Mergers, acquisitions, and the new media landscape

While much of the media remains focused on President Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki, an eventful week for media companies has set in motion changes that may alter how Americans get their news.

In the past several days, Disney has bested Comcast in the battle for 21st Century Fox, Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune Media was torpedoed by the FCC, and the Justice Department attempted to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger that is already underway. “In the media business, this past year has been something like the summer of ’68—a tumultuous, chaotic collision of personalities and companies,” Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo writes in his look at the merger frenzy. “It has felt like the vanishing of one world order, where consumers were reliant on a cable provider, and the emergence of a brave new one, where everything is accessed on the phone, and traditional players must join forces in a fight for survival against incipient challengers.”

The race for scale has been driven, Pompeo notes, by the power of Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, along with the rise of Netflix, which this spring was the most valuable media company in the world. By consolidating media properties, Disney’s Bob Iger, Comcast’s Brian Roberts, and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson have cemented their positions of high influence.

RELATED: Our monster island of media companies

On a separate front, Sinclair’s bid to become the dominant force in local news is in serious jeopardy. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, announced Monday that he would send the Sinclair deal out for review by an administrative law judge—a likely death blow to the plans.

One of the winners to emerge from the spasms of change appears to be a figure familiar to the old media world. “Three times this summer, government regulators have had to make major decisions regarding media ownership,” CNN’s Hadas Gold writes. “Three times, the decision has gone the way that [Rupert] Murdoch and his company, 21st Century Fox, would have wanted.” The patriarch of the Fox empire, now 87, is close with President Trump; the most visible stars at Fox News are some of the president’s closest advisors. There is no proof that those relationships have touched government action, yet Gold writes that “Murdoch’s string of good fortune has set some tongues wagging.”

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Below, more on the new world of media.

  • Conservative media winners: Politico’s Jason Schwartz writes that rival conservative TV news outlets are celebrating the FCC’s action on the Sinclair–Tribune Media deal. Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network all opposed the move.
  • What’s left for Comcast: Pompeo notes that by bowing out of the bid for 21st Century Fox, Comcast is left with few appetizing options. A media executive described the company’s remaining choices as “a dog’s breakfast of media leftovers. A lot of shitty deals. Lionsgate, MGM, Sony, Viacom, CBS, Discovery, AMC.”
  • Looking abroad: The New York Times’s Prashant S. Rao and Edmund Lee report that Comcast is turning its focus to acquiring Sky, “which, with more than 23 million customers across five countries, is one of Europe’s most prized media companies.”

 

Other notable stories

  • As criticism of his meeting with Vladimir Putin continued, President Trump on Thursday invited him to Washington. In attempting to shift the narrative, Trump “was deploying a familiar tactic: barreling into the next news cycle by supplying the next bit of incendiary programming,” write Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
  • For CJR, Gabe Schneider reports from Oakland on troubles at the East Bay Express, where racism charges have prompted resignations and a reckoning.
  • The Atlantic’s Megan Garber examines Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s performance as press secretary after a year on the job. “It is a well-worn cliché of the Trump presidency—which is also to say, it is a well-worn cliché about the Trump psyche—that, within a White House as vertically integrated as this one, loyalty counts above all,” Garber writes. Few in the administration demonstrate that loyalty more publicly than Sanders does from the briefing room.
  • The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright reports that, to suit up against a Washington Post investigation, Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes, “hired a law firm that boasts about ‘killing stories.’” The investigation in question concerned what CBS executives knew about sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, and Cartwright reports that aggressive legal tactics “effectively neutered” the result.
  • After the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking into the servers of the DNC and other groups, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple revisited campaign coverage of hacked emails. Wemple has collected comments from editors at The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPost, and elsewhere—the consensus seems to be that, though the full scope of the hack wasn’t known, the emails were still newsworthy.
  • The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is putting out a public call for nominations for the 2019 Freedom of the Press Awards.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.