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Mar 1, 2017

Time Inc. blitzes competition in digital revenues

it was the well-timed take-over in early 2016 of a company called Viant (the parent of the old Myspace) that has helped cement Time Inc.’s position.

Remember Myspace? It was one of Rupert Murdoch’s many online and internet blunders. News Corp paid US$536 million in 2005 and sold it in 2011 for US$35 million.Well, it has helped produce a surprise winner of the legacy-media-transition-to-a-digital-future stakes for 2016.

The fourth quarter and 2016 results from the US media are now in and the winner is: Time Inc — in terms of grabbing a growing share of digital revenues and showing a way that is not the subscription-only models that The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and, globally, Financial Times (not to mention most other newspapers) are concentrating on.

And in the greatest of ironies, it was the well-timed take-over in early 2016 of a company called Viant (the parent of the old Myspace) that has helped cement Time Inc.’s position as the best placed of the legacy media groups so far as digital revenue growth is concerned.

Time Inc.’s total ad revenue last year was up 3% — or US$57 million — to US$1.71 billion compared to 2015. That was despite a 10% dip in print advertising revenue for the fourth quarter of 2016. But thanks to the purchase of Viant, Time experienced a 55% growth in digital advertising revenue to over US$500 million, with US$166 million of that alone coming in the December quarter. Time said the increase was mostly driven by programmatic ad sales.

In other words, Time owns a digital company that is making life tougher and tougher for other print and digital rivals. Programmatic ad sales are done automatically (some critics say without too much heed paid to the websites where the ads are being placed) and have helped drive down returns to website owners, especially those of free news websites. For many rivals, Time would be both peer and enemy.

This morning, the Financial Times reported on its website that the number of groups interested in buying Time Inc had risen to five — with final bids to be submitted next week. The FT did not name the three new bidders on top of the two already known: US magazine publisher Meredith, and a consortium led by the Edgar Bronfman and Lev Blavatnik, who owns Warner Music. The surge in digital revenues from Viant and Time’s emerging digital ad and subscription strategies means Time will not be sold for a knockdown price, as so many other print companies would (but no one wants to take them over). — Glenn Dyer

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