Reactions to “Empires of Entertainment”

My primary concern when reading “Empires of Entertainment” was that the system was inherently unfair, regardless of the time period or media focus. Deregulation focus (and thus economic advantage, in many cases) moved between cable, networks, distributors, film producers, etc. Not only was the deregulation directed at whoever had the most money or strongest alliances, but it also “drew the battle lines for the ensuing conflicts that pit…two industries against one another” (Holt, 25). In the case of the studios versus cable, an attempted lawsuit by the studios claiming that HBO “was behaving monopolistically” (Holt, 25)–which it definitely was–ended in a reverse lawsuit directed at the studios “for attempting to create their own cable distributor” (Holt, 25). It turned into a controversial debate that spanned decades over the definition of “market,” something that Jill Hills argued that “definitions…became political constructs created to benefit new stakeholders seizing the opportunity of new technologies” (Holt, 25). During litigation regarding the Showtime-Movie Channel partnership, attorneys argues that “‘market’ for entertainment product extended to any type of first-run, network-quality programming” (Holt, 39). The Justice Department disagreed, limiting the “market” only to the pay-television industry. This was interesting due to the opposite ruling in the case against Premiere, during which the “studios, cable networks, and cable distributors were all lumped into a single market in order to demonstrate the threat that Premiere’s consolidation would post to such ‘wide-open’ competition” (in 1982) (Holt, 39). I found the inherent suspicion regarding antitrust policies and competition to be confusion; was there a reason that whoever was already the most successful was given the most leniency? HBO was given an enormous regulatory advantage for years based on “their perceived ‘outsider’ status in relation to the major studios at this point in time” (late 1970s)  (Holt, 26). (Side note, the fact that Pat Robertson has been broadcasting since 1979 is mildly horrifying). Furthermore, the fact that there was any question of the HBO’s obvious unfair monopsony (“complete market dominance”) suggests that the culture of advantages was determined primarily by a paralleled government support from the Department of Justice and FCC (though I still don’t understand why this support exists? Are we to assume bribes? Just an agreement of regulation/deregulation values?)

Which leads me to my next point of the blatant neoliberal versus neoconservative efforts in gaining an advantage in a time of transmedia integration. On page 141, Holt describes a report by the NTIA/Department of Commerce as a “neoliberal manifesto,” meaning that the liberal sects of the debate spun deregulation by arguing that “the United States cannot afford to be complacent about the global market, advocating in turn for policymakers to adapt in order to promote the development of international mass media markets.” This was a constant legal tactic used over the 30 year integration process. Conversely, the neoconservative argument maintained that regulation was necessary to guarantee equality and competition; they feared that without restriction, one presence would dominate the entire industry and gain an unfair advantage. Regardless of the immediate debate (vertical or horizontal integration, purchasing rights, partnerships), those in favor or not in favor would use policy to manipulate their respective points of view. To me, it seemed like every piece of legislation to be passed had an evident neo-agenda, generally that of whoever was politically in charge during the respective time period.

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Comments

  1. You raise a lot of interesting and important issues here. I think we’ll do well to unpack some of them when we all meet face-to-face.
    In the meantime, a couple of thoughts:
    At the end of your first paragraph you write:

    Furthermore, the fact that there was any question of the HBO’s obvious unfair monopsony (“complete market dominance”) suggests that the culture of advantages was determined primarily by a paralleled government support from the Department of Justice and FCC (though I still don’t understand why this support exists? Are we to assume bribes? Just an agreement of regulation/deregulation values?)

    I think Holt gives us several glimpses of some of the reasoning behind the way the DOJ, FCC, and Congress dealt with HBO as compared to other early cable ventures. Among these is the DOJ’s view that as the first entrant into a new market, HBO would understandably have an advantage while potential competitors had to play catch-up. Another prevalent view was that because of its early market dominance, HBO was utterly crucial to the future of cable as an industry.
    On another note, we’ll probably need to spend some time talking about neoliberalism and its relationship to neoclassical economics vs. neoconservative politics.

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