The old guard of media is earning enough money to make startups drool

February 10, 2020, 1:37 PM UTC

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about incumbents versus upstarts. The Silicon Valley assumption is that the latter always beats the former. It’s more complicated than that.

Consider the three legacy media companies that reported earnings of varying degrees of success on the same day last week. The New York Times, the growing king of digital subscriptions, reported $68 million in fourth-quarter profits on $508 million in revenue. News Corp., the newspaper rump of the former film and TV empire, posted December-quarter profits of $103 million on $2.5 billion in revenue, both declining figures. Magazine and lower-tier broadcaster Meredith, which briefly owned Fortune, had profits of $38 million on shrinking revenues of $810 million.

One obvious takeaway is how much harder News Corp. works for its earnings. But note also that each of these greybeards makes the kind of money that would make much ballyhooed digital startups salivate. After all these years and all the venture-capital investments, the so-called disruptors of the American journalism landscape don’t hold a candle to the stalwarts that are very much hanging in there.

Much has been made, too, of the rocket-ship valuation of Tesla, $134 billion at last count, compared with its established competitors. Tesla made $105 million in the fourth quarter; Ford lost $1.7 billion. The Detroit icon (market cap: $32 billion) acknowledged last week that turnaround CEO Jim Hackett’s days are numbered by tapping car guy Jim Farley as Hackett’s No. 2 and heir apparent. Ford also announced the retirement of Joe Hinrichs, its manufacturing chief.

A bevy of self-driving car companies is losing money by the trunkloads, but there’s no sign the incumbent carmakers know how to stop Tesla.

One size doesn’t fit all in the incumbent-versus-disruptor narrative.


The diminutive lady who spoke at the very end of the Oscars last night, after Parasite won best picture, was Miky Lee, vice chairwoman of CJ Group, which financed the film. I wrote in December about the unlikely role of the granddaughter of Samsung’s founder backing a film about income inequality; the Hollywood Reporter profiled her extensively last week.


Before I go, I want to direct your attention to four Fortune Brainstorm conferences on the horizon: Brainstorm Health in Los Angeles, April 21-22; Brainstorm A.I. in Boston, April 27-28; Brainstorm Finance in Montauk, N.Y., June 17-18; and the one that preceded them all, Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colo., July 13-15. The agendas for each are coming along nicely, and there are still spots to attend these invitation-only events. Email me if you’d like to be considered.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Contagion. As the coronavirus still spreads, its global impact expands as well. Airbnb suspended check-ins at properties in Beijing until March, offering refunds to travelers. And Sony is the latest tech giant to pull out of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, joining Nvidia, Amazon, and others.

The arc of justice. A record 52 women became partners or general partners at venture capital firms last year, according to a study by advocacy group All Raise. The number of VC firms with two or more female partners doubled to 14%. The number of firms with no female partners fell to 65% from 85% a year earlier.

I've got 911 on speed dial. It didn't make much sense and now it's over. Intercontinental Exchange, owner of the New York Stock Exchange, abandoned its quixotic quest to buy eBay. ICE's stock had plunged after its offer to buy eBay for about $30 billion surfaced last week.

Valuable bits. The on-again, off-again rally in bitcoin is on again. The price of the cryptocurrency exceeded $10,000 on Sunday for the first time since September.


There are all kind of systems and strategies for keeping organized and a million apps to help. But Jeff Huang, a computer science professor at Brown, has a simple system. He keeps track of everything in a huge plain-text file.

That daily todo list is where I also take notes, so it's a to do list that turns into a what done list. The best thing about these daily lists is I keep them all in a single text file separated by dates, so I have a record of everything I have ever done and when I did it. My current file was created almost 7 years ago when I started my current job. It serves as a research notebook, and as meeting minutes. I have 37,773 handwritten lines in one file now, documenting everything I have done as a professor, and nearly every person I have met with, along with notes about what we discussed or ideas I had.


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You may have read over the weekend that Bill Gates was paying over $600 million for a massive yacht that will be powered by liquid hydrogen. Shown off at a boat show last year, Aqua is almost 400 feet long, carries 14 passengers, and can sail from London to New York without refueling. Alas, now comes the denial. The Microsoft co-founder has not ordered the high-tech, very green floating transport.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman


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