Apple Inc. – The Next Mass Media Giant?

We frequently think of Apple Inc. as a landmark American technology company marked by hardware innovation, engaging retail stores and a disturbingly high net worth. We do not always think about Apple in terms of its cultural ideology or its potential to skyrocket into the realm of mass media giant.  Currently, the Big Five mass media giants (Time Warner, The Walt Disney Corporation, Viacom, News Corporation and Bertelsmann AG) control the vast majority of media in the United States.  We will take a look at Apple’s cultural ideology and consider what it might take for Apple to join today’s “Big Five” mass media club?

AppleImage_01

Courtesy: The Sociable

Hegemony

The idea of cultural ideology, specifically Hegemony, is a popular topic surrounding the Big Five mass media giants.  Hegemony refers to the continual process of controlling people by shaping their social and ideological influences.  It relies on consent from individuals, who think they are doing something harmless or even positive.  Apple has exhibited both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic tendencies over the course of its rise, but in recent years the pendulum seems to be swinging in favor of hegemony.

Apple’s Counter-Hegemony

In its infancy, Apple was created as a glowing example of counter-hegemony.  Co-founder and eventual pop cultural face of Apple, Steve Jobs often peddled blatant messages of revolution throughout multiple product marketing campaigns.  Jobs may not have been a transparent Marxist, but in a 1983 shareholders’ meeting, Jobs said, “IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control, Apple.  Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry, the entire information age, was George Orwell right about 1984?” (Gray, Quinn, & Davis).  He used buzz words like control, dominate, Orwell and 1984.  It is fair to say that revolution was on Apple’s mind.  Months after the shareholders’ meeting, Apple released a television advisement set in a totalitarian dystopia that synonymized IBM with Big Brother, the enemy of independence and Apple as a rebellious foe, thirsty for freedom.  This early television advertisement (below) gave birth to a clear Apple brand of freedom and, more accurately, revolution.


Courtesy: “Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy.”

Apple’s Hegemony

Flipping the coin and looking at contemporary Apple, it seems as though the company has made some changes.  What once was an underdog company sold to the world on a foundation of revolution, is now a company displaying its own hegemonic tendencies.  “Hegemony implies a willing agreement by people to be governed by principles, rules, and laws they believe operate in their best interests, even though in actual practice they may not. Social consent can be a more effective means of control than coercion or force.” (Lull, 1995, p. 63).  While it may not be the textbook depressing example of hegemony through James Lull’s eyes, Apple is a company that curates its platforms, most notably, the App Store.  Over the last few years, several apps have been banned for a variety of reasons, not all of which are well explained to app developers.  In August of 2012, Apple banned an iPhone app that had a map of drone strikes in the Middle East.  The information for the app came from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in Britain and was rejected by Apple, who cited that the app did not adhere to standards of “objectionable content within apps.”  (Wingfield, 2012).  Apple has also closed its door to apps about child labor accusations in Uzbekistan, a sweatshop app designed to educate players about sweatshop working conditions and most recently an iOS app about political warfare in Syria.  Tech columnist Michael Thomsen wrote, “When you buy your way into Apple’s technological ecosystem, you’re paying to have blinders installed, barely perceptible though they may be.” (Thomsen, 2013).  Thomsen goes on to say that censorship is an understood part of the Apple ecosystem and is usually done for justified reasons such as improper use of Apple Trademarks within an app, something that is very clearly explained on the developer guidelines site (“Guidelines for using,” 2013), but perhaps a renegotiation of censorship terms are in order.

Apple’s Similarities to the BIG FIVE

Apple is a company that was revived with the death of the traditional record industry.  Napster gave way to a digital online revolution for music and Apple cashed in big time.  Steve Jobs was instrumental in negotiations with recording executives to salvage their industry on the backs of iTunes, a software solution seamlessly paired with Apple’s own iPod.  iTunes was tremendously successful for Apple and is the exact type of industry control, as far as distribution, that the Big Five use and pursue.  From a financial perspective, Apple wields $146 billion in cash and well over $400 billion in market value.  Historically Apple has not been a company that expands via mergers and acquisitions.  This trend is in flux as recent purchases of AuthenTec (biometric security), Embark (digital maps) and PrimeSense (3D sensors) show that Apple is expanding its corporate reach or at least willing to buy up proven tech talent, a M&A tactic employed by all of the Big Five (Chowdhry, 2013).  Furthermore, Apple has proven vertical and horizontal integration schemes in place that mimic those of mass media giants.  The Apple hardware and software worlds all seamlessly integrate and cross-promote one another in classic horizontal integration form while Apple maintains a tight reign on the distribution end of the ecosystem, which is an example of vertical integration.  Vertical integration occurs when companies not only produce content, but also own distribution channels, thus ensuring a venue to show their content (McChesney, 1999).  Apple’s vertical integration is not conventional, but patrons purchase media content through iTunes, consume that media on Apple TVs, iPads and iPhones with absolutely no outside devices needed.  The one overwhelming aspect of all mass media giants that Apple does not exhibit is content creation.  If Apple were to follow in the footsteps of streaming pioneers Netflix and Amazon Prime and produce its own episodic television content, it might just expedite the death of the over-the-air television station.  Technology critics have already speculated that traditional television station models will be forced into an adapt-or-die paradigm within the next five years, but perhaps Apple can, again, position itself to come out with an incredible market share of a new TV distribution model.  The question is, can Apple do it without turning to content creation?  Much like the record industry shift of the 2000s, TV is facing a difficult transition and Apple has already started making waves.  Disney has agreed to terms with Apple that will put multiple Disney Channel Apps and a WatchESPN app on the AppleTV, which was a previously locked down platform with very few third party apps.  HBO has teamed up with AppleTV as well and launched an app called HBO GO, which allows users to take advantage of Internet streaming alternatives for television consumption.  It is true that Apple is not the only one striking deals with these companies, but if the record industry example is any type of indication, Apple could be left holding a large chunk of the emerging TV distribution method.

Who is the next Apple Inc.?

From an innovation standpoint critiques of Apple say that it is no longer the creative individual agency promoting institution of the 1980s, which raises the question; Who is the next Apple Inc.?  This question may not be as straightforward as it seems.  In terms of a technology company’s ability to promote individual agency through its products and services, the seemingly simple answers would be Microsoft or Google.  Microsoft, the dominant computer platform in the United States, has always touted a more open experience on its platforms with granular control over settings and user preferences.  Google, the largest competitor to the US Apple iPhone market, owns Android, the operating system that most non-Apple smartphones utilize and brags similar openness advantages.  These two companies offer more individual agency in terms of customization options, but customization is not the only promoter of individual agency.  Microsoft, Google and Apple have all been in the technology news in association with the National Security Agency’s access to users digital data bringing up the concern of online privacy.  Microsoft (live.com) and Google (gmail.com) both use computer algorithms to search user emails for potential advertising themes.  This is how these companies are so precise with digital marketing campaigns, which entices advertisers to purchase their targeted analytics.  It should be noted that this same algorithm technology is used to implement excellent spam filtering (Schofield, 2013).  Google owns YouTube, an online video distribution website, originally a glowing example of individual agency, that is now comfortably situated in an ad-supported environment with increasingly curated comment sections (Kim, 2012).  This type of well-manicured digital setting seems ironically similar to that of the Apple App Store and arguably more hegemonic.  While the openness and ability to customize digital hardware and software components are certainly promoters of individual agency, so is privacy.  The bottom line is that none of the United States technology companies offer truly open or private services.  Apple has a better record of keeping user information private and secure, while iTunes and the App Store are still among the most heavily censored online marketplaces.  In a time of digitization and virtual personality profiling these discussions are increasingly important.  Apple may be exhibiting some hegemony in its contemporary business practices, but that is relative to its, maybe unattainable, original advertising campaign of openness and revolution.

AppleImage_04

Courtesy: skatter tech

Apple as the next Mass Media Giant?

Apple is not the only company with revenue on the mind, but it is the company in the best position to break into legitimate media giant fiefdom.  The last 30 years have seen Apple’s cultural ideology in the forms of counter-hegemonic marketing tactics and hegemonic app store censorship.  Apple is closely aligned with some of the Big Five corporations and has the market control and financial backing to make a splash, but without content creation it is difficult to place Apple in the same strata as the Big Five.  That being said, under the new leadership of CEO Tim Cook, Apple has been breaking some of its traditional molds and may continue to do so.  It remains to be seen what will become of Apple in the mass media industry, but we should not be surprised at the possibility that Apple could one day become the 6th player in the exclusive game of mass media giant.

AppleImage_03

Courtesy: http://www.whatsonxiamen.com/tech1471.html


References

Chowdhry, A. (2013, November 25). Apple confirms acquisition of 3d sensor company primesense. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2013/11/25/apple-confirms-acquisition-of-3d-sensor-company-primesense/

Gray, Laura Craig, Quinn, Tristan, & Davis, Evan. “Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy.” BBC Documentary Released December 14 2011. British Broadcasting Corporation. DVD, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC3qFtgeogE.

Guidelines for using apple trademarks and copyrights. (2013, DECEMBER 01).   Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/legal/intellectual-property/guidelinesfor3rdparties.html

Kim, J. (2012). The institutionalization of youtube: From user-generated content to professionally generated content. Media, Culture & Society, 34(1), 53-67. doi: 10.1177/0163443711427199

Lull, James. Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach. New York and Chichester, UK: Columbia University Press, 1995.

McChesney, Robert. Rich Media Poor Democracy. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Schofield, J. (2013, August 15). Is gmail secure enough for my private emails?. The Guardian, Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/askjack/2013/aug/15/gmail-google-email-privacy

Thomsen, Michael. Complex Media Inc., “Why Apple Shouldn’t Censor the App Store.” Last modified April 11, 2013. Accessed September 21, 2013. http://www.complex.com/tech/2013/04/app-store-controversial-censorship-and-the-social-conflict-behind-it.

Wingfield, N. (2012, August 30). Apple rejects app tracking drone strikes. NY Times online blog. Retrieved from http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/apple-rejects-app-tracking-drone-strikes/?_r=0

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