by Matthew Cohn
In today’s media marketplace, the industry is dominated by enormous companies whose assets include most of the nation’s leading television and radio stations, all of the largest broadcast and cable networks, and many of the largest studios and production companies. Some of these big media companies have been around since before television, and all have grown through acquisitions. These companies that are considered “Big Media” own and operate many smaller companies, which are all independently managed. It is likely that most of the consumers these companies target don’t even know who owns what or how big these companies truly are.
What is Big Media?
The term “Big Media” is used to describe the media industry, which is dominated by “Big Media” companies. All of the major companies prospered through acquisitions, otherwise known as conglomeration. A media conglomerate owns companies in various mass media such as TV, Film, Radio, Publishing, and Internet. It has become necessary for the largest media companies to own a major asset associated with every aspect of the media business. A fully integrated media conglomerate would likely include at least one motion picture and television production studio, one or more cable or broadcast networks (for distribution), a combination of print and web assets (for promotion), and a range of local media, including television stations, radio stations, newspapers, and other related assets. Of course, large media companies routinely do business with one another, but by doing business within the same conglomerate, it creates a synergy that increases the amount of revenue. A TV series can be produced, distributed, and syndicated all under the same corporate umbrella. Vertical Integration and Synergy are two common terms associated with big media, both pretty much summing up the way a company can “vertically integrate” its product across different platforms to create a “synergy” within a company.
Rules Governing Big Media
Large media companies are controlled similar to other large U.S. corporations. In regard to content and advertising, some of these regulations are based upon law and others are general guidelines self-imposed and self-regulated by each media industry. For a complete list of Broadcast Ownership Rules, click here
Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, otherwise known as Fin-Syn rules, were rules put into effect by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in 1970. Basically, the FCC thought the big media companies had too much control over the television industry, thus creating unfair competition in the market. For example, a network could only broadcast shows created by its own studio, even if there were better options in the marketplace. At the time, there were only three broadcast networks and the FCC didn’ t want them to monopolize the market. Under the Fin-Syn rules, none of the networks could broadcast any prime-time programming in which they had a financial stake or interest in. Thus, many of the big media companies were forced to sell or let go of their production studios. In 1993, the Fin-Syn rules were abolished, which led to where we are today. For more on the Fin-Syn history, click here
The Big Media Companies
The largest media companies today are known as “The Big 6.” All have major assets in the TV, Film, Internet, and Publishing industries.
- Disney (ABC)
- Comcast (NBC)
- News Corporation (FOX)
- CBS (CBS)
- Time Warner (CNN, HBO)
- Viacom (MTV, Comedy Central)
The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923 and is one of the most well-rounded entertainment companies in the world. The four major components are their media networks, studios, consumer products, and amusement parks.
Thanks to the elimination of the Fin-Syn rules, Disney took ownership of ABC Television Network in 1995. Included in ABC’s network is ABC Studios, as well as ESPN and its many sister networks. Other channels include ABC Family, Disney Channel, History Channel, and more.
Disney owns a majority ownership stake in Citadel Broadcasting Corporation, owner of 277 radio stations in the US.
Disney operates book publishing, magazine publishing, music recording, and even Marvel Comics.
Disney is most known for its film business. Most famous is Walt Disney Pictures which is home to its animation studio. Also, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, Pixar Animation Studios, and more.
Disney owns theme parks worldwide and even a cruise line. Disney success early on can be credited to its Consumer Products business, especially Mickey Mouse. Disney still is one of the most powerful consumer product companies in the world.
For a complete list of Disney’s holdings, click here
For more on Disney’s Company Overview, click here
For more on Disney’s History, click here
Comcast’s power base comes from its near monopoly on cable service to nearly a third of all U.S. households. Although always a major player, Comcast was not really considered a “Big” until its take over of a majority share of NBC-Universal from General Electric. Comcast owns 51% of NBCU, GE owns 49%. General Electric has long been considered a “Big,” but their main business operations are not in the media industry, especially since Comcast’s acquisition of majority share. Comcast is one of the largest cable and internet service providers, and combining them with one of the biggest producers of TV and movies makes them one of the most powerful corporations in the industry.
For more on the Comcast/NBCU Transaction, click here
Comcast owns NBC Network, including all of its local stations, Telemundo, CNBC, as well as multiple sports networks under the Comcast Sports Net name. Comcast is also one of the largest cable providers in the US.
Comcast is one of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers.
Comcast owns Universal Pictures, Focus Pictures, Rogue Pictures, as well as Universal Studios Home Entertainment, a distribution unit.
Comcast is very unique compared with the other members of the Big 6. Comcast, whose headquarters are in Philadelphia, PA, owns both the Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), and the Philadelphia Flyers (NHL). Comcast also owns the Wachovia Center, where the teams play.
For a complete list of Comcast’s holdings, click here
For more on Comcast’s company overview, click here
Under Rupert Murdoch’s leadership, News Corporation has become one of the most powerful companies in the TV and Film industries.
News Corp. owns FOX as well as 16 owned and operated Fox Regional Sports Networks. Also, Fox News and National Geographic Channel. Production companies include 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Television Studios.
News Corp. owns 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and Searchlight Pictures.
News Corp. owns HarperCollins Publishers, as well as more than 150 newspapers and numerous magazines.
Online properties include FoxSports.com, Foxnews.com, Simplyhired.com, and more
News Corp also owns the National Rugby League.
For a complete list of News Corporations holdings, click here
For more on News Corporations company overview, click here
Time Warner Inc. is one of the most diversified Big Media companies, with holdings that include Time Inc., HBO, Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Time Warner owns some of the strongest cable networks including CNN, TNT, TBS, and more. Time Warner also owns 50% of the CW Network (CBS owns the other half).
Time Warner has built its company off being an early innovator in cable TV. Time Warner owns some of the most valuable cable channels today, including HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, as well as all of CNN’s international programming. Also, Time Warner owns Warner Bros. Television group, one of the best production companies in the TV industry today.
Time Warner owns some of the best production companies, including Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock, and more.
Along with the digital properties of CNN.com, CartoonNetwork.com, and other cable channels’ websites, Time Warner owns America Online and all of AOL’s properties.
Time Warner is arguably the strongest of the Big 6 when it comes to publishing. Its properties include Time Inc, Time Warner Book Group, DC Comics, People magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and more.
For more on Time Warner Inc., click here
For a complete list of Time Warner Inc., holdings, click here
Viacom’s history is unique in that it was created out of the original Fin-Syn rules in 1971, when CBS was forced to leave the program syndication business and let go of ownership of Viacom. Viacom became so big that in 2000 they merged with CBS, only to split again in 2005, leaving Viacom and CBS Corp. as two separate companies. Viacom’s power is built around is TV and film assets.
Viacom television properties include some of the strongest channels including MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, VH1, and Spike.
Viacom owns Paramount Pictures, which includes Dreamworks and MTV Films.
For more on Viacom, click here
For more on Viacom’s history, click here
For a complete list of Viacom’s holdings, click here
CBS is one of the oldest networks, as its roots trace back to 1928 when it was a collection of 16 radio stations, and then one of the first television broadcast networks. CBS is the number one broadcast network in the country, and has strong international distribution.
CBS is the number one rated network in America, with top shows such as Survivor, CSI, and Two and a Half Men, all of which sell internationally. CBS also owns Showtime, one of the top pay cable networks. CBS also owns 50% of the CW Network (Time Warner owns the other half).
CBS still is active in its original business, radio, and owns 130 stations in 29 different markets.
CBS owns Simon & Schuster, one of the largest book publishing companies.
CBS’ online properties are very strong, especially CBSSports.com, CBSnews.com, and Sho.com.
For more on CBS, click here
For a complete list of CBS properties, click here
*It is worth noting that National Amusements has a controlling interest in both CBS and Viacom, but both operate individually.
The Next Level Down
After the Big 6, there are other large media companies, but none are nearly as diversified as the Big 6 companies.
Some worth noting, and their core business:
The New York Times Company
The Washington Post Company
Clear Channel Communications
For a complete list of all major media companies, click here
For a smaller list of ownership in the media industry, click here