new Ben Compaine / NMRC report on “The Media Monopoly Myth”

by on May 4, 2005 · 11 comments

The New Millennium Research Council has just released a wonderful new report by Prof. Benjamin Compaine entitled The Media Monopoly Myth: How New Competition is Expanding Our Sources of Information and Entertainment.

Ben Compaine has long been the voice of reason in the field of media finance and economics. His classic study of the media market, “Who Owns the Media?” is the classic refutation of the myths about media ownership and consolidation. Ben conclusively shows, both in his old book and his new NMRC study, that the media marketplace has never been more dynamic, diverse and competitive.

Attached below is a summary of what you will find in the report that I pulled from the NMRC’s press release about the report. But I encourage you to download and read the entire study for the facts about the current state of competition in our modern media marketplace.


—[summary of new Ben Compaine "Media Monopoly Myth" report ]—

* Americans have more choices available to them when it comes to media content than ever before. “(Television) viewers have more choice from more sources than at any time in the history of the medium… Who owns the media does matter for content, but not always with the outcomes in the direction proclaimed in the common wisdom. Among other findings, this paper reports on studies that make a strong case that: having more sources of programming creates more diversity in television programming; there is no support for the contention that media ownership by chains or conglomerates leads to any consistent pattern of lowered standards, content, or performance when compared with media owned by families or small companies; publicly owned newspaper chains are less likely to have an ideological agenda they want to promote than those that are family controlled; and television stations with cross-ownership–in which the parent company also owns a newspaper in the same market–tend to produce higher quality newscasts.”

* The largest television industry players control less of the market today than they did in the past. “Contrary to the widespread perception that television is more concentrated than 30 or 20 or 10 years ago, by a number of critical measures, there is more competition. The market share of the three traditional television networks–CBS, ABC, and NBC–has declined substantially since 1980. Even adding in the audiences they have gained through control of cable networks, the combined audiences are lower than in some idealized past. In the 1970s, on a typical weekday evening, the three networks were watched by about 56 percent of all households with televisions. By 2003, on a typical evening those networks had on aggregate a 20 percent rating. They also face competition from newer networks, including Time Warner’s WB and News Corp.’s Fox. Those five networks together aggregated to a 26 percent rating. Adding together the rating of these five broadcast networks with the cable networks owned by the same corporate family (e.g., CNN, HBO, etc. with WB) and the five major providers of television programming accounted for an average 51 percent rating in December 2003. This was less than the three networks had into the 1970s.”

* Internet-based and other digital media will overwhelm traditional ownership/content issues, making federal limits and caps irrelevant. “About two-thirds of Americans are using (the Internet) for everything from e-mail to news to weather to… listening to radio and watching ‘television’… the online ‘DrudgeReport’ received a greater viewership than the weekly circulation of Time magazine… New devices are becoming available to make Internet radio accessible apart from a personal computer, including access via various current and potential wireless technologies. Video and film via the Internet are on the verge of becoming more mainstream. As some of the local telephone carriers upgrade their systems with fiber optic cable to the curb or the home, the transmission speed of downloads will be competitive with cable and satellite services. Devices are on the market that allow even today’s broadband users to download movies and video programming for storage on personal video recorders for viewing at their convenience.”

* Local radio competition is stronger than newspaper and television competition combined. “In the largest U.S. markets, there are 15 or more separate owners or radio stations–and in most of even the smallest markets there is more competition in radio than television and newspapers combined. Consolidation in the radio industry has been pronounced. The context, however, is that of an industry that has more than tripled in the number of stations over three decades with no change in the limits of stations ownership. By 1980, a single owner could hold no more than 0.16 percent of stations nationally… Thousands of radio and radio-like stations are available via the Internet. Stations are available from around the world. About 40 percent of listeners of Internet radio accessed stations from outside their local market.”

* National newspaper chains exert less ideological control over editorial content than local newspaper owners. “…a review of 17 studies concluded that there were few differences in the editorial page slant of newspapers owned by groups and those that were independent. On the other hand, editors of chain-owned newspapers were found to have greater editorial latitude in determining editorial policy than those at family-owned newspapers. Put another way, publishers of family-owned newspapers exert greater editorial control over the editorial process than at group-owned publishers. While publicly owned newspaper chains may be more focused on profitability than those that are family controlled, they are less likely to have an ideological agenda they want to promote.”

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