My Reactions/Thoughts: Empires of Entertainment

mediaconglomeratesThrough reading Jennifer Holt’s Empires of Entertainment, I learned a number of interesting, and at times, unsettling things about the media industries and the policies (or lack there of) that allowed media conglomerates to form and thrive to this day. Four discussions throughout various chapters in the book were of particular interest to me and helped me to better understand how media conglomerates first started to form, what actions were taken to try to prevent media conglomerates from growing and inhibiting competition, and just how simple it was for conglomerates to bend and break the rules to gain power in the industry. Below I’ve listed these terms and some brief definitions, as put forth by Holt.

  • Synergy: Defined in the introduction of Empires as “the commercial possibilities of mutually locking commercial ventures,” and also as “the annihilation of competition,” (3), synergy is the principle that allowed media conglomerates to thrive during the 1980s and 90s. The concept of synergy allowed media moguls to exploit the crumbling boundaries between film, TV and cable, as well as the production, distribution and exhibition industries.
  • Antitrust laws: Also defined in the introduction and discussed in other parts of the book, antitrust laws were designed to promote fair competition and prevent monopolies from forming in the media industries. Antitrust laws were first introduced via the Sherman Act in 1890, and the Clayton Act would later be added as an amendment to this law in 1914. Because vertical integration is viewed as harmful to competition in the media industries, antitrust laws attempt to level the playing field so that more players can compete in the creation and distribution of media, though these laws have been continuously broken and punishments avoided over the years.
  • Tri-Star Pictures: The case of Tri-Star Pictures, presented in chapter two of Empires, was particularly interesting to me. A joint venture of HBO (TV), CBS (broadcast) and Columbia Pictures (film), Tri-Star Pictures was dubbed the 8th major studio by it’s founders and was the first major film studio to emerge in 50 years, the most recent before it being RKO, which was created in 1927. The DOJ approved Tri-Star, despite the fact that this venture offered the same benefits of exclusivity as other proposed ventures, those of which had been denied by the DOJ due to being viewed as anti-competitive. After the formation of Tri-Star, the Anti-Trust Division stopped challenging mergers, acquisitions and/or consolidation in the media industries as aggressively, which opened the door for other conglomerates to form and expand.
  • Fin-syn and PTAR: As explained in chapter 2 of Empires, these two terms stand for the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules and the Prime Time Access Rule, respectively. Enacted in 1970, PTAR prohibited network-affiliated TV stations in the top 50 television markets from broadcasting more than 3 hours of network or off-network programs during the 4 prime-time viewing hours of each night. PTAR was created in response to concerns that ABC, CBS and NBC were dominating the market and inhibiting the development of competition. Fin-syn was created the same year as PTAR, and was crafted to help loosen the grip of network power of the industry and expand the market so that independent producers could become players in the media game. Fin-syn dictated that networks could not own the programming that they aired or syndicated so that networks had to rely on Hollywood studios for content. Due to a number of complications, fin-syn wouldn’t be officially enacted until the mid-70s, which allowed many conglomerates to ignore the legislation.

All of the tidbits/definitions I’ve chosen to share here highlight parts of the media industry that don’t make their way into the light all that often. Despite the involvement of the government in trying to keep media conglomerates from exploding, thus ruining any chances of healthy industry competition, it appears that media conglomerates have never really had to abide by the law, and even if they were/are meant to do so, moguls have found a plethora of ways to continuously expand their empires without government intervention. Ultimately, this book further instilled in me a desire to change the media industry for the better. I truly believe there is still a place for creativity and small, independent companies in the media industry, and one goal of mine (and hopefully other students in the class, as well) for this semester is to determine some of the ways that independent media creators can begin to thrive and grow.

Image found through Creative Commons.

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