A Groundhog Day For Big Media

Lost in the debate leading up to this week's vote by the Federal Communications Commission on media deregulation is the "Groundhog Day'' point: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Remember when TV sets were topped with rabbit ears? The living-room glow was owned by just three networks. Then, as the world of media exploded, established players kept adding movie studios, TV stations, cable and broadcast networks, news outlets and the like to hold onto a dominant share of the pie as the pie kept expanding.

The big media companies will likely get some help from the FCC, which is expected to jettison prohibitions that now curtail single ownership of TV and radio stations and newspapers in a town or city. Protesters argue that media empires reduce the diversity of sources for news, information and entertainment. Why fear consolidation? Just look, they say, at Rupert Murdoch, whose unabashed political leanings are on display on Fox News Channel. The media power concentrated in the hands of AOL Time Warner, Disney and Viacom is self-evident, opponents argue.

Yet so far, protesters haven't been able to find enough evidence of abuses to marshal political opposition. If the big media companies are so threatening, why is AOL Time Warner doing such a bad job of making all its media properties work together? If concentrated ownership is so powerful, how did Murdoch come out of nowhere to challenge ABC, NBC and CBS? Media analyst Tom Wolzien is skeptical that the FCC ruling will lead to mass consolidation. "I don't see any transformative deals happening from this.'' These are just the new, old days of big media.