Dig­i­tal Con­tent Firms’ Buzz Fades

Variety - - Field Notes - An­drew Wal­len­stein Co-editor-in-chief

Buz­zfeed and its ilk looked like the belles of the me­dia ball just a few short years ago. But as 2018 comes to a close, the dig­i­tal dar­lings of yes­ter­year are in pain.”

“Psst. Wanna merge with my com­pany?” Read­ing be­tween the lines, that’s the mes­sage from Buz­zfeed CEO Jonah Peretti to his fel­low dig­i­tal-me­dia com­pa­nies in a Nov. 19 in­ter­view with The New York Times. He took the cu­ri­ous step of won­der­ing aloud — on the record — whether it would make more sense for him to com­bine forces with the likes of Vice, Re­fin­ery29, Vox Me­dia and Group Nine to gain more lever­age in their lop­sided re­la­tion­ship with plat­form gi­ants Google and Face­book.

How did we end up here? Buz­zfeed and its ilk looked like the belles of the me­dia ball just a few short years ago. They were ev­ery­thing tra­di­tional con­tent com­pa­nies weren’t: so­cial-savvy, mo­bile-friendly and data-cen­tric. They were a new breed poised to in­herit the earth when the sec­tor’s di­nosaur in­cum­bents who in­vested in them were on the verge of col­lapse.

But as 2018 comes to a close, the dig­i­tal dar­lings of yes­ter­year are in pain. Rev­enue di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion ef­forts are do­ing lit­tle to ease the mon­e­ti­za­tion strug­gles that come with play­ing in the dig­i­tal ad-sup­ported field. Lay­offs have re­duced their ranks. If the lon­gan­tic­i­pated mul­ti­ple merger — or “roll up” — of these com­pa­nies is fi­nally go­ing to hap­pen, the mo­ment may well be here.

Which brings us back to Peretti, who looked more than a lit­tle des­per­ate float­ing a trial bal­loon to ma­neu­ver to­ward the kind of trans­ac­tions that — if he truly had a chance to make hap­pen —would al­ready be tran­spir­ing be­hind closed doors. Ut­tered in the con­text of a news ar­ti­cle, Peretti’s urge to merge came across less as a stir­ring strate­gic call to arms than a plain­tive ad­mis­sion that it’s not go­ing to hap­pen even though it re­ally should.

But even if Peretti some­how pulls off a multi-com­pany merger, there’s also the ques­tion of what, if any­thing, would change in terms of how con­tent com­pa­nies can re­duce the power of the plat­forms. Though Face­book and Google also have plenty of their own prob­lems right now, even the worst-case sce­nario for them wouldn’t do much to di­min­ish their clout rel­a­tive to Buz­zfeed, et al. As Peretti him­self must re­al­ize, achiev­ing scale is re­ally just the be­gin­ning of re­solv­ing all the is­sues that plague the screwy dy­nam­ics be­tween con­tent and dis­tri­bu­tion in the dig­i­tal-me­dia busi­ness.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.