau-Meigs, 2006)
2. Big Brother and Filter 2
Following the concept of the second acculturation filter of Divina Frau-Meigs’ theory, the different European television networks, which have obtained the exclusive BB franchise, is at the center of the acculturation process. Certainly, conformity and loyalty to the culture of the receiving audience define the “intracultural dynamics in broadcasting” which according to Frau-Meigs (2006) works to better promote Filter 1. Thus, the adapted Big Brother format should not come into conflict with the environment in which it is produced, for it to have a good fate in the television industry of that particular setting. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) The local producers must subject their decisions, not just to the foreign format they have franchised, but also to the local culture in which they belong to.
A strong attachment to local beliefs and traditions explains why ethnic participants are not represented in the European BB adaptations. (Frau-Meigs, 2006) Among European nations, the mono-cultural vision of a society, along with identity conformism and uniformity, still prevails. Hence, no matter how the Big Brother franchise in France attempted to include contestants with Northern African origins, they are still the first one to be eliminated (Frau-Meigs, 2006).
Moreover, this conformism to local culture – “conformity with a deep-set morality” – also affects how the viewers select the “Big Winner.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 42) The least disturbing candidates usually have the tendency to win.
In terms of the acculturation done by the broadcasting network, the local producers of Big Brother franchises are able to exercise its power through the title (Frau-Meigs, 2006). They give “Big Brother” a local identity so as to push for a more personal and familiar character. Hence, there are a lot of “Big Brothers” with different nationalities – i.e. Pinoy Big Brother (Filipino), Australian Big Brother (Aussie), and the like. Still, they possess the same personalities – they watch and they punish but, they still remain sympathetic and compassionate, just like a true “big brother.”
Furthermore, the local producers continue to acculturate the viewers as they propagate the idea that housemates must behave and act “on television as in real life.” He or she needs to be himself or herself for this is important winning the game. These producers have also reinforced the idea that economy generates culture. As a result, the culture becomes attached with reproducing goods; that is why the format is reproduced, DVDs of the past seasons are sold, and even the theme song is borrowed. (Frau-Meigs, 2006)
3. Big Brother and Filter 3
Correa and Ebreo (2006) states that the reception strategies as publics “vie about the values that are being transmitted” can be illustrated within the range of extreme reactions: from “support attended by identification” to “suspicion attended by denunciation,” as substantiated by the viewing public, classified further into three types. (Correa and Ebreo, 2006, p. 16)
Frau-Meigs identifies and characterizes the three types of BB audience: Viewer Type 1, Viewer Type 2, and Viewer Type 3.
Viewer Type 1 is comprised of those within the public who perceive television as a ‘mirror’. As they recognize themselves in “the participants and the situations presented, [they] get willingly involved in the glorification of the players.” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 16 as cited in Correa and Ebreo, 2006) Such viewers include those who want to become rich and famous, those who see the show as a means of access to television’s star system, and the underrepresented youth and the women who see themselves represented by the BB characters and situations. A consequence of a recognition or identification with an audience is either support for the show or support for a housemate. (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 16 as cited in Correa and Ebreo, 2006)
The Viewer Type 2 group includes members of the supportive public just like the Viewer Type 1. “But, unlike Viewer Type 1 members who believe in BB’s honest depiction of real situations and real people, those under Viewer Type 2 are aware of the artificiality of the set-up, the commercial use of the women and youth images, and the reinforcement of stereotypes.” (Correa and Ebreo, 2006, p. 16) Still, they do not reject these elements of Big Brother, but they see these as means “to achieve their own aims for national change.” (Correa and Ebreo, 2006, p. 16) And according to Divina Frau-Meigs (2006), these include the people who are: pleased by the scandal caused by the exposure of social and moral prohibitions… They prove Oscar Wilde’s rule of scandal whereby to be talked about, even negatively, is always better that not being talked about at all. Scandal creates conversation, reshuffles difficult questions and arranges people in a variety of unexpected groupings or even parties. (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 47)
The people who are considered members of the Viewer Type 3 are definitely not fanatics of Big Brother. They are blatantly unsupportive of Big Brother, unlike the two other viewer types, but surprisingly, they still watch the show to “reinforce their disgust and their suspicion” (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 17 cited by Correa and Ebreo, 2006). These are the disgusted critics, mostly comprised of: adults, men, intellectuals, politicians and church authorities [whose criticisms were in two stages: 1.) before the broadcast season were denunciations on] the format and set-up [which are] said to be conducive to humiliation, confine and even alienation.. [and 2.)] during the broadcast season…on the [inauthentic] content and the participants [who are] of little interest, too similar and too stereotyped. (Frau-Meigs, 2006, p. 48)