The economics and regulation of concentrations of media ownership in the UK
Since the early 1990s, regulators in the UK and in many other countries have faced increasing pressure from media industry participants to liberalise media and cross-media ownership restrictions. Many countries, including the UK, have responded to this pressure by amending their domestic legislative frameworks in such ways as to remove at least some restrictions which had previously been established in order to protect pluralism. The main aim for this study has been to assess the 'economic' case in favour of de-regulating media and cross-media ownership in the UK. The principal method of investigation has been to analyse the relationship between, on the one hand, the size and vertical or diagonal structure of a selection of UK media firms and, on the other, their recent economic performance. Findings suggest that, although factors other than size will affect performance, there is generally a strong and positive correlation between the market share and the operating profitability of firms who are involved in either television or radio broadcasting, or national newspaper publishing. This correlation reflects efficiency gains through economies of scale and scope and, also, revenue advantages arising from increased market power. On the other hand, there is little evidence that previous monomedia ownership restrictions represented a threat to the economic viability of the industry or that developments in the late 1990s have introduced significant 'new' gains for enlarged monomedia enterprises. Nor is there evidence that de-regulation of monomedia restrictions would have any positive impact on the exports performance of traditional UK media firms. With regard to diagonal expansion, there is no evidence that cross-ownership between radio and television or between television and national newspapers yields important economic benefits. This thesis would argue that, taken as a whole, the de-regulation of UK media ownership in 1996 has delivered relatively few enhancements to the economic efficiency or prospects of the UK media industry while, at the same time, has engendered a considerable welfare loss through lower safeguards for pluralism. This outcome reflects serious systemic problems at the national UK level in the policymaking mechanism which is supposed to curb the political influence of media owners. This study finds that the scope - via a shift in responsibility for policy-formulation to the transnational European level - for overcoming such problems will be limited, not least because the protection of pluralism remains outside the official competence of the European Commission.