frontline: merchants of cool: interviews: mark crispin miller | PBS
Can you talk about the five major media conglomerates in the world and how big these companies are?
Our media landscape is very, very heavily dominated by just a handful of gigantic media corporations, transnational corporations. The most important ones are Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, the News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Universal-Vivendi, which is about to become a French-owned corporation.
To give you a sense of some of the power that these corporations wield, let me take you through just some of the holdings of the 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 to 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. They are all-purpose media corporations.
The perceived wisdom is we now have more choices than ever; but what is the reality?
One often hears that we all enjoy many more choices as viewers and listeners and readers than any generation of human beings ever enjoyed before. Well, that's actually not the case. There's a seeming multiplicity, a great ostensible diversity out there; but behind the surface of that apparent vast range of choices, there's really not all that much in the way of true difference or true diversity. There's a handful of owners behind most of those products that you see at the newsstand or on cable or on the web, you know? 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.
Now, most of the media industries have always been commercial above all. There's no question about that, although some were more commercial than others were. Book publishing, for example, was historically not driven, above all, by a concern about profits, but it was actually run by men and women who loved books. It sounds quaint today. Nevertheless, by now all the media industries are alike, driven by commercial concerns. And this has been intensified by the fact that the huge few that wield all the power are heavily indebted. They have to make a lot of money. Their shareholders are always at the door. They are very anxious enterprises. They are forced to go wherever they think the money is right now. They are forced to try to grab the biggest demographic bloc they can. They aren't inclined to take any real risks at all.
And this has tended to make the quality of most media product highly dubious. Whether we talk about the TV news, which is in this country more idiotic and lurid than ever before; or whether we talk about the content of most magazines, which is increasingly soft porn; or whether we're talking about newspapers, which are more and more like television; or movies or music; we're talking about a decline in quality that most of the people who work in these industries have recognized.