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Global media economics: commercialization, concentration and integration of world media markets

Alan B. Albarran and Sylvia M Chan-Olmsted, eds. (1998) Global media economics: commercialization, concentration and integration of world media markets. Ames: Iowa State University Press. 362 pages. ISBN 0-8138-2690-X.

Reviewed by James Piecowye, College of Communication and Media Sciences, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates

At the dawn of the new millennium we are witnessing a profound change in the global media landscape. Concentration, integration, commercialization, and conglomeration have all become mantras used to describe the evolution of the mass media in a global context. Changes in the global media structure are taking place almost daily, whether it is the high profile developments of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which is striving to become the world's first truly global provider of satellite based entertainment, or the low profile developments of Canada's Thomson Corporation as it works toward positioning itself as a world leader in online information delivery. As the dust settles on the monumental changes that have and are continuing to take place in the arena of global media, we are left with one certainty: that what we are witnessing is an economically driven phenomenon. Media is about money. Albarran and Chan-Olmsted, through their book, are offering a framework through which it might be possible, in very broad terms, to understand the workings and effect of media on society from an economic perspective.

The goal of this book, as set out by the editors, is to educate the reader about the similarities of the economic issues media industries are faced with throughout the world. As an educational tool this is an extremely useful text. Albarran and Chan-Olmsted have organized their text around twenty-one chapters. The first chapter is an introduction to the field, the second through twentieth chapters are examples of different global media systems, and the final chapter an evaluation of the state of the field of media economics.

The first chapter is the most pertinent piece of this text; not only does it provide a clear statement of the framework for economic analysis, which each succeeding chapter will use, but more importantly, it educates the reader in a clear and concise manner about the basic economic principles and concepts necessary to understand an economic analysis of media markets.

The utility of this text is found in the organization of the chapters. Each chapter follows the same formula: the country's role in the global media marketplace; identification of key media industries and companies unique to the region; an analysis of the media industries of a country with respect to concentration, competition, mergers, acquisitions, entry barriers, regulatory trends; and significant regulatory, developmental and current market characteristics of the region.

The limitations of this text are directly related to the very task it is charged with, namely, describing and analyzing selected media economic systems in a global context. A significant hurdle faced by the editors was the need to provide a timely and relevant cross section of countries to examine. The extent of the limitations of this text are clearly seen in the countries chosen to exemplify particular regions. Each of the five geographical divisions used in the text begs the questions of how and why those particular representative countries were chosen. In the case of Africa and the Middle East three countries are examined: Nigeria, South Africa, and Israel. The question the reader is left asking is whether these countries exemplify the most significant developments taking place in the region. If global significance is used as a measure, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, and Egypt have all experienced significant media developments and should probably have been included. The second issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that the chapters themselves are unbalanced. Some chapters do an excellent job of presenting a clear and accurate description of the media landscape of a region--the second chapter on the United States is a good example of this-but others are plagued by outdated information and a lack of understanding of the media systems being considered-chapter three on Canada is a good example. The third issue to be addressed is that, except for the United States, global media is not only seen as a economic vehicle but also as a cultural vehicle. The cultural value of media, while alluded to in the fringes of the text, is never pursued, and this could leave the reader with a skewed perception of media economics in a global context.

Despite the obvious inherent weaknesses of a text of this nature I would recommend it as a good primer on the issues of global media economics. In the end the editors make it clear that they are cognizant of the problems economists face when studying global media and advocate innovation in both theory and methodology to get beyond the limitations of current data, sources, and evaluation techniques.

About James Piecowye

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