Doesn't look like comedian turned senator Al Franken is planning a return to NBC's "Saturday Night Live" anytime soon.
In his opening remarks about the proposed Comcast-NBC deal at a hearing held by the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Franken (D-Minn.) ripped into the deal and the risks it could present to not only consumers but media competition as well.
Franken, who was a regular on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" for years and also had a short-lived sitcom on the network called "Lateline" in the late 1990s, dismissed the claims made by Comcast and NBC Universal that the partnering of the nation's largest broadband and cable provider with the entertainment giant would not harm competitors or the public.
"You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken snapped.
Franken noted that similar promises were made by NBC when it was supporting the gutting of federal regulations that limited the amount of programming a broadcast network could own. Known as the financial interest and syndication rules, the Federal Communications Commission removed them over a decade ago after years of debate between producers and networks. Getting rid of the so-called fin-syn rules cleared the way for the mergers of Walt Disney and ABC as well as Viacom and CBS.
Here’s what really interests us, though, and has us pulling up a chair to see what goes down. We wonder what public proclamations will be coming out of the White House that is dominated by net-neutral and Fairness Doctrine types given the fact that Jeffrey Immelt, who is the CEO of General Electric which owns NBC, is very chummy with the White House and, in fact, sits on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
But back to the matter at hand. Franken and others are worried that smaller production companies are getting squeezed by media conglomerates who demand part ownership of the intellectual property generated by the production companies in order to get air time. According to linked article, these indies either got swallowed up or went out of business when the aforementioned mergers went down.
Here’s our problem with that, however. Forget over-the-air, traditional network television and hit the “guide” button on your remote. Does that look like a dearth of a) outlets available to the consumer and b) material that is being generated by production companies? Save sports programming, we don’t even watch network television anymore – haven’t in years - as we find no shortage of excellent programming on Discovery, History Channel, PBS, Military Channel, NFL Network, etc.
We can sympathise with Senator Franken who probably knows a few people in the biz who’ve been downsized because of these mergers but we’re really having a tough time grasping how that has choked-out competition when we ponder the several hundred cable channels at our disposal and the explosion in numbers of which seemed to coincide with those mergers of 10-15 years ago.