Guilds seek primetime quota for indies

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WASHINGTON -- The entertainment guilds are urging the FCC to require the major networks to set aside a quarter of their primetime schedule for independent programming in order to offset growing consolidation of the programming marketplace.

In a joint filing late Monday, SAG, DGA, Producers Guild of America, AFTRA, WGA West and East and the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors argued that one of the FCC's own studies showed that the consolidated media landscape was diminishing the number of independent programs on network TV.

That study, "Vertical Integration and the Market for Broadcast and Cable Television Programming" by University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, found that of the network shows in primetime only 18% were from independents and that the networks discriminate against independent programming by favoring their own shows over independent programming, even when the indies had higher ratings, the guilds said.

"The discriminatory practices of dominant broadcast networks have acted as an anti-competitive barrier to entry. The dominant networks constructed a Hobson's choice for any would-be independent producer whereby the networks take ownership or don't take at all," wrote Eric Huey, the attorney for the guilds. "The resulting contraction in the number of content providers, and consolidation of even more power in the hands of the already dominant broadcast networks, constitutes an evisceration of the commission's goal of viewpoint diversity and cannot be remedied absent regulatory intervention."

It's not the first time the guilds have formally argued for a set-aside. In the FCC's first shot at redoing the media ownership regulations, the guilds made a similar case. While that was rejected, the guilds are hoping that they can get some traction this time with Goolsbee's study, one of the scholarly examinations the FCC commissioned to help it decide what to do about the rules.

An independent programd source would be considered an "independent source" if is not directly or indirectly owned or controlled by or affiliated with ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC, or their subsidiaries or sister companies, the guilds said. If one of these companies owns or controls more than a 33.33% financial interest in, is the distributor of, or owns the copyright in a program, then it is considered produced by the network and not by an "independent source." A program cross-licensed by one network to another is not considered a program produced by an "independent source." Moreover, the term or license period for the networks' licensing of independent programming could not exceed six full seasons, the guilds contended.
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