Ever wondered who owns your favorite news websites?
Our latest study shows the current state of media consolidation around the world.
We started off by identifying the top 50 most visited news websites in the world as of December 2019, using data from web traffic analysis company Alexa and market intelligence provider SimilarWeb. We then determined the parent companies behind each of these 50 outlets and identified all of the properties in their online media portfolios.
The last step was to put a name (and a face) to each company by identifying the highest-level owners. For news sites that are owned by investment firms with a majority stake, we opted for the CEO or director of the investment firm. For news sites that are owned or controlled by the government, the head of government was listed as the highest-level owner.
The world’s most influential media moguls: Which CEOs have the most power?
The CEO with the biggest audience is Hans Vestberg, CEO of American multinational telecommunications conglomerate Verizon Communications Inc. Vestberg’s outlets boast a combined monthly readership of over 3.8 billion and include media powerhouses of the likes of Yahoo, AOL, Huff Post, TechCrunch, Engadget and Autoblog. This means that publications under the direction of Verizon Communications reach an incredible 52% of the world’s population.
Also based in the US are the Newhouse family, who have built a media empire that includes 47 titles, with a combined monthly readership of 1.5 billion. Their company Advance Publications, owns Reddit, Wired, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and many more.
Third in the list is Daniel Yong Zhang, the CEO of Alibaba Group, which has 3 outlets under its umbrella: UC Browser, UC News India, and South China Morning Post. This equates to a combined monthly readership of over 1 billion people.
Who owns the most media outlets?
One name towers above all the rest when it comes to owning media outlets, and that name is Michael Reed and he’s the CEO of New Media Investment Group. Under their umbrella, you‘ll find prominent titles such as USA Today, Detroit Free Press, The Columbus Dispatch, The Arizona Republic, and the Austin American-Statesman. In total they own 666 media sites.
The next name on the list is Alex Waislitz, founder and Chairman of the Australian-based Throney Investment Group, which owns 169 outlets, including The Advertiser, The Canberra Times, and Illawarra Mercury. In third place we have Jim Mullen, CEO of Reach PLC (known as Trinity Mirror until 2018) with 140 outlets under its control including Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Manchester Evening News and the magazine OK!
The companies that control global news
Several names are synonymous with media domination around the world: News Corp in the United States, the U.K., and Australia, Globo in Brazil, Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan.
While many of the oldest media conglomerates are as powerful as ever and still growing, the emergence of digital news has substantially altered the media landscape and allowed new companies to emerge as major players in the news industry. Tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, as well as telecommunications conglomerates such as Verizon and AT&T, now rank among the top owners of the world’s media.
In recent years, asset management firms and private investors have increasingly bought majority stakes in legacy newspapers and have come to dominate the list of the top media owners worldwide. In April 2019, for example, private equity firm Great Hill Partners acquired the Gizmodo Media Group and The Onion, and combined their digital news assets, which include Gizmodo, Jezebel, and The A.V. Club, into a new company named G/O Media Inc. In August 2019, American investment firm KKR purchased the largest stake in Axel Springer SE, a German media group whose assets include Business Insider and Rolling Stone.
A significant share of the world’s media is owned by national governments. Through outlets such as PBS and NPR, the BBC, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the governments of the United States, the U.K., and Australia all have significant media holdings. State ownership of media in English-speaking countries is dwarfed, however, by the Government of China’s media holdings.
Who dominates the news industry in the USA, UK and Australia?
Some of the top media owners in the U.S. have dominated the news media landscape for over a century, and continue to grow in the era of digital news. The Hearst name, for example, first appeared on a newspaper masthead in 1887. Today Hearst Communications owns dozens of newspapers and magazines throughout the country, each with a significant online presence. Advance Publications, which was founded by Samuel Irving Newhouse Sr. in 1922 and is still family-owned today, has a portfolio that includes Reddit, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and American City Business Journals. Click here to explore who owns the news in America.
Online news media in the U.K. is dominated by publishers of traditional print media. News Corp, through News Corp UK, and Daily Mail and General Trust plc own many of the largest national news sites in the U.K. Through its subsidiary Local World Holdings Ltd., Reach PLC owns more than five dozen regional newspapers and their corresponding websites. The Guardian is owned by the Scott Trust Limited, which exists solely to control the finances of the Guardian and ensure its editorial independence. Click here to explore who owns the news in the UK.
From 1987 to 2006, Australia had specific legislation limiting foreign ownership of media companies on the continent, as well as restrictions on cross-ownership of media companies meant to preserve the diversity of news media. Despite these restrictions, today Australia has a relatively high degree of media concentration. National online news media in Australia is essentially controlled by two companies: News Corp, through News Corp Australia, and Nine. Rural news media is largely dominated by Australian Community Media, whose portfolio includes over 170 regional newspapers and their corresponding websites. The Conversation is one of the only major online news sites in Australia that is independently owned. Click here to explore who owns the news in Australia.
What does this all mean?
While many believed the internet would bring openness and diversity to the world’s media, online news media has become increasingly consolidated over the past several decades.
According to a recent analysis from the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information research center, the market concentration of internet media has more than doubled since 2000. In an analysis of 30 countries, researchers found that, on average, the top four media companies in each country hold 40% of that country’s media content market. Such a high degree of media concentration — which is only projected to increase in the near future — has far-reaching implications for social, cultural, economic, and political life.
As the concentration of online news has increased, so has public distrust in mass media. A recent Gallup poll shows that Americans remain largely mistrustful of the mass media, with just 41% currently having “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in newspapers, television and radio to report the news “fully, accurately and fairly.”
The news media has a powerful influence over consumer tastes, political opinions, and culture at large. As media moguls continue to build their empires, and emerging conglomerates begin to expand into the news media industry, it is important to remain aware of who exactly owns the news.
To determine the companies and individuals that own the top news sites in the world, we identified the top owners of the news sites with the most monthly traffic as of December 2019. Data on average visitor traffic for the past one to three months and the relative rank of each news site came from Alexa, an Amazon company, and market intelligence provider SimilarWeb.
We identified the owners of the top 50 news sites globally, in the United States, in the U.K., and in Australia, respectively, using financial filings, corporate press announcements, and other public sources. We then isolated the 20 companies with the most visited sites in each geography, as well as other newsworthy media companies, and identified all of the properties in their online media portfolios, as well as the name of their highest-level owners, using financial filings, corporate press announcements, and other public sources.
For news sites that are owned by investment firms with a majority stake, the CEO or director of the investment firm was listed as the highest-level owner. For news sites that are owned or directly (or indirectly) controlled by the government (as is the case of the BBC, who since 2017 has had its board members selected by the UK government), the head of government was listed as the highest-level owner.
To identify which companies and CEOs have the most titles and combined readerships, we generated a list of all the URLs for each publication under each respective CEO. We then used SimilarWeb to find out the estimated monthly visit figures of all the sites.
For a full list of sources that went into the creation of these graphics, please visit: https://bit.ly/WhoOwnsNews.
 Noam, E. 2016. Who Owns the World’s Media?: Media Concentration and Ownership around the World. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press
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