Competition between U.S. companies has a long and storied history. In the early days, there were railroad, mining, lumber, utility, publishing, banking and oil companies all vying for supremacy. More recently, technology has spurned the onset of digital warfare between giants like Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO) and Google (Nasdaq:GOOG), Facebook (Nasdaq:FB) and LinkedIn (Nasdaq:LNKD), and Dell (Nasdaq:DELL) and Hewlett Packard (Nasdaq:HPQ).
Some of the more recent battles have evolved into personal crusades among high-tech CEOs to be number one. That battlefield featured names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison. Let's look at three corporate battles that have had a sustained impact on daily life for American and foreign consumers.
Westinghouse (Nasdaq:WEST) Vs. General Electric (NYSE:GE)
This competition pitted Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, two of the greatest pioneers in the field of electronics, against each other. In 1887, Tesla filed for seven patents that turned out to be the most valuable since the telephone. They included alternating current (AC) motors and a completely integrated power transmission system, which included transformers, generators and power lines.
George Westinghouse offered to buy Tesla's patents for $5,000 and 150 shares of Westinghouse's company, for a total value of $60,000. Tesla would also receive royalties for electrical capacity sold at the rate of $2.50 per horsepower.
It wasn't long before a full-scale war erupted over the future of electrical technology and industrial development around the world. Edison was a proponent of low-voltage direct current (DC), which he claimed was safer than AC and more easily stored for use during power interruptions. A propaganda campaign was launched. The campaign included the public electrocution of animals to prove how dangerous AC was.
The AC system allowed the current to be stepped up to high voltages and transmitted over much cheaper and thinner wires than DC required. Once the current arrived at the destination, it could be stepped down for distribution to the end-users.
The ultimate winner for mass power distribution was AC because of its ability to be efficiently transmitted over long distances. DC is still used for specialized purposes, primarily in densely populated areas. Most of the America's subway systems are powered by DC.
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FNC Vs. CNN
When Ted Turner launched the Cable News Network in 1980, it was mocked as the "Chicken Noodle Network." Many questioned the need or viability of a round-the-clock news channel when ABC, NBC and CBS already had powerful news organizations anchored by Frank Reynolds, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite.
CNN was bleeding $2 million in monthly losses during its infancy, but Turner continued to expand throughout the United States and set up the first foreign bureaus in London and Rome. In 1984, CNN earned praise and recognition for its nearly continuous coverage of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions. A year later, the channel was available in 30 million American homes and earned its first profit. By 1990, CNN had become the trusted, go-to source for breaking news around the world and its stature was cemented a year later by its live coverage of Desert Storm.
In 1995, revenues reached $1 billion and Turner sold his entire operation to Time Warner. That was also the year that Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. announced his intention to launch his own network to directly compete with CNN. Murdoch hired Roger Ailes to oversee the creation and development of the Fox News Channel, which premiered in October 1996.
Only six years later, FNC surpassed CNN in total viewership and continued as the number one cable news network for the next 10 years running. During prime time in January 2012, FNC averaged almost 2 million viewers, a 78% increase over the past decade. That compares to a current average audience of about 840,000 for CNN, less than half of that of FNC.
FNC is available in 90 million homes and regularly scores the top 10 shows in cable news, as rated by Nielsen. In addition to being the dominant cable news channel, it's ranked fifth among all cable channels, coming in behind ESPN, USA, History and TBS.
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Coke Vs. Pepsi
Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) was invented in 1886 by drugstore owner John Pemberton in Atlanta, Georgia. Pepsi (NYSE:PEP) followed 12 years later by New Bern, North Carolina, pharmacist Caleb Bradham. Commercial advertising and marketing in America haven't been the same since.
Two of America's most iconic brands have been locking horns for more than a century, as both have accused the other of ripping off the basic recipes that were first used to concoct their colas. During the Great Depression, Pepsi fell on hard times and Coke refused to buy the company because it believed Pepsi wasn't a threat. Pepsi came up with the idea of using recycled glass bottles and selling 12 ounces for the same price that competitors charged for six ounces - a nickel. The gamble worked and Pepsi sales recovered, as struggling families took advantage of the double value strategy.
In 1975, Pepsi launched the "Pepsi Challenge" and conducted blind taste tests against Coke. When those tests showed more people chose Pepsi over Coke, Coke decided to conduct its own tests. The embarrassing result was more confirmation that Pepsi was preferred over Coke. After 10 more years of brutal attack ads on both sides, Coke tinkered with its formula and unveiled "New Coke." Next to its decision to not buy Pepsi, it's the worst decision it ever made.
Coca-Cola remains the largest maker of nonalcoholic beverages in the world and has 43% of the U.S. market, compared to 31% for PepsiCo. Three-quarters of Coke's revenue comes from outside the U.S. and it continues to lead Pepsi in beverage expansion overseas. However, Pepsi's diversified businesses that include snacks and restaurants make up much of the difference in total foreign sales. Coke's annual stock dividend yield is 2.7%, and Pepsi's is 2.9%.
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The Bottom Line
Capitalists argue that fierce competition allows the strongest companies to rise to the top, while the weakest don't survive. Many once-great companies have disappeared because they were unable to adapt to changing times and consumer preferences. Ultimately, consumers benefit from fair competition and the proof is evident in almost every industry. All you have to do is look at what's happened to the capabilities and prices of consumer electronics to see the real benefits of competition.