Alibaba and Disney Go Shopping, but Who Will Buy Quartz?
I only have time to write about a fraction of the interesting things that happen during the week, so I thought I would start collecting some of the ones I missed and provide some quick thoughts about what those events might mean (or not mean). Some of them are potentially important, some are interesting, and some are just plain weird. So here’s a roundup of what happened over the past week or so.
Alibaba buys the South China Morning Post: This one was rumored since China Daily mentioned it in early November. On the surface, it’s a bit like Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post, except that this is Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba doing the buying, not its founder and CEO Jack Ma through a personal holding company.
Given Ma’s connections to the Chinese government, plenty of fans of the Post are concerned that the newspaper (which was initially founded during the Qing Dynasty in 1903) will do a hard turn to the right. Alibaba execs say this isn’t going to happen—they say they want the paper’s news to remain “fair and balanced.” But then what else would they say?
Disney re-invests in Vice Media: Shane Smith of Vice Media continues to rack up new investments from traditional media companies that desperately want to reach his millennial audience, and one of those who chipped in recently is actually coming back for a third round. Disney (DIS) invested $200 million in Vice last month, and transferred control of one of its TV channels to Vice. That was the company’s second investment in Vice, after investing $250 million through A&E Networks, a joint venture with Hearst.
Now the House That Mickey Built has boosted its stake by investing another $200 million. Thanks in part to those investments, the alternative media empire—which started as a music and culture magazine based in Montreal—is now estimated to be worth as much as $4 billion, and Smith has said it is on track to make $1 billion in revenues for 2015.
Blendle to launch in the US next year: An “iTunes for news” startup based in the Netherlands says it will introduce a U.S. version next year, backed by some large American media companies that it won’t name. Blendle has an app that lets readers pay for individual articles from dozens of Dutch and German newspapers and magazines—the average article costs about 30 cents. The New York Times has invested in the company and provides content for the existing app.
It remains to be seen whether the Spotify model will work in a major English-speaking market like the United States, where there are oceans of free content. Language barriers in the countries where Blendle has operated so far may have created an artificially protected environment for its service to thrive, something that won’t be the case in the U.S.
The Journal-Review gets a mystery buyer: Plenty of weird things happen in Las Vegas, but this is one of the weirder ones from a media perspective. The Journal-Review was acquired, but no one is sure by whom. The new owner is a company called News + Media Capital Group, but it’s unclear who is behind the holding company. Even the paper itself wouldn’t provide any clues, saying only that the group was composed of “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry.”
To make things even murkier, quotes from the newspaper’s editor expressing concern about the hidden identity of the acquirer were later removed from the story. Why would the new owner want their identity to remain unknown? Is it a political lobbying group of some kind that wants to use the paper to put pressure on the government? At this point, no one knows.
Is Quartz up for sale and if so why? When Atlantic Media, parent company of the magazine, started a new business news site called Quartz, there was a lot of skepticism about whether it would succeed or not, but Quartz has managed to build a substantial audience in the past three years, racking up what it says is 15 million unique visitors monthly. Now, there are rumors that it could be for sale.
Why would Atlantic sell it if it is so successful? The most likely reason is that acquirers like Axel Springer are paying substantial sums for properties like Business Insider—which was valued at more than nine times revenues—and so if Atlantic Media could walk away with $100 million or so, that would seem like a pretty major win for the magazine company. Who might buy it? Politico’s Ken Doctor has some theories, including Bloomberg and (of course) Thomson Reuters.