Deregulation and the Politics of Convergence

Empires of Entertainment by Jennifer Holt provides an in-depth description of the recent history of cable conglomerates. Throughout the conclusion, however, she references the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is one of the largest changes in US telecommunications law since the Communications Act of 1934. This significance applies to the underlying foundation of our senior seminar – the education and application of technology-based communication in a changing world.

The Act was passed under the presidency of Bill Clinton. This was a major change due to the fact that it was the first time the internet was officially a part of the telecommunications mix of industries. It was initially controversial because the law allowed the ability of cross-ownership in media, meaning that most of the turf battling mentioned in the whole book was attempted to be tackled. There was no more dividing of pay cable, broadcast, and film. An example of this division and a pre-cursor to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is mentioned on page 44:

Tri-Star was a joint venture of three separate media industries: pay cable (HBO), broadcast (CBS), and film (Columbia Pictures). This partnership would receive the blessing of the Justice Department and create an instant major— a vertically integrated studio and brand-new Hollywood player with $400 million in start-up funds. Unlike the other mergers involving film studios that were previously evaluated by the Department of Justice in 1983, this one was finally given the green light; the formation of Tri-Star thus began a fundamental shift from an antitrust policy rooted in hostility to concentration and horizontal integration, to one based on the looser and less restrictive Chicago School approach. This would be the key to the expansion and merging of the film and cable companies throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s (Holt, 44).

The most basic impact of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was that now networks could own a larger amount of broadcast stations than ever before. As technology developed into the new millennium, the act was criticized because many thought that it simply gave the companies who were already major conglomerates even more power than they already had. Holt finishes with the following words:

It is our duty as citizens, consumers, and educators to cultivate awareness about the dynamics of regulatory practice, political discourse, and the nexus of technological and institutional convergence that will shape the future of entertainment empires and the vitality of our media. It is my hope that, at the very least, artists, poets, lawyers, economists, media scholars, and an educated, engaged public will all be involved in that endeavor.

Holt concludes with the hope that through the education of these systems, and the application of this knowledge, the future of the media industries will support and protect creators of all kinds. Through acts such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there is a step towards the deregulation of major monopolizing companies.

Holt, Jennifer (Author). Empires of Entertainment : Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996.
Piscataway, NJ, USA: Rutgers University Press, 2011. p 166.
http://site.ebrary.com/lib/wheatonma/Doc?id=10498119&ppg=177

Image from Creative Commons.

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