Culture

The Market vs. Media Consolidation

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FMQB reports:

[CBS] announced that it plans to sell off 50 radio stations, which will be used to fund a share buyback plan. CFO Fred Reynolds said on the conference call that CBS was already in talks with a number of buyers for the stations.

This act of deconsolidation isn't an anomaly — Adam Thierer has been tracking similar stories for years. As Ben Compaine wrote in reason four years ago:

Even after a period of mild deregulation and high-profile mergers, the top 10 U.S. media companies own only a slightly bigger piece of the overall media pie than the top 10 of two decades ago….The general assumption is that fewer and larger companies are controlling more and more of what we see, hear, and read. Certainly a casual scanning of the headlines lends evidence: Time merges with Warner, buys CNN, and then combines with America Online. But the incremental growth of smaller companies from the bottom up does not attract the same attention. Break-ups and divestitures do not generally get front-page treatment, nor does the arrival of new players or the shrinkage of old ones.

That doesn't mean media monopoly is an illegitimate concern. It means the thing to fear is regulation that locks in consolidation or erects new barriers to entry. When XM merged with Sirius, the alliance's loudest opponents were established radio broadcasters who wanted their market power protected by law. Naturally, the one policy option that was never on the table was allowing more companies to enter the satellite radio market.