Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I had this dream: the radio woke me up at 7AM. It was a MegaChannel station. That wasn’t surprising – all the stations in town were owned by MegaChannel. Didn’t matter anyway – I was on the west coast, the station was voiced-tracked from Bangalore and I knew that “Johnny Buzzcock” was really some guy named Dilip. The big media companies had finally gotten the FCC to do away with that silly notion of locality, and so the new ownership rules let any one company own up to 45% of the national media market regardless of media type.

What followed was pretty predictable. In the name of efficiency (spelled p-r-o-f-i-t), the big media companies began consolidating their holdings and trading with each other to gain geographic dominance – like you’d trade one yellow street for a green in order to get all three in a popular board game whose name escaped me…

So it ended up that NoEnd Broadcasting wound up with Boston, MegaChannel got Chicago, etc. Of course, New York and LA were the last to be “rationalized”, but only after things got ugly and the Commissioner of Media was brought in to settle the remaining disputes. Like clockwork, the outsourcing wave swept through the media industry and sent 40% of its US jobs overseas.

After the stock market got done digesting the improved earnings from that phase of consolidation, the media bigs needed to find new ways to grow. So they began buying up adjacent entertainment businesses: movie theater chains, concert venues, and amusement parks. Then, realizing that shopping was considered “amusement” by a large section of the US population, they began buying up retail malls. After the last mall got snapped up, the business analysts starting thinking about “vertical integration”, so the bigs went after the retail stores in the malls, and then the manufacturers of the merchandise in the stores.

So that’s how it was that I got up, showered with MegaChannel soap, brushed my teeth with MegaChannel toothpaste, put on some MegaChannel jeans and a MegaChannel sweatshirt and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. I turned on the television while I was eating, and watched the MegaChannel news, which featured a story on the candidates that MegaChannel had selected to run in the cities it controlled. It was odd, but I couldn’t think of any of the candidates that were running against them. I mean, I hadn’t read anything about them in the MegaChannel newspaper, or heard anything about them on the MegaChannel radio or TV stations. So I guessed they really couldn’t be much of a factor in the election coming up…

I woke up in a cold sweat. It took me a while to get oriented, and then I realized that I’d had a dream, and all that hadn’t happened, and everything was going to fine. I mean, who would let the US stock market reward growth-at-any-cost behavior? And wouldn’t our elected officials prevent the Justice Department from letting industries consolidate past the point of no return? And wouldn’t the FCC, a clearly non-partisan, apolitical body whose only motivation was to serve the long-term public interest, work hard to protect the system that encouraged locality, multiple viewpoints and dissent and fostered competition as a way to remain a vital part of our democracy? All three of those institutions would surely serve as barriers to the kind of future I had dreamed about.

Wouldn’t they?

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