February in media

Digital newsbrands continue to struggle

BuzzFeed, for years the poster child for digital media, has had a tough few months.

In November, CEO Jonah Peretti announced 100 people would be let go after the business failed to meet revenue targets. December brought further misery for its UK team, with 23 members of its editorial staff losing their jobs on one of the last working days before Christmas.

And February saw another huge blow as political editor Jim Waterson – a high-profile hire five years ago as the organisation sought to build a solid news team in the UK – announced his departure for the Guardian, where he’ll be media editor.

But BuzzFeed hasn’t been alone in its struggles as a digital newsbrand, as several companies attempt to create new revenue streams – and shut down existing ones – to ease the pressure of domination by Google and Facebook.

Vice Media’s problems have been well documented, while Ziff Davis buying Mashable for $50m effectively wiped 80 per cent off its value. Oath, the Verizon-owned business bringing AOL and Yahoo! under one roof, let another 500 people go towards the end of last year.

And it was Vox Media’s turn to swing the axe in February. The company, whose brands include Vox, the Verge and Recode, has cut 50 people from its books.

Back in the world of traditional media, February was supposed to be the month Trinity Mirror finally tied up its deal for Northern & Shell’s portfolio, including the Express. While Trinity has wasted little time in shipping out Express editors and moving its own people in, the deal may yet hit the rocks—the business announced on 1 March that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the acquisition.

Press freedom in Turkey

Three journalists have been sentenced to life in prison by a Turkish court, following allegations that they had supported the attempted coup in July 2016. The prosecution successfully argued that they had used “subliminal messages” in TV interviews and newspaper articles to urge people to overthrow the government.

The United Nations condemned the decision to imprison the three “for their work”, while Gauri van Gulik, Europe Director for Amnesty International, called it “a dark day for press freedom”.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are at least 262 journalists currently behind bars—and Turkey’s 73 sees it ranked as the worst jailer of journalists in the world, ahead of China and Egypt.

Comcast’s spanner in the works for Murdoch

Last month, we covered Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy the 61 per cent of Sky his family company, 21st Century Fox, doesn’t already own. At the time, the CMA had blocked the move pending investigation, saying it would give Murdoch “too much control” over the UK media.

And, in a fresh blow this month, Comcast – one of the world’s largest media and telecoms companies – has lodged its own bid for Sky. The offer, worth around £22bn, exceeds the amount tabled by Murdoch—giving shareholders £12.50-per-share versus £10.75.

It’s a complex situation, further muddied by Disney also trying to buy most of 21st Century Fox—and gunning for its 39 per cent stake in Sky as part of the deal.

Comcast has said it wants to use Sky as a “platform for growth in Europe”, while Disney CEO Bob Iger called Sky “a real crown jewel” in the Fox portfolio. Murdoch, under scrutiny from the CMA, has claimed he will keep Sky News running for the next 10 years with an independent board.

Whatever happens, we’re set for a bidding war of epic proportions between all parties. Sky’s shares have increased by 20 per cent so far, and analysts expect that to continue as the counter-offers come in.