Media: All about ... The world's top media owners

Zenith's table gives a snapshot of media owners' control.

We all love a league table - so it's odd, really, that no-one's done this one before. ZenithOptimedia's latest report is a ranking of the world's top media owners based on the revenues from activities that support, or are supported by, advertising.

The top 30 media owners generate a total of $215 billion in media revenues and, perhaps predictably, Time Warner is top of the pile with ad-related revenues of almost $30 billion - approximately 13 per cent of the total recorded in this table. Its revenues are almost twice those of the second-placed News Corporation on £16.7 billion.

The highest-placed non-US-based company is Bertelsmann ($9.6 billion) and the top UK entry is BSkyB on £6.7 billion. All figures are for the 2005 calendar year or nearest equivalent.

Obviously, given that this is a first snapshot, there's no comparative data - no indication, for instance, on whether or not, on a global scale, media owner control of ad markets is continuing to consolidate.

Many analysts believe it is. If the report becomes an annual event, as ZenithOptimedia hopes that it will, we'll surely arrive at a more accurate fix on that phenomenon.

1. Apart from a brief period in the late 80s (when, following a series of acquisitions, Bertelsmann threatened to overtake), Time Warner has in living memory always been the biggest gorilla in the media jungle.

The cynical take on this conglomerate is that, historically, it has been a company committed to "buying" market share - and it has been congenitally unable to achieve organic growth from its existing assets. Proponents of this theory point in particular to the merger with AOL, agreed initially in 2000, which led to a $99 billion hole in the accounts in 2002 - and could have dragged the whole company under.

But observers of its recent performance, as the post-dotcom era has unfolded, take a kinder view. Since 2003, a whole range of peripheral assets have been sold off, and it has focused on building the WB Television Network into a genuine contender in the US TV market. The group's current boss is the chairman and chief executive, Richard Parsons.

2. News Corporation's boss, the septuagenarian Rupert Murdoch, shows no inclination to slow down or take a back seat - and he has fought tooth and nail to block any future takeover by the company, for instance by the minority shareholder John Malone. He clearly sees this as a Murdoch family company, but worries continue to grow about whether there's a credible succession plan in place.

News Corp's core assets remain its Fox properties - film studios and TV networks in the US - and around 70 per cent of revenues come from America; but it is also one of the world's pre-eminent newspaper publishers, notably in Australia and the UK as well as the US.

3. Third, fourth and fifth places in the table are occupied by the owners of the big three US terrestrial TV networks: General Electric ($14.7 billion), the owner of NBC; CBS Corporation ($13.4 billion); and the Walt Disney Company ($13.2 billion), the owner of ABC. Of the three, CBS has been subject to the most corporate manoeuvring in recent years. In 1999, it was taken over by Viacom, but merger synergies failed to materialise so a demerger was engineered in 2005. Viacom appears in the league in 19th place, with media revenues of almost $4 billion.

4. The top-placed European company is Bertelsmann, with revenues of $9.6 billion. It would be far higher-placed if this were a table of total revenues, but many of Bertelsmann's media assets are not advertising earners - for instance, its BMG music companies and Random House, the world's biggest book publisher. Its primary advertising-supported assets are the RTL TV networks in many European countries (including five in the UK) and the Gruner & Jahr consumer magazine giant.

5. Japan has four companies in the top 30, while France and the UK (BSkyB, ITV and Daily Mail & General Trust) each have three. Germany has two (Axel Springer comes in at 29) while Italy and Mexico have one apiece.

6. Two internet-only companies are well placed, just outside the top ten. Google has revenues of just over $6 billion and Yahoo! racks up $5.3 billion. It will be intriguing to see where they will be next time this year - if what they sell to advertisers (primarily search) is still classed as advertising, that is.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- For many years, industry analysts have theorised about the benefits of doing multi-territory, multimedia deals with global media owners. The problem in the past has been that, in reality, this approach has been unable to offer the subtlety and granularity that advertisers require.

- According to Jonathan Barnard, the head of publications at ZenithOptimedia, the report contains indications that this is changing. The availability of cheaper distribution bandwidth has allowed media owners to take a single monolithic regional media brand - an MTV, say - and offer it in a myriad of localised versions.

- Now, new editing technologies allow ad executions to be tweaked almost instantly and copy can be distributed digitally at the push of a button. "The global deal is a genuine option now for multinational advertisers," Barnard says.

MEDIA OWNERS

- The message this table sends is simple. If you want to be a top global media owner, you have to start by bagging yourself a US television network.