Comcast/Time Warner cable merger bad news for artists

Mega-mergers are all the rage these days, but as hip-hop legends Public Enemy once said, “don’t believe the hype.” The latest in the new wave of consolidation is the proposed merger of cable behemoth Comcast and the moderately less enormous Time Warner Cable. Like prior media and telecommunications mergers, there is little reason to believe this deal will have anything but a negative impact on America’s creative communities. This hasn’t stopped the cable monopoly from pouring millions of dollars to influence municipal, state and local officials into getting the deal approved.

Beyond the staggering dollar figures are very real antitrust and public interest concerns. Already, just a few companies control huge swaths of our media, technology and entertainment landscape. Comcast’s previous purchase of major television and motion picture studio NBC/Universal set off alarm bells for content creators across the country, but was nevertheless approved. The latest proposed merger is raising even more red flags.

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If allowed to gobble up Time Warner Cable, Comcast will have tremendous leverage over content distribution in today and tomorrow’s marketplace. First, there’s the company’s already massive control over Internet access. Today’s creators increasingly rely on the Internet to reach audiences and earn a living. This is something that regulators must consider, especially in light of the ongoing debate over net neutrality. Not only is Comcast already incentivized to favor its products and services—or that of its preferred business partners—it has tremendous power to block, slow or degrade the lawful content of competitors or quash innovations it doesn’t like.

Right now, musicians and other artists are grappling with complex questions regarding the economics of cultural production. By putting too much power in the hands of corporate gatekeepers like Comcast, regulators could put a cap on the growth of an incredibly vital sector: the American creative community.

The promise of the Internet was that anyone with a great song, a great idea or a great innovation could reach audiences without undue interference. As we continue to experiment with new business models for the 21st century, it is crucial that creators and content producers have some say in the terms of distribution.

Then there’s the problem of letting a massive Internet Service Provider pick winners and losers online. If Comcast decides that a certain app is the only one available on its on-demand service, or if it prioritizes Internet traffic for companies that can afford to pay big money, creators could be locked into systems that serve the interests of the biggest companies and not necessarily their own. Comcast is already free to exclude its own products and services from consumer data caps, while slapping subscribers with overages for using other applications. Under such arrangements, more artist-friendly innovations may never get out of the starting gate.

All of this is why Future of Music Coalition and Writers Guild of America West  filed with the Federal Communications Commission requesting that the merger be denied. Creators of top-shelf television and video programming understand the dangers of letting one giant company rule over so many aspects of our modern communications infrastructure. Music is a huge part of this ecosystem, from the songs you hear on cutting-edge TV shows like “Breaking Bad” to local cable platforms where musicians and composers can reach audiences in their own communities.

Diversity is another major concern regarding the proposed merger. Colorlines reports that, while women represent over half of the population and people of color represent about 36 percentage of population, both groups each own less than 10 percent of radio and TV licenses. Further consolidation in our media and communications landscape would hinder access to ownership for women and minorities, directly impacting diversity in programming. These concerns are shared by a diverse array of groups and individuals in the Stop Mega Comcast Coalition

The latest spate of mergers is like a bad song that gets stuck in your head. America’s culture-creators deserve better, as does the public, who benefit from access to a diverse array of lawful content and services. By rejecting Comcast’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable, regulators will be doing their part to enable a vibrant future for music and creative content. 

Rae is CEO of the national nonprofit Future of Music Coalition and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University

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