The Paradox of Neoliberalism

When reading Empires of Entertainment (Holt) I was struck by one particular quote;

“Robert Britt Horwitz explains in The Irony of Regulatory Reform (1989) that deregulation incorporated a “surprisingly heterogeneous” political coalition that was aligned against continued government regulation.” (Holt, 12)

The phrase “surprisingly heterogeneous” regarding the state of media landscapes rings true even almost 30 years later. The most recent example that comes to mind is the acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney in 2017, further solidifying Disney’s status as a fully-fledged media titan.

This merger did not go completely uncontested. In order to merge these two companies in the most seamless way possible Fox had to split its companies into different parts in order to justify this move as not being considered a fully-fledged attempt at media monopoly. This meant that 20th Century Fox and 21st Century Fox essentially became different products. 21st Century Fox is currently its own company and specializes exclusively in sports and news broadcast. The parts that Disney acquired were those that pertained mostly to the production and distribution of fictional works.

Had Disney tried to purchase 21st Century Fox in its entirety it would have probably been shot down by antitrust laws before negotiations went too far. But just because Disney is not as powerful as it could have been, does not mean that it is not still entirely too powerful.

Creative Industries

Source: Jason, Media Consolidation: The Illusion of Choice (Infographic), Frugal dad, November 22, 2011

It should be acknowledged that this infographic is quite outdated; media is one of the most rapidly evolving industries and a world of difference can be made in seven years. But even with this acknowledged, the picture that the information provided paints still rings just as true today. It illustrates not only the illusion of choice as it pertains to media, but also the level of control that a small number of individuals have over a single industry. It shows us how deregulation lead to a more homogenous media landscape.

Even with the United States’ more deregulated approach there are still countless laws in place to prevent media conglomerates from monopolizing the landscape, but because of a capitalist and neoliberal view, can it be said that it is working? It is true that the current media landscape is not a complete monopoly, but an oligopoly is not too far off from that.

To go back to the Disney-Fox acquisition, the products it currently holds are not only massive cash-cows but also hold sentimental value to their folowers. Add this along to Disney’s already present marketing strategy of wholesome family friendly fun, it’s other merchandised products, its theme parks, and toy sales, and this one entity has managed to cement a loyal fanbase that is almost too big to fail.

This is great news for Disney, but is it good news for the media industry?

More and more we see opinions shift to the opinion that more competition is better for business; this is in fact one of the main arguments used to support capitalism. The consumer benefits when businesses have to compete with one another because it forces them to constantly be improving their product. With all of these iconic brands under its umbrella Disney is under no pressure to innovate.

So how are we to justify that the existence of a company as big as Disney is good for business? The fact is that we cannot, but if we regulate the size of Disney, we cannot really claim that we support a free market. To regulate large companies would be to contradict neoliberalism and capitalism, but to allow companies to grow this large would also contradict neoliberalism and capitalism. The solution obviously lies somewhere in the middle, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to get any of the “Big Six” media companies to relinquish enough of their assets to create an even playing field.

Thankfully we live in a time where access to media has never been easier, and new content has never been more abundant. So, if you foresee these practices creating a hostile environment for mainstream film then vote with your wallet and support independent creators and smaller productions. Seeing a shift in the market place will force these companies to ensure that their product is as good as possible, thus resulting in better media overall. It’s a win-win scenario for the consumers.

Although I have discussed many drawbacks to neoliberal approach to capitalism, the biggest benefit is that it provides the consumer with more variety than one person can even comprehend in their lifetime, pertaining to any niche they can think of.

So fight back against oligopolies by supporting smaller endeavors; fight capitalism with capitalism.

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