'The Shield' Creator Shawn Ryan: Industry Consolidation Hurts Writers, Consumers

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The showrunner for "The Unit" will tell a Senate committee that the Comcast-TWC merger should be blocked and net neutrality should not allow priority access.

Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield, The Unit, Lie to Me and other shows, will blast the trend toward media consolidation next Wednesday in testimony before the U.S. Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation, speaking on behalf of the Writer’s Guild of America West.

Ryan, who is a writer, producer and showrunner, says that while there are more ways to distribute shows than ever before, the "disturbing truth about American media" is that it "is controlled by only a handful of companies through monopoly power," he says.

"These large corporations profit by underpaying those who are actually responsible for content creation and by overcharging consumers who have few alternative video choices."

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Ryan recalls the era before the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules were repealed in the early 1990s, when in 1989, he says 76 percent of the fall primetime schedule on broadcast was independently produced. Today, according to a WGA survey, only 10 percent is independently produced, and almost all of that is lower-cost reality TV shows.

"This excessive concentration has benefited the bottom lines of Fortune 500 companies at the expense of actual content creators," Ryan will tell the senators. "With tight control over both production and distribution, the vertically integrated media companies possess all the power as employers of talent."

Yet, adds Ryan, "the writers who are the R & D of this industry bear all the risk of developing new creative works while the media companies, through their control of distribution, reap the rewards. If a television series creator and a network experience creative differences, it is the writer who is replaced, not the network."

Ryan says it is not just the writers who suffer: "Consumers fare no better in this equation, as monopoly power restricts creative expression, limits content choices and drives up prices."

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Now online content is being consolidated as well, warns Ryan. "The promise of vibrant video competition is threatened by incumbent control of distribution. Our nation's largest ISPs [content creators] are also MVPDs [operators of cable systems and other distribution platforms].

"These companies," says Ryan, "which include Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, have both the means and incentive to stifle emerging online video alternatives."

Ryan calls on Congress and the government to stop the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as well as that of AT&T and DirecTV. He also calls for an open Internet with no priority access because no matter how the rules are written, it will ultimately lead to independent voices being squeezed out.

"What is good for these [big media] companies is not necessarily good for society," says Ryan. "We need a video marketplace that more closely embodies the American values of free speech, fair competition and the rewarding of creativity and innovation."

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In calling on the Justice Department to block the Comcast-TWC and AT&T-DirecTV mergers, Ryan says, "There is a fundamental political and economic question raised by mergers, concentration and the resulting monopoly power. Are they good for society or not? The answer in economic theory is a resounding no. Every economic textbook makes clear that the result is a misallocation of resources and an unfair distribution of income.

"What will the result be of further mergers and market concentration?" asks Ryan rhetorically. "Writers will be paid less to create and innovate, even though our national political rhetoric exalts the importance of creators and innovators. And consumers will pay more, just as economic theory and history have made clear they will."