by Joel Kotkin
Tech titans want to be masters of all media we survey
In the process, we might see the future
decline of traditional media, including both news and entertainment,
and a huge shift in media power away from both Hollywood and New
York and toward the Bay Area and Seattle.
In some cases, this is being
accomplished by direct acquisition of existing media platforms,
alliances with traditional firms and the subsidization of favored
news outlets. But the real power of the emerging tech oligarchy lies
in its control of the Internet itself, which is rapidly gaining
preeminence in the flow of information.
They are in a unique position to
dominate discourse in America for decades to come.
A prospectus for a lobbying group headed up by Mark Zuckerberg's former Harvard roommate, suggests tech will become "one of the most powerful political forces."
The new group's "tactical assets" include not only popularity and great wealth but the fact that,
In the past, more hardware-oriented companies provided the "pipelines" through which traditional media disseminated their products.
But increasingly these industries are
being subsumed by the oligarchs. On the hardware side, they seek to
supplant the traditional telecommunications companies with their own
series of global digital pipelines; at the same time they are
looking to gain control over large parts of the entertainment, news
and other media providers.
By 2013, Google's ad revenue surpassed
that of either newspapers or magazines.
According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, periodical and newspaper publishing have lost some 250,000 jobs.
Over the same time, Internet publishing
and portals generated some 70,000 new positions, many of them in the
Bay Area or Seattle.
As relatively young people - even
Bill Gates is barely 60 - they
will have the money, and the time, to disseminate their views both
to the masses and the influential higher echelons.
Chris Hughes, a Facebook billionaire and Obama tech guru, has bought the venerable New Republic.
Perhaps more importantly, the purchase
of the Washington Post by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, now the
country's fourth-richest person, has placed the tech oligarchy at
the center of media in the nation's capital.
Facebook, according to Pew, has emerged as the second-largest source of political news, after local television.
And then, there's Apple TV...
The oligarchs may need to source from
more established vendors on the East Coast or Hollywood, but they
increasingly will control the financial purse strings as well as the
critical distribution pipelines.
President Obama has even enlisted
several tech titans, including venture capitalist John Doerr,
LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman and Sun Microsystems
co-founder Vinod Khosla, to help plan his doubtlessly lavish
and highly political retirement.
An analysis by researcher Gregory Ferenstein found that most Internet company founders are liberal Democrats, favoring increased immigration, with its promise of cheap, more pliable labor for their own operations. Unlike old-style Democrats, they are strongly hostile to unions, dismiss issues of class and believe that most issues can be addressed by digital technology and education.
Hey, it worked for them!
They see this happening largely by pushing media in the direction of their own version of progressivism.
EBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar
has pledged large sums to support a largely left-of-center
investigative reporting site, First Look Media. Both Vox Media and
Buzzfeed, emerging digital news brands, have received major
investment from Silicon Valley firms.
Recent coverage of Democrats who dissented from Gov. Jerry Brown's climate change agenda basically portrayed them more or less as oil company stooges.
There seems to be less interest in
explaining how these lawmakers' working-class constituents might
have problems with ever higher energy prices that cut deeply into
their generally modest finances.
With media consumers constantly on their
phones, looking at their smart watches or logging onto their
tablets, the flow of media messaging could become ubiquitous to a
degree imagined before only in dystopian science fiction, or in how
North Korea attempts to convince its impoverished,
often-malnourished citizens through incessant propaganda that they
live in an evolving socialist fairyland.
This could allow the oligarchs to become
a media power of unprecedented dominance, a ubiquitous
Big Brother looming from cyberspace...