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Why TV Still Looks Pretty Good to Big Media

No one wants print, but investors are just fine with TV -- even old-fashioned broadcast TV.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Television may have peaked, but it’s going to have a very long run ahead of it.

That’s the thinking behind a series of big media moves in the past few years, where conglomerates that own big investments in TV have been doubling down — or trying to double down — by acquiring more TV assets.

And it’s not just bets on cable TV, like Fox’s bid for Time Warner. Old-fashioned broadcast TV — the kind you can get for free with an antenna — looks attractive to lots of investors.

The latest example is Gannett’s plan to jettison its newspaper business, including USA Today, into a separate company, and reward investors with a newco composed of 46 TV stations as well as a digital business anchored by

Gannett has been spending big on TV for a while — at the end of 2013, it spent $2.2 billion to double its portfolio of stations — and the market has liked the strategy. Now the idea is to make TV look even more attractive, by stripping away the barnacles of the print business.

As analyst Ken Doctor pointed out just yesterday, it was only a matter of time before Gannett went this way, since everyone else is doing it, too. Last week, Journal Communications and E.W. Scripps announced they would join their broadcast businesses together and dump their papers; this week, Tribune Co. finished its sendoff for its print business.

The thesis behind all of these deals is simple: The broadcast TV business is still going to generate a lot of money for a long time.

Even if TV ad dollars are shrinking, TV still generates a lot of ad dollars — that’s why Facebook, Twitter and everyone else on the Web wants a piece of the TV business. Meanwhile, the fees that cable providers pay broadcasters for their programming, which had theoretically been threatened by Aereo, now look like they’ll continue to be reliable, high-margin cash-flow generators, after all.

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