Rebecca Zisser / Axios
Media companies are in the crosshairs of three major tech policy fights taking place right now — net neutrality, privacy, and antitrust. (More on each below.)
Why it matters: The outcome of these battles could have an enormous effect on what content consumers can access through their broadband providers and how legacy media companies will be able to survive against tech/telecom giants, and how they all sell digital ads.
Current state of play: We're seeing a phase of unbundling and re-bundling in the media industry to accommodate sinking cable viewership and an increase in digital video consumption.
- Telecom companies are making big investments in streaming channels and content companies to survive. (Verizon bought Yahoo/AOL, AT&T is trying to merge with Time Warner, Comcast owns NBC Universal, etc.)
- Digital media companies are betting their future on being allowed to sell user data to advertisers and are investing in digital video to increase engagement.
The Trump effect: If you think The Trump Administration doesn't influence these outcomes, you're wrong. The FCC under Trump has advocated for more laissez-faire policies that reduce restrictions on media distributors. In addition, there have been more more media and entertainment deals in the first quarter under the Trump Administration than in the last two years of the Obama Administration and investors tell Axios that they are optimistic this administration will allow many deals to proceed based on the current regulatory environment.
Base reminder: If you recall, Trump was vehemently against the proposed AT&T/Time Warner merger on the campaign trail, but now many expect antitrust enforcers at the DOJ to let the deal to go through because the companies don't directly compete.
The three big battles
- Net Neutrality: Digital media companies are urging the FCC to reconsider its proposal to roll back Obama-era rules about how traffic is treated on the web. Their position is generally echoed by the tech giants, who used to rely on these rules when they were smaller players, so they support them now for optics rather than need. It's the internet service providers, like AT&T and Comcast, who say these rules go too far and want more flexibility to come up with new services and packages.
- Privacy (from Axios' David McCabe): States are trying to figure how out to regulate consumer privacy in the digital ad space, but the battlefield to watch is Sacramento, where lawmakers are vetting a bill today that would require internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to get permission from customers before sharing their data with marketers. As the lines between media, tech and telecom companies blur, Internet providers and the web companies that use their pipes have a rare alliance in opposing the bill because they all have a stake in the fight: Telcos are buying media companies and web companies, in some cases, working on their own connectivity initiatives.
- Antitrust: Last week a newspaper trade group that represents over 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. (like NYT, WaPo), asked Congress for an antitrust safe harbor against Google and Facebook. Local media companies are pushing back saying it views the tech industry "as partners, not adversaries," demonstrating a growing rift between who benefits in the short-term from the resources tech companies give news companies while monetizing their content, and who doesn't.