The five most influential and powerful media corporations in the US are made up of some of the biggest and oldest companies in radio and television broadcasting. These five companies alone account for about 80 percent of all American media and have an enormous influence on what we see and hear, not just in the US, but globally.
Several new corporations have joined familiar household names in the last few decades to emerge as the top five media moguls of America. Incredibly, these companies are run by only about 200 executives, which means that a few individuals have an enormous effect on the lives of millions of Americans and people around the world.
With great power comes great scrutiny as these companies tend to generate a good deal of controversy with their ability to influence people’s lives through media. It is questionable if their news networks are fair and balanced or working on behalf of the parent corporation’s interests. The apparent monopoly that these five companies have on daily information and news is likely to only increase over time, as they either buy each other out or grow independently.
While the idea that billions of people rely on only a select few companies for media and news is alarming, it should come as no surprise in a world that is becoming more and more globalized while mergers keep shrinking the number of companies that reach people through radio and television. Here are the top five US media corporations that dominate their industry.
5 5: CBS
The CBS Corporation began in 1928 under the name the Columbia Broadcasting Corporation, a conglomerate of 16 radio stations owned by William S. Paley. Since then its ownership has changed hands several times, most recently splitting itself off from Viacom in 2005 to re-establish itself as the CBS Corporation.
CBS remains one of the three biggest television companies in the US and still has a radio broadcasting arm of its corporation. It is sometimes referred to as the “eye corporation” due to the shape of its logo that looks like a wide-open eye. CBS is home to many popular shows such as CBS News, 60 Minutes, and Face the Nation. The 60 Minutes program has drawn a great deal of controversy in the past.
In one famous instance in 1995, CBS refused to air a 60 Minutes interview with a former head of research at Brown and Williamson, a large tobacco company, because it did not want to rock the boat with such a large and powerful corporation. This event was the basis for the 2001 film The Insider, and started a conversation about corporation’s duty to respect free journalism.
In 2004, when Janet Jackson bared her breast at the Super Bowl, CBS was fined a record $550,000 for the “indecent” act, though the fine was later annulled as being arbitrary and unfair. Finally, in 2007, 60 Minutes was accused of fabricating documents that questioned George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard in the 1960’s. It turned out some of the documents were fake, and CBS admitted to not validating the documents before airing them. Although it is a very powerful and influential news corporation, it has created a lot of controversy in the past and is accused of being left-leaning in its reporting.
4 4: Viacom
Created in 2005 as a spin-off of CBS Corporation, Viacom is owned by National Amusements Inc., of which Sumner Redstone has a controlling stake. Possessing the MTV network, BET network, and Paramount Pictures, Viacom is the fourth-largest media company in America.
Viacom made waves in 2007 when it announced a billion dollar lawsuit against YouTube for allegedly showing clips from its programs that were viewed over 1.5 billion times. The motion was at first rejected. but won on appeal. The move was controversial because it required YouTube to submit all of its data to Viacom, though they anonymized the user data before submitting it.
Viacom is a media corporation still in its infancy, being only nine years old, but already it has made a name for itself as a globally recognized media company with ambitious plans on the horizon.
3 3: Disney
The Disney Corporation was founded in 1923 by Walt Disney and is one of the most recognized and popular television and film companies in the world today. While better known for its cartoons, feature films, and amusement parks, Disney is gaining a lot of recognition in the media world as well. Disney owns the ABC media conglomerate as well as ESPN and receives about 20 percent of its revenue from its media networks.
Though less influential in the media world than Time Warner, Disney controls over ten television stations and through ABC airs such popular media shows as ABC News, Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel, Nightline, and Good Morning America.
Disney has resisted being bought at several times and has been rapidly expanding in the last few years. It is very likely that Disney will not only continue to grow, but may eventually become the leader in world media. One day, if Disney continues to grow as rapidly as it has been, a company that began creating cartoons shorts could affect nearly all of what we see and hear through television media.
2 2: News Corp
The News Corporation is the world’s second-largest media company by revenue, and has holdings from Australia to the UK to the US. Its founder, Rupert Murdoch, is one of the richest men in the world who has also faced a great deal of scrutiny over some of his business practices.
News-Corp controls the biggest newspapers in Europe, The Sun and The Times, as well as the biggest newspaper in Australia, The Australian, and the US financial news giant The Wall Street Journal. It also owns the highly controversial Fox News Corporation, which is routinely accused by many of concocting exaggerated and misleading news stories to match its conservative agenda. Still, there are plenty of people who tune in to watch Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Sarah Palin.
One of the most alarming facts about News Corp is that, although they are headquartered in the USA, they avoid paying nearly a billion dollars in taxes each year because of their offshore holdings. One of the most infamous news stories in recent history, about a former subsidiary of News Corp called News of the World, showed that a UK investigation into allegations of phone hacking at the subsidiary had turned up proof that staff had deleted a kidnapped teen’s voicemail as well as hacked the phones of servicemen killed in action to get juicy news tidbits for their paper.
They were shut down for this in 2011 and Rupert Murdoch had to testify in front of the British Government that he had no knowledge of these events. The editor of the News of the World is still in prison due to this scandal. While News Corp has great influence on the world stage and is one of the most trusted and popular media companies, it still has a tarnished record due to scandals and allegations of being too conservative leaning in its news reporting.
1 1: Time Warner
The Time Warner Corporation is based out of New York City and owns many subsidiary television networks such as CNN, TBS and TNT as well as several influential magazines such as Time, Fortune, and People magazine.
Time Warner began as two separate companies, Warner Communications and Time Inc. which joined together in 1985 to form the present company. Time Warner is a very powerful force in the television and media industries, although large rival companies are gaining traction and there is a reduced demand for its paper-based magazines as more people switch to the Internet for their information needs.
Though Time Warner Cable is no longer a part of the parent company, Time Warner still controls one of the most watched News channels in the world, one whose coverage reaches over 200 countries: CNN. This news company has been accused of increasingly focusing on improving its ratings at the expense of quality reporting, as shown by its narrow focus on big stories such as the recent missing Malaysian airplane. Still, CNN remains one of the most widely available news channels in the world and has some of the most well known news anchors, such as Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper.