Writers Guilds West and East Blast AT&T–Time Warner Decision

Amir Levy/Getty Images; Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Bloomberg
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes

The unions predict more mergers, higher prices and fewer choices.

The two Writers Guild of America unions — the WGA West and WGA East — on Tuesday afternoon blasted a federal judge’s ruling allowing AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner to proceed without conditions, with both calling the decision an anti-competitive blow to consumers and content creators that will lead to ever more concentration of media control in America.

Both unions emphasized as well that the end of net neutrality, which became effective Monday, would make matters even worse, with the one-two punch putting “the future of the internet and content distribution … in the hands of a few, increasingly consolidated and powerful corporate gatekeepers,” in the WGAW’s words.

“Never before has so much programming been under the domination of so few massive media and technology corporations,” said the WGAE in New York. The East Coast union also highlighted the effect on news reporting. Both Writers Guilds represent electronic news writers as well as film and television script writers.

From Los Angeles, the WGAW said the result will also be “higher prices and fewer choices.” The union predicted that the ruling would facilitate a bid by Comcast for Fox assets — a move that analysts expect, which would begin a war with Disney for control of Fox’s movie and scripted television production operations.

The WGA’s prediction of further media consolidation is consistent with what analysts expect. A Comcast all-cash offer for Fox assets is anticipated as soon as Wednesday. Meanwhile, tech giants like Apple are flush with even more cash, and observers wonder about the fate of a raft of entertainment companies.

The two WGA unions are separate organizations, but bargain jointly when negotiating their agreement with the major studios and cooperate on various other initiatives. Hollywood’s two other above-the-line unions, the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, declined to comment.

Here is the WGA West statement:

“Today’s decision is a blow to consumers, content creators and competition. The WGAW knows too well the harms of vertical mergers and welcomed the DOJ’s efforts to block this one. Unfortunately, a combined AT&T-Time Warner, like so many mergers before it, will lead to higher prices and fewer choices. Further, it will pave the way for more anti-competitive mega-mergers, like the forthcoming Comcast-NBCU-Fox tie-up. This ruling, coupled with the government’s abdication of open Internet protections yesterday, means the future of the Internet and content distribution is in the hands of a few, increasingly consolidated and powerful corporate gatekeepers. The approval of this merger makes clear that Congress must pass legislation that unambiguously protects competition in the face of vertical consolidation.”

And here is the WGA East’s:

“The AT&T/Time Warner merger and the demise of net neutrality are a one-two punch square in the midsection of American consumers and content-creators. Never before has so much programming been under the domination of so few massive media and technology corporations. At a time when the country demands, and needs, the broadest possible set of views and stories and voices, we have handed over the keys to the media kingdom to giants whose sole motivation is to maximize their short-term investment return, not to inform  or enlighten or entertain. Monopolies and oligopolies are bad for the economy in general, and for people who care about compelling stories and insightful reporting, in particular.”