It is commonly alleged that media concentration is on the rise. Ben Compaine, in the January issue of Reason magazine (not yet on-line), debunks this myth. In the mid 1980s, the top ten media companies accounted for 38 percent of total revenue. In the late 1990s the figure was higher, but only barely, up to 41 percent. More importantly, different companies shape our media experiences. Where was Comcast, now the largest cable company, twenty years ago? Bertelsmann, now a giant, was barely visible in American markets. Amazon.com and other Internet-related enterprises are new on the scene as well. If media companies are monopolies, their market power is extremely fragile.
Nor are smaller media outlets necessarily better than the larger conglomerates. The larger outlets are much more likely to win awards for their quality, nor are they obviously more biased. Clear Channel radio is now a poster boy for media critics, but its 1200 stations comprise only slightly more than ten percent of a total of 10,500 American stations. Note also that there were only 8000 radio stations in 1980. We now have satellite radio and Internet radio as well.
Compaine makes a nice point in closing:
It may indeed be that at any given moment 80 percent of the audience is viewing or reading or listening to something from the 10 largest media players. But that does not mean it is the same 80 percent all the time, or that it is cause for concern.
The bottom line: When it comes to media, we have more choice and more competition than ever before.