Comments to FCC Spotlight Shrinking Opportunities for Writers 

(October 5, 2012) 

In the ongoing battle to preserve a competitive marketplace for writers, the Writers Guild West’s recently-filed comments to the FCC on video competition spotlight the gravity of the situation and the potential repercussions. The overall message: Consolidation of ownership in television translates into limited choices for writers and consumers. The Internet could alter these dynamics, but only if the FCC acts to protect an open Internet platform. This positive countervailing force means we are now at a pivotal moment for competition in the media marketplace.

“In traditional television there are now only a few companies that control production and distribution,” explains WGAW Research and Public Policy Director Ellen Stutzman. As the new network television season gets under way the situation is startlingly apparent. In 1989, when the broadcast networks were required to purchase programming from independent sources, 76% of the Fall primetime schedule was independent. Today, that figure has declined to 8%. The overwhelming majority of programming aired on the broadcast networks comes from CBS, Comcast-NBCU, News Corporation, Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company, all of which own the broadcast networks. On the 2012 Fall schedule, none of NBC’s series are independently produced. Moreover, the growth of original programming on basic cable hasn’t improved the situation. During the 2011-2012 TV season, 76% of dramatic programming was produced by vertically-integrated media conglomerates.

“It means that if you want to get a show on television you have essentially five companies that can produce it,” Stutzman continues.

The good news for writers is that technology has yielded new outlets for content. Companies including Amazon, Netflix and YouTube are now airing original programming. “This is a positive development,” says Stutzman. “Any time there are more buyers of work product and more employers it ultimately benefits writers because it increases competition for content.”

The WGAW’s recent comments, which were filed in September in response to the FCC’s call for comments for its annual competition in video programming assessment, are part of the Guild’s ongoing policy work to protect the interests of members through legislation and communications policy decided on a federal level.

To read more about the Guild’s policy work, click here