TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Publicity shops are left verticallychallenged by beefed-up media

It's lauded as 'vertical integration,' but in a previous era, when

it was viewed with less favor, it was called conglomeration. Media

companies, in particular, have been aggressively merging, excuse me,

'vertically integrating,' for more than a decade now, ever since the

government decided it was okay. That's why AOL Time Warner owns Warner

Bros. and New Line studios, the WB and Turner networks, HBO, Time,

People, Entertainment Weekly, and the state of Vermont. Viacom owns such

things as Paramount Studios, Blockbuster, CBS, UPN, a publishing house

and, for some reason, my entire collection of baseball cards. Sony owns

most everything. Disney has its venerated movie studio and the

prestigious Miramax, along with ABC and ESPN.

Eager to get on the publication bandwagon, the Mouse recently bought

half of Us Weekly, the entertainment magazine that competes, somewhat

unsuccessfully, with People. ('Us Weakly', one TV publicist chides.)

Disney hopes to do what AOL Time Warner and Viacom have been doing,

which is to synergistically 'cross-promote' its brands.

This may all seem insidiously incestuous, but that's the way the game is

played. Yet it doesn't always work. CNN, for example, experimented with

an hour-long program in concert with Time magazine that never quite

clicked. It was canned recently, along with Showbiz Today. Many

publicists regret the passing of Showbiz, which was the most in-depth of

the entertainment shows, less sensational than the increasingly

gossip-oriented Entertainment Tonight (Paramount) and Access Hollywood


For publicists, the increasing power of vertically integrated media

companies means the playing field of celebrity journalism may be evening

out a bit.

For years powerful firms such as PMK, Rogers & Cowan, BWR and others

have had the upper hand, demanding the cover for their high-profile

clients, dictating the assigning of writers and photographers, approving

questions, and leveraging their celebs. 'If you want to do a photo

spread of Arnold, you must consider a story on my new, up-and-coming


But as the media become increasingly concentrated, editors and show

producers look for a reversal of fortune. 'If your client is interested

in appearing on PrimeTime Live, he will also need to do a cover story

for Us Weekly.' Though editors will insist that such manipulations don't

occur, a producer at a network news show told me that she relished the

thought of being able to combat pushy publicists. 'There are several

publicists who tell me exactly what questions I'm permitted to ask and

what camera angles I'm allowed to shoot. I would love to be able to tell

them to shoot this!

I suspect some giant conglomerate with imposing high-rise offices owns

this very publication, but I shall say nothing, lest I be disintegrated.

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