Meredith-Media General merger shows pressures on the local television business

The $2.4 billion merger of Media General and Meredith Corp. local television stations is being lauded by the companies as delivering shareholder value and by media critics as a sign of dangerous media concentration.

What the merger really reveals is the weakening of local television market profits and increasing efforts by station owners to seek cost efficiencies and scale advantages in operations and local advertising sales--a common strategy in mature and declining businesses.

The merger will put the new firm, Meredith Media General, into third place in local television station ownership. It will have 88 stations in 54 markets, including 40 of the big network affiliates in the top 25 markets.

The firms are expecting the merger to produce $80 billion in savings in the first two years.

Because of the financial pressures on local stations, large media owners such as Tribune, Sinclair, and now Media General and Meredith are trying to buy market share through mergers and acquisitions and multi-channel video operations. These increase revenue and profits that they find difficult to obtain through growth of current local television operations.

Local television revenues are being hit by shifts of audience consumption to programming offered by cable and satellite operators and downloadable video from NetFlix, Hulu, and other connected TV operators.

The new firm will need to divest some stations in 6 mid-sized markets to meet FCC ownership limitations and receive regulatory approval.

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