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FCC Creates Dimmer Picture for TV Stocks

Connell declined to expand on that statement, but Gannett owns 84 community newspapers across the U.S. that are largely in markets outside the top 20. The rules bar the company from owning TV stations in those markets and reaping the potential rewards of cross-promoting news content and combining operations.

Investors who are pushing companies like Gannett and Media General to separate their TV businesses from the newspaper play down the rewards of cross-ownership as a reason for why TV assets are assigned higher valuations.

"I think there are probably some benefits, but I really don't see a tremendous benefit," says Barry Lucas, senior vice president of research with Gabelli & Co., which owns a 20% stake in Media General through an affiliate and agitates for a restructuring there.

Meanwhile, newsroom sources are supportive of cross-ownership, arguing that the synergies offered by owning multiple media outlets in the same market are real. In addition to newsgathering synergies, cross-ownership can also eliminate competition and give an owner better pricing power when selling ads. While investors have no stomach for allowing media conglomerates to buy slow-growth TV assets in new markets, they would favor swaps of newspapers and TV stations between conglomerates in various markets that would enable cross-ownership benefits to flourish.

To be sure, newspapers are viewed with disdain on Wall Street now, amid a steep drop-off in ad revenue and circulation. That accounts for some of the premium assigned to TV assets over newspapers, but broadcast stations are under fire from the Internet as well. The prospect of deregulation of the broadcast business offers a clear path to better days for the industry, while newspapers are not regulated.

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