UPN/WB merger means, well, more change

The merger of the UPN and WB networks to create a single entity known as CW is another sign of the times for broadcasting. While most people are assessing the surface ramifications such as programming, advertising, and the sudden loss of content for a station in many markets, I want to focus on the bigger picture. This is all about the bottom line for two big media players, Viacom and Time Warner. By combining programming resources, they reduce expenses and (hopefully) create a network with stronger programming and better ratings.

In the process, they screw local broadcast companies. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns former UPN and WB stations in many markets, saw their stock price drop 16% yesterday. “Some of our markets may benefit from the merger, while others may be negatively impacted,” Sinclair CEO David Smith told TV Week.

But here’s the thing. We’re deep into an enormous business disruption for the television industry, and nobody should be surprised by this or anything that happens next. The ship is sinking, people. In some cases, it’s oh so slow, but it’s going down just the same, and these big companies have no choice but to be “creative” in working their spreadsheets. It’s their ballgame. Disruptions in distribution alone are bad news for network affiliates of every stripe. A broadcast tower is a long way now from being the only game in town in terms of distributing television.

And what happens next may be very much “out there.” Given the logic of this deal, why not merge other networks? With a whole slew of new independent stations on the horizon, will Fox News or CNN move in to create broadcast affiliates? How about ESPN broadcast affiliates? Their radio network is doing rather well. What about HGTV, Lifetime or USA? Or how about Current TV moving in to offer affiliation for broadcast stations?

Some are already predicting layoffs, and while that wouldn’t surprise me, neither would it surprise me if some of these new independent stations actually beefed up staff to produce more local news.

The only thing we can count on is change, and while we’re on the subject, let me once again admonish people working in the industry to acquire or hone multimedia skills. Those skills will soon determine your value in the new world.

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