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Network Ownership


By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

It has not been an easy year for the big media companies — or, more precisely, the ever-expanding corporate entities that own the significantly smaller ‘big’ three broadcast television networks.

Disney (which owns ABC), Viacom (which owns CBS) and GE (which owns NBC Universal) all watched their stock prices fall over the first three quarters of 2005. And all three entered 2006 with major changes ahead. Disney was replacing its CEO. Viacom was splitting into two separate entities. NBC was working to regain the strong ratings and financial footing it had when it merged with Vivendi Universal, as its entertainment offerings lagged and Microsoft pulled out of its partnership in MSNBC, one of the network’s cable news offerings.

One method of evaluating the companies and their individual components is to compare revenue totals for the parent companies with those of their subdivisions. Every year, Advertising Age publishes a list of the 100 largest media companies, listing their worldwide parent revenue as well as total revenue for their television and cable holdings. Figures for broadcast still combine news with other programming, but sampling the three figures gives a sense of how crucial (at least financially) the news components are to the parent company. We’ll look at one company at a time.

Viacom posted total company revenue for 2004 of $22.5 billion.1

Its television revenue (broadcast and cable) accounted for 68% of that figure ($15.2 billion) and broadcast alone made up 38%, or $8.5 billion. The share from broadcast (network and local stations), moreover, was up over 2003, but that is due mainly to Viacom’s total revenue falling, not broadcast’s increasing. Total revenues fell $3.9 billion from 2003 while broadcast revenues increased slightly, by $700 million.

In 2004, Disney’s total company revenue was $30.8 billion. That was up from $27 billon in 2003.

Television made up 36% of that with $11.2 billion. And broadcast revenue in 2004 made up $4.8 billion of that, matching revenues from the previous year. That broadcast share was a slightly smaller percent of the company’s overall revenue (16%, down a point from the year earlier).

Meanwhile, GE took in total revenue in 2004 of $152.4 billion, up some $18 billion from 2003. Perhaps unsurprisingly, television (broadcast and cable combined) accounted for a small component at such an expansive parent company. In 2004, NBC’s broadcast revenue increased to $7.5 billion from $6.2 billion a year earlier, but made up just 5% of GE’s total company revenue.

Cable contributed just 1% to the overall picture. And what will happen to that small figure following Microsoft’s decision to cede the MSNBC cable network to NBC Universal is uncertain.

Television Revenue as Percent of Total Corporate Revenue, 2004
Dollars in Billions

2004 Broadcast Revenue 2004 Cable Revenue 2004 TV Revenue (Broadcast + Cable) 2004 Total Revenue 2004 Broadcast Revenue as % of Total 2004 Cable Revenue as % of Total 2004 TV Revenue as % of Total
Viacom $8.5 $6.7 $15.2 $22.5 38% 30% 68%
Disney $4.8 $6.4 $11.2 $30.8 16% 21% 36%
(GE) NBC Universal $7.5 $2.1 $9.6 $152.4 5% 1% 6%

Source: Advertising Age, “100 Leading Media Companies,” 2004 data,

Journalism, of course, is only a tiny fraction of those figures. If 5% of GE’s revenue is derived from broadcasting and cable, what comes from news is only a very small portion of that — a portion harder still to determine. Along with MSNBC, GE’s cable operations include Bravo, USA and more. NBC’s revenues include the hours of entertainment programming, not just the fraction that comes from news programming. The same rule of thumb plays out across the other networks. As companies grow and assume increasingly diverse industries under their various umbrellas, news, even if it happens to be growing in absolute terms, becomes an ever-smaller component.

For example, consider NBC and its position within NBC Universal, a division of conglomerate GE. With six separate business divisions (it was an even more daunting 11 until mid-2004) NBC Universal is something of an odd-man-out in a lineup that includes GE Infrastructure, GE Industrial, GE Commercial Financing, GE Healthcare and GE Consumer Finances. The same parent company that brings you the “Nightly News” and the “Today Show” is also creating aircraft engines, locomotives, private-label credit cards, medical imaging technologies and nuclear energy equipment.

On the other hand, when Viacom decided to divide into two entities, one based on broadcast television and the other on cable television, CBS News became a larger component of its new conglomerate parent.

Broadcast Revenue as Percent of Total Corporate Revenue, 2003 vs. 2004
Dollars in Billions

2003 Broadcast Revenue 2004 Broadcast Revenue 2003 Total Revenue 2004 Total Revenue 2003 Broadcast Revenue as% of Total 2004 Broadcast Revenue as% of Total
Viacom $7.8 $8.5 $26.6 $22.5 29% 37%
Disney $4.8 $4.8 $27 $30.8 18% 16%
(GE) NBC Universal $6.2 $7.5 $134.2 $152.4 5% 5%

Source: Advertising Age, “100 Leading Media Companies,” 2004 data,

Television Revenue as Percent of Total Corporate Revenue, 2003 vs. 2004
Dollars in Billions

2003 TV Revenue (Broadcast + Cable) 2004 TV Revenue (Broadcast + Cable) 2003 Total Revenue 2004 Total Revenue 2003 TV Revenue

as% of Total

2004 TV Revenue

as% of Total

Viacom $13.4 $15.2 $26.6 $22.5 50% 68%
Disney $10.3 $11.2 $27 $30.8 38% 37%
(GE) NBC Universal $8.2 $9.6 $134.2 $152.4 6% 6%

Source: Advertising Age, “100 Leading Media Companies,” 2004 data,


NBC Universal (GE)–At A Glance

Parent Company:
(GE) NBC Universal
Parent Company Revenue (2004):
$152.4 billion
Network Revenue- NBC (2005)
$3.9 billion
Top Executive
Bob Wright, Chair/CEO, NBC Universal
Parent Company Divisions: GE Commercial Finance GE Commercial Finance provides loans, operating leases, financing programs, commercial insurance and reinsurance, and other services. Capital solutions

Corporate financial


Healthcare financial



Real Estate

GE Consumer Finance Provider of credit services to consumers, retailers and auto dealers in countries around the world, offering financial products such as private label credit cards, personal loans, bank cards, auto loans and leases, mortgages, corporate travel and purchasing cards, debt consolidation and home equity loans and credit insurance.
GE Healthcare Medical imaging and information technologies, medical diagnostics, patient monitoring systems, disease research, drug discovery and biopharmaceuticals GE Healthcare offers a broad range of services to improve productivity in healthcare and enable healthcare providers to better diagnose, treat and manage patients with conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases.
GE Industrial Provides a broad range of products and services throughout the world, including appliances, lighting and industrial products; factory automation systems; plastics, silicones and quartz products; security and sensors technology, and equipment financing, management and operating services. Advanced materials

Consumer & Industrial

Equipment services

Inspection technologies




GE Infrastructure Provider of fundamental technologies to developed and developing countries, including aircraft engine, energy, oil and gas, rail and water process technologies and services. Also provides aviation and energy leasing and financing services.
NBC Universal Media and entertainment company for the development, production and marketing of entertainment, news and information to a global audience. NBC



International channels


Sci Fi Channel



NBC Sports

NBC News

NBC Olympics

NBC local stations



Universal HD

NBC Universal Television

NBC Universal Distribution

Universal Production Studios

Universal Pictures

Universal Studio DVD

Focus Features

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios Japan

Source: Division descriptions taken from General Electric’s corporate Web site NBC Universal divisions taken from NBC Universal Web site, * Data from Broadcasting & Cable, Annual Ranking of broadcasting and cable networks

It’s been over two years since NBC and the French company Vivendi Universal merged their holdings into a single media company, NBC Universal (GE holds 80% of it, Vivendi Universal the remainder). At the time, in 2003, NBC was a broadcast network powerhouse with the top morning news program, the top evening news program and a coveted entertainment lineup. Vivendi Universal, on the other hand, reportedly brought $1.7 billion in debt to the relationship. Heading into 2006, however, NBC had lost some of its value. NBC Universal’s third- quarter revenue declined 26%. The once top-rated network now sits in the No. 3 position for prime-time ratings.

The cable division, NBC Universal Cable, reached an on-demand programming deal with Time Warner Cable in late 2005. The agreement, which includes carriage agreements for USA Network, Universal HD, mun2 and Telemundo Puerto Rico, will equip programs on several NBC properties with “Start Over.” As the name implies, Start Over allows viewers to, start programs over once the programs have already begun. Reportedly, the deal “also includes the rights to on demand content from NBC News (Nightly News and Meet the Press) and for the first time, cable…“2 including programs from MSNBC and CNBC.

On December 24, 2005 , however, Microsoft announced its plans to walk away from its joint-venture cable channel, MSNBC, giving full control to NBC while maintaining joint control of

In many ways news — along with its strong sports presence derived from the Olympics — seems to be the network’s strongest asset. Its nightly newscast, morning news program and Sunday morning news shows all lead in viewership. For some time now, “Nightly News” and “Today” have earned more advertising revenue than their competition (though that may be shifting in the near future). Those two and “Meet the Press” are audience leaders in their respective spots. In other words, while NBC News is a small part of the overall picture for NBC Universal, it has the undeniable cachet of being the leading force in network news.


The Walt Disney Company–At A Glance

Parent Company:
The Walt Disney Company
Parent Company Revenue (2004):
$30.8 billion
Network Revenue- NBC (2005)
$3.91 billion
Top Executive
Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group
Parent Company Divisions: Studio & Entertainment The foundation on which the company was built, creator of the company’s animated features and live-action motion pictures. Walt Disney Pictures

–Feature animation

–Disneytoon studios

Touchstone Pictures


Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Buena Vista Theatrical Productions

Walt Disney Records

Buena Vista Records

Hollywood Records

Lyric Street Records

Parks & Resorts Walt Disney Parks and Resorts operates or licenses 10 theme parks on three continents, along with 35 resort hotels, two luxury cruise ships and a wide variety of other entertainment offerings. Disneyland (CA)

Disney World (FL)

Tokyo Disney

Disneyland Paris

Hong Kong Disneyland

Disney Cruise Lines

Disney Vacation Club


Consumer Products Merchandise ranging from apparel, toys, home décor and books to interactive games, foods and beverages, electronics and fine art. Disney Hardlines

Disney Softlines

Disney Publishing

Hyperion Books for Children

Disney Press

Disney Editions

Disney Adventures

Buena Vista Games

Baby Einstein

Disney Stores Hollywood Records

Media Networks Encompasses company properties on the television, cable, radio and Internet landscape ABC News

ABC Entertainment

ABC Daytime

ABC Sports

ABC Kids

Touchstone TV


Disney Channel

ABC Family

Toon Disney


ABC Local TV

Radio Disney

ESPN Radio

ABC News Radio

Walt Disney Animation

Fox Kids International

Buena Vista Television

Buena Vista Television


Hyperion Books

Walt Disney Internet

Equity Interests in:

Lifetime Entertainment

A&E Television

E! Networks

Source: All descriptions taken from The Walt Disney Company’s Web site * Data from Broadcasting & Cable, Annual Ranking of broadcasting and cable networks

By the time James B. Stewart’s book “Disney War” was released in February 2005, anyone paying attention knew that all was not magic in “The Magic Kingdom.” While Michael Eisner, who had come to be perceived as a public and fiscal liability to the company, was planning to retire in 2006, the Disney board had another plan. In March 2005 the board elected Robert A. Iger (president and COO of the Walt Disney Company) to the position of CEO. Iger took the position on October 1, 2005 just weeks after he and Eisner appeared at the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland.

Among the big three networks, ABC is the hot entertainment property and has become a new model for prime-time success (a model quickly duplicated at CBS). While other networks were developing more and more reality programming, ABC trotted out the scripted programs “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.” Programs like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Invasion” and “Commander in Chief” followed, attracting audiences and winning over critics. The network even generated new reality hits with the new series “Dancing with the Stars” and with “Supernanny.”

On cable, the company’s namesake Disney channel has reportedly become the channel of choice for the lucrative ‘Tween’ market (ages 6 to 14). The channel launched the career of Hilary Duff, has turned former the Cosby kid Raven Symone into a virtual brand powerhouse, and appears not to have lost its touch when it comes to turning small screens into movie screens (think “The Wonderful World of Disney”) with features like the made-for-cable “ Twitches,” which scored a massive 21.5 million viewers over four broadcasts in a single weekend.3 According to an article in USA Today, the Disney Channel charges cable operators nearly twice as much as its most obvious competition, Nickelodeon (owned by the new Viacom company). In 2001, the Disney Channel had audience of 1.6 million viewers. That increased to more than 2.1 million in 2005.4

Disney’s holdings also include the cable sports network ESPN.5 Launched on September 7, 1979 , the 24-hour cable network has more than 89 million subscribers in 2006 and broadcasts more than 5,000 hours of live and original sports programming. The network and its signature SportsCenter program (watched by some 88 million monthly viewers) are part of an expansive franchise that includes ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPNews, ESPN Radio, a magazine and the sports-themed ESPN Zone restaurants.6

Heading into 2006 Disney’s stock prices climbed to better than anticipated levels thanks, at least in part, to the strong performance of its theme parks, the acquisition of Pixar Studios and a merger of its ABC Radio holdings with Citadel Communications.7

For ABC, it was the first period of sustained positive news since the merger with Disney more than a decade earlier. To what extent would that carry through to the benefit of ABS News? Unlike NBC, this network is housed within a larger corporation that is almost entirely focused on media and communications.8 Eisner, as CEO, was rooted primarily in the world of Hollywood film and TV production; Iger comes squarely from network broadcasting. Whether that lineage makes a difference — and a difference for news — will reveal itself in time. Disney’s assets are still much more heavily focused on broadcast entertainment rather than broadcast journalism.

The other distinction inside ABC is that David Westin, president of the news division, has no journalism background at all. A lawyer by training, he is close to Iger. With the departures in 2005 of Andrew Heyward at CBS and Neal Shapiro at NBC , he is also now the senior man among the three network news division presidents. And the death of Jennings , the retirement of Barbara Walters and the departure of Koppel mean that Westin hired many of the current ABC anchors. Vargas, Woodruff, Stephanapoulos and the new “Nightline” crew all earned their positions under his charge. People inside ABC have told the Project that Westin was sometimes dismissed by many of the best-known and most powerful journalists at ABC for not really understanding news and being a poor defender of the news division, internally and externally. Going into 2006, however, ABC News was now David Westin’s in a way it had never been before.


CBS–At A Glance

Parent Company:
CBS Corporation
Parent Company Revenue (2004):
CBS Corporation was formed in 2005 when Viacom divided its vast media holdings into two separate entities: CBS Corporation and the new Viacom. Viacom’s 2004 worldwide revenue was $22.5 billion.
Network Revenue- NBC (2005)
$4.7 billion
Top Executive
Leslie Moonves, president, CEO, CBS Corporation
Parent Company Divisions: CBS Television CBS News

CBS Entertainment

CBS Sports

CW Joint venture with Warner Brothers- network will replace UPN and WB and program with content from both.
CBS Television Stations Local television stations
Paramount Television Producers and distributors of programming for network, cable, prime time, daytime, first-run syndication and international platforms. Paramount Network


Paramount Domestic


CBS Paramount

Int’l Television

King World Television Syndication
Showtime Showtime

Showtime Too

Showtime Showcase

Showtime Extreme

Showtime Beyond

Showtime Next

Showtime Women

Showtime HD

Showtime on Demand

Family Zone

TMC Xtra

The Movie Channel


The Movie Channel on


Sundance Channel

CBS Radio Formerly Infinity Broadcasting
CBS Outdoor Out-of-home media company
Simon & Schuster Book publishing Simon & Schuster Adult

Publishing Group

Simon & Schuster

Children’s Publishing

Simon & Schuster Audio

Simon & Schuster Online

Int’l companies:



United Kingdom .

Paramount Parks Developer and operator of theme parks and location-based attractions Paramount Canada ‘s

Wonderland ( Toronto ,

Ontario )

Paramount ‘s Carowinds


Paramount ‘s Great

America (CA)

Paramount ‘s Kings

Dominion (Va)

Paramount ‘s Kings

Island (OH)

Developed and



Experience at the Las

Vegas Hilton (NV)


Bonfante Gardens

horticultural theme

park (CA)

CBS Television City at

the MGM Grand Hotel

& Casino (NV)

CBS Digital Media Responsible for overseeing all consumer digital properties, exploring opportunities in the new media sector (including streaming of network programming, live shows produced exclusively for the Internet, podcasts and mob-isodes of CBS shows).


CSTV Networks, Inc. Digital sports media company. Final acquisition deal pending.
CBS Consumer Products Manages the worldwide licensing, merchandising and video activities for a diverse slate of properties from CBS, Paramount Television and King World Productions.

Source: All descriptions taken from The CBS Corporation Web site * Data from Broadcasting & Cable, Annual Ranking of broadcasting and cable networks

At the end of 2005, Viacom announced that it would divide its vast cross-media holdings into CBS Corporation and what was being called the new Viacom. CBS Television would join UPN,9 Viacom Outdoor, Viacom Television Stations Group, Paramount Television, King World, Simon & Schuster, Showtime, Paramount Parks and Infinity under the banner of CBS Corporation. The other company, which would operate under the Viacom name, would include the MTV networks and their associated stations (VHI, Nickelodeon, Spike, TV Land), BET, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment and Famous Music. Les Moonves would become CEO of CBS Corporation while Tom Freston would assume the CEO position at the new Viacom. Going into the split Viacom revenues had climbed 10%, led by its cable holdings.10 When the new companies launched on January 1, 2006 , the stock market reacted favorably, with CBS stock closing at $26.20 a share, 70 cents higher than it opened.11

CBS has benefited from some solid entertainment programming, starting with its “CSI” franchise. A review of the top 25 programs (based on end of 2004-2005 season ratings), indeed, reveals CBS the leader with 12 programs making the list. They included “60 Minutes,” which, while falling in the ratings, continued to place high in weekly Nielsen rankings. CBS news programming as a whole, however, continued to fall behind. Both the evening news and the “Early Show” continued to occupy third place among the three broadcast networks.

For CBS News, one crucial change heading into 2006 was the arrival of Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports and son of the famed sportscaster Jim McKay, to head the news division as well. McManus is now in charge of the same divisions, news and sports, that Roone Arledge used to build his empire, turning ABC News into the dominant network news operation of the 1990s. While McManus brings a strong track record with him to the job, he has no prior hard-news experience, and the network news business itself is more complicated, though arguably less influential, than when Arledge took over ABC. But like Arledge, McManus also has a news division that is in third place in many key programming slots and a mandate as a consequence to take risks and make big changes. Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS, was quoted in an October 27, 2005 , Baltimore Sun article as saying, “I’ve seen him take CBS Sports from an also-ran to what I consider the pre-eminent network in sports… He’s a great leader. He’s very smart… He’s a perfectionist when it comes to production. And I think these skills will translate when he heads news.”12

What difference does the splitting of Viacom make in all this? It makes the network a more important part of its parent company financially and operationally than either of its broadcast network counterparts are to their corporate parent. The new company is also headed by Moonves, a man who, as he told Washington Post, considers himself “…still a network broadcaster at heart.”13 On the other hand, wary traditionalists also point out that if the future of network news rests online and not over the airwaves, CBS will now be led in that transition by an entertainment broadcaster and a sports broadcaster.


1. All figures in this section, unless specifically noted, reflect the holdings of the original Viacom, before the January 2006 separation of the company into the “new” Viacom and the CBS Corporation.

2. Financial Wire, “NBC, Time Reach Agreement,” October 25, 2005.

3. Gary Levin, “Disney finds place for tweens,” USA Today, October 26, 2005.

4. Ibid.

5. Disney owns 80 percent of ESPN, Inc. The Hearst Company owns the remaining 20 percent.

6. Based on information taken from the Disney Corporation Web site and from the Hearst Corporation Web site.

7. This merger did not include Disney Radio or ESPN’s Radio Network.

8. This marks a significant contrast to its previous owner, Capital Cities, which was fundamentally a broadcast company, whose business included a good deal of local TV news.

9. On Tuesday, January 24, 2006, CBS Corporation and Warner Brothers announced that they would be merging UPN and WB into a single network to be known as the CW. Its ownership would be split 50-50 by CBS and Warner Brothers and it would be programmed with content from both organizations.

10. AP, “Viacom Details Split Plans,” CBS News Web site, August 5, 2005 .

11. Steve Levingston, “A Trial Separation,” Washington Post, January 4, 2006.

12. David Zurawik, “At CBS News, hopes for a resurgence,” Baltimore Sun, October 27, 2005.

13. Steven Livingston, “A Trial Separation,” January 4, 2006.