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Global Media Giants Acquire both Content and Distribution, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Large entertainment and media companies commonly use two strategies for long-term growth.  Companies that control massive distribution systems (such as internet sites, cable TV channels or magazine publishing companies) often want to control more content.  Conversely, companies that control large amounts of content often want to control more distribution.  Such content-owning firms include those in film production, television production and publishing.  In the long haul, the greatest profits in the global entertainment and media industries may come from distribution.  Nonetheless, distribution companies often have good reason to diversify into content.

In 2013, cable TV system giant Comcast bought-out its partner in order to take full ownership of NBC Universal.  Comcast’s full ownership affords it control of the NBC network, NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal Pictures, Universal theme parks and resorts and a number of popular cable channels such as Bravo.  In other words, it is now a giant in both content and distribution on a very wide scale.  In 2018, Comcast agreed to acquire UK-based Sky, a massive broadband and TV delivery system that also produces a large amount of its own content.

During 2013, U.S. cable company Liberty Global acquired British cable titan Virgin Media for $16 billion, creating one of the largest cable TV and broadband companies in the world.

Many companies, such as Viacom, have acquired cable channels, not only because cable has proven to be profitable, but also because these channels give companies like Viacom (owner of BET, MTV and Nickelodeon, among many other networks) additional leverage with advertisers when combined with their existing ownership of broadcast networks. 

In fact, most of the top cable channels are owned by a small number of media companies that also own cable or broadcast networks, including Viacom, Disney, News Corp. and Time Warner.  Although a media company’s ownership of both cable and broadcast channels is clearly to its benefit, this ownership strategy may offer advertisers an advantage as well.  By aligning with these companies, advertisers can often secure cheaper package deals, in which their commercials air on both broadcast and cable networks for a single price.

In June 2018, telecommunications and internet service giant AT&T completed its acquisition of content leader Time Warner for $85 billion.  This merges Time Warner’s television and film assets, including HBO, Warner Brothers and Turner, into AT&T’s massive business that delivers wireless smartphone connections and internet connections, as well as landlines and other services, to millions of homes and businesses.  Earlier, AT&T had also acquired satellite delivery network DirecTV.

Disney’s businesses include the ABC Television Network, ESPN, the History Channel and A&E on the distribution side.  Its content-generating businesses include film studios such as Touchstone Pictures and Pixar.  It also owns the Marvel comics business.  Disney parks, resorts and cruise lines provide additional opportunities to convert content (such as Mickey Mouse) into revenue through distribution (such as the sale of Mickey-logoed apparel at theme parks).  Meanwhile, the Disney Interactive Studios generate video games and Disney Online runs web sites. 

In July 2018, in one of the largest media industry mergers of all time, Disney acquired Twenty-First Century Fox’s movie and TV studios, in additional to other assets including Fox’s 30% state in streaming service Hulu, for $84 billion. 



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