In Digital Age, Big Media Still Wants Old-Media Properties

In the new digital age, media companies still want more old media. They want media ownership regulations to go away--otherwise they'll be doing the layoff dance that has already affected the likes of NBC and Walt Disney.

In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, CBS makes the case that times are quickly changing and the FCC needs to get on board.  Four years ago, the network says, the YouTube domain name wasn't even registered, Apple had just come out with a Windows version of the audio iPod and telephone companies still only sold voice services.

Groups that oppose media consolidation say giving big companies more assets will only decrease diversity of news and programming ideas. I agree: If I see one more procedural crime drama on CBS, I'm likely to run to the nearest morgue.

But big media has tons of other options--not just TV stations and newspapers. Big media companies haven't stopped buying as many cable networks as they can handle, and nothing is stopping them from  buying as much of the Internet as they like. But they are loath to buy the next YouTube--which could become the next of a few years ago. You remember That's the Web gem that Mark Cuban sold to Yahoo in 1999 for $6 billion.



NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright said buying Internet companies is like putting a new sitcom or drama on NBC's prime-time schedule--you're not too sure what you are going to get. Even if it succeeds, you don't now how long that success will last.

The Tribune Company is one big media company that has played, perhaps too long, in old media --local TV stations and local newspapers. The company's recent financial troubles have been due to slow advertising in both areas--and relatively weak programming decisions due to its deals for the WB. To some, Tribune has become the poster child for relaxation of media regulations.

Big media companies want to keep all their options open. They want to buy stations that represent not just their current 35% level of U.S. television households; let's say they want to be able to buy all 100%. The bottom line is that big media is still big--and it wants to get bigger and own more old-media properties, which still generate billions more than new media.

Diversity? TV stations owned by smaller media companies aren't much different from those owned by big media. But let big media companies buy Apple or Yahoo or Google or Facebook. If their vision for the future is digital--like NBC Universal is preparing with its grandiose plan NBC U 2.0--let's see how they perform with these assets first.

The FCC shouldn't give away the old store yet.

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