Glenn Reynolds (and Larry Lessig) are just paranoid

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.

  • I read Glenn’s article. Wasn’t his whole point that the Internet will be the counter weight to BIG MEDIA as long as it’s kept free?
    Sounds like you guys are on the same side. What am I missing? He just seems to think that bad legislation could screw things up on the Internet and wants us to be vigilent and not allow that to happen.

  • Del: To oversimplify everyone’s stance (using Glenn’s words): Chairman Powell isn’t worried about media concentration. I’m not worried. Glenn is. We won’t disagree about leaving the Internet open. I also think media should be open.

  • Interesting points, Jeff. I don’t take conspiracy theories very seriously based on the articulate reason you brought up (big business is not organized enough to conspire).
    Don’t read my comments in favor of regulation. But I think big businesses are motivated enough to follow certain goals (read bottom line of the companies). In the absence of diversity, there is less of a coincidence that the big media adopts the same method and tone to boost the bottom line.

  • Well, Jeff, I can see why you’d say that, but isn’t the recent attempt to limit the devices you can attach to your cable in Tennessee an example of big media being organised enough to pose a threat? What about the DMCA? Isn’t that another?
    Just thinking out loud here. I’m not extremely educated on these issues. Until they try to shut down my own sites, or other blog sites, I’m not going to worry too much about it. (famous last words, some would say)
    On a side note, my wife recently spoke on a net radio show about the concentration of media ownership and her position was that there is no evidence that concentration of ownership means less diversity of opinion. She researched it pretty well, if I remember correctly. I’ll have to ask her to throw her $0.02 in here.

  • Yes, I did research it fairly well. Using data from the Center for Digital Democracy’s own scare site on the FCC rule changes, I came to the conclusion that the only people truly against the media ownership rules changes are those entreprenuerial producer types who made fortunes selling their small shops to corporate conglomerates, played golf for awhile and came out of “retirement” to find that the costs of shopping around shows to distributors is prohibitive to the independent producer.
    There is no conclusive proof that fewer owners equals less “diversity” of opinion or subject matter. None. If there is, why does the above referenced site not have any?
    That being said, lobbying and campaign financing are hardly “conspiracies.” I would say that Del’s point is dead on: the concern of the Reynolds article is the lobbying power large media wields and its effects on consumer choice and freedom.
    On the third hand, Michael Powell changing ownership limits from 35% to 45% has not a whit to do with the fact that Time-Warner has the ear of every member of the Senate.

  • anon

    Regarding consolidation in FM radio, as a consumer, I find my choices very circumscribed by formatted stations. Independent stations are more interesting, for me. If market capitalism was a good model for the US media, you might expect a diverse set of news viewpoints. I don’t see/hear that either.

  • Sheesh…you can’t even go one post without either mentioning Mr. Reynolds, or a Nick Denton-published blog…and in this post, you double up!…A Gizmodo reference! Is this some hip new form of text-ad advertising? ‘Cause since I don’t believe in conspiracy theories either, I’m clammoring for an explanation…

  • Jerry

    Seems to me that a lot, maybe most, blogging relies on feeding off news provided by big media. If that chokehold becomes more narrow through further media consolidation, what happens to the diversity of views everyone is celebrating?

  • lindenen

    What has happened to FM radio is THE argument against deregulation. If you’re worried Murdoch and Microsoft already own too much, just wait.

  • lindenen

    Jerry makes an excellent point.

  • Thanks for writing that, Jeff.
    I’m guessing that most people wanting more political rules on who-can-own-what believe that the difficulties in setting up new radio stations or gaining cable distribution are natural restrictions, rather than further artificial restrictions…? (iow, I’d be happier if it were easier to run your own local radio station, rather than giving it over to the lawyers on who can operate an artificially-few radio stations.)

  • lindenen

    I don’t want more restrictions. I want to keep the restrictions in place and bring back the restrictions on radio that were done away with by the 96 Telecommunications Act.