Part - 4
This second tier has also crystallized rather quickly; across the globe there has been a shakeout in national and regional media markets, with small firms getting eaten by medium firms and medium firms being swallowed by big firms. Compared with ten or twenty years ago, a much smaller number of much larger firms now dominate the media at a national and regional level. In Britain, for example, one of the few remaining independent book publishers, Fourth Estate, was sold to Murdoch’s HarperCollins in 2000. A wave of mergers has left German television—the second largest TV market in the world—the private realm of Bertelsmann and Kirch. Indeed, several mergers have left all of European terrestrial television dominated by five firms, three of which rank in the global first tier. The situation may be most stark in New Zealand, where the newspaper industry is largely the province of the Australian-American Rupert Murdoch and the Irishman Tony O’Reilly, who also dominates New Zealand’s commercial radio broadcasting and has major stakes in magazine publishing. Murdoch also controls pay television. In short, the rulers of New Zealand’s media system could squeeze into a closet.
Second-tier corporations, like those in the first-tier, need to reach beyond national borders. “The borders are gone. We have to grow,” the Chairman of CanWest Global Communication stated in 2000. “We don’t intend to be one of the corpses lying beside the information highway.…We have to be Columbia or Warner Brothers one day.” The CEO of Bonnier, Sweden’s largest media conglomerate says that to survive, “we want to be the leading media company in Northern Europe.” Australian media moguls, following the path blazed by Murdoch, have the mantra “Expand or die.” As one puts it, “You really can’t continue to grow as an Australian supplier in Australia.” Mediaset, the Berlusconi-owned Italian TV power, is angling to expand into the rest of Europe and Latin America. Perhaps the most striking example of second-tier globalization is Hicks, Muse, Tate and Furst, the U.S. radio/publishing/TV/billboard/movie theater power that has been constructed almost overnight. Between 1998 and 2000 it spent well over $2 billion purchasing media assets in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
Second-tier media firms are hardly “oppositional” to the global system. This is true as well in developing countries. Mexico’s Televisa, Brazil’s Globo, Argentina’s Clarin, and Venezuela’s Cisneros Group, for example, are among the world’s sixty or seventy largest media corporations. These firms tend to dominate their own national and regional media markets, which have been experiencing rapid consolidation as well. They generate much of their revenue from multinational corporate advertising. Moreover, they have extensive ties and joint ventures with the largest media multinationals, as well as with Wall Street investment banks. In Latin America, for example, the second-tier firms work closely with the U.S. giants, who are carving up the commercial media pie among themselves. What Televisia or Globo can offer News Corporation, for example, is local domination of the politicians and the impression of local control over their joint ventures. And like second-tier media firms elsewhere, they are also establishing global operations, especially in nations that speak the same language. As a result, the second-tier media firms in the developing nations tend to have distinctly pro-business political agendas and to support expansion of the global media market, which puts them at odds with large segments of the population in their home countries.
Together, the seventy or eighty first- and second-tier giants control much of the world’s media: book, magazine, and newspaper publishing; music recording; TV production; TV stations and cable channels; satellite TV systems; film production; and motion picture theaters. But the system is still very much evolving. The end result of all this activity by second-tier media firms may well be the eventual creation of one or two more giants, and it almost certainly means the number of viable media players in the system will continue to plummet. Some new second-tier firms are emerging, especially in lucrative Asian markets, and there will probably be further upheaval among the ranks of the first-tier media giants. And corporations get no guarantee of success merely by going global. The point is that they have no choice in the matter. Some, perhaps many, will falter as they accrue too much debt or as they enter unprofitable ventures or as they face intensified competition. But the chances are that we are closer to the end of the process of establishing a stable global media market than to the beginning. And as it takes shape, there is a distinct likelihood that the leading media firms in the world will find themselves in a very profitable position. That is what they are racing to secure.
The global media system is only partially competitive in any meaningful economic sense of the term. Many of the largest media firms have some of the same major shareholders, own pieces of one another or have interlocking boards of directors. When Variety compiled its list of the fifty largest global media firms for 1997, it observed that “merger mania” and cross-ownership had “resulted in a complex web of interrelationships” that will “make you dizzy.” The global market strongly encourages corporations to establish equity joint ventures in which two or more media giants share ownership of an enterprise. This way, firms reduce competition and risk and increase the chance of profitability. As the CEO of Sogecable, Spain’s largest media firm and one of the twelve largest private media companies in Europe, expressed it to Variety, the strategy is “not to compete with international companies but to join them.” In some respects, the global media market more closely resembles a cartel than it does the competitive marketplace found in economics textbooks.
This point cannot be overemphasized. In competitive markets, in theory, numerous producers work their tails off largely oblivious to each other as they sell what they produce at the market price, over which they have no control. At a certain level, it is true these firms compete vigorously in an oligopolistic manner. But they all struggle to minimize the effects of competition. Today’s media firms are what Joseph Schumpeter called “corespective” competitors typical of situations with high levels of monopolization rather than classical competitors in an anonymous dog-eat-dog world as assumed in much of economic theory. The leading CEOs are all on a first name basis and they regularly converse. Even those on unfriendly terms, like Murdoch and AOL-Time Warner’s Ted Turner, understand they have to work together for the “greater good.” “Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and treat your enemy as your friend,” the former president of Universal, Frank Biondi, concedes. As the head of Venezuela’s huge Cisneros group, which is locked in combat over Latin American satellite TV with News Corporation, explains about Murdoch, “We’re friends. We’re always talking.” Moreover, all the first and second tier media firms are connected through their reliance upon a few investment banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs that quarterback most of the huge media mergers. Those two banks alone put together fifty-two media and telecom deals valued at $450 billion in the first quarter of 2000, and 138 deals worth $433 billion in all of 1999.
This conscious coordination does not simply affect economic behavior; it makes the media giants particularly effective political lobbyists at the national, regional, and global levels. The global media system is not the result of “free markets” or natural law; it is the consequence of a number of important state policies that have been made that created the system. The media giants have had a heavy hand in drafting these laws and regulations, and the public tends to have little or no input. In the United States, the corporate media lobbies are notorious for their ability to get their way with politicians, especially if their adversary is not another powerful corporate sector, but that amorphous entity called the “public interest.” In 2000, for example, the corporate media giants led the lobbying effort to open up trade with China, and fought against those who raised concerns about free speech and free press. Everywhere in the world it is the same, and the corporate media have the additional advantage of controlling the very news media that would be the place citizens would expect to find criticism and discussion of media policy in a free society. The track record is that the corporate media use their domination of the news media in a self-serving way, hence cementing their political leverage.