Thoughts on “Empires of Entertainment”

Jennifer Holt’s Empire of Entertainment presents an overview of rapid and widespread vertical integration of the cable and film industries in the 80s and 90s. Prior to the drastic restructuring of the industry described by Holt, film studios operated under strict anti-trust regulations imposed by the federal government. The Paramount decrees of 1948 hit the film industry particularly hard, forcing studios to divest themselves of their cinemas. The explosive growth of the television industry upended the status quo as film studios scrambled first to compete with television and later to integrate the new industry into their business.

Holt’s text offers readers an in-depth and at times alarming look into the government deregulation of the film and television industries under President Reagan’s administration. The hands-off approach to regulation taken by Reagan officials such as FCC chief Blake Fowler permitted television networks to expand their reach at ever-greater speeds, contrary to the intent of past government legislation. Throughout Reagan’s administration, film studios and broadcast networks continued to expand their influence and circumvent anti-trust decrees and legislation. Holt paints a somewhat alarming picture of the degree to which the film and television industries assimilated under the banners of a few giants. The extent of control asserted by a scant few corporate entities which Holt describes discomfited me more than once as I read the text.

Holt’s writing encourages the reader to take a skeptical view of the aggressive industry expansion in the 80s and 90s. The imparting of such a perspective would be difficult to avoid due to the rapidity with which the film and TV industries flaunted and pulled down legislation designed to ensure a healthy marketplace. Statistics highlighting the shrinkage of independent content in the face of expanding corporate power must necessarily alarm, as such statistics evidence the failure of anti-trust legislation to protect independent content creators from the overwhelming might of large businesses. Holt does at times opine on the dealings she describes, typically taking a stance dubious towards the studios, such as when she criticizes Malone’s statement that TCI did not plan on creating an empire (Holt 121). Despite occasionally injecting her opinions into the work, Holt delivers to readers a thorough, in-depth and seemingly unbiased examination of a very unsettling trend within our society’s foremost entertainment industries.

After completing Empires of Entertainment, I found myself curious as to how modern web-based services for independent video content creation, which fall outside the scope of Holt’s text, might interact with the industry titans currently controlling traditional methods of film and television distribution. While sites such as Yotube and Vimeo cannot present a head-on challenge to studio and network domination, they do offer independent creators more options for distribution of work than available in 1996 following the consolidation of corporate control over the industries. Holt remarked several times on a steep decline in independent content as corporations expanded their control; might new distribution platforms have slowed or arrested the choking off of independent television and film content?

Citations

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

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Comments

  1. Near the end of your post your write:

    After completing Empires of Entertainment, I found myself curious as to how modern web-based services for independent video content creation, which fall outside the scope of Holt’s text, might interact with the industry titans currently controlling traditional methods of film and television distribution.

    In a sense, this captures exactly why we began our inquiry into the impact of digital ICTs on the creative industries with Holt. I think you should remind us to come back to this question frequently. This will be important considering the complexity and rapid changes that characterize the dynamic between traditional media and new media, and between old-school media conglomerates and their more recent avatars, which are increasingly propped up by telecoms.

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