Executives from Hearst and Media General were on the panel at the FCC’s workshop on media ownership rules, and said that in order to remain competitive with multiple new and old competitors, over-the-air television needs a little regulatory help.
David Barrett of Hearst Television made the case that one area where help is needed is local television ownership. He noted that the average number of media voices available in a DMA, including all from #1 to #210, is 39; and that even in the bottom 50 or so, the average was still a robust 20. He suggested that is enough diversity to allow television operators to take advantage of the synergies and efficiencies of a two-station operation. He said this is need compete with hundreds of ad-supported cable channels – none of which bear the expense of meeting a public interest standard, or providing local news and emergency service. He suggested a 30% audience cap as a standard for an acceptable duopoly.
George Mahoney of Media General made the case for ending the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban, calling it anachronistic. He said ideally, Media General wants to use its newspaper, television and online operations in concert to provide instant access to news and information to its small- and mid-sized market audience. He said that’s good for the news audience, and it benefits advertising clients by giving them multiplatform access to that audience. He said the ban is making it difficult to impossible to provide quality news and info programming in smaller markets.
RBR-TVBR observation: Television duopoly is going to be one of the hottest bones of contention throughout this proceeding. Broadcasters say they need it, watchdogs will likely fight tooth and nail to prevent it.
As many have pointed out, the current use of shared service agreements is one way broadcasters have been seeking to derive the benefits of a duopoly while staying within the rules. A separate battle on whether they actually are within the rules, or whether the rules should be changed to prevent SSAs, is already under way.