Commentary

As Big Media Gets Bigger, What's Left To Buy?

What's left for big media to buy?

Comcast could be looking for more. BTIG Research's Richard Greenfield thinks the recent floating of Liberty Media's pay TV network group, Starz, as a separate publicly traded company, would be an obvious choice. Comcast could funnel some of its Universal Pictures into the pay TV window arena.

CBS? Perhaps it could use a few more few more cable channels -- especially widely distributed basic ones. Maybe even Starz. For years, analysts have speculated that broadly distributed Hallmark Channel (and growing Hallmark Movie Channel) would be a perfect fit, given CBS' older-skewing viewers and its history with the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. (That franchise has now moved to ABC.)

NBC already got bigger through its association with Comcast; it is now able to cross- market with more cable channels (E!, Style, NBC Sports Network and Golf Channel) as well as with local cable systems.

Fox has broad assets, including TV stations and cable channels. Maybe it wants a pay TV group like Starz?  Maybe Disney-ABC wants Starz as well?

Sony Pictures Entertainment? For years it has been the odd-man out -- no TV stations, no broadcast network, no big U.S cable presence (though it does have some international networks). It would seem to some that Sony could or should get bigger. Then again, new smart TVs -- made by Sony -- could be an in toward a new TV business model.

Trouble is that few independently owned traditional media properties are available. So then one turns to the Internet. But which part of this vast arena? Fox, for one, had MySpace, the erstwhile former king of social media.

Big media, for the most part, is sitting on the sidelines -- because much can change in the Internet world. Today's Netflix may be tomorrow's Joost. All big media companies have had some connections with Google, Facebook and Twitter -- some good, some bad, some indifferent. Buying in now may not be the right way to go, especially if those platforms are only marketing and distribution tools for their content.

To many media critics, bigger media isn't good for anyone. It limits opinions, information, and access to content. But don't worry too much. There is too much hesitation afoot.

Many media companies -- and all U.S. companies -- like the idea of having a lot of cash on hand. Few want to be over-leveraged in this economy. Recently, Disney and Hearst agreed to out NBC's 16% share in A&E Networks for just over $3 billion. But that was a planned move, somewhat years in the making.

Will Google buy some big media company some day? Will Microsoft?

Big media will get bigger -- but not always in the ways we expect.

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