The media industry can be evaluated as a highly concentrated system of ownership performing under profit-driven logic within an oligopolical market structure. The concentration and conglomeration of media firms encourage production of content that will maximize industry profit. Media's concentrated ownership imposes pressures of corporate capitalism, exploits overpowering affects of advertising, and generates media's ultimate externality, a hyper-commercialized society.
An important aspect of the media industry is the role of advertising as its primary source of revenue. Early advertising produced dry, informational content regarding product prices and attributes; however, the progression of corporate capitalism influenced the emergence of advertising as an ideological and cultural social force (McChesney, 143).
Today, advertising builds brand identity, attracts target markets, and promotes new products by emphasizing an "illusory difference" to distinguish parity products. Advertising's command over its viewers impelled media firms to work with agencies on implementing strategies and practices that promote materialism, diminish social and individual values to purchasable commodities, and transform society into a hyper-commercialized culture (McChesney, 142).
Market-driven incentives and developments between media and advertising industries submerge media into the broader commercial marketing system. Unfortunately, media's profound reliance on advertising influences firms to satisfy the needs of advertisers at the sacrifice of content and decrease in integrity. Traditional distinctions between media's editorial work and advertising's pure commercialism have been deconstructed. Corporate power is incorporated into commercial society on such deep levels that the commercialization of culture is not only accepted, it is expected and even demanded. The program produced by commercial media is no longer the final product; instead, the audience becomes the featured commodity and is sold to media producers and advertisers to be manipulated and devoured (McChesney, 145).
Although it may seem that people are given what they demand, media and advertising industries fail to reflect and serve society. In fact, public interest is undermined by the tandem powers of dominant firms and advertising agencies in their pursuit to maximize corporate revenue. If we had a media system that truly functioned to "give the people what they want," goods and services would be produced in response to meeting society's demands and commercialism would be reduced. Unfortunately, market-driven logic influences media and advertising corporations to produce content to the extent that is useful to them. As a result, media continues to generate what is unwanted and disliked by the public without providing recourse for the people to address such flaws (McChesney, 176).
Mass media vehicles and technological advances support and facilitate the hyper-commercialization of society. Consumers are manipulated to buy the idea of the branded imagery, influenced to connect emotionally, and are ultimately entertained by the featured good or service. Television, journalism, radio, film, music, and public relations serve corporate needs and bolster hyper-commercialism best through strategies of product placement and co-production.
Product placement incorporates the product into mass media content so its image and message are unavoidable. For example, ESPN inserted digital ads and product billboards on the stadium walls behind home plate during its MLB broadcasts that are only seen by TV viewers; Coca Cola paid AOL Time Warner $25 million to feature WB Network characters consuming cokes during episodes (McChesney, 151). In the film industry, the motion picture "Die Another Day" featured twenty-four major promotional partners compiling for a total of $120 million in promotion and ad support (McChesney, 152).
Co-production occurs when the largest ad agencies work to co-produce programming in conjunction with the dominant media firms (McChesney, 153). For instance, television infomercials for Apple Computer and Philips Entertainment have come to resemble standard commercial entertainment programming by producing seven-minute "movie-mercials" for several cable TV networks. BMW went as far as launching a twenty-four hour, seven days a week channel on DirecTV that featured entertainment programming developed around BMW automobiles (McChesney, 154).
The music industry hyper-commercializes society by merging commercialism and content to work with the strongest brands that share a similar target audience. In 2002,
Pepsi and Sony developed a music deal under the agreement that Pepsi brings the audience the music first and reinforces Pepsi's marketing position in the music industry while providing Sony with benefits to promote artists (McChesney, 155). Corporate executives and marketers primarily associate products with the hip-hop genre because of its ability to access younger audiences, influence fashion trends, and build credible relationships. For example, hip-hop label Def Jam negotiated a deal with Hewlett-Packard to incorporate the computer maker's products in the songs of Def Jam artists in exchange for play in the company's advertising campaign (McChesney, 157).
Despite corporate and commercial power to weaken and manipulate the public, some believe media reflects society and offers potential for popular sovereignty. Supporters of commercial culture praise technological inventions for their ability to empower citizens and challenge media authority. They claim remote controls make switching away from commercials possible and cable television brings channels for many levels of interest, thereby reducing the power of the concentrated networks to overwhelm its viewers with lowest-common-denominator programming and advertising (McChesney, 172).
Even though technology may seem to liberate commercialized culture, the same innovations assist and advance the corporate industry. Advertisers and marketers are able to line their messages to what consumers actually purchase and track consumers across their use of different media. Technology also provides research useful in helping locate new target markets. Those that are aware of corrupt corporate objectives and advertising tactics claim technology gives advertising new ability to capture and manipulate the public (McChesney, 173).
Highly concentrated ownership and the power to captivate and convince the audience through advertising influences media to succumb to capitalist pressures to maximize profit and reinforces a hyper-commercialized society. However, commercial culture is more than a power shift from the consumer to the producer and goes beyond a transfer of emphasis on product attributes to program and commercial entertainment. Media reinforcement of hyper-commercialism ultimately undermines democratic principles of public interest and generates a misinformed and manipulated people unable to oppose corporate control and without the power to freely express themselves as consumers or individual citizens.
McChesney, W. Robert. The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004.
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