By: Spencer Kennedy
Comcast and Time Warner have announced a $45 billion merger. Anyone familiar with the media industry is likely aware of its concentrated nature. Simply put, a few large conglomerates bumping shoulders every now and then is more profitable than many, smaller corporations competing. Why fight for crumbs when you can enjoy your fair-share of a massive pie? It is this thinking that seems to motivate many of the dominant players in today’s media industry, including Comcast and Time Warner.
While many already understand the implications of the highly concentrated ownership inherent in media and technology markets, I will reiterate that information here: it means that the big dogs on top can play the market (boosting prices, extensive copyright, etc.) with little to no backlash from the public or the government. If these results sound undesirable, why are companies like Comcast and Time Warner continually allowed to merge, acquire, and expand?
Lobbying allows companies both small and large to promote their causes to government agencies and politicians. However, what happens when a business is so dominant (like Comcast) that its lobbying power is virtually unmatched?
A recent New York Times article explained the extent of Comcast’s network of influence. With six former government officials on their lobbying team and billions of dollars to spend on “grants” and “donations” to vital organizations and demographics, it is easy to see how the company maintains control.
For example, Meredith Attwell Baker joined Comcast’s lobbying team just months after she left the FCC in 2011. Her final action was the approval of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, a controversial deal at the time. While this is not lobbying, it serves the same purpose, and provides Comcast another influential voice.
An FCC case file documenting the Comcast-NBC merger includes a list of at least 56 organizations that received – in the years leading up to the deal – $8.6 million from the Comcast Foundation, in addition to other benefits. These organizations just so happened to be major dissidents of the merger – that is, until they found the “support” from Comcast to change their minds. Which raises the question, what kind of influence impacted the Comcast-Time Warner merger?
This is just one example of Comcast’s powerful web at work. Lobbying efforts are not necessarily a bad thing, as there are instances of good intention from conglomerates in the media industry and otherwise. Having said this, it is hard to deny skepticism towards a company that has six former-government officials representing it, and titanic financial weight to use in the name of “philanthropy.”