In 1999, the impending merger between Viacom and CBS was a major topic of discussion in the media world. Two decades later, the same exact conversation has once again resurfaced. In December of 2019, CBS and Viacom once again began the process of merging following Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval. However, now in its second iteration, a merger such as this one is not unique and is now small in comparison to others before it. Just a few months earlier, Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox was approved – a deal worth $71.3 billion – sending shockwaves throughout the entertainment industry and dwarfing the $11.8 billion CBS acquisition of Viacom.
This phenomenon of entertainment company mergers is a theme of the twenty-first century. Between 2018 and 2019 alone, six media mergers with a value greater than $10 billion occurred, accelerating the process of media conglomeration. In 1983, about fifty conglomerates controlled over half of all entertainment media. Today that number is down to six.
While new names have taken a seat at the table in recent years – think the likes of Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu – the rise of media giants greatly undercuts any chance of competition from new and emerging entertainment companies.
The entertainment and media industry is no stranger to criticism over its lack of diversity, particularly in regard to the role (or lack thereof) of women and people of color. There have been increasing calls for greater diversity in writing, directing, and acting.
I propose that there is an additional area of diversity that is missing in the new entertainment world that quietly has been created over the last two decades. How can we expect a diversity of content – of ideas and opinions – to match our equally diverse society when the sponsors of the media being created and paid for fall on the shoulders of just a few media giants? That is not competition at all. That is an oligopoly.
Anastasia Pyrinis is a first-year law student at Harvard Law School and an editor with the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law.