Screenshot: “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”/YouTube/HBO
“Corporate Consolidation” can be a snooze-worthy term. But if you caught Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” Sunday, Sept. 24, you may have walked away with a headache when you realized how mergers and acquisitions have real-world impacts on things you care about, like beer.
The airline industry takes a beating during Oliver’s segment. He cites a CNN report that shows in 2000, the U.S. had 10 “large airlines” (American, TWA, America West, US Airways, Delta, NWA, United, Continental, AirTran, Southwest) — but today, there are four “mega airlines” who control more than 80 percent of the U.S. market (American, Delta, United, Southwest). Oliver’s point is that a dramatic decline of competition is hurting the customer — like baggage fees, which netted airlines about $540 million a decade ago to $4.2 billion in 2016 (according to the Bureau of Transportation Services).
“You may be angry with the service you get from airlines, but thanks to consolidation, they don’t really need to give a sh*t what you think,” he quips.
Oliver’s next point is that mergers also mean customers sometimes think they’re supporting a small business, but they’re actually paying for products made by a behemoth corporation.
“Even some brands you might think of as indie now have multinational owners,” he says, citing examples like Burt’s Bees — owned by Clorox — and Tom’s of Maine belonging to Colgate-Palmolive. He doesn’t let the beer business off the hook either.
“There is Goose Island. Their ads speak to bearded brewers rubbing hops on their faces,” Oliver says, as a video of brewers plays beside him, “but what they don’t mention is that Goose Island is run by Anheuser-Busch, and that farm you just saw is located at 822 Budweiser Loop — it’s presumably just past Bud Light’s Lime-a-Rita Boulevard.”
The rental car business, eyeglasses and metal cans are all more fodder for Oliver’s segment, which you can watch below (Note: The clip features adult language and adult content). If you’re still shrugging your shoulders and responding, “Who cares?” when Big Beer buys breweries, maybe re-watch the video the next time you’re sitting on an airplane in a cramped seat (that you paid an extra $24 to get), hoping your luggage (which cost an extra $35 to get on the plane) lands at the same place you do. Let’s talk then.