Regulating Ownership of Network Programming: The Rise of Major Media Conglomerates

Category: Ownership & Control

Issue: Regulating Ownership of Network Programming

Originally, the FCC’s fin-syn system was implemented in 1970, which was the FCC’s financial interest and syndication rules for the regulation of ownership and control of television programming.  These fin-syn regulations were enacted to limit the “ability of the 3 major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) to acquire financial interests or syndication rights in the television programming” as well as “to limit network control over television programming and thereby encourage the development of a diversity of programs through diverse sources of program services. (FCC 1995)” (Croteau & Hoynes 87).

However, in 1993 the U.S. district court ruled in favor of relaxing the fin-syn regulations so that the networks were not subject to these regulations because the competition between cable stations and the materialization of new networks prevented the large media conglomerates from monopolizing production and syndication (Croteau & Hoynes 87).  The U.S. district courts ruled this way because of the new changes in technology that started happening in the early to mid 1990’s.

Now, networks can acquire financial interests in and syndication rights to all network programming. This encouraged vertical integration; networks turned to studios that they owned or their corporate partners owned to produce more of their programming.  The large media conglomerates argued that “monopolistic control is no longer possible because we live in a diverse world with many options” (Croteau & Hoynes 88).  However, this is not the case.

By relaxing the old fin-syn regulations, major media conglomerates that owned many media outlets flourished, especially those that owned their own studios.  Independent and smaller media producers were constrained and even harmed by the relaxation of the old fin-syn regulations.  This is because major media conglomerates, like ABC, NBC, Fox, and CW were able to produce 90% of the series on major networks as well as being able to have financial interests in half of all of the prime-time programming. (Croteau & Hoynes 88).

The main debate between structure and agency in this case is that the “structure that protects the media industry’s copyright claims also constrained it’s ability to produce and resell its products” (Croteau & Hoynes 88). While “the agency of the media industry is seen in its ability to promote changes that favored the major networks” (Croteau & Hoynes 88).  Basically this debate between structure and agency in this case is that the same regulatory structure that protected the media industry copyright laws made it harder for those media industries to produce and sell its products while the actions of the media industry started to create regulations to favor the larger media conglomerates.

The regulation in question is the FCC’s fin-syn regulation, which was uplifted in 1993, which ruled that networks were not subject to this regulation anymore because of the new advancements in technology.  If the regulation was written in favor of the ‘other side,’ which in this case would be independent and smaller media producers, then more small and independent networks would still have the ability to make independent TV and cable stations.  The smaller networks would then have a equal chance against the large conglomerates networks that take up a lot of the prime-time programming slots because it does not cost as much for them. This is because the major media conglomerate vertically integrated with their studios, that either they owned or that their corporate partners owned, to produce more of their programming.

A suggestion I have for altering the regulation to improve them would be to go back to something similar to the FCC’s fin-syn system because the FCC’s fin-syn system initially imposed constraints on networks (mainly large media networks) so they could not monopolize or oligopolize network programming.  My recommendation is to impose a regulation that does not allow network companies, large or small, to acquire all financial interests and syndication rights to all network programming.  This would make the large media conglomerates not be able to use their own or their partners’ studios to produce more of their programming, which would require the large media conglomerates to pay another studio to produce their programming.  I think that this would not necessarily equal the playing field of network programming between small and large networks because the major media conglomerates already have a lot of money, so they are probably still able to take up a lot of the networking and prime-time slots, while the small and independent media producers were harmed from the inaction of the fin-syn regulations, and probably can not afford to show their programming in prime-time slots.  However it would give the small or independent media producers a higher chance of being able to get their programming on television, and therefore steadily making more money so that they can compete for TV time slots.

Source Cited:

Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (2014). Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences. Thousand Oaks, California. SAGE Publications.

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