Alibaba

What Happens When Media Oligarchs Go Shopping?

Mighty, politically well-connected oligarchs are in the mood for retail therapy, and their targets are media outlets. Their influence over journalism has begun to reach worrying levels.
 
Jack Ma of Chinese giant Alibaba, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp, Delyan Peevski from the tobacco maker Bulgartabak, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris and Saudi prince Al-Waleed are all completely different businessmen. They look totally unalike and live in different places. One is obese, another one is skinny. One hails from Sofia, another one from Cairo. Their tastes are dissimilar.
 
But they also have some things in common: an unwonted wealth, close links with political power and a firm grip on much of the world’s media.
 
The issue of ownership concentration in the media is not new. It goes back to the 1980s and 1990s when some of the now old media moguls began to build their holdings. The rise of disrupting internet behemoths in the past decade or so was expected to dent into their power. It didn’t.

Big Brother is Getting Smart

In George Orwell’s 1984, telescreens could capture any sound “above the level of a very low whisper.” Today, that gadget exists. For independent journalism, smart TV is not necessarily bad news: provided it’s not found its way into the wrong hands. 
 
Imagine this: you and your wife sitting comfortably in your living room watching the primetime newscast, followed maybe by an evening series and then a late night political talkshow to learn more about who’s fighting in the upcoming mayoral elections. You might loudly curse a politician you see on one of these programs, go to the loo during a commercial break and frown when you learn from the TV that the government is imposing yet another tax on your income. 
 
These days, if you have a smart TV, which is increasingly common in many countries, you will not be alone in your room. Not only all the words coming out of your mouth, but also your angry face and the short trip to the john are likely to morph into data parcels that are shipped instantly to companies listening and watching at the other end of the pipe, which at the moment are mostly marketers and ad shops. Smart TVs, in some technologists’ view, are the final frontier for real-time interactivity. But how are they going to change journalism, news consumption and delivery? 
 
The impact there is going to be massive and come in totally unanticipated forms.