In each of the top 50 markets, according to an analysis done for Advertising Age by BIA Research, deals either done or announced would give varying combinations of three radio companies more than 50% of local radio ad sales. And in 23 of the top 50, three companies would control 80% or more of local sales.
Boston; Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn.; Louisville, Ky.; New Orleans; Orlando; and San Jose, Calif., would have three players controlling 90% of radio ad revenue, the BIA analysis reveals.
Westinghouse has said it intends to sell radio stations-three in San Jose and one each in Boston and Baltimore-to meet federal ownership rules that bar one company from owning more than eight radio stations in a market. And the company might sell more to dampen other antitrust concerns about its acquisition of American Radio System Corp.'s 98 stations this month.
Howard Nass, senior VP-corporate director of local broadcast for TN Media, New York, said he worries about what Congress, which loosened federal radio station ownership limits in 1996, might do next.
TV CONSOLIDATION NEXT?
"If the government allows this in radio, what really scares me is that they'll allow ownership consolidation of TV stations in local cities," Mr. Nass said. "Then we'll really be in trouble."
The Westinghouse deal "concerns me from a cost point of view-that is, the cost of advertising rising," Mr. Nass said, adding he hadn't yet seen dramatic radio ad price increases.
Without selling off stations after the American Radio deal, Westinghouse alone would control more than 40% of local radio ad sales in such markets as Baltimore, Hartford, St. Louis and San Jose.
While not talking specifically about the Westinghouse deal, Justice Department officials last week said a second deal giving a company a 40% market share in a market in which another company already had a 40% share might be examined more closely than a first deal.
"We look at and are concerned about the number of independent firms," said Charles Biggio, senior counsel to the assistant attorney general. "If you have someone with 40%, but competition from multiple sources, it may be more competitive than if you have two heavy hitters. But we look at it on a case by case basis."
COMPETITION WITHIN FORMATS
Mr. Biggio said a big concern in radio is maintaining competition for ad dollars within any format.
Complaints from media buyers about increased concentration of media anger Larry Irving, assistant secretary of commerce. Mr. Irving said that when the Telecommunications Act was moving through Congress, he unsuccessfully sought the help of advertisers and ad groups to bolster the Clinton administration's campaign against lifting limits on station sales.
"Everything I was concerned about and predicting is coming true," Mr. Irving said. "What I don't understand and will never understand is while advertisers were saying privately they were scared it would happen, they would never go to the Hill."
Mr. Irving said there is a move to bring the same sort of consolidation to TV, and "If they sit that one out, they will deserve what they get. If you have media companies vertically and horizontally integrated with studios, stations, networks, cable TV and then radio, good luck Mr. Advertiser."