Welcome to another edition of TV Smackdown. Only this imaginary wrestling super match is not on TV but about it. In one corner stands the mighty media business. In the other corner, the law of gravity.
Everyone knows that market capitalism is a cutthroat business but it’s always bizarre when media executives cut their own throats too as one conventional wisdom gives way to another. Like out of control bulimics, media moguls merge to purge.
Groupthink is seductive. One by one, the networks drank the kool aid of synergy with RCA gobbled up by GE and ABC turned into a division of Disney. Westinghouse bought CBS only to wither away after flipping the ‘House that Paley Built’ into a property of the Viacomese.
In many ways, the “market logic” that drove the synergy push, was expressed back in l984 by Mark Fowler, the chairman of Ronald Reagan’s FCC who made clear that broadcasting was NOT then, if it ever was, about serving the public interest.
Hunter S. Thompson, the late and lamented wordsmith, translated this analysis into a gonzo language everyone could understand concluding, “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.”
Soon. The TV world fragmented into more and more channels and alleged choices with fewer and fewer real voices. Viewers spent hours clicking away on their remote controls hoping to find something worth watching.
The Wall Street Journal, the house organ of business (including the media business) played taps on page one Friday for the synergy era with words borrowed from a Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon, “That’s All Folks.”
“Media Titan Is Selling Units, Downplaying Cooperation, Rivals Make Similar Moves,”
Just five years ago, Time Warner Bought AOL for a mere $103,5 billion. Ten years ago the company shelled out $7.6 billion to take over Ted Turner’s empire including CNN. Just sixteen years ago, Time bought Warner Communications for $14 billion.
Today it seems as if truth only comes out in a bleeped form.
It is not such a loss. If these companies could get their acts together, good programming might have been sacrificed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Michael Moore’s “Roger & Me” was almost a casualty of synergy when other Time Warner executives harangued the man who ran the movie studio distributing the picture not to do it because General Motors was of Time Magazine’s biggest advertisers. The two sides couldn’t agree, in another case, CNN’s attempt to do a joint TV magazine with TIME failed because the corporate cultures were too often dueling.
Of course, there is no admission of corporate failure to the shareholders who paid for their buying binge in reduced earnings or the consumers who have been deluged with low cost crap on the channels. Like the Bush Administration that Redstone admires, though once a Democrat, no one in the upper reaches of Medialand apologizes for nothin’.
Forget the viewers and the rest of us. We are treated as suckers and spectators just as the “bull…” boys milked the golden goose while snubbing their noses at their responsibilities to the public interest and our democracy.
Cooperation was never a value that enjoyed respect from cutthroat mogul. If they were in Kindergarten-and some act as if they are– their report cards would show them flunking “works well with others “. That is why there is so much arrogance and know-it-all-ism among media execs who insist only they know what people want when the public keeps telling them they don’t want it,
President Kennedy said after the Bay of Pigs fiasco that victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan. To paraphrase the Miami Herald today, victory in the media world spews a hundred PR releases; defeat is ignored to be buried in talk of “adjacencies.”