Last Week Tonight Calls Out its Own Parent Company in Segment on Corporate Consolidation


Basking in the glow of its new Emmy Awards, Last Week Tonight took its long segment this week to remind us that everything is owned by like, 5 companies. Corporate consolidation is an issue that we probably often overlooked, but it can be pretty serious.

Though every politician loves to parrot that “small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” according to the New York Times, “The rate at which new businesses are created…has been steadily falling since the 1970s.”

It’s become increasingly common to allow corporations to creep ever-closer to monopolies – the 10 airlines we had in 2000 have transformed into only 4 today, dominating the majority of the US market.

John Oliver points out that the same goes for rental cars, beer, and online search engines. Just a few companies control each market. Oliver even calls out HBO’s own parent company, TimeWarner, which is in the process of potentially merging with AT&T.

Even Burt’s Bees is run by Clorox. So even if it seems as though there are a ton of companies out there, they’re mostly owned by just a few parent companies.

This ultimately isn’t to the benefit of consumers. It doesn’t give companies many others to compete with, which doesn’t encourage competitive pricing or incentivize improving products and services.

Airlines, for example, have tacked on “ancillary revenues,” which is just a fancy way to say MORE FEES! Every time you pay money just to check one bag on an airline, that’s basically a direct result of the lack of competition in airlines.

One of the more delightful clips in this segment is one from a news story covering American Airlines implementing bag fees. The guy they choose to interview is surprised to hear about the fee but suggests he’ll just stuff his pockets with underwear to get around it.

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Further, remember all those horrible things that happened on planes in the last year? People getting attacked by airline staff for not giving up seats? Even if you want to, it’s kind of impossible to boycott particular airlines in certain areas, where they might be the only option.

Despite United’s recent scandals, their CEO was still able to boast about profits and “service improvements” in an earnings call. It doesn’t feel like they “paid the price” or felt the proposed boycott at all.

The products we have themselves also suffer in this system. Oliver uses the example of the cable box to explain – cable providers often have regional monopolies, which give them little incentive to improve their products, pricing, or equipment.

If you hate your cable box, for this reason, Oliver blows one up for you. A little catharsis in a frustrating story.

This issue affects pretty much everything we buy, from products to services. Anti-trust laws are important, and Oliver proposes that it’s time to look into using them more aggressively.

Next: Last Week Tonight has been renewed by HBO through 2020

Watch the full episode for some of Oliver’s thoughts on the NFL kneeling protests, Health Secretary Tom Price’s wildly expensive flights, all of Jim Cramer’s sound buttons replaced with fart noises, and another visit to the WNEP train. Give this show more Emmys, please.