In the United Kingdom, only two publishers – Reach and the BBC – account for half of all visits to the top 50 news websites.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns foxnews.com and nypost.com, had the single largest share of the combined 3.5 billion visits to the top 50 sites in October, accounting for 12 percent (425 million). The sites owned by AT&T, the parent company of CNN owner Turner Broadcasting, received the next highest share of visits (11 percent – 364 million).
The diversity of the digital market is reflected in the fact that 40% of visits were to sites owned by companies and individuals who each accounted for less than 3% of total visits. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns local Utah broadcaster KSL, Axel Springer, which owns Business Insider and Politico, and New Media Investment Group, which owns USA Today through Gannett, are among this diverse group.
Ownership was unclear for a number of smaller sites in the top 50 in the United States. The entertainment website gazillions.com, the general news website standardnews.com, and the right-wing news website epochtimes.com, which has been linked to the Chinese religious movement Falun Gong, were among them.
When it comes to media ownership in general (print, digital, and broadcast), an analysis of Harvard University’s mainstream media index, which includes both parent companies (like Gannett, Sinclair, NPR) and standalone titles (like The Atlantic, The Boston Globe) in print, digital, and broadcast, suggests that while publicly traded companies are the single-largest group of mainstream media sources, they are not the single-largest group of mainstream media sources (39 percent ). However, a significant number are non-profit organizations (27 percent ). Liberal radio and digital network NPR, as well as news agency AP, which was founded as an independent news cooperative, are among them.
Approximately 2,200 local newspapers have closed in the United States since 2005. Even the big players have lost circulation, despite the fact that some have managed to turn a failing print business into a thriving digital one. (Since the Covid-19 crisis began, America’s top 25 largest newspapers have lost 20% of their weekday print circulation, according to a Press Gazette analysis earlier this year.)
Consolidation has been the name of the game in the face of declining revenue, and newspaper ownership remains highly concentrated. Newspaper conglomerates are larger than ever, and inter-publisher transactions have increased dramatically in the last decade.
According to a recent Financial Times investigation, private equity, hedge funds, and other investment groups now own half of US daily newspapers. Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States (based on daily circulation), was acquired by New Media Investment Group, a subsidiary of asset manager Fortress Investment Group, in 2019. Meanwhile, Alden Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, has made headlines for its practice of buying up struggling newsrooms and “gutting” them to help them turn a profit.
According to data from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), only three parent companies had average circulations of over 1 million in the six months leading up to March 2021 (the most recent period for which AAM has complete data), with Gannett’s circulation being 3.5 times that of its nearest competitor (Alden Global-owned NewsMedia Group).
When it comes to state-level concentration, some states are more concentrated than others. Our findings suggest that in many states, the vast majority of dailies are controlled by one of the “big owners of dailies,” according to Harvard researcher Heidi Legg. (With Alden Global Capital’s purchase of Tribune this summer and its recent bid for Lee Enterprises, the Big 7 identified by Legg may soon be a Big 5.)
When we combined the Harvard Future of Media list of dailies with data from the AMA and the University of North Carolina’s News Deserts project to estimate the number of dailies per state, we discovered that one of the major daily publishers controls an estimated 90% of titles in New Jersey. This is 81 percent in Connecticut and 61 percent in California.
However, research suggests that the proportion is lower in some Midwestern states, with under 20%. It should be noted that as the number of daily newspapers in the United States changes, our shares are estimates based on combining various datasets published in the last two years, which may differ in what they consider to be dailies.
Given the consolidation trend, it’s no surprise that the companies that control newspaper circulation also control revenue (print and digital). We looked at the combined revenue of 26 major publishing companies, including Gannett/Gatehouse, Advance Publications, Digital First, and the New York Times, and discovered that the biggest players make the most money. Although not all companies separate print and digital revenue from earnings from other media activities, a rough estimate based on the data suggests that the five largest newspaper companies account for up to three-quarters of the group’s revenues.