T Dog’s Think Tank: Bigger is not better – maybe

A rebuttal to Harry Jessell’s piece: Media consolidation has resulted in bad managerial decisions and lots of layoffs. But bad decision making knows no size.

For the last eleven years, yours truly has been writing about media consolidation and how bad it is.

On Friday, TVNewscheck’s Harry Jessell wrote a piece saying “bigger is better”, regarding the growing profiles of Sinclair Broadcasting and Nexstar, two of the largest station groups and own the majority of stations in Illinois outside of the Chicago area. He points out the bigger station groups become, the better they can serve the public in news and entertainment – something I have yet to see in Chicago (and no, expanding newscasts and letting the Mayor do a radio “town hall” thanks to his connections to broadcast association cronies doesn’t count.)

But the question is… does anyone care anymore?

When radio went through this in the late 1990’s, listeners were livid, seeing Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) and Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) buying up stations as the industry deregulated, thanks to the 1996 Communications Act. Listeners complained of tightened playlists, increased commercial loads, voice-tracking, and more reliance of syndicated programming. But as time wore on, the complaints regarding radio have subsided – meaning listeners have now gotten used to radio’s new world of less.

In the last few years, we’ve seen Comcast merge with NBC, Media General bought out by Nexstar and now, AT&T looking to buy Time Warner and CBS Radio being purchased by Entercom.

Certainly, media consolidation as an issue has taken a back seat to “more sexier ones” such as abortion, gun control, education, and healthcare. And like those issues, media consolidation has become partisan with Republicans and conservatives opposing regulations (given their support for free markets) while liberals and Democrats supporting them. And the public doesn’t seem to care as much as they did ten years ago – remember when the FCC came to Chicago to hold a hearing on media consolidation? Yours truly live-blogged it (when live-blogging was a thing.) Now, many are taking the side of right-wing politicians, who did a good job of telling us how “bad” big government is.

Of course, people like Jessell have politicized the issue, talking the same kind of crap he did at Broadcasting & Cable for years. He must’ve forgotten the incompetent imbeciles who benefited from this: Kevin Metheny, Jan Jeffries, Jimmy DeCastro, Dawn Ostroff, Jeff Zucker, Sam Zell, Randy Michaels, Michael Ferro, etc. – you get the point. It’s one Big Media created to screw over talent in this business. Ask Howard Stern. Or Jonathan Brandmeier. Or “Crazy” Howard McGee, who lost his WGCI morning slot to Steve Harvey, despite strong ratings.

Then again, poor managerial decisions knows no station group size. Recently, WCIU (whose owner Weigel Broadcasting operates a handful of other stations in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana) fired hosts Melissa Forman and Jeanne Sparrow of You and Me and canceled the show – replacing them in the interim with correspondent Jon Hansen until a new show is developed to take its place. I was surprised from the negative reaction this news received, especially in the comments section of Robert Feder’s blog, on message boards, and social media, given the ratings.

Both Forman and Sparrow were well-known with viewers, though the ratings didn’t show it. I could go on and on about how the general public doesn’t understand the TV business, but that’s not the point. Dumping the hosts and keeping the show in lame-duck status until a replacement show is almost unheard of. With Forman and Sparrow gone, there is absolutely no reason to tune in. WCIU should’ve gotten a return-on-investment for all the marketing they did for the show. What kind of message this is sending to advertisers?

Then, there’s WGN-AM, the lone radio station owned by Tribune Media. Their history of bad managerial moves in the last decade alone is enough to fill a novel.

These are the reasons why people are giving up on broadcast television and terrestrial radio and opting for streaming services, podcasts and satellite radio instead – viewers and listeners are clearly frustrated and frankly, who could blame them? The personalities they connect with are being constantly ripped away from them with no explanation. But this doesn’t matter to people like Jessell, where to him viewers and listeners can either take it or leave it. What’s he’s forgetting is, without personalities or the audience – there would be no TV or radio at all – period. Jessell is letting the imbeciles who ran media properties into the ground off the hook and absurdly blames the left for the industry’s problems.

This merger was proposed, but was scrapped.

And don’t make me laugh when we’re talking about a station group “innovating”, another useless buzzword (do give credit for Sinclair taking the lead on developing the next generation of TV broadcasting, ATSC 3.0.)

So why isn’t the public concerned? The people in charge of getting the message out did a lousy job doing so. These liberal “activists” sat on their butts for eight years under the Obama Administration thinking media consolidation wouldn’t continue. The “activists” didn’t exactly pay attention to what was going on at WGN-AM or at Tribune when Zell and Michaels ran the place, or when Zucker was running NBC into the ground, or Larry Tisch was destroying CBS. In fact, they said nothing.

So now what? With President Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling Congress and the FCC, it’s full speed ahead. Maybe if these “activists” paid more attention to what was going on and did a better selling job to the public, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Some fresh thinking is needed to tackle this issue instead of returning to the same tired liberal tropes used during the George W. Bush administration.

To put it in comic book terms, Sinclair and Nexstar are bidding for world domination of the TV business while iHeartMedia and Cumulus are doing the same for radio, despite being broke and having a lack of funds. When you’re evil, you can always find a way to pay the freight.

Hail Hydra.

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