Without a Clue

Jeff Jarvis goes to town on the silliness coming out of the Media Reform conference this week in Memphis. He takes some shots at FCC Chairman Michael Copps, most specifically for Copps' contention that media companies owe the government more for their use of the radio spectrum.

Copps' valuation of the spectrum ($500,000,000,000) is just plain silly in light of the fact that broadcast media are quickly transitioning content onto online distribution networks.

The people calling for the break up "Big Media" companies at conferences like this seem to have little or no knowledge of the media business. Jarvis, a forward thinking expert on media matters, is all but exasperated by such ignorance. Even the casual observer has to wonder if these people have been living under rocks for the past five years.

It is pretty clear that what old media needs is more consolidation, not less. These are companies struggling to compete in a highly volatile advertising market. With new entrants like Google, Yahoo, Verizon and AT&T, competition for eyeballs is fierce. Mass advertising rates are under a great deal of pressure, while micro, highly targeted on-line advertising is absorbing a greater proportion (.pdf) of ad dollars every year.

In order to survive this sea change, mass media outlets will need to continue to cut relative costs by spreading expenses across a broader revenue base. That's most quickly and efficiently done by enterprise consolidation.

It is really nothing short of stunning that an FCC Chairman and a perennial candidate for president are willing to declare that today's media companies have an inordinate amount of power. One need only read the thousands of articles by redundant journalists, news anchors and radio hosts to realize that the old media is on the decline.

Being one who has packed the TV away in the garage, let the NYT and the WSJ subscriptions lapse, and installed ipod connections in the car, I could care less if the FCC and congress wreck Big Media. Most of traditional media have failed at their role as "watch dogs of the public" and deserve a spanking.

But I do have some compassion for the people working in those newsrooms. Putting them in the unemployment line faster than they might otherwise find themselves just seems cruel. And restricting large media companies from pursuing rational business strategies will certainly do that.

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