The media is an extremely powerful player in forming the opinions of the US population. Watching the news, reading the paper, and browsing the internet are some of the main channels we use to educate ourselves on what is happening in the world. The media also provides companies a ready platform to reach consumers as well, as evident by the increasing spending exhibited by firms on advertising through cable networks and high-traffic websites. With the recent takeover of NBC Universal by cable giant Comcast however, we may soon experience an era of unprecedented information control.
Comcast currently provides cable services for about one quarter of the United States’ cable subscribers, reaching nearly 24 million homes. NBC Universal has an even wider spread as it is broadcast in over 113 million homes. The FCC interfered very little with this merger, mainly requiring that NBC programming be available to Comcast’s competitors and other media distribution services. The lack of strict separation between networks and cable providers hints that this merger could be the first step towards a dangerous trend wherein companies not only control who can watch TV but also what they can watch. It’s not even a far cry to speculate that a cable provider could deliver different programs, advertisements, and information to households on an individual basis. Comcast recently announced that former Showtime executive (and renowned programming guru) Bob Greenblatt will be heading NBC’s future programming efforts. A seasoned veteran and innovator, Greenblatt is sure to find ways to capitalize on this merger to bring viewers closer to their favorite networks.
The threat of information control becomes increasingly frightening once you consider the ruling that a Florida court of appeals made on a largely overlooked case involving FOX last decade. The court determined that it is within a broadcaster’s legal rights to publish false or misleading information, even through a national news channel, saying that FCC regulations are considered a “policy” rather than a rule or law. With the new Comcast-NBC conglomerate now owning dozens of TV stations as well as multiple movie studios and websites, one can only speculate as to what kind of power the media will have over the information we receive in the future.