The 10 Companies That Control the News

Ten major media companies control most of the news content in America. Each of these companies reaches millions of people. The five largest reach more than 50 million people each.

Discussions about news media in America often focus on two main issues. The first is whether the news is influenced by one person or family who owns a controlling interest in the media company. Sumner Redstone owns voting control of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB) and CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS). The Sulzberger family has controlled The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) for over a century.

Read: The 10 Companies That Control the News

The second is whether the personalities who deliver the news also influence it. People like Brian Williams, Rush Limbaugh and Oprah Winfrey are believed to be able to express their opinions on facts and events. While this may be true, their influence is also fleeting. Keith Obermann, the central personality at MSNBC for years, quit the network and can no longer be found on air.

The most objective way to measure who controls the content and distribution of news is by looking at audience size. How many people watch a media company’s network news or cable news, read its magazines, listen to or watch its local news channels, or go to its websites? Research firms that independently track traffic and viewership include Nielsen for TV, the Audit Bureau of Circulations for newspapers and Comscore for online traffic.

What helps build audience size across news media? The largest factor is likely branding. Nearly all the companies that control the news are themselves a recognized news brand, or they own powerful brands: CBS is its own brand, Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) owns NBC and Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI) owns USA Today. News brands in most cases have reputations that have been built over decades.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Tom Rosenstiel, Director of Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism observed, “These are mostly familiar brands that have been in the marketplace for a long time, and that have been engaged in repertorial journalism. As a consequence, they offer things that consumers really can’t find anywhere else.”

These powerful news brands also have been created at great cost, making it hard for new entrants to compete effectively with them. The number of brands spending money on gathering news has not grown a great deal, according to Rosenstiel. Those that do tend to spend money are “legacy media.” They have “a number of reporters who know how to call people up, report, observe events with press passes,” and have a “shoe leather, boots-on-the-ground orientation.”

The composition of media property ownership reflects how Americans consume news today. Most of the largest brands have only a fraction of their business in magazines or radio, which once represented a much larger share of American media. None of the largest media companies derive more than 10% of total audience from newspapers, and five do not have any presence at all in the medium. Meanwhile, eight of the largest media corporations have at least 20% of total viewership from local TV, and seven of the ten have at least 15% of total viewers online.

As a measure of audience and news content broadcast at the local level, in individual cities, is just as important as news broadcast nationally because of the overall size of the country’s combined local markets. Many of the largest news organizations own televisions stations in the country’s most populated cities. Some companies have dozens of local radio stations. Others own dozens of newspapers. A large media company may offer news access to millions of people, even if it does not have a single national news outlet such as a television network, a widely visited website or a national magazine or newspaper.

Based on Pew’s State of the News Media report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 companies that control the news in America. We considered newspaper circulation, television viewership at the national and local level, radio audience and online traffic. Unless otherwise indicated, all figures related to viewership are as of June 2012. In several cases, the media companies surveyed only gave Pew the audience size for their largest property. Where this was the case, the sizes of the total online audience and the largest online property were recorded as identical. Companies that have the greatest effect on news consumption are those that own media across several of these property types. For example, CBS, which is the biggest media company by audience, owns network television, local television, local radio and national Internet businesses. Together, these CBS outlets reach over 130 million people, an extraordinary number given that the entire population of the United States is about 315 million.

10. Washington Post
> Total combined audience: 18.4 million
> Number of platforms: 3
> Total local TV audience: 5.6 million (18th highest)

The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO) is most well-known to the public because of The Washington Post, one of the most prominent newspapers in America. The Post broke the story of the Watergate scandal in 1972, which gave the paper even more visibility. What the wider public does not know is that the print version of Post newspaper is now a very small portion of the company, based on revenue.

The Post’s greatest presence among the national news media is by far the company’s flagship media site because of the size of its online audience, which Pew puts at 12.2 million monthly visitors. The Post also has a moderate-sized national news commentary site, Slate. In its most recent quarter, sales from the newspaper division of The Washington Post Company were less than 15% of the company’s total revenue of $1 billion. The Post owns six local television stations that reach 4.82% of the nation’s total TV households. The Post is also a cable company, which does not contribute to its presence in the news industry, but obviously makes it a carrier of cable news from other companies like CNN and MSNBC.

9. Cox Media Group
> Total combined audience: 29.2 million
> Number of platforms: 3
> Total local TV audience: 6.2 million (16th highest)

Cox’s public news influence comes almost entirely on its great local strength, unlike most other companies on this list. The company does not own any national medium such as a TV network or newspaper, and its national presence on the web is relatively small. Although it does own the daily newspaper in one of the largest metro markets — The Atlanta Constitution. Cox has a dominant presence in both the local TV and radio markets. According to Pew, Cox owns TV stations in 14 local markets. Cox reports that these include WPXI-TV 11 in Pittsburgh and KIRO-TV in Seattle. Cox’s greatest strength as a provider of news is its tremendous radio network, which includes 84 stations, according to Pew. But despite the fact that these stations have a combined audience of more than 22 million listeners, the division brought in only $38 million in 2011.

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8. National Public Radio
> Total combined audience: 32.6 million
> Number of platforms: 2
> Total local TV audience: n/a

NPR is the only nonprofit media company on the list. Its national news presence comes largely from its radio audience of more than 27 million listeners. “About 93 percent of the U.S. population is within the listening area of one or more of the 975 stations that carry NPR programming. NPR’s 270 Members operate 822 of those stations, providing national and local news to individual communities,” NPR reports. The number of stations with NPR programming has doubled over the past 20 years. The network’s flagship shows are “Morning Edition,” which runs from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET on most NPR stations. This is “drive time,” as it is known in the radio industry, the portion of the day that usually has the most radio listeners in almost all markets. The other anchor show for the network is “All Things Considered,” which usually runs in “evening drive time” on the East Coast, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

7. Hearst Corporation
> Total combined audience: 44.6 million
> Number of platforms: 3
> Total local TV audience: 13.3 million (9th highest)

Hearst’s weight in the news industry comes primarily from its substantial local presence with 27 televisions markets and its large number of daily papers. Hearst is also the second largest magazine publisher in the United States after Time Inc. However, these magazines are primarily service and women’s titles, and not largely news or news opinion journals. Hearst has TV stations in several very large markets, including WBAL-TV in Baltimore, WKCF-TV in Orlando and WDSU-TV in New Orleans. Hearst TV stations reach one-fifth of the total viewership market in the United States. A number of the Hearst papers are also the dailies in several large cities. These include the Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Stamford Advocate, which covers one of the large cities just north of New York City. Most of Hearst’s interactive operations concentrate on investments in other online companies.

6. Gannett
> Total combined audience: 49.9 million
> Number of platforms: 3
> Total local TV audience: 18.7 million (7th highest)

The core of Gannett’s presence in the national news market is USA Today, with a circulation of nearly 2 million on weekdays, second in the country only to News Corp.’s (NASDAQ: NWSA) The Wall Street Journal. Unique visits to the company’s news sites total more than 26 million, with the majority of that traffic nationally from But Gannett is also the largest publisher of local daily newspapers, based on total circulation, in America with an ownership of 80 dailies, several of which are in the country’s largest cities. These include the Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, Detroit Free Press and Louisville Courier-Journal. Gannett also reaches 16% of the American local TV market. Gannett has stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Washington D.C., among others. The evolution from being strictly a local news media company to having a national presence began 30 years ago with the launch of USA Today.

5. News Corp.
> Total combined audience: 51.4 million
> Number of platforms: 4
> Total local TV audience: 29.0 million (the highest)

News Corp. has one of the largest single presences in the American national news markets, primarily because of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. The Journal is the leading financial and business newspaper in the U.S., and its website, which is behind a paywall, is also widely read. Fox competes with two major cable broadcast networks, CNN and MSNBC. Fox News often tops these others in national ratings. is one of the most widely viewed news sites in the country, with a unique visitor count of almost 18 million a month, based on Pew’s count. News Corp. also has a local TV presence because of the Fox News Network. Between its 27 stations, News Corp. reaches nearly 25% of local TV viewers, more than any media conglomerate in the country. These include local stations in New York City, Chicago Washington, Dallas and Los Angeles. News Corp. is one of the largest media companies based in America, with sales of $33.7 billion last year and net income of $1.4 billion.

4. Time Warner
> Total combined audience: 68.2 million
> Number of platforms: 3
> Total local TV audience: n/a

The Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) national news flagships are CNN, and Time Magazine. CNN may run behind Fox and MSNBC in television rankings from time to time, but it remains the original 24-hour TV news channel and continues to get spikes in traffic when there are important national and international news. CNN also has several of the top news anchors in the country, such as Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper., which has a huge audience — draws content from CNN, but also uses content from several of the top magazine news brands in the country, such as Money Magazine, Fortune and Sports Illustrated — all of which are Time Inc. properties. Time Warner news properties have effectively joined forces to create a more complete Web presence on The Time Inc. magazine division of Time Warner includes several of the country’s largest weekly magazines such as Time, People and Entertainment Weekly. Time Inc. is the largest magazine publisher in the country.

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3. Disney
> Total combined audience: 59.9 million
> Number of platforms: 4
> Total local TV audience: 24.4 million (5th highest)

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) was almost completely an entertainment company with a focus on film and theme parks until it took ownership of ABC through a buyout of Capital Cities/ABC in 1995 for $19 billion. Because of that transaction, Disney owns the ABC Television Group, which includes ABC, one of the Big Three broadcast networks, ESPN, which is one of the largest sports news operations in America, and television stations in many of the largest markets in the country. ABC News and ESPN each has a substantial online presence. ABC News produces one of the premier morning programs in America, “Good Morning America,” and in the evening, “World News Tonight.” Even though many television viewers have turned to cable, these two franchises have retained a presence in the national news sector. ABC has local television stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago San Francisco and Houston. In total, all the ABC local stations reach more than 20% of the local television market in the United States.

2. Comcast
> Total combined audience: 67.3 million
> Number of platforms: 4
> Total local TV audience: 22.6 million (6th highest)

Comcast, the largest cable carrier in the nation, acquired a majority interest in NBCUniversal from General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) in early 2011. The acquisition made Comcast one of the largest providers of pipes into people’s homes, along with other cable companies, satellite TV providers and telecom companies. So now Comcast is also one of America’s largest content producers. The crown jewel of the media company is the NBC Television Network, part of which is NBC News. Recently, NBC took over total ownership of, making the network one of the largest providers of news on the Internet. The site is part of NBC’s online properties, which together reach 29 million unique visitors a month, according to Pew data. is the leading Internet property of a stable that includes CNBC, partial ownership of large Internet video site Hulu, and women’s site iVillage. As is true of national TV networks Fox, ABC and CBS, NBCUniversal has a number of owned and operated television stations in the largest local markets in the U.S., including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia. Among them, these stations reach nearly 20% of the total local TV market in America.

1. CBS
> Total combined audience: 132.5 million
> Number of platforms: 4
> Total local TV audience: 28.9 million (2nd highest)

CBS’s reach in media content, particularly news content, is built on its substantial presence in network TV, local television, radio and online news. The CBS News and CBS Sports franchises reach almost every local market in the United States through the CBS Television Network. CBS owns and operates local stations that cover almost 25% of the American local television market — only slightly behind News Corp. The stations’ reach include several of the largest markets — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. CBS also owns part of The CW Network, a joint venture with Warner Bros., that targets young women. It also owns the huge online tech review and news site, CNET, which it bought in 2008. CBS Radio owns 125 radio stations, which puts its audience in U.S. local markets second only to radio giant Clear Channel, based on Pew figures. The success of CBS has not been lost on its shareholders. The media company’s share price has risen from $13 three years ago to $35 recently. CBS has more eyeballs than any other media company — a total audience of almost 132 million.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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