The quickest way to stifle creativity in the media industry is a method that seems to be running rampant lately, and one I like to call the “race to consolidation.” Viewers’ choices are dissipating on broadcast television, in particular as mega media mergers come to fruition left and right. But there is one particular race to consolidation with dizzying and dire consequences, if it is allowed to be won: the proposed Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune Media merger. This massive merger would mute local and independent media voices — particularly at women- and minority-owned networks like Cinémoi — and put Sinclair’s profits ahead of viewers.
It is clear the sole purpose of this merger is to give Sinclair Broadcasting more retransmission leverage to mine more money from the pockets of consumers. When broadcasters seek more leverage, consumers lose — paying more for cable bills and receiving less diverse content. Or, as we’ve seen in recent years, consumers cut the cord and navigate an increasingly fractured OTT marketplace that requires a number of separate subscription services.
Sinclair Broadcasting currently owns or operates 173 local affiliates. Through its acquisition of Tribune Media, this number would jump to 233 local broadcast stations — 80 more stations than its nearest potential competitor — and reach 72 percent of American households. This massive consolidation would expand Sinclair’s reach into key markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas, where it has no presence today.
This level of control over how Americans access and consume media, taken by itself, is cause for concern. This mega-merger would constitute a direct assault on innovation and, more specifically, an attack on the diversity of programming. The industry cannot be expected to appeal to the American community at large, if there is no room for start-ups to originate and introduce different programs.
Beyond this, the idea of more women and minorities rising to “real participation” in media is threatened. As of now, Oprah and myself are the only two women who are majority owners of media companies. We are also both members of minority groups. Less room in the media space in general closes doors for aspiring and innovative women of the future, including those from minority groups. As long as gender diversity remains lacking in this space, neither viewers’ needs nor interest can be fully satisfied. This merger promises to reverse progress in this respect. All viewers lose in this race to consolidation, but women and other minority groups bear a disproportionate fraction of the loss.
This proposed transaction, then, swells with risk and bears no reward for the viewer. The viewer, of course, is central to this industry. Networks like Cinémoi are founded, change shape, and survive or not due to the choices, interests, and needs of our viewership. I first came across Cinémoi when I was on my book tour in Europe. I was struck by the French channel’s meticulous curation, and it occurred to me that the programming and approach would appeal to Americans as well. We decided to bring it to America, but, of course, this required a significant change to English-speaking films and other programs. There is no one-size-fits all channel, and programs must be adapted to fit the needs and interests of diverse viewers. With the launch of Cinémoi in this country, we fully embraced and dove head-on into this process, expanding it to assume the breadth of a multi-genre, vintage to modern films, fashion, lifestyle, and green-curated channel.
Our kind of diverse content, lest we not forget, is already under considerable threat. Currently, huge conglomerates own too much of the content on our screens today, a hard-hitting reality that is stifling diversity, gender diversity and innovation in the communication and media industry. Additionally, we cannot give Sinclair more unchecked leverage to extract higher prices that hurt consumers. We cannot afford to spectate as Sinclair forges to the finish line in their race to consolidation, leaving viewers and independent programmers behind.
Daphna Ziman is co-founder, chief creative executive and president of Cinémoi, a 24-hour network which offers curated films, high couture and international lifestyle programming.
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