Commissioner Gloom-and-Doom and His Amazing Media Diversity Deception

by on May 16, 2005

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps never ceases to amaze me. Like a fire-and-brimstone preacher prophesizing the impending apocalypse, his speeches sometimes border on the neurotic rantings of madman.

In late 2003, for example, he delivered an entertaining sermon at the New America Foundation entitled: “The Beginning of the End of the Internet? Discrimination, Closed Networks, and the Future of Cyberspace.” In the speech, Copps lamented that the “Internet may be dying” and only immediate action by regulators can save the day. Copps laid on the sky-is-falling rhetoric fairly thick: “I think we are teetering on a precipice . . . we could be on the cusp of inflicting terrible damage on the Internet. If we embrace closed networks, if we turn a blind eye to discrimination, if we abandon the end-to-end principle and decide to empower only a few, we will have inflicted upon one of history’s most dynamic and potentially liberating technologies shackles that make a mockery of all the good things that might have been.”

Who knew the end was so near? Of course, it isn’t really. Copps and the “Net commons” crusaders have been preaching this gloom-and-doom gospel for some time now in an effort to impede governance solutions based on property rights in the communications and high-tech sectors and supplant them with collective governance structures.

Anyway, Copps was at it again this weekend as he fired up the doomsday rhetoric machine to crank out another Chicken Little speech, this time on media ownership. In the speech, Copps issued a “call to action” and asked the crowd to join his “all-American crusade to reclaim the people’s media for the people.” He goes on to make a string of the typical assertions about the supposed death of diversity in this country and the limited access that independent and minority voices have in today’s media marketplace.

Of course, no details or evidence are provided of this apparent death of diversity. And how could there be? We know that by every metric available, Americans of all races and creeds have more media outlets and options at their disposal today than at any point in history. Copps admits as much in his speech when he praises the media activists for the stink they raised about the FCC’s revised media ownership rules a few years ago. He noted:

“It took a lot of people to bring this issue to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness two years ago. It took people raising their voices in protest, in song, in books and pamphlets, on web sites and blogs, in whatever media and whatever forum they could manage to penetrate. Working hard and working together, you moved this issue outside the DC Beltway and onto the highways and byways leading into every city, town and hamlet across the heartland of our nation. What a difference you made!”

Hmmm… let me get this straight. You say, Mr. Copps, that media diversity is dead and independent voices have no outlet but then you tell us that media activists can claim an important victory in terms of bringing this issue to the nation’s attention “in protest, in song, in books and pamphlets, on web sites and blogs, [and] in [other] media.” Do you not see any contradiction here, sir? You can’t say one minute that independent voices have no media outlets at their disposal only to turn around the next and claim victories using myriad media platforms.

But let’s try to take this argument seriously for a moment. Let’s look at actual marketplace evidence of how media outlets serve diverse interests. I’m going to intentionally ignore the Internet for the moment and just focus on two old media outlets: cable TV and magazines.

Let’s start with cable TV. Here is a brief sketch of the stunning diversity of programming consumers have at their disposal. Seriously, can you find an interest that is NOT represented here?

News: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-Span, C-Span 2, C-Span 3, BBC America
Sports: ESPN, ESPN News, ESPN Classics, Fox Sports, TNT, NBA TV, NFL Network, Golf Channel, Tennis Channel, Speed Channel, Outdoor Life Network, Fuel
Weather: The Weather Channel, Weatherscan
Home Renovation: Home & Garden Television, The Learning Channel, DIY
Educational: The History Channel, The Biography Channel (A&E), The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet
Travel: The Travel Channel, National Geographic Channel
Financial: CNNfn, CNBC, Bloomberg Television
Shopping: The Shopping Channel, Home Shopping Network, QVC
Female-oriented: WE, Oxygen, Lifetime Television, Lifetime Real Women, Showtime Women
Male-oriented: Spike TV
Family / Children-oriented: Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, WAM (movie channel for 8-16-year-olds), Noggin (2-5 years)/The N Channel (9-14 years), PBS Kids, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movie Channel, Discovery Kids, Animal Planet, ABC Family, Boomerang, Familyland Television Network, HBO Family, Showtime Family Zone, Starz! Family, Toon Disney
African-American: BET, Black Starz! Black Family Channel
Foreign / Foreign Language: Telemundo (Spanish), Univision (Spanish), Deutsche Welle (German), BBC America (British), AIT: African Independent Television, TV Asia, ZEE-TV Asia (South Asia) ART: Arab Radio and Television, CCTV-4: China Central Television, The Filipino Channel (Philippines), Saigon Broadcasting Network (Vietnam), Channel One Russian Worldwide Network, The International Channel, HBO Latino, History Channel en Espanol
Religious: Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Church Channel (TBN), World Harvest Television, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), National Jewish Television, Worship Network
Music: MTV, MTV 2, MTV Jams, MTV Hits, VH1, VH1 Classic, VH1 Megahits, VH1 Soul, VH1 Country, Fuse, Country Music Television, Great American Country, Gospel Music Television Network
Movies: HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, Encore, The Movie Channel, Turner Classic Movies, AMC, IFC, Flix, Sundance, Bravo (Action, Westerns, Mystery, Love Stories, etc.)
Other or General Interest Programming: TBS, USA Network, TNT, FX, SciFi Channel

Now let’s turn to magazines. As a trip to most modern bookstores reveals, almost every hobby or interest under the sun has its own magazine, journal or newsletter these days. According to the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), there were 17,254 magazines produced in 2003, up from 14,302 in 1993. And new titles are launched every week. As the following list shows, there were 440 new magazine launches in 2003, up from 289 new launches in 2002, according to the MPA. From 1985 to 2000, an average of 690 new titles were released annually according to Albert Greco of Fordham University.

New Magazine Launches by Topic in 2003
Crafts / Games / Hobbies / Models (45)
Metro / Regional / State (45)
Sports (33)
Automotive (29)
Special Interest (23)
Home Service / Home (17)
Computers (10)
Women’s (10)
Men’s (10)
TV / Radio / Communications / Electronics (6)
Teen (6)
Art / Antiques (5)
Children’s (8)
Business / Finance (5)
Comics / Comic Technique (8)
Motorcycles (5)
Health (19)
Entertainment / Performing Arts (7)
Bridal (3)
Literary Reviews / Writing (7)
Aviation (2)
Music (15)
Photography (7)
Gaming (2)
Sex (13)
Pop Culture (7)
Gardening (2)
Ethnic (11)
Religious / Denominational (7)
Military / Naval (2)
Epicurean (11)
Dogs / Pets (6)
Science / Technology (2)
Fashion / Beauty / Grooming (11)
Dressmaking / Needlework (6)
Media Personalities (1)
Fitness (11)
Fishing / Hunting (6)
Mystery / Science Fiction (1)
Travel (11)
Political / Social Topics (6)
TOTAL: 440 new magazine launches in 2003

And then there’s the Internet, with a website or newsgroup for almost any topic or interest imaginable. Consider the meteoric rise of personal blogs, which are devoted to providing commentary on a wide variety of political and cultural issues. The “blogosphere” is opening up amazing opportunities to countless speakers and is revolutionizing journalism and public activism in important ways. (Amazingly, some media critics think the Internet makes no difference to the diversity equation at all or argue that the Net is just controlled by the same media outlets that they claim dominate all other media. I debunk that silly myth here.)

I could on, but you get the point. Next time Commissioner Copps starts ranting on about the supposed death of media diversity, I would hope one brave soul in the audience would be willing to push his apocalyptic rhetoric aside and just stand up and shout: “But what does the evidence say, Mr. Copps?” I doubt Mr. Fire-and-Brimstone will have much to say then.

But, in case you are still not convinced, let me just leave you with a few other fun facts that I list in my new book, Media Myths: Making Sense of the Debate over Media Ownership:

* According to Ben Bagdikian, there are 37,000 different media outlets in America. That number jumps to 54,000 if all weeklies, semiweeklies, advertising weeklies, and all periodicals are included, and to 178,000 if all “information industries” are included. And yet Bagdikian is a leading critic of media deregulation and the title of his most recent book is The New Media Monopoly! (see p. 29)

* The FCC notes that, “In 1979, the vast majority of households had six or fewer local television stations to choose from, three of which were typically affiliated with a broadcast network. Today the average U.S. household receives seven broadcast television networks and an average of 102 channels per home.”

* There are more than 308 satellite-delivered national non-broadcast television networks available for carriage over cable, DBS and other systems today. The FCC concludes, “We are moving to a system served by literally hundreds of networks serving all conceivable interests.”

* According to the latest “State of the News Media” report, in 1980, 75 percent of televisions in use during the dinner hour were tuned in to an evening news broadcast from one of “Big 3” networks. By 2003, however, the number was down to 40 percent thanks to competition from 24-hour news networks on cable and other news sources.

* In 1900, the average newspaper had only 8 pages. In the year 2000, by contrast, according to the Encarta encyclopedia, “Daily general-circulation newspapers average[d] about 65 pages during the week and more than 200 pages in the weekend edition.”

* The number of radio stations in America has roughly doubled since 1970. As of March 2004, there were 13,476 radio stations in America, up from 6,751 in January 1970.

* Satellite radio (XM & Sirius), an industry that did not even exist prior to December 2001, boasted over 4 million subscribers nationwide by the end of 2004.

* As of 2003, the World Wide Web contained about 170 terabytes of information on its surface; in volume this is 17 times the size of the Library of Congress print collections.

*, a website that monitors developments in the world of Internet blogging, estimates that it “tracks over nine million weblogs, up from 100,000 two years ago… A new weblog is created every 2.2 seconds, which means there are about 38,000 new weblogs a day. Bloggers… update their weblogs regularly; there are about 500,000 posts daily, or about 5.8 posts per second.”

* In early 2004, online search giant Google reported that its collection of 6 billion items includes “4.28 billion Web pages, 880 million images, 845 million Usenet messages, and a growing collection of book-related information pages.”

* The Internet Archive “Wayback Machine” offers 30 billion Web pages archived from 1996 to the present. It contains approximately 1 petabyte of data and is currently growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month. The site notes, “This eclipses the amount of text contained in the world’s largest libraries, including the Library of Congress. If you tried to place the entire contents of the archive onto floppy disks… and laid them end to end, it would stretch from New York, past Los Angeles, and halfway to Hawaii.”

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