Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Media Merger Mania - Scale Matters

Small is nice, but large matters.  Small is hands on, large requires all the parts working in a coordinated fashion to achieve efficiency and economies of scale.  And while we start small, large always seems to be the goal, at least in business.

In the world of media and entertainment, survival of the fittest requires an eat or be eaten mentality.  And the more we eat, the larger we get.  Lately, we are hearing more and more stories of growth threw merger and acquisition.  Most recently, the desire by John Malone and his ownership stake in Charter, wanting to merge with Time Warner Cable and/or Cablevision to gain scale.  In book publishing, Penguin has merged with Random House to increase its penetration of the marketplace.  And today's news we hear that Tribune plans to acquire more local broadcast stations.  "The deal will add 19 television stations in 16 markets to Tribune Co.'s portfolio, making it the largest commercial television station owner in the U.S., with 42 properties across the country, reaching 50 million homes."  Again scale matters. 

This natural evolution of growth and scale is not without its pitfalls.  Many large companies have fallen to their knees and gone bankrupt because of both internal and external forces, from leadership issues to environmental and technological changes.  For cable operators, large does matter as long as their wired approach remains valuable to consumers.  They make their money on cable, broadband and telephone subscriptions.  Cord cutting already is starting to affect one stream.  Should consumers become more untethered and devoted to wireless, cable operators must adapt to remain competitive.  For Tribune, their hope is pinned on revenue in retransmission fees, the license fees cable operators pay for carriage of broadcast networks.  But companies like Aereo are disrupting the model and proving that there are no guarantees.  Cable operators could balk paying fees; if Aereo can create farms to capture signals, cable might consider the same approach to avoid paying fees.

Media mergers have and will continue to happen throughout history.  Size may matter initially but disruptive influences prove that nothing is for certain.  For Malone and Charter, for Tribune, and for others seeking partnerships to gain economies of scale and increased profitability, don't stop innovating.  It may be harder to change directions in a big ship than a small boat, but change matters.  Keep adapting to your environment.  Otherwise, as the story goes, David will beat Goliath. 

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