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!

Find the Hat

by Norman Horowitz

“Shorty” was scouting locations for the production of Gone with the Wind. He stood up on the back of a moving pickup truck, and the wind blew off his hat. At the first opportunity, he purchased a new hat to protect his bald head from the sun.

Shorty filed his detailed expense report for, shall we say, $4,385 and included $6 for his hat. His report was rejected because of the $6 he had spent for the hat, and he was asked to resubmit the expense report without the hat, which he did.

Supposedly, he submitted a report for the same amount with the admonition: “I dare you to find the hat.”

Many media managers were and are obsessed by “finding the hats.” I have worked for a few of them. While they were doing this, Rupert Murdoch was out expanding and diversifying his business.

I still remember my first senior management meeting with the head of Polygram North America. The company had just lost $100 million, and the only subject discussed was whether we were all willing to fly Business Class instead of First Class. Nothing else.

Later on, I arranged for the Polygram president to meet with very senior people at three major companies to discuss the formation of a joint venture entertainment company. The morning of the scheduled meeting, my Polygram president asked me to postpone the meeting because he needed to attend a previously unscheduled budget meeting. The joint venture meeting never happened.

For many managers, their operating goal is to doggedly “find the hat” rather than to expand their business activity.

There is a joke about a board meeting of The Really Huge Company: There were two items on the agenda. One concerned the multibillion-dollar investment in nuclear energy, and the discussion concerning it took 3 minutes. The second item was if they were going to continue providing free coffee to their administrative staff, which took over an hour.

The conclusion is that no one knew anything about nuclear energy yet everyone knew about coffee.

I continue to ask myself how an Australian media person like Rupert Murdoch was able to create a media mega-company while the majority of the Hollywood establishment sat around and waited for someone to come along and buy them.

Off With His Head!

by Norman Horowitz

Bruce had promised his wife Blanche that he would be on time for a very important family function, and of course he is late. Blanche flies into an absolute rage and vilifies him endlessly. When she calms down, he tells her that he was late because he was having sex with his mistress, and that she would not let him leave, and that he wanted a divorce.

As Blanche begins to cry, Bruce tells her that he made up the business with the girlfriend to point out how nuts she had become about his tardiness and how unimportant it was.

In a similar way, the Brits have gone bonkers over a News Corporation transgression that took place in the UK.

Yes, News Corp. did a horrid thing. And yes, they should be punished. But not Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch has admitted that a cover-up took place within the News of the World to hide the scope of the phone hacking.

The British Parliament released a report concluding that Murdoch “exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications” and stated that he was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

I disagree.

Many years ago, I did business with Murdoch and have met with him a few times. I hold him in the highest esteem for assembling a gigantic media empire and doing it with an integrity that was unknown in Hollywood for decades. (It was certainly absent at the studios where I worked). I have never worked for News Corp., but I have known many of their senior people and have never had reason to question their integrity.

I joined MGM/UA in the mid-1980s with responsibilities over a variety of media segments. We uncovered a relatively significant defalcation, and the individual involved left the company. Should my Chairman have been forced to resign because of this? I think not. He was not involved in the crime, and he had no reason to have known that it had taken place.

Similarly, during my tenure at Columbia Pictures, there was a major defalcation, yet the management was not called upon to fall on its sword.

Indeed, many of the studios and major production companies have tolerated criminal activities in their own company rather than risk the scandal that disclosure would entail. I can “name names,” but no one has ever seemed interested.

So, while I believe that News Corp. should be punished, I do not expect that Rupert Murdoch be held responsible for the actions of a few overly zealous employees.

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!

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”