This reality show of a presidential campaign is bound to have a very real effect on Hollywood. A host of showbiz-centric issues are at stake, including trade, piracy, and net neutrality. Additionally, whoever wins the presidency could change the power dynamics of key industry lobbyists in Washington.
Hillary Clinton has offered outlines of her take on key issues affecting the industry. But the impact a Trump presidency would have on the business is unclear. Many in the industry have been harsh: MPAA chairman Chris Dodd said Trump is “doing what demagogues have done — appealing to people’s fears,” and even Mark Burnett, the executive producer of “The Apprentice,” condemned him in a statement last week. So would Trump come into office ready to settle old scores?
Here’s a look at some of Hollywood’s principle concerns in D.C. and how they could be affected, depending on who wins the election. The predictions are based on interviews with campaign officials and industry sources.
The tech industry has increased its influence in Washington during the Obama years. On issues like piracy, some in the entertainment industry have grumbled that the administration has shown favoritism to Google and other tech firms, such as when the White House was openly critical of a key piece of Hollywood-backed legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), that was fiercely opposed by many on the tech side.
Trump has openly criticized tech titans. He accused Google of “suppressing bad news” about Clinton; he called for a boycott of Apple after it refused to help the FBI break into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters; and he has gone after Jeff Bezos, saying Amazon has an “antitrust problem.” But those attacks may be just bombast: They are tempered by the fact that his transition team, led by Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), has been reaching out to tech and entertainment figures, and recently held a meeting that included representatives of the Internet Association and the MPAA.
Clinton, meanwhile, has enjoyed significant support from Hollywood and Silicon Valley. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, her campaign has raised $4.2 million from showbiz and $1.8 million from the tech sector.
Clinton, too, has said that she would oppose legislation like SOPA, but she has longtime ties to Hollywood studio figures, and to Dodd, who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee for two years when Bill Clinton was president. A key appointment if she is elected will be the next “IP czar,” or intellectual property enforcement coordinator, a position tasked with piracy issues.
Trump supporter Ann Coulter knows what position she’d want in his administration: FCC chair. That would certainly draw some attention to an agency usually caught up in the most wonkish communications issues.
Assuming that Trump does recognize the reality of who could pass Senate muster, his most obvious pick for FCC chair would be Ajit Pai, who has been the senior dissenting voice during the tenure of current chairman Tom Wheeler and the Democratic majority. A Gen-Xer who sprinkles his remarks with pop-culture references, Pai has railed against what he sees as heavy-handed regulation on issues like net neutrality and media ownership, as well as a recent proposal to require that cable companies offer subscribers an app in lieu of renting a set-top box.
A GOP majority on the FCC would be far more likely to look into major changes to ownership restrictions, including a rule that bars common control of a TV station and newspaper in the same market. Trump has called for a temporary suspension of new regulations, and media conglomerates and studios generally prefer an environment of fewer restrictions on their business practices.
On Clinton’s side, the speculation is that she would, in a first, tap a woman as the next official FCC chair. Among the names being mentioned in D.C.: Karen Kornbluh, an executive at Nielsen and a former senior adviser to Obama; Susan Ness, a member of the FCC under President Bill Clinton; and Catherine Sandoval, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission.
Wall Street analysts are convinced that under Clinton, the FCC would “likely be an extension of Obama policy,” in the words of a recent report from New Street Research.
The question is whether the next chair will have quite the same appetite as Wheeler for pushing through policies that have rattled key Washington interest groups. The set-top-box proposal, for instance, has proved so controversial that, should it fail to proceed during the remainder of Wheeler’s term, the new FCC chair would be unlikely to take it up immediately.
One of the most contentious battles during the Obama years has been the FCC’s move to impose a robust set of open internet rules. The net neutrality regulations prohibit internet providers from blocking or slowing content, or from putting a price on delivering traffic faster. Seeking a solid legal footing, the FCC last year classified the internet as a
utility, a controversial move that has stood up in court.
Clinton has supported the FCC’s approach to net neutrality — albeit not with quite the same bullishness as the Obama administration. She has also outlined a plan to make high-speed internet service ubiquitous throughout the U.S., through a combination of infrastructure investment and incentives. That, too, would continue some of the current administration’s initiatives. It also would have implications for speeding the growth of online video as an alternative to the cable bundle.
Would Trump seek to roll back net neutrality? There are signs that he would. Before he entered the race, he warned that the open internet rules would be used to “target conservative media.” (There is no evidence that this has occurred.) Trump reportedly has tapped Jeffrey Eisenach, a think-tank advocate for deregulation, for his transition team. Eisenach has been a critic of the FCC’s internet approach, so he could push for nominees who would commit to a repeal.
The biggest fallout from this presidential campaign has been to the prospects for the massive Trans Pacific Partnership. Industry boosters say the trade pact would boost copyright protections and piracy enforcement, but copyright issues have been secondary to concerns over what the agreement would mean for jobs.
Both Clinton and Trump oppose the trade pact, which would be between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries. However, their rhetoric is quite different.
Trump has bashed the agreement as being poorly negotiated, but it’s unclear what kind of a deal, if any, he would push for instead. Steven Mnuchin, his campaign finance chairman and a film financier, says Trump “believes in free trade and fair trade.” He adds that Trump “believes that if they are going to be able to open markets, they should be in both directions.” Much depends on whom Trump would choose for key positions such as the U.S. Trade Representative.
The dire prediction of some opposed to Trump’s candidacy is that he’d pursue protectionism in the form of high tariffs on imports, triggering an all-out trade war with China. For Hollywood, that scenario would halt progress on increasing China’s quota on foreign films distributed to the country.
Trump has hammered Clinton for calling TPP the “gold standard” of trade agreements when she was Secretary of State. She now says she opposes it because she was dissatisfied with the final language.
The question for Clinton is whether she would try for something else — or whether the current administration will try to get the agreement through during the lame-duck session, as Obama has indicated he would like to do.
Trump has railed against China’s “rampant theft of intellectual property” and has suggested that millions of U.S. jobs are lost because of it.
According to the U.S. Trade Representative, there has been progress in terms of China stepping up its own enforcement, but online piracy remains “widespread.”
For Trump, the question is: What could he do to force China to stop ripping off works?
Mnuchin says he would be “very pro protecting copyright and trade secrets. That is something that he believes in.”
Clinton’s campaign says she favors strong intellectual property protections, but the copyright system needs reform. She wants to “modernize” the system to free up so-called orphan works (content for which the rights holders cannot be found), and she wants to work with copyright industries to come up with new ways to streamline licensing.
But the prospects for a major overhaul of copyright law are doubtful, even as a key House lawmaker has held a series of hearings on an update. Since the defeat of SOPA, the entertainment industry has pursued voluntary agreements with other industries as a way to fight piracy. Moreover, lawmakers are skittish over industry-against-industry squabbles. That may not change even if Democrats take control of the Senate, as copyright issues tend to cross party lines.
President Obama and the first lady have embraced the entertainment industry, reviving “In Performance at the White House,” tapping pop culture to promote their causes, and hosting White House movie screenings.
Those relationships undoubtedly would continue in a Clinton presidency, as Hillary and Bill have a history with Hollywood that goes back decades. If the past is any guide, some of their top donors, like Haim Saban and Jeffrey Katzenberg, would be high on the list for White House invites, as would showbiz figures who really stepped up during the Clinton campaign, like Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Trump could be a different story. Would he shun Hollywood? The pushback against his election by entertainers has been great, so it’s hard to imagine that he would toss away grudges for the privilege of having A-listers at a state dinner. Still, Trump values stardom and success. In the short term, that would mean the figures who backed his campaign: Jon Voight, Omarosa, the cast of “Duck Dynasty.”
Trump, already mindful of White House limitations in terms of events, could aim for splashier affairs. Earlier this year, at a campaign stop, he revived his idea to build a new ballroom (that he said he would pay for). “We’ll get the top people, the top everything, we’ll have the best ballroom,” Trump said. “Because I notice they always put tents up on the lawn. Number one, it’s not a good security thing. Number two, the guy that owns the tents is making a fortune.”