Meredith-Media General merger shows pressures on the local television business

The $2.4 billion merger of Media General and Meredith Corp. local television stations is being lauded by the companies as delivering shareholder value and by media critics as a sign of dangerous media concentration.

What the merger really reveals is the weakening of local television market profits and increasing efforts by station owners to seek cost efficiencies and scale advantages in operations and local advertising sales--a common strategy in mature and declining businesses.

The merger will put the new firm, Meredith Media General, into third place in local television station ownership. It will have 88 stations in 54 markets, including 40 of the big network affiliates in the top 25 markets.

The firms are expecting the merger to produce $80 billion in savings in the first two years.

Because of the financial pressures on local stations, large media owners such as Tribune, Sinclair, and now Media General and Meredith are trying to buy market share through mergers and acquisitions and multi-channel video operations. These increase revenue and profits that they find difficult to obtain through growth of current local television operations.

Local television revenues are being hit by shifts of audience consumption to programming offered by cable and satellite operators and downloadable video from NetFlix, Hulu, and other connected TV operators.

The new firm will need to divest some stations in 6 mid-sized markets to meet FCC ownership limitations and receive regulatory approval.


Twitter’s value problem is destroying its performance

Twitter is one of the best known social media services, but it is suffering from its inability to provide sufficient value to consumers, advertisers, and investors.

The firm has 316 million users, a respectable figure—but 80% smaller than Facebook. Its share price has dropped below the level set when it became a publicly traded company in 2013. The company has lost about $30 billion in market value in the past two years and is now valued at $15 billion. It continues to experience negative operating and profit margins and negative return on assets, despite about $2 billion in revenue.

Twitter is suffering from two fundamental business problems. First, the lack of an effective value proposition that makes it attractive to larger numbers of users. Second, lack of vision and direction. The latter led to the departure of its CEO in June 2015 and he has still not been replaced.

A significant value problem for Twitter has been that it is primarily configured for short, one-way communication. It is a great way for the Kardashians to share their latest selfies with fans and media and for journalists and media outlets to promote their latest material. Unfortunately, that configuration it is not as well suited for conversation as the configurations of other social media services.  The 140 character limitation also reduces its value to many potential users.

Twitter also lacks distinction for doing something superlative and creating a niche for itself.  It does not lead a clear niche such as that of LinkedIn, which is the primary networking social media among professionals, or the photo and video sharing niche orientations of Pinterest and Instagram—whose growth rates have trounced Twitter’s growth in recent years.

The company has been working to improve the effectiveness of advertising placement and it is changing it advertising platform so it can reach apps other than Twitter on mobile platforms and is hoping that will improve its attractiveness to advertisers.

The challenges facing Twitter reveal the fundamental needs of all companies to get their business models right. They have to have a value proposition and value configuration that works for customers. They have to be able identify the customer wants and needs they are fulfilling, find ways to surpass the value customers expect, and make the company’s products and services unique in providing that value. Only when Twitter effectively addresses those issues can it hope to improve on its poor performance.


Digital Investments creating strong cross-platform opportunities for NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal’s investments this month in Vox Media and BuzzFeed firmly place the audiovisual giant in a strong position to benefit from cross-platform advertising and content distribution. The company this month invested $200 million in each of the two leading digital firms that operate portfolios of sites and are strong players in social media distribution.

The move will make it possible for them to jointly offer advertising packages for major events such as the Olympics and provide new avenues to promote the broadcast and cable programs and motion pictures from NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal is a subsidiary of cable/internet giant Comcast, which itself owns about 14% of Vox Media.

The investments reveal the increasing importance of digital and social media as channels to consumers and that legacy media companies are gaining better understanding how they can be used to advantage. It also indicates that legacy companies like NBCUniversal do not have the capabilities and skills to directly compete effectively with the rising companies in the digital market and are seeking ways to cooperate for joint benefit.