News Articles

A Great Deal of Caution

Committed to the First Amendment 2/15/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Disneycast, or will it be Comisney? The former is a marketing bonanza, but we like the latter. Then we could rename Disneyland Comisney Park and play … Oh, never mind. We're still punchy from a week that gave birth to five blowout stories, sending journalists and communications lawyers scrambling to find a precedent.

The biggest news of the week, competing with the ongoing Janet Jackson debacle,
was the takeover attempt of Disney by Comcast. It would be the deepest penetration of cable into the broadcast realm ever, and the first cable/broadcast crossownership play since the rules were stayed in March 2001.

ABC affiliates may recall Michael Eisner's prescient remarks a few years back. He suggested it might be easier to program a cable network with ABC fare than have to deal with pesky affiliates. Hmmmm.

Thus, we come neither to bury the deal, nor to praise it. Time Warner has Road Runner. Maybe Brian Roberts just wants a cartoon character to brand his own high-speed Internet access. OK, it's clearly much more.

From the grassroots uproar over media consolidation to indecency complaints flooding the FCC, there is a growing dissatisfaction with some of the fruits of deregulation. Some are so rare they can only be savored by those at the pinnacle of vertically integrated companies. The media ignores or marginalizes legitimate criticism at its peril.

When the urge to merge first took hold in this industry, we issued a warning: For all the economies of scale that might be gained, much could be lost in handing the media to financiers who might just want to strip and flip. The record is mixed, but heightened financial pressures, the jobs "synergized" out of existence, and the changes in corporate culture have raised red flags in Washington—on both sides of the aisle. Clearly, bigger isn't always better for the bottom line. Just ask Time Warner née AOL Time Warner.

Comcast/Disney has its supporters and detractors, but one thing is paramount. Both partners need to make certain, whatever the outcome, that it's good for Main Street as well as Wall Street. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Which is why we take the long view. We maintain a healthy distrust of government regulators, justified again last week by the FCC's renewed zeal to chill content through an "enforcement on steroids" approach to indecency. But these days, a healthy skepticism of "synergy" is a must. We challenge Brian Roberts and Michael Eisner to make believers out of us.

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