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The Real Media Bias: Why TV News Resembles Politburo Before Fall of Berlin Wall

by John on 05/01/2012

TV Ad revenues were down 8% in 2011, but rebounding in 2012.  Why?

The 2012 Presidential Election is the main reason.  Every 4 years, networks and television stations feast on the donations (bribes) that are gathered by politicians, their campaigns, and now, starting this year, their legally (thank you Supreme Court) sanction bribe gatherers.

So, (long-winded rhetorical question here) who thinks you’re going to see a story on network news, cable news, or local news about the damaging effects of campaign financial laws and rulings – or their effect on the state of our dysfunctional political system?

The media is rooting for the SuperPacs.  Media executives were symbolically shaking their heads no along with Chief Justice Alito during the 2010 State of the Union.

The Informed Not Inflamed Point or the screaming WHY for this post:

  • Keep this in mind when you’re watching network newscasts and the cable yakkers.  Understand their bias.  The left-right bias of the media is small compared to the other biases.  The reporters, and most of them are good, have a positive bias toward a great story; sometimes too sensational and too entertaining.  The executives and shareholders of the media giants, on the other hand, only want profits.
  • More importantly, think about this when you are trying to promote or market yourself or your business — and the excessive cost it entails.
  • And, these media giants are stopping job creation and the creation of what we really need — new small businesses.

Now, you will hear some reports that the media is profiting because the economy is coming back.  True.  But the number of people watching television is dropping.  Yet, there are other reports that the amount of money the networks are charging advertisers is going up.

Read this irony from MediaPost about the up-front sales on TV shows.

One thing’s for sure, the broadcast upfront market continues to have a dynamic rare in business: consumers use a product less, yet a seller is able to charge more for it. Ratings drop, but advertisers pay more. If people sour on Big Macs, would McDonald’s succeed in raising prices 10% a year?

Why can they charge more when viewership is dropping?  Three reasons:

  • The advertising inventory is smaller because of all the spots going to political campaigns, making the price per ad higher as the available ad time dwindles.
  • The Internet has yet to figure out how to monetize their growing number of eyeballs.
  • The media networks are an oligopoly.  Don’t the networks sound like OPEC?

You will also hear reports that the Olympics are creating a surge in ad revenues this year.  Yes, but for one entity: Comcast Universal which owns the NBC stations that will air the Olympics.

Comcast is a major part of the media oligopoly.  Read Master Switch by Tim Wu.  It’s a great book that shows how the media giants control the newest communication technology and make the public pay for it.  How the FCC could grant Comcast, a distribution company, the right to buy NBCU, a content company, is incredible.  The GOP screams free markets but they kept their mouths shut on this one since Rupert Murdoch is one of their own with his own empire.  Granted, there have been changes at the FCC: remember the scuttling the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile.

Hopefully, all this huge example of media bias will end soon.  And by soon, I mean within the next 5 to 10 years.  There is no industry that needs creative destruction more. 

It is going to be quite a fight.  The major media companies – which include Hollywood movie studios — are exerting their control on the Internet.  When you see the laws to control or censor the flow of information on the Internet, companies like Comcast, Viacom, News Corp, Time Warner, and Disney are at the forefront of the laws prohibiting free flow of information while allowing themselves to charge higher fees.

No one begrudges them making profits.  But they rigged the game.  They’re trying to keep smaller content producers out of the game, so they can have all the eyeballs.  Right now, our Internet infrastructure is way behind countries like South Korea and Singapore.  What has that done to our economy?  Two things:

  1. It’s why your business might not be thriving yet online.
  2. It is stifling the growth of new companies that will distribute, market, and operate online in a cheaper environment.  We keep hearing about the need to create new jobs.  These major media companies are cutting jobs.  Those people who are losing their jobs could be creating their own companies. 

Once the Internet becomes ubiquitous with all businesses and viewers, where your Internet is plugged into your big screen TV, along with your smart phone, then things will visibly change. 

Right now, these media giants have a stronghold.  Unlike the Soviet Politburo that was blind-sided by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the media totalitarians can see what is coming.

Once that happens, then we will have to fight the other giants that will try to monopolize us: Google; Facebook; and Apple.

Before I get your take on all this, let me offer my disclosure and bias. 

My disclosure: I recently worked for Comcast NBCU at NECN and though I have great respect for the people there, I witnessed the system from within and was very uncomfortable with what they stood for. 

My bias: I am an advocate for the small-time producer whose creations get shut-out by a lack of access; although, that dynamic is changing, albeit slowly.

OK, your turn.

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