NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Media Choices than Ever Before

August 11, 2003

Congress is moving to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's new media-ownership rules, fearing the further concentration of media power. The FCC rules would permit any company to own TV stations in areas with 45 percent of U.S. households, up from 35 percent today.

But the idea that the "big media" has dangerously increased its control over our choices is absurd, says business writer Robert Samuelson. Over the last 30 years, media power has splintered dramatically and people have more choices than ever.

  • In 1970, there were only three major TV networks (ABC, CBS and NBC); now, there is a fourth (Fox).
  • Then, there was virtually no cable television; now, 68 percent of households have it.
  • Then, FM radio was a backwater; now, there are 5,892 FM stations in the United States.
  • In 2002, cable programming had more prime-time viewers than broadcast programming for the first time (48 percent vs. 46 percent).

Competing information and entertainment channels include CD players, VCRs (85 percent of households have one), DVD players and the Internet.

But for some U.S. households, over-the-air broadcasting is the only television available. Unless it remains economically viable, it will disappear.

If Congress does not allow broadcasters to make acquisitions necessary for the economic viability of broadcasting, it may perversely hurt the very diversity and the people it is trying to protect.

Source: Robert Samuelson (Newsweek), "Myths dominate debate over media ownership," Dallas Morning News, August 9, 2003.


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