In the last few days, both Sky News and CNN have become tangentially embroiled in ongoing media takeovers. In both cases, there could be an impact on their longterm futures to a greater or lesser extent.
The CMA should not in its assessment simply assume the “continued provision of Sky News” and its current contribution to plurality
Sky News is widely considered to be loss-making, but nonetheless works well in Sky’s favour in terms of influence. It also obviously provides an alternative news source, has to adhere to impartiality laws, and offers the only rival 24-hour UK news service to the BBC.
Meanwhile in the US, reports place CNN at the centre of a potential block to AT&T completing a takeover of Time Warner. CNN is a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting, part of the Time Warner empire, and there are suggestions that Time Warner might need to sell this arm to appease the Justice Department. Trump is no fan of CNN of course, calling it “fake news.”
Exactly how profitable CNN itself is, isn’t completely clear. The US version of the channel might be, but it becomes more complex on an international level. But it’s likely that it works well in combination with other Turner properties when negotiating carriage deals.
It sounds as though the case could end up going to court, as it seems likely that both the TV assets of Turner Broadcasting as well as the DirectTV arm of Time Warner (another proposed remedy sale), are key to the basis of the overall acquisition from AT&T’s perspective.
In both instance though, this shows how precarious the news business can be, with proprietors or regulators determining their future in an ever consolidating world. Once news was a highly profitable business to be in, but changes in media consumption have seen business models decline as advertising has shifted online, and there has been less willingness of consumers to pay for news.
And fewer news outlets is definitely a bad thing. When the threat to Sky News emerged, there were a lot of triumphant anti-Murdoch voices happy at the prospect of its closure. That’s despite the channel regularly winning awards, and adhering to tight impartiality rules that all UK broadcasters have to follow. Losing a voice is definitely not a good thing, however much you might dislike a particular presenter.
Likewise, damage to CNN would be a loss in democracy both in the US and globally. Competition keeps everyone honest. And at a time when impartiality is constantly threatened, with well funded government backed outfits from some countries (e.g. CCTV and RT), and other semi-independent broadcasters threatened in other ways (Al Jazeera), independent voices are needed.
Strong, impartial journalism is critical to the foundation of our democracies.