The media today: ‘Winter is here for digital media’

On a day in which a sitting US Senator was accused of sexual assault and the White House hosted its first press briefing after a marathon foreign trip, the biggest theme in the media world was on the business side of the industry. “Something went crazy in the media bizosphere today,” press critic Jay Rosen tweeted. “A flood of news about companies.”

The Wall Street Journal’s media reporting team dominated the coverage, breaking news on what felt like an hourly basis. Dana Mattioli, Keach Hagey, and Ryan Knutson scooped that Comcast has approached 21st Century Fox to express interest in buying a substantial piece of it. They report that Verizon and Sony have also expressed interest, joining Disney as suitors circling Rupert Murdoch’s empire. Fox News and Fox Sports 1 have reportedly not been part of the talks.

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Meanwhile, the financial picture for digital outlets looks darker after the Journal’s Amol Sharma and Lukas I. Alpert wrote that BuzzFeed is expected to miss its revenue target this year by 15 to 20 percent. Sharma and Alpert further reported that Vice Media is also expected to miss its revenue target. Finally, Hagey, Alpert, and Alexandra Bruell broke the news that Mashable, an early embracer of the pivot-to-video strategy, has sold itself to Ziff Davis for around $50 Million. That price is a fraction of what the company was valued at just a year ago.

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The takeaway from all of this, via Sharma and Alpert: “Across the industry, digital-media companies are finding that lines of business that caught fire for them early on—like creating custom content for brands—are becoming harder to scale up. Meanwhile, with each passing year, Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. are tightening their grip on the online-ad market.” CJR’s Mathew Ingram offered a more succinct version of that analysis, tweeting, “Winter is here for digital media.

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Lurking in the background of the day’s business news is the dominance of a group of tech companies. The Facebook and Google duopoly has gobbled up more than 60 percent of online advertising dollars, making it difficult for others to compete. Investments by giants like Amazon and Apple have forced Disney, Comcast, and others to evaluate opportunities to increase the scale, something that a purchase of 21st Century Fox’s assets would help accomplish.

Below, more on a busy day in the media business world.

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Other notable stories

  • Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken was accused of kissing and groping a radio host her without consent during a 2006 U.S.O. tour of the Middle East. The New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos has an overview of the story, including Franken’s two apologies.
  • Allies of Roy Moore bashed the media at a rally in support of the the embattled Alabama Senate candidate, according to BuzzFeed’s Alexis Levinson and Blake Montgomery. “You are the fake, lying news from the swamp,” one supporter told reporters.
  • NPR’s David Folkenflik and Merrit Kennedy continue to demonstrate how to effectively cover your own company. Their latest is a must-read about fractured morale in the outlet’s newsroom. They report that David Sweeney, recently promoted to the position of chief news editor, has been placed on administrative leave as NPR reviews allegations about his conduct, and that Board Chairman Roger LaMay will step down at the end of his second one-year term.
  • The Daily Beast’s Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman scoop that The Freedom of the Press Foundation is reevaluating its support for WikiLeaks.
  • The Outline’s Nicole Kobie looks at the FTC rules-violating practice of social media influencers like George Takei being paid to promote posts from certain publishers without revealing that they’re being compensated.
  • CJR’s Karen K. Ho speaks with the Associated Press’s new race reporter Errin Haines Whack about how her beat is a part of every story.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.