The sale of Cablevision to Altice, the French cable and telecommunications concern, has the potential to reshape Long Island’s media landscape.
Cablevision’s assets include Newsday, the only daily newspaper covering Nassau and Suffolk, as well as News 12 Long Island, the 24-hour all-news cable television channel which focuses on events impacting the 2.7 million who reside in those two counties. Newsday’s total average daily circulation stood at nearly 380,000 in 2013 when its print and digital audience were counted, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. News 12 Long Island’s reach is harder to quantify because News 12 is available only to Cablevision customers. It is one of Cablevision’s seven regional all-news channels. The others cover portions of New York City, its northern suburbs, Connecticut and New Jersey.
“The first thing to keep in mind is the strategy; they’re very focused on cutting expenses,” said Jaci Clement, CEO and executive director at the Bethpage-based Fair Media Council, after hearing Altice’s presentation to investors about its Cablevision purchase. “And they want to place a new premium on customer service.”
It is a view Clement expanded upon in a Long Island Business News editorial (Sept. 28). “In order to achieve the efficiencies,” she wrote, “Altice seeks to cut $900 million in operational costs plus another $150 million down the road. While doing so, they are relying on the $200 million in advertising revenue from Newsday and amNewYork in addition to what the cable, phone and Internet products command.”
amNew York, a free tabloid newspaper, has a circulation of approximately 300,000, mostly in Manhattan. Newsday and News 12 Long Island’s future will come into focus, Clement believes, in early 2017, should Altice’s purchase of Cablevision win regulatory approval in 2016.
“Altice has looked at this as a business opportunity to reach a New York audience, and expand their presence in the United States,” said Hofstra University journalism, media studies, and public relations Professor Joseph Peyronnin, who also teaches at New York University and writes about media and politics for the Huffington Post.
“I wouldn’t do last rites on any single property they have now. There’s really value in hyper-local news. They’re going to come in, and try to come up with a strategy that will, I think, leverage the existing properties.” Before beginning his academic career, Peyronnin, a former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for CBS News, was executive vice president and founder of NBC’s Telemundo News (1998-2006) and president of News Corp.’s Fox News Channel (1995-96).
Peyronnin did allow that, after examining how these media businesses are run, Altice may look to consolidate its news-gathering operations, which are a comparatively small part of Cablevision. Indeed, in the regulatory filings it makes as a publicly-traded company, Cablevision breaks its earnings into three categories: Cable, Lightpath, the company’s business services unit, and other. Newsday, which they purchased in 2008, its News 12 channels, and amNew York fall into the latter bucket.
Cablevision generated $6.53 billion in revenue for the year ending June 30, 2015, Altice said, in a Sept. 17 news release announcing the acquisition. Cablevision’s Cable and Lightpath businesses generated $6.2 billion of the $6.53 billion. Moreover, 65 percent of Cablevision’s cable customers also derive their monthly phone and Internet service from Cablevision as part of its so-called triple play offering, Altice noted. Nonetheless, Altice’s entry into the Long Island media world comes with risks as consumers migrate to digital devices and away from print newspapers and cable TV news.
Yet, whenever I’m concerned about the future of the news business, and whether young people will be drawn to it, I like to dust off an observation from the legendary Pete Hamill, the 80-year-old former editor of the Daily News.
“I think the news will always be a part of our lives in this country,” Hamill said, “No matter what the means of delivery of the news, there’s going to be talent in the room, and passion among those with the talent.”
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org