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Television drama production in small nations: Mobilities in a changing ecology

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For small nations, the television industry functions on a number of interlinking levels constructing a sense of identity, contributing towards a democratic public sphere, and providing an important cultural and economic resource. Television drama is particularly important to these functions due to its ability to tell stories about and for a nation. However, the ecology of television drama production is changing in terms of technological innovation, greater competition, downward pressure on costs, and evolving audience consumption patterns. Set within this context, this article investigates the television industry of a particular small nation, Wales, and its most recent creative infrastructure project, the BBC’s Roath Lock Studios. One of the key features of the Welsh production ecology is mobility, and the authors frame this research around three aspects of mobility, which condition the making of television drama: how production and symbolic value are mobilized in small nations, the consequences of production mobility between regions and nations, and the impetus for content mobility through the international sale of series and formats. These forms of mobility are intimately linked to the negotiation of power, which circumscribes all indigenous drama production, but which may be felt more acutely by smaller nations where access to talent, greater limits on resources and questions of sustainability condition the everyday realities of television professionals. Using interviews with key stakeholders in the field of television drama production in Wales, this article argues that the voice and lived experience of television practitioners and stakeholders is a vital element in the academic critique of cultural and industrial developments in television production. The research suggests that Roath Lock would seem to be a success within its principal term of reference, which is to house more efficient and well-made drama for the BBC network and for S4C. On a more subjective level, it has been used by a variety of stakeholders to create positive perceptions of Welsh creative industries and ‘put Wales on the map’, to compete with other locales within and outside the United Kingdom, for international productions, capital investment, talent and industry legitimacy. However, real concerns remain about whether it enables drama production that adequately represents contemporary life in Wales, and delivers on the cultural aspirations of television workers and viewers.
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Keywords: BBC; Wales; production; regions and nations policy; small nations; television drama

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of South Wales 2: Cardiff University

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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