Glenn Reynolds (and Larry Lessig) are just paranoid
: I respectfully — no, to hell with it, disrespectfully — disagree with Glenn Reynolds’ column on media concentration today (and with Larry Lessig’s enthusiastic “what he said!“).
Before I launch in, I’ll issue my standing caveat: I work for big media; I’ve worked for some of the biggest. I’ve even been on the wrong side of the synergy sword and lived to tell about it. Even so, I disagree with what the professors profess.
They’re afraid that too few big companies own too much of the media. Ah, but what about competition from the Internet and satellites and such? they’re asked. The Internet is dying, Lessig hyperbolically hyperventilates in response. Government and big business will make restrictive rules that mess up new media at the behest of old media, Reynolds replies. They’re just being paranoid. They’re big-media conspiracy theorists.
I never buy a conspiracy theory, for I argue that the world — and especially government and especially big business and very especially big media — are simply not well-organized enough to conspire. That’s why synergy doesn’t sell. No, I don’t believe in conspiracies.
But I do believe in the marketplace and its power. In the end, consumers will win. Some people didn’t want us to be able to tape music. But we do. Some people didn’t want us to tape video. But we do. Some people didn’t want us to be able to record MP3s. But we do. (And don’t give me Napster as a yes-but; that was theft; many of the music services that came next were rip-offs; Apple’s iTunes is a store with a good business model; consumers like it and it’s succeeding.) Artificial limitations on consumers’ desires cannot survive.
The world of information and entertainment is inevitably going digital and that will mean that we will be able to point any of many devices (PC, TV, phone, and gadgets not yet wetdreamed of on Gizmodo) to any media, and — so long as we paid or someone paid on our behalf (read: advertisers or creators) — we’ll be able to consume; they’ll be begging us to consume. This will utterly change the industry. But even now, there are fundamental changes occurring in this business:
First, the stranglehold of The Network — any network — is ending simply because there is more and more and more choice. On your TV, Hollywood is no longer fighting for slots on just three networks; there’s now cable. On cable, programmers are no longer fighting for a score of channels; there are now hundreds. Online, there simply is no limit to the addresses you can visit and the choices you have.
Second, competition and distruptive technology have indeed disrupted this industry and if current regulations stand, we will see companies die unnatural deaths and — mark my words — we will find less entertainment and information product and less choice as a result. I’m shocked that my fine conservative and libertarian blogging colleagues would be defending government regulation while I, warmongering, flag-waving liberal that I’ve become, am fighting regulation. But the simple truth is that FCC Chairman Powell is seeking to deregulate this industry because the regulation is out-of-date thanks to these disruptions.
Third, the barrier to entry to the creation of entertainment and media is lowered to the ground and that infinitely increases the choice and voices of media. Hell, boys, blogs themselves are the very proof of that! Now anyone can publish or produce words, images, audio, and video to the world…. I repeat: the world! And don’t tell me that you can’t get distribution and are doomed to be small. Glenn: You now have a larger audience than many newspapers and magazines and TV shows (start with Tina Brown’s). You have influence, as do Prof. Lessig, Dr. Marshall, and even the bloggers of Iran. Be warned: You soon won’t be able to whine and carp and complain about the alleged big media bias of various newspapers or TV networks, for they won’t be the only game in town and your voices will be heard in aggregate at least as loud as theirs.
So, gentlemen, I disrespectfully disagree. Be true to yourselves: Deregulate.
: Within 30 seconds after putting this up, a commenter, Del Simmons, said he didn’t think Glenn and I disagree about the critical point that the Internet should remain open. Del’s right and we do agree on that. I’m simply saying that the same is true for old media as new and I’m not worried about the end result of deregulation for either. Goose/gander.