The American media market is well known for its flashy, profit-oriented approach to content production and distribution. Tactics of conglomeration (concentration of ownership by a parent company), Vertical and Horizontal Integration (shared efficiencies across commonly-owned companies) help media conglomerates accomplish a kind of synergy (inter-organizational efficiency) that companies outside the “Big 6” can hardly compete with.
As a scholar and educator focused on the field of media, I know all too well that examples of this kind of market/media logic are everywhere, just waiting to be found. Practically every program produced by a major media outlet will model parts of this logic if one looks carefully enough. There may be nothing new to see, but it’s still a useful endeavor to uncover what’s behind the veil. Still, every once and a while we’re faced with such extreme examples that they render visible what is so often hidden in today’s media environment. I recently recognized NBC’s The Voice as such a specimen. (Watch the full episode below.)
The Voice is an example of corporate media logic par excellence. During its season five finale, The Voice demonstrated just how deep the synergistic waters can run. The final episode included numerous performances by popular artists seeking exposure for their individual brands, as well as their new line of products…err, albums. More importantly, the vast majority of those artists work under popular music labels previously affiliated with the conglomerate. For example, Lady Gaga (Interscope), Ne-Yo (DefJam), One Republic (Interscope), and Aloe Blacc (Interscope) are each supporting Comcast’s bottom line in their own resounding fashions. And, of course, the season five winner (SPOILER ALERT!), Tessanne Chin, was awarded a record contract with Universal Music Group, a major label with prior ties to NBC Universal/Vivendi.
But, the story doesn’t end there. Producers of the The Voice also discovered even more synergies by partnering with Kia Motors. Not only did Kia help The Voice cross-promote by creating a special model for the show, they also helped close out the season with “a few surprises” for the season’s three finalists: a private tour of Universal Studios, a visit from the Grinch himself (yes, they’re also cross-promoting a new movie), and a new Kia. In return, Kia was able to advertise their 2014 lineup to viewers around the world.
Taken together, this is the capitalist logic on steroids: a handful of powerful media companies that are incredibly well-funded, sparsely regulated, and hardly diverse. And, like it or not, the trend keeps growing stronger. After completing their merger with NBCUniversal/GE just months ago Comcast is now looking to purchase fellow conglomerate Time Warner Cable. If the plan goes through, Comcast, which is already a juggernaut in the American media market, could become one of the largest and most powerful media companies ever.
NOTE: This analysis is far from exhaustive, as The Voice exemplifies many more trends of the new media environment than can be covered in one post. For example, The Voice has been incredibly successful at engaging its audience and leveraging them to various ends. For example, members of the fan community help boost profits by purchasing songs, voting, and cross-promoting with the help of numerous social media sites.