Sales agents and television distributors are calling for 25% of US primetime television to be ring-fenced for independent programming. Lobbyist the Independent Film & Television Alliance says that the share of primetime enjoyed by independents has fallen from 50% in 1995 to just 18% last year.
At the same time the amount of programming in primetime owned by the networks has grown from 15% to 75%. IFTA is lobbying U.S. communications regulator the Federal Communications Commission for the quota because although instinctively against regulation, it sees no other option.
Jean Prewitt, chief executive of IFTA, says: "We believe that the erosion is due to a lack of regulation and the only way to solve the problem is to have more regulation." He adds: "We are now in a situation where independent producers face a constantly diminishing marketplace. Independent producers and distributors find it virtually impossible to sell programming to broadcast television or cable and satellite channels in the USA today."
The FCC has already received 167,000 submissions as part of its current review of media ownership. The regulator has said it would like to issue new rules before the end of 2007. However, the regulator is unlikely to act before next year’s election.
IFTA is also taking its fight to Congress, which is also holding its own investigations into media ownership – and can compel the FCC to act if it sees fit. The independents’ problem stems from the FCC allowing the old Financial Interest and Syndication Rules ("Fin-Syn") to expire in 1993.
The Fin-Syn rules barred networks from having a financial interest in programmes or movies they broadcast. Since then there has been a sea-change in the television marketplace with a few vertically-integrated media companies holding sway.
Prewitt says: "By taking these very small steps, which are wholly within the Commission’s authority, the Commission will go a long way towards insuring the survival of the independent production community. Without important new blood supplied by the independent production community, the future of primetime programming is bleak indeed."
Tim Adler, Los Angeles