February 20, 2004

On How to be a Tool

I just saw a call for a March 3rd rally against the Comcast-Disney merger led by PennPIRG, Media Tank, Prometheus Radio Project, the Communication Workers of America, and Jobs with Justice.

Joining this rally is about as good an example of being a tool as I can think of. Media monopolization is a real issue, but rushing to the barricades to defend Disney from Comcast is about the worst possible way I can think of to deal with the overall problem. Disney executives ought to come outside and give anyone at the rally $10.00 coupons to the Disney Store in thanks. The fact that PennPIRG is apparently the key organizer just reinforces my low opinion of the opportunistic and amateurish nature of PIRGs in general.

It’s actually hard to know who to sympathize with in the Comcast-Disney struggle. I’ve had a low opinion of Comcast’s services for a while. Their technical management of their high-speed Internet service after Excite@home went belly-up was horrible. The hysterially overwrought, manipulative drumbeat of attacks against satellite dishes on Comcast channels is a pretty good argument against media monopolization. Their current level of service in their “On Demand” offerings are beyond lame. It’s no wonder they want to acquire Disney to provision content, because the content that they generate themselves is usually one bare step above the kinds of public-access channels that have recently released mental patients who’ve gone off their meds hosting talk shows. If Comcast succeeds, expect a whole lot of problems of integration between the two operations: the learning curve will be by far the steepest on the Comcast side.

On the other hand, if Disney shareholders can’t see that Michael Eisner and his inner circle of sycophants is dragging the company down, they aren’t paying attention and deserve to lose value on their investment as a result. Any parent with young children can see it: the company has foolishly surrendered the long-term stability of the high ground in children’s media by relentlessly cannibalizing its own properties, spewing a tide of made-for-video junk that permanently degrades the value of their most lucrative properties. There are so many misfires coming out of Disney lately that it’s a wonder that there have been any successes like “Pirates of the Caribbean” at all. It used to be that you could see a real difference between the weak storytelling and cheaper animation of non-Disney kidvid, as in the work of Don Bluth. Now Disney has voluntarily sunk to the bottom in pursuit of a few quick bucks. Tack on to that Eisner’s evident inability to attract, recognize and maintain talent, almost certainly because of his own authoritarian management style, and you have a company that is heading for a serious crisis. If I owned a lot of stock in Disney, I’d sure want to give Eisner the boot, and if it took Comcast to do it, I might well cheer them on.

It probably isn’t going to be a story that ends happily ever after for anyone, least of all the consumers—but in a world where there’s a lot to protest (including media monopolization) shilling for Michael Eisner strikes me as a low priority.