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Empires of Entertainment

Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Empires of Entertainment
    Book Description:

    Empires of Entertainmentintegrates legal, regulatory, industrial, and political histories to chronicle the dramatic transformation within the media between 1980 and 1996. As film, broadcast, and cable grew from fundamentally separate industries to interconnected, synergistic components of global media conglomerates, the concepts of vertical and horizontal integration were redesigned. The parameters and boundaries of market concentration, consolidation, and government scrutiny began to shift as America's politics changed under the Reagan administration. Through the use of case studies that highlight key moments in this transformation, Jennifer Holt explores the politics of deregulation, the reinterpretation of antitrust law, and lasting modifications in the media landscape.

    Holt skillfully expands the conventional models and boundaries of media history. A fundamental part of her argument is that these media industries have been intertwined for decades and, as such, cannot be considered separately. Instead, film, cable and broadcast must be understood in relation to one another, as critical components of a common history.Empires of Entertainmentis a unique account of deregulation and its impact on political economy, industrial strategies, and media culture at the end of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5086-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. Introduction: The Foundation of Empires
    (pp. 1-21)

    When discussing the perils of doing business in the modern media landscape, industry mogul Ted Turner once remarked, “You need to control everything…. The game’s over when they break you up. But in the meantime, you play to win. And you know you’ve won when the government stops you.”¹ “Winning,” according to Turner’s vision, is achieving a significant measure of market control and exploiting that to strategic advantage before forcing the hand of government regulators and enacting the inevitable corporate restructuring. Judging by the current political economy of entertainment, the game for the modern media industries is far from over....

  5. 1 1980–1983: Film versus Cable
    (pp. 22-43)

    The path to fully integrated empires of entertainment first wound through the cable industry, via the film studios. At the outset of the Reagan era, distinct and well-regulated borders kept media industries mostly separate from one another. Because of the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (fin-syn) and cross-ownership regulations dating back to 1970, broadcast networks and film studios were not allowed to own one another, and broadcast networks were also prohibited from owning cable systems. Therefore, a blueprint for structural convergence would begin with deals between film and cable. This was not a simple or straightforward process; both film and...

  6. 2 1983–1985: Broadcast and the Blueprints of Empires
    (pp. 44-68)

    In the Premiere and Showtime cases, the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice had established an antagonistic position toward the film and cable industries’ joining forces. With Premiere shut down and the major studios all but eliminated from the Showtime/Movie Channel merger, it was clear that the Justice Department frowned upon horizontal integration within or between these particular markets at the dawn of the decade. This was largely due to the antitrust interpretation and regulatory philosophy that still lingered from the Carter administration. However, the remaining traces of this resistance to transindustrial consolidation would abruptly disappear in 1983, when...

  7. 3 1984–1986: Outsiders Moving In–Murdoch and Turner
    (pp. 69-92)

    In 1983, a yacht sponsored by Rupert Murdoch crashed into Ted Turner’s vessel during the Sydney to Hobart race, causing Turner and his crew to run aground just six miles from the finish line. After returning to dry land, Turner challenged Murdoch to a live, televised fistfight in Las Vegas.¹ While Murdoch did not take Turner up on his offer, this “exchange” between the two moguls in the early 1980s established the tone for their relationship over the next twenty years and kicked off the definitive rivalry in media industries—one that would even spur the pace of empire construction...

  8. 4 1986–1988: Golden Era Redux
    (pp. 93-114)

    Alarming headlines in the trade papers (“Distribs Buy Cash Cow Chains,” “Majors Chase Fat Cat Circuits,” “New Economy of Scale in Hollywood”) trumpeted the mergers and acquisitions—specifically the widespread purchase of theaters and exhibition chains by the major film studios—that shook up the film industry in 1986. This wave of takeovers was a new, and rather surprising, phase in the construction of entertainment empires. Suddenly, the government was allowing the film industry to return to a state of vertical integration, after preventing the studios from doing so for nearly forty years. This was due to the Reagan administration’s...

  9. 5 1989–1992: Big Media without Frontiers
    (pp. 115-139)

    As the 1980s came to an end, deregulation was transforming the political economy of entertainment in surprising and unexpected ways. Its impact was varied, if widespread; regulators treated the film, cable, and broadcast industries all quite differently at this moment of empire construction. The film industry had just enjoyed years of deregulation and slackening antitrust enforcement, but cable would experience radically increased oversight, restrictions, and regulations by the early 1990s. At the same time, policies governing the broadcast industry were being progressively downsized. In all, when viewed from a transindustrial perspective, deregulation was a very uneven, yet relentless process that...

  10. 6 1993–1995: The Last Mile
    (pp. 140-164)

    Taken in aggregate, the events in the years leading up to 1996 could almost give the appearance that structural convergence was a fait accompli. Looking back, the media industries of the past seemed to be careening toward the full-blown deregulation of the Telecommunications Act with purpose and intensity. Momentum had been building for greater consolidation within and across media since the early 1990s. Of course, in 1993 fin-syn still stood in the way of film studios and broadcast networks joining forces, and the cross-ownership rules (albeit relaxed) still prevented the union of broadcast networks and large cable systems. But all...

  11. Conclusion: 1996 and Beyond–The Political Economy of Transformation
    (pp. 165-178)

    The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the ultimate deregulatory initiative to complete the structural convergence of the media industries that began during the 1980s. It was the first major reform of the Communications Act of 1934 and the last piece of legislation necessary to solidify the blueprint for new millennium entertainment empires. This was not an isolated, singular shining moment for convergence and deregulation as it was often characterized. It was instead the outgrowth of fifteen years’ worth of dismantling regulatory structures, the ascendance of neoliberal ideological values in economic and political spheres, and the latest triumph of media oligopolies...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 179-208)
    (pp. 209-216)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 217-225)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-226)