Each week seems to bring another exuse for me to pen an entry in my ongoing “Media DE-Consolidation” series. This week it’s the Tribune Co. According to a front-page story in today’s Wall Street Journal, the 160-year-old media / newspaper giant is considering spinning off its broadcasting group, which includes 26 TV stations (including my beloved WGN-TV in Chicago on which I watched countless Cubs games growing up). I find this interesting for two reasons:
(1) Most newspaper owners are making a push for the FCC to relax the newspaper-broadcasting cross-ownership rule so they can own both papers and stations in the same market. But this move by Tribune would signal a retreat by a major company in the opposite direction. So perhaps this will take the steam out of the dereg effort at the FCC.
(2) However, let’s not forget that the Tribune Co. long ago received waivers to hold papers and stations in key markets such as Chicago and Los Angeles and the resulting combinations certainly haven’t done anything to negatively impact media diversity in those towns. So, it’s difficult to see what harm would come from allowing others to combine newspaper and broadcasting operations.
Regardless, the push for media DE-consolidation continues and the Chicken Little media critics are nowhere to be found. Any time an operator even mentions the idea of buying more properties, the media critics go bananas and scream for government regulation. But when major operators start spinning off entire divisions, the critics don’t say a peep. They fail to appreciate how dynamic media markets are and how investors, consumers and technological change is the greatest check on market power, not ham-handed government regulations.