BuzzFeed may be the quintessential digital-media company, but it looks increasingly like it will wind up being a subsidiary of Comcast-owned media and entertainment behemoth NBCUniversal.
According to multiple reports, NBC is close to investing another $200 million in the company. Both the Wall Street Journal and Recode say the investment is being finalized now, and that it will value BuzzFeed at about $1.7 billion.
That number may seem large, and it is, especially for a company so reliant on advertising revenue. But it’s about the same size as the theoretical valuation BuzzFeed had a year ago, when NBCUniversal (CMCSA) originally invested $200 million.
The fact that BuzzFeed’s valuation hasn’t increased in a year suggests that the company has not grown enough to justify a higher number. And there were reports earlier this year that it missed its revenue targets for 2015.
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Despite that alleged miss, if it in fact occurred (the company has refused to confirm those reports), NBCUniversal is clearly still interested in owning more of BuzzFeed.
The reason for that is the same as the rationale behind NBCUniversal’s investment in Vox Media, which also got $200 million a year ago. NBC’s existing media business is based on traditional formats such as broadcast television, and it needs a hedge against the digital disruption of those markets and that business model.
Since the initial investment, NBCUniversal and BuzzFeed have embarked on a number of partnerships, including the latter producing video clips during the Summer Olympics.
Once this investment in BuzzFeed closes, assuming it does, NBCUniversal will own approximately $400 million worth of a company whose total value is in the $1.5-billion range. That gives the Comcast unit close to a third of BuzzFeed.
Although we don’t know what the specific terms of the investment are, or what rights they give NBC, owning that much of the digital-media outlet could give the Comcast subsidiary a significant amount of say in how BuzzFeed expands its business, or even if it expands.
It also raises the possibility that NBCUniversal could just acquire the entire thing. On the record, BuzzFeed says that it wants to remain independent. But every company says that until they get an acquisition offer.
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If BuzzFeed is hitting the limits of growth for whatever reason, it will need to find some way of fixing that. Either it will have to acquire something itself, which is always a possibility, or it will have to find significant investment elsewhere, or it will have to be acquired by someone with the resources it needs.
BuzzFeed recently reorganized, splitting the company into a news unit and a video unit, which appeared to be another step in the site’s aggressive focus on video. In order to grow that business even further, it would need a substantial amount of capital.
Not only that, but BuzzFeed’s existing major investors — RRE Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, General Atlantic—will want a payday at some point. All investors do, and especially venture-capital investors.
That payday will either have to come via a funding round they can use to cash in (which some may do with this latest investment), or they will need an initial public offering, or they will need an acquisition. And NBCUniversal is by far the most likely candidate.