Mergers on table

Turner praises consolidation; solons disagree

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress and the head of the Federal Trade Commission may think that media mergers should get more vigilant antitrust scrutiny, but Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner says he is not concerned about the current pace of consolidation.

Turner even suggested Wednesday that the feds should not object to Viacom’s absorption of UPN, even though the network is a rival of the WB. Eventually, Viacom plans to merge with CBS, which would leave one company with two broadcast networks.

Turner made the statements during a press conference on the upcoming National Cable Television Assn. Convention.

‘More voices’

Despite all the consolidation, Turner pointed out that that in the end there are still more programming outlets than 20 years ago. “There are more voices and there is more competition,” said Turner.

At the same time, Turner said there is absolutely no reason to place any restrictions on the proposed merger of his company with America Online.

But later Wednesday, during a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing, one senator suggested that media mergers such as Time Warner/AOL and CBS/Viacom need extra scrutiny because they have the potential to limit the sources of news and information in the marketplace.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said he was concerned about the “increasing consolidation in the entertainment, news and media industries” because of the risk that the wave of mergers “may eventually erode competition in the so-called marketplace of ideas.”

Harmful dynamic?

DeWine went on to suggest that there may come a time to raise concerns about some of the largest mergers because they create a dynamic in which other companies feel they must merge in order to remain competitive. “Even if a particular merger is not anti-competitive, the agencies should consider whether it will kick off a mini-wave of industry mergers that will decrease competition and harm consumers.”

During his own testimony in front of the antitrust subcommittee, FTC chairman Robert Pitofsky agreed that media mergers are special circumstances and pointed out that his agency had required Time Warner cable to carry other news channels as a condition of approving its merger with Turner Broadcasting System Inc.

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