- One of America’s three largest television and radio networks
- Owned by the Disney Corporation
The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is one of the three largest television and radio networks in the United States, rivaled in size only by NBC and CBS. Since 1996 it has been owned by The Walt Disney Company.
ABC was created in 1943 when NBC was pressured by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to divest one of its two parallel networks. It sold NBC “Blue” and kept NBC “Red” which we know today simply as NBC. The American Broadcasting System, Inc. was a company put together by Edward Noble, the owner of Lifesaver candy and the radio station WMCA in New York City. It paid NBC $8 million for the “Blue” station.
In the early 1950s, when few cities or towns had a third television station to air a third network, struggling ABC merged with cash-rich United Paramount Theatres (UPT), despite UPT’s stake in the fading DuMont network.
On December 7, 1965, ITT (then the ninth largest employer in the U.S.) announced a merger with ABC. The FCC approved this merger on December 21, 1966, but the U.S. Justice Department fought it, citing ITT’s high proportion of foreign owners who might try to influence ABC’s news reporting. After years of political and legal wrangling and delays, ITT chairman Harold Geneen called the merger off on January 1, 1968.
In the 1970s ABC found a measure of success through producer Roone Arledge, who re-oriented the station towards a younger audience. Arledge is widely credited with having created the “Up Close and Personal” approach ABC introduced to sports programming, which focused not only on sporting competitions but also on the personalities and life-stories of individual athletes. Arledge became President of both ABC News and ABC Sports in 1977. He was responsible for the selection of the late Peter Jennings as anchorman of ABC’s “World News Tonight” in 1983. (Tom Brokaw had been Arledge’s first choice for the job; only after Brokaw refused it was the position offered to Jennings.)
ABC merged with media conglomerate Capital Cities in 1986, creating Capital Cities/ABC, in a deal generally described in the business press as Cap Cities buying ABC for $3.5 billion.
In 1996 the Walt Disney Company purchased Capital Cities/ABC for $18.5 billion. At that point, ABC’s politics shifted noticeably to the left. Whereas during the Vietnam War era the station had sometimes been disparaged by the anti-war left as the “Silent Majority Network” because its coverage was often more positive and patriotic than that aired by NBC and CBS, ABC became more leftist than the others in tone and content following its acquisition by Disney.
The host chosen in June 2002 to anchor ABC’s Sunday news program “This Week” after the departure of broadcasting icon David Brinkley was George Stephanopoulos, a left Democratic partisan who served as Senior Advisor and Press Secretary in President Bill Clinton‘s White House. This show remains home to one of ABC’s only two identified personalities on the political right — Washington Post columnist George Will. (The other is John Stossel, an anchor of “20/20,” who is a Libertarian.) Will used to appear as the principal commentator on “This Week,” but with Stephanopoulos in control Will’s role has been greatly diminished.
Mark Halperin, the son of high-level Bill Clinton advisor Morton Halperin, has been the Political Director of ABC News since 1997 and is responsible for the planning and editorial content of all political news on the network.
One of ABC’s newest national reporters seen on “World News Tonight” is Jake Tapper, a former correspondent for the left webzine Salon.com and former Press Secretary to Democratic congresswoman Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky.
Like several of the other major networks, ABC maintains alliances with the print press. Most notable is its close relationship with the Washington Post, one ongoing manifestation of which is the ABC-Washington Post Poll.