Abstract: Centralization and decentralization are key concepts in debates that focus on the (anti)democratic character of digital societies. Centralization is understood as the control over communication and data flows, and decentralization as giving it (back) to users. Communication and media research focuses on centralization put forward by dominant digital media platforms, such as Facebook and Google, and governments. Decentralization is investigated regarding its potential in civil society, i.e., hacktivism, (encryption) technologies, and grass-root technology movements. As content-based media companies increasingly engage with technology, they move into the focus of critical media studies. Moreover, as formerly nationally oriented companies now compete with global media platforms, they share several interests with civil society decentralization agents. Based on 26 qualitative interviews with leading media managers, we investigate (de)centralization strategies applied by content-oriented media companies. Theoretically, this perspective on media companies as agents of (de)centralization expands (de)centralization research beyond traditional democratic stakeholders by considering economic actors within the “global informational ecosystem” (Birkinbine, Gómez, & Wasko, 2017). We provide a three-dimensional framework to empirically investigate (de)centralization. From critical media studies, we borrow the (de)centralization of data and infrastructures, from media business research, the (de)centralization of content distribution.
Keywords: business models; centralization; content-oriented media companies; decentralization; digital media platforms; distribution; Facebook; Google; technology infrastructures