Voicing their opinions at the first of six planned hearings about new FCC rules on media-ownership limits, a range of creative professionals from REM bassist Mike Mills to A-Team creator Stephen Cannell came down hard recently against the idea of relaxing the limits in place today. At two meetings in Los Angeles, Mills and Cannell argued that mergers and buyouts by the dozen have already created a homogenized media landscape in which independent voices have no way to reach consumers.
The rules under review concern cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations within the same local market, as well as TV and radio stations existing under the same umbrella. The entertainers and producers weren't asking for tighter controls -- they merely want to keep the ownership limits already in place.
"Media competition today is far more intense than at any time in history," said Stanford University professor Bruce Owen, a representative for CBS (NYSE: CBS ) , News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) Fox, and General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC, as quoted in a Reuters story.
Professor Owen's three-headed mission in itself speaks volumes about the sameness of major media content, and I'm rather relieved to see Disney (NYSE: DIS ) left off that list. The good professor does have a point all the same, with Internet and home-theater DVD entertainment taking mindshare from traditional media more and more every day, and with digital video recorders like TiVo's (Nasdaq: TIVO ) eponymous product changing the way we think about TV programming.
Earlier comments suggest that FCC chairman Kevin Martin would like to remove ownership limits altogether, creating a buyout free-for-all that could lead to maybe one or two companies owning every news and entertainment outlet in Dallas, or Tampa, or Los Angeles. That would simplify life for the networks, which would be able to carve up the country into exclusive territories the same way cable and local telephone carriers have already done.
How many of us have a choice between Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) cable, for example? And could you imagine one network owning every TV and radio station in town, as well as the largest local newspaper? You think the playlists and news-coverage efforts look bland now -- wait until you see that scenario playing out.
As an investor, I want to see healthy competition driving America's companies to greater efforts and greater results. Marking your territory and settling for a secure status quo has never inspired greatness, and it won't start doing so any time soon. Don't go back to rockville anytime soon, Mr. Mills -- we need you in L.A.
- The entertainment industry is breaking the wrong rules.
- CBS can't be Sirius.
- We were there the last time these rules were relaxed.
Fool contributorAnders Bylundis a Disney shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He believes in coyotes and time as an abstract. You can check outAnders' holdings if you like. Foolishdisclosureis good for what ails you.