Skip to Content View Previous Reports


Network TV
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism

For data and baseline information about network news ownership, see PEJ’s new interactive tool, Who Owns the News Media, on the top media companies in the United States. Readers can use it to compare financials, audience and general information of the companies that own the three broadcast networks’ news divisions — Disney (ABC), CBS Corporation (CBS) and NBC Universal (NBC). In the section below, key trends and developments in the ownership of the network news divisions in 2009 are examined.

NBC Universal

The biggest news in media ownership in 2009 was the agreement to sell NBC Universal. Under the agreement, General Electric is reducing its share of ownership from 80% to 49%; Vivendi, the France-based media conglomerate, is selling its 20% share; and Comcast Corp, the giant cable operator, is acquiring a controlling 51% interest. That deal and its implications are covered in the Cable chapter, since the new controlling owner, Comcast, is a cable company.

CBS Corp.

Since it was spun off from Viacom in 2005, CBS comes closest of the four television networks to being a stand-alone broadcaster. ABC, NBC and Fox all have sibling cable channels in their corporate families. Broadcast television accounted for more than two-thirds of CBS’ revenues in 2009.1

On paper, CBS rebounded from a tough 2008 in 2009, returning to profitability. But the improvement in CBS’ accounts derived solely from a comparison to a $14 billion write-down of the value of its media assets it posted in 2008. Despite a mixture of cost cutting (including a substantial number of layoffs), sales of television programs into syndication and an improved ad market in the second half of the year, CBS’ television operation posted lower revenues and profits in 2009.

  • The company saw revenue decrease by $936 million to $13.6 billion through in 2009, down 6.7% from $14 billion in 2008.
  • CBS managed to turn a profit in 2009, earning $1 billion, compared to a loss of $12.2 billion in 2008.
  • CBS Entertainment2 brought in more than half of the company’s revenue for 2009, at $7 billion in 2009, up from $6.9 billion the previous year.
  • Along with the entertainment group, CBS cable networks and content businesses increased revenues in 2009. The company’s publishing local broadcast and outdoor advertising businesses saw losses compared with 2008.

CBS Revenues, 2008 vs. 2009
In Millions

2008 2009 Increase/Decrease
Entertainment $6,878.8 $6,976.7 1.4%
Cable Networks 1,264.5 1,347.2 6.5
Publishing 857.7 793.5 -7.4
Local Broadcasting 9,117.4 9,001.0 -1.2
Outdoor Advertising 2,170.6 1,722.6 -21
Total 13,950.4 13,014.6 -7

Source: SEC filings, CBS Corporation, February 18, 2010
CBS Profits, 2008 vs. 2009
In Millions

2008 2009 Increase/Decrease
Entertainment $882.7 $699.9 -21%
Cable Networks 364.3 437.4 20
Publishing 78.7 42.5 -46
Local Broadcasting 720.3 422.4 -41
Outdoor Advertising 223.5 -96.9 -143
Corporate -170.3 -166 -3
Adjusted Operating Income -12,158.7 1,011.4 108

Source: SEC filings, CBS Corporation, February 18, 2010

Walt Disney (ABC)

Profits at Walt Disney fell by 21% in fiscal 2009, to $6.7 billion, as all of the company’s business segments saw declines in 2009.

Disney’s media networks division, which includes ABC’s broadcast network along with a portfolio of cable channels and radio and television stations, gained the most in revenue and shrank the least in profits. It contributed $16.2 billion (or 54%) of the revenue in 2009. The unit has long been Disney’s most lucrative.

Disney Revenues, FY 2008 vs. FY 2009
In Millions

2008 2009 Increase/Decrease
Media Networks $15,857 $16,209 2.2%
Parks and Resorts 11,504 10,667 -7.2
Studio Entertainment 7,348 6,136 -1.6
Consumer Products 2,415 2,425 0
Interactive Media 719 712 -1
Total revenue 37,843 36,149 -4.4

Source: SEC Filings, October 3, 2009

Disney Profits, FY 2008 vs. FY 2009
In Millions

2008 2009 Increase/Decrease
Media Networks $4,981 $4,765 -4.3%
Parks and Resorts 1,897 1,418 -25.2
Studio Entertainment 1,086 175 -84
Consumer Products 778 609 -22
Interactive Media (258) (295) -14
Total Operating Income 8,484 6,672 -21

Source: SEC Filings, October 3, 2009

With a broader range of businesses than CBS and greater resources than NBC Universal, Disney undertook initiatives in cable TV, filmed entertainment, gaming and digital content distribution.

Among the developments:

As part of a restructuring at Disney, the company merged the operations of ABC Studios and ABC Entertainment into the ABC Entertainment Group, combining divisions that produce non-news programming for the ABC network and develop shows for other networks.

  • In March 2009, Disney signed a deal with the video website YouTube to launch multiple channels, including one for ABC News.  (For more, see Network Digital .)
  • Disney joined as a joint venture partner and equity owner of Hulu, an online aggregator of video content in April 2009.
  • In August 2009, Disney reorganized its part-ownership of Lifetime cable networks. Lifetime Entertainment Services (Lifetime Television, Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women) had been co-owned with Hearst. It is now owned by A&E Networks (A&E Network, History and the Biography Channel), which in turn is co-owned by Disney, Hearst Corporation and NBC Universal. (Hearst acquired Lifetime Entertainment Services, which comprises Lifetime Television, Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women.)
  • In one of the largest media acquisitions of the year, Disney acquired the comic book giant Marvel in August for $4 billion.
  • In September 2009, Disney acquired Halo creator Alexander Seropian’s gaming company Wideload Games.

Neither Lifetime, Marvel nor Wideload is involved in the operation of ABC News.


1. ABC News Now, the news division’s digital cable network, is available on a small number of cable systems in the U.S.

2. This segment includes CBS Television Network, which encompasses CBS News. CBS Television Studios, CBS Studios International, CBS Television Distribution, CBS Films and CBS Interactive.