Dramatic Decline in Black-Owned Stations

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On November 27, 2007, Free Press released Out of the Picture 2007, an updated analysis of the impact of consolidation on minority and female television station ownership.

The report updates the results from last year's Out of the Picture study -- the first complete assessment of female and minority ownership of commercial broadcast TV stations. The new data suggests that the future of minority TV station ownership is in jeopardy.

"Minority television ownership is in such a precarious state that the loss of a single minority-owned company results in a disastrous decline," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and lead author of Out of the Picture 2007. "Permitting any more consolidation will only further diminish the number of minority-owned stations."

A link to the full report is available below. Among the most alarming new findings:

• From October 2006 to October 2007, the number of minority-owned commercial TV stations decreased by 8.5 percent.

• African-American TV station ownership dropped by 60 percent -- as the total number of black-owned TV stations fell from 19 to 8 in just a single year.

• People of color now own just five of the 845 "big four" network-affiliated stations -- a 62 percent decline from October 2006.

Much of the decline can be attributed to the bankruptcy and subsequent change in ownership of a single company -- Granite Broadcasting, formerly the country's largest minority-owned broadcast television company.

Despite the worsening crisis of minority ownership, the FCC has yet to even conduct an accurate count of minority-owned stations. The most recent FCC study on this issue failed to identify 69 percent of minority TV station owners and 75 percent of female owners.

Out of the Picture 2007 also finds that minority-owned stations are particularly vulnerable to the increased consolidation likely to result from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's recent proposal to eliminate the longstanding "newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership" ban.

If Martin were to remove the prohibition in the top 20 markets and only let newspapers combine with broadcast stations outside of the four top-rated channels, minority ownership would suffer serious negative consequences. Nearly half of the stations currently owned by people of color are in the top 20 markets, and none of these are among the top four stations.

Overall, nearly 90 percent of minority-owned TV stations are not ranked among the top four in their respective markets. Thanks to giant loopholes in Martin's plan, minority-owned stations could be targeted across the country if the ban is lifted. Increased consolidation will only decrease opportunities for people of color to enter the market and purchase stations of their own.

At a meeting in Washington on Tuesday, the FCC is expected to consider "initiatives designed to increase participation in the broadcasting industry by new entrants and small businesses, including minority- and women-owned businesses." But Out of the Picture 2007 makes clear that such small measures by themselves won't correct the problem in a climate of increasing market concentration.

"The best, most effective way to boost minority and female ownership is by rolling back consolidation," said Turner. "Piecemeal policies will have limited impact on the level of minority ownership in the face of unchecked media concentration."

Download Out of the Picture 2007 here.