The media universe is always expanding, with mergers and acquisitions happening at a dizzying pace. With so much change underway, have you ever wondered: who are the biggest players right now? What exactly do these media giants do across film, television, publishing and more?
I‘ve done a deep dive on the top 10 largest media enterprises globally, based on their annual revenues. I‘ll be your guide through the key brands, assets, history and strategic priorities that define these behemoths of journalism, entertainment and communication.
By the end, you‘ll have an expert perspective on who dominates today‘s media landscape – and how they stay on top by adapting to emerging technologies. Let‘s get started!
1. The Walt Disney Company
Headquarters: Burbank, California, USA
Revenue (2020): $65.4 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Walt Disney Studios, Disney+, ESPN, ABC, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, 20th Century Studios
When you think of iconic media brands, Disney is likely one of the first that comes to mind. What started in 1923 as a small animation studio has ballooned into a $65+ billion media and entertainment giant today. Just some of Disney‘s crown jewel brands include Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel – all told, Disney owns the most valuable movie franchises in the world.
To give you a sense of Disney‘s scale, they operate:
- Over 200 Disney stores globally
- 14 theme parks and over 50 resorts
- A cruise line with 4 ships
- Calendars, books and licensing deals that generate over $5 billion annually
Some key stats on Disney‘s media holdings:
- ESPN has 7,000+ hours of live sports programming per year and 10 cable networks
- ABC has 242 local TV affiliates reaching 230+ million viewers
- Disney Channel broadcasts in 163 countries in 29 languages
With the launch of Disney+ in 2019 and acquisition of 21st Century Fox the same year, Disney is all-in on streaming and direct-to-consumer content. They now boast over 129 million streaming subscribers to Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, giving them a real chance to dethrone Netflix as the streaming leader.
Between Marvel mega-hits like Avengers and the Star Wars universe, Disney owns the most lucrative film franchises. Their movie studios generated over $13 billion in global box office sales in 2019 alone. Clearly, when it comes to scale and intellectual property, Disney remains king.
2. Comcast Corporation
Headquarters: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Revenue (2020): $103.6 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: NBCUniversal, Sky, Xfinity, Telemundo, Universal Pictures
Comcast is America‘s largest home internet provider and second largest telecom company after AT&T. They‘re also one of the world‘s premiere media enterprises, owning venerable brands like NBC, Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation.
Here‘s a snapshot of Comcast‘s incredible reach:
- 57 million U.S. broadband subscribers and 34 million pay-TV subscribers
- Owns 7 of the top 15 cable networks in the U.S. by primetime viewership
- Universal theme parks welcome 50+ million guests annually
- $243 billion market capitalization, ranking Comcast one of the world‘s biggest companies
A key driver of growth for Comcast has been acquiring and integrating major entertainment brands, including:
- Buying NBCUniversal from GE in 2011 for $16.7 billion
- Buying U.K. broadcaster Sky in 2018 for $39 billion, expanding globally
- Acquiring DreamWorks Animation in 2016 for $3.8 billion
Within the evolving media ecosystem, Comcast aims to compete via its new Peacock streaming service, Universal theme park expansions, and Sky‘s reach across Europe.
While not as recognizable as Disney when it comes to brands, Comcast‘s vast distribution network and viewership makes it a true media juggernaut. When you own the cable, it pays to create the content too.
3. AT&T Inc.
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas, USA
Revenue (2020): $171.8 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: WarnerMedia, DirectTV, AT&T Mobility, CNN, HBO
Ma Bell rules no more, as AT&T has aggressively transformed from a telephone company into a sprawling technology and media empire.
AT&T by the numbers showcases their industry dominance:
- Largest mobile network operator in the U.S. with over 80 million wireless subscribers
- Ranked #9 on the Fortune 500
- Spent $108.7 billion acquiring TimeWarner in 2018, one of the biggest media mergers ever
Beyond pure telecom, AT&T operates:
- WarnerMedia – CNN, HBO, TNT, Warner Bros. film studio
- DirectTV – Largest satellite TV provider in the U.S. with 17 million subscribers
- Turner cable networks like TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network
- Otter Media – Digital media brands like Crunchyroll anime service
Via WarnerMedia, AT&T combines mass viewer reach with strong content production capabilities, including megahits like Game of Thrones. With HBO Max launched in 2020, AT&T aims to bulk up its streaming capabilities to better compete with digital-native rivals.
While some question whether AT&T overpaid for TimeWarner, vertical integration is the name of the game in modern media. For AT&T, content, distribution and mobile will drive future strategic priorities and keep them in the upper ranks of media enterprises.
4. Sony Corporation
Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
Revenue (2020): $77 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Sony Pictures, Sony Music, Sony Interactive, PlayStation
Sony has innovated in music, gaming and consumer electronics for decades – remember the iconic Walkman? Their media capabilities grew substantially with the $3.4 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures in 1989. Now Sony Pictures generates over $9 billion in annual revenue from blockbusters like Spider-Man.
Across their divisions, Sony‘s media presence includes:
- Sony Music – One of the "Big Three" record labels, representing artists like Beyonce
- Sony Pictures – Major Hollywood film studio; over $9 billion in 2020 revenue
- PlayStation – The world‘s largest video game console brand, 155+ million units sold
- Sony Liv – Online streaming service available in over 100 countries
In recent years, Sony acquired anime platform Crunchyroll for $1.2 billion and developer Bungie for $3.6 billion – showing it continues to bet on content and distribution.
While Sony doesn‘t have the sweeping breadth of Disney or Comcast, it remains a powerhouse in entertainment thanks to continued technology innovation and leveraging its creative franchises like Spider-Man across films, games, music and more.
Headquarters: New York, New York, USA
Revenue (2020): $25.3 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Showtime
Viacom and CBS first merged in 1999, split apart in 2006 – only to come back together again with the formation of ViacomCBS in 2019. This content-focused conglomerate operates media networks and film studios globally.
Some key details on ViacomCBS‘ brands and reach:
- Owns 140 U.S. TV channels, including MTV, Nickelodeon, CBS, Comedy Central
- Reaches over 700 million subscribers in 180 countries
- Paramount produces 1,000+ films annually
- Showtime has over 27 million streaming subscribers
ViacomCBS aims to beef up its streaming presence with rebranded services Paramount+ and Showtime OTT. It‘s also pushing into sports betting and live events.
While not as dominant as other media giants, ViacomCBS owns treasured franchises like Star Trek and South Park. With a renewed focus on streaming wars, this combined media powerhouse still packs a punch.
Headquarters: Los Gatos, California, USA
Revenue (2020): $25 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Netflix
Netflix is a truly homegrown streaming revolutionary. Originally mailing out DVDs, a pivot to streaming in 2007 made Netflix the dominant force in digital entertainment almost overnight. With over 200 million paid memberships worldwide, Netflix has deeper global reach than any cable or satellite TV provider.
Some mind-boggling stats about Netflix‘s rise:
- Accounts for over 25% of all internet traffic in North America
- Released an industry-leading 71 original movies in 2021
- Has been nominated for over 140 Emmys and Academy Awards combined
Backed by mountains of data on user preferences, Netflix is pouring resources into exclusive films, series and local-language content. The result? Megahits like Squid Game and Stranger Things.
Challenges for Netflix include its high cash burn ($17 billion on content in 2021) and slowing subscriber growth in saturated markets. But as the first name in streaming, Netflix continues to shape entertainment worldwide – not to mention stock market valuations of media companies.
7. Fox Corporation
Headquarters: New York, New York, USA
Revenue (2020): $12.9 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Fox News, Fox Sports, Fox Entertainment
The "new" Fox Corporation formed in 2019 after Disney acquired 21st Century Fox. While much smaller than before, Fox Corp. retains the lucrative Fox News, Fox Sports and broadcast TV assets.
As a "pure play" media company, Fox generates over 95% of revenues from news, live sports and entertainment. Leaning into this competitive advantage, Fox operates:
- Fox News – Most-watched cable news channel, over 65 million monthly viewers
- Fox Sports – Airs NFL, MLB, NASCAR and FIFA World Cup events
- Fox TV Stations – Owned and operated stations reaching ~50% of U.S. households
- Tubi – Free streaming service with over 51 million monthly active users
To propel future growth, Fox is expanding sports rights, bolstering free streaming on Tubi and acquiring new stations.
While the media landscape has changed dramatically, live news and sports remain surefire viewer magnets. Fox News and Fox Sports give this pared-down media company outsized influence in public discourse – and plenty of room still to gain viewership through streaming.
8. Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA
Headquarters: Gütersloh, Germany
Revenue (2020): €17.3 billion / $19.5 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Penguin Random House, RTL Group, Gruner + Jahr, BMG Rights
Germany‘s Bertelsmann has come a long way since starting as a publisher of hymnals and novels in 1835. Today, this 175+ year old mass media firm operates in over 50 countries, providing news, entertainment and education to over a billion people each day.
Bertelsmann‘s sprawling operations include:
- Penguin Random House – The world‘s largest trade publisher, publishing 3 million titles annually
- RTL Group – Leading European entertainment network, with 36 TV channels and 9 streaming services
- Gruner + Jahr – More than 500 magazines and digital publications
- BMG Rights Management – One of the world‘s largest music publishers, with over 3 million songs
Bertelsmann is increasingly betting on education, with large investments in online education and e-learning. It aims to grow this segment to over €1 billion in sales by 2025.
While not a household name like Disney, Bertelsmann‘s broad European media reach gives it major cross-border influence. Watch for this centuries-old publisher to continue pushing into digital education and emerging markets in the years ahead.
9. Meta Platforms, Inc.
Headquarters: Menlo Park, California, USA
Revenue (2020): $86 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus
Social media giant Facebook drives so much traffic to news publishers and viral video, it‘s evolved into a media giant itself. Under the parent company Meta, Facebook and Instagram alone reach over 3.5 billion people worldwide across social networking, messaging, live video and virtual reality.
Let‘s examine Meta‘s record-breaking user statistics:
- Facebook – 2.9 billion monthly active users, 1.88 billion mobile daily active users
- Instagram – 1.5 billion monthly active users, over 5 billion photos shared per day
- WhatsApp – 2 billion monthly active users, 100 billion daily messages sent
- Oculus – Over 1 million monthly VR headset users
Meta is investing billions into augmented and virtual reality to drive future growth in digital immersion and the metaverse. But for now, its advertising business generates over 97% of revenues by targeting users based on their interests and demographics.
While not producing its own content, Meta‘s platforms have become so dominant for distribution that their algorithms now influence media consumption for billions worldwide. That‘s clout.
10. Alphabet Inc.
Headquarters: Mountain View, California, USA
Revenue (2020): $182.5 billion
Key Brands/Subsidiaries: Google, YouTube, Android
Google‘s ubiquitous search engine helped make the company one of the most influential media platforms on the planet. Owned by parent firm Alphabet, Google sites like Search, Maps and YouTube drive massive traffic to news, entertainment and educational content every second.
Let‘s examine some mind-bending Google stats:
- Google processes over 63,000 searches every second, 3.5 billion searches per day
- YouTube reaches over 2 billion logged-in monthly users, over 1 billion hours watched daily
- Android OS runs on ~75% of the world‘s smartphones, over 3 billion users
- Google Chrome has over 2.65 billion users worldwide
Google and YouTube ads accounted for over 80% of Alphabet‘s revenues in 2020. But with leading mapping data, cloud infrastructure and a billion plus users across its platforms, Alphabet shapes the modern media value chain end-to-end.
While Alphabet isn‘t a media company per se, its technology has made Google a powerful gatekeeper for discovering and distributing digital information and content worldwide.
The future of media consolidation
As these profiles show, the media landscape today is defined by massive companies who continue to acquire key assets across entertainment, news, web services and more. Larger-than-life brands like Disney, AT&T WarnerMedia and Comcast NBCUniversal are dominant — and hungry for more scale.
Consolidation has many complex, interwoven reasons. Costs are high to produce premium films, shows and journalism these days. Digital disruption rocked traditional business models. Content producers now crave direct access to distribution channels like streaming and mobile.
Will current anti-trust concerns slow this consolidation frenzy? Possible. But the financial incentives to consolidate remain staggering across developed media markets.
Emerging international markets do offer huge potential for growth. Just look at how Netflix has invested in more locally-produced films and shows for key regions like Asia and Latin America. As younger audiences in growth markets adopt streaming, social media and more, new media kingpins catering to these users may arise and shake up the ranks.
For now though, the competitive landscape centers around how these current media juggernauts leverage their vast resources and brands to attract users across every screen, platform and frontier. Consolidation breeds more ambition. The quest for content, data and screen time continues.
And that‘s your expert guided tour through the top 10 media empires right now based on revenue and reach. From Hollywood studios to newsrooms, mobile screens to cineplexes, these giants aim to inform and entertain audiences on every continent. Tracking how legacy players adapt and which insurgents may emerge next never gets old if you‘re fascinated by the fast-changing media universe like I am!
Let me know if you want to dive deeper on any trends or companies I covered. Enjoy exploring the world of media.