Tuesday, October 23, 2007

They Choose...We Lose

Hobson's choice: a free choice in which only one option is offered. The choice is therefore between taking the option or not taking it. The phrase is said to originate from Thomas Hobson (1544–1630), a livery stable owner at Cambridge, England who, in order to rotate the use of his horses, offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door — or taking none at all.

As this Hollywood Reporter article outlines, the entertainment guilds in the U.S. are urging the FCC to require the major networks to set aside a quarter of their primetime schedule for independent programming in order to offset growing consolidation of the programming marketplace.

In a joint filing late Monday, SAG, DGA, Producers Guild of America, AFTRA, WGA West and East and the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors argued that one of the FCC's own studies showed that the consolidated media landscape was diminishing the number of independent programs on network TV.

That study, "Vertical Integration and the Market for Broadcast and Cable Television Programming" by University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, found that of the network shows in primetime only 18% were from independents and that the networks discriminate against independent programming by favoring their own shows over independent programming, even when the indies had higher ratings, the guilds said.

"The discriminatory practices of dominant broadcast networks have acted as an anti-competitive barrier to entry. The dominant networks constructed a Hobson's choice for any would-be independent producer whereby the networks take ownership or don't take at all," wrote Eric Huey, the attorney for the guilds. "The resulting contraction in the number of content providers, and consolidation of even more power in the hands of the already dominant broadcast networks, constitutes an evisceration of the commission's goal of viewpoint diversity and cannot be remedied absent regulatory intervention."

Any of this sound familiar? Guess us Canadian creatives aren't the only industry folk with an axe to grind when it comes to federal regulation in the TV business.

Yet what's making headlines up here are the cablers urging the CRTC to loosen up the rules and allow in more foreign (read: American) channels.

Rogers Communications has urged the CRTC to open the Canadian airwaves to more foreign channels, as the regulator gets set to write new rules for domestic cablecasters, satellite services and other content carriers.

"Any non-Canadian service that would not threaten the viability of a launched Canadian programming service should be allowed in," the cable giant said Friday in a written submission to the CRTC.

This after the CRTC recently denied a Shaw Communications bid to offer USA Network to it's customers.

Shaw Communications, which sponsored the bid by USA Network to enter Canada, rejected the CRTC decision as "anti-consumer" on grounds it denied Canadians choice in foreign TV services.

Yes, it's all about 'choice' isn't it. Well, how about fewer American or foreign channels as an option? Or in the case of our own networks and growing consolidation of the programming marketplace, how about more indigenous TV production...like, say, 25% independently produced wholly Canadian dramatic programs (with appropriate license fees and foreign rights retention) to be aired in primetime?

Though the Canuck cablers and networks might say it's about choice, for them, it's more about making money.

Here's hoping the CRTC (and the FCC) recognize that.


The_Lex said...

So. . .who's in charge of the party to welcome Big Brother $$$ as the overlord of our minds?

Tim Thurmeier said...

On the topic of Big Brother, is there a Canadian version of the show yet? Not that I'd watch it.

Bill Cunningham said...

I'm sorry, what "independent programming" did they site as having higher ratings numbers?

What qualifies as independent?

This is interesting.

wcdixon said...

Independent, as I understand it Bill, would be producers or companies not owned or a subsidary of the major networks and their parent companies.

As for the shows from independents with high ratings...3 Arts Entertainment (Everybody Loves Chris)? Or Brillstein Grey (The Sopranos)? Though I'm not totally sure they are independent co's.