An oft-repeated statistic is that 90% of the media is controlled by just six companies. While the full story is a bit more complicated, it’s nevertheless a pretty decent representation of what’s transpired in our media landscape.
I view media ownership as a tiered structure of influence.
First, we have the Big Five which own the majority of traditional media assets. They are:
NBC – News, Sports, TV Networks, MSNBC, Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Dreamworks Animation, Focus Features, USA Network, Bravo, CNBC, The Weather Channel, Focus Features, Universal Studios & Resorts, E!, Golf Channel
Walt Disney Company:
Disney Resorts & Parks, ABC Television Network, ESPN, Disney Channel, A&E, Lifetime, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, Touchstone
21st Century Fox:
Fox Broadcasting Company, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, FX, FXX, FX Movie Channel, Fox Sports Networks, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Time Warner (pending acquisition by AT&T):
CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers, Cinemax, Castle Rock, HLN, NBA TV, TBS, TNT, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, National Amusements, DC Comics, New Line Cinema, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Marie Claire, People Magazine, The CW (along with CBS)
National Amusements (Parent company of Viacom and CBS – owned by Sumner Redstone):
CBS: CBS Television Network, CBS Sports Network, Showtime, TVGN, CBS Radio, Inc., CBS Television Studios, Simon & Schuster, Infinity Broadcasting, Westwood One Radio Network, The CW (along with Time Warner)
Viacom: Paramount Pictures, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment, Country Music Television (CMT), Spike TV, The Movie Channel, TV Land
Then we have the “internet-based” media:
Alphabet/Google – Google, YouTube, Android (proprietary rights)
Amazon – Amazon, Prime, Kindle, Fire TV, Echo (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns Washington Post)
Facebook – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Oculus
Microsoft – Windows, Office, MSN, Bing, Xbox
Finally, we have the “notable mentions”:
American Media – owns most supermarket tabloids
Bloomberg – Bloomberg Terminal, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg TV
Cumulus Media – radio
Discovery Networks – Discovery cable channels
Gannett – USA Today
iHeartMedia – radio
James L. Dolan – AMC, IFC, Sundance, BBC America
News Corp – Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, New York Post
Sony – Sony Pictures, Sony Music
Verizon – Verizon Wireless, FIOS, Yahoo, Huffington Post, AOL
New York Times – publicly held. Carlos Slim is largest shareholder with 17% stake.
There are other companies that could be included and some that could be excluded – depending on where and how you delineate. There are also cross ownerships – Rupert Murdoch controls both 21st Century Fox and News Corp. There are numerous joint ventures. But this list gives a general idea of the media ownership concentration.
In terms of news media – what we think of as Mainstream Media – the list condenses.
Fox New Networks – 21st Century Fox (Rupert Murdoch)
MSNBC – Comcast
NBC – Comcast
CNN – Time Warner
CBS – National Amusements (Sumner Redstone)
ABC – Walt Disney
New York Times – public (Carlos Slim owns 17%)
Washington Post – Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO)
Wall Street Journal – News Corp (Rupert Murdoch)
It might seem a bit strange that I only include three newspapers – but the hard truth is this: The New York Times and the Washington Post are often the primary sources of printed and online news. Most other newspapers effectively serve as conduits for stories from these two sources – the major networks often do so as well. The opinion power wielded by the these two newspapers is quite significant.
The Wall Street Journal, with its greater focus on business, stands somewhat apart from the other two.
All other papers pale by comparison in regards to national influence and news-generating ability.
If one defines mainstream media as the major news networks and the primary newspapers you find that, in effect, seven institutions or owners (21st Century Fox/News Corp/Rupert Murdoch, Comcast, Time Warner, National Amusements/Redstone, Walt Disney, Carlos Slim, and Jeff Bezos) comprise the whole of the market. A single owner or CEO can, quite literally, shape the reporting for an entire organization.
The same effect applies to other less traditional media sources. Google and Facebook directly shape what we see through their algorithms. Twitter actively censors users.
Many years ago, when I first started as a financial analyst, I was given the unfortunate task of following insurance companies. I quickly discovered that in addition to needing an understanding of statutory versus GAAP accounting, one needed to understand the political makeup of each state’s regulatory body. The same general idea applies here.
One cannot expect the business to be immune from the politics.
Particularly when the sources of information have become so incredibly concentrated.
Jeff Bezos knew exactly what he was doing when he bought the Washington Post for $250 million.