Infographic Of The Day: The Mega Companies Behind 90% Of Media

The media landscape is dominated by a mere six companies. Should we be worried? Nah.

We all know that everything you see on TV, and much of what you read online, is ultimately owned by a few mega corporations. But if you were pressed about how much those companies actually own, I’d bet you’d be off by about a factor of 2.

Frugal Dad--the same company behind that Walmart infographic we did recently--took it upon themselves to show exactly how concentrated our media landscape actually is.

As the chart rather alarmingly points out, the revenue for those six companies is $275.9 billion. Which sounds like an awfully big number--and starts to set your bullshit detector off. (For one, GE’s revenues alone are $150 billion, and almost all of that comes from heavy industry and finance. Take them out, and the media landscape is probably $125 billion less than advertised.) But then the chart moves on to showing how much content these six companies produce, from TV to news to movies:

Okay, now my bullshit detector is clanging like a fire alarm. I know that people are all afraid of big corporations these days, given how ridiculously easy Wall Street got off in the wake of the financial crisis. But just because there’s only a few companies profiting from almost all media we watch doesn’t mean that those companies in turn are crafting some sinister agenda.

For one, it’s absurd to believe that the sparse media choices we have are a result of a few companies with wicked, wicked opinions about what we should be reading and watching. I’ll grant that Rupert Murdoch’s news outlets have a promiscuous relationship with the truth and ethics, but can anyone really argue that all the movies we see are the same because they come from some tiny cabal? Take a company such as GE. That company is so large that they have marketing groups (plural!) inside the company. And if you’ve ever worked at a magazine or a newspaper or a news channel or a movie studio, you know the messy reality of how all those companies turn out content. It’s a miracle that they turn out anything at all--and it’s hard to believe that it’s part of some broader Agenda for Crappiness.

The reason all the media we see is the same is because the media business sucks. Profit margins are relatively slim, and they’re apt to evaporate after a mere couple of years as hit shows fade and program lineups lose their ineffable magic. The only response, if you’re a big company, is to take fewer risks with the content that you produce--thus producing what feels like more and more of the same old stuff. And guess what? If you did take risks all the time with your content, you might luck out into becoming the next HBO or AMC. But odds are you’d usually fail.

Consolidation is the outcome of how terrible the media business is--not the cause of how terrible our media has become.

[Top image: Brad Wynnyk]

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58 Comments

  • Ari

    I think what is largely missed in the opinion part of this article is what it means for the news stations. If news outlet 1 is regularly wrong, jumping the gun, and doing generally sloppy reporting and news outlet 2 is not, news outlet 2 will slowly kill off news outlet 1 as they have become largely unreliable. Now if both news outlets are owned by the same company, the company wants BOTH to be profitable so will force the two into reporting more similarly and less competitively, thus decreasing the necessity for genuine journalism that is trustworthy and can be held accountable. If a journalist at new outlet 2 refuses to abide by the white-washed news demanded by the owners, they risk their job at said news outlet and jobs at any of the other news outlets owned by the company, thus encouraging them to follow the rules.

    The lack of ownership does and has effected us all negatively. The author even mentions that Murdoch's companies tend to not have the best record with the truth and then expects us to believe that this isn't a big deal despite the insane amount of news outlets owned by him. If he owns a ridiculous amount of news outlets, and doesn't care much for the truth, that means those ridiculous amount of news outlets don't care about reporting the truth...how is that not a big deal?

  • Dxo74060

    How much have to sources listed at the end been checked? I've looked at roughly a third and they have so far been either a decade outdated, or not relavent. Like the bmi.com source that leads to the top 100 songs as of December 13th, 1999.  I'm trying to give a credible presentation and this is not helping. Pretty graphics though.

  • aroundinsound

    Cliff,

    While I agree that there may be no "conspiracy" within the current state of the western fabricated worldwide entertainment oligopoly (as deadlines must be met within the grim realities of a news room, music studio, video production team, etc), you have lost sight of the true issues at play in copyright law through this article. In order to avoid being attacked in your comments board regarding these topics, I suggest you hit up Google Scholar and search a few terms like "product differentiation," "monopolistic competition," the "downstream distribution monopoly," and "oligopoly coercion."

    What you will find is that when firms become larger and have a wider audience base, their product inevitably becomes less differentiated from previous renditions of that formerly sold product, as to appeal to an existing lowest common denominator user base (source: "Product Differentiation and Welfare" by Nobel prize winner Michael Spence). To quote directly: "The full range of products is neither feasible nor desirable in the presence of increasing returns to scale." As a young economics student, I struggle to find examples of an industry where this is not the case, but feel free to provide an exception to the rule if you can dig it up.

    Thus, while their is no "conspiracy" per se, many large news corporations have a vested interest in providing plain white vanilla publications because it helps reach the largest revenue (advertising) base (aka increasing returns to scale). This also explains why movie studios release incredibly similar movies day after day, and the exact same pop song has been played on Clear Channel radio stations since they avoided the 1995 FCC rulings. 

    But why is this so? Because we, the people, soak that shit up and buy it in the billions. We love it and can't get enough of the exact same shit - we are creatures of habit and want to hear, see, and read the exact same shit every day. Hell, human vision and hearing even has very real physical boundaries, implying that much of the copyrighted material we want to consume will be similar. We also have very real limitations with the type of information we can store in our minds at varying degrees of length of time after having read a specific piece of copyrighted material: We can read the exact same shit in a year and not notice.

    This is exactly why copyrighting each slightly differentiated rendition of the exact same shit is a 400 year old censorship monopoly that needs to end. While a government mandated royalty system for content creators poses the same enforceability problems as copyright, the downstream distribution monopoly can be eliminated in order to remove massive excesses of deadweight loss in our society. Yes, you might want to search "deadweight loss" on google scholar and wikipedia as well - because this article demonstrates that you do not have an understanding of this concept to play in this conversational field.

    Also keep in mind that I live in Canada, where we have not updated our copyright laws in 13 years because we are uncertain as to whether or not we want to follow up the messy deadweight loss that the American people pay for.  What does this mean? It means that YOU are paying for things like Youtube being government mandated to allow internal access to the MPAA and RIAA so that they can file DMCA claims instantaneously. YOU are paying for Google to write extra lines of code to remove "suspicious" sites from their search indexing. Wouldn't you prefer one singular government mandated royalty system so that you know where your tax dollars are going? After all, you have no problem posting the entire Frugal Dad image, while offering the royalty of a link back. I'm also assuming you have an undergraduate education at the bare minimum, which would imply that you have been exposed to citing people's work as part of your own. This royalty system can be completed in absence of copyright, and we need people like you to get on board - because you clearly are very creative and passionate about publishing.

    Feel free to email me directly or comment back if you want to discuss this further.

  • hypnos

    My bullshit on Cliff Kuangs article is clanging like a fire alarm. The trend in the last decades towards over-produced and trite media has everything to do with the monopolies. Bigger companies take less risk, ergo the bigger the companies the less risk and the more boy bands and shitty movies we get.

    This is to say nothing of the highly documented censorship that takes place in the American news. But Cliff Huang would have you shrug and go back to sleep.

    No, the its time to wake up and smash these monopolies, and reclaim our country in the name of the people, not the corporations.

  • Juanita Richburg Seon

    While the infographic may have some points that need to be clarified or corrected, it is a great way to show "who owns the media". I have been trying to make a chart that would be easy for my Young Media Critics to view and discuss.  This will make it easier with modifications.

  • Gregosborne9

    This graphic is a long time coming. For more info on the deplorable state of "news" in this country, I would suggest the book Into The Buzzsaw, Leading Journalists Expose The Myth Of A Free Press. There was a time in this nation when news reporting was essentially a blue collar profession. It was a reporters responsibility to hold The Powers That Be, or Establishment, accountable for their actions. Not so today. A journalist now has to answer to a litany of "stakeholders" in his or her quest for the The Truth. If this truth somehow compromises the bottom line, then its chances of airing are slim to none. In effect, our government, business and societal Watchdogs have BECOME The Establishment. The Mainstream Media has rendered itself irrelevant, they are simply the marketing departments for the businesses that own them. Never in our history has discernment and critical thinking been more important to our relevance and survival as a country. Is this country is up to the challenge?

  • Mr.Objective

    Frugal Dad provided empirical evidence and all you did was give us your 2 cents.
    What the evidence suggests is subject to the readers opinions and you trying to contest anything as bullshit sets off my bullshit detector.

    You're nothing but a journalist and you make yourself out to be some sort of Economist, don't present your opinions as legitimate theory because the fact og the matter is you don't really know what happens on the business end of the media industry.

  • McLeod

    6 Chairmen could:
    A) State there is fear that EU is wavering on settling the debt crisis. Stocks plummet and they buy bargain stocks up.
    B) State that the EU is making progress and may have resolved debt differences. Stocks soar and they sell at top prices.
    Repeat A. Repeat B. Repeat A. Repeat B. Repeat A. Repeat B.
    KaChing KaChing Chairmen.

  • Peter

    I was excited to see this infographic and would have linked to it except for a glaring error - GE does NOT own Comcast!

  • Zack Bennett

    Hey guys... umm... General Electric does not own Comcast. Comcast bought 51% (controlling) interest in NBCUniversal. GE still owns 49% of NBCUniveral, and owns exactly 0% of Comcast.

  • Jane

    Well read Chomsky & Herman's "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media".  There's tons of news and views - including core facts about events and daily life - that are systematically omitted by Big Media.  The book is loaded with examples, all meticulously cited.

  • Andre Laurin

    That's funny just before reading your article I had just finished reading an article about how some of those companies where filling illegal claims on videos they do not have copyrights to and getting youtube to pay some with ads, nasty stuff. So they might not own 10% but they sure seem to be trying to. Can't figure out who's wost the pirates downloaded stuff or these large companies and their illegal tactics.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/tech...

  • Without a rose tint

    I find it funny that everyone acknowledges that the media is controlled in China by the communist regime, yet no one acknowledges that the media in America is controlled by the capitalist regime. Anyone who believes that the government is the controlling power in a capitalist society has to be kidding themselves. It's the nature of the game that those with the money have the power.

  • Rbluther

    Thanks for showing me Frugal Dad's great infographic! I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. The objections to it are pretty shallow and not well thought out. In your objection to the money size of GE for example, the problem is that GE's other monetary interests will influence the media aspect of GE's operations. So an objection on how the money is divvied up is missing the point. A hand waving argument regarding the inefficiencies between marketing groups doesn't detract from the underlying problem that a strong management influence from a tiny set of people can shape the perspectives of our entire nation.

  • Ka

    See here's the thing, frugal dad provides empirical- evidence that is can be backed up with multiple sources. You provide nothing. So I buy into what you think till you can prove it to me with something other than an argument  presented without evidence.

    Furthermore you make a mistake of projecting yourself into the average viewer and pretending they have to access to what you read. Just because it is online, doesn't mean people have the awareness to know that.

  • mc

    "The Australian" is not Australia's biggest newspaper. That title goes to the e "Herald Sun", which is also owned by News Corp.

    Also, it's kind of silly listing Viacom and CBS separately, as both are controlled by National Amusements.

  • PUBLIUS

    while you make valid points, so does the other article.... just because the people who operate these companies aren't so sinister, ultimately those who control them via money , could be.... im only 28, and didnt live through the cold war, but i bet if this conversation had taken place 30 years ago, it would be glaringly obvious that the ussr has/ had a unique advantage and motive to take over all forms of media, and business... Conversations seem to be framed by the least trustworthy of people... DID YOUR BULLSHIT DETECTOR GO OFF WHEN THE MOST DANGEROUS THREAT TO CIVILIZATION (USSR), JUST ALL OF A SUDDEN ,ONE DAY,  GAVE UP? ?? AND WHY DOESN'T ANYONE ELSE RECOGNIZE THAT THESE TYPES OF MANIPULATIVE GOVERNMENTS ("COMMUNISTS") CAN ONLY THRIVE IN A CAPITALIST SYSTEM???    THE ON LY WAY TO AVOID FOREIGN ENTITIES FROM BUYING UP OUR MEDIA IS HAVING STRICT REGULATION REGUARDING AND TRACKING THE MOVEMENTS OF MONEY... I GUARENTEE THAT ANYONE READING THIS ACCEPTS THAT THE CHINESE GOV. CONTROLS CHINESE MEDIA...THEY DON'T HAVE AUTHORITY HERE, BUT... WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THEY WOULDN'T TRY TO BUY OUR MEDIA??? THERE IS A MAJOR ROADBLOCK THAT THE AMERICAN PUBLIC FACES... AND THAT IS A SUPREME COURT DECISION THAT DEFINES CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE, AND GRANTING THEM EQUAL RIGHTS TO US... SO NOW,EITHER THE CORPORATION CAN'T BE REVIEWED W/O DUE PROCESS, OR WE CAN... HOW CAN WE TRACK MONEY AND RETAIN THE  FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS  THAT ARE  CRUCIAL FOR AMERICA TO SURVIVE??? COMPANIES ARE NOT PEOPLE AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED TO HAVE RIGHTS... BUT THE PEOPLE WHO OPERATE THEM DO