The Largest Players Rule the Media Playground

The top media companies increasingly do a lot more than create content

2 min read
The Largest Players Rule the Media Playground

The top media companies increasingly do a lot more than create content. The 12 companies shown here deliver content via cable systems and the Internet. They also have investments in makers of personal video recorders (PVRs) and set-top boxes and suppliers of video on demand.

Consider the former Moxi Digital, builder of a personal entertainment hub that can play DVDs and CDs and can function as a PVR and a set-top box. Moxi's investors, before Vulcan purchased it, included AOL Time Warner, Vulcan, and Scientific-Atlanta. Vulcan also owns Digeo, another hub maker, with which Moxi was merged [see chart].

chart showing largest media players

Research: Cynthia Ozersky, Project on Media Ownership
Click on the image to enlarge.

Eight of the companies listed—AOL Time Warner, Comcast, Disney, GE, Liberty Media, Sony, Viacom, and Vulcan— were investors in ReplayTV before it was bought by SonicBlue. TiVo, an up-and-coming PVR maker, has attracted hefty investments from almost all major media companies.

The most-connected company is AOL Time Warner. Under its umbrella one of its several movie or TV studios can create a film that gets shown on its HBO channel via the Time Warner cable system. The same film may be sent over MovieLink or Movieflix, two Internet-based video-on-demand services. If the movie is a hit, as was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, it may become a video game or a children's cartoon show. AOL Time Warner also owns the Cartoon Network and DC Comics, publisher of "Superman" and "Batman."

Only U.S. business interests are shown here. Many have overseas media holdings, notably France's Vivendi Universal, Japan's Sony, and News Corp. in Australia.

Not shown is the web of investments these companies have in one another. For example, Liberty Media owns 4 percent of AOL Time Warner and 18 percent of News Corp., while Microsoft holds almost 10 percent of the combined Comcast and AT&T Broadband.

To Probe Further

Other maps showing media ownerships can be found on-line., a nonprofit organization founded by New York City journalist Danny Schechter, has an excellent media map at The same site has a "Who Owns What" report produced in conjunction with the Columbia Journalism Review.

The Nation magazine published a very useful map of the interests of 10 of the top media companies in January: A somewhat dated, but still useful, map of Microsoft's media interests appeared in Mother Jones in February 1998:

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions