It seems to be market nature for the majority of power in a certain industry, be it television, music, games, hardware, or even miniatures, to be consolidated within a handful, usually around five, of corporations. Oligopolies seem to be the common development in any form of industry, especially noticeable here in Canada with our forced oligopolies in an attempt to ensure that control over the Canadian market remains, well, Canadian. Corporations are also very important in western countries, such as the one we live in, due our capitalist economic system and our strong belief in the market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand to pull up those businesses that are efficient and productive, and push down those less successful businesses. There is also a tendency, under more conservatives right wing governments, to try and remove the government from the market, allowing the market to act on its own.
With the prominence of the market, corporations are extremely important in society, we depend on them for the goods and services we use every day, as we develop preferences in those products and brand names we use, and through experimentation develop a list of those that we avoid. In Canada we have a bit of a different situation, in that a lot of our market is overseen by the government who decide what markets to open up to foreign investors. In terms of banks, we have the options of Scotia bank, RBC, TD, Bank of Montreal, and CIBC with a few smaller ones that are mostly related to investment corporations like ING. However, this is a stark contrast to the banking situation in the United States with its many smaller banks that pop up all over their country. While this in itself does not have much to do with media industries, I’m more just using it as an example of the situation in Canada. You want television and home phone here? You’ll be going through probably either Rogers, Bell, Shaw, Teletron or Cogeco. Want a cellphone? It’s probably going to be through Rogers, Bell, Koodo, Telus, or Fido. There’s not a lot of competition.
But even with this oligopoly, or maybe because of it, the fact is that we’re allowing these businesses to become part of our daily lives, and become part of who we are. For example, I personally hate Bell, I can’t stand them, and I have no interest in doing business with them, but I have found that I (despite their atrocious hold times) like Rogers and am developing something of a brand loyalty to them, if only because they’re not Bell. I know that there are major debates over which is better, the Xbox or the Playstation, and people do get very serious over the debates. Apple has a major audience that is very loyal to it because of their branding, and I know there are very heated debates over why the iPhone is better than the blackberry. We are starting to make corporations part of our lives, part of our society and culture. WE have parties based around products, like release parties for movies, video games, songs, or in Nike’s case, collector shoes. Media produced on television and on the internet is starting to affect our reality, changing what we view as reality and making us perceive our reality differently.
The positions of power that these businesses find themselves in is not set in stone however. There is a constant and continuous branding war that businesses in the media must pour funding into ensuring that their products and services have an edge to them. As new forms of media, the internet for example, open up the manner in which these businesses, these ruling elite of the oligopoly, operate changes. For example, Myspace, once the most well-known social media site is now a thing of the past, having given way to Facebook, which in turn seems to be giving way to Google and its Google+, in addition to the other companies eating away at Facebook’s user base in other countries where their services are more popular. There is a certain audience that these industries must battle over, with smartphones for example, where the iOS and Android are currently battling for smartphone users, with RIM looking like a casualty of this competition.
This is also tied in to piracy, with there now being a free or cheaper alternative to the products and programming that are offered by major businesses in the media industries. It is not just digital piracy that’s an issue, but also things such as counterfeiting, a rampant issue with cheap knock-off versions of products being sold. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I believe, like Gabe Newell, that online piracy is largely a service issue, with there being better ways of dealing with piracy then trying to crack down on it, which in my opinion just moves legitimate users towards piracy with cracked programs that are otherwise difficult for legitimate paying customers to access. Counterfeiting on the other hand is a rampant issue in countries such as China, where there are even counterfeit stores selling products.
As a major part of the economy, the businesses that are up in the top market shares of their respective industries, have a fairly large amount of political clout, and can move their weight even more in the political world through lobbyists and campaign payments. This allows these oligopolies to influence not only our society and culture through their branding, which through reification (the act of making things real, in this sense making products more real) has come to become part of our culture, but also our political reality. This allows them to push forward political acts to harm counterfeiters and pirates, who are a major source of illegal competition, such as SOPA, PIPA and the now being discussed ACTA. These kinds of acts to harm pirates, as I previously discussed, don’t seem to harm them at all though, merely coming back to bite legitimate businesses and users and pushing them further towards pirate action.