A few days ago, my husband posted the following on his Facebook page. His message ties to my post yesterday, and it sparked even more of my thinking about the importance of critical thinking. You may find it does so, too.
“You can see the skies. They look like they’re upset about what mankind has been doing, and they’re threatening the Earth with storms. The clock says it’s daytime, but dark night is strangling the sun.” No Fear Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2, scene 4.
All this fuss and vicious finger pointing about fake news. Sheesh. Let me suggest, my friends, without being too obnoxious, it isn’t fake at all, rather, it is manufactured.
Well, yes, manufactured.
It starts with a “mined” or “harvested” raw resource (supposedly the facts or the “truth” [air quotes]), then it goes through various refinement processes until finally there’s a “bombshell of the day” or “breaking news” or “blockbuster movie or TV series” product at the end of the value chain designed to get and hold our attention across multiple channels and media. But, when the news and/or entertainment finally hits the airwaves (the shelves of our eyes and ears) there are two things to try to keep in mind:
- The owners of the bulk of news and entertainment makers and distributors devolve into a VERY small group of companies–a monopoly of sorts–that are controlled by 20 to 30 so Billionaires, that make ALL the decisions on what/who gets reported and not reported, filmed and not filmed, bullied and not bullied, even elected and not elected, etc. (Please see the list of companies below.)
- The content of news and movie/TV entertainment is extremely curated and molded. Why? Because the goal no longer is to keep news and entertainment separated. It is unnecessary since there is no external moral code to dictate what is right and wrong, good and bad, virtuous or vice. Today, those considerations are dictated by who is in charge of controlling the minute by minute, hour by hour, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly newsfeed, entertainment and educational narrative in order to make . . . MONEY!
Manufactured news must be carefully designed to inform and entertain in order to fuel the “attention to profit” revenue engine.
If so, may I suggest to never forget the money trail IS the only thing that matters at the end of the month/quarter. It seems, today, that there are NO altruistic incentives in news or entertainment. Either the media outlet makes a profit or they’re gone. And, the political, moral views of those who control the content are intricately tied into the “profitable” audience that pays for a certain point of view or worldview to win or triumph.
And the battle lines are drawn very profitably by these news and entertainment media manufacturing monopolists.
The funny thing is that unless we are willing to see behind the curtains (there are multiple layers of curtains) there is a assembly line or “value chain” that narrows down ideas, slants perspectives, and cherry-picks management teams to promote, or hold to, a certain bias, then we are most unwittingly duped no matter what political or moral side we’re on. We’ll argue until we’re toxically bloated that we’re right, but there’s ALWAYS another story behind the story behind the story that may undo our “I’m right and you’re wrong” arguments.
Consider this: All those thousands of TV channels we thought represented diversity and fairness, uh, no. . .
What I’m going to share is quite eye-opening (at least I think so). All we hear about is how horrible Rupert Murdoch and Fox News are, but let’s look at the top companies (unranked) that own 90% of the media (including News Corporation aka Rupert). It seems fair to me that any and all could read through this and be able to conclude that there’s more to the “facts” than we’re being told when it comes to who/what controls what we see, hear, and read every day in news and entertainment. And, all of which, today, in my opinion, are manufactured one and the same:
- Comcast ($55 billion…ish) owns or has it’s hands in . . .ready?
NBCUniversal; twenty-four television stations and the NBC television network; Telemundo; USA Network; SyFy; CNBC; MSNBC; Bravo; Oxygen; Chiller; CNBC World; E!; the Golf Channel; Sleuth; mun2; Universal HD; VERSUS; Style; G4; Comcast SportsNet (Philadelphia), Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (Baltimore/Washington, D.C.), Cable Sports Southeast, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, MountainWest Sports Network, Comcast SportsNet California (Sacramento), Comcast SportsNet New England (Boston), Comcast SportsNet Northwest (Portland, Ore.), Comcast Sports Southwest (Houston), Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (San Francisco), New England Cable News (Boston), Comcast Network Philadelphia, Comcast Network Mid-Atlantic (Baltimore/Washington, D.C.); the Weather Channel (25 percent stake); A&E (16 percent stake); the History Channel (16 percent stake); the Biography Channel (16 percent stake); Lifetime (16 percent stake); the Crime and Investigation Channel (16 percent stake); Pittsburgh Cable News Channel (30 percent stake); FEARnet (31 percent stake); PBS KIDS Sprout (40 percent stake); TV One (34 percent stake); Houston Regional Sports Network (23 percent stake); SportsNet New York (8 percent stake).
They also own: Comcast Interactive Media; Plaxo; Universal Studios Hollywood; Wet ‘n Wild theme park; Universal Studios Florida; Universal Islands of Adventure; Philadelphia 76ers; Philadelphia Flyers; Wells Fargo Center; iN DEMAND; Music Choice (12 percent stake); SpectrumCo (64 percent stake)
(Note: Some of these companies/titles have or will change hands, but no new hands have shown up during the past 20 years. It is still the same group of Billionaires and companies incestuously fleshing it out for profit.)
- Time Warner ($29 billion…ish)
One of the largest media holding company with the Warner Brothers Television Group; Warner Brothers Television; Warner Horizon Television; CW Network (50 percent stake); TBS; TNT; Cartoon Network; truTV; Turner Classic Movies; Boomerang; CNN; HLN; CNN International; HBO; Cinemax; Space; Infinito; I-Sat; Fashion TV; HTV; Much Music; Pogo; Mondo TV; Tabi; CNN Español the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies, CNN and Headline News and CW.
TW also owns: Warner Brothers (which owns DC Comics); Warner Brothers Pictures; New Line Cinema; Castle Rock; WB Studio Enterprises, Inc.; Telepictures Productions, Inc.; Warner Brothers Animation, Inc.; Warner Home Video; Warner Premiere; Warner Specialty Films, Inc.; Warner Brothers International Cinemas
- News Corporation (Rupert Murdoch) the largest market cap at $40 billion…ish
Owns Fox Broadcasting Company; television and cable networks such as Fox, Fox Business Channel, National Geographic and FX; print publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and TV Guide; the magazines Barron’s and SmartMoney; book publisher HarperCollins; film production companies 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Blue Sky Studios; numerous websites including MarketWatch.com; and non-media holdings including the National Rugby League. FX; SPEED; FUEL TV; Fox College Sports; Fox Movie Channel; Fox Soccer Channel; Fox Soccer Plus; Fox Pan American Sports; Fox Deportes; Big Ten Network; National Geographic U.S.; Nat Geo Adventure; Nat Geo Music; Nat Geo Wild; Fox International Channels; Utilisima; Fox Crime; NEXT; FOX History & Entertainment; the Voyage Channel; STAR World; STAR Movies; NGC Network International; NGC Network Latin America; LAPTV; Movie City; City Mix; City Family; City Stars; City Vibe; the Film Zone; Cinecanal; Elite Sports Limited; BabyTV; STAR India; STAR Taiwan; ESPN STAR Sports; Shine Limited. Hulu.com (32 percent minority share). HarperCollins Publishers; the New York Post; the Daily News; News International (the Times; the Sunday Times; the Sun); News Limited (146 newspapers in Australia); Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, SmartMoney, Factiva, Dow Jones Newswires, Dow Jones Local Media, Dow Jones VentureSource). Fox Filmed Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment; Twentieth Century Fox Television; Twentieth Television; Fox Television Studios
- General Electric media holdings keep changing, but it sorta includes television networks NBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports, Telemundo, 27 television stations in the United States and many cable TV networks, including the History Channel, and Sci Fi Channel. It also owns the popular web-based TV website Hulu. (Sorta means they co-own a lot of things with other media behemoths)
Disney ($55 Billion)
Owns the ABC television network; cable networks including ESPN, the Disney Channel, SOAPnet, A&E and Lifetime; 277 radio stations, music- and book-publishing companies; film-production companies Touchstone, Miramax and Walt Disney Pictures; Pixar Animation Studios; the cellular service Disney Mobile; and theme parks around the world. And, don’t forget they own Marvel Studios now!
They also own dozens of cable networks, and with the Disney channel they control millions of kids’ eyeballs — and moms’ pocket books.
- Viacom owns 160 cable channels including MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TV Land, Spike TV, Tr3s, BET and CENTRIC
They also own numerous studio brands including Paramount Pictures, Insurge Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies.
- Bertelsmann ($20 billion…ish)
Owns Random House (with over 200 imprints in 15 countries, including the Ballantine Publishing Group, the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Broadway, the Crown Publishing Group, the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, Pantheon, Random House U.K., Transworld, Sudamericana, C. Bertelsmann, Karl Blessing Verlag, Goldmann, Siedler Verlag, Wolf Jobst Siedler Verlag, Plaza & Janes (50 percent), Grijalbo Mondadori (50 percent), the Knopf Publishing Group, the RH Adult Trade Publishing Group, RH Audio, RH Children’s Books, RH Direct, Inc., the RH Information Group, RH International, RH Large Print, RH Value Publishing, and Waterbrook Press; Gruner + Jahr (285 print titles in 20 countries)
- We mustn’t forget Social Media: Facebook with over 1.5 billion people who primarily get their news and entertainment from the Facebook feed they unwittingly created for themselves, warmly cocoons them within a pleasant “me, me, me” echo chamber.
Getting the picture (pun intended)?
I’m a Cinephile, lover of movies, and I’m going to share some stats on movie gross earnings vs product costs that provide some perspective on how what we see/hear is manufactured to keep our attention in order to make a profit.
This daily, highly-touted, data-set got underway in the mid ’70’s when the first summer Blockbuster hit the big screen. It went like this:
Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum (faster and faster)
It was Spielberg’s, Jaws, and it grossed $470 million on a production budget of $7 million; 67 times the initial investment.
Another more recent example:
Beauty and the Beast, the 2017 metaphor of love, sacrifice and atonement, grossed $900 million, but cost $300 million to make; a 300% return.
It used to be that we’d only hear about the “box office” earnings at certain times of the year, but now we hear about how big, or bad, the “weekend box office” will be, or was, year around. (WARNING: They’re just marketing to us, but now it’s designed to cocoon us in a world of news and entertainment that gets us hooked.)
Don’t believe me? Well, here is a stat to chew on:
Only 2 to 3% of us go to movies in theaters, but 90% of us watch them or TV series (we’ve heard about) in our own homes on DVD, network TV, or streamed TV.
Ready for some more hype that hooks us into the “manufactured media” consumption loop?
Manchester By The Sea grossed $72.6 million, but cost $8.5 million. (BTW, what in the heck was that Oscar-winning movie supposed to achieve???)
La La Land, an absolutely delightful look at the quest for fame and love, grossed $442 million worldwide on a production budget of $30 million.
Historical Hype? (no ranking order)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (and who didn’t like this laugh fest?) is the highest gross earnings to cost movie: $369 million against $6 million.
Star Wars grossed $775 million against a $40 million budget.
Mrs. Doubtfire grossed $441 million against a $38 million budget.
Slumdog Millionaire grossed $378 million against a budget of $15 million.
There’s Something About Mary grossed $370 million against a $31 million budget
The Hangover grossed $467 million against a budget $36 million.
The Passion of Christ grossed $612 million against a budget of $35 million
The reality is that these movies, based on these numbers, are portrayed as making a profit at the Box Office.
Movies, in MOST cases, only become profitable after they hit DVD and TV.
NOW, go back to that list of news and entertainment companies and note how many of them own the advertising networks, the movie studios, the news stations, and the TV networks and subscriber channels. And remember that without the TV outlets 2/3’s of their profits disappear.
See the cross-channel, total-immersion system?
Manufactured — end to end — news and entertainment designed to monopolize our eyes, ears, minds, hearts–and pocket books.
And the vast majority of it has NOTHING to do with facts or truth. Well, okay, the weather and sports seem to be based in truth most of the time (unless you think there’s a conspiracy in the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, etc. haha)
And on that sports analogy…from the Witches in Macbeth:
“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Sources: SLATE, Hollywood’s Profits Demystified; Freepress, Who Owns the Media?; CNBC, Entertainment, Most Profitable Movies of All Time
Curtis Rasmussen is a lover of great movies, great marketing, and people who don’t fit in. He practices reaching across the aisle to befriend people of the opposite persuasion, politics, or affiliations. Curtis is a marketing strategist and writer who lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Amy, his dog Jag, and his youngest child of seven, Zach.