Media Economics Classroom Activity

Update, 8/3/2013: I’m honored that this activity was selected as one of the top 25 “Great Ideas for Teachers” in this year’s competition at AEJMC! I will present it in the poster session on Thursday, August 8. For those of you who stop(ped) by the poster, here’s the promised PDF of all the necessary materials for the activity. Enjoy, and let me know how it goes!

I’ve been working hard this semester on modifying my teaching approach in my media courses. I’m trying to incorporate many more active learning opportunities into my classes. While I never just lectured in any of my classes, I am making a concerted effort to do more classroom activities that require students to come to class prepared and to put more energy into mastering and applying course topics together.

This semester’s Intro to Mass Communication course has 28 students in it, and it’s a great class size for all kinds of different activities. An important early topic in this course is media economics — how media companies structure themselves to maximize their success, while also operating within the limits of government regulation.

I had a great time developing and using a new activity to draw students into this topic. I made up 14 fictional media companies of different sizes and with different interests, and assigned each a budget (to spend on mergers/acquisitions with other companies) and a cost (to be acquired). I printed out play money ($10 million bills!) for the companies’ budgets.

Students then worked in pairs to evaluate their assigned company and determine which other companies would be logical buyers or acquisitions, given the concepts from their reading that we’d discussed in a mini-lecture at the beginning of class (e.g., convergence, consolidation, vertical/horizontal integration, synergy, cross-media promotion).

As they discussed, I posted signs with the companies’ names around the room. Students took their positions by their signs. I then opened a buy/sell period. As the companies were bought/sold, students moved around and taped their signs under the parent companies’ signs. During a fun, hectic flurry of sales, we watched as 14 smaller media companies rapidly became 4 major multinational conglomerates. Just like reality!

I then asked the student pair representing each of the remaining major companies to explain why their company had made the decisions it did. To wrap things up, I asked students to write briefly on an index card what they’d learned about media companies’ structure and ownership from this activity. Their responses were dead on and even more insightful than I’d hoped. A few also spontaneously commented that they had fun doing this, which was nice for me to see.

I allowed about 30 minutes for this activity, but would definitely suggest taking a bit more time with it. Next time, I’ll aim for about 45 minutes. You can print out play money by searching Google Images for a million-dollar bill. Here are the other documents I created for this activity, including the directions, company descriptions, and signs for the room.

If you give this a try, let me know how it goes! I’m sure there are lots of ways to improve upon this, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


    • Thank you! I’m glad you asked me about it when I tweeted about play money…it was a good reminder to blog about these things as I work on them!

  1. I just conducted this activity in my mass comm intro class and it was a HUGE success! Thank you for sharing this online!!

    • Fabulous! Let me know how it goes. It can be a little crazy the first time, but it gets easier to run the activity each time I use it.

      • It worked great! Made for great energy in the classroom! I had a class of about 24, so some were singles instead of groups, so I might cut down the number of companies based on the class, so it’s groups of two, but even with one in some “companies” (initially!) and two in others, it was fine. I think the only thing I’d do differently is have the money doled out ahead of time at each company station. They really wanted to get going and I had to stop some from trying to make deals before everyone had their money. In the end, we ended up with two smaller conglomerates and one mega MEGA conglomerate.

        • Yay! So happy to hear it went well for your class. Yes, I usually hand out the money with the company name on a sticky note, so they get those at the same time. I also am very official about the time allotted for deal-making, with “opening” and “closing,” a la the stock exchange. Our results are usually the same as yours — down to about three companies by the end! I’m doing this activity in class again tomorrow, so we’ll see if that’s what happens.

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