by Jake Hebert
WHAT IS BIG MEDIA?
Rampant technological growth, government interaction, social change, and the growth of local and national businesses have all led to a media industry dominated by enormous media companies. The days of the mom and pop media enterprise are gone. Today’s media companies reach across all areas of communication. Geographic and continental barriers are no longer obstacles for big media companies looking to evolve in to worldwide global players. As the industry becomes more competitive, more big media companies feel the need to own a share of every piece of the media puzzle: broadcast, cable, digital, production, film, local media, newspaper, etc. These big media companies own and operate many smaller subsidiaries, and some are subsidiaries of even larger parent corporations (see Major Players below). These large media companies generally fall under the same monopoly jurisdiction of other U.S. corporations, but as these organizations move in to a global setting, regulation becomes more complicated (see Global Glimpse).
The primary revenue source for big media companies is advertising. According to Ad Age, spending amongst the nation’s leading national advertisers surged 8.8% in 2010. Previously, due to an economic downturn and uncertain global climate, 2009 spending
dropped 10.2% in the sharpest drop since Ad Age began the ranking in 1956.2 Big media companies provide access to target consumers for many of the world’s largest consumer product companies. In some cases (like in that of General Electric and NBC), the consumer product companies own, or are in the same network of companies as the media company.
The close relationship between advertisers and big media companies has forced the government to keep close tabs on big media news organizations. For the most part however, these companies remain objective on big issues, and leave investigative journalism to the local level markets. Overall, big media news outlets stick to reporting on general human-interest stories, pop culture, politics, and worldwide weather.
A company’s brand is essential to marketing a network and its programming to viewers and advertisers. A company’s brand must be consistent, it must be universal, and in order to become popular, it must be fun (see MTV below).1 A company’s logo and identity are one in the same under that companies brand. In the U.S. media’s early stages, brand identification and marketing were simple. The major players, CBS, ABC, and NBC each had their own logo and own brand identity within the company. News programming, sitcoms, logos, and sounds (like NBC’s chimes) contributed to setting each of the three major networks apart.
Before the 1980s, television branding was generally limited to some local station identities, names of shows, the names of stars appearing on those shows, and larger network identities. In 1981, MTV changed all that by introducing a logo that was fun. MTV was all about attitude and identity and it showed in its logo.
The MTV logo jumped out of the cable realm. It appeared on jackets, tee-shirts, and other merchandise that penetrated the lives of viewers off of the screen. MTV truly turned their brand in to a source of equity. Years later, Nickelodeon expanded on MTV’s “fun brand” model. Nickelodeon’s logo was not a logo at all, but a series of white text placed over its signature “orange.” This orange was transformed in to different shapes, sizes, and dimensions. This fun and outside-the-box logo reinforced similar traits in Nickelodeon as a brand. Nickelodeon and MTV understood how to stand out in a world with hundreds ,and now thousands, of channels and logos available. Only a few more have done the same with such success.
Although merchandise is a brand’s most prominent form of equity, the brand alone holds value beyond products. Bloomberg Business Week ranked MTV the 52nd most valuable brand in the world in its 2008 list of the Top 100 Brands.3 They value MTV’s brand at over $7 billion (up from a cool $6 billion in 2004). In order to stay relevant and profitable, brands are constantly reinventing and reinvigorating themselves. In an ever-faster growing marketplace, it is not uncommon for companies to rebrand themselves every several years.
THE MAJOR PLAYERS:
American entertainment and media company with ventures in entertainment, news, theme parks, and information products and services. The merger of GE’s NBC and Vivendi’s Vivendi Universal Entertainment in May 2004 formed NBCUniversal as it exists today. NBCUniversal’s merger with Comcast was completed in January 2011. The sale was approved pending release of control over online video site, Hulu. NBCU’s logo redesign in 2011 shed NBC’s peacock and Universal’s globe for a purple text-only logo.
- Founded: 2004 (as a result of NBC and Universal merger).
- Headquarters: GE Building & 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY.
- Parent: Comcast (51%), General Electric (49%).
- Divisions: NBC, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, NBCUniversal Television Group, NBC News, NBC Sports Group, USA Network, Syfy, Chiller, G4, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC.com, MSNBC.com, iVillage, PictureBox Movies, Bravo, qubo, Telemundo Television Studios, The Weather Channel, ShopNBC, Hulu, A+E Networks, TV18 (India).
The Walt Disney Company:
The largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. An American-based mass media company commonly referred to as simply, Disney. They are best known for their films under the Walt Disney Motion Pictures division. Disney owns and operates the ABC broadcast television network as well as ventures in theme parks, radio, music, publishing, and online media. Disney merged with ABC in 1996 bringing all ABC assets such as ESPN and A&E under the Disney name. Disney acquired its former partner, Pixar, in 2006, and then Marvel Entertainment in 2009. Disney’s Shanghai resort is slated to open in 2015.
- Founded: 1923 (as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio).
- Headquarters: Burbank, CA.
- Divisions: Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, Disney Music Group, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Interactive Media Group, Disney Consumer Products, Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Theatrical, Walt Disney India Ltd., Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment LLC, ABC Inc., ESPN Inc., A+E Networks, Radio Disney, Hulu, UTV Software Communications.
Viacom, a combination of the phrase “visual & audio communications,” is an American mass media company concentrated in cinema and cable. Viacom operates approximately 170 media networks reaching more than 600 million global subscribers and more than 500 branded digital media properties. In 1985 Viacom bought Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, who at the time owned MTV and Nickelodeon, and in 2001 completed the purchase of BET along with many other acquisitions in the 1980s through the 2000s. In 2005, Viacom and CBS split in to two different publically traded entities. From 2007-2010, Viacom spearheaded a battle against YouTube regarding copyright infringement (YouTube parent Google was deemed protected under the Digital millennium Copyright Act).
- Founded: 1971 (as Viacomm under CBS).
- Headquarters: One Astor Plaza, New York, NY.
- Parent: Owned in majority by National Amusements, Inc.
- Divisions: MTV Networks (Nickelodeon, MTV, CMT, Palladia, Comedy Central, Logo, Spike, VIVA), BET Networks, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Viacom 18 (India), Neopets, Atom Entertainment (more).
The second-largest media conglomerate as of 2010 (behind Disney). The company AOL Time Warner was created in 2000 when AOL purchased the then-small company. After some internal conflict, the AOL name was dropped and hands changed in 2005. In 2006, TimeWarner announced its role in the creation of a new network, the CW. The network is the result of a merger of The WB Television Network (a Time Warner holding) and UPN (a CBS Corporation holding). CBS Corporation and Time Warner each own 50% of the network. Time Warner Cable detached itself from Time Warner in 2009. Time Warner reserves itself for film and television production, publishing, and cable, whereas Time Warner Cable is dedicated strictly to cable systems operations.
- Founded: 1989 (as Warner Cable Communications).
- Headquarters: 10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY.
- Divisions: HBO, Turner Broadcasting (Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TBS, TNT, TCM, HLN, CNN, and affiliated websites and production companies), Warner Bros., Time Inc. [more]).
As of 2011, News Corporation is the second largest media corporation in the United States in terms of revenue. As of 2009, it is the third largest in regards to entertainment. The company’s chief executive is the notable Robert Murdoch. News Corporation is a publicly traded company listed on the NASDAQ, with secondary listings on the Australian Securities Exchange. Originally created as a holding company for Murdoch’s News Limited, the News Corporation now holds ventures in television, film, production, publishing, print, internet, and broadcast. News Corporation faced scandal in both 2011 and 2012 after allegations of hacking for the benefit of tabloid news had surfaced.
- Founded: 1979 (Australia, 2004 in the US).
- Headquarters: New York, NY.
- Divisions: 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, FOX and its partners, FX, several European networks, and many internet and Magazine endeavors [more])
NEXT LEVEL DOWN:
Below the major players in the big media market are many smaller (but by no means small) “big media” companies. These companies often merge, split, are acquired, and change hands. This is an extensive, but not exhaustive list. 1
- Discovery Communications.
- E.W. Scripps.
- The Hearst Corporation.
- Cox Enterprises.
- Clear Channel Communications.
- The Tribune Company.
- The Washington Post Company.
- ION Media Networks.
Due to their sheer size and the seamless movement of programming in to the digital sphere, big media companies are becoming global entities. Most of the larger companies listed above have outgrown the traditional model for national companies and play a direct role in the delivery of television around the world. This global scope becomes a challenge for lawyers and executives, as they must juggle varying regulations in finance and law across international borders. Even more challenging than regulation of programming is censorship of programming in nations of controlled liberalization such as China. Although it makes for good news, foreign conflict over censorship is every big media company’s worst nightmare. The more global these companies become, the more regulation they must take in to consideration. 1
- Blumenthal, Howard J., and Oliver R. Goodenough. This Business of Television: Revised and Updated Third Edition. New York: Billboard Books, 2006. Print.