of Communications sponsored a panel discussion titled "Media
Concentration: Who Owns What We Watch and Read, and Does it Matter?"
as part of its spring Advisory Board meeting April 1.
was led by an all-star group of media professionals from all over
the United States, including Jim Hefner, vice president and general
manager at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C.; Bill Warren, vice president
of public affairs, Walt Disney World; Jim Winston, executive director
of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters in Washington;
Debora Wilson, chief operating office of The Weather Channel in
Atlanta; and Graham Woodlief, president of the Publishing Division,
Media General Inc., in Richmond, Va.
executive Hefner led off with a denunciation of federal policies
that have led to a dwindling number of owners in an exploding galaxy
about money, and it's about power, and it's damned important, "
he said. "It's about very few people controlling the marketplace
of ideas. Very soon - if we're not careful - we're going to have
only five or six companies controlling everything. That's dangerous."
he and many other broadcast leaders don't want to see a handful
of companies dominate the business because the broadcast spectrum
is limited. "[FCC Chairman] Michael Powell sees no difference
between WRAL-TV and the Playboy Channel," Hefner said.
significant difference in the way we operate as responsible members
of our community - in the way we perform community service. The
way we are headed is not a good thing for the marketplace of ideas."
executive Warren said the buyouts of local newspapers by media behemoths
such as Gannett, Hearst and Tribune Company has a negative impact
on local news coverage. Tribune took over the operation of his hometown
newspaper in Orlando.
all local, it's all personal - ownership gets involved," he
said. "Now we see this newspaper's profits leaving the market
and we have no meaningful dialogue in our paper. There's no one
pushing them to dig in and make a difference. I miss the community
NABOB, said the trend to fewer companies owning most of the outlets
causes damage at a variety of levels.
are eliminating a lot of entry-level jobs," he said.
is driven purely by profit. The easiest way to make a profit is
to buy up your competitors and cut operating budgets and jobs. If
I'm a shareholder I reap a profit, but the American public as a
whole do not.
a half dozen companies own the way you get the news, you won't get
a full and rich discourse about issues."
The Weather Channel is the only fully distributed cable/satellite
channel that stands as a single network - with no sister networks
such as NBC/Bravo/MSNBC/CNBC.
While she said
TWC executives don't have the same pressures as other cable networks
that are tied to bigger TV groups, their network is subject to the
whims of the major cable TV providers with which they must regularly
has more than 23 million subscribers - more than a quarter of the
homes we reach with our network," she said. "If Comcast
decides to leverage us to reduce our fees, it causes significant
impact on our earnings and ability to operate. The other thing the
huge cable operators could do with their large scale and assets
is to threaten begin their own weather channel.
could decide not to carry us or block us altogether. The power that
large, concentrated distributors have can make big waves."
executive Woodlief was the lone voice in favor of media concentration
and convergence, arguing it can improve the quality of content offered
to consumers - as in the case of his moderately sized company offering
news to its communities - because it makes sense to pool the information
resources of a local TV station, newspaper and online operation.
That's the model
in Tampa, where Media General owns a converged news operation of
convergence I mean putting it all together to assemble a better
report," he said. "We still have separate newsrooms, making
to put out the best product we can so we can compete with all of
those voices out there. Consumers will decide what succeeds in the
his solution to what most of the panelists perceived to be a big
problem with today's media ownership rules. "Go
back to the rules before 1996," he said. "Clear Channel
owns 1,200 radio stations today. You don't need 1,200 stations to
be successful. The government should never have let that happen."