Gannett Co.'s proposed acquisition of Belo Corp. is the latest in a slew of deals in the television industry.
Last week, Media General acquired Young Broadcasting to create a company that will own 30 TV stations in 27 markets. In April, Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired Fisher Communications for $373 million.
Gannett’s $2.2-billion deal -- $1.5 billion in cash and the assumption of about $700 million in debt -- will give it 43 stations in markets reaching about one-third of the country. Gannett, already one of the larger owners of TV stations, will now become the biggest independent owner of stations that carry CBS and NBC content.
There are many factors driving the consolidation in the broadcast industry. By owning more stations, a company has leverage to negotiate better deals with content suppliers and the pay-TV distributors that carry their signals.
Also, owning more than one station in the same market allows a broadcaster to spread expenses across multiple outlets and gives it more clout with local advertisers.
However, media critics fear that the continued consolidation means there will be a lack of diversity in content.
“We’ve seen time and again that media consolidation means fewer journalists and less diversity on the public airwaves,” said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a media watchdog. “This increasing concentration of ownership — coupled with covert consolidation that combines formerly competing newsrooms — is failing local communities.”
The Gannett-Belo deal will require approval from the Federal Communications Commission. Gannett owns a newspaper in Louisville, Ky., where Belo owns a newspaper. FCC rules prohibit combined ownership of newspapers and televisions in most markets.
Some companies have waivers to own both newspapers and TV stations. Gannett owns a paper and a station in Phoenix but will now need another waiver because after this deal closes it will own Belo’s two TV stations there.
“We don’t need yet another media merger; we need strong ownership rules that protect and promote local journalism,” said Aaron.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.