Marshall Herskovitz (of TV show “Thirty Something” fame) notes that independent producers no longer exist! Hmm, if true, and I think it is, then is a call for a return to that era like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped? Artists are now employees he argues and believes this is a detriment to society. Surprisingly not a lot of applause from the audience – perhaps because he is stating the obvious? Nonetheless, it needs to have been stated. He concludes by contending that independents could be profitable but if so, then what is driving consolidation? Does Wall Street have it so wrong?
Alan Rosenberg of S.A.G. is on now to introduce Guild VP Anne Marie Johnson. Rosenberg has now stepped away to allow Anne Marie to speak for the Guild. Not exactly sure why the Guild is doing it this way but Rosenberg clearly wanted to make an appearance. Anne Marie is concentrating on diversity issues for the moment, recalling the importance of seeing an African-American doctor (as in the Cosby show) and linking that to the courage of an independent producer. And a hit on reality shows evokes some applause from the audience noting the value to the Guild of ensemble shows. She wants the FCC to require that 25% of network programming be provided by independents. Now she is getting down to bread and butter issues noting the salary compression that results from concentration of ownership. This is at the heart of the impact of ownership changes. Of course, big money and new technology drives this process and that makes the job of the unions all the more challenging. And now Anne Marie has stopped to loud applause.
Taylor Hackford from the Directors’ Guild is on now. He says media ownership concentration imperils the work of his members. He argues there is no “diversity of source” for TV content today. He pointed to changes in the ownership structure that over the last decade have driven independent production companies out of existence. Instead of independent suppliers the companies are all controlled by the big nets. And he discounts the potential of the internet to “democratize” or divversify content production. This is a crucial point because here in the Valley there is a lot of myth making about the web’s “democratic” potential when the fact is that it is big money and big corporations that drive the development of most startups.
But can capital really flow to independent producers as he hopes? This is a titanic battle against the flood of Wall Street money into the big established players.
Here is a link to the key court decision that pushed the FCC back when it attempted to expand the power of media companies. At the heart of the case is how many radio and TV stations any one entity can own. Given the huge infrastructure investments that are being made to shift to a digital world this is a critical issue to the industry. Wall Street will try to justify consolidation and mergers as required by this needed investment. But as the EMI unions and community groups argue what does that mean for diversity of content and creativity?
The FCC is holding open hearings in southern California today about ownership in the new media world. They do this only somewhat reluctantly having been ordered by a federal court to overhaul the attempt to open the door to conglomerate ownership in the industry. I am blogging the proceedings today as I watch the webcast hosted by the FCC. Loud applause from the audience indicates a good crowd is on hand and there is support for diversity and local input into the media world. Jesse Jackson is on hand so we know this hearing is going to get some media coverage from the very targets of the hearing!