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A Case Study of Commercial Television in India:


Assessing the Organizational Mechanisms of Cultural
Imperialism
Robbin D. Crabtree & Sheena Malhotra
Published online: 07 Jun 2010.

To cite this article: Robbin D. Crabtree & Sheena Malhotra (2000) A Case Study of Commercial Television in India: Assessing
the Organizational Mechanisms of Cultural Imperialism, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44:3, 364-385, DOI:
10.1207/s15506878jobem4403_3
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A Case Studv of Commercial Television


in India: Aseessing the Organizational
Mechanisms of Cultural Imperialism
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Robbin D. Crabtree and Sheena Malhotra


This study of Indian commercial television assesses the applicability of the
Cultural Imperialism (Cl) framework as illustrated by one new network.
Factors precipitating commercial television in India during the mid- to
late- 7 990s are discussed, foregrounding the experiences of Business India
Wpersonnel in the analysis. The CI framework alone does not explain all
aspects of the current Indian television scene, though it remains an
important analytical lens for understanding global communication flows
and effects.
Some might call it a satellite invasion. Others might conceptualize it as a
groundswell. Either way, the commercialization of television in India is reality. The
process through which entrepreneurs-on the ground and in the air-have created
and capitalized on this trend is a remarkable story. The events associated illustrate a
global trend in the commercialization of mass media and of cultures. While debated
from many perspectives, the majority of scholarship about international communication and the effects of media across cultures operates at either the macro-structural
level or at the individuaVaudience level. We present this case study as an opportunity
to examine the processes of media and cultural imperialism (CI) at the organizational
level.
It has become increasingly clear that world media relations have changed since the
1970s when the topic came to international prominence. Straubhaar (1991) asserted
that while the United States still dominates world media sales and flows, national

Robbin D.Crabfree. (Ph.D, University of Minnesota, 1992)is Associate Professor of Communication Studies
at New Mexico State University where she teaches courses in International, Intercultural, and Development
Communication. Her research concerns the intersecfions of communication, culture, and change, particularly in revolutionary and developing countries.
Sheena Malhotra (Ph.D., University of New Mexico, 1999) is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at
Regis University in Denver where she teaches courses in media production and criticism. She has worked
extensively in the lndian fi/m and television industries. Her research focuses on lndian media, gender, and
feminist criticism.
Preliminary reports of this research have been presentedat annual meetings of the lnfernational Communication Association ( I 995, 1996), Western States Communication Association ( I 996), and (then) Speech
Communication Association (1 995). This research was partially funded by the College of Arts and Sciences of
New Mexico Stare University and the Department of Communicationandlournalism at the University of New
Mexico.
8 2000 Broadcast Education Association

Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 44(3), 2000, pp. 364-385

364

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Crabtree and MalhotrdCOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA 365

and regional cultural industries are consolidating a relatively more interdependent


position in the world television market" (p. 56). We position this article adjacent to
Straubhaar's work on Brazilian television, as it may evidence his notions of
asymmetrical interdependence and cultural proximity, though we continue to agree
with Schiller (1 991) that this is "not yet the post-imperialist era" (p.13). As this case
study illustrates, "local media forms may be implicated in cultural imperialism
through their roots in the Western cultural industries"(Goodwin & Gore, 1990, p. 69).
In this essay we seek to (1) relay the experiences of Indian broadcasters who are
developing a new commercial television industry in India; (2) point out some of the
antecedent influences-social, political, economic, and technological forceswhich have precipitated this moment; (3) provide some initial insights into the
possible cultural implications of commercial television in India; and (4) position this
case study within the theoretical and empirical traditions of medidcultural imperialism, ascertaining the adequacy of this paradigm to the case of India.

Media and Cultural Imperialism


Media and cultural imperialism have been used to describe a modern manifestation of colonial and imperial relationships, whereby peripheral countries are turned
into markets for the cultural products of dominant nations (Schiller, 1976,1991 1. This,
in turn, produces a market for the manufactured goods and cultural products of those
exporting nations, as well as the accompanying beliefs, values, and ideologies.
Cultural imperialism has been conceptualized variously as a strategy on the part of
dominant countries, a local policy on the part of receiving countries, and an effect on
the people and practices in the latter (Lee, 1979). Dominant nations have clear
strategies concerning the export of cultural products. The profit margin of most
Hollywood films (and increasingly television programming, as well), depends on the
foreign market Uowett & Linton, 1989; Wasko, 1982). Affected nations have policies
whereby they adopt foreign technology, and with it the corresponding software or
programming. These policies primarily benefit the elite (Roach, 1997; Schiller, 1991).
Although not easy to measure, cultural imperialism i s also an effect. While the degree
of demonstrated effect on audiences may be small or indirect (Morgan & Shanahan,
1997; Elasrnar & Hunter, 1997), it has been hypothesized that affected countries
absorb values, working styles, consumption patterns, and so on, from the exporting
nations (e.g., Beltrdn, 1978). What is most insidious about this process is that it tends
to be unilateral. Dominant countries disseminate news, information, and entertainment, while affected nations receive and absorb it without a balancing two-way flow
(e.& Nordenstreng & Varis, 1974).
Globally, there are a small number of "source" countries with the ownership of
local media organizations in the hands of, or operating in the interest of, multinational corporations. Even when media organizations are locally or nationally owned,
the formal managerial control can be foreign or, with similar outcomes, controlled by

366 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MediaISummer 2000

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national elites with strong foreign interests (Schiller, 1991). While some nations, like
India, have a substantial media production infrastructure, a portion of programming
may still be imported from extra-national sources. Also imported are the conceptual
models of media scheduling (24-hour), formatting (news-entertainment-information),
genre (sit-corn, drama, etc.), and production techniques (slick and high-budget
production values). Not surprisingly, professional ideologies (objectivism, commercialism) accompany the programming and technology (e.g., Beltrdn, 1978; Varis,
1984). More recently, the conceptualization of cultural imperialism has been
expanded to include a milieu of other cultural enterprises such as theme parks,
shopping malls, fast food dining, and professional sports (e.g., Schiller, 1991).
The actual effects of (primarily) Western media content on (primarily) "Third
Wor1d"audiences has been of interest to scholars and policy-makersfor almost half a
century. It was the centerpiece of discussions in UNESCO in the 1970s (Masmoudi,
1979; McBride, 1984). While media and cultural imperialism have been conceptualized in great detail, and dozens of critical articles have been written on the topic, few
studies have examined the degree to which the hypothesized effects are actually
occurring, or detailing the specific individual and social processes through which
such effects occur. The existing body of research on transcultural media effects on
audiences has been inconclusive and often contradictory (e.g., Granzberg, 1982;
Kang & Morgan, 1988; Liebes & Katz, 1990; Pingree & Hawkins, 1981; Salwen,
1991). Much of it has focused narrowly on educational and development project
outcomes, especially in India (e.g., Agrawal & Rai, 1988; Rao, 1969; Shingi & Mody,
1976). Nevertheless, while much of this research suggests that "reductive theories
which conflate economics and meaning, ownership and ideology, are outdated and
invalid" (Goodwin & Gore, 1990, p. 78), they do not fundamentally undermine the
cultural imperialism thesis that there is gross imbalance which has cultural,
economic, and political consequences.
Media and cultural imperialism are problematic concepts for social scientific
research, because they have been difficult to prove or disprove. Critical scholars
generally describe media or cultural imperialism using a simple cause-effect model,
focusing on the relationships between the United States' global media presence and
its perceived influence on less powerful nations and cultures (Elliot, 1993; Salwen,
1991). This is ironic because research on media effects within the U.S. has long since
abandoned the "magic bullet" or "hypodermic needle" mechanistic effects model.
Salwen (1991) argues that much of the critical scholarship has been ideological
rather than empirical, though he cites several persuasive studies which have worked
at the macro-societal level (e.g., Varis, 1974, on international news flows), and
concedes that dependency theory was particularly well-suited to early explanations
of the Latin American media landscape (e.g., Cardoso & Faleto, 1979). Like Salwen,
Burrowes (1992) faults cultural imperialism theorists for failing to adequately
examine the "Third World" audiences they vociferously defend, who instead present
them as "passive, uncritical recipients of culture" (p. 7).

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Crabtree and MalhotrdCOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA 367

There is a growing body of research which suggests audiences make active choices
in their viewing behavior (e.g., Brown, 1994; Fiske, 1986), and that, when given the
choice, audiences prefer national or regional programming over international
programming (eg, Straubhaar, 1991; also see Roach, 1997; Tomlinson, 1991). This
argument is particularly relevant to India, a nation that has one of the most prolific
media production infrastructures in the world. Indian audiences have greater
selection of regional and national programming than do audiences in most developing countries. Our research suggests that, while Indian audiences are presumed (by
researchers, marketers, and programming executives alike) to prefer Indian or Asian
programs, those programs are increasingly reminiscent of Western ones. The process
whereby national television organizations can be pressured (Schiller, 1976) into
correspondencewith Western values, lifestyles, and production norms is illuminated
in our analysis. While our critique of cultural imperialism is less passionatethan those
by the activehesistantaudience theorists, this study works in the gap they identify by
examining the organizational and programming decisions of a new Indian commercial television network, analyzing these processes and outcomes in relationship to the
cultural imperialism debate. Whereas a meta-analysis of quantitative studies reveals
negligible to small transborder media effects (Elasmar & Hunter, 1997), and critical
studies posit tremendous effects (though no similar meta-analysis is available for
comparison), our study works in the methodological gap of previous research. Case
study research like this reveals some insidious and subtle intra-organizational
mechanisms of cultural imperialism, which may not be measurable in audiences per
se. It is important to reiterate that cultural imperialism does not concern effects on
individuals or audience collectives alone; rather, it posits a multi-level socio-cultural
impact.
Even though there is an ongoing national debate on its merits, Westernization is
almost taken for granted in India these days. Nevertheless, the processes whereby
foreign values emerge in a nations culture are complex. Specifically, through the
transfer of technology and professionalism, the presence of multinational advertising
and the development of consumer culture, imbalances in news and information
flows, and the import and influence of foreign programming, the observable effects of
media and cultural imperialism are in evidence in India. Gigantic billboards for Nike
loom above Bombay streets, middle-class youth clamor for Kentucky Fried Chicken
in Bangalore, Donahue appears on television in New Delhi, and there is a rise in
eating disorders among Indian women (also see Frith, 1988). Our research program
has attempted to understand several of these processes (e.g., Crabtree, 1995;
Malhotra, 1993; Malhotra & Crabtree, 1994; Malhotra, Lowry, & Shaker, 1994). This
essay foregrounds organizational processes rather than macro-societal relationships
or individual audience effects. This study also presents signs that the Indian
broadcasting systems, audiences, and larger culture attempt to resist some of the
so-called negative effects of media and cultural imperialism.

368 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MedidSummer 2000

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Method
Case study research examines phenomena within a real-life context, recognizes
that the boundaries between the phenomenon and its context are not always clear,
and encourages the use of multiple sources of evidence (Yin, 1984). The use of a
variety of sources allows the research to maximize the strengths and minimize the
weaknesses of each (Lindlof, 1995). The specific research techniques employed
during this investigation include: (1 ) interviews with business India Television (BiTV)
personnel, (2) observations of several departments and practices within Bin/ (the
organization) and TVI (the network name, a-la ABC, CBS, etc.), (3) monitoring of
proposed and actual programming for TVI and, (4) analysis of organizational
documents.
A prominent concern about case study research is that it provides little basis for
generalization. Using only one case study i s a limitation we acknowledge. As
Straubhaar's (1991) work demonstrates, two or more cases used comparatively can
build more persuasive evidence for stronger arguments. However, the time needed to
conduct a case study makes comparative work relatively rare (for a noteworthy
exception, see Browne, 1989). Case study research is, however, generalizable to
theoretical propositions.
A brief discussion of the 11 interviewee5 is warranted (in alphabetical order). Ashok
Advani (m/49), whose family has been in publishing for generations, i s the Chairman
of the Board of the Business India Publishing Group and Vice Chairman of Bin/.
Pheroza Bilimoria (f/44) i s the Marketing Director of the Business India Group (where
she has been for 17 years) which includes BiTV. Ritu Godika (f/24) is the Deputy
Advertising Manager of Bin/. Monica Kapila (Wlate OS), who has a masters degree in
Industrial Relations and Management from the London School of Economics, is a
consultant in Marketing Research and International Sales for BiTV. Shekar Kapur
(m/50), a world-famous director and filmmaker (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth), is a
member of BiTV's board of directors, as well as being in charge of the entertainment
channel. llham Khan (f/25) is a Programme Executive for BiTV's entertainment
division. Angana Nanavaty (f/24), who received her B.A. in Communication at the
Annenberg School at The University of Pennsylvania, is BiTV Communications
Manager. Anjum Rajabali (m/37) has a background in Freudian psychology and
economics and serves as an executive producer for BiTV, which means he develops,
selects, and oversees programs. Reagan Ramsey (dearly 40s) i s a consultant with
Frank Magid Associates, the U.S.-based consulting firm that has been working in
India since 1994. Anike Ranat "Badshah" Sen (m/46) is the Head of BiTV's
NewdCurrent Affairs Channel. He has a B.A. in history, a master's degree in
economics, and has worked in newspaper and broadcast journalism since 1973,
including 2 years as the Resident Editor of the New Delhi edition of The Times of
India. Malavika Singh (Wearly OS), who has a background in theater and whose father
had a case in the Supreme Court regarding the government monopoly of broadcasting, is the Chair and co-Founder (along with Advani and Bilimoria) of BiTV. These

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Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIALTELEVISION IN INDIA 369

individuals are typical of the gender, age, and educational background of BiTV
personnel generally (not including clerical and technical staff), and represent both the
business and creative sides of the organization, as well as several administrative
levels of the organization. Sheena Malhotra, the second author of this essay, was a
Program Executive at BiTV from 1994 until mid-1996.
Relying primarily on interview transcripts, we use the perspectivesand experiences
of BiTV personnel to describe how and why satellite television emerged in India (also
see Crabtree & Malhotra, 1996). These accounts impart the genesis and evolution of
one commercial television network, BiTV/TVI, and the rationale behind the programming choices it has made. The additional sources of data corroborate and/or
challenge the account of those interviewed. We also utilize relevant literature to
explicate our findings. In our analysis, we consider the theoretical implications of one
emergent Indian commercial television network in order to generalize from the case
study to the conceptual and empirical concerns of cultural imperialism. Conclusions
are drawn regarding both the adequacies and inadequacies of the CI paradigm for the
case of commercial television in India.

The Genesis of Commercial Television: A Satellite Invasion?


It was the introduction and increased use of color television by lndira Chandi in the
mid-1 980s that Pheroza Bilimoria, Marketing Director of Business Indian Television,
credits with whetting the appetites of Indians for better television software. At that
point, as much as 80% of the Indian population had access to television, but the
state-controlled Doordarshan (DD) network was the only viewing option. Then,
during the Gulf War when the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay put a satellite dish on its
roof to catch CNN's signal, the satellite invasion of India began (also see Contractor,
Singhal, & Rogers, 1988). According to BiTV Chairwoman Malavika Singh, this was
also the first time would-be Indian broadcasters had hope, saying, "Regulation has
been defeated by technology."
Then, in 1991, Satellite Television for the Asian Region (hereafter STAR-TV) was
established in Hong Kong. It started as a five-channel network carrying the BBC and
MW (later renamed Channel V) in addition to a Chinese channel, entertainment
channel, and a sports channel. This represented a sudden influx of Western
programming into India, particularly to the urban areas where it i s most easily
available (Malhotra, 1993). In response, Indians challenged the government's
monopoly of broadcasting without waiting for the courts to rule. BiTV co-founder,
Ashok Advani, was one of the pioneers of commercial television in India:
We told the InformationBroadcastingMinistry, "for Gods sake, don't you understand
that the Chinese government is determining what your people watch?"It was ironic
that everyone could shower down their signals and the government has no control,
which i s a good thing. But on the other hand, they prohibit Indians from sending up

signals.
Until 1995, Indian law prohibited non-governmental uplinking to Indian satellites.

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370 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic Medidsummer 2000

While the Indian government had moved quickly to put up satellites, they monopolized their use for governmental entities. A ruling by the Supreme Court has
overturned the monopoly (Aganval, 1995), although Indian broadcasters did not
begin uplinking from India until months later (most channels now buy uplink time
from the government facility).
The use of satellite technology in Indian broadcasting has facilitated an increasing
battle for advertising revenue in India and, with this competition, an increasing
reliance on aggressive American-style marketing methods, thus exacerbating a
situation which began earlier (Kumar, 1989). Even casual observation of Indian mass
media (particularly television and billboards), makes obvious the growing presence
and influence of Western products and marketing. Many of our interviewees take a
technological-determinist perspective, that technology itself was the determining
influence on why and how commercial television is evolving in India. However, Bin/
Executive Producer Anjum Rajabali cites additional factors that influenced the
emergence of commercial television in India at this time. Articulating the links
between technological and marketforces, Rajabali refers to a drastic change in Indian
economic policy over the past several years:
What is ordinarily called "globalization" has become one of the driving key words of
the Indian middle class. Therefore, the slickly-presented Hollywood fare, or foreign
films and television programs, are craved by the middle classes.

A liberalizing of the economy has put fewer restrictions on multinational corporations. Concurrently, a growing middle class seems to be striving to break out of
traditional frameworks, while also manifesting an increasing consumerist mentality
(see Roy & Shekar, 1995). This resonates with recent focus group research we
conducted with middle-class Indian youth, who claimed that preference for Indian
folk forms, such as Hindi films or Karnatic music, was "uncool" when compared to
the latest American movies and pop music (Malhotra & Crabtree, 1994).

The Groundswell in Ground Distribution


While external satellite services seemed to be proliferating over Asian skies,
small-time cable operators were developing an extensive ground distribution
network. In many ways, satellite television simply expanded an already prolific video
market facilitated by local videokable networks. The influence of videocassette
recorders in India has been well-documented (Boyd, 1988; Boyd & Straubhaar,
1985). Video channels played rented movies and various series from private video
libraries in basement control rooms and with "cable" running to the apartments of
"subscribers." While forming cable networks was not illegal, many of the programs
shown were pirated copies of foreign programming. Then, before commercial
television operations were initiated in India, local entrepreneurs found they could
purchase a small satellite dish and charge their neighbors for additional hook-ups.
They would catch the signals of CNN and STAR-TV and charge a small fee, 100-150

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Crabtree and MalhotrdCOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA

371

rupees (about $3-5 U.S.) per month, for providing access. These cable networks grew
naturally out of the already-established video networks. Over time, these cable
networks multiplied until most major cities and many villages were wired to receive
satellite television. While there i s no formal government regulation of these cable
operations, each operator must now register with the state and pay a 40%
entertainment tax on receipts. Several interviewees speculated that most of them
under-report the number of their subscribers by as much as half in order to mitigate
the effect of the tax.
While satellite technology may have been the overriding impetus for commercial
television to emerge at this time in India, we cannot ignore the significance of local
videolcable operators in facilitating its viability and growth. And while we may
become more aware of the presence of Western programming in India as a result of
satellitdcommercial broadcasting, we cannot forget that it was the diffusion of the
videocassette recorder, years earlier, which inaugurated this presence in earnest
(Boyd & Straubhaar, 1985). Additionally, it seems clear that evolving economic and
social trends converged with the technological factors.
At present, there are between 30 and 45 channels in India (depending on the
location and individual cable distribution network). The selection includes the
different regional channels launched by the government network Doordarshan, or
DD, in addition to Western channels, such as CNN, the STAR network, Discovery,
ABN, MTV, NBC, and ESPN all of which began broadcasting in India since 1991.
However, it is the private, Indian commercial television networks that represent the
phenomenal boom this industry has experienced. For example, ZEE was the first
private Indian network and was started in 1992 with an original entertainment
channel and a pay-per-view movie channel. SONY, a general entertainment channel,
was launched in October, 1995, and has proven to be ZEE's closest competitor. There
are also several city-specific and regional language channels. This remains a
constantly shifting constellation, as new channels are announced and other channels
go off the air on almost a monthly basis.
Business India Television, launched on July 2, 1995, with a combined news and
entertainment channel ("Bin/ launched after," 1995; "GE American, BiTV," 1995).
The original intention was to split into 2 channels, TVI News and TVl Prime
(entertainment)in 1996, though this never happened. The idea behind the network
was to provide quality Indian entertainment programming (compared to the cheaper,
film-based programs which were the mainstay of the other commercial channels at
the time), and independent news from an Indian perspective (in contrast to state-run
DD or foreign BBC and CNN). The entire South Asian region is the target audience for
this programming. STAR, ZEE, and SONY are BiTV's primary competition in the
entertainment niche (E Times, 1995). The story of BiTV illustrates the pressures on
new Indian broadcasters, which can be understood, in part, by the cultural
imperialism framework.

372 Journalof Broadcasting& Electronic MedidSummer 2000

Business India: The First Commercial Television Network


and Independent News

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Early in 1993, a small group of people associated with the Business India Group,
one of the most reputable publishing houses in India, decided to enter television
(King, 1994). Rather than being just a software house, B i W Chairperson Malavika
Singh explains why they wanted to set up the first independent television network in
India:
The idea was to pattern a channel very much like the channels are patterned in the
West. So we decided wed start with a news and current affairs channel, pretty much
like BBC was, as well as an entertainment channel.

The lure of commercial broadcasting was more than just economic, according to
several of those we interviewed. For the founders of BiW, having an independent
television news operation was a natural and necessary eventuality of a free press
system. Ashok Advani explains:
The number of newspapers we have rivals the number anywhere else in the world. In
every remote part of the country we have a weekly, a monthly, or a daily, with all
shades of public opinion reflected.. . Against that background, you look at the
electronic media and you suddenly find there is no free electronic media in India.

At the top of the BiTV organizational structure i s the board of directors. The
network i s divided into news (located in New Delhi) and entertainment (located in
Bombay) divisions. In the news division, a series of producers manage a variety of
current affairs programs. Several interns from Indian universities also work in news.
Renowned Indian film director, Shekar Kapur, was the ostensible head of entertainment, sharing his small Bombay offices with the BiTV programming staff. A head of
programming was hired (away from one of the other commercial channels) after 6 i N
began production. Most of the programming executives work in a cooperative
environment, sharing ideas and troubleshooting programming problems at weekly
meetings and daily bull sessions. This non-bureaucratic decision making structure
sets Bin/ apart from the other channels, but it also tends to be chaotic, lacking the
quality control of a monolithic commissioning authority. The business ofices of Bin/
are also in Bombay, adjacent to the Business India Publishing Group offices. The
marketing division generates weekly marketing reports, including research on the
viewing habits and patterns in India, and focus groups on program pilots.
Business India Television expects to earn its prominence based on its programming.
Adjectives used by BiTV programmers to describe the new programming are:
intelligent, innovative, imaginative, ground breaking, touching, classy, energetic,
young, wacky, bright, and independent. However, some of those working at Bin/ see
little difference between their own new programming and that available on ZEE or
D D Metro. The critics and industry insiders were initially impressed; several Bin/

Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIALTELEVISION IN INDIA 373

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programs were nominated for the Indian equivalent of the Emmy during their first
year.
Unlike commercial television services in many developing countries, Bin/
expected to have only a small percentage of imported programming. Local production is approximately five times more expensive than importing other programs, and it
was the original position of the network to emphasize Indian programming. Like
many of the interviewees, Malavika Singh believes that Indian programs will be
preferred by Indian audiences:
Do they want to see Indian programming, or do they want to see "The Bold and the
Beautiful" [available on STAR]?I'm willing to wager a bet that people aren't going to
watch that if they can see a show about what happens inside a joint family [in-laws
sharing a residence, a common practice in India]. All this alien influence i s not
somethingthat people necessarily identify with.

The means by which Western stories (and production norms) nevertheless work their
way into new Indian programs will be discussed further in the analysis.
As the first independent television news channel in India, TVI expected to give
news a primacy that i s unprecedented even on Doordarshan. However, BiTV/TVI has
faced substantial challenges in constructing a news organization. There i s no
reservoir of television news personnel in India. Mostly coming from print, personnel
have had to learn a new set of news values, as well as managing resources in a much
more expensive endeavor than print. Now that Bin/ is able to uplink its news
programs from Delhi, the expense has multiplied.
Head of News and Current Affairs, "Badshah"Sen believes that television news can
have a significant impact in a country where most people do not read the newspaper
(due to high illiteracy rates). Catering to this audience will be challenging, because
the staff has experience communicating to an educated audience (the literate, urban
readership of major metropolitan dailies), and because the impact of independent
(from government) news is unknown. The news pilots we viewed had the look and
feel of CNN's international news, but with a distinctly local, regional, and subcontinental focus.
Particularly as related to the transfer of professionalism, the role of foreign
consultants i s a key aspect of cultural imperialism that must be addressed. Frank
Magid and Associates, one of the most ubiquitous consultant groups in world
broadcasting, worked with BiTV for over two years. The personnel of Bin/ have
diverse views on the value and contributions of Magid consultants. The board
members tend to praise them, whereas entertainment programming staff tend to
criticize them. The BiTV personnel report that this i s the first time foreign consultants
have worked in Indian broadcasting.
At the time of this writing, BiTV faces a significant financial crisis that has been
intensifying for close to four years. The "combined channel" that was launched in
1995 carried both entertainment and news. Detailed negotiations with foreign
networks to buy into BiTV attempted to secure the cash flow neededto "re-1aunch"as

374 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MedidSummer 2000

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a two-channel network, as originally intended. At this time, however, it is barely


managing to survive in the midst of all the competing channels and has even
considered selling off its interest in the cablddistribution networks. While Bin/ is the
first homegrown, independent satellite television network-dedicated exclusively to
the people of the Indian sub-continent (Business Indian Television InternationalLtd.,
n.d.), B i l l remains a work in progress. The genesis and evolution of Bill-its
innovations, shortcomings, and crises-are illustrative of a dynamic and evolving
new industry in India.

Cultural Imperialism and Commercial Television in India


In order to analyze the genesis and evolution of commercial television in India
within the discursive framework of cultural imperialism, we have chosen five
mechanisms of cultural imperialism: the transfer of technology, the transfer of
professionalism, imbalances in news and information flows, the import and influence
of foreign programming, and the presence of multinational advertising (for alternative
frameworks, see Boyd-Barrett, 1977). Our analysis suggests there is a complex array
of factors operating within these categories and an interplay among national,
regional, and international forces.

Transfer of Technology
Indian broadcasters attribute the birth of commercial television in India to a
technologically-driven process. The presence of a new satellite dish on the Taj Mahal
Hotel was seen as the precipitating moment. This was concurrent to the launch of
STAR-TV. Of course, the ground distribution system, which preceded this moment by
at least 10 years (perhaps longer for Indian elites), i s the result of the interplay
between technology and grass roots entrepreneurship. Thus, we can see a tripartite
relationship between external forces (the novel presence of CNN, for example),
regional forces (Asian regional satellite broadcasting out of Hong Kong, but now
owned primarily by Rupert Murdoch), and local initiative (cable networks and Indian
broadcast hopefuls). While the presence of VCR technology has been of concern to
development communication scholars for over a decade, the move to commercial
television is likely to have a more devastating impact on the development communication efforts of the Indian government and international NGOs. It would be
reductionist to consider the transfer of technology as the primary vehicle of cultural
imperialism in India, but it is clear that specific technologies have had measurable
impact, both in positive and negative ways (also see Goodwin & Gore, 1990).
The Diffusion of Innovations approach to international communication study is an
alternative explanation for the satellite invasion and development of distribution
systems in India that must be considered, as well. While we did not study the patterns
of technological adoption in India, it is understandable that, as a developing nation,
India would be in the late majority (urban, middle-class) or laggard (rural, poor)

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Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA 375

positions in the S-curve of adoption described by Rogers (1995).Further, Rogers


reminds us that diffusion takes place within a social system, and the story of
commercial television in India reveals many of the social factors which precipitated
the diffusion of satellite and Western-style, commercial television at this particular
moment. We can see that factors such as the liberalization'of the Indian economy, the
novel presence of multinational corporations, and the growing middle class, as well
as external forces such as the Gulf War, are all factors that have facilitated the
diffusion process. Those interviewed identified and stressed the importance of these.
Future research should address the relevance of Rogers'diffusion model to the case of
India, with particular attention to the "communications effects gap"that will certainly
be visible (and exacerbated) in rural areas and among the poor.

Transfer of Professionalism
The transfer of Western modes of professionalism i s much in evidence in Indian
commercial television, but there are dialectics in the professional values of Indian
broadcasters. For instance, those interviewed avowed a distinctively Indian identity.
Their goals were to construct a television network that both reinforced and
perpetuated the same. Nevertheless, many of them were Western educated, either in
the United States or Great Britain (or both). This identity dialectic pervades the
decision-making processes of Indian broadcasters, who constantly evoke Western
ideas, organizations, and programs in their talk, while also resolving to create
"innovative" and distinctly Indian programming.
The second professional dialectic concerns the migration of Indian film and press
personnel into broadcasting versus the use of foreign (American) consultants. On the
one hand, many of the personnel at BiTV/lVl have years of experience in Indian print
media and/or the film industry. These individuals bring their own modes of work,
professional values, and programming ideas to the new commercial television
industry (the degree to which the press model in India has been shaped by British
colonialism is another story). On the other hand, consultants from Frank Magid &
Associates have had a powerful impact on the evolution of this new medium,
particularly in news.
Not surprisingly, the consultants themselves seem na'ive, though not completely
uncritical, of this influence. They seem to feel that only content can be imperialistic,
but that production values, news values, and managerial practices are simply
universal, as this excerpt from consultant Reagan Rarnsey indicates:
M y job is not to bring American television or British television to India. My job is to
help [them] make lV for India be the best TV for [their] society, and what [they] want
it to be. We know certain production techniques, we know certain presentation
techniques that work. We'll show [them] how to do those, and we'll certainly help
[them] avoid a lot of the learning curve.

Further, given the fact that local production is five times more expensive than
importing, the impetus to rely on imported programming i s not likely to wane.

376 Journalof Broadcasting& Electronic MedidSummer 2000

Locally-produced programs are forced to compete against imported ones, and the
motivation to mimic Western production values will persist.

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Imbalances in News and Information Flows


As others have pointed out (e.g., Schiller, 1991; Straubhaar, 1991), there still exists
a gross imbalance in information flows worldwide. In the case of present-day India,
however, we can see evidence of what Straubhaar (1991) calls asymmetrical
interdependence and cultural proximity. BiW's TVI is potentially the first independent television network in India. It stands in contrast to CNN, whi.ch has an
international, yet still distinctly American viewpoint, and to Doordarshan, which
remains the official voice of the Indian government. The presence of these three news
sources suggests a growing diversity in news and information in India. O f course, a
comparative critique of the journalistic values of these three news sources would
likely reveal little diversity. In terms of asymmetric interdependence, we can see that
commercial television is providing another vehicle for news that is produced in and
disseminatedfrom India, and which has an Indian (and South Asian) perspective. The
previously unmitigated dominance of Western news agencies is thus tempered.
Further, given the prominence of India in South Asia, and its ability to produce and
disseminate news in the region, the notion of cultural proximity can operate for other
countries in the region, which may choose Indian news over C N N or BBC. When a
developing nation is not merely an importer of news, information, and entertainment,
but becomes an exporter as well, there is a shift in the balance of global media flows.
As will be seen in the next section, however, the new Indian programming may be
reminiscent of Western programming through the processes of recombination and'
mimicry.

Import and Influence of Foreign Programming


One way foreign programming influences a nation i s through the imbalanced flow
of imports into the country versus the amount of reciprocal exporting. In India, this
occurs in two ways. First, foreign and international satellite services broadcast foreign
programming. Then, new Indian commercial television services also offer foreign
programming. BiTV imports roughly 30% of its programs from Britain (primarily), the
United States (through an agreement with American Fremantle International), and
Australia. Language is the most significant factor in these choices, but this does not
seem to illustrate Straubhaar's notion of cultural proximity since the old colonial
relationships are re-inscribed through the "official" language of the former British
colony. Cultural proximity would necessitate that nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal have similarly functional production infrastructures (political
tensions in the region notwithstanding). India's position in the region and its
production capacity do mean that those surrounding nations may have culturally
proxemic program choices.

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Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA

377

Despite BiTVs stated goals of having uniquely Indian programming for Indian
audiences, this ideal has been difficult to achieve. By contrast, ZEE and SONY have
very few Western programs, and most of those tend to appear outside of prime time.
As Strauljhaar (1991) and our interviewees have strongly asserted, imported programming has not been as successful as Indian programming. The television rating points
(TRPs) confirm that Indian audiences do indeed prefer Indian-made programs. For
example, the top 10 programs on DD 2 and ZEE routinely receive 20-45 TRPs,
whereas STAR-TV programs receive 3-5 TRPs (Marketing research, 1994, 1995).
These facts challenge the mechanistic model of cultural imperialism, supporting
instead Straubhaars notion of cultural proximity. However, the process whereby
Western programming seeps into Indian culture i s not a mechanistic one, as the
following discussion illustrates.
More insidious than imported or satellite-fed programming is the influence of
foreign programming on the domestic television production industries, as comments
made about BiTV programming meetings clearly indicate:
Every time you give an idea for a show, if hes undecided about it, [BiTV Vice-Chair]
Ashok says, is there a precedence in the West? Thats exactly how he asks-in plain .
terms, unabashedly. Because he feels thats what we should be doing. And he says,
can that just be dubbed into Hindi? Why do we need to go through the whole
experience of creating something else?(Rajabali)

The influences of Western programming need not be mechanistic and direct.


Discussion in production and programming meetings reveal a tendency to mimic
American series by merely substituting names and dialogue and making minor plot
adjustments. The following example of one proposed program illustrates how difficult
it is to create innovative and progressive programming that does not imitate Western
programming, especially if all personnel do not share a similar vision.
While Bin/ never had any formal policy about avoiding Western copies or sexist
programming, many among the programming personnel shared this vision informally.
Most of the programming decisions were left to the discretion of individual
programme executives. In February, 1995, BiTV head of programming felt the
network did not have enough skin or glamour and therefore helped conceive a
show based on ABCs 1970s hit Charlies Angles.The show was to have four girls,
wearing minimal clothing, and fighting crime while performing in a rock group as a
cover. According to the executive, this program would help to glamorize the network
as well as to create marketing and merchandisingopportunities (such as a sound track
recording).
Most of the programming staff were appalled at this suggestion and felt the
executive had sidestepped the commissioning procedure (of group discussion and
decision-making). When some colleagues brought their concerns to the Board, the
show was temporarily stopped. When presented again, with the argument that all
objections had been taken into consideration and all sexist connotations removed,
the show was commissioned without seeing a pilot. Ultimately, BiTVs financial

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378 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MedidSumrner2000

problems halted production, and the show was never made. Nevertheless, given the
rush for programming in India at this time, and the commissioning system that had
evolved, there were insufficient checks and balances and unclear policies in place
to keep (even a watered-down) copy of Charlies Angels from moving through the
pipeline. In such an atmosphere, and particularly given the commercial pressures on
the networks, it was difficult for the innovative and India-centric BiTV personnel
to keep their original vision.
As we can see from the experiences of Bin/ programming executives, the tendency
toward Western recombination (see Gitlin, 1983) is strong. A recombinant
discourse dominates many production and programming meetings, with the language of (particularly) American television genre, character, setting, and story line
shaping program conceptualization. Further, the presence of slickly-produced
Western programming serves as a standard-setting pressure for production values and
program styles of locally-produced programs. This may be of less concern in India
because of its production infrastructure, but it is evident that these pressures are
coming to bear on the new commercial television services.
Already the impact of commercial television in India can be seen on Doordarshan.
D D Metro bears marks of influence from STAR-TV and the commercial stations in its
slick new programming and attempts to appeal to a young, urban, middle-class
audience. Increasingly, DD i s commercially financed and has juggled its schedule
so frequently [to make room for new sponsored programs] that often the producers
themselves could barely keep track, (A slew of new, 1995, p. 3).
In its drive to compete in the new market-driven television sector, Doordarshan
signed a dgal to carry CNN as a 24-hour D D channel on which DD has a 2-hour slot
(24-hour CNN, 1995). This deal also afforded DD access to other programming
owned by Turner Incorporated. It will be interesting to follow Doordarshans
evolution in conjunction with the proliferation of its competition. Development
communication scholars should be particularly interested in how the multiple
commercial entertainment options impact the form, content, popularity, and impact
of Doordarshans educational and development programming.
Effects of the new commercial television industry may also be noted in Indias film
industry, the largest in the world. While its production infrastructure puts India in a
unique position to produce a substantial portion of the programming for these new
commercial broadcastoutlets, box office attendance may wane as it has elsewhere (as
in the U.S., Jowett & Linton, 1989) under similar circumstances. Middle class, urban
youth already indicate they may be embarrassed to say they went to a traditional
Hindi film (Malhotra & Crabtree, 1994), a reminder that cultural imperialism often
focuses on youth. Petras (1993) argues that the mass media are particularly
manipulative of adolescent rebelliousness by appropriating the language of the left
and channeling discontent into consumer extravagances (p. 139). While adolescent
rebellion, per se, may not be a culturally generalizable phenomenon, marketing to
youth has both economic and political consequences. Consumerism and individualism may undercut collective political responses to economic and cultural control.

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Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA 379

The effects of commercial television in India will be difficult to measure, as has


been the case around the world. Early indications suggest that the presence of
Western programming via satellite has had some influence on the social agenda, with
discussions centering around previously-taboo subjects such as spousal abuse,
incest, and homosexuality (Malhotra & Crabtree, 1994; also see Chandra, 1995). We
recognize that the cultural impact of foreign programmingmay have some interesting
"positive" effects, as well. As Kang and Morgan (1988) noted in Korea, and not
completely unlike some effects of domestic American programming (Meyrowitz,
1985), Western images of women may serve a simultaneously liberatory functionparticularly for upper- and middle-class women (Crabtree, 1995). Of course, even the
so-called positive effects of foreign programming may not be equally distributed
across India's diverse population.
Here, again, the diffusion of innovations model has some relevance. The
"communication effects gap," indifferent to the diffusion of positive or negative
effects of television programming, may reveal an increasing cultural divide between
those who identify with Westernkonsumerist values and lifestyles, and those who
adhere to traditional beliefs and values. This chasm is likely to reflect-and
exacerbatdivisions in class (perhaps more applicable now than caste), as well as
the urbanhural dichotomy that is already striking in India (also see Schiller, 1991).

Multinational Advertising
The influence of the commercialization of broadcasting may be more far-reaching
than the values and beliefs of the programming itself. On one level, there are
anticipated effects on the configuration of the Indian economy. In Nicaragua, for
example, the presence of multinational companies (and presence of commercial
media) since the end of the Sandinista period causes local shoemakers to compete
with Nike and Reebok (Shriver, 1997). In India, middle-class Indian youth are already
enamored of Levi's, Ray-Ban's, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, all introduced about the
same time as commercial television. And, as previously mentioned, many of the
changes in Indian broadcasting seem to be as much driven by economic and market
forces as by technological ones.
In a country where disparities between the "haves"and the "have nots"seems to be
increasing, the cultivation of a consumerist ideology implies grave consequences:
The N "table of plenty" contrasts with the experience of the empty kitchen; the
amorous escapades of media personalities crash against a house full of crawling,
crying hungry children. . . .The promise of affluence becomes an affront to those who
are perpetually denied (Petras, 1993, p. 147).

Ironically, some of the BiTV staff are well aware of this problem:
The sinister thing i s that advertising is really aimed at trying to change your
psychology. . . . What is a kid in a village going to do, or even a kid that's watching
television here [in Bombay]? Let's take a bar of chocolate. It costs 10 rupees. He's
never going to be able to buy a bar of chocolate in his whole life. But the commercial

380 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MedidSummer 2000

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is telling him that if his parents love him, theyll buy him that bar of chocolate. And
hes going to feel seriously left out of this world. And he, or she, is probably going to
resent the fact that his parents never bought that bar of chocolate. This is the kind of
thing the ethics of television has to look at. (Kapur)

Thus, one of the dangers of commercial television in India seems to be the


commodification of experience. Tomlinson (1991) argued that this phenomenon is
one where consumerism colonizes a moral-cultural space left by other developments in modernity (p. 136). In this sense, the effects of globalization weaken
dominated and dominating cultures alike.

Signs of Resistance
Despite all the evidence of cultural imperialism (and problematic diffusion) evident
in our research, we must consider the specific culture(s) being affected when
hypothesizing the effects that commercial/satellite television may have on Indian
society. Tomlinson (1991) problematizes the very notion of indigenous culture that
implies something both natural and belonging to a geographical area, rather than a
view of culture which is historical. Indias history is illustrative of his point. While
India is a traditional society that dates back 5000 years, we recognize two interesting
characteristics of India that may mitigate the hypothesized effects of cultural
imperialism. First, there are very few traditions in existence in India today that have
remained unchanged or that can be traced back directly to the lndus Valley or the
Aryan Civilizations (see Burrow, 1975). Second, with a history of being invaded many
times, India i s an extremely diverse culture in languages, customs, and so on. This
may allow for a unique flexibility in absorbing new ideas and adaptindadopting
traditions that a more homogeneous culture might have trouble assimilating.
Already there are some signs of resistance to the cultural effects of Western and
commercial television in India. Among Bin/ personnel, for example, there i s open
criticism of the tendency to imitate Western television programs:
I think that we shouldnt hold the West as some kind of ideal. Indias a crazy place,
and it has its own personality, no matter what else can be said of us. Were a mad
bunch. And we have our own sort of problems. We should just pick up our own flavor
and stick to it instead of trying to see what the West is doing and then zeroing in on
those programs. (Khan)

One Indian broadcaster is also quite aware of the concerns and processes of cultural
imperialism itself:
I dont believe that cultural imperialism, whether from inside or from outside, can
eventually destroy a race. I think that there are also deeper instincts which are more
innate. Self-preserving sorts of mechanisms which we have. [These] will seek out
their own levels and own forms of expression. (Rajabali)

Thus, there are dialectical processes of cultural imperialism and resistance taking

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Crabtree and MalhotrdCOMMERCIALTELEVISION I N INDIA 381

place in at least one new commercial television service. Bin/ personnel are
conscious and articulate about their struggle between acquiescence to formulaic
Western-style programs and resistance to reproducing ideologically problematic
genres and series. A detailed description and analysis of actual commercial television
programming in India-the values and lifestyles depicted, the production techniques
and their significations-are logical avenues for future research (see, for example,
Malhotra, 1997, 1998, 1999a, 1999b).
There i s early evidence of resistance among Indian television viewers, as well. As
early as 1994, over a thousand Bombay residents hurled their television sets out the
windows of their homes to protest the growing prevalence of sex and violence on
Indian N ("Bombay turnoffs," 1994). Clearly, "third world" cultures and peoples are
not merely passive receivers. As Tomlinson (1991) has argued, "extravagant claims
[oflmedia power seem to arise where theorists come to see the media as determining
rather than as mediating cultural experience" (p. 63). Nevertheless, providing a
model of the global audience as active and resistant falls short of ascertaining what
that means politically. As Coodwin and Gore so succinctly asserted, "Audiences will
not be made counter-hegemonic by scholarly or devotional fiat" (p. 79).

Discussion
Commercial broadcasting has proliferated in India, first via foreign satellite
services, and now through Indian endeavors. The institution of several new private
and commercial television services in India represents an end to the long-standing
government monopoly on Indian broadcasting and marks a dramatic change in the
structure of media communications with momentous implications for Indian culture.
This moment presents an exceptional opportunity to observe the development of a
new media industry and its effects on a developing nation, as well as to advance
many of our theoretical traditions. The processes of cultural imperialism are indeed
longitudinal, and a single case study cannot illuminate the compelling historical
presence of Western culture in India. The story of BiTV/TVI does, however, illustrate
some of the features of cultural imperialism as it i s materializing in India today. In a
developing country of 900 million people who speak many different languages and
adhere to distinct cultural traditions, most of whom live in rural areas with few
services and many deficiencies, it is difficultto speculate about the impact of this new
industry. Few would argue, however, that it will be substantial.
If we refrain from distilling the theory down to its predictions of mechanistic
audience effects alone, cultural imperialism remains a useful framework for the
analysis of global media trends. Our research demonstrates that effects are often
subtle and insidious; broadcasting personnel (and probably audiences, as well) are
subject to complex processes of both absorption and resistance (also see Olson,
1999). Our research also illustrates ways that Roger's Diffusion of Innovations
framework may be more relevant to understanding the technological dimensions of
the Indian television landscape, with some application to the effects of programming,

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382 Journalof Broadcasting & Electronic MedidSummer 2000

as well (communication effects gap). Straubhaars model of Asymmetric Interdependence and Cultural Proximity may explain the news flow question more adequately,
and i s also important for a complete understanding of the emerging entertainment
programminglandscape of South Asia. Nevertheless, Cultural Imperialism is the most
(de)constructive for understanding the emerging professionalism of Indian cornmercia1 broadcasting personnel and practices; the effects of foreign programming,
especially on local media industries; as well as the presence of multinational
advertising and the commercialization of culture (also see Schiller, 1991). In sum,
these three theories together provide a serviceable constellation of analytical
frameworks and explanatory principles for the case of India at this particular moment
in their broadcasting history.
In order to chart the effects of satellite and commercial television on Indian (and
other) cultures, broad-based and longitudinal audience analysis using Cultivation
Theory, would seem appropriate at this time (cf. Morgan & Signorelli, 1990 on
recommendations for future cultivation research). It will be critical to examine gender
and class differences in the use and sense-making of the new (imported and
locally-produced) television programming. Meanwhile, an examination of multinational advertising, marketing, programming imports, and international co-production
would prove fruitful for related research, as well as a study of emerging Indian media
education programs (i.e., are media criticism and global communication theory
included?).As the world media order evolves, long-standingtheories such as Cultural
Imperialism and Diffusion of Innovations remain useful, while newer perspectives
such as Asymmetrical Interdependence and Cultural Proximity are likely to become
increasingly relevant.
Tomlinson (1991) insists that what is really at stake here is the capacity of a
collectivity to generate any satisfying narratives of cultural meaning in the conditions
of modernity (p. 24). While from quite a different ideological position, Petras (1993)
argued that cultural imperialism promotes the cult of modernity as conformity with
external symbols . . a false intimacy and an imaginary link is established between
the successful subjects of the media and the impoverished spectators in the barrios
(pp. 141-142). The consequences of the growing commercialization and globalization of television will be significant for the largely rural poor of India, and of most
countries.
Reductionist notions of cultural imperialism predicted a global monoculture would
inevitably result from global media dominance. While ample evidence demonstrates
such a prediction is preposterous, more thorough exploration of the multi-faceted
processes of cultural imperialism allow for more interesting-though less conclusiv+
analyses. American cultural products are only becoming more popular and more
globally dominant (Olson, 1999), even if our research methods and analytical
frameworks continue to fall short of revealing the complexities of how and to what
extent. Global media effects are neither universal nor predictable, as our research
confirms, thus it is important that scholars of all ideological leanings and theoretical

Crabtree and MalhotraKOMMERCIAL TELEVISION IN INDIA 383

perspectives remain open to conflicting, contradictory, dialectical, and nuanced


findings.

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