By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The time to get tough is now. Here are the concessions which the government should demand of Bigger Media to ensure they remain competitive, accessible and responsible.
No More Collusion
One minute Disney and Paramount, or News Corp. and AOL Time Warner, or NBC and CBS are bitter enemies. The next, they’re best friends. Teeth have to be put into efforts to ensure Big Media’s members compete and not collude. We can’t depend on voluntary compliance. There was the Paramount consent decree. Then the breakup of MCA. And, of course, probes of the music industry.
Now, the Justice Department has been endlessly investigating the mega-business venture by five major Hollywood studios to distribute films digitally, directly to consumers. Government officials must intensify their antitrust examination of Movielink (previously named MovieFly), the joint initiative of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and MGM Studios. From the looks of it, this so-called partnership fits the textbook definition of a cartel.
But Big Media need to get a clue. It may have made sense 30 years ago for Universal and Paramount to start their international theatrical distribution arm together, UIP (United International Pictures). But that was before Paramount was bought by Viacom, then combined with Infinity and CBS. Nor is there a need for MGM to sub-distribute outside North America all its theatrical movies through Fox. Right now, there are other joint projects needing to be separated, from cable-channel partnerships to co-financing motion pictures to you-keep-mine, I’ll-keep-yours prime-time programming. End them now.
Stop the Violence
As Americans contemplate the causes and effects of a popular culture that seems to constantly seek the lowest common denominator, Hollywood denizens churn out an unending stream of pervasive and gratuitous violence. It was only after Columbine exposed the two student shooters as warped by the violent subculture purveyed in too many movies, music and electronic games that President Clinton ordered the Federal Trade Commission to study whether the entertainment industry intentionally sells violent material to youngsters. The answer was an unequivocal yes.
The FTC found that Hollywood engages in aggressive marketing of R-rated movies intended for adults to children under 17, and of PG-13 movies to children under 12. The studios not only advertised these films in teen magazines, in video arcades and on TV shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they include kids as young as 10 in their market research and focus groups for R-rated films.
It’s disgusting, and the studios know it. Which is why eight Hollywood moguls were hauled before Congress in an unprecedented appearance in September 2000, only to express shock, shock, at some of the marketing methods of their own media companies.
This summer, five pictures rated "R" on the basis of pervasive violence are positioned as big teen attractions.Washington must find a way to fight this without trampling on the First Amendment.
More Independent Content
Nowhere do the FCC changes make less sense than in Hollywood’s creative community. This week alone, Larry Gelbart, Richard Dreyfuss and Diane English related firsthand experiences of how "expanding network power limits diversity, stifles creativity and deprives the American television viewer of quality programming." It’s even created strange bedfellows, teaming veteran screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd, a well-known Hollywood Republican and appointee to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, with producer Norman Lear, a leading liberal Democrat.
To sum up their position, the content should be king, not the synergy.
What’s scaring them is the widespread prediction that, once the networks begin buying additional TV stations, the market for independent programming will grow smaller, the opportunities for syndication scarcer and the impulse for re-purposing stronger. "The consequences of this new factor in our industry are — and this is no exaggeration — potentially catastrophic," the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors said in a letter to Powell.
Hollywood’s creative community claims its concern about the impact of media consolidation is in America’s interest. Others see it as self-interest. Members obviously covet the opportunity to convince Congress to reinstate "Fin-Syn," the financial interest and syndication rule repealed in the early 1990s. Once prohibited from having a financial stake in the programming it airs, the networks now pack their prime times with only shows they own or co-own. The Hollywood creative community wants at least 25 percent of a network’s prime-time lineup set aside for independently produced shows. As John Wells, the writer-producer of ER, The West Wing, Third Watch and China Beach, recently wrote Congress: "Without such a rule, competition and diversity will become a fiction."
Independent News Departments
Owning media means answering to a higher authority. It makes no sense to expect The New York Times to uphold journalistic standards if the increasingly influential Fox News Channel is allowed to get away with the reportorial equivalent of murder. It’s just ethically wrong for Big Media to remake their news departments as outlets of propaganda for themselves, their business partners or their political pals.