“Consultants, committees, and computers” determine what the public will hear on the radio waves, see on the television screens, or read in the online or offline news (Moyers, 2002, p. 6). On the surface a mix of expertise and technology looks progressive and practical with the capability to deliver every consumer’s desires. However, a deeper probe reveals that a corporate-driven quest for profits actually strips media markets of diversity. First, this paper suggests that the deregulation craze caused the two-decade decline in the number of media companies; and second, it argues that the negatives outweigh the positives in the music industry where four companies dominate leaving little room for competition.
Deregulation on Business Growth Hormone …
How in two decades did the fifty major media companies merge into five massive conglomerates and emerge with significant political clout (Moyers, 2002)? Critics believe that multiple mergers compounded by relaxed regulatory rules contributed to the fact that we now have only five major media companies: “Time Warner, Disney, NewsCorp, Viacom, and Bertelsmann” (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 109). Unfortunately, as these media entities grew they took on a more corporate mentality which meant the pursuit of profits overtook the desire to serve the public interests. Further, scholars and industry professionals posit that growth in communications technology linked with conservative politics led to deregulation of the media industry on business’s equivalent of human growth hormone (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a; Moyers, 2002). News Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer, Rupert Murdoch provided a classic example of this exponential growth when he boasted that his media network has the capacity to reach three quarters of the world’s population (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006b, p. 140).
Today, music consumers enjoy having more media outlets and product options than twenty or thirty years ago (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a). Lee (2003) pointed out that conglomerates like Clear Channel Communications grew from forty radio stations in 1996 to more than 1,200 by 2003. As of February 2009, Clear Channel Radio’s website prominently states that they syndicate “90 radio programs”, and service “more than 5,000 radio affiliations”, and thereby reach “over 190 million listeners weekly” (Clear Channel Radio, 2009). Clear Channel can now reach listeners from coast-to-coast with its menu of radio programs, similar to the way McDonald’s consumers expect to order the same food items from city to city (Moyers, 2003). Further, music consumers can pick up their favorite radio programs wherever they go via radio, internet, or they can download them to play later on an iPod or equivalent.
Listeners also benefit in this corporate-owned era from the “standards of professionalism and high production values” offered by large media conglomerates with easy access to investment capital (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 112). Now, consumers can access music via online streaming “in various formats” and listen to satellite radio that offers superior sound (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006a, p. 112). Therefore, music consumers who use iPods and handhelds enjoy the technological benefits of portability and higher quality.
First, large media companies actually cheat consumers of a local experience by substituting a real deejay with a station on autopilot mode. Many local deejays and other radio staff receive pink slips as national conglomerates cut operating costs by taking out the human element and adding voice tracking (Croteau & Hoynes, 2006c; Moyers, 2003). The voice tracking process entails recording an air personality’s voice, mixing it “with music, commercials and jingles”, and then broadcasting it on a regional or national basis (Moyers, 2003, p. 1). In the end, the consumers lose because they get “less music … less news … and less local flavor” (Moyers, 2003, p. 1).
Second, consumers and musicians suffer when art is lost and big profits are sought in a corporate arena (Lee, 2003). For example, media conglomerates enlist focus groups to test music for their formatted radio shows in the quest for “safe” music (Moyers, 2002, p. 6). Once the focus groups deem a song safe, the massive radio chains start playing them constantly across the nation. These stations play safe songs to keep an audience tuned-in hoping they will stay long enough to hear the commercials (Moyers, 2002). As a result, the stations end up playing homogenized tunes instead of providing communities with a local flavor (Moyers, 2002). Thus, while the corporate media entities play it safe, musicians lose the opportunity to exercise their creative, artistic abilities which in the end negatively affects consumers.
In sum, the general public lacks the media literacy skills to dig below the surface and recognize that their favorite radio stations are part of a colossal conglomerate. Consumers content with their media options and high quality service have no idea that radio chains play the same programs in Minnehaha, Minnesota as they hear at home in Kissimmee, Florida. Sadly, most consumers remain oblivious to the negative effects of a constant diet of homogenized material. In my opinion, the negatives clearly outweigh the positives. Therefore, journalists and communications professionals must work together to educate the public on the importance of media literacy and together fight to save our public interests.
Clear Channel Radio. (2009). Premiere radio networks. Retrieved February 14, 2009, from http://www.clearchannel.com/Radio/PressRelease.aspx?PressReleaseID=1599&p=hidden
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006a). The new media giants. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 75-115). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006b). Strategies of the new media giants. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 117-152). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2006c). How business strategy shapes media content. In The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest (pp. 155-189). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Lee, J. S. (2003, December 19). Musicians protesting monopoly in media. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20031219friday.html
Moyers, B. (2002, April 26). Virtual radio. In B. Breslauer (Producer), Now. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved February 15, 2009 from http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_clearc.html