Times are getting tough in the television industry. The viewing public seems to be moving on to video games and YouTube. And where movies are concerned, box office receipts haven’t been setting any records.
Today’s reality is that the stock of companies like Viacom, News Corp., General Electric and their brethren are low, and only getting lower. And hey—Time Warner, maybe closing New Line and firing 600 people wasn’t the best idea, considering your stock is lower now than before dumping the house that Freddy and the Hobbits built.
But who am I to talk?
As chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance and the president of Troma Entertainment, one of the world’s longest-running independent film companies, I usually find myself speaking for the little guy. In fact, some might say I’ve made a career of speaking for the little guy, especially when those little guys include the 170 member companies of IFTA, first-time directors, toxic mutants, up-and-coming producers and dispossessed Indian chicken zombies.
But now I’ve decided to extend my benevolence to the giant media conglomerates that may need a leg-up from old Uncle Lloyd. I am proposing a plan to help these fine mega-conglomerates dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created and make more money.
You may be asking yourself, “What are you thinking, Lloyd? Have you finally lost it?” Have no fear. You heard it here first: I want big media conglomerates to make more money—loads of it.
Many, many years ago, in a far-off land called the 1970s and ’80s, creative and independent content flourished on television. But in the mid-’90s, the realm of mainstream TV was essentially closed to independent entertainment providers with the repeal of the financial interest and syndication rules (fin-syn). With one swift knee to the groin, diversity was all but eliminated in American television, and guess who wound up crying in a fetal position on the floor? I won’t keep you in suspense—it was me. Me and all the other independent producers out there.
But just as severely, if not quite as painfully, the viewing public also suffered. Prior to the repeal of fin-syn, nearly one-half of the Emmys given for best drama and comedy series were awarded to independent producers.
Since then, however, independent production has fallen from 50% in 1995 to only 18% of prime-time TV programming today. At the same time, we can look at TV’s rapidly shrinking market share and scratch our heads. Coincidence? I hate to say “I told you so,” guys, but…
Oh, hell ... I told you so.
Listen up, giant media conglomerates, because I’m going to tell you a secret.
Independent content gets people excited and attracts audiences to television. Just look at some of the most award-winning, creative content of the last few years. Films like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Monster” and “Crash” (which, by the way, is being developed into a television series)—all independent!
Instead of economically blacklisting independent content, big corporations should embrace it. Why not restore some form of fin-syn and allow independently produced and supplied content back onto the airwaves?
In fact, here’s a crazy thought: Giant media, why wait for regulations to catch up? Your stocks are falling now, so take action. Why not voluntarily open your cartel-like networks and reap the benefits of exciting and creative independent content that people want to see?
Don’t be afraid, Mr. Time Warner-HBO-AOL. You’ll get better content and more viewers, and with them more ad revenues. Economic competition is what our capitalist society is based on, so let’s capitalize. And, hey, Mr. Viacom-CBS-Showtime, with more independent content and a competitive environment, more of the public might give up some time on YouTube and return to watching television.
And here’s another idea. When it comes to the Internet, stop your attempts to colonize.
Colonization almost never works; ask the French. Your fight against net neutrality and attempts to marginalize independents make you look bad in the eyes of the public. Say this with me: “I, giant media, do not need to control the Internet.” Now say it again to yourself, because it’s important.
This Hulu coup you’re working on smells very much like an attempt to turn the last bastion of democratic expression into something resembling ABC, NBC, CBS and the CIA. To paraphrase Chris Crocker’s YouTube plea on behalf of Britney: “Leave the Internet alone!” With creative content flowing freely, the profit pie will grow bigger and there will be enough to feed everyone.
Even you, Mr. Fox-News Corp.!
For us independents, this issue is essentially fight or die. When we started Troma Entertainment in the 1970s, there were dozens of long-lived independent studios. Today, IFTA members include only a handful of indie studios more than 10 years old. We have been ridiculed, ignored and blacklisted, but we’re still here because the world needs independent art and artists.
But the independents and the viewers aren’t the only ones to benefit from free expression.
Creative and entertaining content means more viewers. More viewers means more money. So come on, giant media conglomerates, do the math. Let’s get together, level the playing field just a little bit, make love not war and, more important, make some money. And while we’re at it, let’s give art back to the people.
Lloyd Kaufman is chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance and co-founder and president of Troma Entertainment.