Does Anybody See What I See?

by Norman Horowitz

Is anybody there?

Does anybody care?

Does anybody see what I see?

— John Adams in the musical “1776”

In our media-abundant country we have a gazillian cable networks available to consumers, but the vast majority of “signals” that deliver news content are controlled by a very few companies.

I subscribe to the notion that money and power determine what we see, read, and hear. A little history will demonstrate this point.

In the late ’60s, the Nixon FCC promulgated the “Prime Time Access, Financial Interest, and Syndication” rules that basically told the networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) to divest themselves of financial interest and syndication rights to programs that they carried.

About forty years after the fact, we find the studios and the networks joined at the hip. For the upcoming season, here is what new content the studios sold the broadcast networks:

  • Warner Bros. TV sold nine programs.
  • Universal Television sold eight shows.
  • CBS Television Studios sold seven shows.
  • ABC Studios sold six shows.
  • 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures each sold five shows.

Forty years since the promulgation of PTAR and Fin/Syn, we still live in a world where the major broadcasters, networks, and production companies are almost all the same. It appears that nothing will change the power of the studios.

I adore the profit motive, as long as it comes with a federal oversight that reduces the chances that the public will be exploited and that competition will be limited to the really big guys fighting over the unnecessarily high prices that the consumers will be forced to pay.

Had someone awakened from a 30-year sleep and watched television news and asked: “How is television controlled now and more importantly who owns it?” They would be shocked to learn that it is partially controlled the executive branch (the FCC) and owned by industrial giants such as The General Electric Company, Time Warner, Viacom, News Corporation, and lest we forget, the Walt Disney Company.

They could ask: “How do opposing views reach the public?” The answer, of course, is that they don’t.

Why are things the way they are, rather than the way that they could or should be? In my opinion, it’s because the process is controlled or influenced by the malleable FCC and the even more easily influenced Congress.

MONEY AND POWER MATTER!

Screw the FCC… Bring Back the Antitrust Division!

by Norman Horowitz

If a part of our media seems good to me,
It’s the radio, the newspapers, and free TV.
Cable would be better without Fox, you see,
‘Cause I just need CNN and MSNBC.
CBS and Comcast still have a ball
‘Cause the FCC allows them to have it all.
Disney and Viacom, they want it too,
As long as the FCC lets them screw
The public sector that moans and cries
When all they get from NewsCorp are great big lies.
Warner Brothers want more of it too,
While Americans like me and you
Suffer from the power of all of them.
They want it all and they says amen
To rules and regs; they got their way.
Too bad about the public; they can always pray
To a God who is not with us, not here, not now
It’s with money and power that they all know how
To con the system, and they always want more,
And the politics of it all are just a bore.
What you watch and what you see
In the movies and on TV
Comes from a system that got that way
‘Cause money wants company and will always hold sway.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to change federal rules that limit companies from owning TV and radio stations in the same market. For a bonus, he also wants to do the same for TV stations and newspapers. He’s circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would eliminate the TV/newspaper restriction in the 20 largest markets. Genachowski’s proposal is similar to what the former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pushed through in 2008.

I say: Bring back competition, diversity, and localism!

Life Is Not the Game of Monopoly

by Norman Horowitz

Back when I played Monopoly, I remember games when I was the last remaining opponent and I would land on “Boardwalk,” where there was a hotel. But the rent was more then I had, and the game would be over. I was broke and had lost the game.

The American attitude to life seems to be that so many want to win as they would in Monopoly, and they won’t be satisfied until they have aggregated all the money in the game — that is, until everyone else is broke.

We have organized the greatest concentration of wealth since we organized our country. We have also created the greatest concentration of worldwide media power during the same time frame.   Continue reading “Life Is Not the Game of Monopoly”

Lady Berkshire

by Norman Horowitz

In 1970, Screen Gems International (Larry Hilford and I) hired Kenneth John Page, with whom we had worked at CBS, to run our European activities based in London. Larry had left the safe harbor of television to delve into the mysterious world of new technology delivery systems like the nascent home video business.

Larry, Ken and I were running around London pretending to do what we were supposed to be doing when we returned to the office to find that Larry had received several messages from “Lady Berkshire.” Not having the time to call her, Larry asked that Ken return her calls with an apology.

Ken wasn’t thrilled with the assignment but dutifully did what was asked of him and called her. She described her interest in new technologies and wanted to meet with Ken.   Continue reading “Lady Berkshire”

I’m Only Thinking of Him

by Norman Horowitz

I’m trying to imagine the moment when that itsy bitsy company AT&T decided, “Hey, we’re only grossing $124 billion. We only have 300,000 employees. Our assets are only worth $268 billion. Why don’t we go out and ‘eat’ another company? Why not T-Mobile? They only have 34 million customers. Their gross income is a paltry $21 billion.”

Have you seen the TV commercials advertising how great it’ll be if these two companies operate as one rather than — God forbid — competing with one another? This will be good for America, they always say, just like the previous “consolidations” that allowed CBS to be gobbled up by Viacom, ABC to be consumed by the Walt Disney Company, NBC by Comcast, and of course Fox by News Corp. They are, like Antonia in Man of La Mancha, only thinking of us.

Actually, those mergers were not good for America. Our purported “regulators” sided, as they almost always do, with “the regulated,” and everyone won…except the public.   Continue reading “I’m Only Thinking of Him”