John Wells warns of media consolidation in testimony about Comcast-NBC deal

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Writers Guild West President and veteran television producer John Wells (‘ER,’ ‘The West Wing,’ ‘Southland’) said media consolidation has led to ‘homogenized content.’

In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday about cable giant Comcast Corp.'s proposed $30-billion takeover of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, Wells said the guild was very concerned about what the combination of the nation’s largest broadband and cable operator with a content giant would mean for consumers and the creative community.

‘Over the past several decades, our industry has consolidated from literally dozens of independent entrepreneurs and suppliers, including many writer-owners making innovative and groundbreaking programming to a handful of large media conglomerates most often controlling content from start to finish,’ Wells said. The result, he said, is that decisions on which shows go on television are based more often on money than quality.

Wells, who said the Writers Guild does not ‘want to see a repeat of Clear Channel’s consolidation of the radio industry,’ warned that combining content and distribution can provide ‘ample opportunity for abuses of power in the pursuit of corporate self-interest.’


During questioning, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts tried to ease Wells’ concerns that the merger would make it even tougher for writers and producers. ‘You don’t buy the fourth-place network and want to do harm.... You want to invest and restore it,’ Roberts said.

It is often true that it’s the struggling network that buys more independent programming. Of course, if the ratings go up, so does the leverage to negotiate for more ownership of content.

-- Joe Flint