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This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If Mitt Romney is elected president, he’ll take office with fewer personal ties to Hollywood than any chief executive since Dwight D. Eisenhower. But because the entertainment industry since has become an international economic powerhouse and the producer of America’s premier cultural export, it’s inevitable that Romney would, in some sense, have to “go Hollywood.”
The legion of entertainment conglomerate lobbyists who would come knocking at his doors would be guaranteed to get the new president’s attention. Whether they would get what they want remains an open question — Romney has sent Hollywood mostly negative signals so far. ?
Here are likely outcomes on key issues:
Some sort of action on enhanced measures to stem the web-based piracy that is bleeding the entertainment industry remains Hollywood’s top legislative priority. The problem for the entertainment industry is that Romney’s personal and fund-raising links to Silicon Valley and digital commerce are deep and long-standing, extending to his days as a private-equity investor and governor of Massachusetts. After sitting out the initial debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), he finally rejected it, blasting the bill during the South Carolina Republican primary. “The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive,” he said. “It would have a depressing impact on one of the fastest-growing industries [digital commerce]. … I’m standing for freedom.” The platform adopted at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., last month didn’t go much beyond that when it came to piracy. MPAA chairman Chris Dodd strikes a diplomatic tone toward the GOP blueprint, saying it “emphasizes the importance of us doing more as a nation to protect our intellectual property from online theft while underscoring the critical importance of protecting web freedom.”
Result: Given Romney’s declared predilection on this one, good luck with that.
How the government regulates content is another issue about which Hollywood has reason to be wary. During the GOP convention, the conservative organization Morality in Media trumpeted its success in winning platform language insisting that “laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.” CEO Patrick Trueman tells THR his organization hopes to see regulators reach beyond the networks to cable providers. “Your major cable and satellite TV companies all have PPV porn channels,” he says. “These companies — Verizon, Comcast, etc. — are therefore subject to federal obscenity laws.” Although courts have taken a dim view of extending any such regulations beyond the nets to the cable and satellite providers, there’s little doubt that the sort of conservative members Romney likely would appoint to the FCC could make life rougher for the Big Four.
Result: Envision a bunch of guys with Trueman’s views endlessly scrutinizing ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox for wardrobe malfunctions.
On the other hand, according to a veteran entertainment industry insider, “It’s most likely that a Romney administration would be much more hands-off when it comes to economically regulating broadcasting and the web.” The Republicans, after all, want smaller government, which means less regulation by the FCC and other agencies. The party’s platform, in fact, calls for an overhaul of telecommunications laws, which it characterizes as outmoded and a barrier to competition — a big deal for the major Hollywood conglomerates as they attempt to expand.
Result: Restrictions on cross ownership in major urban markets might be the first regulations to fall under a Romney administration.
Same-sex marriage has become a consensus cause in Hollywood, and a socially conservative Justice Department, which Romney’s comments suggest he would install, could move to block it. While most of the cases involving marriage equality appear likely to reach the Supreme Court before a new president would have a chance to appoint a justice, any Romney appointee will increase the court’s conservative bloc.
Result: Hollywood won’t find common ground.
When it comes to PBS, NPR and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, Hollywood would find its priorities and Romney’s opposed. Although the industry’s financial stake is slight, it matters to the creative community partly for idealistic reasons and partly because it’s where the entertainment industry often outsources its aesthetic conscience.
Result: Romney has said he wants to zero out all support.
If Romney heeded vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan‘s urgings to overhaul the tax code, Hollywood’s lobbyists would be right there in line with every other big business fighting to preserve and extend every exemption and write-off the entertainment industry now enjoys.
Result: Because the congloms represent big business and will speak Romney’s language, expect a sympathetic ear.
Romney understands the importance of trade and that Hollywood is a major generator of the export revenue.
Result: Romney would take an aggressive posture on counterfeiting in the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership talks with America’s Asian partners.
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