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Allow Broadcasters to Compete on a Level Playing Field in the Digital Marketplace


For decades, the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Antitrust Division has maintained that local broadcast television stations compete only against one another when analyzing mergers and other competition issues. This view is out of sync with today's media marketplace.

  • With the explosive growth of online video and digital content along with the proliferation of cable and satellite television channels, broadcasters face intense competition for audiences and local advertising dollars.
  • Yet, the DOJ's outdated viewpoint stifles broadcasters' ability to achieve efficiencies to allow them to best serve audiences with the high-quality entertainment and locally-focused news, weather and sports they have come to expect. It is well past time for the DOJ to update its regulatory policies to reflect the realities of the 21st century media market.

Here's why:

As a direct result of the DOJ's narrow view of the media marketplace, broadcasters face strict limitations in acquiring stations and taking advantage of important economies of scale.

  • This skews the competitive playing field because giant tech companies such as Facebook and Google, large pay-TV and broadband providers such as Charter Spectrum and Verizon, and online video providers like Netflix and Amazon are not subject to comparable limitations.
  • Yet, broadcasters compete with them for local viewers and advertising dollars. Neither consumers nor advertisers believe that local TV stations are their only options for accessing video content or placing advertisements:
    • Broadcast TV stations have lost and continue to lose advertising dollars to digital platforms, which now dominate the local advertising market. Kagan has estimated that digital (online/mobile) advertising grew from around 15 percent of the total local ad market in 2010 to over 60 percent in 2020, and could comprise about 80 percent of the local ad market by 2030. Local broadcast stations consequently have seen their share of the local advertising market decline over time.
    • According to estimates from eMarketer and BIA Advisory Services (BIA), the U.S. advertising revenues of Google alone were approximately double the combined ad revenues of all local TV and radio stations in the country in 2021. Borrell Associates reports that social media platforms, particularly Facebook, are among the most popular marketing vehicles for local advertisers.
    • Surveys conducted by industry analysts, including Borrell and BIA, consistently find that advertisers who utilize broadcast stations also use a wide range of other platforms, especially digital. A 2020 study by NERA Economic Consulting concluded that advertisers view digital platforms as substitutes for local TV advertising. And competition from digital video platforms has only grown over the past two years, as BIA reported in the summer of 2022 that over-the-top (OTT) video had become the fastest growing local advertising platform.
    • Broadcast TV stations and pay-TV providers are both losing audiences to online options. Since its introduction in 2021, Nielsen's monthly TV and streaming snapshot called "The Gauge" has documented the steady increase of consumers' total time spent viewing streaming, at the expense of broadcast and cable. Netflix and YouTube in particular draw substantial portions of total viewing time.

The bottom line:

The DOJ should recognize what broadcasters, cable and satellite providers, online content providers, advertisers and consumers already know: technological advances have transformed the media landscape.

  • In light of these vast changes, the DOJ should reevaluate its approach for defining the relevant market and analyzing competition when reviewing TV station mergers.

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