Measuring Content Diversity in a Multi-Platform Context

Katherine Champion


Media diversity, or the heterogeneity of media content, is considered a central pillar of a democratic society, but it has seldom been studied in a systematic way. Concerns about the relationship between media concentration and the abuse of power through the over-representation of particular views have been a longstanding focus for debate within communication studies. Logically, highly concentrated media ownership patterns correlate with a more limited range of media sources, implying a less pluralistic system. Recent technological developments and digital innovations have added to the complexity of researching plurality. Meanwhile, media organizations have embarked on new forms of corporate expansion, leading to disagreement amongst commentators over the impact of these changes on the ownership patterns of media content providers. For some political economists, this has heralded a discontinuity and a departure from capitalism, but, for many, new media has deepened and extended the commodification of audiences. The existence of multiple owners, in any case, may not be sufficient to ensure plurality; studies of media diversity should also review the content of the outputs themselves. Despite the fact that many television companies and print publishers have transformed themselves into multi-platform suppliers of content, little is known about the impact of these strategies on the diversity of media content. This article is based on initial findings from a study of media content being undertaken as part of a three year Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded project ‘Multi-platform media and the digital challenge’. This project has sampled, coded and analyzed the composition of content bundles from a selection of key media organizations drawn from broadcasting, newspaper, and magazine publishing industries, including the BBC, STV, MTV, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, Elle UK, T3 and NME. To this end, the first two of three phases of content analysis have been employed. This work confirms volumes of content have increased across the sample, but also finds evidence for the recycling and re-purposing of content and for the concentration on particular programmes or stories. Finally, the article argues for the systematic examination of media content outputs and for the development of new ways to measure media content diversity across platform and sector.

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