Writers Guild: AT&T/DirecTV Must Be Blocked

Writers Guild of America, West, president Christopher Keyser, will tell the Senate antitrust subcommittee Tuesday (June 24) that the proposed AT&T/DirecTV merger "threatens the progress of our most vital communication platforms and will stifle the creativity, independence and innovation enabled by online video."

The merger will inevitably lead to collusion on price, choice and service, he said, cannot be mitigated by conditions, is not in the public interest, and should be blocked.

Keyser said that was coming from a group representing more than 8,000 TV and movie writers.

"The writers whom I represent have experienced two decades of consolidation, which has reduced a once vibrant market of independent producers to one in which seven companies control almost all of television," he said in written testimony for a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing on the deal.

WGAW has long complained that consolidation in general leads to job losses and opportunities lost for independent content to find a home.

It is also concerned that consolidation will limit new opportunities online.

"The mergers between incumbent video and Internet service providers (ISPs) are happening at a time when new video competition is emerging online, giving consumers added choice and reintroducing independent programming to the landscape," he says.

Keyser also took aim at the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, which WGAW also has problems with, branding the current marketplace one of "merger mania."

"If this merger is approved by regulators, along with the Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger, two companies will control more than half of the nation’s MVPD subscribers and half of the wired Internet access market," he said. "The resulting companies would have unprecedented power as content gatekeepers. This consolidation of distributors will likely spur additional consolidation among content providers. In fact, the financial press reports that Univision, AMC Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive are potential acquisition targets."

He also pointed out that AT&T has argued it needed to get bigger to compete with Comcast and other cable providers, while Comcast has said it needed to get bigger to compete with companies like AT&T and DirecTV.

Keyser says the conditions offered by AT&T-DirecTV--deploying broadband to more consumers, promising stand-alone offerings at reasonable  prices, adhering to net neutrality rules--provide little protection against the merger's harms. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.