Two recent mergers between well-known media companies have renewed discussions about the impacts of entertainment consolidation on consumers. These business moves, such as AT&T’s decision to merge WarnerMedia with Discovery and Amazon’s purchase of MGM Studios, leave consumers conflicted: More than half (56%) of the Informed Public is worried about problems that may arise from too few companies owning too much media, but 7 in 10 of those same worried consumers simultaneously believe that media consolidation makes things easier or better for them by offering greater choice and content.
At this point of tension, U.S. consumers are looking to government to intervene, with about half of the public – and by a nearly 3-to-1 margin – believing political leaders should step in to protect their interests and ensure media companies don’t grow too large. For corporate and government leaders with any proximity to these sorts of transactions, this data suggests they should prepare to proactively engage with stakeholders around merger news to maintain a positive reputation as anti-trust and competitiveness become even hotter topics in Washington this fall.
Among the other findings from the Purple Strategies research:
Merger specifics do not break through crowded news cycles.
Despite a steady volume of media coverage, media mergers aren’t top of mind with the news-engaged public. Days after the AT&T merger, only 33% of respondents reported hearing the news. Despite the relatively consistent stream of news coverage, updates to the ongoing fight to control an integrated content future don’t always break through the noise, even when the impact on consumers may be significant.
The public holds mixed beliefs about the good, bad and indifferent impacts of consolidation on them, personally.
When the public does think about mergers in the media and content space, it holds a wide variety of beliefs about how those mergers will impact consumer choices. Among the informed public, 32% disagree that mergers result in better content options, 35% think mergers would lead to better choices, and 29% do not feel strongly in either direction.
Public concern about these mergers increases with greater awareness of the potential impact.
Overall, 39% of respondents think that media company mergers do not affect them much. In the case of AT&T and Amazon’s actions, the data point to a general concern about media companies becoming “too large;” what could read as ambivalence to these corporate actions may be less driven by apathy and more by a lack of overall awareness. Given context about the potential impact of mergers, people’s views shift dramatically, with 52% saying they think it would be bad for consumers if media company growth goes unchecked.
Bipartisan public permission exists for government to step in.
Nearly half of the Informed Public feels political leaders should step in to help protect the interests of consumers in such mergers, signaling a broad permission to regulate, especially in the context of anti-trust action coming from Congress. Over 50% of Democrats and nearly 50% of Republicans agree that politicians should watch media consolidation carefully, and individuals from both parties agree that too few companies owning and controlling too much media can be a problem.
Beyond entertainment, other industries including technology and finance are consolidating as well. The relatively few ripples caused by the AT&T and Amazon actions show that even major moves might not alarm the public initially, but corporate communicators can’t sit back. Anti-trust advocacy is bipartisan click bait and straight-forward narratives about the potential downside of corporate growth drive the public to want more regulation.
As with most corporate action of this kind, leaders need to commit to engaging with their stakeholders proactively, both to educate and provide them with the needed context for news when and if they encounter it. Part of that action means mobilizing around engaging regulators and elected officials. Maintaining a strong corporate reputation before, during, and after business transformation is absolutely critical to the success of these high-stakes deals.
PURPLE OMNIBUS SURVEY OF THE US INFORMED PUBLIC. N=1000. JUNE 4-7, 2021.
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