of YES Network Offers Harsh Criticism
of Media Consolidation at Inaugural Russell Banks
CEO Leadership Lecture at Baruch College
BARUCH COLLEGE, NEW YORK, NY (10/08/03)--If you need someone to critique what is known as ‘vertical integration’ in the media business, you might as well try one of the people who invented it.
Leo Hindery, currently CEO of the YankeeNets YES Network and former head of such historic 90’s media ventures as Global Crossing, TCI, and ATT Broadband Internet, inaugurated the Russell Banks CEO Leadership Lecture Series at Baruch College on October 7, delivering a withering critique of the current media landscape.
“Five companies control 80 percent of the content on multichannel television,” Hindery said in his opening remarks. “In some regions they are also the ones who control all cable operations, which means access. Three companies control satellite delivery. It’s staggering when you think about it.”
The opening remarks were followed by a question and answer session between Hindery and Professor Joshua Mills, a journalist and director of Baruch’s Business Journalism programs.
“Pogo said, ‘I have seen the enemy, and he is us,” Hindery quipped at one point in his introductory remarks. “Even as I worked to make these deals happen [media mergers], I was testifying before Congress and the FCC urging them to put rules in place that would assure fairness in terms of content and access.”
The “winners” in the media landscape, Hindery told the audience of 200 students, executives, faculty, and visitors, are companies that control excellent sources of content as their primary focus, “enhanced by distribution.” These are companies such as Viacom, News Corp, NBC (soon to be NBC-Vivendi), AOL Time Warner, and, Hindery said, to a lesser extent, Disney. The other two models for television ownership are “distribution only,” which includes companies like Cablevision, which is still in litigation with the YES Network over the terms by which it delivers YES programming to more than 3 million homes in the New York metropolitan area; and ‘content only”, which is the oldest model: companies like CNN and HBO once were.
Even as he described the terms of their success, Hindery warned about the social and ethical consequences of concentrating that much production of culture into a few corporate entities: “As these [media] corporations become ever larger, they become overwhelming in size, and overwhelmed by temptation,” Hindery said.
“Even if the laws [regarding cable access and control] change tomorrow, it's unlikely the pattern of ownership will change....” Hindery said in reply to a question by Mills about the possibilities that future regulation by a Congress-chastened FCC could improve matters. “The insidiousness of this system is palpable,” Hindery said.
Discussing criticism of MSG and the Yankees for owning the venue that broadcasts its games, which suggests to some that no criticism or less-than-flattering analysis of the team can air, Hindery discussed the vertical ownership of media in all its forms, and the use of news venues to promote, legitimize, and never criticize the other content or businesses of the corporate owner. “I have never tried to control what the announcers say,” Hindery claimed. “And besides, sports teams aren’t your problem, serious news is a problem. It's potentially tawdry at every level of journalism now."
his warning that little about the current structure of ownership
can be undone, Hindery said that issues of access and fairness
and even content control are “going to take a regulatory
response, and that’s certainly not going to happen in