Would Disney Sell Its ABC Stations? As it Looks Over the Digital Landscape, It Could Be Time

 People who watch TV a lot would love to have an a la carte world, so they could just buy the channels they want and forget the ones they don’t even know exist. If this would happen the world would end, but in some circles and tea parties, the idea of taking things too far is quite fashionable.  

Still, you have to wonder. There is a report today in the New York Post by media reporter Claire Atkinson that says Disney/ABC has been investigating the idea of selling the stations it owns, and it owns some pretty prime properties in some of the biggest cities in the country. They’re enormous cash cows for Disney. ABC didn’t comment on the story.

But this speculation arrives at about the same time that reports surfaced that Comcast is discussing some kind of alliance with Netflix. And it comes as the NFL is apparently talking to Netflix or other online operators about picking up some games, and Netflix reportedly mullls swiping DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. And it comes as major manufacturers, retailers (Target!) studios and content makers continue to congregate around the OTT set-top biz, poised to grab millions of customers who have, or soon will be, accessing more and more content from online on their TV sets—hence, at least in part the Comcast-Netflix discussions.

So where does owning TV stations fit in?

Add in a couple more things: CBS did its Big Broadcasting brothers a favor when it went toe-to-toe with Time Warner Cable over retransmission fees. CBS won, and won big, adding millions and more likely billions of dollars of value to its stations—now CBS is getting maybe $2 per viewer from Time Warner. For other broadcasters in the business of buying television station groups, it simultaneously raised the price, but also raised the value, at least for the foreseeable future.

And at the same time, there are buyers out there who will pay big for stations—that wasn’t the case for most of the last few years, because retransmission fees were low or non-existent.

In short, if ABC really would sell its stations (the new owners would likely become affiliates), it would seem to be saying it wants billions to spend elsewhere—on sports rights for ESPN (which will eventually have its own delivery issues) and for its own online efforts, which include a share of Hulu.

The idea of owning eight stations across the nation—even fabulously rich and valuable ones that reach almost one in four viewers—might seem inconsequential to a worldwide company like Disney as it sees the way things are drifting. Digital content delivery is now. Stations? Quaint.

 In reality, the closest consumers will ever come to pay-per-view and/or a la carte is probably going to be via smart TVs and OTT boxes. But really, since you’re still dealing with a finite number of gigantic entertainment/information entities, all that will happen is that consumers will pay the same amount, but rearranged in a more agreeable way.  Cable can be a good business for a long time, but it would seem, eventually, there will be some repackaging of the whole mass entertainment biz that leaves the big players intact but changed. Disney/ABC certainly will be there. Maybe not its stations.

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