By: Jonathan Schultz
What do LeBron James, Johnny Depp, and Topher Grace all have in common?
You’re likely to see all three of them in the same 90 seconds of television. How is that possible, you ask? What kind of crazy, wormhole programming could exist such that these three “stars” (speaking liberally for Topher) could appear on the same channel?
Welcome to the age of media conglomerates, in which holding companies own several networks stretching across every field of interest and audience type, and the Walt Disney Company very much takes the cake for this. Currently, Disney owns a proverbial war chest of properties in all areas of media and entertainment, notably all of the ABC and ESPN networks and the Walt Disney Pictures film studio.
So, you could plop onto your couch after a long day of classes and flip on your TV to ESPN to watch some SportsCenter. You just get done watching the top ten plays of the week, three or four of which inevitably include LeBron, and when the commercial break arrives, you are hit with a commercial for Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s new film The Lone Ranger, costarring Depp and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Then, the next commercial is for re-runs of your favorite shows on the ever-lovable ABC Family network, including airings of Topher Grace’s star-performance as Eric Foreman in That ‘70s Show.
“This kind of cross-promotion within the Disney/ABC/ESPN conglomerate has become more blatant over the years and often blurs the distinction between sports and more traditional narrative entertainment. The relationship and eventual marriage of Eva Longoria and San Antonio Spurs’ guard Tony Parker is often framed in a way that markets the NBA on ESPN and Desperate Housewives on ABC.” (Sharma).
It’s easy for one to ask themselves at this point why any of this matters. Why wouldn’t a company be interested in promoting its own intellectual properties? The concern arises when a company may sacrifice the quality of its programming for the sake of self-promotion.
“Disney has long subscribed to the ideal of “synergy,” meaning that one Disney product is created, marketed and sold to enhance the profitability of another.” (Clavio & Pedersen 96).
Celebrity personalities like Eva Longoria, Whoopi Goldberg, and the Jonas Bros., all from Disney properties (Desperate Housewives, The View, and Disney Music Group respectively) have all appeared in SportsCenter telecasts or ESPN’s coverage of sports events. Does this type of celebrity attention enhance ESPN’s ability to cover sports? Does it provide the best content for its audience?
Beyond potential degradation of program quality, this incessant cross-promotion of Disney’s own properties has a more insidious effect: insulating all of its audience members from the rest of the media landscape. Viewers are kept inside Disney’s manicured environment, and the result is an audience bombarded with nothing but the values of the parent company – with or without their choice.
Clavio, G. & Pedersen, P. “Print and Broadcast Connections of ESPN:An Investigation of the Alignment of Editorial Coverage in ESPN The Magazine with ESPN’s Broadcasting Rights” International Journal of Sport Management. Vol. 8, 2007, 95-114. http://www.academia.edu/1277978/Print_and_Broadcast_Connections_of_ESPN_An_Investigati on_Of_the_Alignment_of_Editorial_Coverage_in_ESPN_The_Magazine_With_ESPNs_Broadcasti ng_Rights
Sharma, Sudeep. “Reading ESPN Against Niches” Mediascape. http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/Fall09_Sharma.html