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Disruptive Convergence: The Struggle Over the Licensing and Sale of Hollywood's Feature Films to Television Before 1955


This project is located at the intersection of television and film studies and examines the causes and effects of disruption and convergence in the media industries through a case study of the struggle over Hollywood's feature films on television before 1955. Since television began broadcasting in earnest in 1948, two years after Hollywood saw its box-office revenues decline precipitously from their all-time high in 1946, the important question to ask becomes: why did it take seven years for Hollywood's features to make their way to television? Through an investigation of the efforts made by the film and television industries in the 1940s and 1950s to work towards feature films appearing on television, this project concludes that Hollywood's feature films did not appear on television until 1956, not because of the long held assumptions that the film industry was either apathetic or hostile to the nascent television industry, but rather as a result of a complex combination of industrial, social, legal, and governmental forces. One of those forces was the "other" prominent antitrust case filed against the studios during this period: the case of the United States v. Twentieth Century-Fox, et al. This project argues that those issues that prevented Hollywood's feature films from appearing on television before 1955 may well be common to all periods of media industry disruption and convergence, particularly, the contemporary film and television industries and their relationship to digital media.

By illuminating the relationship between the film and television industries during the 1940s and 1950s, this research contributes to important debates in the growing field of Media Industry Studies. It highlights the value of investigating the roles of the various stakeholders, interests, and agendas in the media industries, and of studying the histories of film and television together as they relate to form a more symbiotic story. It demonstrates that media industry disruption and convergence are historical, as well as contemporary phenomena, and shows the importance of investigating the media industries at all moments of change and convergence. The use of archival resources like legal files taps new sources for primary research, and the focus on moments of disruption both historically and contemporarily identifies patterns of behaviors that illuminate the past and anticipate the future.

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