Who Will Be the Future Masters of Media?

Future Masters of Media

Can the Media and Entertainment industry be co-opted into serving particular interests?  Sounds like conspiracy theory.  But it’s been the objective of many a politician and offers the real-world equivalent to a fantasy super-power:  The power of persuasion. 

Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that he will step down as Chairman of News Corp and Fox Corporation has re-opened fresh wounds in the media-verse. As the “mainstream” media in the US continues to struggle with the awesome responsibility of delivering actual news to an increasingly fractured and polarised society, the global power of media to shape both public opinion and common knowledge has been directed by Murdoch himself over several generations of audiences.

Rupert Murdoch inherited the Murdoch media empire from his father, Sir Keith Arthur Murdoch in 1952.  He witnessed the influence that a few well-chosen words could have on everyday life, politics and economics first-hand while his father controlled several newspapers and served as Director-General of Information for the Australian government in World War II.  But the true legacy passed down from father to son was the wealth created by ownership, and stewardship, of what society knew. Over the next several decades, Rupert Murdoch would expand a newspaper business that his father built in Australia into the UK and the United States.

Yesterday’s headline in The New York Times describes Murdoch’s business model bluntly, “Rupert Murdoch Turned Passion and Grievance into Money and Power.

“Over the years and decades,” writes NY Times’ journalist James Poniewozik, “Mr. Murdoch’s properties shifted their definition of “elite” away from people with more money than you and toward people with more perceived cultural capital than you, something that would be essential to nationalist politics in the 21st century and Fox’s dominance.”

What Rupert Murdoch leaves behind is a model that most news organisations now emulate, and that more than a few other organisations are actively pursuing for their own objectives.  Not all of those objectives are necessarily profit.

Poniewozik writes, “Fox promised news but its cash crop was feelings. Making viewers feel – feel angry, feel betrayed, feel threatened – was vital to keeping them tuned in for hours.”

Eliciting a feeling from stories is at the heart of the Media & Entertainment industry. It is also a psychological mechanism for persuading an audience to suspend disbelief and loose themselves in the story.  Once there, that story becomes part of the audiences’ collective experience.  It need not be negative. Soliciting a positive feeling about characters in a story offers opportunities for anything from social inclusion to commerce. 

Propaganda

Though rarely used today, the word propaganda is as important to political science as any other term.  It has been around a long time.  Derived from the Latin word, propagare, meaning simply ‘to spread’, its modern usage comes from an organisation founded in 1622 by the Catholic Church called the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (or, the Congregation for Propagating the Faith).  It took little time for other organisations to adopt the term, as many were already well acquainted with its practices. 

Since the mid-1800s, the word has conjured negative sentiments for its use to co-opt the hearts and minds of people in service of a nationalistic or political agenda.  The advent of technologies made the practice more effective.  Literature and newspapers were perhaps the first to demonstrate the mass effect of words on a wide population.  By the twentieth century, science was providing the practical benefits of radio, movies and television to both audiences and those who would manipulate them. 

The manipulation of information to persuade individuals to prefer one thing over another is nothing new.  In effect, propaganda is marketing.

Joseph Stalin, an enthusiastic fan of Hollywood movies, is quoted as saying, “If I could control the medium of the American motion picture, I would need nothing else to convert the whole world to communism.” 

The Next Generation

Lachlan Murdoch, the third-generation media-Murdoch to take control of the empire, inherits a family-controlled organisation well-practiced in propaganda as a business model.  Although his father may have been a well-exercised master of media, it will take some time for the next generation to become fully adept at the levers of power inherent to the Media & Entertainment industry. 

In the meantime, a number of other contenders have established considerable momentum in their capability and capacity to harness the power to inform, educate and shape the opinions of entire societies. 


This article provides some background.

PE Into the Big Top

Entertainment Grows as Private Equity Pours Money into Disruption

Private Equity investors are fast becoming the number one source of capital for a US$2.4 trillion industry struggling to cope with unstoppable growth.


The Media C-Suite has been following high levels of investment by some of the world’s largest pools of capital into the Media & Entertainment industry.  These include corporate investors with large capital reserves, including the largest tech companies with Media & Entertainment interests such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. 

Most of the established corporate groups that administer the industry’s infrastructure have been less inclined toward the exercise of overt power and, thankfully, focused on commercial objectives. These players include the multi-billion publicly-listed media conglomerates that own and control the Studio system presently dominating content distribution globally.  Most of these are operated by relatively democratic systems of corporate governance, which tend to limit personal ambition to corporate-commercial fiefdoms.  The grand personalities of Disney’s Bob Iger, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and even Comcast’s Brian Roberts have some rather strict guardrails imposed.

While most corporates wait, watch and react, global private equity groups such as Blackstone and Apollo have been pouring capital into Media & Entertainment consistently for several years moving systematically into content production and the management of intellectual property rights.

China continues to support its domestic Media & Entertainment markets with both private sector initiatives and State funds, as does the UK and the EU.  These State initiatives recognise the important economic contributions to GDP as well as the cultural reinforcement that increasing “screen time” offers. 

But it is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has invested capital most aggressively into both global and domestic Media & Entertainment assets offering clear opportunity to exert influence over public sentiment internationally.  This coincides with the economic policies actively pursued by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he seeks to transform the Kingdom into a global destination for tourism and an open social and commercial hub. 


This article provides some background.

Buried in the Money

Entertainment Targeted by Sovereign Wealth

The Media & Entertainment industry topped the unofficial agenda for an invitation-only gathering of the world’s most powerful money managers hosted within the British House of Commons and organised by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.


Regardless of ethical, moral (yes, there is a difference), political or nationalistic proclivities, those able to purposefully shape the hearts and minds of an audience are in a position to influence the course of human events and how the world perceives them as they do it. 

With audiences outside the US consistently contributing to the bulk of the industry’s US$2.5 trillion in revenues this year alone, the economic benefits of investment into global production, distribution and exhibition of entertainment content are clear.  But it may be that capital performance and economic returns are not the ultimate objective for these investments.  As lucrative as this industry is, as evidenced by its senior leadership being among the highest-paid executives on Earth, a far more valuable asset is in play.

As our planet bears the burden of 8.05 billion humans operating a largely unconstrained industrial economy, a number of geo-political tipping points are drawing painfully near.  Competition will soon emerge for who can best exploit, if not control, the soft power inherent in the global Media and Entertainment industry.

2 Comments

  1. “The manipulation of information to persuade individuals to prefer one thing over another is nothing new. In effect, propaganda is marketing.” This sentence is gold and absolutely true.

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