Structural Modifications in Spanish Public Television and Their Implications in the Society
by Aida Martori Muntsant
Structural changes in public television affect the society, the public sphere, the concept of space and democracy. Taking the case of Spanish public television, we present these modifications in terms of how these changes could contribute to make a utopic communications system and also how they could be presented as dystopic.
The concept of utopia refers to the representation of an idealized world. We can bring this idea to the communication system, understanding how new technologies in television open possibilities to achieve a more democratic model. If we adapt this idea to be dystopic, we will present consequences that do not improve the system and make it less valuable especially in terms of identification.
Structural changes in public television
Public television in Catalonia (a region in the North East Spain) is from the beginning a paradigmatic model because of the proliferation of local stations alongside the creation of a national broadcaster with a strong public service mission and a key role in standardizing the Catalan language. Local public broadcasters have also been important players working for social cohesion, but traditionally have been operating and producing independently of the national channel and with limited collaborative links between them.
Local channels were reorganized during the digitalization process, that is, upon the arrival of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). Spanish legislation divided Catalonia into 21 areas (demarcations), and each could have two public programs in each multiplex dedicated to proximity stations (with some exceptions, as in the case of the Barcelona area, where four public channels were permitted due to both its sizable population and prior number of public channels). This situation broke the traditional one town-one public station relationship and opened the door to proximity television (a better term to refer to this new, not strictly local, reality). Different local governments had to reach agreements to create only one or two channels per demarcation. However, in practice, many channels had not started their emissions and in recent years, other local broadcasters have ceased their emissions. Currently, there are 11 proximity stations in Catalonia (DTT-L), in contrast to the 54 stations existing before the digitalization. While this presentation offers a brief context for understanding the current model, it principally aims to explore the current operation of the system and analyze the trends of public broadcasters within the technological paradigm.
If we look at the current system, we can see evidence that content sharing is accentuated. Due to funding cuts, proximity stations have difficulties developing their own production, so they are more dependent on exchanging programs with other stations, which is conducted through the Network of Local Television (XTVL). A vital actor in the pubic system has been added to this exchange system: the generalist channel (TV3). Since February 2013, TV3 has taken into account the DTT-L, especially for the production of proximity news. The renewed model of news production increases synergies and uses public resources in a more efficient way.
Nowadays, public television is developing strategies to assure their inclusion in the digital age. We consider the current stations, but also the proliferation of IPTV, which distribute content exclusively online regardless of the DTT and without the need to reach agreements with other towns. The prospective dimension appears in the historical context in which these changes occur: a period of transition to connected television (net) or smart television and the consolidation of asynchronous broadcasting services. In this context, local television becomes a global communication media in the digital era.
Utopias: interaction, fewer borders and local identity
After explaining the chronology of the model, we are going to analyze it from the point of view of utopias and dystopias. The new paradigm of public television assures interaction in the communication process. Television model is more efficient because stations are sharing more content. Although digitalization made more difficult the process to start a television channel, IPTV has fewer borders to start a television channel and also to be a participative actor in the communicative system. Audience become users that can watch local television content from everywhere and, in that sense, local television is a global media in the global era. IPTV opens the possibility to distribute information in a cheaper way, where there is less cost to distribute the television signal. This technology can recuperate the feeling of local identity from analog television, partially lost in the DTT-L model, where different villages shared one television channel.
Dystopias: the challenges of the new model
The local identity feeling achieved during the analog era was lost in DTT model and a lot of channels closed after the analog shutdown. In the current media system there are more possibilities to listen voices, but this does not mean that there exists a plurality of information. IPTV is a new way to produce public television, but these projects are highly dependent on local governments. As a result, some Internet channels are more close to governmental television than public television. IPTV has a lot of potential in the digital era but there are big challenges to recover from, like the difficulties to control democratic functions of the media.
Technological change affected the structure and the function of public local television stations. The new model of DTT and IPTV offers possibilities to make the system more democratic and, therefore, to contribute to the utopian world. But also there are risks that could badly affect the communication proximity model and can be understood as dystopias. Independent agencies play an important role in confronting the challenges and in shaping the model in order to make it less dependent on local governments.