WGAW Board member Adam Conover spoke at a recent FTC and Department of Justice listening forum on the destructive impacts of mergers and acquisitions.
The media and entertainment industry offers compelling evidence of the destructive impact of corporate consolidation on an industry’s workforce. WGAW members have worked through decades of consolidation that transformed a somewhat competitive industry, into one controlled by only a handful of companies that exert significant power over the entire media landscape.
In January, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a joint public inquiry aimed at strengthening enforcement against illegal mergers. To inform the inquiry, the FTC and DOJ is hosting four industry-specific listening sessions to hear from individuals who have been directly impacted by mergers and acquisitions in Food & Agriculture, Healthcare, Technology, and Media & Entertainment.
“Illegal mergers can inflict a host of harms, from higher prices and lower wages to diminished opportunity, reduced innovation, and less resiliency,” said FTC Chair Lisa M. Khan when the joint inquiry was announced. “Hearing from a broad set of market participants, especially those who have experienced first-hand the effects of mergers and acquisitions, will be critical to our efforts.”
WGAW Board Member Adam Conover—no stranger to the damage that can be caused by the vertical and horizontal integration that continues to plague the entertainment industry—addressed the FTC and DOJ’s April 27 Media & Entertainment Listening Forum.
“The show I created, Adam Ruins Everything, was killed by a corporate merger, specifically by AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner,” said Conover, who went on to detail how his experience is not unique. “Waves of mergers in this industry—approved by regulators or the courts—have put a handful of companies in control of what stories writers are allowed to tell and what viewers are allowed to watch, and done tremendous harm to the everyday workers whose labor powers the entertainment industry.”
Consolidation in the entertainment industry is not new. The repeal of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules in 1993 saw TV networks merge with production studios and almost entirely squeeze out smaller, independent production companies from access to broadcast distribution. After Internet-streamed video introduced new competition, cable and Internet companies responded by bulking up already enormous television and movie conglomerates to form mega corporations like Comcast-NBCU and AT&T-Time Warner. Most recently, legacy media companies have consolidated further in response to the growth of streaming video, prompting a current wave of mergers including Disney-Fox, WarnerMedia-Discovery, and Amazon-MGM.
“Today,” Conover continued, “the network that broadcasts your show also owns the studio that makes it, the IP that it’s based on, and the cable infrastructure that brings it to your house. Just six companies now control the production and distribution of almost all entertainment content available to the American public in theaters, on TV, and on streaming services. And the impact on those of us who actually make this content has been profound.
“With fewer employers competing for our labor, they can more easily hold down our wages and set onerous terms for our employment. For example, despite unprecedented growth and record profits, my union has found that median pay for TV writers is nearly the same as it was in the ’90s. Thirty years ago.”
Watch Adam’s full statement here: