In the spirit of giving, just before Christmas, regulators approved a proposal from Rupert Murdoch that will make him the country's mightiest media baron.
By a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission gave Murdoch's News Corp. permission to buy control of DirecTV, the No. 1 U.S. satellite broadcaster.
Like the FCC's plan to scrap key protections against concentrated media ownership, which sparked heated protest when it was made final in June, Murdoch's DirecTV buyout has consequences way beyond what its passing mention on the country's business pages would suggest.
News Corp. is huge. Even before the $6.6 billion DirecTV deal, its U.S. holdings included:
• 35 TV stations, reaching more than 44 percent of the U.S. population. (In nine cities, it owns more than one station.)
• A major broadcast network: Fox.
• Eleven national and 22 regional cable and satellite channels (including Fox News, FX and National Geographic).
• The New York Post, The Weekly Standard and HarperCollins Publishers.
• Production studios including Twentieth Century Fox.
• PanAmSat Corp., the satellite owner that most U.S. cable systems (DirecTV's competitors) rely on for the signals they relay to homes.
With all that, the DirecTV deal puts Murdoch in a different class of mogulhood.
The breadth of News Corp.'s holdings now exceeds even Time Warner's, whose cable systems lack national reach and which owns no local TV stations.
But it's not just size. DirecTV gives News Corp. a stunning degree of vertical integration.
That means it controls the entities that it buys from, the entities that it sells to, and now the channels through which programming flows into homes. It will have enormous power over pricing, lowering rates to build audiences or starve competitors and raising prices to reap profit.
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I find it interesting to note that the restrictions that are in place now are null and void in 6 years.