The Media Put Ideology and Persuasion First, Profits Second

The Media Put Ideology and Persuasion First, Profits Second. By Revolver.

Tucker Carlson’s prime-time Fox News show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, has shattered record after record to become the highest rated cable news program in television history. …

Tucker Carlson accounts for 16 percent all ad revenue at Fox News. And during the six-month period of February through July of this year alone, Tucker generated $37.2 million for Fox News and smashed the competition. …

The historic popularity and profitability of Tucker’s show raises a simple, yet important question: why have none of the major networks, including Fox, attempted to copy his success?

Wouldn’t the fabled “marketplace of ideas” dictate a certain convergence toward the topics and styles that draw the biggest audiences?

Perhaps the ad boycotts aimed at Tucker have scared off would-be copycats. But this simply raises the question of why companies would leave money on the table by refusing to advertise on television’s most popular cable news show. Something is off here, and it suggests that the media industry does not work according to a simple profit motive.

Well duh. Where have you been?

What if the true goal of a media conglomerate is not to produce a reliable and entertaining news service tailored to its audience, but rather to influence that audience on behalf of third parties? What if the purpose of a media company is not to be profitable for its own sake, but influential for the sake of others?

Business models aren’t always what they present themselves to be.

  • Movie theaters make money not from ticket sales, but from concession stands.
  • Airlines likewise need to sell tickets, but they make more profit from frequent flier rewards programs.
  • Supermarkets are increasingly big data collectors for insurance companies. Users of Google, YouTube, and other internet/social media services might think of themselves as “customers,” but they are actually the product, as those services collect detailed data on users and sell it to third parties for advertising purposes.

The Washington Post can reward or punish any US politician. It is the biggest tool in the lobbyists toolkit:

The Washington Post provides a clear example of a media company’s true business model. Readers might recall that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post for $250 million. The paper is of course notoriously biased against Trump, even by the standards of today’s mainstream media. This may be good for business and it may not be — but ultimately this is not what matters. What matters is that the Post is directly or indirectly profitable to its owner, Jeff Bezos. If it lost money, but influenced the public or other important constituencies in a manner that resulted in greater success for Amazon (a company 10,000 times its size), it would still be a worthwhile investment for Bezos.

We can generalize this principle by noting that the parent-subsidiary model is very common in business. Any given subsidiary does not have to be profitable in its own right so long as it benefits the parent company. …

Even more important than a parent company’s profits is power:

For a media empire operating at the highest levels, the influence it wields on the public’s mind is far more valuable to the ruling power structure than any self-contained profit that could be generated by optimizing their news product to suit the taste of the audience.

For a serious media enterprise, profit is always secondary to influence.

Just as a social media company’s true product is its user data, the true product of a major media company is the flow of narratives that shape the perception of reality. Wielding influence over the public mind will always be more valuable than any profit that could be generated by optimizing the news to suit public tastes. …

Major media companies are not about profits, but influence — there is no “marketplace of ideas” that functions in the way people might imagine. And this applies to any industry that has a profound effect on the narratives and beliefs that shape the public’s perception of reality, including movies and video games.

In our increasingly corrupt society, every institution is a scam. …

The media’s job is to use its profound influence to ensure that the masses interpret political and cultural events though the distortive lens of ideology. … The role of mainstream media is to maintain the dominance of ideology as the lens through which the public interprets reality.

hat-tip Scott of the Pacific