When It Comes to Media, Content Trumps Ownership

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

When it comes to buying media, marketers have no choice but to make their decisions based on the content of the media's character, not on the color of the media owner's skin.

Yes, we should be worrying about racial diversity in hiring practices and in portrayal in the media and entertainment industries, for both moral and business reasons. But when it comes to ownership, it isn't just that there are fewer black-owned media outlets -- there are fewer people-owned media outlets, in the sense that one person or family retains tight control over a company. It's simply not the nature of the game anymore when it comes to big media such as radio, TV and, to some extent, print. Independent owners of any race are increasingly a rarity. (The opportunities presented for both owners and marketers by niche media we'll save for a different day.)

Perhaps, when thinking of the subject, it would be best to remove race completely (if such a thing is possible). One analogy that comes to mind is the independent bookstore. There's something noble, almost romantic, about the old couple (or the hip, young rebel) running a book shop and being part of the community. But in the end, reach is limited, and the owners likely would be forced to charge a higher price for their goods. Meanwhile, the big-box bookseller not only is offering more books, comfy couches and a cafe with fancy coffee -- it's bringing more readers into the fold.

Expecting the government to step in and remedy the situation doesn't seem realistic, considering all of the regulatory knots the FCC has tied itself into in the past couple of decades.

Note, though, that this argument is completely independent of the media content itself. Marketers -- those who want to make more money and reach larger audiences -- should be diversifying their media buys. Ultimately, though, most black consumers are just like most white consumers -- they don't care who owns the media as long as the media is relevant. Yes, the more socially conscious and active among them undoubtedly bemoan the shift when a major black-owned outlet becomes just another piece of a corporate juggernaut. But as long as the content is left alone, average consumers won't notice.

What they would notice is if a black network or publication suddenly disappeared because an owner refused to sell to a company willing to keep his or her property alive in a tough marketplace.
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