While I was teaching an elective on media monopoly at the workshop this summer, the discussion frequently turned to “synergy,” or the “beneficial” mutual ownership of diverse products by large corporations. (Before companies were so keen to put a positive spin on this phenomenon, it was known as “horizontal monopoly.”) A great example of synergy is Seagram’s ownership of not only booze and soft drink properties, but also record labels and amusement parks: the synergy here is you have your band play at your amusement park at events sponsored by your brand of booze while your sodas are being served, or whatever.
Another example of synergy which I’d always thought completely nonsensical is the Chevy Ventures Warner Brothers Edition Minivan. This was a minivan sold in 1999. It was heralded by the media as the cutest thing since babies ‘n’ kittens, and by Warner Brothers itself as the beginning of a glorious new partnership with General Motors. The van was plastered with pictures of the Looney Tunes characters, and featured a VCR in the backseat adorned with a picture of Bugs Bunny.
This looked like Time Warner was stretching it: How much extra profit could you reasonably expect to make by tying your cartoon to the success of a minivan? Aside from the fact, of course, that you’d earn your automotive partner the undying consumer loyalty of the American Ghetto, where childhood is considered meaningless without your characters beaming their goo-goo-eyed approval from every available surface of the cradle, the kitchen, and the body.
Well, something we should have seen coming is that Time Warner was extending the offer of featuring Chevy products in their movies. But good old Papa Levin — I call him that because the man owns rights to some of my former articles, many of my favorite bands, and now, with AIM, the main means of communication I have with my friends — is one shrewd businessman, and I found the ultimate answer to this confusing piece of synergy in one of Danny Schechter’s columns, “Long Live Chairman Levin!”, at MediaChannel: he says the “key” for Time Warner’s future success “is to ‘take advantage of demand, which they will be doing with new DVD technologies and what’s called a “digital dashboard”‘ for cars.” (itals mine.)
I tell you, they’re sneaky fscking b^stards. You didn’t know there were ulterior motives when they stuck Tweety Bird on your floor mats, did you? You didn’t know yet that you were going to have — no, lie, cheat, and steal for — a fully integrated multimedia system in your car! Well, they did, and now before anyone else has had a chance to earn a decent living off making this new product, they own it. So much for free enterprise.