Ted Turner rails against FCC and big media

John here, pretending he’s Harold, with a link to a story about the FCC and big media. It’s by Ted Turner of CNN fame, & published in

The Washington Monthly.

His line of reasoning will be familar to loyal readers of Harold’s Tales of the Sausage Factory but it is refreshing to see it coming from the pen of a wildly successful media mogul.

Some tidbits:

Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see–and what we don’t see–will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life.

Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water, and the reservoir. The rain clouds come next.

I’ve included one more teaser in the extended section, but you’ll have more fun if you skip that and just follow the link to the article. It’s well written with Turner’s trademark directness, and it’s scary stuff from somebody who knows what he’s talking about.

Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox–fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.


  1. And case in point is Bob Pitman. Bob Pitman was one of the AOL Billionaires. After getting forced out by the Time Warner folks, Pitman put together Pilot Media to buy radio and television stations so he could do fun things with their digital spectrum and shake up programming. He is capitalized at $1 Billion cash (his own and some other folks).

    He can’t buy a TV station. No one will sell. The few owners that control the station groups do not want to sell to an outsider who will shake up the industry or, in the laternative, are waiting to see if the rules are relaxed and they can get a better price from News Corp or Viacom or one of the other group owners.

    When Bob Pitman, with a billion dollars, cannot find someone willing to sell him a TV station, it is time to abandon the illusion that it is a free market. I believe the technical term for this arrangement is oligopoly or cartel (depending on the level of formal coordination).


  2. Turner’s article is one of the most useful summaries of the case against Big Media I’ve ever seen. One of the most interesting aspects is that he never once mentions “the public airwaves,” the sacred cow that’s the starting point (and usually the stopping point) for most discussion about this issue.

    Turner focuses directly on the regulatory infrastructure — fin-syn, must-carry, ownership caps — that make or break entreprenurial possibilities.

    I only hope people are paying attention to what Ted’s saying.

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