Another element of conglomeration is that media is often represented with one homogenized voice. This misrepresents the spoken opinions of controlling entities as a collective public consensus, which isn’t always accurate. Complicating this matter is the fact that consolidation only represents national and global information. The lack of local news is more than the loss of reporting regarding geographically close events. This means that if a portrayed position doesn’t align with nationally asserted rhetoric (as has been mentioned regarding civil-rights groups, special-interest groups, lesser-known candidates, etc.), it runs the risk of being diminished. When considering the passivity with which people will receive news, the national/global filter stories will be put through, and the potential for representing opinion or bias as factual or public consensus, we can see how these elements can be combined with the sheer saturation available to our modern press to create a setting wherein a single event, movement, or voice could sway political momentum, possibly even worldwide. Since sensationalism drives sales, there is always a risk that mere “drama” will equate itself with credible news in the public eye, while investigative, fact-driven stories garner less attention.
All of this is before we consider how much money networks make running paid advertisements for political groups or campaigners, which undoubtedly skews objectivity between such political agents and their cooperative advertising networks. Putting all this together, it becomes obvious that we have evolved from a place where the press exists to inform the population to it being abused to manipulate and steer it.
This transition represents a crucial (and devastating) rotation in the history of media influence. The cross-ownership of television and radio stations, along with newspaper outlets, has deeper implications than just dual proprietorship. Sources that previously focused on news for the purposes of reporting events were now in a position to see increased profits for cinematic and merchandising endeavors. If political reporting caused adverse responses from viewers, there was the additional threat that their purchase or entertainment decisions would see an impact as well. Additionally, the power of media quickly became a vehicle for furthering political undertakings. The lines between reporting and media for entertainment blurred, and financial potential quickly marred lines between the varying realms, causing cross-ownership to become a form of cross-contamination between conflicting interests.
On one hand, television and movies still existed as entertainment. After the appearance of a television in every home in the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s, advertisers soon figured out that they were sitting on a gold mine if this new innovation was used properly. Previously limited to print media, they found that television allowed their advertising to enter each home. Early on, their target audience was mostly women, since they were most likely to be at home during the daytime. Soon, marketing to kids was added to TV commercials that aired during cartoon productions. Nowadays, nobody is safe from the barrage of commercial advertising.
On the other hand, TV also quickly became an outlet for news reporting. Ideally, the public enjoyed truth in reporting—so long as it was kept separate from the sales side of media. This was largely accomplished via the rules that regulated/limited ownership of varying outlets. As time progressed, television and radio became increasingly popular sources of news, but it was still understood that entertainment and reporting occurred in separate arenas. However, on another plain, the government, like advertisers, quickly realized that TV was a great tool for mainstreaming campaigns and for other political announcements. It was easy to integrate, since so much of the news overflowed into political realms and vice versa. Furthermore, TV served to “[bring] the candidate and the voter into more intimate contact than was formerly possible,” and “no candidate for high national or state office can afford to ignore a medium that reaches at least 98 percent of all American households.”[i] Mainstreaming of issues, debates, interviews with candidates, and virtually all other aspects of political interaction became information that television quickly carried into each voter’s living room. We don’t need to spend much time imagining all the ways that the introduction of TV entirely changed the scope of political campaigning. Yet, for a time, they were still held as separate spheres from commercial media.
Through cross-ownership, and later, conglomerate consolidation, these various media realms (entertainment, advertisement, and politics) have collided. Much of the corporate ownership of these entities has intertwined, and the resulting cross-contamination tends to allow each agenda to inundate the others. Over time, political agendas, marketing ads, and entertainment have come to be delivered in the same field, with the messages easily confused. This makes it harder for people to know what is real, what is procured from political agendas to drive votes in a certain direction, what is merely for entertainment purposes, what is orchestrated to generate commercial sales, and what theatrics are contrived to rouse passions in viewers for deviant, ulterior motivations.
After all, when news outlets are owned by entertainment companies, can we ever be certain that reporting is credible, untainted by sensationalism for entertainment purposes? But then again, when entertainment is owned by news outlets, can we be certain that products made for our amusement are merely that? Or could it be that they are created and used to condition the population to accept what’s being asserted within political spheres? It’s no coincidence that a currently trending movement will at some point become the topic of television shows and movies. Many times, the companies pushing such issues are owned by the same parent corporation.
It has been stated that 90 percent of all media we see daily derives from six controlling corporations that have become known as “Big Media.” Though they appear to be separate entities, we find, upon digging, many mergers and bidding wars to acquire and innovate new assets and means of profit. As such, many networks or companies are owned by more than one company on this list at a specified percentage of shareholdership. This is worth noting, since many are perceived as competitors by the outside world, yet their interests—and investments—are intertwined. Further complicating ownership is the fact that, as negotiations are in the works, many place chronological stipulations on the conversions, making their ownership transferable at a future date, convoluting present possession of assets. With all of this said, here is a current overview of the conglomerates that influence nearly every moment of our lives.
Each of the following is directly owned or is a subsidiary of AT&T: Warner Media LLC, Warner Brothers, DC Entertainment (DC Comics and DC Films), New Line Cinema (made famous recently by The Lord of the Rings film franchise), HBO, Otter Media, DirecTV, Cricket Wireless, and Turner Broadcasting System, which comes loaded with its own list of subsidiaries. These include CNN, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, TNT, TBS, and Turner Sports (which includes several sports website outlets such as NBA.com and the Bleacher Report). Because AT&T has evolved from the earliest of telephone companies—originally called American Telephone and Telegraph Company—it likewise still owns some of the more archaic relics of the telephone industry, such as the Yellow Pages, and “almost anything with the name ‘Bell’ in it.”[ii],[iii],[iv]
Walt Disney Company
The following are either directly owned or are subsidiaries of Disney: ABC News, Disney Media Networks, ESPN (80 percent), Touchstone Pictures, Marvel, Lucasfilm, A&E (50 percent), Pixar, Hollywood Records, Vice Media (10 percent), Core Publishing, The History Channel (50 percent), Lifetime (50 percent), and many others too numerous to list. Then, countless movie franchises are owned by Disney, such as Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Muppets, and Marvel. On top of all this is the obvious ownership of Walt Disney theme parks and Disney television channels worldwide. In addition, Disney recently completed a $71 billion merger with Fox, obtaining assets such as Fox’s television and movie studios, FX, National Geographic, and stakes in some assets in London and India. Disney obtained Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu, which, added to Disney’s previously held 30 percent, gives it a controlling stake at 60 percent. Also acquired were such film franchises as Avatar, X-men, The Simpsons, and Deadpool. An interesting exchange took place during the proposal of this merger, however. Originally, the offer for the acquisition was $52 billion, which had been discussed and even casually accepted between Disney executive Bob Iger and Fox executive Rupert Murdoch in 2017. However, several months later, Comcast attempted to outbid Iger for the assets, offering Murdoch $65 billion. Iger’s response was to counteroffer, outbidding Comcast at $71 billion. Here’s the twist: The structure of the sale contract gave Murdoch the option of taking his payment in cash or in shares of Disney stock, which the Murdoch foundation opted to do. Thus, the transaction is really more a merger than a sale, ensuring a type of cross-collateralization of interests between previously competing entities. Murdoch is now a powerful shareholder in Disney, in addition to retaining his hold of certain Fox assets such as Fox Business Network, Fox News Network, Fox Broadcast Network, Fox Sports, and Fox television stations.[v],[vi],[vii],[viii],[ix]
Comcast has been named the biggest broadband provider in the US, “with over 22 million internet customers” reported in 2017.[x] It also has assets in the filming and television industries, including the movie-making giant Universal Studios, which in turn operates Universal Pictures International, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Universal Animation Studios, Universal Interactive, and other smaller filmmakers such as Illumination Entertainment, Focus Features, and Working Title Films. The following are all directly owned by or are subsidiaries: MSNCB; NBCUniversal, which also operates NBC, NBC News, NBC Studios, and NBC Sports (along with several other lesser-known sports outlets), along with NCBUniversal cable (which operates a chain of cable channels such as Bravo, USA Network, CNBC, MSNBC, E! SyFy, Sleuth, and many others) and DreamWorks Animation Studio; Universal Studios; Fandango; New Era Tickets; the Platform; StreamSage; Universal Pictures; and Hulu (which Disney is currently negotiating with to purchase and obtain full control). Comcast also owns the Weather Channel and Internet accompaniments such as theweatherchannel.com and related apps and Xfinity branding (which includes Xfinity TV, Xfinity Voice, and Xfinity Internet). Among its assets is also XUMO, an online streaming video service offering nearly two hundred channels. Also included in its subsidiaries are several extra-American ventures such as Telemundo , Latin America Pay Television Service (LAPTV), and many other Hispanic television channels.[xi],[xii],[xiii]
The following are either directly owned or are subsidiaries of National Amusements: CBS (80 percent) Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Communications, Blockbuster, Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, CMT, Showtime Networks, and Simon & Schuster, and cinema companies such as IMAX (in several US states), Cinema de Lux, Showcase Cinemas, and Multiplex Cinemas; it also holds part stock in Fandango.[xiv],[xv] ,[xvi]
News Corp/FOX Corp
News Corp owns the New York Post, HarperCollins, the Sun newspaper (UK), the Sunday Times (UK), and Dow Jones & Co., which operates the Wall Street Journal. It also owns 20th Century Fox Film Corp., Fox Television, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, and Fox Sports (As stated previously, these assets were retained by Murdoch during the merger with Disney). The Murdoch Family owns 39 percent shares in both News Corp and the Fox Corp.[xvii],[xviii],[xix] Rupert Murdoch, the former CEO of 21st Century Fox, chairman of News Corp, “controls 120 newspapers across five countries.”[xx] Because of the merger between Fox and Disney, he now owns huge stock that Big Media contender as well.
Hearst Communications’ worldwide spread is nearly incalculable, with hundreds of businesses that range from magazines, newspapers, and radio stations to television stations, cable networks, and even software providers across the globe. Only some of these are the History Channel (50 percent), A&E (50 percent), Lifetime & Lifetime Movie Network (50 percent), ESPN (20 percent), NorthSouth Productions (50 percent), Complex Networks (50 percent), and Intermedia Group (50 percent). Only a few newspapers owned are Houston Chronicle, Times Union (NY), San Francisco Chronicle, Advertiser, Canyon News, Foothills Trader, and Seattlepi.com. Magazines include, to name only a few, Esquire, HGTV Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Seventeen, Woman’s Day, Town & Country, Food Network Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Country Living, Men’s Health, Car and Driver, Cosmopolitan, ELLE, and many more. The company also owns partial shares in VICE Media and VICELAND, Iflix, Kobalt Music, and BAMTech. Also included in assets are several syndicates and media affiliates, including Cowles Syndicate, King Features Licensing & Syndicate, Reed Brennan Media Associates, North America Syndicate, and Litton Entertainment. Likewise operated by the Hearst conglomerate are Hearst Health, The Fitch Group, and CAMP Systems. Even with such an extensive list, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the inventory of Hearst assets.[xxi],[xxii],[xxiii]
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And Now, It’s Constant
These are the corporations that determine most of the media that impacts our worldview. However, they don’t act alone. They gain power daily, which is delivered via their new, silent partners in the emergent, modern-day “Big Brother.” These are the corporations that propel the saturation of media content even farther into our lives by devising ways of pumping it into our psyches 24/7. If life were as simple as it was a few decades back, we would simply have the option of switching off the radio and television or stepping away from media. But the modern world isn’t so cooperative with our need for silence. We may try to get a break from the barrage, but then the smartphone goes off. The tablet dings with a social media notification. A hollow “konk” sound announces the arrival of a priority email. Another ringtone alerts our attention to breaking events that refuse to wait.
And that’s when it happens. Those of us who thought we could easily free ourselves from the presence of Big Media find that the silent partner—broadcasting’s shiny new vehicle—has crept in to our quiet domiciles, setting off a series of dings, tweets, and beeps. Truly, thanks to this more intrusive agent, no one is ever alone anymore.
As stated, Big Tech is the mode by which the agenda of the select few is driven into our homes, brought to our dinner tables, or left at our bedside to greet us in the morning (or awaken us in the night). It is a bold, brazen personality, which will unapologetically interrupt the deepest of conversations with a spouse or child, intrude upon final moments with a loved one, or even embarrassingly announce the most trivial of events in a silent moment during church services or a wedding ceremony. Thanks to digital devices, we never experience true solitude anymore. The continual presence of our technologies keeps us from allowing our thoughts to wander far from whatever is currently being put forward as the necessary thing to think about. Headlines are carefully chosen, memes are constructed, and via this means, a disturbing number of us are programmed how to think. Even though we perceive ourselves to be discerning these matters independently, many of us don’t realize we’re being constantly, albeit subtly, influenced. (Recall that 90 percent of what is being delivered via media comes from six corporate-origin voices.[xxiv]) In addition, Big Tech assures that the way people are coerced to think is equally narrow in origin, yet its broad reach gives this agenda the appearance of being inescapable and of reflecting the majority mindset. This is done to shape and homogenize the masses to embrace whatever narrative is being sent down the pike, and to create a generation whose philosophies, thoughts, and actions are reliably similar across the populace. It’s 1984-ishly familiar:
The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering…a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting—three hundred million people all with the same face.[xxv]
With an understanding of who Big Tech is and what its objectives are, the following is a recap of the companies that currently monopolize the digital world—and thus determine how and when our thinking is dictated.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and a few acquaintances launched Facebook “as a school-based social network at Harvard University.”[xxvi] In 2006, the site became a public platform, and it has since grown to be a point of connection for friends, a photo and video exchange, and a source of entertainment, news, advertising and business promotion, networking, sales, and much more. It currently boasts two billion monthly subscribers, and, as has been stated, has rapidly become one of the first places people turn for news and information. While Facebook is singled out as one of the leading social-media platforms, many others serve the same general purposes, such as Facebook’s Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, TikTok, and many others. Most of these sites are free and rake in their extravagant revenues through advertising. On that note, 98 percent of Facebook’s monies are brought in courtesy of ads (comparably, Twitter’s is 85 percent).[xxvii]
Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, Amazon began as an online warehouse for media such as books and compact discs, then broadened its market to include online sales of nearly anything that can be purchased, from clothing, housewares, and furniture to jewelry, electronics, and even groceries. Further, the company has expanded into video streaming, online music memberships, Cloud-based accessory software, Kindle books, and electronic publishing/reading accessories. Via Prime and its acquisition of Whole Foods Market, it has become a monster in its own category, employing 180,000, “building a retail powerhouse with a market capitalization of $250 billion,”[xxviii] and has now built its direct access into many homes with its Alexa and Echo virtual assistant artificial intelligence. In 2013, Bezos purchased the Washington Post newspaper.[xxix]
Apple Inc. was founded in by Steve Jobs in 1976, and was originally formed as a personal computer manufacturer. Starting out with such innovative technologies as the Macintosh computer, available for retail in the mid 1980s, the corporation soon added software, graphic interfaces, information technology helps, and myriad consumer electronics to it repertoire. Among these are the iPhone, iPod, HomePod, the Apple (smart) watch, AirPods earbuds and AirPods Max headphones, and the iPad tablet to name a few. Software products include Final Cut Pro X, Xcode, Logic Pro, iPadOS, iOS, tvOS, and more. Other ventures initiated by Apple are Apple TV+, iTunes, Mac Apps, iOS Apps, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, iCloud, AppleCare, Apple Pay, Apple Card, the Apple Store, and the Genius Bar.
Google, launched in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, began as an online search engine with an interface for advertising. Since then, the company’s reach has extended to include a variety of online interfaces such as Google Chrome browser, Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google Earth, Google Podcast, YouTube (formerly Google Video) Google Photos, Google Keep, Google Play Apps, and many classroom helps such as Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Calendar, Google Workspace, Google Classroom, and many more.
In 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft Corp., which was originally a computer software company. Seeing vast success in the mid 1980s thanks to its MS-DOS programming, the company maintained a competitive edge through the emergence of the personal computer by introducing (and incrementally reintroducing) such innovations as Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office Suite, and the Internet Explorer browser. Other ventures include Skype, LinkedIn, Microsoft Surface, Xbox video game products, and consumer products such as personal computers, laptops, MSN digital products, tablet computers, HoloLens, Visual Studio, and Azure.
UP NEXT: Can’t Live Without “Them”
[i] Richard L. Worsnop, “Television and Politics,” In Editorial Research Reports 1968, Vol. I, (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1968) 361–84. http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1968051500.
[ii] Chris Mills, “AT&T Basically Now Owns Everything Except Your Soul,” NY Post Online, June 18, 2018. Last accessed March 3, 2021. https://nypost.com/2018/06/18/att-basically-now-owns-everything-except-your-soul/.
[iii] Carly Hallman, “Who Owns the News: A Closer Look at Online News Sources,” TitleMax.com. Last accessed March 3, 2021. https://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/lifestyle/who-owns-your-news-the-top-100-digital-news-outlets-and-their-ownership/#:~:text=About%2015%20billionaires%20and%20six,Amusements%20(which%20includes%20Viacom%20Inc.
[iv] “Brand—Licensing, Evolution and Domain Names,” AT&T Online. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://about.att.com/innovation/ip/brands/history#:~:text=The%20historical%20brands%20of%20AT%26T,synonymous%20with%20innovation%20in%20communications.&text=In%202005%2C%20SBC%20acquired%20AT%26T,in%20global%20communications%20for%20businesses.
[v] Hallman, “Who Owns the News.”
[vi] Carly Hallman, “Every Company Disney Owns: A Map of Disney’s Worldwide Assets,” TitleMax. Last accessed March 3, 2021. https://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/money-finance/companies-disney-owns-worldwide/.
[vii] Mike Nudelman, “Here’s Where Disney Really Makes Money,” BusinessInsider.com. January 14, 2015. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-where-disney-really-makes-money-2015-1.
[viii] Mae Anderson, “Here’s What Disney Is—and Isn’t—Getting for Its $71 Billion Buy of Fox.” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2019. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-disney-fox-deal-details-20190320-story.html.
[ix] Meg James, “Disney and Fox Shareholders Approve Blockbuster $71-Billion Deal,” Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2018. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-disney-fox-shareholders-deal-20180727-story.html.
[x] “Your Complete Guide to Everything Owned by Comcast.” Nasdaq.com, October 12, 2017. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/your-complete-guide-everything-owned-comcast-2017-10-12.
[xi] Hallman, “Who Owns the News.”
[xii] “Your Complete Guide to Everything Owned by Comcast.”
[xiii] Matthew Johnston, “5 Companies Owned by Comcast,” Investopedia.com. May 15, 2020. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/101215/top-4-companies-owned-comcast.asp.
[xiv] Hallman, “Who Owns the News.”.
[xv] “National Amusements Inc. History.” FundingUniverse.com. Last accessed March 3, 2021, http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/national-amusements-inc-history/#:~:text=A%20privately%20held%20company%20owned,and%20other%20major%20entertainment%20properties.
[xvi] “About National Amusements, 2019 Rankings.” Vault.com. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.vault.com/company-profiles/film/national-amusements-inc.
[xvii] Hallman, “Who Owns the News.”
[xviii] Kate Vinton, “These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Media Companies,” Forbes. June 1, 2016. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/katevinton/2016/06/01/these-15-billionaires-own-americas-news-media-companies/?sh=463d0cf9660a.
[xx] Vinton, “These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Media Companies.”
[xxiii] “The Hearst Corporation: At a Glance.” The Vault. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.vault.com/company-profiles/media-entertainment/the-hearst-corporation.
[xxiv] Nickie Louise, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media Outlets in America.” Tech Startups, September 18, 2020. Last accessed February 18, 2021. https://techstartups.com/2020/09/18/6-corporations-control-90-media-america-illusion-choice-objectivity-2020/.
[xxv] Orwell, 1984, 56–57.
[xxvii] Ryan Holmes, “We Now See 5,000 Ads A Day…And It’s Getting Worse.” Linkedin.com. February 19, 2019. Last accessed March 3, 2012, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/have-we-reached-peak-ad-social-media-ryan-holmes/.
[xxviii] David Streitfeld and Jodi Kantor, “Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture.” New York Times, August 17, 2015. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/technology/amazon-bezos-workplace-management-practices.html.
[xxix] Paul Farhi, “Washington Post to Be Sold to Jeff Bezos, the Founder of Amazon,” Washington Post. August 5, 2013. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/washington-post-to-be-sold-to-jeff-bezos/2013/08/05/ca537c9e-fe0c-11e2-9711-3708310f6f4d_story.html.