Imperial Media: The Battle for Acquisitions

In the sixteen years that Jennifer Holt’s book covers, television entertainment transformed from a contentious battleground of new media acquisitions to a formidable staple of everyday American life. She argues that a handful of central figures were responsible for this shift. The deregulatory swing started by Mark Fowler’s FCC fostered a capitalist environment where companies and corporations could fuel money into the industry. The idea of industry regulation creates a fundamental dichotomy where the industry needs outside regulation to create a fair marketplace, but deregulation allows the industry to grow effectively. Through the 1980’s, this series of acquisitions and mergers played out on the public stage like a hollywood movie, or better yet, a serialized television drama. Holt discusses two high profile public battles between media giants that shaped the future of the entertainment industry both legally and artistically.

The first discussed was the meteoric rise of HBO as a pay-subscription movie service for home-viewing. Their ambitious motto of “it’s not TV, it’s HBO” separated themselves as above the rest of their cable and broadcast competition. The film industry lobbied against HBO’s connection to the film industry, because it began to influence the way production companies made films. After unsuccessful attempts to suppress HBO, Paramount, MCA/Universal, Twentieth Century-Fox, and Columbia combined forces to form their own pay cable service to battle HBO, Premiere. In the following year, Premiere was shut down on several legal counts. HBO proceeded to name their new original programming division “HBO Premiere Films” (Holt, 35). HBO’s public middle finger to the film industry fueled the fire between the film and television industries, propelling the fundamental battle for visual entertainment.

While initially, the industrial spheres of film and television were kept separate both legally and ideologically, eventually media integration and the ever-longing search for synergy created corporate connections between film and television. Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner rose as the first media giants to acquire holdings in separate industries. Their use and abuse of the FCC’s increasingly lax laws allowed them to create modern media empires that still stand today. But throughout their uprisings, public feuds also arose. Ted Turner leveled heavy and repeated accusations at the institutions of television touted by the big three, crying for the end exclusionary forces  and ushering in a new wave of media companies being introduced. Murdoch remained more friendly to the establishment, but became a natural enemy of Turner’s growing empire.

What made these companies stand out in both the private and public spheres is the enigmatic and publicized approach to doing business. By creating a public person, moguls such as Turner, can manipulate the public’s interest and pressure political decisions. As Mark Fowler says, “The public’s interest, then, defines the public interest” (quoted in Holt, 55). Public political performance becomes a key player in the success of these media giants.

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