Daphna Ziman, president of Cinémoi—the women-owned high-end lifestyle programming network—is taking her complaints about the AT&T-Time Warner merger to Capitol Hill in person and even has a complaint about the other panelists at a Hill hearing where she is testifying.
She is a witness in the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the proposed merger, and according to a copy of her testimony for the hearing obtained by B&C, she is claiming the merger will make an already tough environment for independent programmers that much tougher.
Ziman also takes aim at the diversity, or lack of it, of the other witnesses at the hearing. "The idea that opportunity is lacking for women and minorities in media isn't hypothetical, it is very clearly symbolized by the witnesses here today." Those are Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge, billionaire media entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes and AT&T's Randall Stephenson.
"Look at the panel testifying today," she said. "It is supposed to represent a broad cross section of the media industry, yet it is dominated by white men."
"This vertical transaction does not do anything to eliminate the challenges in the pay-TV marketplace, but it does give AT&T the means and incentive to discriminate against independent programmers like Cinémoi," she said.
Ziman last week sent letters to members of Congress outlining her concerns.
Ziman says in her testimony that Cinémoi competes with Time Warner's Turner Classic Movies and that "when AT&T owns Time Warner, if an independent network begins to win market share, AT&T’s best recourse is not more investment in Time Warner channels, it is to eliminate the competitive threat by restricting an independent network’s access to viewers."
Ziman also cites the FCC's current signal that AT&T's DirecTV Now zero rating business plan could disadvantage competing content and thus violate net neutrality rules. Ziman says zero rating "creates an artificial incentive for consumers to stream TCM over Cinémoi," given that the former will not count against their data caps and the latter will.
She also says that if the Donald Trump Administration rolls back the FCC's network neutrality rules, as it is expected to, the combined company "will have every incentive to demand payment from Cinémoi just so AT&T Internet customers receive a watchable stream."
It is not yet clear whether AT&T and Time Warner will have to seek FCC approval of the deal—an AT&T source said it remained an open question and that AT&T still may submit the deal to the FCC. AT&T only has a handful of satellite licenses—for internal communications, between CNN news trucks and studios, for example. If there is a way to get out from under those, the deal would only get an antitrust review at Justice rather than the public interest review at the FCC, though the FCC would likely contribute its expertise to a DOJ review anyway.
Ziman slammed that prospect. "AT&T is doing everything in its power to avoid a review by the FCC, the one agency that will review this merger through a public interest lens. So, the question for policy makers is this – does a company that will go to great lengths to avoid public interest scrutiny really care about diversity?"
Ziman is a familiar access advocate in D.C. She was among the panelists at an FCC workshop last April on issues related to independent programmers and access to distribution.