When you turn on the TV, stream a movie or listen to the radio, it’s likely that you’re consuming content from one of six companies. The companies behind these media giants—Comcast, Disney and Time Warner among them—have a lot to say about what you see, read and hear. But their control is often invisible: They don’t have logos on the screen or ads in the show notes. Here’s how they exert their power over everything from sports broadcasting rights to your favorite sitcoms and beyond.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute—Comcast owns NBC? I don’t remember that.” That’s because it was only announced in January of last year.
Comcast has a 22% stake in National Amusements (NAI), which is the parent company of Viacom and CBS. The two companies merged as part of this deal, forming “ViacomCBS” after the merger was approved by federal regulators.
So now you have a bit more context for why Comcast wants to buy 21st Century Fox so badly: if they can get the deal done, they’ll get all those Fox assets—including Fox News Channel and Fox Sports 1—for free!
Disney has a lot of power. It owns the ABC television network and its affiliates, as well as ESPN and other cable channels. It also operates Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, which produce films under their respective banners. In addition to these more traditional media properties, Disney has a wealth of subsidiaries that are involved in many different aspects of entertainment production—including animation, interactive media development and game publishing for consoles like Xbox One and Playstation 4; theme parks around the world; cruise ships; toy manufacturing; music labels; retail stores; movies made for streaming services like Netflix (and even those on YouTube); live stage productions across different continents; video games produced by Blizzard Entertainment Inc., Rockstar Games Inc., TT Games Ltd., Avalanche Software Inc..
News Corp is a global media company with businesses in digital education, news and information services, book publishing, newspapers and information services. The company was founded in 1979 by Rupert Murdoch.
Fox Entertainment Group is a subsidiary of News Corp which operates the entertainment channel FOX that broadcasts TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “Empire”. It also owns several other channels such as FX, National Geographic and AMC Networks (AMC).
Time Warner is a media conglomerate. They own HBO and CNN, as well as Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics and many other properties. Time Warner also has lots of cable TV channels like Cartoon Network and TNT; magazines like Time; newspapers including the New York Post; websites such as TMZ.com; games (the company was once part of Atari); and lots more.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls the rights to Michael Jackson’s music catalogue. His estate owns the master recordings, while Sony/ATV has the publishing rights of his songs.
Though not as profitable as it used to be due to disputes between his estate and heirs, Michael Jackson still rakes in millions from his music every year.
Sony/ATV is one of four major independent music publishers that control over 70% of the world’s greatest hits catalogues, including top-selling songs by The Beatles, Taylor Swift and Tupac Shakur.
National Amusements is owned by Sumner Redstone, who at 95 years old, is the oldest billionaire in the world. He controls 100% of the voting shares of Viacom and 97% of CBS.
The company also controls Paramount Pictures, which it acquired when it purchased a 50% stake in 2006 and full ownership two years later. It has since been reported that Redstone was looking to sell off most of his stake in Paramount as part of a deal where he would gain control over Viacom again under Shari Redstone’s control.
The media landscape is changing. It’s not just about the content we watch and listen to; it’s about who controls it all. Media companies like Comcast, Fox and Disney are becoming more powerful than ever before, but there are also new ways for independent creators to reach audiences through platforms like YouTube or Facebook. At the end of the day, it’s up to us as viewers to decide what kind of world we want our children (and ourselves) growing up in!