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.

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.


Let’s Pretend That We Have Media Diversity in Our Country

by Norman Horowitz

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public…” — Adam Smith, 1776

Walt Disney, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers are all members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). As an executive of Columbia Pictures and MGM/UA, I attended meetings of the MPAA.

In my opinion, the MPAA solely serves the interests of their major members. It is an association of gigantic companies who abuse the system as much as possible in order to maintain their market share and profitability without seriously violating the law — and, when possible, attempt to change the laws to their benefit. Were you to attend one of their meetings and mention something like their responsibility of serving in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity,” they would need to send out to have the phrase explained to them.   Continue reading “Let’s Pretend That We Have Media Diversity in Our Country”