The media has a message ...

  @FortuneMagazine October 10, 2013: 7:22 AM ET
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Graphic by Nicolas Rapp, Anne VanderMey, and Marilyn Adamo

(Fortune)

Two forces, working in grudging symbiosis, control the media: content producers and content distributors. If information travels along a highway, then the distributors own the road, and the providers make the stuff that rides on it. Neither has value without the other. But control both the road and its travelers, and a company might master its own destiny. That was the theory, at least, in the 1990s, when TCI CEO John Malone's "converging alliances" ruled the day and the Baby Bells -- the remnants of AT&T's breakup -- merged like mad. Telecom execs known as "infobahn warriors" formed unlikely alliances for the sole purpose of controlling that highway and its travelers. Then the Internet happened.

Information no longer travels on a metaphorical road but through a very real series of tubes, delivered not simply to TVs but to phones, tablets, computers, and videogame consoles. Media can be consumed in more ways than ever before, but the delivery system is startlingly homogeneous: It's the Internet. One company, Aereo, even picks up broadcast signals using a bay of rabbit-ear antennas and then moves that data through the Internet. The way information is distributed is so similar that content is now the market differentiator. A hit show or a sports broadcast is leverage when providers negotiate with distributors.

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