EW Staff
October 22, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Power in entertainment can be measured in any number of ways. The most common method is by the numbers themselves-salaries, grosses, Nielsen ratings, position on the best-seller lists, and so on. It’s a simple law: Size matters. And if someone else stands to suffer while you succeed, so much the better. When Paramount, one of the few extra-large prizes left in the entertainment industry, went on the block this year, Viacom and QVC ignited an ’80s-style power struggle for control of the multimedia giant; one reason the stakes are so high ($9.5 billion and counting) is that neither wants to lose so public a battle. *Of course, prestige counts for something, too: That’s why Disney is polishing up its image by making deals with such tony art-house types as Merchant-Ivory and Miramax. And clout can be derived from the ability to make people laugh: Witness the ascents of David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, and Garry Shandling. But the best part about power in 1993 is that you don’t even have to be human to have it. And if you don’t believe that, take a look at numbers 76 and 101.5.

Pres., Tele-Communications, Inc.
Rank last year: 98 Age: 52 Why he’s No. 1: He who controls technology controls the future—and right now, both are in the firm grip of Colorado cable titan John Malone. The proposed merger of Bell Atlantic with Malone’s TCI and its spinoff Liberty Media Corp. (he and Bell Atlantic’s Raymond Smith would likely be cochairmen of the new company) wouldn’t merely stand as the largest merger in corporate history—it would extend Malone’s already astounding reach into American entertainment.

The numbers are huge: a projected $33 billion deal that would create America’s sixth-largest corporation by assets and allow Malone to run an electronic superhighway through 42 percent of American homes. But much of Malone’s power derives from something so tiny as to be almost invisible—a group of slender high-tech threads called fiber optics. The future of entertainment is written in this superconductive material with its ability to send virtually unlimited electronic information at virtually unlimited speeds—and these days it’s spelling out John Malone’s name. Recently TCI has been involved in the design of a revolutionary new fiber-optics-friendly cable box that will change not only what America watches but how we watch it—from movies on demand to interactive programming.

Bell Atlantic’s technological prowess, combined with Malone’s cable reach and access to entertainment product, could make Malone the czar of the Information Age. Everyone on our list of 1993’s most powerful people, be they superagent or superstar, may have to contend with him, like it or not.

Many will not. Malone’s tough—read: ruthless—business style hasn’t earned him any Mr. Congeniality awards. Variety coined the phrase ”mega-Malonia” to describe his overreaching ambitions. Al Gore, who crusaded against cable monopolies while still a senator, once called him ”Darth Vader” and the ”godfather” of the cable ”Cosa Nostra.” And Sumner Redstone’s Viacom, locked in a bidding war with Barry Diller over Paramount Pictures (Malone is bankrolling part of Diller’s $9.5 billion bid for the studio), is taking TCI to court, accusing Malone of conspiring to ”monopolize cable television”—a charge this merger may make harder to refute.

As Malone’s influence grows, no doubt so will his enemy list; government regulators will surely have much to say about his plans. But while others on this list bicker over perks and profit shares, Malone is playing a much bigger game. He’s deciding who will get to own the 21st century.

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