The Consolidation of Local Media

 |  Includes: CCU-OLD, TWX, VIA
by: J.J. Arnold

As debate continues regarding the struggles of national consolidation [ClearChannel (CCU-OLD)] and the "death" of big broadcast at the hands of user-generated content [Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube], another move may be underway -- one led by some of the biggest names among the media visionaries.

Local content -- and in some views "hyperlocal" (See the December edition of FastCompany) -- may be the middle ground between the two. The theory being that media can create meaningful connections to target audiences or "passion groups" that believe deeply in a certain value-set or lifestyle (see Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class).

None other than The Kraft Group and Pallotta's The Raptor Fund have ponied up $20 million of investment capital in Plum TV, the network of local stations in high-powered markets like The Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard, Aspen and Vail -- 6 stations currently, with two more awaiting FCC approval.

Media powerplayers Robert Pittman [Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL] and Tom Freston [Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIA) MTV] also led the round. While not yet public, a group this smart must know something. In the end, who really wants the "pablum" of mass produced media in an age of consumer control and customization [think Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod, where the consumer controls everything about the end product]. And, who really wants the YouTube antics of candyies dropped in Coke bottles (except for momentary entertainment value and a good chuckle).

Perhaps the future of media -- and the investment dollars that follow it -- will be refocused on local markets and local communities. Like MTV and Freston's vision earlier, Plum is really about influence, not reach. Do more "eyeballs" matter? Or do the RIGHT eyeballs matter? Most savvy marketers vote for the latter. So do Kraft, Pallotta, Freston, Pittman.

Consolidation of local media -- while keeping the local content -- may be what the likes of ClearChannel and others ultimately missed.

Disclosure: Author has no position in the above-mentioned stocks.