Even ballpark estimates are hard to come by, and the ones that have been published are out of date. And when I did find a good article, I deleted the author’s name by accident — and besides, I’m too well trained academically to want to base my own essay entirely on another single piece of research. But it was a good paper, so forgive me, whoever you are at Norwich University who wrote that fine article in about 1996.
The author writes, “Daya Thussu, in Electronic Empires, estimated that 2.5 billion people have regular access to television in the South (the developing world)—meaning about half the people that live there…” But since the most recent date he mentions was 1996, the TV audience must have increased vastly since that time. I’ve seen the comment in several places that poverty has not kept people from owning television sets, and that the ownership increased threefold in about ten years, so it must have surpassed 2.5 billion quite a while ago.
Other figures that I’ve seen report that 2.5 billion people watched Princess Diana's funeral, that 1.1 billion still are watching Baywatch (which I have never seen), and that an expected 45 billion probably watched the last World Cup soccer match. I can only conclude that the typist left out a decimal point between the 4 and the 5. Anyway, these soccer estimates are fairly recent and certainly soccer is the most popular sport, so 4.5 billion may not be far wrong.
Of course, access to television varies considerably from one area to another, with Africa definitely lagging behind all other regions. China, on the other hand, is doing well — at least if you consider it a good rather than bad thing to own a set. The unknown author from whom I am swiping my data reports that, “Chinese state television CCTV claims to reach 84 percent of the population, with the number of regular viewers exceeding 900 million.” But his paper is probably ten years old, and I’ve heard more recent statements that “almost everyone” in China has access to television.
At that time (why don’t they put dates on Internet articles?) India was not doing quite as well. Mr. Anonymous wrote, “According to Arthur Andersen, which conducted a study for STAR TV, television reaches only about half of the population of India; 78.9 percent of the urban population and 39.8 percent of the rural population. In total, that is some 80 million television households in India (and probably many more), of which half can get cable or satellite.” But when I had lunch with Sonny Fox about two months ago in Studio City, he told me about his involvement in producing a soap opera in India that regularly reaches 150 million persons. Then he mentioned another in China that reaches, he supposes, about the same number.
I was impressed — even astounded. But most of the time when the numbers are estimated in discussions of the global impact of TV, it is by someone who's lamenting the cultural globalization caused by television shows. Often, however, the authors actually point out that the worries are exaggerated. Whereas it is true that in very poor countries most TV shows are initially imported from Hollywood, each country gradually asserts itself and begins producing local shows that are even more popular than the American imports. Besides, when it comes to imports, there are lots of other countries that offer their shows besides Hollywood. For example, the most popular show in Russia was a Mexican soap opera.
Anyway, I have never worried about cultural globalization. I see no justification for cultural protectionism for the sake of keeping old national traditions alive. I care about the quality of a show, not its origin. Personally, I have sometimes benefited from being Canadian, since many Canadians are nationalistic and gladly pay money to support their national culture. That's nothing to worry about, in my opinion. And in any case, the world is apparently not becoming homogenized, despite the fact that most people, even in poor countries (with the exception of some African societies) have ready access to television. They prefer different shows, and when they do watch the same Hollywood show, they notice quite different aspects of it. For better or worse, the world's countries are still diverse.