The NBC Olympic Broadcast: A Case Study of a Media Conglomerate

Every four years, athletes from around the world gather in one city to compete in what some consider the greatest sporting event in the world.  According to Nielsen Company (2008), nearly 70% of the world’s population tuned in to watch the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, or more the 4.7 billion sets of eyeballs.  The staggering figures suggest that the Olympics may be more of a media event than a sporting event.  Moreover, without media funding, it is unlikely the Olympics would exist, given that television rights fees make up most of the International Olympic Committee’s revenue (Associated Press, 2008).  In fact, NBC paid more than $2.2 billion, a staggering sum, for the television rights to the 2012 London Olympics (Associated Press, 2008).  Only a large and well-funded media organization can afford to bid on the rights, much less be able to successfully monetize such an event.  While a large media organization is needed to enable events like the Olympics, what is the make up and character of such organizations, how are they successful, and most importantly, what are the implications for the public?  Through the examination of NBC as a case study, this author has noted that greater media concentration has potential negative implications for both audience content and the U.S. political and regulatory processes.

NBC Corporate Background

            The National Broadcasting Company, or NBC, was born from the early days of radio as an offshoot of an AT&T-GE-Westinghouse-RCA collaboration (Benkler, 2006).  In 1986, to avoid the threat of hostile takeover, RCA, the parent company of NBC, was purchased by manufacturing giant, General Electric (Richter, 1985).  In 2011, Comcast Inc. cleared FCC regulatory hurdles and won approval to purchase a 51% controlling interest in NBC Universal from General Electric, despite media watchdog concerns over one corporation’s power to both create and deliver content, an industry first (Reardon, 2011).  With the acquisition of NBC Universal, Comcast has become “a leading provider of entertainment, information and communications products and services” (Comcast Corporation, 2012, p. 1).

The Post-NBC Acquisition Comcast Media Business

   Comcast Corporation is a $55 billion vertically integrated media conglomerate with a market capitalization of more than $92 billion comprised of five operating segments, cable communication, cable television, broadcast television, filmed entertainment, and theme parks (Comcast Corporation, 2012).   The cable communication segment is responsible for 67% of their revenue, being wired directly to more than 50 million homes and “serving 22.3 million video customers, 18.1 million high-speed Internet customers and 9.3 million voice customers” (Comcast Corporation, 2012, p. 3).  Moreover, with the acquisition of NBC Universal, Comcast increased its content assets to more that $14 billion worth of annual revenue spanning cable and broadcast television stations, the Telemundo and NBC broadcast networks, film production, and digital properties like Television Without Pity, iVillage, Daily Candy, Fandango, and perhaps most importantly, online video service Hulu (Comcast Corporation, 2012).  While some have been skeptical of vertical integration strategies following the AOL/Time Warner debacle, Comcast executives have emphasized that the NBC Universal acquisition is not aimed at creating synergy between segments, suggesting rather it simply makes financial and strategic sense for Comcast shareholders (Knowledge@Wharton, 2009).  Given the lack of focus on synergy, what does Comcast hope to gain through becoming a content provider?

Why A Vertical Media Business?

In an era shaped by media convergence, it is no surprise Comcast might wish to be more diversified.  New technologies have reshaped the media industry and forever separated content from delivery, as consumers now expect content anywhere, anytime, on any device (Jenkins, 2004).  In describing what is at stake in the converging media market, Jenkins (2004) suggests that “the way in which those various transitions play themselves out will determine the balance of power within this new media era” (p. 34).   Some have suggested that Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal is a hedge against the risk of media convergence, allowing Comcast to avoid being commoditized into a ‘dumb pipe’, or said otherwise, simply a channel among many (Knowledge@Wharton, 2009).

Furthermore, the ownership of digital properties may position Comcast to be successful in converged future.  For example, in addition to the typically lucrative prime time coverage of the 2012 Olympics, NBC also offered live streams of Olympic events, where a only 10 events drew more than a million live streams (Hiestand, 2012).  While the digital advertising revenue was a fraction of the more than $1 billion in prime time advertising, the digital presence help draw viewers to the prime time coverage (Hiestand, 2012).  In addition, given Comcast’s nearly 23% share of broadband (Taylor, 2011), the much of the bandwidth intensive streaming occurred through Comcast’s ‘dumb pipes’, conceivably driving demand for increased bandwidth.  Finally, given the recent and very public Viacom and DirecTv programming spat over content costs, it is clear that Comcast may be insulated from the impact of rising content prices for a significant portion of their distributed content, given their ownership stake in NBC.  While there appear to be clear benefits to Comcast, critics worry over the implications of media concentration for society.

Implications of Vertical Media Concentration

            For instance, McQuail (2010) suggests policy issues arising from media concentration include the affect on pricing and content.  While there does not appear to be evidence of rising prices for Comcast cable or broadband, there does appear to be a conflict of interest between Comcast’s television and film production and their digital properties.  For example, both Fandango and Television Without Pity are digital properties that influence audiences by providing reviews, criticism, and content for film and television content respectively.  A cursory analysis of content by this author of content presented on the Television Without Pity web site, found that content regarding the television shows American Idol, a Fox property, and The Voice, a competing Comcast property, were invariably favorable towards The Voice.  Perhaps The Voice is simply a better show, or perhaps there is ownership influence over the content.  McQuail (2010) warns that independence from owners or outside political or economic interests is a structural condition for effective media freedom.  While the fate of the free world may not hang in the balance because of a review of American Idol, there are additional implications of Comcast’s growing concentration of media power.

Indeed, because media freedom requires independence from political and economic interests, limits to media concentration are important (McQuail, 2010).  With Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, and $55 billion in annual revenue, Comcast has become one of the largest media companies in the world with important political and economic interests and the influence to affect their interests.  For example, Comcast spent more than $20 million in 2011, and another $8.5 million in the first half of 2012 on lobbying, putting them among the top ten largest spenders, where they lobbied ‘net neutrality’ legislation, FCC programming issues, and their acquisition of NBC Universal (, 2012).  In addition, Comcast is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Republican-backed bill mill that favors free markets and limited government (, 2012).  Comcast sits on ALEC’s Communication and Technology Task Force, helping Republican legislatures draft model bills on issues like a.l.a. carte cable pricing, cable video franchising, and municipal broadband (ALEC, 2012).  Of course, much of the draft legislation is favorable to Comcast’s business interests.  For example, ALEC’s position on efforts by municipalities to offer broadband is to put safeguards into place to protect private providers, and they are drafting model bills in support of their position to be available to legislator members of ALEC, should they be needed (ALEC, 2012).  It is clear that Comcast is using their market dominance and profits to affect the regulatory landscape and promote their continued growth.  The implication is fairly straightforward; massive media conglomerates are able to use their considerable economic and market power to exert influence on both the political and regulatory process, with the potential for negative consequences for consumers.


            As media events typified by the Olympic continue to grow in size, complexity, and audience share, only the world’s largest media conglomerates are positioned to effectively fund and deliver these events to a global audience.  However, as the Comcast example shows, there are significant societal implications of continued media concentration.  Specifically, greater media concentration appears to have potentially negative implications for society that include greater influence over both content, and national political and regulatory processes.


ALEC. (2012). Communications and Technology  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Associated Press. (2008, November 18, 2008). EBU urges IOC to stick with European broadcasters  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.

Comcast Corporation. (2012). Comcast Corporation 2011 Annual Report on Form 10-K  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Hiestand, M. (2012, August 12, 2012). NBC exec: Live streaming Olympic events helped prime time  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43.

Knowledge@Wharton. (2009, December 9, 2009). Comcast-NBC Universal: Will the Marriage of Cable and Content Work?  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Nielsen Company. (2008, September 5, 2008). Beijing Olympics Draw Largest Ever Global TV Audience  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from (2012). Lobbying Spending Database: Top Spenders  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Reardon, M. (2011, January 21, 2011). What the Comcast-NBC deal means to you (FAQ)  Retrieved August 12, , 2012, from

Richter, P. (1985, December 12, 1985). General Electric Will Buy RCA for $6.28 Billion  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from (2012). Comcast Corporation – SourceWatch  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from

Taylor, C. (2011, May 17, 2011). Want Broadband? Odds Are, You’ll Chose Cable  Retrieved August 12,, 2012, from




Leveraging Tragedy: Bias in the Media

On July 20th of 2012, Jim Holmes walked into the midnight premiere of the movie The Dark Knight Rises and killed 12 people, and wounding another 59 before being apprehended by local police (KUSA-TV, 2012).  As the event unfolded, media organizations across the nation and the globe mobilized and began extensive coverage of the shooting that continues to this day.   While much of the initial coverage focused on the factuality of the event, there were errors that some in the media considered evidence of bias.   Most notably, was the suggestion by Brian Ross of ABC News, that the shooter might have links to the Tea Party, a mistake that some suggest is evidence of liberal bias in the media (Goldberg, 2012; Irvine, 2012; Scott, 2012).  Furthermore, Scott (2012), a Fox News commentator, suggested liberal bias extended beyond ABCs factual blunder towards politicization of gun use, noting the “media coverage of the movie theater massacre in Colorado spark[ed] another one-sided debate on gun control” (p. 2).  After completing a critical evaluation of the media event that included a traditional content analysis, this author found that the charges of bias are likely justified, although not one-sided; rather, bias appears to be a de facto presence in news media, despite the western journalistic norm of objectivity.


In order to understand whether Scott’s (2012) charge of media bias did or did not have merit, this author critically evaluated the news coverage of the shooting against McQuail’s (2010) standard of objectivity.  In addition, a basic content analysis was conducted to determine the extent to which the subject of gun control was associated with the shooting story, analyzing the total number of articles on the theater shooting on mainstream print and broadcast media organization’s websites, comparing that with how many articles associated the theater shooting with either gun control.  Moreover, the number of articles that associated gun control with the shooting were compared with Kohut and Remez’s (2009) report identifying public perception of news network ideology to determine whether the perceived ideology was associated with the amount of coverage. Finally, this author commented on the potential sources of bias in the coverage.

Evaluation of Objectivity: The Brian Ross Incident

            During a Good Morning America segment on the theater shooting with George Stephanopolis, Brian Ross described significant information related to the shooting, indicating, “There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado tea party site as well. Talking about him joining the tea party last year. Now, we don’t know if this the same Jim Holmes, but this is Jim Holmes, Aurora, Colorado” (Byers, 2012, p. 1).  Of course, it turned out later that a completely different Jim Holmes was responsible for the shooting.  To what degree did Brian Ross’s statement meet the standard of objectivity?  According to McQuail (2010), information quality reflects the broadly shared public interest in reliable information from trusted source “that matches the reality of experience” (p. 200).  Westerstahl (1983) described the main components of objectivity as factuality and impartiality.   While the information was clearly not factual, it may or may not have been impartial.  It appears that Ross may have jumped directly to an existing liberal narrative of the Tea Party as right-wing extremists without checking sources to verify the factuality of the claim, certainly an error in professional judgment.  Potential sources of bias include either Ross’s socialization and attitudes, or an organizational routine that took shortcuts in order to capture audience share.  In either case, the information presented was neither factual, nor impartial, and therefore does not meet the standard for objectivity. 

The Theater Shooting and the Guns Debate

            While there appears to be some validity to Scott’s (2012) charge of bias against Ross, Scott also suggested a broader bias by the media to use the theater shooting to have a “one-sided” debate regarding gun control, conceivably to influence the public to take action to limit guns in some way.  In order to critically examine the charge of bias, this author conducted a traditional content analysis based on Berelson’s (1952) definition using the following parameters:

Table 1

Content Analysis Parameters



Universe or sample

Mainstream U.S. print and broadcast media websites

Category frame

Original articles in the last 30 days

Unit of analysis

Articles referring to “theater shooting” and articles referring to “theater shooting” AND “gun control”

Table 1. Parameters for traditional content analysis of media bias in theater shooting coverage.

The websites analyzed included the CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, and the Washington Post.  Each source was categorized based on their public perception, where the public perception of the broadcast media was based on Kohut and Remez (2009).  The print media did not have a third party referent for public perception of bias, therefore this author categorized the print media based on internal views of liberal or conservative bias.  The results are outlined below:

Table 2

Data from content analysis



Perceived Bias

# Articles on “theater shooting”

# Articles on “theater shooting” AND “gun control”

% of coverage with political interpretation





































NY Times






Washington Post












Table 2.  Data collected during content analysis of theater shooting coverage.

The information in Table 2 was analyzed to determine the degree to which the story was covered by mainstream media along liberal and conservative lines and the degree to which the story was interpreted by the media in a broader political context.  The analysis was limited insofar as did not include a qualitative interpretation as to the direction of the bias.  The results are outlined below:

Table 3

Results of content analysis


Perceived Bias

Total # of Articles

Median # articles

% of coverage with political interpretation

Bias towards selection Liberal






Tendency towards politicization Liberal








Table 3.  Analysis of selection bias and tendency towards politicization of theater shooting coverage along conservative and liberal lines.



It is clear that media organizations perceived as liberal by the public provided far more coverage of the story than did their conservative counterparts.  Equally clear, is that media organizations perceived as conservative were far likelier to provide a political interpretation of the story for their audience, in the broader context of the gun control narrative.  While the shooting was a key event, the public significance of the shooting triggered mediahype, where extensive coverage of the event and subsequent manufactured events created a media frenzy that media organizations were likely able to monetize.  Indeed, The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press (2012) found that the shooting overwhelmingly held audience interest over other stories, lending credence to the idea that the coverage of the tragedy was a commercial boon to most media organizations, perhaps a cause for the extensive coverage.

Given the economic potential of coverage, why then did the conservative press cover the story far less than the liberal press?  Perhaps the story did not fit into existing conservative narratives on gun rights?  Given the lack of a qualitative analysis, it is impossible to tell.  Equally so, the story may have served the liberal media both commercially, and in terms of their political narrative on the importance of gun control, both powerful influences to select and politicize the story.  Accordingly, both liberal and conservative organizations appear to be biased in their selection and presentation of the story.


Charges of media bias are commonplace and may very well be accurate in some cases, given that bias is likely structural, given the wide variety of forces influencing media.  Scott’s (2012) charge of bias on the part of the liberal media is supported by this author’s analysis, although it was not one-sided as was suggested.  Rather, bias appeared to be a persistent presence in both liberal and conservative media organizations, or a fact of life in professional news organizations, despite their professed norms of objectivity.




Berelson, B. (1952). Content analysis in communication research. Glencoe, Ill.,: Free Press.

Byers, D. (2012, July 20, 2012). ABC draws possible Tea Party connection with alleged Aurora shooter  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from

Goldberg, J. (2012, July 24, 2012). Goldberg: TV reporter’s mistake is proof of media bias  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from

Irvine, D. (2012). ABC Ties Colorado Shooter to Tea Party—Apologizes Later.  Retrieved from

Kohut, A., & Remez, M. (2009). Fox News Viewed as Most Ideological Network. Washington DC: The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press.

KUSA-TV. (2012, July 22, 2012). Suspect named James Holmes in custody, 12 dead in Aurora movie theater shooting, 58 wounded  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from

McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Scott, J. (Writer). (2012). Fox News Watch: How the media covered the Colorado massacre: Fox News Network.

The Pew Research Center For The People & The Press. (2012, August 1, 2012). Colorado Rampage Tops News Interest for July  Retrieved August 5, 2012, from

Westerstahl, J. (1983). Objective news reporting. Communication Research, 10(3), 403-424.


A Scientific or Socio-cultural Approach to Communication Analysis: A Case Study of a Local Newscast

            Communication researchers have a variety of theoretical perspectives within which to examine the act of mass communication, many of which are considered to operate within one of two paradigms.  The dominant paradigm “combines a view of powerful mass media in a mass society with the typical research practices of the emerging social sciences” (McQuail, 2010, p. 62).  With origins in functionalism and information theory, the dominant paradigm is hallmarked by acceptance of the liberal-pluralist ideal, a bias towards studying the effects of a powerful mass media, and emphasis on quantitative research (McQuail, 2010).   Critical of the liberal-pluralist ideal, the alternative critical paradigm examines the political, economic, and cultural character of mass media, adopting an interpretive and constructionist view (McQuail, 2010).  Moreover, the alternative critical paradigm favors a qualitative research approach (McQuail, 2010).  In order to develop a perspective on the value of each paradigm to researching the act of mass communication, this author chose to analysis a local newscast from 9 News, using the scientific approach inherent with the dominant paradigm, and the socio-cultural approach inherent in the alternative critical paradigm.  Whereas the scientific approach to mass media analysis was useful insofar as it provided a useful lexicon for breaking down and describing the act of communication, the critical and qualitative nature of the socio-cultural perspective allowed this researcher gain greater insight into the various facets of the communication, without being bound by normative thinking.

General Approach

            In order to understand the value of both the scientific and socio-cultural approaches to the mass communication act, this author recorded and analyzed a local newscast from 9 News of Denver, using the main features of theories from both paradigms to understand the types of knowledge each provided.  Exploring the scientific approach, the communication act was analyzed with Laswell’s (1948) functional view and Westley and MacLean’s (1957) conceptual model, whereas, with the socio-cultural approach, the communication act was analyzed using critical political-economic theory and the major propositions of commercialization.

Scientific Approach

            Lasswell’s (1948) described mass communication in a functional transmission model as ‘Who says what to whom, through what channel and with what effect?’  Attempting to answer the question for the newscast is the basis for the analysis.  The sender is the 9 News organization, part of a local television station owned by the Gannett group, a $5 billion media conglomerate with significant newspaper, television, and digital properties, notably including the USA Today newspaper (Gannet Co. Inc., 2010).  While the founder was considered conservative, no information on potential political affiliation was noted during the communication act.  The newscast included coverage on weather, traffic, crime, politics, human-interest stories, sports, public service, and advertising.  The newscast was broadcast over the air and through cable and satellite television providers, and also online at to roughly 6000 Denver households representing 12% of the total market (Ostrow, 2012).  The newscast informed local residents of newsworthy stories, public service information, and issues affecting Coloradans, in order to increase market share, associated advertising revenue, and company earnings.  In addition, the newscast helped shape discourse on notable events in the local public sphere, such as the recent Colorado theater shooting.

Westley and MacLean’s (1957) conceptual model structured the functional view differently, incorporating the role of communicator as a selector and interpreter of “events and voices in society” (McQuail, 2010, p. 70).  The newscast had a number of significant events, notably including both the Olympics and the Colorado theater shooting.  The Olympic coverage was largely oriented towards U.S. victories resulting in medals, with a local interest story on Missy Franklin, a Coloradan swimmer and recent bronze medalist.  The interpretive context of the newscasters appeared to orient towards U.S. athletic dominance in the games.  The theater shooting coverage included an update on the court proceedings of shooting suspect James Holmes, hearing primarily from the police, district attorney, and victim’s families.  The interpretation of the shooting event centered on implied theories for the shooters deviance, including potential mental health problems.  Westley and MacLean’s (1957) description of voices and events had this author wondering whether the shooter’s intended message was being communicated and whether the interpretation being provided would prove to be accurate in the long run.

In summary, the scientific approach, while lacking any quantitative analysis was useful as a framework to describe functionally the communication act.  In addition, the approach lent itself to breaking down the act to understand the media organizations, potential for bias, the role of media in shaping discourse, the nature of the medium, the nature of the audience, and the effects of the act.  However, the scientific approach left questions on the table including:

  • Does the news describe events objectively?
  • Are opposing voices heard?
  • How does the make-up of the audience shape the news?

Socio-cultural Approach

            Beginning with critical political-economic theory (McQuail, 2010), this author sought to determine whether content and audience is commoditized, whether opposition and alternative voices were present or marginalized, and whether the public interest is subordinated to private interest?

It appears clear that the Gannet Company seeks to own a large diversified share of media audience, given audience reach is a core metric in their annual report (Gannet Co. Inc., 2010).  According to their SEC 10-K filing, the Gannet Company reaches 18% of U.S. households through their television stations with an “online U.S. Internet audience [totaling] 52 million monthly unique visitors, reaching about 24% of the Internet audience” (Gannet Co. Inc., 2010, p. 3).  Both the content and the audience are clear commodities to be sold as “marketing solutions” to businesses nationwide.

McQuail (2010) describes the consequences of the commodification of audience and content in suggesting that content diversity decreases as and opposition voices are marginalized as the media conforms to normative ideas of acceptable content to preserve share and avoid competitive risk.  In the observed newscast, a case can be made to support this notion.  Political perspectives provided in the newscast were only shared from Republican and Democratic viewpoints, ignoring lesser parties like the Green Party or the Libertarians.  Perhaps the absence is one of necessity given the limited time for broadcasting the newscast, however, the fact remains the opposing viewpoints were missing and as a result, were marginalized.  Given the need for the Gannet Company to preserve more than $6 billion in annual revenues, it appears possible that the public interest is subtlety subordinated insofar as the marginalization of opposition viewpoints limits public discourse and favors the maintenance of the political and economic status quo.

Coincident with critical political-economic theory is the notion of commercialization.  While critical political-economic theory describes the commodification of audience and content, commercialization highlights the role of media in “the promotion of consumerist attitudes to culture and life” (McQuail, 2010, p. 125).    As a case in point, the newscast had a public service piece on tips for refinancing a home, certainly a hot topic given the real estate meltdown of the last several years.  The newscast presumed a single model for consumers to purchase a house, through borrowing money from major banks, rather than discussing alternative models such as purchasing with savings, borrowing from retirement plans, or using local credit unions.  In a sense, the 9 News staff chose to advocate the dominant model for consumption, favoring commercial interests.

The socio-cultural approach lent itself to a critical analysis of the communication act that challenged normative assumptions about society and culture, in effect, opening doors of inquiry that may have remained closed using a scientific approach.


            Both the scientific and socio-cultural approaches provided valuable insights during the analysis of the 9 News broadcast.  The scientific approach provided a useful lexicon for breakdown the act of communication into its constituent parts while illuminating the role of media organizations, the type of content, information on the medium, and the potential effects of media.  However, the critical and qualitative nature of the socio-cultural perspective provided greater insight into the nature of the mass communication, without being bound by normative thinking.









Gannet Co. Inc. (2010, December 26). Annual Report, from

Lasswell, H. D. (1948). The structure and function of communication in society. In Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Institute for Religious and Social Studies. & L. Bryson (Eds.), The communication of ideas (pp. ix, 296 p.). New York,: Institute for Religious and Social Studies distributed by Harper.

McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Ostrow, J. (2012, March 4, 2012). Ostrow: Denver’s TV ratings race is a metrics mashup. Television  Retrieved July 29, 2012, from

Westley, B. H., & MacLean, M. S. (1957). A conceptual model for communcations research. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 34(2), 31-38.