Trends in global media concentration


Globalisation is often portrayed as a positive movement which brings diverse cultures and societies together, integrating them into a global village with evident benefits for all participants in the process. It is widely depicted as an inexorable result of human progress and social evolution governed by the laws of nature but in reality, globalisation is anything but a natural sequence of processes resulting from the cross penetration of different cultures and peoples of the world.

Globalisation is a defined outcome resulting from conscious human choices and the deliberate actions of some powerful nations, commercial business conglomerates and international organisations who are the active stakeholders in the process. Emergent developments in communications and information technologies have provided mobility channels for the major corporations to foray into foreign markets. The media industry is perhaps one that has experienced the extent and severity with which globalisation influences industry business models. The methodologies involved in the creation, organisation, management and distribution of media has evolved rapidly and increased in outreach. The world's markets are becoming more and more integrated and capitalist models are gaining dominance in the media markets. These trends exert pressure on the markets to make their nation's medias more commercially viable and in extension more dependent on advertising which sells audiences' attention as consumer assets.

Although a lot of nations produce their own television, film, music and print media content, they do so using American, British or Japanese models making these media products 'globalised'. Even if these national media products are seen to reflect the local culture, it is an outlet for global consumer product marketers to include these specific cultures into a global market. Roland Robertson (1995) describes such occurrences as 'glocal' - local productions done with global forms and ideas. Global companies also have a significant influence on the process with standards organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) allocating satellite orbits, determining broadcasting frequencies and defining standards for telephones, mobile phones, faxes, and internet connections. There are also a handful of telecommunication companies Cable & Wireless, who run much of the world's communications infrastructure of optical fibre cables, satellite, and high-speed lines (Jan, 2005).

Also, the increased penetration of media technology around the world is another major enabler to globalisation. Virtually all nations have a few inhabitants who have access to satellite television and internet connectivity. The difference is that while the world's most advanced and technologically developed countries use such media on a daily basis and are succumbing to the ubiquitous nature of these technological developments and their infiltration of everyday life, other people in emerging markets and underdeveloped nations are just seeing these for the first time and gradually getting to grips with the uses, effects and implications of such media technologies. This gives an opportunity for global conglomerates to expand and take advantage of the market gap to maximise profit and spread their global coverage and economic clout.

In the analysis of globalisation and the media, it is very difficult to separate both concepts and delineate the effects they have on each other. Most theorists argue that there is no globalisation without media while others agree that the operation of contemporary media is a key driver in world globalisation. According to Rantanen, the role of media and communication in globalisation is obvious yet barely visible making thereby establishing the connection is rather vague (2005:4). Most of these theories on globalisation can be categorised under one of the following: political, economic and cultural. However, focusing on one only of these categories would not present a holistic view of the concept of globalisation and how it operates. In 1990, Giddens provided a neutral definition of globalisation as 'the intensification of world-wide social relations, which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa' (ibid.: 64). He went further by describing three phases of the globalisation debate which embeds the categories mentioned earlier. The first phase is a debate on whether globalisation exists or not. The next phase is an examination of its consequences on whatever it influences and finally the third phase of his analysis is the examination of responses required to address the negative effects of globalisation (Rantanen, 2005). Another theory put forward by Thompson focuses on media and culture, defining globalisation as the 'growing interconnectedness of different parts of the world, a process which gives rise to complex forms of interaction and interdependency' (Thompson, 1995:149). An application of Thompson's definition of globalisation to study of the political economy of the media can be used to describe the transformation and political economy of control and ownerships of mass media structures in contemporary society.


Traditionally, national media systems consisted of domestically owned radio, television and newspaper industries which were internally regulated. However, from the mid 1980s onwards there have been several waves of mergers and acquisitions in the media markets accompanied by the emergence of giant multinational media companies. This trend is a relatively new phenomenon that became mainstream in the 1980s where apart from the imports of books, films, music and TV shows, the media systems existed in a defined national context. The three main factors argued to have contributed to this trend are: technological change, deregulation and liberalisation policies and the availability of capital (Albarran and Mierzejewska, 2004). Beginning in the 1980s, 'policy changes and economic pressures from the IMF, World Bank and U.S. government to deregulate and privatize media and communication systems coincided with new satellite and digital technologies, resulting in the rise of transnational media giants' (McChesney, 2003). The major media players see themselves as global entities regardless of where they originated from or where their current head offices are located. Management executives from some of the major firms have in the past made remarks which demonstrated their worldwide clout. Companies like Bertelsmann, a traditionally German enterprise and even AOL-Time Warner an American outfit have ceased to view or address themselves based on their countries of origin.

An ideal way to understanding how closely the global commercial media system is to consider the role and effect of advertising. The commercial media system is the necessary transmission belt for business to market their products and services across the world; therefore globalisation could cease to exist without advertising. 75% of global expenditure on advertising is made to only about 20 media companies (The Economist 11 March 2000). About five or six top ad agencies dominate the 350 Billion dollar industry. The consolidation of the global advertising industry is just and pronounced as that in global media and the two are related (ibid.:13).

Two strategies which exist as market drivers to global media corporations are growth and consolidation in order to resist competition buy-out and diversification in other non-mainstream media industries like retail shops amusement parks and property development. Companies that do not have the diversified outreach might not be able to remain economically viable in the renewed business landscape. The model allows diversified institutions to maximise profit channels so that a movie for example would be able to spawn a soundtrack, a book, and merchandise, and possibly spin-off TV shows, CD-ROMs, video games and amusement park rides. In 2003, Robert McChesney noted the top-five media conglomerates that have dominated the industry through this model. These companies that control worldwide media businesses annually worth between 10 and 25 billion dollars are News Corporation, Viacom, Disney, Time Warner and Bertelsmann. The four other companies that make up the top tier are TCI, a cable company with interest in worldwide media ventures; General Electric (GE), the Parent company of NBC; Sony, the Japanese manufacturer of electrical components who control Columbia and Tri-Star Pictures as well as Sony Music INC a world-leading record label; and finally Seagram who own Universal Studios and a music label.

The second tier global media conglomerates consists of less than 100 media companies that control media related business worth between 1 and 8 billion per year. These firms tend to have national or regional strongholds or to specialize in global niche markets like business or trade publishing. A vast majority of them come from North America, including the likes of Westinghouse (CBS), the New York Times Co., Hearst, Comcast and Gannett. Most of the rest come from Western Europe (Thomson Reuters, Pearson, Prisa, Mediaset and Reed Elseiver), East Asia and Latin America where the rest specialise in domestic productions nonetheless with financial outreach and abilities to conduct business on a global scale when necessary. Like some of the companies in the top-tier, these institutions are also results of mergers and acquisitions. In the UK for example, Fourth Estate which was an independent publishing firm was sold to HarperCollins in 2000 (Kirkpatrick, 2000), and the Bertelsmann the German TV giants have pioneered the domination of European terrestrial television market by three of the five firms which sit in the top tier (Reed,2000). Practically it can be seen that the major offerings of the world's 'film production, TV show production, cable channel ownership, cable and satellite system ownership, book publishing, magazine publishing and music production services are provided by these firms and the first nine in the top tier dominate many of these sectors' (McChesney, 2003). Although there appear as competitors for global audience, these companies sign joint venture between themselves where they segment ownership of specific areas of business with their competitors in return for mutual business favours. The implication of this is a significant decline in competition. All the nine top tier media conglomerates are locked in various joint ventures with roughly three or four of the other companies in their category. These trends create considerable doubts about the existence of true media pluralism and existence of healthy market competition.

Music companies are similarly structured except that they have a more diverse set of origins and an even more international ownership. The largest record labels are located in Great Britain (Thorn), Germany (Bertelsmann-BMG), Holland (Philips), and Japan (Sony). These companies have consolidated across borders. AOL Time Warner owns EMI (formerly of Great Britain), Philips now own Polygram (formerly of the United Kingdom), and Vivendi-Universal now owns both RCA (formerly of the United States) and MCA (formerly of Matsushita-Japan). Most of these companies also have large foreign branches that often produce and distribute records within other markets as well as distribute American and European music. As record companies have also been acquired by multinational companies, these firms have become more global and less national in characters. Still, there are some important distinctions in the ways that various media are organized around the world. Motion Picture Association of America which represents audio-visual media industries like the Hollywood films and TV studios can be said to have gone global in the scope of their commercial operations. They own and control many business concerns that either distribute their films or show their produced contents in cinemas and theatres all around America. From the analysis of the companies shown above, it can be seen that the major players in Hollywood have gone global and critics of globalisation have been watching closely to see if the films produced by Sony for example would have been influenced by the Japanese culture rather than the Americans.

In summary, it is safe to conclude that the media companies are increasing their size and reach by way of mergers and acquisitions as well as joint ventures reducing the number of media enterprises that own and control the majority of media services production and distribution. Consumers also have a part to play in the spread of global media activity due to a significant increase in time and money spent in media consumptions. Also, due to technological innovations and convergence, media conglomerates are able to diversify their media products and create an integrated media industry (Croteau and Hoynes, 2001). Most of these enterprises have extended operations beyond media businesses to other non-media services such as retail, leisure and entertainment.


As obtained in the United States, the European media was largely organised within national contexts and one of the primary reasons why this was so in Europe was the existence of language and cultural differences between countries, limiting the demand for cultural exports and this meant that advertising had to be adapted to suit national markets thereby raising overhead cost of advertising. The rise of the global media oligopolies has not been restricted to the American market; it has been exported and now adopted by the brokers in European media markets. A 2004 report by the European Union on media concentration noted that the domination by transnational global enterprises of specific markets has made it difficult to implement national media regulatory laws and ordinances which preserves competitive viability of the internal market. In Europe, the national media markets were dominated by public service broadcasters (PSBs) whose operations remained within their local countries. Each country had a vibrant market with sufficient opportunities for growth and expansion and tight government regulation meant there was only partial market liberalisation with heavy taxes and levies on media companies. Also high costs or and scarcity of media distribution channels or broadcasting frequencies also served as a filter to media concentration (Bruck et al for European Council, 2004).

All of these have changed significantly and European broadcasting markets have become more liberalised reducing the challenges associated with launching private television channels in certain countries. The economic cooperation between countries in the European Union has removed custom fees and excise taxes making it easier for broadcasters to operate in other countries subject to the regulations of the host nation state. There are renewed opportunities for an unrestricted flow of cultural and media products allowing corporations to expand their productions due to an increase in demand. A saturation of national media markets also has reduced the instances of growth mergers and expansion. Developments in the quality of localised media content such as TV shows, soaps and reality TV programmes has made European countries more receptive of media products. Advertisers have also increased their expenditure on transnational campaigns with the aim to reach a larger proportion of European citizenry and take advantage of the open European community market. In the area of technology, there has been a boost in broadcasting frequency availability due to the rise of digitisation. Developments in satellite, cable and terrestrial digital technology allow a larger number of channels to be transmitted simultaneously. Another improvement in media and communication technology means broadcasting companies are able to use the internet and broadband architecture (von Dohnanyi, 2003).

One major company that has been the foremost player in European media market is the Bertelsmann group which has interests in Television and publishing sectors and has spread its outreach into Eastern Europe. News International the parent company of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) also controls interests in America, Asia, the United Kingdom and more recently Italy. Another German conglomerate Springer has dealings in publishing and they are replicating this model as they expand across Eastern Europe. Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ), another German publishing enterprise has achieved a reasonable share in the Central and Easter European press market. Central EuropeanMediaEnterprises (CME), a Bermudan company are the owners of eight TV stations in five Central and Eastern European countries. All across Europe,'strategic allianceshave been made between giant media groups keen to exploit its newly liberalised commercial broadcasting markets. Thus, Berlusconi'sFininvest supported the Kirch/Springergroup in Germany and acquired stakes in French and Spanish private commercial broadcasting as well. Germany's public telecoms operator,Deutsche Telekom, took a stake in the highly successful LuxembourgAstrasatellite television company. The Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Television (CLT) acquired stakes in commercial broadcasting operations in Germany, France and the Benelux countries' (Humphreys, 1995).

In order to properly analyse the nature of multinational media concentration in Europe, it is ideal to consider each media industry on its own and the economic structure, political and social, cultural and linguistic set up of the particular country being examined as they differ from one European nation state to the other. Media consumption in Europe remains high and is increasing in all sectors of new media. According to the 2004 European council report titled: 'Transnational media concentrations in Europe' the daily statistics of media contact among citizens show that 97 % of Europeans watched television, 60 % listened to the radio and 46 % read a newspaper every day. The creation and availability of new media increases total media use, but television remains the medium that takes up most of the time. Europeans watch television between 2.5 and 4 hours a day, many use the Internet to a similar extent. However, a large part of the time is spent on content produced in one's own language and country.


There is a distinction between media ownership patterns in Western and Central/Eastern Europe. The predominance of foreign ownership in different media sector markets across Europe shows divergent patterns in Western Europe and in Eastern Europe, including the 10 new EU Member states. Sánchez-Tabernero and Carvajal (2002) show that different media delivery systems exhibit different patterns in foreign or transnational media ownership. In the European Union, new communication technology platforms show the highest rate of penetration of foreign capital or international multimedia companies and their joint ventures.

In cable delivery, the three major groups are NTL Inc., UPC/ UGC Europe, and Callahan Associates / Cable Partners, all with US ownership. Radio is still the mass medium with the least foreign or commercial ownership, i.e. the largest audience market share is obtained by public radio stations. Although the press sector in Western Europe still remains predominantly national, in Central and Eastern Europe it is largely dominated by foreign media owners. Companies from Western Europe (e.g. WAZ, Axel Springer, etc.) expanded their operations in the 1990's, mainly by investing in existing media companies, and then expanding the number and type of publications. In Croatia, WAZ invested in this way at the end of the 1990's in the Croatian media company, Europa Press Holding, publisher of the daily Jutarnji list (around 30% daily newspaper audiences) and Globus, the leader on the market of political weeklies. In the weekly magazine press, EPH holds some 50 per cent of the audience market. The first-ranked by circulation among the daily papers, Vec(ernji list, was acquired by Austrian Styria, with the result that around 70% of the daily newspaper market goes to the media products owned by foreign companies. In Hungary, in 2001, 83% of the daily newspaper marked was owned by foreign investors. The Estonian daily newspaper market is wholly dominated by foreign companies with 54% owned by the Norwegian company Schibsted ASA and the remaining 46% by the Swedish Bonnier Group (von Dohnanyi, 2003).

In commercial radio and television broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe, it is American, and not European (in the publishing sector it is mainly German, Austrian, and Scandinavian companies) capital that predominates. Companies that have spread furthest in this part of Europe are Central European Media Enterprises (CME), Scandinavian Broadcasting Corporation, and News Corp, owned by Rupert Murdoch, with a smaller number of stations (but public plans for expanding). The largest West European commercial broadcasting company - RTL (89% owned by the global media company Bertelsmann, and 7 % by WAZ), has recently expanded in Central Europe (in partnership with Croatian companies, it was awarded the second Croatian national commercial television concession in 2003).

Commercial offerings which are part of transnational media groups have nevertheless significant audiences in many European countries. The RTL Group, owned by Bertelsmann, has profitable television stations in ten European countries with audiences reaching 23-35 % in the four top countries. The Swedish MTG runs television stations in seven countries with national audience shares up to 23 %. CME is present in four countries with large audiences (from 20 to 48 %), SBS is active in four countries with audience shares of between 6 and 13 %, and News Corp. International is present in four countries, with the largest audiences in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. Programmes from neighbouring countries also have significant audiences in spill-over areas.

In the newspaper sector, national publishers are dominant in most Western European countries (apart from Denmark, the United Kingdom and the French-speaking part of Belgium). In Eastern Europe, the situation is the opposite because almost all daily press markets are dominated by companies with foreign ownership.


Concentration of ownership is a general economic trend which is also found in the media sector. Media firms move into other countries when their home market is saturated, to attain critical mass, to pool resources and to share risks. In several cases firms have turned to other countries because the competition authorities refused to let them go ahead with a national merger for fear that it would create a dominant position or a monopoly. Transnational media concentration is established when someone has obtained a substantial ownership position within the media sector in more than one country. This form of Media concentration can be structured into three main categories, when analysing traditional media ownership patterns:

  • Ownership of media companies in many countries (broadcasters, newspapers etc). The ownership can be obtained by acquisitions, establishment of new companies or by being granted broadcasting licences or by internal growth.
  • Overspill of broadcasting from broadcasters operating in one country into neighbouring countries. It is not technologically possible to stop broadcasting signals at national borders. A certain level of overspill is therefore unavoidable. In many cases such broadcasting signals are retransmitted to make them accessible to a wider audience than those who are covered by the natural overspill.
  • Pan-European broadcasting (mainly television).Broadcasting directed towards all or most European countries. Such broadcasting can have many language versions.

Another form of media concentration is that which takes place when a company acquires all or part of a national media enterprise. It is worth noting that even a minority share can give control of the firm, for example when the other partner is a financial concern or a providence fund, which is often the case in Europe. When broadcasters in different countries acquire the rights to the same films, series and documentaries, the result is a form of "upstream" media concentration. Acquiring the rights to make or broadcast certain types of programme, such as "Big Brother", for example, falls into this category, as do licences to publish free daily newspapers which have managed to make their mark on the market e.g. Metro.


Measures taken by large firms can undermine their rivals' activities and even force them out of business, in various ways, especially much smaller firms. The danger is all the greater when the firm has a strong transnational activity. It can deny access to platforms or offer unfavourable rates or slots to its competitors. The acquisition of exclusive broadcasting rights for several countries can impede broadcasters in the countries concerned by depriving them of attractive content that might otherwise boost their ratings on their home market.

Their status prevents public service broadcasters from expanding their activities abroad, placing them at the mercy of major foreign broadcasters active in several countries. Where foreign broadcasters acquire exclusive broadcasting or advertising rights for several countries, national authorities are not always able to defend the interests of their public service broadcasters, making it more difficult for them to fulfil their public service mission. It should not be forgotten that public broadcasters in small countries have to face competition from major foreign channels with budgets ten times larger than theirs.

The shift towards a liberal economy has deeply affected the media in certain countries in central and Eastern Europe. American and European groups have swiftly taken over from the state-run media, launching western-style publications and television channels. These firms are now so well established that the new businessmen in these countries who have been prepared for the free market economy are finding it difficult to carve out a place for themselves on their own markets. Transnational media concentration mainly involves large groups competing fiercely for their share of markets where business potential still exists. This has resulted in increased commercialisation of programme content in order to win the confidence of advertisers, their sole source of income. They have to have good ratings, so they show programmes that appeal to the largest possible audience, sometimes pandering to poor taste, which is perhaps not what one expects of a broadcaster of such size and calibre. However, in addition to the major commercial channels, a large number of theme channels exist today which make a valuable contribution to opinion forming and culture in general. The main drawback is that, for technical reasons, these channels are not yet available. With the development of digital broadcasting, audiences thirsting for politics and culture will have a wider choice alongside the purely commercial programmes.


Media concentration enables a firm to win power at the European level as a result of its power to negotiate broadcasting and advertising rights, but without becoming dominant in its market. Furthermore, legislation governing competition does not condemn power as such but only its abuse. The authorities are often powerless against dominant positions that are the result of internal growth in dynamic businesses or when firms are left in a dominant position because their competitors go out of business. When measuring media concentration at the European level, it can be observed that monopoly situations arise more frequently in smaller countries, at least regarding national television. This is because on such small markets there is often not enough room for two operators large enough to be commercially viable because of insufficient advertising resources.

Economic competition is waged between firms which are economically and legally independent of one another. Journalistic competition can occur not only between different firms but also between independent editorial teams within the same group, provided that they have been granted editorial status. The competition authorities are interested only in economic competition, whereas journalistic competition is very important in assessing media pluralism.

The Council of Europe has taken proactive actions by passing legislations which monitor and regulate media concentrations. They seek to prevent the negative impacts that this activity may have on freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity. European Countries have been advised to support the Public Service Broadcasters to retain the diversity of content production on new technological platforms. The preservation of freedom of expression and information and pluralism of opinions should become obligatory objectives when granting operational licences to media corporations. There should be a clear distinction between political authorities and the media so as to ensure that all decisions taken by public authorities regarding the media are transparent. It can be concluded that dominance of American Style media conglomerates have been dampened across Europe. This is a form of resistance to globalisation and the attempt by European countries to safeguard the plurality of their national medias and retain competition in the local industry.


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