Monday, January 18, 2010

Scenes from a media meltdown

Exhibit A:
Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- A group of investors led by a retired Canadian senator, an editor and a media consultant plans to bid for three daily newspapers owned by Canwest Global Communications Corp.

“I believe in the future of the newspaper business,” Jerry Grafstein, the retired senator, said in an interview today. Grafstein, with Quebec editor Beryl Wajsman and consultant Raymond Heard, plan to bid with other investors for the National Post, Montreal Gazette and Ottawa Citizen.
Exhibit B:
the company itself is in transition, waiting for regulators in Washington to approve a sale of NBC Universal from General Electric to Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator. By the time G.E. finally decided to wash its hands of NBC late last year, the network ranked low on the list of those parts of the company most valuable to Comcast, which will swallow the network mainly so it can acquire the company’s money-making cable channels, like USA, Bravo, Syfy.
So Izzy Asper's dream of balancing Canada's media hegemony away from the Ontario-Quebec core is basically dead, as investors carve Canwest in to its most lucrative parts. Meanwhile, NBC -- the company that defined successful broadcasting for most of my life -- is being bought by a cable company (itself unthinkable even five years ago) so that Comcast can get at the real moneymaker: niche programming for nerds and latte-sipping aesthetes.

So, a question for consideration: how soon will it be before NBC shuts off its over-the-air transmitters and becomes cable-and-satellite only? Even now, actual broadcasting is maintained largely because it gives networks a number of regulatory guarantees, namely that cable companies are required to carry their signal in its local market. This kind of privilege becomes irrelevant when cable providers own the networks themselves, presumably.

The Canadian experience of Bell owning CTV was relatively brief, so we never got an answer to this question. Assuming the NBC-Comcast sale goes better, we'll see.

1 comment:

jmburton said...

The effects of media concentration, especially with regard to "value add" tracking of subscriber information across multiple media forms - telephone, movie rentals, television channel subscriptions, internet usage, etc is one of the hidden bugbears behind these kinds of transactions.