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276 276 16 static in the signal: clear channel communications and theater in the united states Anthony J. Vickery There is only one thing to be feared. That is, that the Syndicate ultimately will control most of the theatres, and will become like most other monopolies, thus making the expenses of combinations [production companies] greater and profits less. —Mr. Warner, New York Dramatic Mirror, 1897 If SFX puts all the different pieces together, they are bordering on a monopoly of the Broadway road. —Chris Jones, Variety, 1998 The two opening quotes, separated in time by just over a century, both voice a similar concern about the threat of one large firm dominating commercial touring theater in the United States. The first quote refers to the threat posed by the partnerships that formed the Syndicate in 1896. 277 static in the signal The anonymous rival speaking in the second quote was issuing a warning about the acquisition of numerous live entertainment assets by SFX, a corporation later acquired and renamed Clear Channel Entertainment by the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications. Both the Syndicate and Clear Channel were aiming to rationalize business on the road by consolidating competing producers and road theaters into a single business entity to create a one-stop booking service that would allow other producers as well as their own productions to book entire coast-tocoast tours economically. While the players have changed, the driving movement of consolidating the business of the road into fewer and fewer hands was as much a part of the environment at the end of the twentieth century as at the end of the nineteenth. Activity in the commercial theater between 1980 and 2005 mirrored activity between 1880 and 1920. Both periods saw independent producers gradually give way to large organizations consolidating activity on the road. Just as the independent producer of the 1880s and 1890s gradually went out of business or allied to the Syndicate or the Shuberts, the independent promoters of the 1960s and 1970s also gave way in the 1980s to larger theater corporations and producers. The volume of activity on the road rose in the late 1980s, peaking in the 1995–96 season (see figure). In the 1984–85 season, road companies produced 993 playing weeks on the road with 8.2 million people attending the performances. From 1984–85, attendance and playing weeks climbed to a high of 18.1 million and 1,345, respectively, in 1995–96 and gradually declined in the subsequent decade. The active years in the mid-1990s correspond to the era when corporations such as Livent, PACE, Disney, and SFX were touring shows across the country. The 1990s saw further consolidation on the road until only a few large corporations were left. Livent went bankrupt, and its assets were purchased by SFX, which earlier on had purchased all the assets of PACE and stood atop the road until the company was acquired by Clear Channel Communications. Many independent promoters began entering the market in 2005 and along with or as a member of the Independent Presenters Network compete directly with Clear Channel Entertainment. Clear Channel Communications has grown into one of the largest media companies in the United States. The company was created in 1972, when company founder L. Lowry Mays acquired his first radio station in San Antonio, Texas. By the time the company became publicly traded on 278 anthony j. vickery the New York Stock Exchange in 1984, it owned sixteen radio stations. The company branched into the ownership of television stations in 1988 and had acquired seven by 1992. The year 1996 marked a turning point in the history of the corporation due to the relaxing of restrictions on station ownership by the Federal Communications Commission and the lifting of regulations on nationwide station ownership. Clear Channel began to aggressively add radio stations to its portfolio after 1996 and by 1997 owned or operated 175 radio stations and 18 television stations. In addition, by 1997, Clear Channel had purchased its first outdoor advertising company.1 Growth through acquisition was (and still is) the main method Clear Channel used, rather than organically creating business, to increase the company’s holdings. There are many pitfalls to growing through mergers, with the most obvious being the difficulty in integrating different types of businesses together into one structure. However, by Seasons 2000 1800 1600 1400 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 1 9 8 4 8 5 1 9 8 5 8 6...


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