Media Ownership and Concentration in America

Media Ownership and Concentration in America

Media Ownership and Concentration in America

Media Ownership and Concentration in America


The concentration of private power over media has been the subject of intense public debate around the world. Critics have long feared waves of mergers creating a handful of large media firms that would hold sway over public opinion and endanger democracy and innovation. But others believe with equal fervor that the Internet and deregulation have opened the media landscape significantly. How concentrated has the American information sector really become? What are the facts about American media ownership?

In this contentious environment, Eli Noam provides a comprehensive and balanced survey of media concentration with a methodical, scientific approach. He assembles a wealth of data from the last 25 years about mass media such as radio, television, film, music, and print publishing, as well as the Internet, telecommunications, and media-related information technology. After examining 100 separate media and network industries in detail, Noam provides a powerful summary and analysis of concentration trends across industries and major media sectors. He also looks at local media power, vertical concentration, and the changing nature of media ownership through financial institutions and private equity. The results reveal a reality much more complex than the one painted by advocates on either side of the debate. They show a dynamic system that fluctuates around long-term concentration trends driven by changing economics and technology.

Media Ownership and Concentration in Americawill be essential reading and a trove of information for scholars and students in media, telecommunications, IT, economics, and the history of business, as well as media industry professionals, business researchers, and policy makers around the world. Critics and defenders of media trends alike will find much that confirms and refutes their world view. But the next round of their debate will be shaped by the facts presented in this book.


This book is a study of the American media and information sector over two decades—its change, its dynamics, and its concentration and ownership trends. Why this subject? A major debate has been unfolding in the United States and around the world over media concentration and its implications. In the policy arena this debate is often marked more by heat than by light. It is therefore the aim of this book to create a decent fact base, to interpret the data, and to analyze the underlying dynamics.

When it comes to media concentration, views are strong, theories abound, but numbers are scarce. To many media critics, the sky has been falling for decades. Others, often from free-market Washington policy think tanks or from the libertarian Internet community, believe that market and technological forces are overcoming all barriers, that we are in the midst of a flowering of media and information, and that there is no problem except for heavy-footed bureaucrats trampling those flowers. Media companies and other stakeholders deployed the arguments of both positions, depending on which side of a particular regulatory battle they were on. Advocacy groups sprang up. Academics became activists. The newspaper press chimed in, often opposing media concentration but seldom mentioning that local newspapers are perhaps the most concentrated news medium of all. Commercial television rarely touched the topic beyond its immediate news aspects, thereby strengthening the arguments of its critics that selfinterest colors its coverage.

Part of the vehemence of the debate stems from the self-image of its advocates on both sides. Opponents of media concentration view themselves as engaged in a digital Thermopylae, a last line of defense against homogenized news controlled by five giant media conglomerates. They fear a situation for the United States like that of Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi used his media empire to achieve policy power and public office. In contrast, defenders of a deregulation of ownership restrictions see themselves as removing the shackles of the state. They argue that we are in the midst of a historic blossoming of information technology. Both sides project themselves as defenders of free speech, either protecting media from the heavy hand of government or, alternatively, protecting diversity from being choked off by communications empires. Both sides are to some extent correct. But both sides cannot concede the validity of the perspective of the other, which they view, respectively, as the grave diggers of democracy or as luddites with academic tenure.

Given all these perspectives and biases, how then should public policy be determined? At a minimum, it should be based on a solid factual base on the nature of the problem. It is one thing to disagree on the interpretation, whether a glass is half-full or . . .

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