By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/8/2006 8:00:00 PM
In Los Angeles, the Federal Communications Commission held the first of a half-dozen hearings to find out what the public thinks of big media. The answer: Not much.
Being that the FCC was in the heart of the television production community, this public meeting was primarily populated by writers and independent producers who were unhappy because a lot of them aren't working. In our script, though, it's time for them to update their skill set.
The creatives claim that, because NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox and their studios are now allowed to own all the programming on the schedule, smaller voices like theirs have been squeezed out. At best, creators now have to give up a percentage of the ownership of their shows as a condition for getting them on-air. The writers' and producers' consolidation of Hollywood's studios and networks is strangling them and stifling creativity, too.
We agree it's tougher these days for producers and writers. The networks now control more programming than ever, and that may mean fewer creative voices are heard. It may even be true that network ownership leads to more formulaic programming. But they are their networks, and in a world of boundless entertainment choices, no wonder the Big Four want a good cut of the action.
The “Big Is Bad” argument doesn't sway us. Consolidation isn't something that just happened to television. Big, big business that pressures little guys is nothing new, either. Yet the Commerce Department is never going to order Wal-Mart to raise prices so quaint mom-and-pop stores on Main Street, USA, can survive. And look, we love mom and pop stores.
What is happening to storefront commerce is what we think is happening with content: It's adapting to the broadband era. American shoppers spent about $20 billion online last year, much of it on sites cooked up by entrepreneurial dreamers. And in the content biz, what's one Website every network wants to own? YouTube. What's its slogan? “Broadcast yourself.” It's a place where creative, independent content producers can do their thing. It's not a fully bloomed business yet, but it will be, and soon. Change is now measured in nanoseconds.
We have to believe the future for professional writers and producers is one tiny techno-hop away. And even with the big networks clawing their way in, the very near future is going to create broadband audiences that will seek out and pay for creative content. Networks that are too heavy-handed or slow to recognize the shift will lose out to nimbler media. Those Big Four networks might learn that being big isn't always so good.
We love the entrepreneurs and risk-takers in this business, on every rung of the ladder. Ted Turner was a billboard-company owner with a big idea. For that matter, more than 80 years ago, William Paley was a cigar-seller who liked the way radio moved merchandise. Hooray for the little guy who gets rich. It can still happen. But these days, it might not be by getting the time slot right after Lost. It might be by creating content on a site yet to be found.
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