Did Ed Ansin’s dog eat the FCC study?
At the same time that Ansin, the Miami-based owner of WHDH-TV (Channel 7), was adding WLVI-TV (Channel 56) to his portfolio (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here), we were learning that former FCC chairman Michael Powell had ordered a draft report on the negative effects of media concentration destroyed.
Well, here’s one negative effect: About 120 people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of Channel 56 becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Channel 7.
News accounts of the FCC study suggest that there is an apples-and-oranges quality in attempting to apply the study’s findings to the looming 7/56 duopoly. Take, for instance, this paragraph from the Associated Press story:
The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of “on-location” news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.
The problem is that local ownership and media concentration are not exactly the same thing. Ansin’s Sunbeam Broadcasting is a far smaller operation than Tribune Co., the current owner of Channel 56. In that sense, Sunbeam is closer to being a “local” (in the sense of being close to the ground and engaged) owner than Tribune. Moreover, Ansin, since taking over Channel 7 some years back, has made a huge commitment to news, although you can certainly question (as I do) his commitment to quality.
In terms of media concentration, though, Channels 7 and 56 will soon have one owner instead of two. CBS already owns Channels 4 and 38. How long before Hearst-Argyle finds a UHF playmate for WCVB-TV (Channel 5)?
It’s true that the local television news market isn’t what it used to be. In a larger economic sense, I suppose it makes sense for Channel 7 to spread its newsgathering resources over two channels. But 56’s “The Ten O’Clock News” has a flavor of its own, less frantic than its 10 p.m. competition on Fox’s WFXT-TV (Channel 25). Soon, 25 and 56 will presumably compete to see who can most effectively keep viewers in a frenzy.
The report was an inconvenience to Michael Powell, who, throughout his tenure at the FCC, aided efforts by large media companies to further consolidate their power over local news outlets.
Had it seen the light of day, the FCC and their Big Media allies could no longer deny that locally owned media do a better job of covering local news.
The Boston TV market isn’t going to become any less local — but it is about to get more concentrated and less diverse. That’s bad news you’re not likely to see on 7 or 56.