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We’ve talked about how broad a concept “the media” really is – and given that, it can be hard to keep track of all the different forces that constitute “the media.” It can be tough, but it’s not impossible. Today we’re talking about how all those big players fit together and why all those mergers and acquisitions matter to being a media literate citizen.



AT&T BREAKUP II : Highlights in the History of a Telecommunications Giant


The Federal Communications Commission and the Bell System: Abdication of Regulatory Responsibility

The Knight Foundation: How Youth Navigate the News Landscape

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

Facebook and Twitter are being used to manipulate public opinion


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CC Kids:

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Hey check it out I just got this new phone!

Well, kind of. I'm renting it for a couple of bucks a month.

But really that's part of a bundle, you know, I got my cell phone, my internet, my cable: all one bill, which is pretty convenient. The phone is made by another company, of course, but they have this exclusive deal with the bundle people and the bundle people have a deal with the streaming service people so now I can stream movies all the time. And the streaming service I use has a deal with my favorite tv channel so I can watch all my shows.

And the tv people just bought my favorite comic book franchise so soon I'll be swimming in new superhero movies. And the comic book people will be raking in the cash. Kind of complicated no?

So many deals and bundles and acquisitions to watch for. It makes you wonder: Who runs all this stuff? Who owns the media?

Sure maybe you been keeping track of who owns your favorite media franchises, like Starwars - that's Disney- or Marvel - also Disney - or Harry Potter - Warner Brothers but also NBC. That way you can judge who's gonna do a great job with your favorite story lines or totally ruin them with the worst casting ever. Oh my god why?

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 - a very tangled, kind of incestuous web. Sometimes these complex relationships work out well for the consumer, but sometimes this tangled web traps the consumer like a juicy little fly just waiting to be eaten by the big bad spider. That's why today we're talking all about media ownership.

We're going to figure out how ownership impacts your everyday lives and we're gonna talk about the history of media ownership. And - no that's it for today. But that's plenty.

Ready for your head to spin a bit? So who really owns the media? If you look at things from the end of 2017 the media ownership landscape looks like this.

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While Disney company owns ABC and the Disney Channel, of course, plus ESPN, Miramax and Pixar, Marvel Entertainment and Publishing, Buena Vista Records and over 270 radio stations plus their theme parks and tons of other related companies, Comcast Corporation owns NBC Universal, that means CNBC, MSNBC too, plus channels like Telemundo, USA Network, Bravo and more plus Hulu and the Universal Studio's theme parks.

They even own the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers. News Corp. owns Fox, including Fox News and FX.

They also own the Wallstreet Journal, the Daily News and the New York Post, Harper Collins and 20th Century Fox. Hearst Corporation own 20 U.S. magazines, like Cosmopolitan and Esquire plus 31 television stations.

Viacom owns MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET among its 160 cable channels plus Paramount Pictures. CBS Corporation owns all the CBS-named things, 29 tv channels and 130 radio stations plus three book publishers. And this is all just the tip of the iceberg!

I guarantee that this ownership web is already obsolete, as new deals have gone through. In fact, as we were shooting this episode Comcast, Disney and Fox had all been discussing a possible merger. But don't worry, we prepared for that: There was a big merger.

There wasn't a big merger. There was something like a merger but it was more complicated than we predicted. But all of this talk of mergers and ownership begs the question: Who cares?

You do! Or rather: You will after you hear the story of AT&T. The year is 1877 and Alexander Graham Bell and his father in law start the Bell Telephone Company.

Over time Bell becomes the dominant telephone provider and is the first to build a nationwide long-distance telephone network. That's when they're renamed the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. For almost a hundred years AT&T owns every part of the telephone system: from the wires and lines to the actual phones.

Yes, literally. Until the mid-1980s if you had an AT&T phone you had to rent it from the company.

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Kinda like you rent a modem for your internet now.

In the early 1900s 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 just buy them out instead. In 1915, for instance, they bought Western Electric, one of the providers of their phone equipment.

Once they owned them, they made it so that only official Western Electric equipment could connect to the AT&T network. Jump ahead to 1934: President Franklin D. Roosevelt established his the Federeral Communications Commission.

The FCC is meant to implement a national radio and wire service in the U. S. but the FCC also has the authority to examine AT&T's business. The question was whether AT&T's control over every part of the phone system or vertical integration was in violation of the law.

But the FCC approves of AT&T's business and the company is free to dominate the market for decades becoming bigger and bigger. Eventually though, AT&T becomes too big, like way too big, and the anti-trust lawsuit starts. 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: A company with a monopoly can overcharge customers or underdeliver services because there's simply no competition. Preventing monopolies or, if you have to, breaking them up protects consumers and encourages competition. And by the 1980s, more than a century after the founding of the Bell company, those anti-momopoly efforts finally started to make a difference.

In 1982 AT&T starts letting people buy their own phones, a good first step. But in 1984, the momopoly really breaks up, and the company seperates into 7 different, smaller companies. At the time some people thought the breakup of the AT&T monopoly was bad, it seemed so convenient to get all your phone maintenance in one place.

When it did break up though, we got cool new inventions, like answering machines, three-way calling and caller ID. All thanks to an outbreak of competition. Trust me, those things were really cool back then.

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Today companies try to dominate markets through new versions of vertical integration.

Think, do you have one of those bundles? You might get your tv service, internet and cell phone service from the same company.

These companies own the world's fibre optic cables where the internet flows. In fact through the last hundred years of anti-trust media has largely been about phones, these days it has way more to do with the internet. But that's where it gets a bit dicey.

Let's head into the thought bubble. In a world with net neutrality, a corporate stronghold on the internet isn't too bad. You pay for internet access and you use it pretty much however you want.

The net is neutraly accessible from different internet service providers or ISPs. If your ISP stinks or is too slow you can often pay for a different service if there are options in your area. But the ISPs believe that since they're delivering you a service, they should determine how it's delivered.

They like to create tiered services where if you pay more you get faster internet. Basically they wanna use their vertical integration to create more monopolies. Imagine the internet is a road and the content you want is a car.

ISPs would like to create a slow lane and a fast lane, or maybe a slow, medium and fast lane. Depending on what you want or can afford, you'd pay for that speed. If ISPs could decide to create a slow lane and a fast lane, you can see how they could abuse that power pretty quickly.

We wouldn't get a fast lane and a faster lane, we'd get a so slow you want to smash your computer on the ground lane and a probably the speeds you have now but twice as expensive lane. As we know, internet access is crucial to thriving in the digital age and hiking up prices would box some people out entirely. Or, to put it more graphically, some people would be in the life boats and some people would be Jack and Rose, floating on a door in the middle of the ocean until Jack freezes to death even though he totally could have fit on the door!

Thanks thought bubble, I guess. There are more consequences to net neutrality than consumer prices. Without net neutrality ISPs have the power to cut off or speed up certain content, like say their business partner's or their sister company's.

Certain cars wouldn't even be allowed in the slow lane, you'd have to pay extra.

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