Where Did I Park My Horse?

by Norman Horowitz

In the beginning, there was the heavens, the earth, NBC, CBS, and ABC.

This was quickly followed by Robert Edward “Ted” Turner.

Ted was/is, in the true sense of the words, a “media mogul.” He literally founded the “superstation” concept with TBS. At the time, the major studios, including Warner Brothers, fought against Turner’s superstation because it would compete with their broadcast networks. Now, of course, Turner’s media empire is part of that itsy bitsy benevolent American company Time Warner.

In a twist of irony-cum-hypocrisy, now it’s Ted’s company that’s railing against a new technology that might impinge on their business.

I’m reminded of a short story from my own career.

In the mid-70s, the very-big-deal Australian broadcaster Kerry Packer told me that the prices for American programming sold to Australia must be controlled in order to create “an orderly marketplace.” He went on to tell me that he raised the prices he charged to advertisers regularly because the advertisers had no alternative but to pay it. I remarked that he wanted an “orderly marketplace” when he was buying but not when he was selling. He took a moment and replied: “Norman, it’s different because it’s MY MONEY!”

Back to Ted.

There’s a new DVR technology that lets consumers delete broadcast TV commercials at the touch of a button. It’s called “Auto-Hop,” and it’ll be offered by Dish Network. Nothing has really changed, except fast-forwarding is no longer required. It’s a good thing if you’re a consumer (but who cares about them?) and a bad thing if you’re selling time to advertisers.

So, naturally, Time Warner executive Glenn Britt immediately expressed disapproval over Auto-Hop, putting him on the side of television networks that want to kill the service. “I don’t think we want to destroy one of [our] revenue streams,” said Britt.

Fox and NBC went further by refusing to allow ads for the new DVR on their networks. NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert justified the decision by calling Auto-Hop “an insult to our joint investment in programming.” It’s a little like the provider of candles saying that the providers of electricity are “an insult to our candle-making operation.”

This isn’t the first time TV executives have reacted this way. In 2001, the networks sued the company that made Replay TV, a DVR with a similar feature. The company removed the feature from its next model, and they eventually went bankrupt.

Clearly, the big studios will stop at nothing to stifle any competition, no matter how beneficial it may be to consumers.

And clearly, the feds are willing to stand by and watch these mammoth companies have their way with the American public.

The point is this: Had municipalities never paved roads, we would still have horses and wagons, but alas, no one ever organized the horses!

Were Kerry Packer alive today, he would be pleased.