They have little to work with: Neither candidate spoke much about media business-related issues during the campaign, though Trump famously said that he would try to block AT&T’s $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner. What’s more, Trump’s positions often shifted — or, politically savvy observers say, will have to shift once he takes office.
“People who think they know what is going to happen don’t know what is going to happen,” says media and telecommunications policy expert Andrew Jay Schwartzman.
But here’s how things look as the smoke clears from the long, and bitter, campaign:
Media dealmakers: Part 1. In addition to his opposition to AT&T’s agreement to buy Time Warner, Trump said that mergers like Comcast’s with NBCUniversal “destroy democracy.” It’s hard to imagine what big deals might pass muster with the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and the FCC if appointees to the agencies share that general view.
Media dealmakers: Part 2. Overseas companies including China’s Wanda Group and France’s Altice have been among the biggest investors in U.S. content producers and distributors. But non-U.S. companies might find it hard to keep spending here if a Trump administration ditches agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and launches trade wars. If China retaliates, then it could be especially hard on the Hollywood companies looking for cash — and to forge alliances and other agreements to help their works reach the film industry’s No. 2 market.
Media dealmakers: Part 3. Trump has criticized Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates “artificially low,” resulting in a “false economy.” If that changes, and interest rates rise, then “it’ll be harder to do deals,” says longtime media analyst Hal Vogel. “They’ve had a free ride, and this will slow it down. M&A will be more difficult to finance.”
Broadcasters: Part 1. If interest rates go up, then it could also depress auto sales — hitting the manufacturers who are also the biggest source of TV ad dollars. On top of that, advertisers typically pull back their spending when they’re uncertain about the prospects for the economy.
Broadcasters: Part 2. TV stations benefit from a windfall in election years when political campaigns and interests flood the airwaves with ads. But Trump’s victory challenges the rationale behind that spending. He won with far smaller TV outlays than Clinton made. Station owners including Tribune Media and Tegna said that Trump’s smaller-than-expected spending hurt their performance in Q3.
The question now: Was Trump uniquely able to spend less because he could attract attention with his celebrity status and comfort with social media? Or did he show that the ad buys too often are just a waste?
Newspapers and other owners of traditional media. Trump aggressively attacked the credibility of professional journalists. Most political reporters further hurt their cause by focusing too much on the candidates and election theatrics, missing the broader trends that fueled Trump’s victory.
Add that to the growth of social media and “there’s no such thing as a Fourth Estate,” says longtime media investor Christopher Dixon. “What is the role of a news organization? And if you’re managing one, what do you do? That is the biggest disaster of the last six months.”
Univision. Trump resoundingly lost the Latino vote, and the Spanish-language media company has stood at odds with him — going back to August 2015 when news anchor Jorge Ramos angered the candidate, and was removed from a press conference, after asking questions about immigration policies. On top of that, Univision Chairman Haim Saban– who owns most of the voting shares — was a major Clinton supporter who spent more than $10 million on a super PAC that supported her.
Internet service providers. Trump hasn’t spoken out about FCC issues, but has decried regulations that he believes don’t result in concrete economic benefits. That could make him receptive to the arguments of companies including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast that oppose the FCC’s new net neutrality rules, and privacy protections for consumer data.
Social media. Trump is “the first Twitter president,” Barclays’ Kannan Venkateshwar says. His ability to transmit his messages without mainstream media — and still force TV networks to give him extraordinary coverage — could reverberate through the industry. Television companies are “likely to need a symbiotic relationship with digital platforms, speaking to the value of digital platforms and media companies being housed under the same umbrella.”
John Malone. The mogul who controls Liberty Media is famous for his eagerness to reduce his tax outlays. Indeed, many believe that was one reason he invested in Lionsgate and persuaded it to buy his Starz premium network company. The studio is incorporated in Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate than the U.S. But Trump has vowed to cut the U.S. rate. Whatever you think about how that might affect government services and the economy, it could make it easier for Malone and others to shuffle assets here.
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