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Marianne Paskowski

Time Warner to Acquire NBCU?

May 28, 2008 12:00 PM

God I hope not, although a lot of folks are rooting that such a deal will happen.

Now that Time Warner has spun off its cable systems, it has the deep pockets to go after the NBC Universal portfolio, which would be a perfect fit, making Time Warner the ultimate content play.

It likely would elate General Electric shareholders if the largely industrial company shed its NBCU holdings. Deutsche Bank cut GE’s price target from $35 a share to $33 yesterday.

The bank cited problems with GE Capital, but the rumor mill is rife with the hope that GE will unload NBC after the Summer Olympics.

This is not a good thing. More media consolidation means fewer choices for viewers.

And what would happen to the newsgathering entities involved? Time Warner owns CNN and CNN Headline News, while GE is in the news space with its broadcast network news, local news from its owned-and-operated stations and cable news net MSNBC.

If such an acquisition happened, count on Time Warner to look for synergy within its vast news holdings, which means carnage for reporters and viewers alike.

So, do you think this is a good potential marriage?


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Comments (15)

Jeff Mulligan:

Marianne --

Your column is spot on highlighting what might be another example of the conflict between media economic freedom and regulation-imposed media freedom, such as failed anti-concentration FCC initiatives.

Putting NBCU under Time Warner control clearly raises media concentration alarms. But GE doesn't have any business owning NBCU. These are not the 50-year-old media environments when RCA could own NBC successfully, from a social and economic perspective.

Today, economics does not favor diversity in news sources. It favors concentration in advertising vehicles.

Apparently, it's up to the Internet and the freedom of blogs to provide the freedom of thought envisioned by the First Amendment. And the sardonic definition of "Freedom of the Press" is again validated: the freedom belongs to those who own the presses.



Yo, Blondie --

Cable TV news is already pablum enough. True, GE should sell NBCU, but to Time Warner? How about the New York Times, or some other organization that would keep NBC News's and MSNBC's independence?

Cruisin not Bruisin

Marianne :

Hi Jeff,

Couldn't agree more with you that GE has no business owning NBCU. I'd like to see GE play more in wind power, and all the other stuff it does with its machines and parts.

However, who would be a good buyer for NBCU. I don't see one, so it may just stay the way it is, for now.

Thanks for posting,

Marianne :

Hi Cruiser,

Don't think the New York Times can afford to buy a pair of socks. I think the only choice here is for GE to spin off NBC as a separate entity, and take it from there.

Don't see any other buyers, than TW, in the weeds.

Good to hear from you,


Don Wolf:

Your comment, Marianne, comes at a propitious time, given the hand-wringing of the press over Scott McCleland's accusations in his new book.

To the news folks, Bushies spinning the Iraq war is old hat. They're really worked up over McCleland's charge that they rolled over like obedient lap dogs to report the president's go-to-war assertions uncritcally. We know the march to war in 2003 was a con job; nothing new there. But McCleland's press accusations should be the real news, shaking us out of our complacency about news coverage of the government.

Jessica Yellin, now of CNN, is this evening accusing her former employer (?) of pressuring her to tell the Bushie side of the Iraq war run-up exclusively--typical of corporate pressure on reporters, she charges.

I'm not surprised. Many of the TV reporters who, you point out, would lose their jobs if Time Warner acquired NBCU, deserve to go anyway. Viewers won't be losing all that much.

Let's, for starters, look at the MSNBC's vs. CNN's prime time lineup. Here's how I'd wield the scythe.

At MSNBC, keep David Gregory: the best real reporter of the bunch. Keep Keith Olbermann, a one man balance against the entire Fox News roster. Keep Dan Abrams, intelligent if a bit sophomoric at times.

The best I can wish for Chris Mathews is that you put him in a studio with no guests and disconnected cameras and mikes, and let him perpetually interview himself. That's his obvious interest.

At CNN, Glen Beck and Nancy Grace have to be the first to go. Beck, besides being a racist, is as politically sophisticated as a nematode. Grace, beside practicing the worst kind of pulp journalism, is too self-absorbed to belong on TV. It's all about her, isn't it?

Lou Dobbs should stay. All those Hillary-loving blue-collar white males in West Virginia and Kentucky would miss him. Those viewers each have two armpits and a few teeth left, enough to interest deodorant and toothpaste advertisers penetrating a new market, regardless of their nativism and racism.

Keep Anderson Cooper, but shorten his overlong program to one hour by cutting the repetition and frivolous stuff.

And Larry King? Put him in the same room with Chris Mathews and Nancy Grace, keep them supplied with mirrors and adoring press releases, mute the signal and lock the door. Then again, Rupert Murdoch, now that he's gone uptown by purchasing the Wall Street Journal, should be happy to hire that trio as a replacement for Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes.

For now,


Marianne :


I hope Time Warner chieftian Jeff Bewkes is reading this, doubt it, suits don't do this kind of thing, but we'll find a way to pass along your talent suggestions.

Pretty good calls.

However, which nets survive and who makes the cut?

Maybe it won't happen.

Thanks for your post, and welcome to the blog,


Hi Marianne,

In selling NBCU GE would be throwing out the baby with the bath water. GE's problem isn't NBCU. GE's problem is Jeff Zucker, who in the blink of a TV season or two managed to take NBC from Number One to Number Last. Zucker's a short term thinker with a circus barker mentality. Solution? Find a strategic-thinking, quality-obsessed chief along the lines of a Brandon Tartikoff or a Grant Tinker or a John Cooke...a leader who respects the intelligence of his audience. The audience in turn will return the favor with increased viewership and network loyalty. In other words, dollars and cents.

As for an acquisition of NBCU by Time Warner: if that notion doesn't capture the attention of the federal antitrust police then someone's asleep in the Federal Trade Commission.


Marianne :

Hi Cory,

I disagree, most investors view GE as an industrial tech play, and NBC is a mere drop in that big bucket. Check out the trading symbol GE, and, most people in this business would be very surprised to see just how small it really is.

About the regulatory obstacles, did anyone stop Murdoch from owning TV stations, a broadcast network, two cable networks and newspapers in the same market?

Thanks for your post, we shall see.


Hi Marianne,
I agree with Cory when it comes to NBCU's problem: Jeff Zucker. This guy is a disaster. Should GE find someone dumb enough to take that disaster, he needs to be the first to go. In fact, if it weren't for NBCU's cable properties, they wouldn't be making any money. I don't think NBCU could survive on its own but I don't think CNN and MSNBC in the same company is a good idea. Perhaps CNN would get sold to CBS, so that deal that both news operations are most likely secretly dreaming about, would come true. Too bad if that would happen because MSNBC has become nothing more than Fox Left and then some. While I still have faith in Brian Williams and the broadcast network anchors, I have no faith or credibility in MSNBC when it comes to general reporting. I'll say it time and time again, while I have no problems with Matthews and Olbermann doing their shows (and many times agree with them), they are NOT reporters.

Marianne :

Hi Jason,

One problem, among many with NBC's news gathering operations is that it has to spend way too much time defending the strategic, different approaches of Brian Williams, straight news, and opiners/pseudo reporters Mathews and Olbermann.

But I deviate. I would just hate to see all of these news channels under one roof, like Time Warner. You know they wouldn't all make it under one roof

Zucker is a PT Barnum clone, hence what you see with Mathews and Olbermann, and Cramer on CNBC. That's OK.

But the sorry fact is that NBC, the broadcast net remains in fourth place.

Thanks for chirping in,

Marianne :

Hi Jason,

One problem, among many with NBC's news gathering operations is that it has to spend way too much time defending the strategic, different approaches of Brian Williams, straight news, and opiners/pseudo reporters Mathews and Olbermann.

But I deviate. I would just hate to see all of these news channels under one roof, like Time Warner. You know they wouldn't all make it under one roof

Zucker is a PT Barnum clone, hence what you see with Mathews and Olbermann, and Cramer on CNBC. That's OK.

But the sorry fact is that NBC, the broadcast net remains in fourth place.

Thanks for chirping in,

Round and round the Media Wheel goes, where she stops? NOBODY knows!

Brandon Tartikoff was the last visionary at a major network. He was authentic as a human being, a man and an executive. Coming from a genuine state of being, it was a cake walk for him to know a good creative concept when he saw it. Being secure, he was able to make decisions and stand by them. When he made a bad decision he owned up to it and then made a positive change in the right way.

So, yes the NBC property is looking very tacky today. Zucker take a bow and don't let the door hit you on the way out...wait, take Moonves with you and be careful maneuvering your oversized egos through the door.

So two more monster news groups marry at the hip. There will be new developments for new players with REAL news. That's the natural order of things.

Of course CNN loved our Iraq "Invasion"...they had real live action to show! Bombs, air raid sirens, tracer rounds...one more reporter after another spewing forth from their embedded positions...all the way to the landing on an aircraft carrier under the Mission Accomplished Banner! Talk about PT Barnum...What a crock of crap.

I'll tell what is NOT a crock of crap...Over 4000 dead, 30-40,000 wounded, tens of thousands with PTSD and other psychological problems, thousands taking their own lives after serving.

The former Press Secretary comes forward with a sense of authenticity and has set himself up to be destroyed by the biggest conspiratoral "Spin Machine" ever perpetrated on America's Constitution.

No, GE should not own NBC. The Peacock will find a new home, too bad, we'll get fooled again...still...cue Roger Daltry.
Peter Bright

Marianne :

Hi Peter,
You know Time Warner chieftan Jeff Bewkes strikes me as a very smart dude, with an eye toward quality.

Still, what's his background in news, other than being layers and layers above the CNN unit.

I hope this acquisition doesn't happen, but I won't be surprised, given how media companies here dumb down just about all news.


Thurston Last:

My problem with Jeff Bewkes is that he has said, on the record, that synergy is bullscat (he didn't say "scat" though, I am a gentleman). And that attitude has touched every cornerstone at Time Warner.

There is no intercompany interaction there any more. New Line Cinema is dead because Bewkes said that he doesn't know why Time Warner has two film studios (and yet those that came before him managed New Line and Warner Bros. with no problems). Warner Bros. Animation is all but dead (you'd think with an international brand like Cartoon Network in the company's arsenal that WBA and CN would go together like salt and pepper; little-known fact by the mainstream press - Looney Tunes in its original form hasn't been on Cartoon Network in over six years).

Did I mention that Cartoon Network's ratings have dipped more than 60% over the course of two years and a quarter? They celebrate the ratings boost of TBS, TNT, and Adult Swim, but Cartoon Network's mismanagement (including its transformation of a children's entertainment network) barely bats an eye.

They barely even acknowledge their ownership in The CW these days. NBC is in fourth place in primetime, but they're number one in mornings, evening news, and late-night programming, so, that's at least saying something. The last thing The CW was number one in is Saturday mornings, and they just gave that up!

*sigh* NBC Universal is seen as a toxic environment, but Time Warner's no better. I don't want to see them even say the word merger let alone think it.

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi Thurston,
Thanks for the lowdown on TW, they dropped out of the bidding for the Weather Channel, probably for a good reason, beyond the price tag.Here's why, Jeff is not dumb.

Weather Channel is so dumbed down. On the Weekends the cable net reruns this insipid series, "It Could Happen Anywhere."

Give me a break, it could, but didn't. We all tune in for weather on the eights to know what to when going out for dinner or whatever. Instead we get a crawl on the bottom of the screen.

I don't know this for a fact, only what I see on air, but the Weather Channel keeps airing repeats of "It Could Happen Anywhere," instead of giving more air time to trained weather people. That's not the Weather Channel I grew up with.

I get my weather news on line. Hope NBCU doesn't overplay for this sick kitten. Notice I didn't say dog, I hate cats.I love dogs.

Thanks for the post,

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