There Will Be No Bailout for Old Media

by on October 30, 2008 · 11 comments

I’m fond of quoting Diane Mermigas, editor-at-large at MediaPost, who is one of the finest media market watchers in the journalism business today. Her latest MediaPost column offers another sobering look at the radical changing sweeping through the media marketplace today. In that article, she notes that even though we are in an era of Big Government bailouts for financial institutions and (possibly) auto makers, old media operators will be left to to fend for themselves, and many will likely die off as a result:

What we do know is there will be no federally funded bail for media, Internet, entertainment and advertising. Big media by definition is not nimble and innovative enough to simply dump what’s not working, modify what can be saved, and grow what works. There isn’t much that big media companies can bank on or reliably forecast moving into 2009. They are hamstrung between deteriorating traditional costs and revenues and evolving digital business models that do not offset the losses, generating less than 10% of their overall incomes. Big media isn’t just being ravaged by recession; it is being sacked by a technological transformation of enormous proportions.

I discussed a lot of the forces behind the current media meltdown in my recent PFF special report, “Media Metrics: The True State of America’s Marketplace.” As I noted there, this Schumpeterian “creative destruction” we are witnessing today is a normal (but gut-wrenching) part of any major technological transformation, and it need not be addressed with government subsides or interference. However, the problem for many traditional media providers is, as I noted in my special report:

there’s a lot of regulating still going on as well. America’s media marketplace remains subject to a wide variety of regulations… These regulations limit the ability of media operators to respond to the rapidly changing market environment. If all market players were equally hobbled by regulation, perhaps this issue would be less problematic. But these rules are applied in a remarkably arbitrary fashion, with some sectors and firms (over-the-air broadcasters, in particular) being singled out for harsher regulatory treatment than others.

Some will say, “Just let ‘em die. We don’t need those old media providers anyway.” If that’s your position, so be it, but I would hope that others (especially public policymakers) would understand the radical unfairness of not giving those players a fighting chance at survival by eliminating the archaic regulations that bind their hands as the seek to reinvent themselves.

[For additional discussion, see my essay from earlier this week, "Remember Newspapers?"]

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