The World According to Nick
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Friday, July 23, 2004

Enter the Web Log 

From /. on Ted Turner's Beef with Big Media:

Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox--fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.
Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see--and what we don't see--will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition, consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn't have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it's like over-fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they're already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.
At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates. We've done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently. Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public's broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC's pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history--and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents.

I had a lot of mixed reactions to this piece. First off, when I saw the link on Slashdot, I thought Ted Turner has a beef with Big Media? Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black to me. But I started reading it anyway. It's long, it's well written, and he makes some excellent points. Personally I think it's an ironic twist to the old "Conservatives Are for Big Companies" and "Liberals are for the Little Guy" fight. With the media being so overwhelmingly liberal, isn't it an ironic twist of fate that they've embraced large corporations to ensure their strangle hold on news reporting, so it can be told their way?

Turner's solution is to put more walls up and make government enforced competition. Although that seems desirable on the one hand, the outright capitalist in me says no. I balked at the Microsoft anti-trust suits, and others that have followed. How can I now embrace a break up of the media conglomerates now? Is it right for me to embrace greater government control just because it now suits my needs?

Enter the web log. Instead of breaking up the conglomerates, I think that what will happen is that over time they will become a non-issue unless they change. People will buy fewer newspapers, watch less network television, and their ratings will go down further and further as people find alternative news sources. Is it slower? Absolutely. But is it even better to keep the government out of media production? Most definitely. Otherwise we could end up like our friends across the pond with the BBC. How scary would that be?


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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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