This time, Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the extremely media-conscious senator is concerned about the effects of vertical integration on program suppliers. He wants a Government Accountability Office study of the relationship between ownership of media outlets, in both television and radio, and the use of independently-produced programming, including details on how it’s changed and what legislative remedies may be required. Dorgan’s chief concern is that the tendencies for big companies to use their own programming resources, or limit the availability of free channels via various bundling and retransmission requirements. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) co-signed Dorgan’s letter to GAO.
“There has been galloping concentration in the media,” said Dorgan. “I believe it is high time we examine the real-life impact this consolidation has had on what Americans see, hear, and read.” In the letter, the senators wrote, “We worry that the percentage of independently produced and owned content on media outlets will continue to fall, thereby limiting the number of distinct media voices.”
Dorgan asked for five points of study: * Sources of programming on television, radio, and subscription video services and how these sources have changed in the past decade; * Factors contributing to the current distribution of programming on television, radio, and subscription video services; * The impact that consolidation has had on independently produced programming; * To what extent the Internet has provided an outlet for independent programming and to what extent have the traditional media companies come to dominate the most popular Internet sites; and * Changes to existing laws and regulations that industry experts and participants think are necessary.
RBR/TVBR observation: Dorgan has been the point man in Congress on media issues, and he has been nothing if not relentless in pursuit of his anti-consolidation agenda. The NAB has spent the first year of the David K. Rehr regime making sure its political arm is properly staffed to deal with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. That may well prove to be one of the smartest moves the organization has made. If the Democrats solidify their hold on the Senate and increase their margin in the House, it will not be a good time to pursue a regulatory wish list. Instead, it may well be a major challenge just to keep the rules and regulations from going backwards.
For example, broadcasters will need people who can convincingly explain to Democratic committee leaders that while to goals of something like enhanced disclosure may indeed be noble, the mechanism of such a regime will not provide the desired results, and the expense incurred will actually diminish a broadcaster’s ability to provide quality local service. If they recognize the message bearer as a member of their own caucus, the argument will carry much greater weight.