Examining the Effects of Media Mergers on American Media
Media mergers have accelerated in recent years, made easier by regulatory changes and rulings that allowed media companies to come together. For example, the availability of content online has led to courts approving more mergers of TV station and radio station owners. Let’s examine the effects of media mergers on American media.
Concentration of Power
In general, media mergers result in the consolidation of news sources to just a few big-name companies. In an article on the Sinclair and Tribune merger that was published on apexbeats.com, it was said that the deal would be around four billion dollars. Recent rule changes may allow it to go through without having to divest many assets like radio stations. The biggest impact for audiences is that it gives Sinclair and Tribune’s merged media company reach equivalent to Fox.
The 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merger would reduce the number of studios to just five and the number of big TV show producers to four. This results in less new brand name content. However, the internet does allow small producers and truly independent creators to be out there. Yet the economics and value of a large audience has resulted in new content creation online being restricted to already big-name companies like YouTube (Google), Amazon and Netflix.
How does this impact consumers? What the leaders of these companies don’t like won’t be produced, except on low budget indie channels online, or rarely, PBS.
The Loss of Local Coverage
One less evident cost of media mergers has been the loss of local and regional coverage. When all the main news desks are on the East and West coasts, there’s very little coverage of “fly-over” country unless it is following a national celebrity or major disaster of interest to the country.
Another issue is the replacement of local news reporters and investigators in favor of cheaper, already created national headlines. Now you lose the teams investigating corruption by local politicians, while there may be a regional affiliate still monitoring some activities in the state capitol.
This shifts the breaking news of major wrongdoing to independent reporters and citizen activists; the quality of their investigation may be lower than that of professional local reporters who aren’t around anymore.
On a more mundane note, you see the loss of local entertainment reporters and the wide array of do it yourself local personalities that are now relegated to public broadcasting and cable channels.
The Locked-In Bias
One benefit of diverse news sources is the diversity of viewpoints. When you have multiple newspapers, TV stations and radio stations in a given area competing with each other, they’ll show content that is different from what the others are holding. When you concentrate the number of stations and outlets, you reduce the number of opinions presented to the audience. Many viewpoints are simply lost, while the content tilts toward the views of the intended audience.
Media mergers have allowed for the concentration of power. This reduces the diversity of content created for general consumption. It also results in confirmation bias becoming the norm, as a few remaining channels compete to keep their audience happy and engaged while there really isn’t anyone else to tune into.