Writer’s union demands $100 million ransom

A union familiar to many broadcasters is demanding $100 million from Comcast should NBC and Comcast receive approval to merge. The union, Writers Guild of America East, has written a letter to FCC chairman Genachowski requesting the agency fine the merged company “at least $10 million per year for 10 years.” The total of $100 million would be managed by a nonprofit corporation similar to CPB. The money would be used, in the union’s words, “to produce truly independent content.”

The union letter stated, “Although we are also deeply concerned that the merger will limit the ability of independent producers of entertainment programming to reach their audiences, the effect will be particularly profound in the area of news and public affairs programming." The labor organization believes that a combined company would have "enormous power over what people watch and a clear economic incentive" to direct viewers to the content it produces.

Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast vice president of government communications responded saying, "While this is a thoughtful proposal, it ignores the fact that, taken as a whole, the range of public interest commitments already made by the combined companies promises to deliver more diverse programming and more independently-produced programming than any entity has ever committed to before … We've committed that the NBC-owned and operated broadcast stations will produce [an] additional 1000 hours per year of local news and information programming for distribution on traditional and new media."

Comcast also noted that it already helped fund the public channel C-SPAN. The company said that other unions, including the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the Directors Alliance, have expressed support for the merger.

Hmmm, let me see if I understand WGAE’s complaint. A company that produces content, perhaps ABC, CBS, FOX, or even PBS, might have an “economic incentive” to direct viewers to that content. Of course, a channel wants to promote its own content. Duh! That’s why we see all those promos and crawls on every network channel today! Could someone at WGAE please show me a network that doesn’t have an “economic incentive” to keep and send viewers to that channel?

It appears that the WGAE union would rather rely on another government-run largess on which it would expect to have representation to make financial grants to projects it approves, rather than encourage its members to produce content an audience wants. Why should anyone be surprised that this union is so eager to establish another business-funded pot-o-gold to support content that it may have a hand in approving.

I’ve got some advice for the executives at Writers Guild of America East, and it won’t cost $100 million. Instead of demanding a free enterprise business pay you a ransom, help your members produce content that the American public values. If there is value in the content, there will be funding (advertising/underwriting) to support it. It’s called attracting an audience.

That’s a win-win for everyone.