Should We Worry About Less Independent TV Production?

Why do independent programmers only contribute 18% to prime-time lineups now, versus 50% in 1989? That's a puzzle to three U.S. Senators, who want the Government Accountability Office to look into it.

Well, you know the answer -- media consolidation. My question is: Does it matter?
Was programming really that much better back in 1989?  And what does independent mean, anyway?

Back then, fewer broadcast networks owned big movie and TV studios, which, in theory, meant networks could not ply any undo leverage onto TV programs, thus hurting creativity.

Perhaps you could argue that "Seinfeld" from Castle Rock Entertainment, which was eventually bought by Turner Broadcasting, in turn, eventually owned by Time Warner, may have been an independent production.

Perhaps Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" series was independent, since it was first produced by Universal Television -- before being owned by NBC. Comedies from Carsey-Werner  -- "Roseanne" and others -- probably were independent. But all in all -- were these independent voices that much different?

That isn't, of course, the main worry for Congress. The bigger concern is that media consolidation will lead to a homogenization of creative voices.  Do they mean bland?

In this Internet-driven world, the Senators are probably missing the point: Independent voices are all around.  They may not be getting a 10 share in prime time, but they can be found and heard.

What do independent production voices mean for TV marketers? Perhaps it means some unusual opportunities to connect with consumers they couldn't before. Surely, it would also mean getting lots of those independent voices to gain scale for their media plans.

And how does this all jive with the supposed consensus of TV critics, who say we are in the "Golden Age" of the TV drama -- that there is actually so much good stuff you need to delete about half what's on your DVR. 

If less independent productions mean less quality, then I have a big problem. If it's about letting non-Hollywood-agent-attached, non-big-studio-connected, non-network-driven creative talent on the air, that's a different problem.

In this Internet age, every citizen in the U.S. could claim to be a TV producer. What then - and, more importantly, why can't I get access to a Thursday nighttime slot on NBC, just like Tina Fey



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