Press coverage of Rupert Murdoch's attempt to buy Time Warner indicates that Fox would sell CNN in such a deal, as the New York Times puts it, "to allay concerns from anti-trust regulators." As a Bloomberg Businessweek article puts it: "one thing is clear: He'll have to unload CNN. There's no way federal regulators will allow the same man—and Rupert Murdoch, at that—to own two cable-news channels."
NBCUniversal already owns two cable-news channels, MSNBC and CNBC. Murdoch owns Fox News and Fox Business News. And Time Warner owns both CNN and CNN headline news, or HLN. The overall market for television news also includes the broadcast networks such as CBS and ABC, which have their own news operations. It's not clear that from a consumer-protection standpoint, there's any antitrust reason to prevent someone from owning CNN and Fox News at the same time. "Cable news" is not some kind of consumer necessity. The market power that Murdoch would get by owning both would be mainly used to charge higher carriage fees to the cable operators. I guess one could argue that consumers would be hurt by that, but what cable operator anyway is going to tell customers, sorry we only carry CNN but not Fox, or vice versa? The cable networks already need to carry both.
So much of video is moving to online anyway, and the entry barriers for online are so much lower. And one can argue that Fox News is really competing in the "conservative news" arena with Newsmax TV, Glenn Beck's Blaze TV, and Rush Limbaugh's radio show, not with CNN. As for advertisers, does an advertiser really need to buy "cable news"?
The fact that Mr. Murdoch is announcing his readiness to get rid of CNN is sign enough that the economic value to him of the deal resides elsewhere. By signaling he is going to sell CNN, he makes it look like he is making a concession to antitrust concerns when the real antitrust issues, if there are any, related to the deal are somewhere else. What's the fear, that Mr. Murdoch would shut down CNN and leave Fox News standing, the way that Conde Nast did when it closed Gourmet and left Bon Appetit open? If there's money to be made in 24-hour cable news, there's nothing to stop ABC or CBS from starting up a center-left cable news channel the day that CNN goes off the air. They could even hire Wolf Blitzer and Jeff Zucker. But the idea of the government forcing a sale here just seems silly.