An LATimes op-ed on a familiar story — media consolidation, ownership and the stifling of creativity in media: Are the corporate suits ruining TV? — pdf
This is not about how we were treated but rather something much larger: How a confluence of government policy and corporate strategy is literally poisoning the TV business.
It started in 1995 when the Federal Communications Commission abolished its long-standing “finsyn” rules (that’s financial interest and syndication, for those unfamiliar with the term), allowing networks for the first time to own the programs they broadcast. Before that, under classic antitrust definitions, the networks had been confined to the role of broadcaster, paying a license fee to production companies for the right to broadcast programs just two times. The production companies owned all subsequent rights. In the mid-1990s there were 40 independent production companies making television shows. If a particular network didn’t like a show — as famously happened with “The Cosby Show” many years ago — the production company could take it to another network.
But not after 1995. The abolition of the old rules set in motion an ineluctable process, one that has negatively affected every creative person I know in television. Today there are zero independent production companies making scripted television. They were all forced out of business by the networks’ insistence — following the FCC’s fin-syn ruling — on owning part or all of every program they broadcast.
[...] Is there significance to this, outside the narrow concerns of Hollywood and the lost earning power of producers? I think so. Besides any esoteric discussion of the value of storytelling in a culture — which I believe is immense — this trend is part of a larger problem caused by the FCC in all areas of media. The relaxation of the Fairness Doctrine (which required the networks to present the news in a balanced way), the lapse of any oversight of networks’ civic responsibility, the commoditization of network news — these are all parts of a troubling move toward the aggregation of control of information in an ever-shrinking number of entities.
Our founding fathers could not have foreseen that freedom of the press might eventually be threatened just as much by media consolidation as by government. [...]
[...] Because the business of television has become an exclusive club, closed to new members, some producers are turning to the Internet to have a voice. And, of course, the Big Six are doing everything they can to own and control that as well. [...]
[...] But make no mistake — deep resentment in the entire creative community over the absolute power now wielded by these companies is the fuel that feeds the strike. The public is also fed up, turning out in droves and sending millions of e-mails whenever the FCC holds hearings on the subject. And yet the large corporations move forward, seemingly unaware that they are strangling the creative engine that might save them.
Within five years there won’t be a significant distinction between TV and broadband. As of now, the Internet is just too big for any company to get its hands around, and that’s good for all of us. If the large companies — and the FCC — cannot come to comprehend the paradox that too much control is destructive to their own ends, they may bring about their own downfall, losing their audience and their workers at the same time. Like carriage makers at the dawn of the auto age.
Related: Some Television Writer-Producers Side With Guild