The Motion Picture Association of America and six major studios which produce movies and television programs yesterday asked the Federal Communications Commission to free them from what they call "fiscall servitude" imposed upon them by ABC, CBS and NBC.
Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, told a news conference here yesterday that the members petitioned the FCL for "emancipation from self-serving controls that enable ABC, CBS and NBC to decide arbitrarily what millions of American viewers may see on their home sets. THis tight oligopoly domination stufles artistic creativity and slams the door to independent productions that could bring refreshed vitality, greater diversity and new excellence to the TV screen."
If the FCC, which already plans an inquiry into network programmming practices, grants the relief sought by the studios, it could result in higher profits for independent television producers - not just for the studios, but for individual producers such as Norman Lear and Grant Tinker. Such a move might also lower profits for the networks and result in more diverse programming - but not necessarily.
The public would benefit, Valenti said, because "instead of three voices or three brains deciding what is quality and what is not, you would increase the number of opportunities for other quality judgments to be made. It may be that all you need to insure quality is three buyers. But what if they're all wrong.?"
Stripped of verbiage and legalese, the real issue is who gets how much from the pie. The thrust of the MPAA petition is taht the networks get an unfair share.
The six studios - Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., MCA Inc; Paramount Pictures Corp; Twentieth Century-Fox Corp.; United Artists Corp. and Warner Bros. Inc. - charge that their slice is too small, that, they take all therisks, and that the networks make inordinate profits. Each studio supplies television productions to the networks, with MCA providing more prime-time hours than the five other studios combined.
The petition charges that the networks are in violation of the FCC "financial interest" rule, adopted in 1970, that bars a network from having a "financial or proprietary right or interest" in any television program that is produced wholly or in part by anyone else.
The petition accuses the network, by the manner in which they acquire programs, of violating that rule. As a result, the petitioners claim, "during the period 1970-76, the networks, employing parallel practices in the licensing arrangements for the acquisition of programs from independent producers, increased their pre-tax income by almost 500 per cent - yet during this period, the network's expenditures for outside programming increased by only 55 per cent. Further, the compensation paid to independent creative forces is surpressed at the very time when network and affiliate profits are soaring to record heights and advertisers are paying record prices."
ABC and CBS officials reserved comment yesterday, but NBC issued a statement late in the after noon taking direct issle with both the petition and Valenti.
The NBC statement said in part: "The latest figures from the FCC show that in 1975 the networks had to pay more than $1.25 billion for their programs and program development. We estimate that most of this went to the production community in Hollywood where a few major motion picture studios produced the bulk of the networks' prime-time schedules.
"It is only because of the networks' demands for new and innovative programming and the networks' financial support for program development that newer, smaller independent organizations can compete against the majors."