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Too little, too late

Variety Editorial

The media picture keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate defied opposition from the Bush administration and voted 55-40 to rescind new regulations allowing large media companies to grow even bigger.

The move is especially refreshing to those who applaud grassroots efforts to protect localism and diversity, those who once assumed Congress wouldn’t take on the powerful broadcasting lobby and those who feared FCC Chairman Michael Powell was rushing the whole process.

Still, given the current climate, we can’t help but wonder if it isn’t too little too late. The consolidation tidal wave has already swept over most of the entertainment biz, leading to ever more complex and sophisticated combinations — as the big fish continue to gobble each other up.

GE is now in the process of combining with Vivendi Universal’s entertainment assets, thus merging several heretofore separate media operations, TV production and cable channels among them.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is methodically and so far niftily jumping through all the regulatory hoops toward its take over of DirecTV. The move does not actually combine businesses but extending an almost worldwide ring of satcaster operations.

And cable systems giant Comcast, fresh from its takover of AT&T’s cable holdings, is now making noises that it wants to own cable programmers as well.

Against that backdrop, dickering over whether to cap station ownership at 45% or 35% of the country won’t alter the fact that a handful of companies wield massive clout over the marketplace. So even if recent actions stymie or slow their growth aspirations, its worth remembering that just maintaining the status quo would still leave them plenty big enough to exert their wills over pretty much everyone, except perhaps each other.

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