Media consolidation homogenizes program content

Hollywood gave FCC members an earful last week as it held a public hearing in Los Angles on the effects of consolidated media ownership.

With FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and all commissioners in attendance, the regulators heard from TV producers, musicians, actors, writers and other creative artists who make the shows that drive American media.

It was one of six such hearings to be held throughout the United States as the FCC approaches the rewriting of the nation’s media ownership rules.

“Homogenization is good for milk,” Patrick Verrone, president of Writers Guild of America West, told the commissioners. “But it’s bad for ideas.”

Speaking at USC’s Davidson Conference Center, Verrone was joined by a group of speakers that included Mike Mills, bassist for the rock band R.E.M.; Stephen Cannell, producer of TV adventure shows; and actress Anne-Marie Johnson, who has appeared in shows such as “The X-Files,” “JAG” and “Dharma & Greg.”

The speakers challenged Republican arguments that new distribution outlets, such as the Internet, are providing more diverse programming.

“Don’t let the exploding Internet divert attention from the issue of prime-time network TV,” said Taylor Hackford, film director and vice president of the Directors Guild of America. “Network TV is still the most watched TV, and its advertising is still the primary source of revenue for networks.”

Hackford noted that the number of independently produced TV shows has been shrinking during the last decade as the major TV networks have consolidated with media production houses. In 1993, he said, about 66 percent of network TV programs came from independent producers, while the networks produced the remaining 44 percent.

Thirteen years later in 2006, Hackford said independent producers accounted for only 22 percent of TV shows aired on the network, and 76 percent of programming came from the network. As a solution, he proposed that the FCC require that each of the four major networks program their lineups with at least 25 percent independently produced content.

The issue of media consolidation pits large media conglomerates, which want to consolidate their businesses, with the makers and viewers of programming who argue that consolidation is choking diversity and creativity.