Viacom Inc. president Mel Karmazin defended the drive of CBS and the other networks to loosen ownership restrictions so that they can buy more TV stations, saying networks sometimes are more local than local stations.
Compared to other industries, broadcasting is unconsolidated, he suggested. CBS owns 35 TV stations, he said. “Is 35 Television stations out of 1,100 the equivalent of Microsoft?”
The argument that consolidation hurts local programming is a canard, Karamazin told an audience at a breakfast earlier this week hosted by Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.
In order for a TV station to be successful, whether it’s owned by a network or newspaper company, it must provide solid local service. “The hallmark of success is localism,” he said. “We are more local than many of our affiliates because we have the resources to put into reporters and investigative reporting.”
Asked about what the upcoming elections mean for broadcasting, Karmazin said he has been disappointed in the Republicans who now control the White House, Congress and the FCC. The Republicans say they believe in less regulation, but they have been unable to deliver less regulation for broadcasting, he said. So, he would not assume that Republicans staying in control would be better for broadcasting.
Interlocutor Ken Auletta said efforts to deregulate broadcasting may have stalled due to public protests. “I don’t think the public is aware of it or concerned about it,” Karmazin said. Fact is, the public has more choices that it has ever had before, in electronic and print media.
Consolidation may be good for the public, Karmazin said, especially those who don’t want to pay a monthly cable bill. “To preserve the free over-the-air industry, you need successful companies and the way to get successful is to have scale,” he said. Unless broadcast companies stay strong, the best programming will eventually migrate from free over-the-air broadcasting to pay cable, he warned.