Media industries, globalisation, and the international youth market
A star rising in the East: Tencent and global shifts in the youth market
Based in two gleaming skyscrapers in the city of Shenzhen, the Chinese corporation Tencent Holdings Ltd. had, by 2020, become the world’s biggest video game company. Tencent was founded in 1998 by Ma Huateng (better known as Pony Ma) and his business colleagues, and during the early twenty-first century it grew into a billion-dollar technology behemoth. Controlling hundreds of subsidiary companies, Tencent’s interests stretched across a spectrum of industries. Tencent Music Entertainment, for example, controlled the majority of China’s online music services, with more than 652 million active users in 2019 (Dredge, 2019). Tencent also owned two of China’s biggest social media platforms, QQ and WeChat — the latter’s number of monthly active users passing the 1 billion mark in 2018 (Jao, 2018). The Tencent stable also included a legion of apps and web services such as the TenPay mobile payment system, the Weiyun cloud storage service and even a movie studio, Tencent Pictures, launched in 2015.
Tencent’s video games empire, meanwhile, became colossal. By 2020, for instance, it owned Riot Games, the Los Angeles-based company responsible for two of the world’s biggest games — League of Legends and Teamjight Tactics. Tencent also owned a 40 per cent stake in Epic Games, the North Carolinabased company behind the successful Fortuite game, along with the Epic Games Store and the Unreal Engine (software that underlies a multitude of popular games). Additionally, Tencent owned 84 per cent of Supercell, the Finnish company behind mobile games such as Clash of Clans and Brawl Stars, as well as boasting significant stakes in Call of Duty publisher Activision and Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft. It was hardly surprising, then, that in 2018 Tencent became the first Asian technology company with a market value that surpassed S500 billion, propelling it past Facebook to become the fifth largest corporation in the world.
Tencent’s exponential growth was indicative of both the rapid proliferation of digital media and China’s rise as a major economic power. But Tencent’s success also represented broad trends in business organisation. The corporation’s
Media, globalisation, and the youth market 131 burgeoning portfolio of diverse commercial interests was indicative of wider trends towards business integration and transmedia conglomeration. Moreover, Tencent’s strategy of buying-up and investing in the world’s major gamemakers — along with its tactic of developing international collaborations and partnerships - exemplified the increased globalisation of the media industries. Indeed, given that Tencent is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and also trades on the New York Stock Exchange, it becomes hard to call it simply a ‘Chinese’ company. Rather, it is a trans-global media conglomerate.
This chapter explores issues of globalisation and business conglomeration in relation to media industries geared to the youth market. It begins by considering the nature of globalisation and the way a range of technological, economic, and political developments intensified the impact of globalising forces during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. One of the consequences of these trends has been the rise of transnational, transmedia business corporations, and this development is explored in the specific context of media industries geared to young consumers. The chapter also assesses critical interpretations of these shifts. Particular consideration is given to theories of ‘cultural imperialism’ that see the international circulation of media as being dominated by a Western — or specifically American — worldview, one that serves to promulgate capitalist values and homogenise global culture. While significant inequalities characterise the ownership and control of the world’s media, the chapter shows how notions of cultural imperialism fail to capture the complexity of global flows of media and culture. With particular regard to the youth market, the chapter demonstrates how ‘global’ products are invariably reconfigured, or ‘glocalised’, in local contexts. Attention is also given to the way flows of international media — or ‘mediascapes’ - have become many faceted, multidirectional, and open-ended. In these terms, Western media control has been increasingly cross-cut by the emergence of many non-Western communication interests, while local youth audiences have actively appropriated and inscribed new meanings into global media forms. The chapter concludes by considering the way youth cultures have been mobilised by countries such as Japan and South Korea in exercises of ‘nation branding’ that attempt to extend the countries’ ‘soft power’ through boosting the global appeal of their national media and popular culture.