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.
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.