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Who owns the news? The 24 companies that control the world’s biggest news outlets

Ever wondered who owns your favorite news websites?

Our latest study shows the current state of media consolidation in the United States, the U.K., Australia, and the globe.

We started off by identifying the top 50 most visited news websites in the world as of September 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 to create an accurate picture of the concentration of media around the world.

In order to map out who owns the news in the United States, in the U.K. and in Australia, we isolated the 20 companies with the most popular websites in each geography and filled in the gaps by adding up-and-coming digital media companies. Once this step was complete, we worked our way backwards to identify all of the web properties in their portfolios and the parent companies behind them.

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.

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.

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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.[1]

Who dominates the news in America?

Online news in the United States is dominated by publishers and broadcasters of traditional print and television news such as CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times. Online-only news sites that have a major presence in the U.S. include Yahoo!, Huffington Post, and Reddit.

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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.

What companies own the news in the UK?

Online news media in the U.K. is dominated by publishers of traditional print media, such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian. Tabloid newspapers such as the Daily Mail, The Sun, and the Daily Mirror have a significant online presence in Britain. Several London-based news sites, such as The Economist and the Financial Times, have substantial readership outside of the U.K.

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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.

Who dominates the news industry in Australia?

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.[1] 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. Seven West Media also has a substantial news media portfolio that includes traditional newspapers, online-only news sites, magazines, and radio. The Conversation is one of the only major online news sites in Australia that is independently owned.

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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.[1]  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 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.

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, so it is increasingly important to know who exactly controls the news content we consume every day.

Methodology

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 September 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.

Sources

For a full list of sources that went into the creation of these graphics, please visit: https://bit.ly/WhoOwnsNews.

[1] Noam, E. 2016. Who Owns the World’s Media?: Media Concentration and Ownership around the World. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press

[2] Brenan, M. (2019). Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Edges Down to 41%. gallup.com

[3] Great Hill Partners. (2019). Great Hill Partners Acquires Gizmodo Media Group and The Onion from Univision Communications Inc.. businesswire.com

[4] Thomasson, E. (2019). KKR becomes Axel Springer’s biggest shareholder. reuters.com

[5] Noam, E. 2016. Who Owns the World’s Media?: Media Concentration and Ownership around the World. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press

[6] Hearst. (n.d.) A Brief History of Hearst. hearst.com

[7] Advance Publications. (n.d.) About Advance. advance.com

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