News vet sez money wrong motivation for merger

WASHINGTON — The first competitor to publicly question a CNN/ABC news merger, Peacock prexy Andrew Lack said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the union would save as much money as promised.

And if so, money is the wrong motivation, Lack said, during a luncheon speech sponsored by the Media Institute in downtown D.C.

“You’d hate to see deals like this come together just because of the bucks,” Lack said.

If CNN and ABC News pursue the merger, Washington pols and regulators also could have concerns.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice is likely to review the deal on a pro forma basis only. And so far, it’s unclear whether the Federal Communications Commission could invoke authority.

Lack, a news veteran, said it’s hard for him to understand how such a merger would result in additional profits of $200 million, a figure floated in recent weeks by CNN and ABC.

At least one media analyst, Tom Wolzien of Sandford C. Bernstein, agrees with Lack, saying recently that he can’t come up with a figure higher than $100 million.

An ABC news exec said Lack’s comments reflected a “very simplistic” understanding of what has been discussed. Exec said it’s not a matter of making money at the expense of quality news.

“Finances are only a part of any deal. More importantly would be the robust and resulting news organization that would cover the world in a way that no one else could,” the Alphabet exec said.

CNN and ABC insiders say the odds are 50-50 that ABC would indeed spin off its news division to a joint-venture news company controlled by CNN.

During his luncheon chat, Lack said such a merger is borrowing from the model set up by NBC when it created the cable news net, MSNBC.

ABC and CNN execs say their union would go quite a bit further, considering that CNN is the largest electronic newsgathering org in the world.

Auds like talk format

When asked about MSNBC’s trailing ratings, Lack said viewers are flocking to the news talk format so popular on Fox News Channel and CNN. He said auds have wanted more news analysis since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Lack said there is constant discussion within MSNBC about whether to do more news talk programming.

Ultimately, Lack said he’s confident MSNBC will get through this “bad patch.”

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