A Better Solution
In his NY Times Op-Ed piece today, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin makes a less than compelling case for more media consolidation. To give him what credit is due, he says that the FCC should only move on one of the four rules under review, but even so, there's a better solution to the problem Martin says exists under the current rules.
Right now, newspaper companies can't own a broadcast radio or television outlet in the same market. Martin wants to change that for the top twenty market, and wants to limit it so that the newspaper can't buy one of the top four stations in the market. He doesn't say anything about what would happen if said station then became one of the big four, but I presume that the newspaper wouldn't be required to sell it, which would render said restriction meaningless over the long term. His argument is that newspapers are dying, and this is the way to save them. To support that argument, he cites the following:
At the heart of all of these facts and figures is the undeniable reality that the media marketplace has changed considerably over the last three decades. In 1975, cable television served fewer than 15 percent of television households. Satellite TV did not exist. Today, by contrast, fewer than 15 percent of homes do not subscribe to cable or satellite television. And the Internet as we know it today did not even exist in 1975. Now, nearly one-third of all Americans regularly receive news through the Internet.
It's the last sentence that I want to focus on, because it seems that the internet is the future of broadcast television. (I bet you thought I was going to say the newspaper, right?) It's the Writer's Guild Strike that has me thinking this way. The entertainment divisions of the networks are looking at the internet and saying "that's where the future is," and if they've caught on, then you know it's happening, because they're always the last, it seems, to catch the new wave. The strike is happening because producers don't want to pay writers for stuff that goes online, when they know, as does anyone connected with the business, that inside of twenty years, broadcast television as we know it will likely be a thing of the past.
So here's the better solution for newspapers--and the best part is, they're already doing it. Go to the Sun-Sentinel webpage, and with nearly every local story, there's now a video component. And they're hardly alone. The NY Times is doing it with some stories as well. So expand--start doing a nightly newscast online, focusing on local interest stories. Make it either streamable or downloadable. Podcast it. The days of broadcast television are coming to an end, so don't link yourselves to a dying technology. Buying a local television station today is akin to buying a CD or DVD production facility. Build your own, new way of reaching the public with local news.