I heard about the Rupert Murdoch putting in a bid for Tim Warner a little while ago and thought it was too astounding to be true, but it is. Why would Mr Burns like to own even more of the known media world? Isn’t ruining the Fantastic Four for comic enough for him? David Carr at the NYT puts it all into perspective — the bigger you are, the bigger you need to be, because someone else might be bigger yet.
The giant market capitalizations and market power residing in Silicon Valley have rippled into the rest of the economy. The people behind this sudden surge of proposed media mergers say they are only going on steroids to avoid getting sand kicked in their face by even bigger bullies in the technology world. Comcast will contend that it is not just competing with Cablevision and Charter Communications, but also with Google, Amazon and Apple. And people who make programming will assert that they are trying to grow just so they do not get pushed around by Comcast.
Like the dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” big new digital players are hovering over the media landscape. You don’t want to be wandering around with a tiny sword if your adversaries are airborne and fire-breathing. Many suggest that the only hedge in a consolidating world is high-quality content.
Content is king again yo!
“Rupert did not try to buy Time Warner because he wants to get to own a bunch of cable networks,” Richard Greenfield of BTIG Research said. “He clearly feels that as other players try to enter the media business, content will be more valuable and he wants to get his hands on as much content as possible.”
Nikki Finke, an iconoclastic moody doomsayer after my own heart, has what they really means for the rest of us—i.e. the 99.9999% who can’t buy giant multi-national conglomerates: Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood. It’s simple: less competition for that content means it’s easier for the content exploiters to exploit that content, although everyone is excited by the idea of EVEN BIGGER CONGLOMERATES.
For the past 25 years I’ve written story after story warning about the downsides of Big Media mergers. But it’s been like pissing in the wind. Neither the FCC nor the FTC nor the DOJ no matter who’s been in the White House have stopped them because of anti-trust or anti-access concerns.
Put 21st Century Fox and Time Warner together, and they make up 25%-to-30% of the market share for movies being made. The Fox and Warner Brothers TV studios are the #1 and #2 film and TV studios in the entire industry. Merging their significant distribution infrastructures — for international box office, home video distribution, and/or digital distribution — would create both revenue and cost synergies for their outsized businesses. That’s good for the companies. Merge their movie and TV production studios who are now bitter rivals looking to sign the best talent, and suddenly directors and writers and actors and showrunners can’t play off the two companies against each other for bigger deals. That’s bad for you.
Nikki also references the 90s, when “synergy” meant ever bigger horizontals and acquistions, a disastrous era then ended when Time Warner merged with AOL, one of the worst mergers in corporate history. That ended the Bigger is Better era of the 90s, especially as smaller internet start-ups began their disruptive drive to steal the eggs of brick-and-morter dinosaurs.
And now? We have even bigger conglomerates, united by the internet and the Big Five —Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft (not quite as big anymore though).
While I’d like to think thence nimble disrupters are now bloated Jabba the Hutts and equally vulnerable to a new disruption from NEW innovators, older more cynical me looks at this new Gilded Age of income inequality and sees little to stop “even bigger is even better” from continuing for quite some time.
As Finke points out, WB has left itself vulnerable exactly BY spinning off its assets from the 90s: publishing, Time Inc, Time Warner and more. I think a Fox Warner would be a disaster for content producers. But that’s just me. I’m a confirmed rather rule in hell than serve in heaven type. Other people would rather sit in the castle, eating table scraps secure in the knowledge that their liege lord owns all he surveys, as the heavily plated Knights stumble around under their splendidly cumbersome hauberks and caparisons.
PS: there have been a lot of stories imagining Fox’s Marvel superhero team-ups with WB’s DC superheroes and while it’s funny, different licenses. That would be like Harry Potter showing up in a DC movie. I’m sure WB’s movie slate has some direct appeal for Murdoch, but I doubt he has much interest in owning a comics company so that is but a blip on this radar screen.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.