Media consolidation closes some doors while opening othersBy Charlie WhiteThe FCC recently relaxed its rules for media ownership, so now huge broadcasting companies can grow even bigger. Where corporate giants were once allowed to own only a handful of TV stations each, now a station group can amass enough local stations to cover 45% of the United States. A company can even own two TV stations in a single market, as long as only one of them is in the top four in ratings. Why should content creators care about this? It’s just a bunch of politics, right? Well, it could cost you your job, if it hasn’t already.

One of the most expensive budget items for a TV station is personnel. In the rush toward higher productivity and efficiency, corporate greedmeisters have dreamed up a way to get rid of 30 percent or more of those pesky employees. The idea is called Central Casting, where a group of stations produces all its promotions, graphics, accounting, technical operations, programming and more at one centralized location, thus eliminating any «unnecessary» people at some of those smaller stations out in the hinterlands.

Here’s where the recent FCC decision comes into play. Even though the flight to Central Casting has already begun, I think the situation will be made even worse by this decision to allow more stations to exist under one corporate wing. It will allow already-bloated group-owned conglomerates to get even fatter, further McBroadcasting cookie-cutter graphics, promos, and even newscasts to lots more stations. Some cities will even have the same newscasts running on two different stations in the same market, with the same edited stories, same graphics, same anchors and same production crews for both stations. The only difference will be the «bug» graphic sitting on the screen the whole time.
From the perspective of the station group owner, this looks like a gold mine. To content creators, it looks like unemployment. Many of you, readers of this Web site, make your living putting together television content for local stations. Unless you’re one of the chosen few working in the flagship station of a large group, you might be vulnerable to this new down-sizing, high-efficiency phenomenon. The new loosening of regulations means less localism when it comes to editing and producing news pieces, little local input for graphics, McPromos produced miles away by people who know zilch about your area or its people, and fewer jobs for editors, producers and production personnel of every stripe.

Now, I’ve never been one who wants to stand in the way of progress, but mowing down hundreds, if not thousands of talented content creators for the sake of the corporate bottom line doesn’t appeal to me. And, I think we need more of a variety of viewpoints expressed on the air, not less. But the companies who want to snap up every television station in sight are thinking efficiency, not variety. They want to make more money. Are these TV stations, which once were the equivalent to a money-printing machine, getting to be less lucrative? Maybe a little, so if a station group owner sees a way to produce his local programming for thirty percent less than he did last year, I think he’s either going to jump at that possibility or get fired. That’s business.

But wait. If all these content creators get laid off because of this new cold-hearted efficiency, won’t there still be work for them to do somewhere? Sure there will. They won’t be mowed down after all. Think of it this way: The reason these rules were changed is because the communications channels into the living rooms of America aren’t as scarce as they once were. That means there’s a plethora of opportunity for more of us to present our art and craft to the public without the support of a major corporation with its multi-billion-dollar hoard of TV stations. Think about showcasing your work on media other than just plain-vanilla TV, like Video on Demand (VoD), Internet streaming channels (which I think are about to make a explosive comeback), DVDs you can make and distribute yourself over the Web, and even more venues for entertainment that haven’t even been thought of yet. Think narrowcasting, not McBroadcasting. Refusing to be chained to a corporate entity that is transmogrifying into junk food TV will free you to build the new world of media that’s stretched out before us. It’s out there, waiting for the adventurous souls who will be its pioneers. And that could make all the difference.