Noah J Nelson on Friday, Feb. 14th
Here’s the TL;DR version of the list of people and organizations opposing the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger: everyone but Tom Perkins.
Indiewire pegs The Writer’s Guild of America and the famously conservative Parents Television Council–who often play the part of mortal enemies–as both being opposed to the merger. Cats and dogs, living together.
A combined Comcast/TWC would have incredible leverage over carriage agreements with both networks and independent producers. Something Indiewire fears. Some folks have managed to find what they think is a silver lining.
Cable industry boosters are, perhaps unsurprisingly, pointing to Comcast’s pledges to support net neutrality. That’s the principle that was torn to shreds in the courts thanks to a lawsuit by Comcast’s Internet Service Provider rival Verizon.
Comcast agreed to maintain net neutrality in 2011, when it acquired NBC Universal — that meant Comcast couldn’t give preference to the content it owned. The company said Thursday that this condition of “no blocking and nondiscrimination rules” would be extended to millions of new customers under the merger.
If that’s the case, the Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch reports, this merger may actually benefit net neutrality: It would give the FCC “a backdoor to enforce net neutrality on roughly a third of the nation’s broadband subscribers.”
Without enforceable regulations in place, however, this means we’d all have to trust that Comcast won’t succumb to the temptation to favor its own programming once their promises sunset in 2018.
There’s at least one former FCC commissioner who doesn’t think Comcast can be trusted. That would be Michael Copps, who served from 2001 to 2011 and was the only commissioner to vote against the NBC acquisition. He’s written a call to action in the Columbia Journalism Review asking for the press to dig into the repercussions of this deal.
Let me be clear: Not every transaction is bad. Consolidation may offer some limited benefits, as when stations pool money to buy a better weather radar. But there is a huge difference between that and merged stations reporting the same news by the same reporters.
So instead of making good things happen, I would be spending untold hours listening to big media tell me how their latest merger proposal would translate into enormous “efficiencies” and “economies of scale” to produce more and better news. Meanwhile, everywhere I looked, I saw newsrooms like yours being shuttered or drastically downsized, reporters getting the axe, and investigative journalism hanging by the most slender of threads. Instead of expanding news, the conglomerates cut the muscle out of deep-dive reporting and disinvested in you.
Those on the other side of the argument point to the proliferation of cable channels, web outlets, and alternate distribution channels for content as evidence that consolidation is no big deal.
As far as the breadth of content, they’re correct. Yet as the options on the consumer end get more numerous the whole media ecosystem flattens out like a pancake. This is problematic enough for the creators of entertainment, but for journalists struggling for resources the pooling of power is doubly dangerous. Fewer resources to question the interests of increasingly powerful media owners.
Once upon a time the Internet was supposed to be the distributed force that balanced the centralized power of media oligarchies. Internet pioneers were, perhaps, naïve to believe that the endlessly extensible nature of the ‘net was immune to top down control.
We know better now.
Creative Commons Image: Move The Clouds