In today’s world, there are so many deals and bundles and acquisitions to watch for. For example, I have the Spotify student bundle, so for $5 a month I get access to Spotify premium, Hulu, and SHOWTIME. I also have my phone plan with Verizon, so I got a free Disney+ subscription for an entire year. The media at large, everything from newspapers you read to the apps on your phone, are part of a big web of deals and partnerships and mergers.
Crash Course names six large corporations that own the majority of all media: Disney, Comcast Corporation, News Corp, Hearst, Viacom, and CBS. This number is down to five, as Disney bought News Corp in the year after the video was uploaded. These companies own about every single media you consume, from ABC, ESPN, NBC, Hulu, Fox, and Comedy Central, all the way to Wallstreet Journal, the New York Post, HarperCollins, Esquire, and Cosmopolitan.
Media monopolies like those listed above started way back in 1877 when Alexander Graham Bell and his father in law started the Bell Telephone Company. Over time, the company became the dominant telephone provider and was the first to build a nationwide long-distance telephone network. That’s when they renamed themselves the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. For almost 100 years, AT&T owned every part of the telephone system – from the wires and lines to the actual phones. In the early 1900’s AT&T established themselves as a walled garden. That meant it was a closed system that was not interoperable with other systems or companies. In fact, they refused to let rival companies work with them – they’d just buy them out instead.
During his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt established the Federal Communications Commission, who had the authority to examine AT&T and whether the company’s control over every part of the phone system was in violation of the law. However, the FCC approved of AT&T’s business, enabling their monopoly. This is when the anti-trust lawsuits started. Anti-trust laws are what exist to try and prevent monopolies – when a single company dominates an entire market or industry. Monopolies are bad in a lot of ways because a company with a monopoly can overcharge customers or under deliver services because there’s simply no competition.
The AT&T monopoly finally broke up in 1984, enabling inventions like answering machines, three-way phone calls, and caller ID. However, another problem pops up as the internet grows in popularity: net neutrality. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all internet communications equally and not discriminate or charge differently based on the user, content, website, platform, etc. Without net neutrality, ISPs have the power to cut off or speed up certain content – like, say, their business partners or their sister companies. In some countries without net neutrality, ISPs have already created walled gardens like this. You pay a base fee for internet service and then pay additional fees for a “Social media” package to access your apps or a “news package” to get your news.
Understanding all of these elements that form the history of media ownership is important when it comes to fighting against a similar problem: tech companies. Even though organizations such as Google and Facebook are media companies, they refer to themselves as tech companies because currently, tech companies aren’t regulated the same way that media companies are. While the FCC still exists to control media companies, it doesn’t have the same authority over companies like Facebook or Google – which means there is tons and tons of debate over whether they should.
To be a media literate citizen, it’s crucial to keep an eye on how these businesses combine, split up, and interact. Their relationships with each other affect our relationships with media. Do you think a Facebook or Google monopoly will affect our experiences with technology in the future? Should the FCC be expanded to include tech companies or should a new commission be created? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next week,