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Big Media Bets on Broadcasting

TV Control Room
TV Control RoomFile

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity as media companies have announced their intention to divide their assets into separate new companies. Like Tribune and News Corp, before them, Scripps-Howard and Gannett disclosed plans to split up their companies, one for newspapers and one for broadcasting. These moves are claimed to better position the new entities for improved growth, but some say it will actually result in the death of print.

Broadcasting's large profit margin has propped up print for a number of years and without that cash infusion many predict a rough road ahead for newspapers. In fact, David Carr writing in the New York Times says that readers have not noticed or cared as their local papers have reduced staff and coverage. Once the local paper has disappeared, they might not notice that either. He has declared print to be out and down for the count.

What will become of the broadcasting assets? Profits are not what they once were as well. As the big companies get bigger and corporate cost cutting takes hold, local stations reduce coverage, shed talent, and a certain homogenization begins to creep into the TV screen. In some markets where one company owns two or three stations, only one newscast is aired on all three. The same talent and the same stories, only a different logo appears on each broadcast. Where once there were three different voices and thriving competition, a boring monopoly takes hold.

The FCC has been taking a new look at some of this consolidation and their response is still to be worked out. Will the big companies increase investments in local broadcasting or follow the cost cutting print path to oblivion? And will the viewers notice?