The Regulation of Entertainment

tvsJennifer Holt’s Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996 addresses the main concerns and issues while giving a detailed history of the deregulation and convergence. This time period of 1980 to 1996 was a very important time of rapid growth and controversy for the entertainment industries, with mergers and antitrust violation disputes running rampant.  Conflicts between the federal government, film studios, broadcast television networks, HBO, regulatory agencies, and many other actors were strewn across and throughout this time period. A lot of conflicts were very contradictory, especially in the rulings coming from the government and communities which would rule in favor of one studio, only to then turn around and sue another studio. The deregulation of the industry through the dissolution of antitrust laws was the most significant development of that time period.

The antitrust laws like the Sherman Act of 1890 and the Clayton Act of 1914, along with other antitrust laws, were meant to keep monopolies from forming in order to promote fair competition to benefit the consumers. Deregulation was filled with contradictions. Liberals liked deregulation because they saw it as a solution to deep-rooted corporate powers, and conservatives though that the bureaucracies like the FCC (and other regulatory agencies) were causing an inefficient economy and a false sense of protection. Under President Reagan, antitrust began to grow more strict. Under President Bush Sr., the antitrust agencies increased their investigations of antitrust violations. The Clinton administration became even more proactive about antitrust violations. The budgets for antitrust regulatory agencies were increased and even more state agencies joined in with the persecutions of violators.

Cable started to create chaos and conflict with the broadcast networks in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Between the years 1994 and 1995, the final outstanding regulations that separated the broadcast networks from the film studios fell away, rules for cross-ownership dropped off, and, finally, the telecommunications industry was able to join in with the global media conglomerates as a deregulated entity.

The first chapter of Holt’s book covers how the Hollywood film studios made a claim to the Department of Justice that HBO’s business practices were monopolistic. However, the Department of Justice did not agree with their claims and instead filed a suit against those four film studios for trying to create their own cable distributor. The shift in regulatory policy that began during this period was the most important component in the resulting industry changes throughout the next two decades.

Holt’s book also covers the creation of Tri-Star (the partnership of Columbia, HBO, and CBS) in 1983. The TV broadcast networks at this time were still not allowed to have their own prime-time programming and the film studios continued to provide this programming. Although the FCC wanted eliminate fin-syn (Financial Interest and Syndication rules), they did not. Eventually, new partnerships formed between the film studios because of the lack of consistent regulation across new media. Fox and MGM/UA formed a bond and used their film assets to integrate and consolidate the media industries. From 1986 through 1988 there was a new vertical integration in the film industry thanks to the assistance of Reagan’s DOJ and the federal courts.

The cable and film industries continued to integrate through 1992, and the merger of Time, Inc. and Warner Brothers created the largest entertainment empire in the entire world. The 1992 Cable Act signaled the re-regulation of cable. Fin-syn was eventually appealed in 1995. This repeal allowed broadcast companies and film studios to unite and with common ownership, continuing the shift to empire building in the entertainment industries during this time period.

Holt’s book only covers the changes in the entertainment industry up until 1996, but a lot has changed since then as well. Most notably, the internet now has a large impact of the entertainment industry in many different media areas. There are issues of illegal streaming and downloading of films and TV shows. There are also now services that allow viewers to legally stream and download content for a fee. The TV screen is not the only way to get content anymore. The internet brings with it a whole new set of issues and innovations. I think streaming will eventually become the main source of TV and film viewership because it will allow viewers to pay (or not pay) for exactly what they want without having to pay for all of the other channels that they don’t want to watch. I think that shows will eventually originally “air” over internet streaming as opposed to prime-time viewing on the TV. A lot of people, like me, now don’t even bother trying to watch shows when they first air on TV and instead opt to stream the shows or movies without the commercials and where they can watch it at their own pace, being able to pause or stop whenever they need to. The industries will continue to change as everything becomes more and more digitally oriented.

Holt, Jennifer. Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

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