The corporation now known as Cox Communications was started in 1898 as Cox Enterprises. Over the last century Cox Communications has grown into one of the nation's dominant media companies. Today, Cox has interests throughout the country in newspapers, digital and regular cable television service, television and radio stations, telephone service, broadband Internet service, Internet Websites, and both online and conventional auctions. The company employs 16,000 workers and boasts annual revenues of $5-6 billion.
Cox Enterprises was founded by James M. Cox when he bought his first newspaper, the Dayton Evening. James Cox was a very wealthy and powerful politician in the early 20th century. He used his stature within the Democratic Party as Ohio Governor to push his papers and then used his papers to drive his political carrier. Cox was so politically influential that he ran for President(albeit unsuccessfully) on the Democratic ticket in 1920, with Franklin D. Roosevelt as his running mate.
Newspapers were the core emphasis of the company in its initial years and Cox took over the major newspapers in numerous markets including Dayton, Miami, and Atlanta. James Cox remained a powerful influence over the company until his death in 1950. Since then, Cox Enterprises has become Cox Communications and has profoundly diversified.
Once the cornerstone of the company, Cox’s newspaper holdings have been dwarfed by its other media operations. Still, the company’s newspapers exert a great deal of influence and continue to expand. This is evidenced by the introduction of CoxNet in 1996. CoxNet arose as a joint effort between many of Cox’s newspapers in order to cover the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Cox-owned paper, spearheaded the coverage that included some 350 Cox journalists. CoxNet produced a bi-edition, six page insert that any Cox newspaper could use as standardized coverage of the Games. The experiment was a success and CoxNet was permanently adopted after the conclusion of the Atlanta Games. This company wire service allows papers to share stories and resources with each other. The CoxNet development has made for much more streamlined papers, but it threatens to replace the local papers' flavor with a bland, standardized feel.
The radio arm of Cox also exploded in size in 1996. That year, Congress passed The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which deregulated the radio industry. This allowed media companies to own as many stations as they could buy. Cox took that cue and now owns, operates, or provides marketing services for 81 radio stations around the country. These holdings generated approximately $395 million in revenue during 2001.
In 1962, Cox started its first cable broadcasting operations. Today, Cox’s cable television division is the company's primary concern. Cox's 6.2 million cable subscribers generated $4 billion in revenue in 2001. Throughout the 1990's Cox expanded its cable operations both inside and outside of the U.S., picking up substantial markets from Times Mirror and Gannett. On top of this, Cox is gearing up to convert many of its cable television subscribers to Cox digital cable, which will increase its profits even more.
One of Cox’s newest ventures is local phone service, which it started in 1997. Cox has shown strong gains in this sector by offering their cable customers up to 30% savings over their previous telephone service provider. Cox can offer these discounts by utilizing its broadband cable infrastructure to send phone signals over the internet. This process is known as IP Telephony. Because most of the infrastructure is in place, Cox says it can break even if as few as 9% of its Cable subscribers sign up for Cox telephone service. Cox’s joint internet and telephone services went from less than 1% of sales in 1998 to nearly 12% of Cox's sales in 2001.
Cox Communication’s road to preeminence hasn’t been completely rosy, however. One problem in recent years was the bankruptcy of Cox’s broadband internet partner Excite@Home on September 29, 2001. Excite carried the infrastructure Cox had used to enter the Internet Service Provider market. The loss put Cox at a disadvantage relative to other big name competitors in the market, such as AT&T and AOL Time Warner, who owned much of their own infrastructure. Cox’s solution to the Internet question has been similar to its solution in other media sectors: own as much of the supply chain as possible. Cox has bought up many of the former assets of Excite as well as developing its own fiber-optic infrastructure. The cost of these investments has drained Cox’s profits in the last few years, but market analysts say that Cox’s prospects look bright once these one-time costs start to lessen. This is highlighted by the fact that Bill Gates of Microsoft fame personally invested $500 million in the company during 2002.
Cox Communications today is a vast media company that shows no signs of slowing down its breakneck pace of expansion. Whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion. Cox Communications is one of the major players in the increasing consolidation within the media business. With fewer and fewer hands controlling our media outlets, many fear that powerful media conglomerates such as Cox Communications will have entirely too much influence over the information that the public receives, thereby bending the public to their will. As James Cox used his newspapers to serve his personal aspirations, some fear that Cox Communications will use its stranglehold on journalistic outlets and media delivery mechanisms to push its own interests rather than uphold the truth.