Wall Street’s Content Wars: Financing Media Consolidation

deWaard, Andrew. “Wall Street’s Content Wars: Financing Media Consolidation,” in Content Wars: Tech Empires vs. Media Empires. Ed. Denise Mann. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2021. Forthcoming. [download the pre-print pdf here]

Abstract: If we frame the ongoing streaming transition occurring in the cultural industries as ‘content wars,’ with metaphoric ‘battlefronts’ in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, and on Madison Avenue, then the silent arms dealer in this conflict is Wall Street and the investor class, whose financial engineering goes largely unacknowledged in studies of the media industries. This chapter will explore the impact of private equity in the American film, television, and music industries since 2004. The mercenaries of these content wars, private equity firms have enacted leveraged buyouts in every sector of the cultural industries: major music labels (Warner, EMI), radio networks (Cumulus, Clear Channel/iHeartMedia), film and television production and distribution companies (MGM, Miramax, Univision, Dick Clark Productions), exhibition (AMC, Odeon), the top talent agencies (CCA, WME, IMG), audience measurement (Nielsen), and the trade press (Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard). The arms race in this conflict is the ability to monetize content cataloguesacross streaming platforms, which is a lucrative opportunity for financialization. From a critical political economy of media perspective attuned to the significance of financial capital, this chapter demonstrates that the financialization of various components of the media sector is facilitating a dramatic extraction of value from the cultural industries, leaving further consolidation in its wake. Who is profiting from the streaming transition and who is losing out? The answers are the same as in the wider economy of the second gilded age: the wealthy are extracting private, untaxed profit from the public arena while the middle class of creatives is being hollowed out. The ‘creative destruction’ of this war is being fueled by financial engineering.

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