The acquisition of Fisher Broadcasting by Sinclair Broadcast Group is bad news for Seattle and the Northwest. Seattle will lose a small but important corporate headquarters. Sinclair, which is based in suburban Baltimore, will no doubt get rid of many Fisher corporate jobs that are made “redundant” by the merger. The Northwest will lose a distinct local voice.
Sinclair says it “owns and operates, programs or provides sales services to 112 television stations in 61 markets” in some 26 states. With the Fisher acquisition, it will gain KOMO TV and 19 other television stations, along with KOMO Newsradio, KPLZ STAR 101.5, and KVI 570. (The reader should know that I have appeared on KOMO radio from time to time as an unpaid pundit on economic issues, as I do on several other local stations).
Broadcasting, which uses the public airways, has become one of the most consolidated industries in our era of monopolies, duopolies and cartels. All across the country, formerly proud local stations have been absorbed by the Borg of a few big players. The Federal Communications Commission has done nothing to stop the trend, so don’t expect it to stop the sale of Fisher. But the result is not just lost jobs, but the loss in communities of some of their most important, and influential, touchstones. There’s less competition and innovation, fewer choices and distinctive local stations.
This is especially true in the news operations, which should be serving the public trust and are made better by local ownership and competition. Instead, in a consolidated, cartelized environment, they get their marching orders from elsewhere and a news agenda narrowed down to a one-size-fits-all, often with little emphasis on, or curiosity about, the community. These are just “markets.”
The other curious thing about the latest move is that in 2009 Sinclair said in a regulatory filing that it was considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Obviously the company was able to step back from the brink, but it will be interesting to know if Sinclair took on more debt to make the Fisher deal. As for Fisher, it’s too bad the company ever went public, putting its fate in the hands of investors who care nothing for Seattle. A short-term payoff for a few, a long-term loss for the community.
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Today’s Econ Haiku:
A Boeing memo
Great work, you saved our bacon
Now your job gets fried