Television from small nations: building a network for cultural and commercial success

Lead Research Organisation: University of South Wales
Department Name: Faculty of Creative Industries


This multidisciplinary, international research network addresses the specific challenges and opportunities facing television broadcasters and producers in small nations. For small nations the television industry performs a number of important cultural, political and economic functions: constructing cultural identities, contributing towards a democratic public sphere, and enabling minority-languages to thrive in the modern world. However, several structural challenges shape their TV industries including less access to talent, fewer capital resources, higher production costs, and a smaller market for advertising and license fee revenue. The network directly addresses these imperatives by drawing together academic experts and key stakeholders in the television industry, and enabling them to identify the necessary conditions for sustained success in both cultural and commercial terms.

We will facilitate exchange of best practice between small nations. Recognising that the recipes for success are diverse, the academic expertise will be drawn from the fields of broadcasting policy, digital economy, drama, minority-language media, and television studies. The active participation of international broadcasters and industry (TG4, S4C, RTS, EBU) is vital to the network and its objectives. Workshops will identify the necessary conditions for TV from small nations to thrive; provide evidence of success that supports cultural, linguistic and economic sustainability; establish case studies of good practice for overcoming these barriers (to be disseminated via a public project website); and produce an agenda for further research and collaboration. The network will deepen academic understanding by sharing network findings at conferences and through publishing original research based on what we learn through comparative exchange. The network's legacy will also include a training package and workshops for junior researchers addressing methodological aspects of researching TV in small nations.

This international network of academic and industry partners will meet at 3 thematic workshops:

Workshop 1 University of South Wales: Internationalisation: challenges and opportunities for small nations
Workshop 2 S4C: Digital Innovation: recipes for cultural and commercial success
Workshop 3 Aarhus University: Sustaining Talent in small nations

This network offers a unique space for comparative analysis and exchange between TV scholars, producers, broadcasters and intermediaries in small nations. It will provide both for the identification of those opportunities and problems that are specific to television in small nations, and for insights into how best these challenges have been exploited for cultural and commercial success. It will address the gap in academic research on television in small nations and establish an agenda for future collaborative research and publications in the field. The Centre for Media and Culture in Small Nations has substantial multidisciplinary expertise in the field, evident in works such as Steve Blandford (ed) Theatre and Performance in Small Nations (Intellect, 2013) and Richard Hand & Mary Traynor (ed) Radio in Small Nations (UWP, 2012). It has a proven track-record of collaboration with arts and industry partners including BBC and National Theatre Wales. McElroy (co-director of the Centre), will lead the network, working closely with Dr Anne-Marit Waade and her team at Aarhus University (Denmark), to deliver an international analysis of the recipes for commercial and cultural success.

The network is geared towards supporting exchanges across national and disciplinary borders in order better to understand how television in small nations can build its economic capacity (e.g. via international exports of drama) whilst also maintaining vital cultural and linguistic commitments to the audiences it serves (e.g. via enhancing digital content, subtitling and multiplatform delivery)

Planned Impact

This network aims to make an impact in several domains by collaborating with non-HE partners and participants who will be beneficiaries:

1. Television industry partners and participants will be direct beneficiaries. Participation in the network will allow them to engage directly with academic expertise across a variety of disciplines and to hear first-hand about best practice from their counterparts in other small nations. Through development of case studies, industry partners will share evidence of what works in making television from small nations successful, culturally and commercially. Written in an accessible style, case studies will allow for critical self-reflection and evidence of how TV's creative output has been valued by scholars and audiences in domestic and international settings. Through critical comparative dialogue, partners will gain new understandings that will inform their future creative practice and commercial strategies.
2. Policy makers and other cultural stakeholders will benefit from the network's focus on facilitating informed, international discussion and the identification of international strategies for best practice in TV production in small nations. Independence referenda in Scotland and Catalonia have put the issue of nationhood and its cultural representation firmly back on the agenda for policy makers. The TV industry addresses both cultural and economic agendas. How this industry might reconfigure itself for a changing cultural and political context is a question of great civic importance, although one that has not yet been adequately answered.
3. Television audiences are the ultimate beneficiaries of a more sustainable TV production ecology. Being able to access high-quality content in both majority and minority-languages sustains cultural vitality in small nations and ensures meaningful public service broadcasting.

Industry partners provide routes to 3 types of impact beyond the network:

Cultural and linguistic impact

A vital way that TV producers in small nations make a cultural and linguistic impact is through their diversity of content and stories told by them. For audiences, it is precisely this content that can enrich our lives, our imaginations, and our understandings of one another both at home and abroad. The export of crime dramas from Scandinavia and Wales testifies to audiences' appetites for different voices, landscapes and imaginative horizons. Cultural and linguistic impact will be achieved by delivering improved awareness of best practice and identifying and sharing the different strategies that have been used successfully by TV producers in small nations, including those adopted by minority language media. These informed exchanges will help secure a viable future for such diversity and quality in a changing TV ecology.

Economic impact

Achieving commercial success is vital to ensuring the sustainability of production in small nations. We aim to achieve economic impact by identifying digital innovation and skills strategies that help small nations build domestic and international markets. By making best practice the focus of our workshops, strategies for success will be shared across national borders and further collaborative possibilities identified.

Policy impact

Television brings audiences together, legitimates the public value of minority-languages as modes of modern communication, and helps deliver a democratic public sphere to small nations, including those undergoing processes of devolution. We aim to impact policy-makers by offering them an evidence-base of international best practice, a clear sense of the main barriers to success, and strategies for overcoming them. We will address policy concerns to support a highly-skilled creative industries workforce by examining how collaboration between small nations can enhance talent development and how strategies for managing skills can retain precious human resources within small nations.


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McElroy R (2018) Small is beautiful? The salience of scale and power to three European cultures of TV production in Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies

Description Main challenges identified for producers of TV content in small nations include:1) securing a sustainable talent pipeline, 2) accessing international markets both to leverage co-production and distribution deals, 3) developing infrastructure and capability within organisations especially PSBs to develop and market content and enhance audience engagement online across platforms.
Exploitation Route Again this is difficult to answer meaningfully or in detail at this stage. We anticipate findings will enhance academic understanding of television in small nations both in terms of changing aspects of the export and production of content and in terms of the cultural and linguistic role of television content including but not limited to programmes.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Insights and partnerships developed in this network fed in directly to Clwstwr Creadigol as an overall R&D cluster projects focussing on innovation in the screen sector in Cardiff City Region. Insights gathered have informed collaborations as part of the AHRC-funded Clwstwr Creadigol project. Insights gathered from this network have helped support submission to DCMS' Review of S4C submitted autumn 2017. Further impact is being generated through the network (see e.g. collaborations and use of facilities) via informing TV industry and policy professionals of best practice and research across European small nations which in turn may enrich participants own professional practice. However as this is a research network award that had only been established since August 2016 the full detail of the impact is difficult to capture at this early stage.
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Informing media policy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Improved understanding gained through international exchange within the AHRC funded research network in 2015-6 has enhanced ongoing evidence on media policy in Wales. partnership with the IWA's Media Policy Group, has supported a programme of expert evidence being delivered to Westminster and National Assembly Wales. Ongoing informal partnership with the EBU has also enhanced this evidence and impact on the thinking and understanding of policy makers faced with new digital media landscapes.Dr Ruth McElroy provided expert oral and written evidence to the parliamentary Welsh Affairs Committee's Inquiry into Broadcasting in Wales (1 February 2016). the inquiry took place alongside major reviews notably of the BBC's Charter Renewal, of the BBC Trust, and an inquiry at the Welsh Assembly on the media in Wales to which Dr McElroy also gave oral evidence in November 2015. Dr McElroy submitted written evidence on UK-wide consultation on Contestable Funding (February 2017) and gave evidence to the National Assembly of Wales' Culture, Welsh language and communications committee in their inquiry into S4C (March 8 2017). Dr Noonan, a key partner in the original network, also submitted evidence on Contestable Funding and to Lord Puttnam's 2016 Inquiry into the future of the BBC.
Description Clwstwr Creadigol: Research and Development for a high performing creative cluster in Wales
Amount £5,385,951 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S002790/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 04/2023
Description Screen Agencies as Cultural Intermediaries:Negotiating and Shaping Cultural Policy for the Film and TV Industries within Selected Small Nations
Amount £179,950 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R005591/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 06/2020
Description Collaboration with Royal Television Society Wales 
Organisation Royal Television Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The network research team worked with representatives of the Royal Television Society Wales to mount a public event disseminating knowledge exchange and dialogue between TV scholars and professionals in the TV industry with a specific focus on sharing expertise between the UK and Scandinavia on the internationalization of TV drama. Dramas under discussion included S4C's Welsh-language Y Gwyll and the English-language version of this drama transmitted by BBC and exported to numerous broadcasters internationally known as Hinterland. Questions of cultural and linguistic value, public service broadcasting policy, and the relationship between cultural/national identities on the one hand and the increasing internationalization of high-end TV drama production on the other were the main areas of expert academic input. The network PI and CI (Dr Ruth McElroy, USW and Dr Anne Marit Waade, Aarhus University) lead the academic input to the collaboration.
Collaborator Contribution Royal Television Society Wales has a reputation for bringing people together to debate and explore topical issues which are particularly relevant to television in Wales. It is committed to professional development, and is keen to explore ways of raising standards through its activities. RTS Wales sponsored the event and helped with its organization and marketing to industry stakeholders. The event included screenings form recent TV dramas and presentations for producers. In addition, a representative joined the network's advisory group to input on current areas of concern amongst stakeholders (including around broadcasting policy) aligned to the thematic focus of the research team's series of workshops as part of the AHRC funded network on TV in Small Nations.
Impact An outcome of the event is an increased understanding for scholars and industry professionals of the challenges and opportunities of exporting TV drama made in small nations. The exchange established here has also continued through to workshops (e.g. Digital Innovation in TV in Small Nations held March 2016 at S4C's offices, Cardiff) within the network via the active participation and input of RTS staff.
Start Year 2015