Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bay Area Hold 'Em: McClatchy's Orphan Deals Solidify Focus in Non-Major Markets

The Associated Press highlights along with major papers the details of McClatchy's spinoff of four newspapers recently acquired from Knight Ridder, a complex series of deals that puts privately held MediaNews in the spotlight as the principal winner of the Bay Area's San Jose Mercury News and The Contra Costa Times with support from other chains, while Hearst gains The Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minnesota and The Herald in Monterey County. The interest in the was enough to bring Editor & Publisher's analysis of this story for a good period of time today.

But apart from MediaNews becoming the fourth largest paper chain via this deal there's not a lot that's terribly new here. Like a game of Texas Hold 'Em poker most of the cards were already on the table before the final pieces fell into place. The interesting parts of this story are mostly in the little details, such as McClatchy picking up pieces of even more papers in non-major markets, emphasizing their positioning for news in markets in which electronic competitors are less likely to dilute earnings over the next few years.

The other not-so-small detail is that Hearst and Gannett are picking up minority interests in the MediaNews acquisitions, which is likely to raise concerns about the concentration of media ownership again at some point, but not likely to raise dust in the short run. But with both newspapers and magazines emphasizing online video production as a hot new outlet for their content there could be more complex ownership issues emerging in local markets where print video production begins to compete effectively with local TV news producers.

In the meantime a series of relatively quiet and complex deals such as those being executed via McClatchy is a good way to keep the regulatory spotlight away from potential ownership concerns. All appears to be on track in this little poker game, and perhaps everyone will go home happy yet. But if I were a betting man I'd put my money on McClatchy's markets. MediaNews knows what it has to do, but it's a far showier bet to think that any major is going to catch up with today's well-wired users that have a galaxy of good substitute content available. For now, I'm hiding my wallet.
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