Today, at the start of the 21st century, five multimedia
conglomerates -- Viacom, Disney, News Corporation, Vivendi Universal and
AOL Time Warner - exert unprecedented power in marketing messages and products
to young people. Here are excerpts from interviews with media critics about
the marketing/media 'forcefield' of these conglomerates.
media critic and the author of Boxed In: The
Culture of TV
To give you a sense of some of the power these corporations wield, let me take
you through just some of the holdings of News Corporation, for example.
This Australian-based transnational owns Fox Television, 20th Century Fox
Films, Harper Collins Publishers. It's also the largest owner of newspapers in
the world. Rupert Murdoch has Sky Television, which broadcasts the world over.
And the list goes on and on.
This kind of range is unprecedented in the history of all the media
industries. We now have all of our culture industries--from movies and TV and
radio to music and book publishing and the web-- dominated by corporations that
are all-powerful in all of those fields.
There's a handful of owners behind most of those products that you see at the
newsstand or on cable or on the web. A handful of owners and the same
commercial imperative at work, no matter where you turn. You talk about
newspapers, magazines, movies, TV shows, radio. It's all alike, calculated to
make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
When you've got a few gigantic transnational corporations, each one loaded down
with debt, competing madly for as much shelf space and brain space as they can
take, they are going to do whatever they think works the fastest and with the
most people, which means that they will drag standards down.
They're not going to be too nice about what they choose to do. They're
gonna go directly for the 'please center.' They're gonna try to get you
watching and buying right away. And what this means is that they are gonna do
as much trash as they can because that will grab people. The word "trash" is
old-fashioned, because this is a state of the art, highly sophisticated venture
that we're talking about. They're using all the most brilliant means of
measurement and surveillance to figure out what we're all about. They focus
group everything a million ways.
media critic and author of Rich Media, Poor
Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times
The entertainment companies--which are a handful of massive conglomerates
that own four of the five music companies that sell 90 percent of the music
in the United States--those same companies also own all the film studios, all
the major TV networks, all the TV stations pretty much in the ten largest
markets. They own all or part of every single commercial cable channel, these
handful of huge companies. They look at the teen market as part of this
massive empire that they're colonizing.
You should look at it like the British empire or the French empire in the
19th century. Teens are like Africa. It's this range that they're gonna take
over and their weaponry are films, music, books, CDs, Internet access,
clothing, amusement parks, sports teams. That's all this weaponry they have
to make money off of this market, to colonize this market. And that's
exactly how they approach it. So they look at music as just one small part of
it. They aren't music companies; they're money-making companies. And music
is a weapon that generates money for them.
...What's happened in the media in the United States in the past 10 or 15
years--especially since about 1994 or 1995--has been an unprecedented
concentration of ownership....Four of the five music companies that sell 90
percent of the music in the United States--they own almost all the TV stations
in the largest markets. They're huge conglomerates, and this is really a new
It used to be a largest media companies 20 or 40 years ago only produced
newspapers, they only made movies, they only had a TV network. Now they're
dominant players in each of these markets. They're highly non-competitive.
They don't have to worry about a newcomer coming in. The barriers to entry,
as economists talk about, are so high that basically it's a private club, a
gentleman's club of like a half-dozen, seven-eight companies that really
rule the thing. And they're closely linked. I mean they know each other.
They have deals together, and what they're able to do with this tremendous
power between them is hyper-commercialize their content without fear of
Radio is a classic case in point of how that works and the company Viacom,
which owns MTV, is a big player in this. In 1996, radio was deregulated by the
federal government, and this is public property. So the government has a right
to say how many stations you're allowed to own. Well, in the 1996 Telecom Act,
without a shred of debate in Congress or any hearings discussing it, the
ownership restrictions were lifted on radio from 28 stations for one single
company to as many as they wanted to own. And you were allowed to own up to
eight in the largest markets. Overnight over half these stations in America
were sold from small companies to big companies and big to huge.
So you have a handful of companies like Viacom that now dominate American
radio. Every market now has usually two or three companies that dominate it,
own almost all the stations, sell relevant advertising. And what's happened to
American radio is a classic case then of this hyper-commercialism, on one hand.
The amount of advertising on American radio today is 18 minutes per hour. It's
something like 50 percent more than the early 1990s, because these companies
don't have to worry about competition. Two or three of them own all the
stations. They don't have to worry about someone coming in doing eight minutes
an hour and stealing away their listeners. So it gets hyper-commercialized.
...Then you add into that conglomerates that Viacom also owns MTV and Paramount
and Blockbuster. And what they can do now is they can go to advertisers and
say, "Well, you advertise on our radio chain, the CBS Infinity stations we
own, and maybe work out a deal with MTV or maybe work out a deal on VH1, or we
can do posters in our Blockbuster stores or do something on Showtime or maybe
we can have 'Entertainment Tonight', which is a TV show we produce, do
something on your stuff, too." It gives them tremendous leverage to do much
more commercialism than they could do if they only owned one thing.
And that's the reigning logic behind the entire system. It's based on
concentration and hyper-commercialism. And it's done not because these are bad
people. These people are no worse or better than their predecessors 50 years
ago. It's done because this is what the system is set up to produce. This is
the logical thing to do. If you don't do it, you can't compete. You're go to
be put out of business. You're out of work. So it's really a systematic
issue. It's not of the morality of individuals.
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