NBC, Jay Leno and You

It's fascinating when seemingly-unrelated stories cross paths and eventually interconnect. Such is the case with a battle going between NBC and one of its major TV affiliates in Boston, WHDH.

This headline story is interesting on its own. It's the battle of an international Media Giant against a rebellious local force.

Add in the other, disparate story, however, and it all becomes a far-larger tale of greater intrigue and importance.

What happened in Boston is that the owner of WHDH, Ed Ansin, made the radical decision to not broadcast the upcoming Jay Leno Show when it moves to 10 PM. His reasoning is most people watch the opening monologue and first guest, and then turn off the show. This would drastically hurt the station's 11 PM newscast -- which is the biggest source of revenue for a TV station.

For NBC's part, they released a statement that "WHDH's move is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract with NBC." Adding, "If they persist, we will strip WHDH of its NBC affiliation."

NBC, you see, owns a Spanish-language Telemundo station, and would transfer its programming there.

That's the headline story. So, what is that other one?

It's the Writers Guild strike over a year ago -- as well as the current stalemated negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP.

How in the world are all these related ?

Let's take up the tale in an article from the Los Angeles Times, written by Meg James. The excerpt adds a colorful context to the battle. And then, I've highlighted the most notable passage.

NBC and Ansin [the station owner] have a tortured history. Twenty-two years ago, Ansin, who also owns a TV station in Miami, had his NBC affiliation pulled out from under him when the network bought a rival station in the market. The switch dramatically reduced the value of Ansin's station, and with it his family's worth.

At the time, NBC's action was seen within the broadcasting world as jaw-dropping treachery, upending a decades-long partnership and redrawing the balance of power between a network and its affiliates.

Some viewed NBC's switch in Miami, coming shortly after General Electric's takeover of NBC, as a turning point in relations between networks and local broadcasters, which have eyed each other warily since.

These days, Ansin isn't the only station owner unsure about his standing with the networks.

NBC Universal and other media companies have been rushing to figure out how to use the Internet to distribute their shows. NBC Universal is part of a joint venture that owns Hulu, the online video website, which could help dethrone local stations as the TV industry's primary distribution system. In February, Hulu logged 34 million visitors lured by episodes of shows such as "Family Guy" and "The Office."

These technology changes underscore the shift in the relationship between the networks and the affiliates, Ridge said. "No one really knows for sure what the endgame will be," he said, and both sides are looking to preserve their businesses.

Some affiliates worry the networks could bypass them altogether and put their programming directly on cable or satellite.

Which brings us to the past.

Back in November, 2007 -- a long 17 months ago -- the Writers Guild of America went on strike against the AMPTP (multinational conglomerates like General Electric, Sony, Time-Warner, News Corp., Viacom and Disney). The largest sticking point was the issue of the Internet and New Technologies.

The Writers Guild was certain that these New Technologies were not only the distant future, but the present. The AMPTP corporations were insistent that the Internet was new-fangled and needed three years to study. In turn, they offered zero for the Internet, zero for downloading, zero for streaming. And the AMPTP walked away from the negotiation table -- twice.

The Screen Actors Guild is dealing with similar issues, although actors have several different needs than writers. Whether SAG is in a tough negotiating position today is a separate matter. The core issues of the Internet and New Technologies remain.

Issues that the AMPTP multinational corporations have long-insisted are new-fangled and need three years to study.

Never mind that three years ago -- two years before the WGA strike -- a president of Warner Bros. proudly trumpeted that his company had already cleared 15,000 episodes of programming for the Internet.

Never mind, either, that NBC has already attracted 34 million visitors to watch its programming online at Hulu.com.

Ignoring even all that, what we have is a network threatening to pull all of its programming from an affiliate. Whether they have a right to or should is a debate for others. The point is that -- today -- they have the technology in place to put all their programming on cable, on the satellite... and on the Internet.

Seventeen months after claiming the Internet and all these New Technologies are newfangled and needs three years to study.

Keep in mind that 22 years ago, NBC did, in fact, pull all its programming from one station, because it bought its own distribution arm. An action described as "jaw-dropping treachery."

When conglomerates cut out those between themselves and you, it destroys competition, the marketplace and the workforce. And eliminates consumer options. Consolidating industries into monopolistic voices is the cousin of deregulation. And we've seen the results of that.

For all the people who've chastised the WGA for striking and SAG for emphasizing New Technology and its future as a broadcast medium, not believing the always-noble multinational conglomerate's insistence that this new-fangled technology needs more study, you just might want to take a longer look at the reality.

But don't take too long, or the networks might put it on the Internet. And claim ownership.