Taking Stock / 48 Hours of Love

If you are among the faithful viewers of Channel 2, then we hope you have recovered from the weekend marathon of self-aggrandizement by Telad, one of the companies running the network.

Remember, Telad lost the second Channel 2 tender. This is its last week on air. From now, Reshet and Keshet will be running Channel 2 all by themselves, seven days a week.

Telad's leaders seem to feel this is a seminal event, a defining moment for the Jewish people in the millennium, and this is why it spent two whole days patting itself on the back: Telad is a wonderful company manned by wonderful people and there is no dispute about how wonderful and breathtaking and special and great and courageous and original and modest we were, it explained to the wonderstruck nation.

Telad is a privately held company, and it transpires that the terms of its franchise allow it to take control of the screen to promote its sheer wondrousness. Its campaign has been effective, too.

Viewers and readers of the press received the company's message loud and clear: The state decided to dismantle a highly successful concern, to throw the switch and send hundreds of people scrambling for their daily bread on the sidewalks. Unfeeling politicians and paper-pushers arbitrarily decided to terminate this wondrous company that did nothing but good for the Jewish people and for the television audience.

Well, we don't have two days of screen time to deliver our interpretation of that seminal event. But we can deliver a few hundred words and a few inches of room in the paper to the issue, mainly because of the economic aspects, which range far beyond the story of Telad.

Fact, fiction and spin

The government did not "decide" to close down Telad. It held an open tender and Telad lost, for reasons related to economics and management. Reshet or Keshet could have lost, but they didn't. The response by Telad's management is entirely typical of entrepreneurs and investors in Israel: Success has many fathers, mainly their genius and heroism, not to mention special management skills and willingness to dare risk. But failure is because of the government, the regulator, or because Israelis are just so damn nasty.

The termination of Telad is devoid of economic ramifications: The other two companies will continue to operate Channel 2 on the days formerly run by it.

The government did not throw workers, not even one, onto the streets. Good shows and workers will surely find happy homes at Keshet, Reshet or Channel 10. And if Reshet and Keshet manage to expand broadcasts without increasing their manpower, it would be the kind of efficiency that happens when companies merge. From the get-go, the structure of three companies with three managements was warped.

Telad has spent the last six months searching for somebody to blame. Some pointed fingers at the regulators, some at the politicians and some at the former CEO, Uzi Peled. Some accused the person who ran the Channel 2 tender, Dorit Inbar. There was no shortage of possibilities.

But they could indulge in their blame-fest only because people have short memories. The person responsible for the company's closure is its founder and former CEO, Peled. For years, the regulators tried to persuade Telad's chiefs to open the TV market to competition; and in exchange they promised to let the Channel 2 franchisees merge and continue to run the channel through an extended franchise.

But the Channel 2 leadership, headed by Peled - a militant, aggressive personality - refused.

They were sure that the watchdogs overseeing their work, from the Knesset members (dying for air time) to the business journalists (ditto) to the regulators (who were terrified that Channel 2's associates would stomp them) would eat out of their hand forever. Their franchise would be extended throughout eternity and their market would remain in their monopolistic hands.

Finally, standing tall

They were right, for a long time. Almost all the bodies supervising them folded like wet paper over the years. By a near-miracle, the state finally forced them to obey the law and wind up their franchise - two years late.

The end of Telad is a sad event for a few workers and managers in Israel's TV industry, and it's a happy day for others in that sector.

For the people of Israel, it is actually a seminal event: It symbolizes the state's success at standing up to the Channel 2 shareholders and managers; It symbolizes the onset of competition and the end of the franchise period. It is further proof that the barons of industry and communications cannot trample the law at will.

The success in pushing the Bachar reform of the banks through the government and Knesset two months ago is another important step in the battle against the economic oligarchy that all too often holds the economy by its throat, and manipulates like marionettes the regulators who are supposed to guard the public interest.

Yet, you won't see debates on the issue on Channel 2, despite its richness in new shows and investigations, and not just because the network is concerned about its rating.