Who Owns Austin Media? This Program Brought to You by ...
Warning: By the time you read this story, the information contained in it will probably be obsolete. When University of California professor Ben Bagdikian first published his seminal study of the nation's media, The Media Monopoly, in 1983, he noted that only 50 giant corporations controlled the majority of the nation's newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, book publishing houses, and movies, and grimly pontificated on the dire effects such concentration of control over the nation's information flow could have. At the time, he was branded as "alarmist."
By the time the fifth edition of The Media Monopoly came out in 1997, the number of dominant corporations had shrunk to 10. Earlier this year, University of Illinois professor Robert W. McChesney released an equally outstanding study, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, and noted that this number of what he calls "first tier" companies had dwindled to eight (Disney, Viacom, Seagram, News Corporation, Sony, General Electric, AT&T, and Time Warner). Within mere weeks of the book's release, his information was already out of date, as CBS and Viacom announced a colossal merger.
The world's major corporations have realized that the media can be big money, and they have invested heavily. As antitrust regulations have loosened, and big investors have been swallowed up by even bigger investors, the landscape has been changing almost too quickly for consumers to keep up. Where it was once illegal for a company to own more than one radio or television station in a market, it is now possible to own several. And while many cities once had rival newspapers, buyouts have now made such situations rare.
And as the power of the media becomes more concentrated, journalism -- and therefore democracy -- suffers. Once upon a time, reporters could investigate the malfeasance of the wealthy and powerful. Today, however, that megacorporation getting its toes stepped on may just as likely be the reporter's boss -- as an ABC reporter discovered last year when trying to expose alleged poor labor conditions at Disney World (Disney owns ABC; the story was killed).
The effects of concentrated control of the media can be seen right here in Austin -- especially as our population keeps growing, making us an ever more important media market. What follows is an inventory of who owns what in Austin's media. The list includes major newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations. Excluded are book publishers and movies, as well as most of Austin's smaller newspapers, which tend not to be corporate-owned, and the public stations, which are run by nonprofit boards.
Time WarnerTime Warner Cable
As McChesney notes, in 1988 Time was a $4.2 billion publishing company and Warner Communications was a $3.4 billion media conglomerate; the two merged, and 10 years later their combination resulted in $28 billion in business.
Among Time Warner's more notable holdings are the Warner Bros. movie studios and music labels, HBO, the WB television network, CNN and the various Turner networks, Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, DC Comics, and the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks sports teams, as well as merchandise stores and amusement parks.
Here in Austin, of course, Time Warner dominates as the city's cable provider. And it also recently entered the local news reporting business, launching News8 in September as a "service" to its subscribers and a lure to potential new ones. The 24-hour news channel bears some resemblance to CNN's Headline News channel, with an hourlong news "wheel" that gradually gets updated throughout the day; however, its main focus is on Austin.
News8 follows in the footsteps of similar Time Warner stations in New York City, Rochester, Orlando, and Tampa. Other stations have been proposed for Houston, Milwaukee, and Ohio.
News CorporationKTBC-TV ("Fox-7")
Another megagiant: Rupert Murdoch is one of the richest people in the world, and the Australian seems intent on owning as much of the media world as various nations' laws will allow. Among News Corp.'s more notable holdings: the various Fox networks; 22 U.S. television stations; the 20 Century Fox film studios; HarperCollins Books; over 130 daily newspapers, including The Times of London and the New York Post; TV Guide; the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team; 50% of the Australian National Rugby League; and the Manchester United British soccer team, just to cover the tip of the iceberg. He has huge TV, newspaper, and Internet holdings on every continent except Africa.
A comment that is probably telling about Murdoch's philosophy: In the 1999 yearbook of Project Censored, a media research project at Sonoma State University, two former Fox TV reporters from Tampa allege that they were fired for trying to report on the dangers of bovine growth hormone in the nation's milk supply. The manager who hired them was fired as well, and replaced with a new one who they claim told them: "We paid $3 billion for these television stations, we'll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is." A chilling thought for independent-minded journalists, as well as anyone who believes that the airwaves are ultimately the property of the public, and that network owners have a public service obligation.
KTBC, better known as Fox-7, is Austin's oldest station, founded by the LBJ family in 1952. Their news team used to duke it out with KVUE for the top ratings, but about the time it switched its affiliation from CBS to Fox in 1995, the station began a steady decline in quality and ratings. It now takes turns holding the last-place spot with the new CBS affiliate, KEYE. Additionally, the company has a local marketing agreement -- which allows it to program another station without owning it outright -- with UPN affiliate KVC-13.
Belo's biggest claim to fame is as the publisher of The Dallas Morning News, far and away considered the best newspaper in Texas, and recently ranked in a Columbia Journalism Review poll of newspaper editors as the fifth-best paper in the nation. The company's history goes back to 1842, when Alfred Horatio Belo founded the Galveston Daily News. The DMN started in 1885, and in 1920, the company moved aggressively into broadcasting. In 1998, Belo made $1.4 billion. While it's nowhere near the size of the megagiants, Belo gets a lot of bang for its buck -- in addition to owning what is pretty much the paper of record for Texas, Belo has four television stations in the nation's top 17 TV markets, including WFAA in Dallas and KHOU in Houston. In all, Belo owns or operates 24 television stations and eight newspapers, including the DMN, The Eagle in Bryan/College Station, the Arlington Morning News, and the Denton Record-Chronicle.
It also joined the 24-hour local cable news business at the beginning of this year with Texas Cable News (TXCN; based in Dallas/Fort Worth) and NorthWest Cable News (Seattle/Tacoma), and is a partner in Local News on Cable in Hampton/Norfolk, Va. and NewsWatch on Channel 15 in New Orleans. Don't expect to see TXCN in Austin any time soon -- Belo would have to convince Time Warner to open up to competition against its own News8. However, some TXCN-produced material may find its way into the Austin market, since Belo purchased ABC affiliate KVUE from Gannett Co. Inc. back in February.
Lin TelevisionKXAN-TV (36)
A relative small fry in the television world, Lin Television has been around since 1966, and owns eight network-affiliated stations in medium-sized markets -- Indianapolis; New Haven/Hartford, Conn.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Norfolk/Portsmouth, Va.; Buffalo; Decatur, Ill.; Fort Wayne, Ind; and Austin's NBC-affiliated KXAN. Additionally, the company has local marketing agreements (LMAs) in four of those markets. Here in Austin, it has an LMA with WB network affiliate KNVA.
CBS (soon to be Viacom)KEYE-TV (42)
KAMX-FM ("Mix 94.7")
KKMJ-FM ("Majic 95.5")
KQBT-FM ("The Beat," 104.3)
KJCE-AM ("The Juice," 1370)
K-EYE, these radio stations, and CBS itself typify the quick-change wheeling and dealing in the media world. CBS bought K-EYE (formerly owned by Granite Broadcasting) in August. And of course, CBS itself, already a media giant, announced a merger with first-tier company Viacom earlier this year, a transaction which should be completed early next year.
Before its purchase of this major network, Viacom was already raking in $12.1 billion in annual revenues. Its holdings include Blockbuster Video, the Sundance Channel, MTV, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, TV Land, VH1, Showtime, UPN, and Comedy Central, as well as several amusement parks.
AMFM Inc.KVET-AM (1300)
AMFM Inc. is the undisputed king of the radio world, and its roots are right here in Austin.
Dallas entrepeneur R. Steven Hicks built Capstar, based out of One American Center in downtown Austin, into the biggest radio company in America. He took advantage of the 1996 Telecom Act's loosening of ownership restrictions to build an empire of more than 400 radio stations, although the company owned none in Austin until it finally bought the top-rated KVET/KASE franchise from former Austin mayor Roy Butler in 1997.
Meanwhile, Hicks' brother Thomas was up in Dallas building a similarly impressive domain with his Chancellor Media Corp., aiming at fewer stations, but in bigger markets such as San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This spring, the two brothers had a family reunion by merging the two companies into the new, colossal AMFM Inc., with 465 stations in 105 markets, reaching 66 million people. The company also has substantial Internet holdings. And it's only going to get bigger--
Clear Channel CommunicationsKEYI-FM ("Key 103")
-- when AMFM completes its $56 billion merger with San Antonio's Clear Channel Communications. Announced in October, the merger will create a truly mammoth operation. Even after federal regulators force the company to sell off several properties to meet the few ownership restrictions which remain, the combined company will control 830 radio stations, 425,000 billboards, and 19 television stations. Clear Channel was founded in 1972 and has been publicly traded since 1984.
LBJ-S BroadcastingKLBJ-AM (590)
KLNC-FM ("Lone Star 93")
In 1997, at least partially to stay competitive amidst the merger mania, venerable LBJ Broadcasting merged with Sinclair Telecable to gain control of five radio frequencies, all but one of which are among the city's top-rated stations. The sale was estimated at $80 million. KLBJ is one of the city's oldest stations, owned by the family of you-know-who. It's now one of the few remaining examples of locally owned media, but expect any number of companies to be licking their chops over the possibility of owning this valuable commodity.
Times ShamrockKJFK-FM (98.9)
Austin's local shock talk affiliate has been owned by the Times Shamrock company of Scranton, Penn., since 1987. Among its properties are 12 radio stations and several newspapers. This year, it bought the San Antonio Current, the Alamo city's alternative newsweekly.
Simmons MediaKAHK-FM (107.7)
This "classic rock" station is owned by Salt Lake City's Simmons Media, which owns 22 radio stations and a major billboard company.
Smaller radio properties:Austin businessman Buddy McGregor owns the Spanish-language KQQQ-FM and KQQA-AM; the local Garcia family owns three other Spanish-language stations, KKLB-FM, KELG-AM, and Tejano leader KTXZ-AM; the Austin-based International Life Ministries owns the Christian talk and music KIXL-AM; and Baytown's Rev. Darrell Martin owns the gospel music station KFIT-AM, along with stations in Houston, Baytown, Wharton, Conroe, San Antonio, Beaumont, and Mobile, Ala.
Cox EnterprisesAustin American-Statesman
Our local daily has taken to calling itself "The Paper of Central Texas," but its ownership is hardly community-based. Cox is one of the powerhouse giants in the media world, especially in the cable television business. But its roots are in newspapers: The company started 100 years ago when James M. Cox, a three-time Ohio governor and 1920 Democratic presidential nominee, purchased the Dayton Evening News. In 1962 it entered the cable television business, from which most of its revenues derive today.
Currently, the company provides cable service to more than 3.8 million customers in dozens of cites and towns around the nation, including several in Texas. In addition, it owns nine newspapers, including two others in Texas (the Longview News-Journal and The Waco Tribune-Herald; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is considered its flagship paper); five television stations; 16 radio stations; and 19 interactive Web sites, including the Statesman-affiliated austin360.com. Cox also has major investments in AT&T, Sprint PCS, the @Home Network, the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Speedvision (an auto-racing TV channel), and 10 other Web sites.
Ironically, however, Cox is not one of the aforementioned eight dominant corporations. McChesney labels Cox a "second-tier" corporation, his term for "smaller" companies (Cox's annual revenues are about $5 billion, compared with the $100 billion of General Electric, owner of NBC) who don't have the film, TV, and music production capabilities that the first-tier giants possess. In an interview with the Chronicle earlier this year, McChesney speculated that Cox is a likely candidate to get bought out by one of the first-tier giants. In his book, he writes, "the option of being a small or middle-sized media firm barely exists any longer: A firm either gets larger through mergers and acquisitions or it gets swallowed by a more aggressive competitor."
Emmis CommunicationsTexas Monthly
After 25 years as the founding owner of one of the nation's premier regional magazines, Mike Levy finally sold Texas Monthly to Emmis Communications, based in Indianapolis, in 1998. After years of grooming some of the state and nation's best writers, the magazine now belongs to Emmis' fold of four magazines, 17 radio stations (including one in Hungary), and six television stations. The company is one of the top 10 broadcasters in the U.S., and brought in $1.7 billion in revenues, and that was before it purchased the TV stations.
Advance Publications, Inc.Austin Business Journal
New York City-based Advance is one of the most important publishers in the United States: Its Condé Nast division prints Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Wired, and The New Yorker; it also owns 22 daily newspapers; has cable holdings through a joint venture with Time Warner; and is the owner of American City Business Journals, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company.
Business reporting is the fastest-growing segment of journalism, and American City is doing good business covering business. The company is the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business newspapers, with 41 such publications. The company estimates its total readership at 3.2 million. It also operates a national advertising representative firm, a book marketing company, and nine different sports publications.
The Austin Chronicle CorporationThe Austin Chronicle
Started in 1981 by UT graduate student Nick Barbaro, this newsweekly has steadily grown from about 40 pages per issue published every other week, to more than three times that size, publishing every week. Now co-owned by editor Louis Black, the paper successfully launched the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, which has grown into one of the nation's premier music industry conferences and expanded into film and interactive conferences, in 1987. The conference is now a separate corporation, SXSW Inc., which Black and Barbaro co-own with managing director Roland Swenson. The paper also sponsors such high-profile events as the annual Austin Music Awards and The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.
The Chronicle is increasingly a rarity in the alternative newsweekly business -- more and more, such papers are becoming part of alt-weekly chains, such as the Arizona-based New Times company.