Television in the Public Space

Although we tend to think of television primarily as a household fixture, TV monitors outside the home are widespread: in bars, laundromats, and stores, cafes, bus and train stations, airports; conveying flight arrival and departure times; uniting crowds at sports events and allaying boredom in waiting rooms; and helping to pass the time in workplaces of all kinds.

The roles television has played in different institutions vary from efforts to transform waiting room populations into advertising audiences and the use of point-of-sale video to influences brand visibilityand consumer behavior. While the capacity for cultural infrastructure such as flagship museums to break cycles of urban and regional decline is now familiar through the ‘Bilbao effect’, the potential for public screen technologies to address social and urban issues is yet to receive sustained critical attention. The ‘Public Space Broadcasting’ project in the UK utilizes a growing network of large screens predominantly based in northern urban centres such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. The project involves a series of partnerships between the publicly funded national broadcaster, the BBC, various city councils, cultural and educational institutions and technology providers.  It recognizes the potential for large screen technologies to play a key role in urban regeneration by providing a new dimension of public space and civic agency.

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Within a policy framework of urban regeneration, public screens are becoming policy tools for a variety of purposes, from enhancing social cohesion, emphasizing the role of culture in constructing positive urban images, developing the tourism industry, attracting inward investment, and strengthening the competitive position of host cities.  From this perspective, it can be seen that public screens represent a new intersection of social and economic interests in the public realm, bringing together diverse stakeholders, including different levels of government, cultural funding bodies, arts institutions, artists, broadcasters, media hardware companies, local businesses, technology providers, content makers and audiences. These partnerships need to be mapped, and their outcomes critically assessed.  The capacity of large screens to contribute to a robust and inclusive public culture needs to be evaluated.

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