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Canadian Newspaper Editorial Endorsements in the 2015 Federal Election: Elite and Out of Sync

Once again, twenty-three newspapers across Canada followed the liberal free press tradition of endorsing a candidate for Prime Minister in the 2015 federal election.

In the previous federal election in 2011, twenty-two dailies did the same thing. And in that case, and astonishingly, every single newspaper across the land, except the Toronto Star, that editorially endorsed a candidate for Prime Minister touted Harper. In other words, in the 2011 federal election, 95% of editorial opinion expressed plunked for Steven Harper – roughly three times his standing in opinion polls at the time and the results of the prior election.

So, what happened in the 2015 election?

Of the 92 paid daily newspapers in the country, only twenty-three marshalled the resources to publish an editorial at all. Most remained silent, seemingly with little to no editorial or journalistic resources to do the job, while a few such as the Winnipeg Free Press, offered satire or get out the vote efforts.

Of the twenty-three papers that did editorialize on behalf of one party or candidate, seventeen newspapers representing 70.5% of the editorial opinion expressed lined up behind the ruling Conservatives — well over twice the Conservatives standing once the polls closed (31.9%).

The owners of the Postmedia Group directed the ten main dailies that comprise its national chain of papers and the six major Sun dailies in London, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton that it acquired earlier this year to publish an editorial endorsement of Steven Harper for Prime Minister (55% of expressed editorial opinion) against the opposition of some journalists and editors at these papers (also see Canadaland’s account of the situation). The Globe and Mail took the odd stance of endorsing the Conservatives but not Harper (15.6% of expressed editorial opinion).

The wall of support was not as pronounced on this occasion as it was last election, however. Torstar’s Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and Guelph Mercury (21% of expressed editorial opinion), for example, endorsed the Liberals, as did La Presse (Power Corp) (8% of expressed editorial opinion) and Charlottetown Guardian (Transcontinental) (1% of expressed editorial opinion). Overall, 30% of editorial opinion plunked for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals — about three-quarters of the Liberals’ standing at the polls.

Despite one-in-five voters casting their ballot for the NDP, there were no editorial endorsements for the party to be found. Le Devoir cast its lots with the Bloc Québécois (representing 2% of expressed editorial opinion).

The chart below depicts the scenario.

Federal Election 2015 Newspaper Editorial Endorsements

Clearly, the opinions of the largest newspaper chain in the country (Postmedia) and the Globe and Mail are well out of synch with the public mind when it comes to voting. This is a consistent pattern for both groups of papers, as I have documented now over the last two federal elections.

On the other side of the coin, the press is following well-behind voters, who turned out in droves this time to vote for the Liberals. Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s share of the popular vote was far above their share of editorial opinion. The standing of the Bloc and, especially, the NDP in the editorial rooms of the nation shows an even more pronounced disconnect.

There’s a couple of lessons in all this.

First, the commitments made to the Competition Bureau by the owners of Postmedia to maintain separate editorial lines at the Postmedia group of papers and the newly acquired Sun papers that it obtained from Quebecor earlier this year in order to get approval for the deal were made a mockery of. Such a weak reed has no place in the regulatory calculus of regulators.

Second, while there is no doubt that journalists and editors do not walk in lockstep with their owners, as Andrew Coyne’s resignation from the National Post editorial board, and protests from others across the Postmedia and Sun papers illustrate so well, it is clear that, when push comes to shove, the owners call the shots. And it is those owners who are most out of line with public opinion.

While journalists still likely have some latitude to do as they please, it is clear that (a) they work within an environment they are reasonably comfortable with ideologically and politically and (b) that they are well aware of the contours of the field from which they should not stray either too far or too often. If not, editorial endorsements remind them where those lines are.

None of this is any good for either a free press or even a commercially viable press. Being so out of synch with the citizens, and some of their own journalists, upon which the ideals of the free press rests is yet another nail in the coffin of one of the most important institutions of democracy: good quality journalism. Thankfully the people have a mind of their own and are quite able to make important decisions about who will form the next government independent of those who facelessly offer up editorial wisdom come election day.

Media and Internet Concentration in Canada, 1984 – 2011

As my last post explained, the media economy in Canada has grown immensely and become far more complex in the past twenty-five years with the rise of the Internet and digital media. In this post, I ask whether the media have become more or less concentrated amidst all these changes?

While opinions are rife on the issue, as McMaster University professor Philip Savage (2008) observes, the debate over media concentration in Canada “largely occurs in a vacuum, lacking evidence to ground arguments or potential policy creation either way” (p. 295).

The need for good evidence on the question has been obvious over the past year in the context of Bell Canada’s bid to buy Astral Media, the ninth largest media company in Canada. Indeed, the CRTC’s decision to kill the deal in late October turned in a big way, although not entirely by any stretch of the imagination, on the evidence about media concentration.

The same question will be front-and-centre in Bell Astral Round Two. While nobody knows what version 2.0 of the deal looks like outside of the two companies’ inner sanctum, and the CRTC staff currently vetting it before it is opened for public interventions (probably in the new year), the issue of concentration will undoubtedly loom large in whatever discussions, and regulatory actions, do occur.

That said, however, we must make no mistake about it, studying media and internet concentration is not about Bell or Astral, or any specific transaction. In fact, the issue in the Bell Astral case is not if Bell is too big but whether telecom, media and internet markets in Canada are already too concentrated as a whole? How do we know one way or another? This post helps to address these questions.

Competing Views on Media Ownership and Concentration

Grappling with these issues is not just about remedying the ‘missing evidence’ problem, but thinking clearly about how the issues are framed.

Many critics point to media concentration as steadily going from bad to worse, but with little to no evidence to back up such claims. Perhaps the best known example of this is Ben Bagdikian, who claims that the number of media firms in the U.S. that account for the majority of revenues plunged from 50 in 1984 to just five by the mid-2000s. Similar views also exist in Canada, where critics decry what they see as the inexorable trend towards greater media concentration and its debilitating effects on “democracy’s oxygen”, for instance, or vilify the media moguls behind such trends who have, in these critic’s words, created “Canada’s most dangerous media company”.

A second group of scholars set out to debunk the critics by quantitatively analyzing reams of media content only to find the evidence about how changes in media ownership and market structure effect content to be mostly “mixed and inconclusive” (Soderlund, et. al al. 2005). The problem with this conclusion, however, is that it proceeds as if media concentration’s ‘impact on content’ is the only concern, or as if preserving the existing status quo might not be a significant problem in its own right (Gitlin, 1978). Undeterred, this line of scholarship trundles on so that, half a decade later, similar studies by many of the same authors, Cross-Media Ownership and Democratic Practice in Canada: Content-Sharing and the Impact of New Media, reach pretty much the same conclusions (Soderlund, Brin, Miljan & Hildebrandt, 2011).

A third school of thought mocks concern with media concentration altogether. According to this school, how could anyone believe that the media are still concentrated when there are thousands of news sources, social networking sites galore, pro-am journalists, user-created content and a cacophony of blogs at our finger tips, 700 television channels licensed by the CRTC, ninety-four newspapers publishing daily and smartphones in every pocket? Ben Compaine (2005), a media economist at MIT, has a one-word retort for those who think that concentration still matters amidst this sea of plenty: internet!

Those in this camp also argue that focusing on concentration when traditional media face the perilous onslaught of global digital media giants such as Google, Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and so on is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – foolhardy and doomed to fail (Thierer & Eskelen, 2008; Dornan, 2012). Journalistic accounts often share this view, routinely invoking, in mantra-like fashion, the idea that media are more competitive than ever. Like their acdemic counterparts, such accounts offer little to no evidence to support such claims, other than pointing to the same roster of foreign digital media goliaths as if examples equals evidence. It does not.

While some might find it hard to fathom, there’s a fourth school of thought, and one that I largely subscribe to, that accepts that fundamental changes have occurred, but rejects claims that this renders concern with media consolidation obsolete. For all those who guffaw at charges of media concentration, it is easy to point, for example, to the fact that only about a third of the 94 daily newspapers said to exist are actually still publishing original content on a daily basis. Of the 700 television channels listed on the CRTC’s books, just over 200 actually filed a financial return last year. And half of those tv channels belong to just four companies — Bell (33), Shaw (46), Rogers (11) and QMI (12). Their share of the market, as we will see, is much higher yet. Keeping our eye on these facts also highlights, for example, how dominant incumbent players use price (usage-based billing) and bandwidth caps, for example and among other tactics, to protect their legacy television businesses (i.e. CTV, Global, CityTV, TVA), while hobbling rivals (Netflix) and limiting people’s choice as a result.

This school also suggests that core elements of the networked digital media – search engines (Google), Internet access (ISPs), music and book retailing (Apple and Amazon), social media (Facebook) and access devices (Apple, Google, Nokia, Samsung, RIM) – may actually be more prone to concentration because digitization magnifies economies of scale and network effects in some areas, while reducing barriers in others. If this is correct, then we may be witnessing the rise of a two-tiered digital media system, with many small niche players revolving around a few enormous “integrator firms” at the centre (Noam, 2009; Benkler, 2006; Wu, 2010).

The more that central elements of the networked digital media are concentrated, the easier it is to turn these nodal points — Facebook, Google, ISPs, Twitter, and so forth — into proxies that serve other interests in, for example, the preservation of dominant market power in ‘legacy’ media sectors (e.g. television and film), the copyright wars, efforts to block pornography, and in law enforcement and national security matters. In other words, the more concentrated such nodal points are, the more potential digital media giants have to:

  • set the terms for the distribution of income to musicians, newspapers and books (Google, Apple, Amazon);
  • turn market power into moral authority by regulating what content can be distributed via their ‘walled gardens’ (Apple),
  • set the terms of ownership and use of user created content and how it is sold in syndicated markets as well as to advertisers (Google and Facebook) (van Couvering, 2011; Fuchs, 2011);
  • and set defacto corporate policy norms governing the collection, retention and disclosure of personal information to commercial and government third parties.

Whilst we must adjust our analysis to new realities, it is also true that long-standing concerns have not disappeared either. To take just one case in point, consider the fact that during the 2011 election campaign, every single newspaper in Canada, except the Toronto Star, that editorially endorsed a candidatefor Prime Minister touted Harper – roughly three times his standing in opinion polls at the time and the results of the prior election. When 95 percent of editorial endorsements for PM across the nation stump for one man – Harper — something is amiss.

Ultimately, talk about media concentration is really a proxy for bigger conversations about consumer choice, freedom of expression as well as democracy. While such discussions must adapt to new realities, the advent of digital media does not mean that such conversations should fall silent. Politics, values and heated debates are endemic to the topic, and this is how things should be (Baker, 2007Noam, 2009; Peters, 1999).

Methodology

Discussions of media concentration will never turn on the numbers alone, and nor should they, but it is essential to be as clear as possible about the methods used to assess the issue. To begin, there is no naïve vantage point from which data about these issues can be innocently gathered and presented as if evidence is just out there laying in a state of nature, somewhere, waiting to be plucked like apples from a tree.

Data, in other words, does not serve as a one-to-one map of the reality it claims to describe. Nonetheless, there are good ways to make a good body of evidence and bad. An essential factor all down the line is the need for researchers to be open and reflexive about their methods and theoretical starting points.

A fuller discussion of the methodology that I use can be found here, here and here, but for now we can lay out the bare bones of the approach before turning to the analysis itself. I begin by selecting a dozen or so media sectors at the heart of the analysis: wired & wireless telecoms; cable, satellite & IPTV distributors; Internet access; broadcast tv; pay & subscription tv; radio; newspapers; magazines; search engines; social media sites; and online news services.

Data were collected for each of these sectors over a twenty-seven year period, 1984 – 2011, first at four-year intervals up until 2008 and annually since. For the DIYers among you, here’s a handy dandy list of sources.

Data for the revenues and market share for each ownership group in each of these sectors was then assembled. I then group each of the above sectors into three categories, assess the concentration level in each category, and then scaffold upward from there to examine the network media industries as a whole: (1) network infrastructure; (2) content: (3) online media.

I typically drop wired and wireless telecoms from the whole of what I call the network media industries because the size of these sectors means that they tend to overshadow everything else.

Lastly, I use two common tools — Concentration Ratios (CR) as well as the Herfindhahl – Hirschman Index (HHI) – to depict levels of competition and concentration over time. The CR method adds the shares of each firm in a market and makes judgments based on widely accepted standards, with four firms (CR4) having more than 50 percent market share and 8 firms (CR8) more than 75 percent considered to be indicators of highly levels of concentration.

The HHI method squares and sums the market share of each firm with more than a one percent share in each market to arrive at a total. If there are 100 firms, each with a 1% market share, then markets are highly competitive, while a monopoly prevails when one firm has 100% market share. The following thresholds are commonly used as guides:

HHI < 1000                                     Un-concentrated

HHI > 1000 but < 1,800             Moderately Concentrated

HHI > 1,800                                    Highly Concentrated

The Historical Record and Renewed Interest in Media Concentration in the 21st Century

There has always been, even if episodically, keen interest in media ownership and concentration in Canada and the world since the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

In 1910, for example, the Board of Railway Commissioners (BRC) broke up the three-way alliance between the two biggest telegraph companies — Canadian Pacific Telegraph Co. and the Great Northwestern Telegraph Co. (the latter an arm of the New York-based goliath, Western Union) – and the American-based Associated Press news wire service. Why?

In the face of much corporate bluster, the BRC did this because the two dominant telegraph companies were giving away the AP news service to the top newspaper in cities across Canada for free in order to bolster their stranglehold on the lucrative telegraph business. Allowing this to continue, stated the BRC matter-of-factly, would “put out of business every news-gathering agency that dared to enter the field of competition with them” (1910, p. 275).

Thus, in a conscious bid to use telecoms regulation to foster competition amongst newspapers, and to free up the flow of news on the wires, the BRC effectively dismantled the alliance. For upstarts such as Winnipeg-based Western Associated Press – which had initiated the case – it was a significant victory (Babe, 1990).

Media concentration issues arose episodically thereafter and came to a head again in the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, when three inquiries were held: (1) the Special Senate Committee on Mass Media, The Uncertain Mirror (2 vols.)(Canada, 1970); (2) the Royal Commission on Corporate Concentration (1978); and (3) the Royal Commission on Newspapers (Canada, 1981).

Things lay dormant for more than two decades thereafter, but sprang to life again in the late-1990s and turn-of-the-21st century after a huge wave of consolidation thrust concerns about media concentration back into the spotlight. Three inquiries were held between 2003 and 2007 as a result: (1) the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, Our Cultural Sovereignty (2003); (2) the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, Final Report on the Canadian News Media(2006);[i] as well as (3) the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s Diversity of Voices inquiry in 2008.

Structural Transformation: Two (three?) Waves of Consolidation and the Rise of TMI Conglomerates

As I noted in my last post, for all sectors of the media economy in Canada, revenues grew immensely from $37.5 billion in 1984 to just under $70 billion last year (or from $12.1 billion to just under $34 billion when we exclude wiredline and wireless telecoms) (in inflation-adjusted “real dollars”). Between 1984 and 1996, new players meant more diversity in all sectors, except for newspapers as well as cable and satellite video distribution, where concentration climbed significantly.

Conventional as well as pay and subscription television channels were already expanding during this time. In terms of ownership, incumbents and a few newcomers – e.g. Allarcom and Netstar – cultivated the field, with their share of the market growing steadily in tandem with the number of services available (underlying data for these claims can be found here).

Concentration levels remained very high in wired line telecoms in the 1980s and early 1990s, while wireless was developed by two companies, Bell and Rogers. As had been the case in many countries, telecoms competition moved slowly from the ends of the network into services and then network infrastructure, with real competition emerging in the late-1990s before the trend was reversed and concentration levels again began to climb.

In the 1980s and early-1990s, consolidation took place mostly among players in single sectors. Conrad Black’s take-over of the Southam newspaper chain in 1996 symbolized the times. In broadcast television, amalgamation amongst local ownership groups created the large national companies that came to single-handedly own the leading commercial television networks – CTV, Global, TVA, CHUM, TQS – by the end of the 1990s.

While weighty in their own right, these amalgamations did not have a big impact across the media as a whole. There was still significant diversity within sectors and across the TMI sectors. The CBC remained prominent, but public television was being eclipsed by commercial television as the CBC’s share of all resources in the television ‘system’ slid from 46 percent in 1984 to half that amount by 2000 to just over twenty percent today (see the motion chart on CMCR website illustrating this point).

While gradual change defined the 1980s and early-1990s, things shifted dramatically by the mid-1990s and into the 21st century as two (and maybe three) waves of consolidation swept across the TMI industries. A few highlights help to illustrate the trend:

Wave 1 – 1994 to 2000: Rogers acquisition of Maclean-Hunter (1994). Peaks from 1998 to 2001: (1) BCE acquires CTV and the Globe & Mail ($2.3b); (2) Quebecor takes over Videotron, TVA and the Sun newspaper chain ($ 7.4b) (1997-2000); (3) Canwest buys Global TV ($800m) and Hollinger newspapers papers, including National Post ($3.2b).

Wave 2 – 2006-2007.  Bell Globe Media re-branded CTVglobemedia, as BCE exits media business. CTVglobemedia acquires CHUM assets (Much Music, City TV channels and A-Channel).  CRTC requires CTVglobemedia to sell City TV stations – acquired by Rogers (2007). Astral Media buys Standard Broadcasting. Quebecor acquires Osprey Media (mid-size newspaper chain)(2006). Canwest, with Goldman Sachs, buys Alliance Atlantis (2007) (Showcase, National Geographic, HGTV, BBC Canada, etc) – and biggest film distributor in Canada.

Wave 3 – 2010 – ? Canwest bankrupt. Newspapers acquired by Post Media Group, TV assets by Shaw.  BCE makes a comeback, re-buys CTV (2011) and bids for Astral Media in 2012, but fails to gain CRTC approval.

That the massive influx of capital investment drove consolidation across the telecom, media and Internet industries during these periods is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Mergers and Acquisitions in Media and Telecoms, 1984 – 2011 (Mill$)

Sources: Thomson Financial, 2009; FPInformart, 2010; Bloomberg Professional; CRTC, Communication Monitoring Report.

Consolidation has yielded a fundamentally new type of media company at the centre of the network media ecology: i.e. the integrated media conglomerate. Extremely popular in the late-1990s in many countries around the world, many media conglomerates have since collapsed or been broken up (AOL Time Warner, AT&T, Vivendi, CBS-Viacom, and parts of NewsCorp, etc)(see, for example, Jin, 2011; Thierer & Eskelen, 2008; Waterman & Choi, 2010). The trend elsewhere has not, however, taken hold in Canada.

Indeed, in Canada, sprawling media conglomerates are still all the rage. Four such giants and a half-dozen other large but more specialized companies part their size make-up the core ‘big 10’ companies in the network media economy: Bell (CTV), Shaw (Global), Rogers (CityTV), QMI (TVA), CBC, Post Media, Cogeco, Telus, Astral, and Eastlink. A detailed chart of each by ownership, revenues, and sectors operated in is available here and will be addressed further in the next post.

Looking at media concentration from the vantage point of the ‘big ten’, the media have become more concentrated than ever. Their share of all revenues (excluding telecoms services) rose sharply in the 1990s and between 2000 and 2008 hovered steadily in the mid- to low-60 percent range. The big four’s share of the network media economy subsequently rose significantly to just under 68 percent in 2010 (after Shaw’s acquisition of Global) and rose again to just under 70 percent in 2011 (when Bell re-acquired CTV) — an all-time high and a substantial rise from 52% in 1992. The levels of media concentration in Canada are more than twice as high as those in the U.S., based on Noam’s analysis in Media Ownership and Concentration in America (2009).

Breaking the picture down into the following three categories and applying the CR and HHI tools provides an even better view of long-term trends:

  • ‘network infrastructure’ (wired and wireless telecom services, ISPs, cable, satellite and other OVDs);
  • ‘content’ (newspapers, tv, magazines, radio);
  • ‘online media’ (search, social, operating systems).

At the end of the post, I combine these again to complete the analysis of the network media industries as whole in a slightly different form.

The Network Infrastructure Industries

All sectors of the network infrastructure industries are highly concentrated and pretty much always have been, although Internet Access is a partial exception.

Table: CR and HHI Scores for the Network Infrastructure Industries, 1984 – 2011

CR & HHI Network Industries, 2011

Much the same can be said with respect to wireless services: they have consistently been highly concentrated, and still are until this day, despite the advent of four newcomers in just the past two years: Mobilicity, Wind Mobile, Public and Quebecor.CR4 and HHI measures for wired telecoms scores fell during the late-1990s as greater competition in wired line telecom services took hold. They reached their lowest level ever between 2000 and 2004 before after shocks from the collapse of the speculative dot.com bubble took out many of the new rivals (CRTC, 2002, p. 21). Competition grew more and more feeble for most of the rest of the decade before drifting modestly upwards since 2008. Concentration levels, however, still remain high by late-1990s, turn-of-the-century standards, as well as those of the CR and HHI measures.

Two competitors – Clearnet and Microcell – emerged in the late-1990s and managed to garner 12 percent of the market between them, but were then taken over by Telus and Rogers in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Whether the recent round of newcomers will fare any better it is still too early to tell, but with only 2.2 percent of the market as of 2011 they are a long way from the high tide of competition set a decade ago.

As the telecoms and Internet boom gathered steam in the latter half of the 1990s new players emerged to become significant competitors in Internet access, with four companies taking more than a third of the ISP market by 1996: AOL (12.1%), Istar, (7.2%), Hook-Up (7.2%) and Internet Direct (6.2 percent).

The early ‘competitive ISP era’, however, has yielded to more concentration since. Although the leading four ISPs accounted for a third of all revenues in 1996, by 2000 the big four’s (Bell, Shaw, Rogers & Quebecor) share had grown to 54 percent. Things stayed relatively steady at the level for most of the decade before inching upwards in the past few years to reach 57.1 percent in 2011.

HHI scores for internet access also moved upward between 1996 and 2000, but are still low relative to most other sectors. However, this is probably more an indicator of the limits of the HHI method in this particular case, since 93% of high-speed Internet subscribers rely on one or another of the incumbent cable or telecom companies’ ISPs to access the Internet, according to figures in the CRTC’s Communication Monitoring Report (p. 148).

ISP provision in Canada is effectively a duopoly, with the left over 6-7% of the market not dominated by the incumbents scattered among the 400 or so independent ISPs that still exist. This is a slight increase from last year, but it does not mark the return to competitive internet access.  Canada has relied on a framework of limited competition between incumbent telecom and cable companies for wiredline, wireless, internet access and video distribution markets and in all of these markets they dominate, with some other smaller rivals in each.

Cable, satellite and IPTV distribution is one of the only segments assessed where concentration has risen steadily from low levels in the 1980s (850) to the top of the scales in 1996 (2300), before drifting downwards by the turn-of-the-century to the low 2000s where it has remained ever since. It has dipped below that, to the 1900-range, for the last five years, but this is still at the very high end of the scale.

As I noted in the last post, the IPTV services of the incumbent telcos – Bell, MTS, Telus and SaskTel – are becoming a more significant factor in the distribution of television, after a slow and staggered start. By 2011, IPTV services accounted for 7.6 percent of the TV distribution market, based on my numbers, or 3.8 percent using CRTC data (see page 96).

While I have yet to get to the bottom of why this discrepancy exists, what can be said is that, on the basis of my figures, the growth of IPTV services has made small incursions into the incumbent cable and satellite service providers’ turf (i.e. Shaw, Rogers, Quebecor, Cogeco and Eastlink). However, this has done little more than nudge the CR and HHI scores, as the table above shows.

Over the last twenty-seven years, cable tv has become ubiquitous and new tv distribution infrastructures have been added to the fold – DTH in the 1990s, and now, slowly, IPTV. New players have emerged, but never have so few owned so much. New technologies have generally added to this and have not fundamentally disrupted the broad trajectory of development when it comes to tv distribution channels: more channels, and even some new players, but with more of the whole in the hands of the old. The wired society in Canada is probably the poorer for this.

The Content Industries

Until the mid-1990s, all aspects of the tv industry (i.e. conventional broadcast tv as well as pay and specialty channels) were moderately concentrated by HHI standards and significantly so by CR measures. Competition and diversity made some modest inroads from 1998 to 2004, but the trend abruptly reversed course and levels have climbed steadily and substantially since, and sharply in the last two years. Figure 2, below, shows the trend in terms of CR scores; Figure 3, in terms of the HHI.

Figure 2 CR Scores for the Content Industries, 1984 – 2011

 Figure 3 HHI Scores for the Content Industries, 1984 – 2011

The largest four commercial television providers control about 81% of all television revenues in 2011, up from 75% a year earlier. Levels of tv concentration were pushed to new extremes by

Shaw’s take-over of Canwest’s television assets in 2010 and Bell’s buy-back of CTV last year. The big four’s share of all tv revenue before these transactions in 2008 was 70%. A ten percent leap in concentration in two years is a lot.

If the CRTC had approved Bell’s acquisition of Astral Media – the fifth largest television company in Canada, ahead of Quebecor – the all-time high levels of concentration set in 2011 would have been surpassed by an even higher 89.5%. In contrast, the big four accounted for 61% of the tv biz in 2004, a time before major players such as Alliance Atlantis and CHUM were bought out by the now defunct Canwest and Bell/CTV 1 (circa 2000-2006), respectively.

The CR and HHI measures for tv were at all time lows in the 1990s. This was a time when newcomers emerged (Netstar, Allarcom), yet before the time when the multiple ownership groups that had stood behind CTV and Global for decades combined into single groups. The period was also significantly more diverse because the CBC no longer stood as a central pillar in tv and radio, while pay and specialty television channels were finally making their mark. Today, the latter are the crown-jewel in the tv crown.

Today the largest four tv providers after Bell and Shaw are: the CBC, Rogers, Astral, and QMI, respectively, and in that order. By 2011, these six entities accounted for ninety-five percent of the entire television industry. Similar patterns are replicated in each of the sub-components of the ‘total television’ measure (conventional television, pay and specialty channels), as the chart above illustrates.

In contrast, in 2004, the six largest players accounted for a little over three-quarters of all revenues. The run of HHI scores reinforces the view that the television industry is highly concentrated and has become markedly more so in just the past two years.

Like the cable industries, there has never been a moment when diversity and competition has flourished in the newspaper sector. Consolidation rose steadily from 1984, when the top four groups accounted for two-thirds of all revenues, to 1996, when they accounted for nearly three-quarters – a level that has stayed fairly steady since, despite periodic shuffling amongst the main players at the top. Levels declined slightly in 2011 from 2010, from 77% to 75%, likely on account of Postmedia’s decision to sell some of its newspapers (Victoria Times Colonist) and to cut publishing schedules at others.

Of all media sectors, magazines are least concentrated, with concentration levels falling by one-half on the basis of CR scores and two-thirds for the HHI over time. I have not been able to update the data for this sector for 2011, but there is little to suggest a need to change this view.

Radio is also amongst the most diverse media sectors according to HHI scores, but slightly concentrated by the C4 measure. In fact, in 2011, it became moreso, likely because of a shuffling of several radio stations between Shaw/Corus and Cogeco. Bell’s take-over bid for Astral – the largest radio broadcaster in Canada with 17.5% market share – would also have further pushed radio in the direction of concentration had it been approved last month by the CRTC. Had that scenario come to pass, levels of concentration would have still remained well-beneath the CRTC’s self-defined thresholds, but high by the CR measure and just moderately high by the HHI.

Online Media

So far, there’s little reason to believe that trends are any different in the online realm, as measures of the ISP segment showed. But what about other core elements of the increasingly Internet-centric media universe, such as search engines, social media, online news sources, browsers, and smartphone operating systems?

The trends are clear. Concentration in the search engine market continued to grow between 2010 and 2011, with the CR4 score rising from 94% to 97.6%. Google’s share of the market, however, seems to have plateaued, at just over 81 percent of this domain. Microsoft (8.6%), Yahoo! (4.2%), and Ask.com (3.7%) trail far behind, yielding a CR4 of 97.6% and an off-the-charts HHI of 6,683.

Figure 3: C4 Scores for the Search Engines, 2004 – 2011

Source: Experien Hitwise Canada. “Main Data Centre: Top 20 Sites & Engines.” last Accessed October 11, 2012.  http://www.hitwise.com/ca/datacenter/main/dashboard-10557.htm

Social media sites display a similar but not quite as pronounced trend, with Facebook accounting for 63.2% of time spent on such sites in 2010, trailed by Google’s YouTube (20.4%), Microsoft (1.2%), Twitter (0.7%), and News Corp.’s MySpace (.6%) (Experien Hitwise Canada, 2010). Again, the CR4 score of 86% and HHI score of 4426 reveal that social networking sites are highly concentrated.

Similar patterns also hold for other layers of the media ecology. The top four web browsers in Canada – Microsoft’s Explorer (52.8%), Google’s Chrome (17.7%), Firefox (17.1%) and Apple’s Safari (3%) – have a market share of over 90 percent (Comscore, 2011).  There is no data available for Canada with respect to smartphone operating systems, but US data shows that the top four players in 2010 accounted for 93 percent of all revenues: Google’s Android OS (29%), Apple’s iOS (27%), RIM (27%) and Microsoft’s Windows 7 (10%) (Nielsen, 2011).

However, not all areas of the internet and digital media environment, of course, display such patterns. The picture with respect to online news services, for instance, is significantly different. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of time spent on online news sites nearly doubled from 20 to 38 percent, with most of the leading 15 online news sites simply being the extensions of well-established media companies: cbc.ca, Quebecor, CTV, Globe & Mail, Radio Canada, Toronto Star, Post Media, Power Corp. The other major sources included CNN, BBC, Reuters, MSN, Google and Yahoo! (Comscore, 2009; Zamaria & Fletcher, 2008, p. 176).

While that trend meant that attention was consolidating around a few online news sites, and those of traditional journalistic outlets in particular, it nonetheless seems clear that Canadians have diversified their news sources relative to the traditional news environment (newspapers, tv, radio, magazines).  On either the CR or HHI measure, online news fall under the concentration thresholds and are diverse relative to any of the other sectors, except magazines.

However, the fact that concentration levels edged upwards between 2004 and 2007, after the rapid “pooling of attention” that took place between 2003 and 2007 (see immediately above), suggests that a certain plateau might have been reached in terms of the range of sources people are using. Nonetheless, online news sources are not concentrated on the basis of the measures used here. The following table shows the results.

Table: Online News Sources, 2004 – 2011

News website 2004 (N=1482) 2007 (N =1306 ) 2011 (N=1651 )
CBC 10.6 18.3 13.8
Google 5.3 9.2 10.4
MSN / Sympatico 18.2 11 14.7
Yahoo 9.3 7.4 6.5
CNN 9.3 9.4 6.1
CTV 6.2 2.9
Canoe 2.4 7.6 2.9
Cyberpresse 3.5 3.3 3.9
Globe and Mail 4.1 5.9 3.6
BBC 4.9 2.8
Toronto Star 2.6 2.4 1.5
Global 2
Other 32.6 14.4 31.1
CR4 43.4 45.9 45.4
HHI
97.9 100 100.2

Source: Table calculated by Fred Fletcher, York University, from the Canadian Internet Project Data sets (Charles Zamaria, Director).  Reports on the 2004 and 2007 surveys are available at http://www.ciponline.ca.

The Network Media Industries as a Whole (excluding wired and wireless telecoms)

Combining all the elements together yields a birds-eye view of long-term trends for the network media as a whole. As Figure 4 below shows, the HHI score across all of the network media industries is not high by the criteria set out earlier, but the long-term upward trend is clear and significant.

Figure 4: HHI Scores for the Network Media Industries, 1984 – 2010

 

While the HHI for the network media fell in the 1980s and early-1990s, by 1996 trends had reversed and levels were higher than they were a dozen years earlier. Thereafter, the number rose steadily to close to 600 in 2000, where it hovered for several years before falling again in 2008. Since then, however, the HHI score has shot upwards, rising from 510 in 2008 to 623 after Shaw acquired Global and then to 739 once Bell re-acquired CTV after having sold down its majority stake a few years earlier.

The effect of the Bell Astral deal would have been significant in terms of the network media as a whole, raising the HHI score to over 800 – an all time high. This is still low by HHI standards, but we must bear in mind that we are talking about concentration across the entire sweep of the network media industries, not just a random assortment of a few sectors.

The CR4 standard, as shown in Figure 5 below, reveals the trend even more starkly, with the big four media conglomerates – Bell, Shaw, Rogers & QMI – accounting for more than half of all revenues in 2011, a significant rise in a vastly larger media universe from just under forty percent held by the big four twenty-seven years earlier in what was a Lilliputian pond by comparison. While still only moderately concentrated by the CR4 standard, this is for all media combined.

In each and every single sector of the media that the big four operate, they dominate, as the earlier review of CR and HHI scores illustrated. Moreover, the trend in both scores is up, significantly so in the past three years from a CR4 of around 40% to its current level of just over 50%. If this really was a golden digital media age, as some like to contend, that number should be going firmly in the opposite direction.

Figure 5: CR 4 Score for the Network Media Industries, 1984 – 2010

Concluding Thoughts 

Several things stand out from this exercise. First, we are far from a time when studies of media and internet concentration are no longer needed. Indeed, theoretically-informed and empirically-driven research is badly needed because there is a dearth of quality data available and because, one after another, the press of events and specific transactions – Bell Astral in 2012, but Bell’s re-acquisition of CTV the year before and Shaw’s acquisition of Global in 2010 – demands that we have a good body of long-term, comprehensive and systematic evidence ready-to-hand.

This kind of data is still very hard to come by and data collection for 2011 reconfirmed that at every step of the way. The CRTC still needs a dramatic overhaul of how it releases information and of its website, as David Ellis has recently argued so eloquently. The underlying data sets it includes in seminal publications like the Communications Monitoring Report, Aggregate Annual Returns, and Financial Summaries needs to be made available in a downloadable, open format that allows people and researchers to use it as they see best. The regulated companies themselves must also be made to be more forthcoming with data relevant to the issues, and not less, as they so strongly desire.

The trajectory of events in Canada is somewhat similar to patterns in the United States. Concentration levels declined in the 1980s, rose sharply in the late-1990s until peaking around 2000. However, it would appear that whereas in the U.S. a process of deconsolidation set in thereafter, with the obvious exception of Comcast’s blockbuster acquisition of NBC-Universal last year, concentration levels in Canada have climbed, and steeply so, in the past three or so years.

Current media concentration levels in Canada are roughly two-and-a-half times those in the U.S. and high by global standards (Noam, 2009). Moreover, large media conglomerates straddle the terrain in Canada in a manner that is far greater than in any of the other thirty countries studied by the IMCR project, including the U.S., Germany, Japan, Australia, the UK, and so on, where media conglomerates are no longer all the rage as they once were a decade ago.

The assets from the bankrupt Canwest have been shuffled in recent years, and some significant new entities have emerged (e.g. Channel Zero, Post Media, Remstar, Teksavvy, Netflix, The Mark, Tyee, Rabble.ca, Huffington Post). The overall consequnence is that we have a set of bigger and structurally more complicated and diverse media industries, but these industries have generally become far more concentrated, not less.

There is a great deal more that can and will be said about what all this means, but in my eyes it means that concentration in no less relevant in the “digital media age” of the 21st century than it was during the industrial media era of centuries’ past.

Who Owns the Telecom-Media-Internet in Canada, 1984-2010?

This post has been sitting in the wings for a while waiting for me to finish the mad scramble that is the beginning of the school term and to catch my breath after a whirlwind tour to New Zealand. Yes, I have violated the first cardinal rule of blogging — i.e. pick a frequency for your posts and stick to it no matter what — but I hope that you and the blog-Gods-that-be will forgive me.

I started this series of posts a month-and-a-half ago by outlining the growth of the network media economy in Canada and in a second post that examined concentration trends within the network media. Both covered the period from 1984 until 2010, and so too does this post by setting out the top 10 telecom-media-Internet (TMI) companies in Canada, their ownership, revenues, market capitalization, profits and debt over the past quarter-of-a-century.

Just to quickly recap, the first post argued that the network media economy grew immensely from $12.1 billion in revenues in 1984, to $23 billion in 2000, to $33.8 billion last year (in real dollars) (excluding wired and wireless telecoms services). The second that the network media industries became more concentrated during the same period, with the ten largest media companies’ share of entire network media economy rising from a little over 50% in 1984 to just over 70% in 2010. This third post extends the analysis by identifying the rise of media conglomerates in Canada since the mid-1990s and giving a snapshot profile of the “big ten” TMI companies as of 2010.

The Post-1995 Ascent and Triumph of the Media Conglomerate

The mid- to late-1990s marked a watershed in media history in Canada and many other countries around the world. It was the point in time in which media conglomerates – i.e. media companies with stakes in markets across many different kinds of media – went from being the exception to the norm.

If we look back to the late-1980s, we can see the difference. The media environment was much smaller and neither the growth of pay-television nor the Internet had taken-off. TV and the press were still the dominant core of the media, the CBC was the biggest single entity of them all, with about 14 percent of all media revenues, and most companies still focused on just one or two media sectors.

Media conglomerates had begun to emerge – Maclean-Hunter, Videotron, Rogers – but they cut a far less imposing figure. Their reach covered two or three media sectors and their combined share was only slightly greater than that of the CBC at the time, i.e. 14.4 percent versus 14 percent, respectively.

The ‘Big 10’ Media Companies in Canada, 1988 (millions$, real dollars) (excluding wired line and wireless telecoms)

 

TV

Cable

Press/Mags

Radio

Total Rev (Mill$)

Mrkt Share

CBC

846

282

1128

13.9

Southam

789.9

789.9

9.7

Thomson

599.6

599.6

7.4

M-H

104.2

83.5

321.8

509.5

6.3

Videotron/TVA

97.8

245

342.8

4.2

Rogers

36.4

277.8

314.2

3.9

Torstar

286.7

286.7

3.5

Toronto Sun

248.6

248.6

3.1

 Power Corp

 169.70

 169.7

2.1

Baton/CTV

144.6

144.6

1.8

Total $/Sector

2176.4

1242.9

3699.5

1005.6

8,124.4

Amalgamation amongst television ownership groups in the late-1980s and early-1990s produced the large national companies that came to single-handedly own the leading commercial television networks – e.g. CTV, Global, TVA, CHUM, TQS – by the late-1990s. While weighty in their own right, however, these amalgamations did not have a huge impact across the media as a whole.

That changed dramatically in the late-1990s as investment poured into a wave of mergers and acquisitions, yielding massive media conglomerates with unheard of capitalization levels and debts. A second wave of consolidation followed from 2003 until 2007, albeit not nearly on the same scale.

By 2000, the ‘big 10 media enterprises’ in Canada – the first five of which were massive media conglomerates towering over the industry as whole — included: Bell Globemedia, Canwest, Quebecor, Shaw, Rogers, CBC, Torstar, Cogeco, Hollinger, Power Corp/Gesca.

Consolidation sealed the media conglomerate as a defining feature of the TMI industries in Canada, while pushing concentration levels to new heights. Although still significant, the CBC was already occupying a much reduced place within the mediascape.

Since that time, some firms have crashed and burned (Canwest, Hollinger), others have slid off the ranks of the top ten (Power Corp) and yet other new entities have emerged (Post Media). After its failed Bell Globemedia venture (2000-2006), Bell renewed its gambit to make convergence work by buying-back CTV ($3.2 billion) in 2011.

Bell is now at the top of the heap, commanding a sprawling TMI empire that spans: wired and wireless telephone, satellite TV, Internet access, CTV and the A-channel network (now rebranded CTV2), 31 satellite and cable television channels, 28 local television stations and 33 radio stations.

Excluding its wired and wireless telecom revenues, Bell now single-handedly accounts for 16 percent of all revenues across the TMI industries – an extraordinarily high number only paralleled in the era before the mid-1980s when the CBC stood as a central institution peering out across the nation. Bell and the rest, too, are only to eager to assume the mantel, relentlessly and shamelessly wrapping themselves in the flag whenever it suits.

The main difference between now and ten years ago when Bell first trotted out its vertical integration, media convergence strategy is that it has scaled back its stake in the Globe & Mail (15 percent) and that in most developed capitalist economies media conglomerates have fallen from grace (albeit with the exception of the Comcast/NBC-Universal merger approved in the United States in 2011). Not so in Canada, however, where the novel role carved out by the emergence of the media conglomerate at the core of the network media ecology has been more deeply cemented into place with the passage of time, aided and abetted by permissive government policy and a complicit regulator, the CRTC.

Altogether, as of 2010, four massive media conglomerates and a half-dozen large but more specialized companies which are half their size constitute the ‘big 10’ media firms in Canada, as the following table shows.

The ‘Big 10’ Media Companies in Canada, 2010 (millions$) (excluding wired line and wireless telecoms)

Companies & Owners

Mrkt Cap (mills)

Total $

Cable & Sat Dist

ISP

Total TV

Radio

Press/ Mags

Mrkt Share – All Media (%)

Bell/CTVDiversified

6,910*

5175

1676

1408

1801

290

16

Shaw(Family)

9495

4957

2332

916

1469

240

15.2

Rogers(Family)

19785

3826

1830

842

802

213

139

11.7

QMI(Péladeau)

2,421

3028

982

644

345

1056

9.3

CBC

NA

1593

1235

358

4.9

Post Media (Godfrey,et. al.)

1,266

1350

1350

4.1

Cogeco(Audet – 60%; Rogers – 40%)

525

939

594.9

282

62

2.9

Astral (Greenberg)

2051

888

550

338

2.7

TelusDiversified

1,000*

679

60

619

2.1

Torstar (Atkinson, Thall Hindmarsh, Campbell, Honderich)

966

490

490

1.5

Big 10Total $

22926

7475

4712

6265

1430

3035

Total NMI $

32,360

8,100

6,800

6848

1,910

6,502

71

* estimate based on proportion of total revenue accounted for by segments other than BCE and Telus’ wired and wireless telecom services.

So, what stands out from the above table? First, that the “really big four” telecom-media-Internet conglomerates are in a league unto their own, with dominant stakes spanning the media versus the greater focus of second-tier players on just one or two media: CBC, Postmedia, Astral, Telus, Torstar (Cogeco is an exception, being a second-tier player but with the media conglomerate form). The revenues and capitalization levels of the ‘big four’ media conglomerates also dwarf those of the second-tier players, to say nothing of the multitude of other players that fill the nooks and crannies of the media system.

Second, the ‘big 10’ media firms’ share of all revenues (excluding telecoms services), as I noted in the second post in this series, rose to all-time highs in 2000 and have hovered rather steadily around 71-75% ever since — a substantial rise from 61% in 1996 and bigger yet from 56% in 1992. In other words, while the telecom-media-Internet ecology has grown far larger and more structurally differentiated over time, the ‘big 10’ players’ share of it has become bigger still.

Third, as the big ten, and in particular the four major media conglomerates, gained in scale, their capitalization levels soared. During the boom years of the late-1990s, the market capitalization of the largest eight publicly-traded companies tripled from $8.5 billion to $26.8 billion.

The collapse of the TMT bubble cut these figures down to size, but during the mini-boom of 2003 – 2007 capitalization levels rose steeply to reach an all time high of $55.4 billion. Things have fallen from those heights in the face of the global financial crisis but capitalization levels in the TMI industries are at a very high level even relative to the excesses associated with the dot.com bubble.

Figure Big 8 media companies’ market capitalization (millions$), 1990-2010

Fourth, the media business is still a highly profitable one. The eight largest publicly traded media companies for which data is available show that these firms profits stayed steady between 16-17% in the late-1990s, nearly double the rate of profit for all other industries in Canada as a whole.

Operating profits at Rogers, Shaw and Quebecor plunged at the end of the 1990s and during the crash of the dot.com bubble in 2000/1. Downward trends took hold across the media industries as a whole during this time as well, but more modestly so.

By 2002, however, pre-crash profit levels were regained and surpassed, with operating profits for every year except 2006 in the 18-22% range – although the fortunes of individual firms did vary. Last year, they were nearly 19%, or more than double the estimated profits for all industries in Canada. Indeed, since 2008, things have been better than ever for Bell, Shaw, Rogers, QMI and Astral, with operating profits in the 20-30% range – despite the global financial crisis (and versus an average of 9.2 percent in 2009, according to Statistics Canada, for all industries as a whole).

Figure: Big 8 media companies’ operating profits, 1995-2010

Fifth, the big ten media companies in Canada are bloated with debt.  During the rah-rah days of the TMT boom, debt levels across the big eight publicly traded media players soared nearly five-fold. In 1996, total debt for these companies was $8.8 billion; by 2001, and after the orgy of acquisitions described in the previous post, total debt was closing in on $43 billion. Things have turned around since, and in 2010 debt levels were just over a half of what they’d been a decade earlier – still high by historical standards, but a significant decrease nonetheless.

Figure: Big 8 media companies’ debt (millions$), 1990-2010

QMI, Rogers and Shaw continue to labour under high-levels of debt, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, those who have stuck to their knitting – i.e. Astral, Torstar, notably – have never carried the massive debt loads that their counterparts used to buy their way into the centre of the network media economy.

Thus, at a time when these players should have been plowing resources into coming to terms with pervasive digitization, the rise of the Internet, development of broadband networks, more quality content and good journalism, most dominant players in the media industry were mired in debt. Handsome profits and increased market capitalization served owners and investors well, while dealing with the mountain of debt has had devastating effects on media workers and journalists and likely in terms of under-development of the network infrastructure and media content with resources siphoned off into paying the cost of debt rather than innovation.

The sixth and final thing that I want to observe from the listing of the ‘big ten’ is the fact that, despite the sweeping changes that have occurred, a peculiar form of ownership has been left intact across much of the TMI industries in Canada. As I have indicated elsewhere, several scholars have pointed to how the hothouse of innovation required in the communication and media industries has led to the rise of firms that are not only more capital intensive, but share-holder owned and managerially controlled as well.

According to Noam (2009), owner-controlled media firms in the U.S. fell from 35 percent to just 20 percent between 1984 and 2005 (p. 6). Demers and Merskins (2000) also argue that the managerial revolution has signaled the demise of the media baron – a figure reviled and revered in equal measure. They argue that this is a good thing as well, because media managers do not have ideological axes to grind, but do have the deep pockets and expertise needed to support technological innovation and higher quality journalism than owner-controlled companies.

Yet, the situation in Canada clearly does not conform to such a portrait given the fact that all of the ‘big 10’ media firms, except Bell, Telus and the CBC, are owner-controlled. If observers of the “managerial revolution” are correct, then we are the sorrier for it. Essentially, in Canada the sharp and dramatic bout of consolidation that occurred in the last half of the 1990s and again in the mid-2000s simultaneously transformed the structure of media companies and led to a sharp rise in concentration but without altering the structure of media ownership.

In Canada, the media mogul lives. Given their standing in terms of wealth and, often times, political ambition, the structure of ownership alone smacks of oligarchy. The fact that the boards of the big 10 TMI companies are stacked with ex-government and political figures drawn from the Conservative and Liberal parties alike only compounds the image (see Crony Capitalism for details).

This peculiar form of ownership (outside Russia, Latin America and the Arab world) will also continue to make media moguls in Canada a magnet of attention by both those who wish to sing them paeans of praise and others who see the conjunction between personal ambitions, media control and political power as being supremely unhealthy in relation to the values of a network free press and democracy.

CRTC Approves More Media Consolidation: BCE’s Acquisition of CTV / CHUM (again)

This is a first take on today’s decision by the CRTC to approve BCE’s return to the broadcasting business (full decision here).  For those with what constitutes an elephantine memory in these fast and harried times, BCE had taken CTV over once before, in 2000 and failed. It left the television business six years later.  Today, it returned with the CRTC’s blessing and typical sop thrown to the Canadian ‘broadcasting system’, albeit at perhaps an even more meagre and self-serving level than usual.

The decision allows Bell Canada Enterprises a second run at making vertical integration and so-called synergies work between its telephone, satellite and ISP (i.e. network infrastructure) businesses and the largest media group in the country, with its CTV and A-channel networks, 31 satellite and cable television channels, 28 local television stations and 33 radio stations.  The only things really different than 10 years ago is that BCE has dramatically scaled back its ownership stake in the Globe & Mail (the Thomson family holds the rest) and sprawling media conglomerates have, by and large, gone out of fashion since the turn-of-the 21st century.

Another important thing that should catch our eye is that the value of CTV is now less than it was a decade ago, not because the tv business has shrunk — overall it has expanded from a $5 billion industry to one worth $7 billion (adjusted for inflation) — but because the first six year’s of BCE’s tenure were pitifully poor. CTV was worth less than half its original value when BCE left in 2006.  Today, and after all the growth in the industry plus the acquisition of CHUM, the combined value is about the same as CTV was ten years ago: $2.45 billion.

That number is important because it’s the one that the CRTC uses to peg the value of the contributions that BCE will have to pay into the ‘broadcast system’ in order to gain the CRTC’s blessing. At ten percent, BCE’s contribution is $245 million.  Even worse, $65 million of that amount will go to directly into the pockets of Bell TV, BCE’s direct-to-home satellite provider.

The rest is for the usual content, news, drama, culture, music, etc. etc. funding — the ‘cultural industries’ sop that the CRTC requires and that company’s on the prowl exploit to line up support for their take-overs from media workers, directors of Journalism and Communication schools across the country, and so forth. The result is greater media concentration blessed by the state with a few crumbs off the table for others with a stake in the game.

Others, with broader interests can go packing.   The CRTC fudges the language to conceal the fact that while vertical integration and media conglomerates are on the wane elsewhere, they’re on a tear here in Canada, despite the regulator’s supposed new rules limiting media concentration set into place in 2008.

Elsewhere, the crash in the value of the turn-of-the-21st century star of collosal-sized media conglomerates, Time Warner, wiped out nearly a quarter of a trillion in market capitalization, falling from an estimated worth of $350 billion in 2000 to $78 billion in 2009. AT&T also went belly-up in its aggressive move from the wires into all things media, only to be resurrected in 2005 when the moribund company was bought out by SBC. Vivendi Universal in France is another poster child of media conglomeration gone bad.  Others examples are as easy to pile up as leaves in autumn.

But here in Canada, in a manner akin to what takes place in oligarchic capitalist societies — think Russia and South America — giant media enterprises are again on the rise. Today’s blessing of BCE’s acquisition of CTV/CHUM (A-Channel) follows last October’s approval of Shaw’s take-over of the financial wreckage that was Canwest television, and at fire-sale prices to boot!

Of course, the trend is not all in one direction. Indeed, swimming against the tide, in the U.S., Comcast’s, that country’s largest cable provider, acquisition of NBC – Universal was approved by the Dept. of Justice and FCC (but also see Commissioner Michael Copp’s scathign dissent). Besides being exceptions to the rule, it is interesting to compare the US decision approving Comcast’s take-over of NBC with the CRTC’s decision to sanction BCE’s acquisition of CTV/CHUM.

In the US, the Dept. of Justice and FCC put fairly tough demands on Comcast to make its television and film content available to Internet competitors and ‘online video providers’ (OVPs), to adhere to open Internet requirements and to “offer broadband services to low-income Americans at reduced monthly prices; and provide high-speed broadband to schools, libraries and underserved communities, among other benefits” (FCC Press Release).

The CRTC, in contrast, will look at issues of vertical integration in a future set of hearings that it intends to hold on the issue in June.  Any of the other issues are not even on the table, or at least so it appears.

Well, another sad day in Canada. A great opportunity to articulate vision and to implement ideas and practices that could build one of the most open media systems in the world.  Instead, at the CRTC and in Canada’s media industries, it’s business as usual.

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