CORPORATE FOCUS: Bring 'Em On
A few years ago, even a few weeks ago, we might have opposed the AOL-Time Warner merger.But now we're ready to leave twentieth century thinking behind.We recognize that this merger has "synergies that make some observers drool," as the Wall Street Journal explained. AOL will highlight InStyle magazine? Moviefone will pitch Warner Brother movies? Time Warner will include AOL disks in promotional mailings? That's progress, baby!In the past, we might have echoed the concerns of those who worried that the merger might interfere with open access to high-speed internet connections. AOL has been a leading proponent of open access -- meaning those who control high-speed internet access through cable systems or other means not have the power to discriminate against internet service providers that they do not control or favor. In buying Time Warner, AOL suddenly acquires one of the largest cable systems in the country, and gains a material interest in opposing open access.But that's OK. We're satisfied by AOL's verbal commitment that it will voluntarily permit open access in the cable systems it will control (though Time Warner currently has contractual obligations through 2001 to favor Roadrunner internet service).A few months ago, we might have agreed with media critics like George Gerbner, who say that goliaths like AOL-Time Warner undermine media diversity, that they are so big that their vast size means there will be an array of issues they cannot cover properly because they have a vested interest in the outcome.Now, we say, "C'mon George." AOL Chief Steve Case says he understands and is eager to learn more about the importance of journalistic integrity.Not along ago, we might have sympathized with the views of Robert McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy: "This is the last nail in the coffin for anyone who believed that the internet is the last stronghold of media competition."Now, we tell Bob to get over it. The internet's still a free medium -- hey, AOL-Time Warner isn't stopping us from sending this column around the net. And you want media democracy? Broadband CNN news content will be distributed on AOL Plus!Just a short time ago, we might have noted the consensus that the AOL-Time Warner merger will spur a slew of new media and internet consolidations ("It's what the future is," a chief executive who runs theme parks and a movie studio told the Washington Post. "It sure feels like you need to be bigger -- bigger yet."), and urged that antitrust authorities block the merger to prevent this trigger effect.Now, we say, "More mergers? That means more synergy!" (As the late Walter Adams, one of the leading critics of corporate giantism, said, no merger was ever announced without a ritual incantation of the synergistic gains to be realized.)More mergers is exactly what we need.Microsoft needs a media company to compete. It is already partnered with NBC, so we figure it should buy NBC. GE currently owns NBC -- Microsoft might as well buy General Electric, too.And as long as its on a buying spree, it seems highly inefficient to have two major multinationals based in Seattle. Microsoft should purchase Boeing. And once you have planes, you might as well get cars. We recommend buying GM, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota and the rest.Meanwhile, it is obvious that, with the oil companies facing a serious political challenge on the global warming issue, they need their own voice. We recommend they purchase Disney-ABC. Of course, that would be after Exxon-Mobil finishes buying BP-Arco and the other oil companies. With oil naturally comes chemicals (DuPont, Dow, etc.) and with chemicals comes pharmaceuticals. They should all gravitate to the Exxon-Mobil-Disney pole.Don't worry about competition, the oil companies still face competition from other energy sources, like the food companies.Speaking of which, with the chicken, beef and pork processors all rapidly consolidating, the grain traders merging, the seed business quickly moving toward monopoly, supermarkets combining and food processors growing larger, it is time to speed the process of creating a single food company. Let's call it Philip Morris -- already the largest food company in the United States.The food/tobacco company probably should consider merging with AOL-Time Warner. Just think of the synergy of ordering all your food through AOL!Among the major U.S. media companies, that leaves Viacom-CBS in need of some strategic partners. The merger with AT&T -- once it has joined with MCI Worldcom-Sprint, and the already combining Baby Bells -- seems obvious: a pairing of leading cable companies to gain efficiency.Then there's Wal-Mart and the other major retailers. They need a major internet presence. Hook them up with the AT&T-Viacom combine, and throw in Yahoo! and Amazon.com for a little bit of internet spice.Sadly, for now we have to leave out perhaps the most synergistically minded industries: finance, including banks, insurance and securities firms. There are endless potential benefits from getting these operations merged with internet firms -- but current law blocks combinations between financial companies and those in the real economy.Maybe Congress can tend to that problem this year.Until then, our major concern will be: can the economy really survive with the inefficieny of four competing companies? Aren't there synergies to be gained from combinations among the four corporate groups?Steve Case, Bill Gates, take us to the future!Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor.