Your Media Is Controlled By A Handful Of Companies (Yes, Even The Internet)

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What happened to The Long Tail? What happens in a world after Here Comes Everybody? Apparently, not much.

We had a dream. The dream was that the Internet and the many digital channels and platforms that have poured out of this technology and connectivity would give us better, more unique and different voices. There was a hope that the Internet would reshape the media world as we have known it to date. The Internet was going to lead us out of the mass media boredom and into an era of enlightenment (ok, that’s just me and my wishful thinking). From a content perspective, it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t. The challenge is that for any media channel to truly be effective, it needs to be funded. The primary way that media channels are not only funded but benchmarked for success is the media and advertising that it attracts. Whether we like this metric or not, it is what it is (as they say).

So what does the online media spend look like? 

Digital Marketing professional and venture capitalist, Darren Herman, ran some quick numbers and here’s what he uncovered: "…the digital media ad spend (search, display, mobile, etc) is controlled by Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, and Microsoft… after searching through their 10K’s, it’s about $40.1B, or roughly 64% of the worlds digital media ad spend. According to a ZenithOptimedia press release on October 3, 2011, worldwide digital advertising accounted for about $64.03B. Google generates approximately 364% more revenue from advertising than it’s next closest rival, Yahoo! With Facebook at $1.86B in advertising revenue (excluding virtual currencies/goods) for 2010, it puts them at right behind Microsoft but ahead of AOL.  With Facebook only now starting to monetize their platform, you can start to see how big an impact they could have on the dominance of the digital advertising landscape." You can read his full Blog post here: 64% of Digital Ad Spend Controlled by 5 Companies.

Does that freak you out (just a little bit)?

A lack of choice is what brought the major television networks to this world of fragmentation, cable networks, specialty channels and more. The truth (and it may be a sad truth for some) is that four companies control the majority of the advertising space online, because they control all of the traffic (people, eyeballs, etc…). To push this inequity even further, if you look at the comments in Herman’s Blog post, Jon Steinberg (the President of BuzzFeed), points to a flickr photo of another staggering statistic: 75% of all advertising spend is controlled by four advertising networks: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic.

What’s trending? 

As Twitter‘s popularity grew several years back, I noticed something that disturbed me: the trending topics were becoming the same subject matter that we might see covered on CNN or Entertainment Tonight. Prior to that moment, the majority of trending topics on Twitter were more niche topics. The type of stuff that was trending was from a different type of culture. It wasn’t mass. It wasn’t Hollywood. It was… us… a different group of people connecting in different channels to get a different type of (new) media experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to wax poetic about the good ole’ days or lament a time that was better because everybody didn’t know about it. I’m simply fascinated by how "vanilla" all of our media eventually becomes. It panders to the middle. The good news is that the edges are still here. The deep thought, the more complicated discourse and beyond. The challenge is that it may not be all that sustainable as a media model when a handful of 800-pound gorillas have all of the bananas.

Yep, that’s what’s been driving me crazy today. 


  1. One of choke points of thé long tail in média is the cost of content production . That’s particularly true around great TV shows, where you need a lot of money to get something decent made. Hence you need a large audience to recuperate your investment.
    It’s particularly difficult in sic-fi for example where costs are high, and audiences can be hard to get.

  2. Thanks for your post Mitch, we can see that like television, internet is also owned by a few corporations when it comes to media space, but what about news sources, are we as limited with internet as we are with television news?

  3. Doesn’t completely surprise me. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (The Gang of Four) and others are gobbling up as much as they can. It’s a new age…

  4. Agreed. Whenever new media comes on the scene, it isn’t long before they’re swallowed up by a large company (e.g. Reddit) and that affects the authenticity of what is being shared on these media channels. Thank you for an insightful and timely post.

  5. It is just the evolution of any new fangled medium. Entrepreneurs and kickstarters get the idea running, many with the idea in their mind that they will be gobbled up by the 800lb gorilla. The consolidation of talent and effort across channels is evident in the almost regular updates via Mashable/Techcrunch about the newest startup being absorbed by one of the big fish.
    but then again, dont we (consumers) demand this sort of consolidation of efforts. we would hate to have to use multiple sign-ins across various channels because we demand this sort of convenience. This seems to only come from a conglomerate mentality.
    And we do it with our dollars because of the name recognition that we require. You can buy the same widget from an unknown site for possibly cheaper, but are willing to pay more for said widget on Amazon etc because of the name recognition and comfort that we have knowing we bought from the ‘gorilla’. Unfortunately, we do not give the small guys a chance to stand, unless they are affiliated with the hated, yet desired gorilla.

  6. If your hope is “better, more unique and different voices” I don’t think that is inconsistent with a world dominated by giants that offer few advertising alternatives. I do understand your point, but in fact, the number of choices for news, entertainment and connection are overwhelming and growing. Every day some new web platform or idea comes across my desk that makes me say wow. Of course, they will eventuallly be owned by Facebook or Google … : )

  7. “75% of all advertising spend is controlled by three advertising networks: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis and Interpublic.”
    Hmmmm…. math not your strong point?

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