Do Six Corporations Control 90% of the Media?

mediaCourtesy of The Other 98%, with over 33,000 likes and 13,000 shares.  This is a popular meme repeated over the last several years.  Depending on the meme, it’s six corporations, or sometimes only five that supposedly control 90% of our media content.  This is claim is generally used to create a feeling of paranoia, which gets exploited politically for calls to further regulate media companies.  However, when this claim is analyzed, it’s dubious at best.

Where Does This Stat Come From?

It’s quoted all over the place, sometimes even in respected outlets, but its origins are difficult to track down.  The most popular claim is this: “In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; today, 90% is controlled by just six companies.”

This is even quoted verbatim on the Wikipedia page about media cross-ownership, but the source for this quote, cited on the bottom of the page, is troublesome.  It brings us to a Business Insider blog post, which is not an original source, or even reliable.  In fact, the source used in the blog post is…a meme!


This is a portion of the meme that Wikipedia and Business Insider used as a source!

Yes, a meme that went viral in 2011 put out by a blog called Frugal Dad.  The blog seems well-intentioned, but hardly a reliable source.  It does list some websites on the bottom of the meme, but none of them seem particularly reliable or relevant to this statistic.  In other words, most of the web uses “Frugal Dad” as the source for this statistic!

After much searching, it seems the original source for this claim comes from the book, The Media Monopoly (later revised to The New Media Monopoly in 2004) by Ben Bagdikian.  He was a fairly respected journalist, although clearly left-wing and biased against large corporations.  The book is similarly slanted, and while he has credible sources for some claims in it, there is no source or footnote given for his claim that the “Big Five” control the media, or 90% of it (see for yourself).  The original “source” seems to be the opinion of Mr. Bagdikian!  An informed opinion, perhaps, but not one based on a scholarly study of how and who Americans get their news from, or other objective means.  Furthermore, it’s more than 10 years old, and a lot has changed.

It’s under this dubious source that we are warranted to continue our investigation of this meme.

The “Big Six” Claim

Bagdikian called it the “Big Five” in his 2004 book, claiming Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom and Bertelsmann (from Germany) controlled our media.  This has morphed into the “Big Six”, as time and ownership has changed.  These are the companies supposedly controlling almost everything in the US media.

  • Comcast-major holdings include NBC (including CNBC and MSNBC), Universal Pictures, many smaller cable channels (including The Weather Channel, USA, Bravo and E!)
  • Disney– ABC, ESPN, Pixar, A&E, Lifetime and Marvel Studios
  • News Corporation– Fox (News, Sports and 20th Century), The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, FX, Barron’s, HarperCollins publishing
  • Time Warner– CNN, Time Magazine, Warner Bros, HBO, Cinemax, the CW, TBS, TNT
  • CBS Corporation– CBS, Simon and Schuster
  • Viacom– MTV, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount Pictures

These six companies clearly own a lot of media, but is it really 90%?  And what happened to Bertelsmann?  They still exist, but apparently disappeared from influence in a few years?  For the purpose of this analysis, we’ll focus on news media, as that’s what most would consider important (who cares who owns Marvel or the Weather Channel?).

Other Major Outlets

Here’s just a partial list of influential news sources not owned by these six corporations.

  • New York Times- perhaps the most influential newspaper in existence.  Owned by the New York Times Company
  • Washington Post- owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon
  • Associated Press (AP)- operated as a cooperative, non-profit association owned by many newspapers and broadcast members
  • Tribune Company- owns some major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and LA Times, as well as many local TV and radio stations
  • Hearst Publications- owns San Francisco and Houston Chronicle, as well as many local TV and radio stations.  (Note: does have some partnerships with Disney)
  • Yahoo!- owned by Yahoo Inc., the highest-read news website in the world
  • MSN- owned by Microsoft, the 2nd highest-read news website
  • Reuters- major British news agency, owned by Thomson Reuters
  • PBS and NPR- owned by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a non-profit government subsidized entity
  • Huffington Post- owned by AOL/Verizon, a popular liberal blog with almost 7 million Facebook followers
  • Bloomberg- owned mostly by Michael Bloomberg, an influential financial news source
  • iHeartMedia- the predominant owner and distributor of talk radio, broadcasting the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity
  • The Drudge Report- run by Matt Drudge.  The conservative-leaning site aggregates content from other news agencies, but is very influential and uses many different news outlets, often foreign or more obscure

This doesn’t include the other large foreign news agencies like BBC, Al Jazeera, etc. or many smaller US outlets like Newsweek, Politico, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and countless others.  When looking at this partial list of media sources, it not only seems dubious that 90% is controlled by the “Big Six”, but downright laughable.  In fact, it seems plausible the “Big Six” might control less than half of media content.  Considering this statistic is not reliably sourced (or sourced at all), it should not be considered credible.

Comparisons to Other Industries

Even if there were only six companies controlling 90%, would this be a problem?  Let’s look at some other industries.

  • Aircraft– 4 companies dominate almost all airliner manufacturing (Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier).
  • Cars- almost 80% of the market is controlled by 6 companies (GM, Ford, Chrysler Group, Toyota, Nissan and Honda)
  • Cell Phones- 5 manufacturers make up more than 90% of the market (Apple, Samsung, LG, Motorola and HTC).  Just 2 operating systems (iOS and Android) make up 98.4% of the market.
  • Beer- 2 companies (Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors) make up 71% of the market.
  • Social Media- 4 sites (Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Reddit) make up 76% of the market.  No other site has more than 2% of the market share.

Clearly, we can have vibrant, competitive markets delivering great products where a few players control the majority of it. Often, big companies can do things better, or mergers can make things more efficient.  In the case of news media, it takes a significant amount of resources to create an infrastructure that can investigate and report on all the news.  Given this, it wouldn’t be surprising that it would become dominated by a small number of companies, but even so this seems not to be the case, as the news media has many more competitors than most other industries.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems, biases, agendas or group-think going on in the media.  There likely are, but it’s doubtful that it’s due to the “Big Six” or “deregulation”.  For example, it might have more to do with outlets being lazy and not vetting sources correctly, leaving it to the Meme Policeman to do for free!

In fact, access to different views and unique styles of reporting are more prevalent than ever.  There are blogs, news sites, social media pages and videos from every perspective imaginable available on the internet.  It used to be almost impossible for these voices to get into the media, as they would need to own either a newspaper, magazine or TV/Radio station.  Ironically, viewers were much more limited in the past, when so many tuned into Walter Cronkite on the CBS evening news.  Now, it’s possible for anyone to have a voice, or to report the news with a blog or Youtube channel.  Whether or not it’s listened to, or trusted, is a decision rightly made by the market.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders

As for the supposed lack of coverage for Bernie, it’s doubtful anyone who follows the news hasn’t heard plenty about him.  Go to any major media source, and you’ll find coverage of his campagin.  While The Other 98% might lament about the nonstop coverage of Donald Trump, one needs to go no further than their own Facebook page (which has over 2 million followers) to see this obsessive coverage in action.  If this is happening even from a non-profit liberal opinion site, the intense coverage probably has other origins than a corporate conspiracy.

10 Comments on "Do Six Corporations Control 90% of the Media?"

  1. Nice. Your analysis is spot on. There is a much more important problem with today’s media than a few controlling too much. With the increased importance of twitter, facebook and other sources of aggregating and redirecting content, far too many people restrict themselves to reading content they agree with. They follow people they agree with. They read journalists who share their world view.

    Some media outlets make this easy as most of their reporting is tilted in the same political direction, but if they weren’t, we as consumers might still only take in the viewpoints that coalign with our own world view. We don’t get challenged. We don’t have enough people who question the statements that are presented as facts, though they are in fact – as in this example – just some guy shouting out something he believes to be true. If that statement is repeated enough, people blindly believe it, because it sounds right.

    You and others who take the time to correct such “fact”-shouting do an important job. Thank you.

  2. Anti-Superhero | July 13, 2016 at 6:33 pm |

    The meme speaks to all media including all news mediums; TV; cable; internet; filmed entertainment & publishing. A free and independent press is critical to a true democracy. Have you not heard the phrase “Information is king?” Televised news has an undeniable influence on people’s perspectives. It is the reason the FCC originally limited the percentage of media any one entity could own in particular market. Due to unseemly political undermining, the percentage has been whittled down and the influence of these big 6 corporations is obvious to anyone who seeks information from other independent news sources. One clear example of the big 6’s influence is the USA’s continued funding of Israel’s apartheid terror occupation. Anyone who learns what is really going on in Palestine understands the disastrous affects distorted information has on the public.

    Your reference to Anheuser-Busch; InBev and Miller/Coors owning 71% of the beer market is also an example of unhealthy consolidation of a market. Anheuser-Busch is under investigation by the US Justice Dept. for allegedly buying and/or striking “incentivized” deals with beer distributors across the country in an effort to squeeze out craft brewers. In many states beer must be sold through a distributor. By incentivizing beer distributors to prioritize the sale of its products over craft brewers, Anheuser-Busch is making it difficult for craft brewers to sell their products & grow their businesses. This is an example of abuse of power which limits consumers’ choices.

    What we watch and read absolutely shapes our perspectives and influences our decisions. An independent news media is what separates the USA from third world dictatorships with state run news.

  3. You make a lot of excuses and assumptions for defending the market dominance of only a few companies.

  4. Thomas Watson | October 23, 2016 at 1:49 pm |

    50% media ownership is still a LOT ! And throw in some of the other companies you mentioned that are owned by

    Leftists / Liberals and you can understand why we have the complete propaganda war we now have . They are not

    representative of mainstream America views at all .

  5. Your own biases come through pretty loud and clear. Drudge is “conservative leaning”? First of all. Drudge isn’t a news source. It’s a hard right opinion mill. It doesn’t have any compunctions about bending the truth in order to favor conservative public figures. (In other words, they lie outright!)

    Your analysis can hardly be called “spot on” when you fail to distinguish between “news” and “opinion”. You cannot seriously put Fox, Drudge or iheart in the same category as CNN or even the New York Times.

    The problem with Americans today is they’ve forgotten that news NEVER has a “conservative” or “liberal” leaning. News is news. If you need to consult an outlet that’s going to tell you exactly what you want to hear , you’re not looking to be informed, you’re looking to be entertained.

    Consider the meme that circulated on FB a while back. It claimed that when Fox was sued by former employees, it pleaded the “right to lie”. That was completely false. Yet, the truth is even more insidious. Fox actually took the position that it should not be held to the same standard as a “news” organization since it was incorporated as an ENTERTAINMENT network.

    That might be completely true. The problem is – it doesn’t tell its viewers this. It represents itself as “news” that’s “fair and balanced”. Nowhere does it disclose to fans that it’s “entertaining” them. Thus, its viewers believe they are being given the “truth”. In other words, Fox is no better than GOP Propaganda being piped into homes on a 24/7/365 basis.

    Non-partisan fact checkers give Fox an abysmal rating! While it’s true that stations like MSNBC don’t fare significantly better, it’s also true that liberals don’t rely solely on MSNBC, and get their information from a variety of sources.

    • You’re biases seem to be coming through much louder. The purpose of the post was to combat the meme saying 6 companies control the media. It’s just not true, nor did anything you say change that. The post had nothing to do with the merits of Fox News, or where to get your news from.

  6. Justin Taylor | November 22, 2016 at 8:10 pm |

    Actually, that meme, is not even up to date. There are actually only 5 corporations that Control/Own the mass majority of all media outlets, or what could account for about 80-90% of all major media within the US. “The trend of media conglomeration has been steady. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom.”

    Actually with just online media alone, about half of all online media news traffic is actually owned by just 10 publishers. The biggest online news publisher for the U.S. audience is not Yahoo! it is MSN, owner of, with just over 27 billion combined page views across mobile and desktop, followed by Disney Media Networks, owner of ESPN and ABC News, with 25.9 billion.

    Why did the number of Conglomerates that own the massive majority of news information from TV, Radio, Newspapers, and now the Internet drop so dramatically by the year 2000? That would be because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which changed the landscape dramatically. This Act was signed into law by President Clinton, spearheaded by major media across the spectrum, with only 3% of Congress voting against the Act. Because the media Conglomerates are the most feared of all special interest groups in Washington, they can and do make and break politicians at any level all the time.

    Let’s take this a step further even. Guess how many Billionaires own/control most of the most influential media news companies across the spectrum found both on and offline? Yep, that number is just a measly 15. That should scare you, at least a little.

    The real fear about how quickly so few companies (or individuals) are increasingly controlling the media landscape is that it is quickly becoming a threat to our ability to clearly have choices and Freedom within America and even most of the world, as these major companies continue to expand ever further with their control and reach. There is a fallacy with the idea that we, as American’s actually really have any true choices in the news media we consume on a daily basis, unless you happen to make a huge effort to do everything you can to support independent media outlets. But let’s face it, most people do anything but search out independent sites to get their daily or weekly news, to support that idea, just look at how many people will blindly pass on any meme or news story that strikes their fancy or funny bone, through some sort of social media or email, without ever doing anything to validate any of the facts found within.

  7. You do realize the DNC commited treason in order to suppress Sanders as the popular vote right? Why did Stein resign? Sabotage. You are right about some things, that I will give you.

  8. I would be skeptical too, if this one post by Frugal Dad were the only thing to go on, but in the 90’s, 4 corporations owned most of the major media in the U.S. The Big 4 were Time/Warner, Westinghouse, General Electric, and Disney/Cap Cities. I clipped and saved a print article that showed the full list of what each one owned. It included the major T.V. stations (ABC, NBC, CBS), hundreds of major and minor newspapers nationwide, the largest dozen film producers, at least a hundred radio stations, several major record labels, along with listing their other interests, such as nuclear energy (both G.E. and Westinghouse were invested in nuclear). There has been some minor shuffling since (for example, Microsoft purchased NBC at some point, and then now, I don’t know, do they still own it?) but still only a handful of corporations own most of the venues through which we traditionally receive our information. The variety the internet provides, of course, has succeeded in befuddling this stranglehold somewhat, but these megacorps are producing content on the internet alongside the smaller efforts, and with bigger budgets to optimize their offerings. While I support your skepticism, I recommend that you do your own research, keeping in mind that–being in the business of ‘information management’–these megacorps may be involved in active ‘information editing,’ on the internet and elsewhere.

  9. Can you give an example where consolidation of major media has caused more resources to be put into reporting, such as hiring more overseas reporters or publishing more long-form journalistic stories that take many months to research?

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