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Politics and Economy:
Massive Media
More on This Story:
Facts and Figures

The world of the mass media is shrinking. How a handful of companies came to exercise such control over the media is one of the astonishing stories of our time. But there are real consequences to what's happening that affect democracy and consumers.

Merging Media

Approximate number of daily newspapers in North America:  1800
Approximate number of magazines in North America:  11,000
Approximate number of radio stations in North America:  11,000
Approximate number of television stations in North America:  2000
Approximate number of book publishers in North America:  3000
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1984:  50
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1987:  26
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1996:  10
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 2002:  6

The Massing of the Media

  • THE LAW: Many media watchers point to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as crucial to the growth of media giants. The Act removed long-standing limits on the number of media outlets that any one company could own in any single market. Currently the cap stands at 35% of national television station ownership. As a visit to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Web site shows, the comment period on relaxing many ownership restrictions further is still open.

  • TELEVISION: The U.S. seems awash with TV choices. Between cable, dish and digital channels, choices number in the hundreds. A recent study by THE ECONOMIST found that though the market continues to grow, most people routinely watch only 15 channels. The top ten cable channels and the five networks still make up 90% of the watching audience. And what are they watching? American cable fare breaks down as follows:
  • Entertainment — 36.6%
  • Children's programming — 21.1%
  • News &3151; 14.1%
  • Nature/Education — 11.1%
  • Women — 7.0%
  • Music — 5.4%
  • Sport — 4.7%

  • NEWS: A few years ago, news people were lamenting the results of a study by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy which showed a marked decrease in international news coverage from 45% in the 1970s to just 14% in 1995. In the wake of September 11, some news organizations were revitalized. Overseas bureaus were saved from closure and hard news seemed important again — but the companies lost money. Just this week, CNN announced its biggest prime-time audience of 2002 for...the arrest of Robert Blake.

    Media analyst Andrew Tyndall watches the news every night and publishes the results in the Tyndall Report. Here's a round-up of the top stories on the three big networks for selected weeks past from the Tyndall Report:

    July 19-31, 2001 (av. number of minutes):

  • Disappearance of Chandra Levy (24 minutes)
  • Human embryo stem cell research (14 minutes)
  • Shark attacks (14 minutes)

    April 8-12, 2002

  • Enron bankruptcy (12 minutes)
  • Anti-U.S. sentiment in Islamic world (10 minutes)
  • Catholic pedophile priests (10 minutes)

    Andrew Tyndall also recently completed an evaluation of three major cable news networks for THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER. Although he found that the three had different presentations and viewpoints — the news they covered was similar in content (and very male-dominated). Read the whole report at Cable News Wars.

  • BOOKS: Big media holds sway over more than the airwaves, many conglomerates have interest in major publishing houses as well.
  • TimeWarner -- Warner Books/Little Brown/Time-Life
  • Viacom -- Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books, etc.
  • Bertelsmann is the largest book publisher in the United States
  • Walt Disney -- Hyperion/Talk Miramax Books
  • Vivendi International -- Houghton Mifflin

    The British paper THE OBSERVER noted on April 7, 2002 a case illustrating the power of the big houses. Random House won Pulitzer Prize-winner Charles Frazier's second book away from the smaller, independent house, Grove Atlantic, who discovered his first hit, COLD MOUNTAIN. Random House paid a reputed 5 million dollars.

  • RADIO: The changes to the way radio playlists are compiled is amply demonstrated in our piece on Virtual Radio. However, as recently reported by NPR radio, there may be another side effect of the standardizing of radio playlists. Nationally programmed classic rock stations often only play the biggest hits of bands. Thus a whole generation might be growing up constantly hearing "Satisfaction" but never even knowing that B-sides like "Parachute Woman" exist.

    Sources: "The Frankenstein Syndrome," JOURNAL OF BUSINESS ETHICS, March 2002; THE ECONOMIST, April 13, 2002; Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy; THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER; The Tyndall Report; THE OBSERVER, London; NEWSDAY; THE NATION; FORBES: NPR News; ON THE MEDIA

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